Friday, August 29, 2014

Philippians 1: A Gospel-centred Life


Phil 1:3-14, 27-28 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.,,

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

In this first chapter of Philippians, the key word that stands out is "gospel". It occurs 5 times in this chapter alone. For Paul the "gospel" is centred around promise of Christ in the OT and its fulfillment in the NT: "the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:1-4).  And it is on this "gospel" that Paul builds his life and ministry:
  1. Fellowship of the Gospel (v.5):  Paul thanks God for the Philippians for their "partnership of the gospel." The Greek word for "partnership" is koinonia, which is usually translated "fellowship" in other NT contexts. It is literally "having in common, partnership, fellowship" (Vine). In other words, NT fellowship is not built around social conversation and food but around the gospel. It is only when believers are united in the proclamation of the gospel that true fellowship is experienced. It's similar to the kind of bond that is developed among soldiers that fought together in a battle. Too much of church "fellowship" is just social interaction. But the kind that the Paul refers to is only present in churches that are united around the gospel.
  2. Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel (v.7):  The gospel is not only the basis of fellowship among believers but their mission. It is only when the gospel is proclaimed that we will need to defend its truths and confirm its power. The word "defend" (apologia, from which we get apologetics) suggests a need to give an intelligent "answer" (1 Peter 3:15) to anyone who asks the reason for our faith. The word "confirmation" suggests the need to demonstrate the power of the gospel. So, we need to help seekers and skeptics understand how the gospel worldview is both a rational and realistic answer to life's first-order questions and practical challenges. But it must not just end in talk, "for the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (1 Cor. 4:20). 
  3. Advance of the Gospel (v.12):  As far as Paul is concerned, what happens to him is of little consequence as long as it serves to advance the gospel: "what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (v.12-14). Paul's supreme priority is the spread of the gospel--if his imprisonment helps in the process, he rejoices. He is not seeking for his own personal or professional advancement, but the advancement of the gospel. It's this attitude that led to the rapid growth of God's kingdom in the first three centuries. If our business failures or loss of job or even illness can advance the gospel, then that is of greater priority than whether our business prospers or whether we can get promoted in our job or whether we are healed. Paul's proclamation of the gospel in Galatia was a result of his sickness: "But you know it was because of a physical illness that I first proclaimed the gospel to you" (Gal 4:13, NET). The only thing that will glorify God ultimately is not our success or healing but that the gospel of the kingdom is advanced among the lost.
  4. A Life Worthy of the Gospel (v.12):  The goal of the gospel is life transformation. While pre-believers may not have read any of the Four Gospels in the NT, they are reading the Fifth Gospel everyday--namely the way we live our life before them, especially in the workplaces where most of us spent at least 44 hours a week. Is my life consistent with the power of the gospel that we share. The gospel is not just about getting "saved" but becoming transformed in our heart attitudes and towards a godly lifestyle marked by justice, mercy and humility: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8, NKJV).
Paul's life is defined by the gospel--the defense of its truth and the demonstration of its power. And this is not just for "full-time" workers. In fact, it's among pre-believers in the workplaces on weekdays that the gospel need to be defended and demonstrated, not in church on weekends. May our lifestyle be centred on the advancement of the gospel. 

Father, make the advancement of Your gospel the ambition of our lives. Amen.

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