Philippians 1:12-29 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Peter Choi, Gracepoint Berkeley

Being in prison would be a very frustrating experience for the average person because he wouldn’Prisoners in chainst be able to come and go as he pleases, doing things that are important to him. His schedule would be strictly defined by his captors  and he wouldn’t be able to do as he wishes. In the case of Apostle Paul, the frustration would also be caused by the fact that he did nothing morally  wrong to “deserve” prison. This unjust punishment, combined with his desire to further the gospel, would have been frustrating to no end. The fact that Apostle Paul was able to rejoice is, then, nothing short of amazing.

In v.12 we find the reason for his joy. He says “…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” And again in v.14 “…most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” And yet again in v.18 “…whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” Apostle Paul’s source of joy was not based on circumstance, whether he was doing well or not, whether he was being effective or not, productive or not. He derived his joy solely from the fact that Christ was being preached. His joy was determined by something higher than merely the state of his life and what he is doing. He is clearly able to see a larger narrative, in which his own story is just a part. Clearly he believes that this is how to conduct himself “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v.27)

It’s tempting to base my sense of well-being on how “effective” or “productive” I am. And sadly there are times that I allow myself to continue in this line of thinking. But it totally misses the point of the gospel, because it is all about God’s mercy to begin with, not about my own sense of accomplishment, my own sense of self-importance. For Apostle Paul, it was all about Jesus. “For to me, to live is Christ,” he says. “…I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he says. These are the things that I need to constantly preach to myself whenever I am faced with the temptation to feel sorry for myself when I don’t feel particularly “effective” or “productive”. I need to also be mindful of the times in which  I  do  feel joy, and ask myself whether the joy comes from a very pedestrian, worldly way of looking at my life; or if it comes from an outlook on life that places the gospel above all other things.
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Submitted by David Tung, Gracepoint Berkeley

One question we can ask is “How did Apostle Paul see the things that had happened to him?” One way that he could have seen his situation is that he had no freedom to preach or teach other people. His calling was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles – that was his life. But, here he was, in prison. It might have been something that frustrated him and caused him much chagrin. However, we can see from the text that Apostle Paul did not view his imprisonment with this kind of chagrin. In verse 12-14 he states that, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” And because Christ was preached, Apostle Paul rejoiced.

Why was this able to cause Apostle Paul such joy? I know that all of us would acknowledge that Christ being preached is a good thing – but it is sometimes hard to genuinely rejoice. For me, one example of that is when I see Christ preached through my friends but not myself. Many of my peers are much more effective and successful in their ministry than I am – I hear stories about how their guys are getting excited about the Gospel and close to making decisions or crossing the line of faith and giving their lives to Christ – this should certainly be a cause of joy all Christians, and thus it should be a source of joy for me. However, so often, it becomes a source of envy and bitterness for me because I feel diminished by their effectiveness and success and my lack of effectiveness and success. I know that Apostle Paul did not see things this way – he was able to rejoice because the Gospel was preached. Some people preached the Gospel in love, knowing that Apostle Paul was put here for the defense of the Gospel – they paid Apostle Paul the proper honor and respect in their ministry. However, there were others who preached the Gospel out of selfish ambition – they were trying to stir up trouble for Apostle Paul while he was imprisoned. “But what does it matter?” Apostle Paul was able to rejoice just because the Gospel was preached. He was not trying to protect his own reputation or position or prestige – otherwise, how could he rejoice over these preachers who were trying to stir up trouble for him? How was Apostle Paul able to do this? It was out of his recognition that ministry and the work of salvation was not about him – it was God’s work, and it was about God. It is something that is echoed in Pastor Ed’s Bible study through 1 Corinthians 3 on Tuesday. 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 says, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Apostle Paul recognized that he was just a slave; he had the privilege of being God’s fellow worker and a part in the work, but it was ultimately about God. It is God who makes the Gospel grow and bear fruit in people’s lives. Thus, even though he was in prison and he did not seem so effective in the work of the Gospel, he rejoiced because the work of the Gospel was being done.

I know that oftentimes I still have a hard time internalizing the fact that ministry is about God and not about me. Of course, it sounds like madness to think that ministry is somehow about me, but it is easy to believe it in my heart without actually saying it. It comes from the worldly values that I grew up with – the idea that I need to compete with other people and outdo those around me so that I can receive the recognition and the praise. It is so easy for this kind of comparison and competition to infect Christian life and ministry. Thus, I find that I often do compare myself with other people and I feel good when I seem to be doing better and I feel diminished and jealous when others seem to be doing better. I need to respond to that by first reminding myself that it is all about God – he is the one that makes things grow. I am really nothing – just a servant – and I have been given the incredible honor of being God’s fellow worker, along with those who serve alongside me, like my friends and leaders. None of us are anything – just servants – but we are all God’s fellow workers and we are all in this same work together. Thus, anytime the work of the Gospel and the work of preaching Christ is done by us, it can and should lead to rejoicing in my life, because I share in that work. In order to move in this direction, I know that one thing that I need to do more of is pray for the other ministries in our church so that I have the right heart towards those ministries. As a part of Church Plant Resources Group, I know that I will probably be spending a lot more time doing background work – it will become that much easier to feel jealousy when my friends seem to be finding successful ministries in areas that are more visible. Prayer for my friends and for their ministries will help me to remember that I also share in their ministry because we are all sharing in God’s ministry together, and thus I can rejoice when the Gospel is preached.

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