Lesson 15: "It is given... not only to believe ... but also to suffer."
Paul'sPrison Epistles. This is lesson #15. Let's get back to the text quickly. In our last lesson we read ch. 1, down through v.18. The first eleven verses, we described as salutation, Paul's prayer for the Philippian Christians and his expressed appreciation for them. Then a new thought began in verse twelve. That thought had to do with Paul's condition and state of mind there in prison, i.e. a progress report. That line of discussion continues thru the end of the chapter. We stopped reading in v.18 and were discussing v.12-18 as we brought lesson # 14 to a close. Paul said the things which happened unto him had actually fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel (v.12). Do you remember Rom. 8:28? "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God."
It very well might be that Paul had had a hearing or two before Nero at the time of this writing and his predicament or the paradox of his situation as observed by Festus and Agrippa, back at Caesarea in Acts 26:31-32, possibly had been learned in Rome and published through out Nero's palace. Something it would seem had brought on affection, understanding and courage among the Roman Christians and possibly even among the palace workforce. The circumstance, whatever it was, had caused many of Paul's brethren to take heart, i.e. "waxing confident" is Paul's term for it (v.14). IF, Paul had been given an opportunity to speak before Nero or even some other lesser Roman dignitary as he had before Festus and Agrippa back in Caesarea (do you remember Acts ch. 26?) then my guess is: Paul did his brethren proud; so-to-speak. Evidently, something like this had raised the morale of his Roman Christian brethren and progress was being made in the spread of the gospel in and around Nero's palace. Some of Paul companions and possibly others in the Roman congregation were speaking out more forcefully and Paul felt progress was being made. However, in v.15-16 Paul is quick to point out, as we so often see, some brethren were apparently antagonistic to Paul and his co- workers; apparently pushing some of their hobbies and personal vendettas as so frequently happens even in our day. There are always a few jealousies and a few PERSONAL competitors out seeking attention that "love the praise of men more than the praise of God." (John 12:43). This is not necessarily a 20th century phenomena, you see. Human nature has not changed. The gene-pool is the same. Don't let anybody kid you. From earliest times, the church has been annoyed and harassed by such nonsense. Paul told it like it was. "One preach Christ of contention, not sincerely..." the apostle said. Why Paul? "supposing to add affliction to my bonds" (v.16). David Lipscomb in his commentary said: (quote) "Paul says nothing here that many faithful gospel preachers have not experienced." (unquote). However, Paul didn't flinch; he just kept telling it like it is. He was "set for the defense of the gospel" (v.17). What does that mean? Paul was willing to suffer whatever it took. He wouldn't move over for a Mack truck when it came to proclaiming Jesus. But, Paul didn't chase rabbits either; he stayed on the track —in jail —out of jail —with kings —with hobby-riders —where ever he was...his course was set. He wanted the Philippians and everbody else to know where he stood. That's the lesson. Why Paul? "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation..." (v.19-20). Tune it in! Let's read some more; we'll taker- down through v.30, the end of the chapter. Please read with me! Beginning in v.19. "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me."
Alright, in connection with the passage we just read, it seems to me there can be little doubt that Paul was facing some impending danger. I'm inclined to think, of course, his anxiety was associated with his imprisonment or more specifically his hope of release from prison. Undoubtedly, he was coming down to the wire, so-to-speak; as to the emperor's ruling on his case. The alternatives were very simply (1) freedom or being saved, i.e. "salvation" as Paul phrased it in v.19, (2) there was the further possibly of continued imprisonment I suppose, or (3) death, execution style. All the translations I consulted seem to be unanimous on the idea of "salvation" here in v.19 being a reference to Paul's freedom, or release from prison in other words. For example, the Moffitt translation renders Paul in v.19, as saying: "The outcome of all this, I know, will be my release." Now, back up and put your finger on that word: "this" (T-H-I-S) in v.19. Now, my question is: what is the antecedent of the pronoun "this" that you have your finger on? In other words, WHAT IS IT that WILL TURN to Paul salvation? Have you got my question? Obviously, Paul is making a reference back to v.12-13-14; i.e. the positive that was happening in Paul's life that had fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel (v.12) AND (in v.14) his brethren waxing confident and speaking out boldly. This, I'm sure you would agree, implies many prayers on Paul's behalf in Rome, at Philippi, and over the brotherhood as well as other behind-the-scene helps. Paul's salvation, notice v.19, is "through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." This is Paul's earnest expectation and hope (v.20). Beyond that, Paul is concerned (middle of v.20) "that in nothing I shall be ashamed." In other words, Paul would much prefer to die (i.e. be executed) than that Christ would NOT be honored in Paul's actions; whatever the outcome. Now, look at the last of v.20, "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death." Talk about faith, talk about dedication and devotion; Paul had it.
Now, why is Paul saying this? Well, as we said, first of all he is reporting 'to the Philippians his state of mind, connected to that chain. Obviously (in the second place), he is trying to instill that same faith, dedication and devotion into his Philippian brethren. Right? Paul never missed an opportunity. And, is it necessary to say, Paul is trying to instill that into you and me also? This thing of a little religion on Sunday morning, if it happens to be convenient, of course; isn't Christianity at all. It's mostly "strong delusion"...believing not the truth... having pleasure in unrighteousness. Do you remember II Thess. 2:12?? Jesus said: "he that is not with me is against me..." (Matt. 12:30). There's no halfway in and halfway out; one foot in the circle and one foot out of the circle. That isn't Christianity; it's delusion. Christianity is a vocation, Paul said. Do you remember Eph. 4:1??..."walk worthy!" was his admonition.
Then, in v.21 thru v.26, Paul discussed the alternatives. It really came down to a life or death situation. In v.23, Paul said he was "in a strait betwixt two..." i.e. we would say: Paul was hard pressed to know which would be best. That phrase, "I wot not" (KJV, v.22) is an old expression meaning: I cannot tell. The word "strait" (S-T-R-A-I-T) means a narrow passage or a perplexing channel, hard to navigate. Jesus used that word in Matt. 7:14. Do you remember? "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life and few there be that find it." Paul said he was in a strait between two. Two what? Two alternatives, i.e. life or death. He was prepared to go either way. If Nero dealt him death and his head was suddenly (swish...) cut off by a sword in the hand of a Roman soldier, Paul would simply be going through the door of death to be with Christ. The thought even excited Paul's desire to do it (v.23). However, if he should be spared death at that time; that would be nice too, he might be able to revisit, bolster and encourage his Philippian brethren and that thought excited Paul also. If that should be the alternative, he said: "I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of the faith" (v.25). "That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again" (v.26). Paul's release, through the prayers of his Philippian brethren would make their meeting and their association even sweeter and more intimate than before. Paul could not make up his mind which course might be best; not necessarily for himself; but, the best for the furtherance of the gospel in general. Paul was not a narrow thinker. Paul was not self centered. Decisions do not come easily; if you try to consider all the facts, i.e. every facet of the problem. It's easy to make a decision when you consider only SELF. I remember one young co-worker early in my career as a teacher. When a problem came up and some decision had to be made, he (it seemed) could have the answer and make a difficult decision before the problem was hardly stated. I remember how his speed in decision-making simply dazzled me. Here I am fishing for more facts and he has already decided: go or don't go. But, you know what? I later, bit by bit and degree by degree, discovered; that when he considered a problem, he took into consideration one thing: how does it affect me? That's all. How it affected the school, the parent, the student, the cost, what it meant to the community, or anything else didn't really enter into the picture. Now, I believe we should be decisive. However, a self- centered decision is not necessarily a good decision. Paul was not self- centered; he viewed the entire waterfront. He was concerned with all the churches and what the general outcome would be. His personal safety was only one consideration in a much larger picture. Notice now, how Paul smoothly blended this into the next thought. In v.27, the apostle began (as he usually did) to encourage and exhort them to "stand fast" (middle of v.27). The idea of stand, or stand fast (here) is the same idea he used to encourage the Ephesians (do you remember?) to put on the whole armour of God. Back in Eph. 6:11, he said: "that ye may be able to STAND against the wiles of the devil." Here in v.27, Paul added: "striving together for the faith of the gospel." Then in v.28 he added to that thought: don't let this or anything else frighten you. Don't be intimidated by your adversaries. Brethren, this is a great call, a great thought, don't be intimidated by your adversaries. And, my friends, for a statement like that to come from the lips of a man practically standing under a sword makes this an all the more courageous thought. So many times, we give in before we start to fight. We don't stand our ground, we don't strive together ("in one mind," as he says in v.27) for the faith of gospel. Too often, we succumb to the atheists and the false teachers; by simply not challenging them. We let THEM intimidate us. We simply don't STAND FAST, in Paul's terminology. May I dare you to consider for a moment what this world would be like if all who profess to be Christians WERE CHRISTIANS in the biblical sense? There would be only one church. The doctrines of men and their councils would not exist. All those big seats of ecclesiastical authority, popes and arch-bishops, etc. would not exist. Jesus' prayer would soon be achieved, Jesus said: "Neither pray I for these alone, [i.e. for the apostles alone] but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21). Paul was concerned about the broad picture. Paul's word "perdition" in v.28 as used here and other places in the N.T. is in contrast to salvation or very simply put: to be lost. V.28 implies to me that the Philippians at that time were experiencing some kind of enemy attacks, i.e. they had "adversaries," you might notice. Remembering Acts ch. 16, the disposition of the magistrates in that chief city of Macedonia and the time Paul and Silas spent in jail there; it is not hard for me to imagine the possibility of some adversarial situation against the Philippian church. Paul, of course, through the intelligence brought to him by Epaphroditus more recently and perhaps others; was well informed, I'm sure, as to the dilemmas and perplexities the Philippian church was then suffering. V.28 undoubtedly alludes to something of that kind.
However, before we run out of tape, let me encourage you to tune-in v.29 with both eyeballs. The apostle said: "It is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake..." When one gives that passage a little critical thought, it puts some real starch into Christianity. Doesn't it? And, let me ask you: what does this do to the doctrine of faith only? Christianity requires more than a mere mental assent. Call it works, call it obedience, or call it what ever you like. Paul makes it clear that suffering can and may be a part of that STAND FAST admonition up in v.27 as well as that "striving together for the faith of the gospel." The apostle Peter once said, if you have to suffer; it is better to suffer "for well doing, than for evil doing." (I Pet. 3:17). What are we saying? Everyone suffers in some way or another. Let's face it! Drug addicts suffer. Murderers suffer terrible mental stress. Thieves and robbers are constantly running from the law. Not only that, think how much suffering rapist and arsonists inflict upon others. Our prisons are filled with suffering. If one must suffer, as Peter says, doesn't it make a lot more sense to suffer for Christ and for righteousness than to suffer for evil doing? Nobody has said Christianity is easy. Jesus, himself, referred to it as a yoke. I trust you know what a yoke is...something used as harness on a beast of burden, possibly a donkey or a cow. The N.T. does not describe Christianity as bliss. However, it's still the best way. Jesus followed that statement in Matt. 11:30 by saying: "my yoke is easy, and by burden is light," i.e. compared to worldly living. Then, have you considered the two retirement systems? Either eternal life in heaven or eternal existence in Hell. Have a good day!