The Lord's Day Morning
May 27, 2007
“For the Greater Progress of the Gospel”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one, as we continue to study our way through this great letter. Let me ask you to look especially at verses 9-11, the last part of the passage we studied together last week. I do believe it has direct bearing on this new section that we're launching into today.
We’re going to be looking at verses 12-20, but in verses 9-11, you see the prayer that Paul had prayed for the Philippians (the passage that we gave some attention to last week), and we see how it flows into logically the experience which Paul describes in verses 12-20. In verses 9-11, the Apostle Paul reports that this is what he is praying for the Philippians:
“…That your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Now we said the last time we were together that we can find at least seven petitions in that one-sentence report of prayer. First of all, Paul prays that the Philippians will abound in love. They’re already a loving congregation; we spent some time talking about that last week, but Paul still prays for an increase in their Christian love.
Secondly, he prays that they would grow in knowledge, that they would increase in a true, practical, character-transforming, biblical knowledge of God; that their love would be accompanied by knowledge. And we observed that in Christian love there is always true knowledge, and with true biblical knowledge there is always Christian love. And so he prays that they would abound in love and that they would grow in knowledge.
Thirdly, he prays that they would increase in discernment. He wants them to cultivate good judgment and discretion. That's something that accompanies true knowledge, and so he prays that they would abound in love, grow in knowledge, and increase in discernment.
Fourthly, because of their discernment he wants them to choose what is excellent, choose what is good. He wants them to desire for and choose that which is excellent or good.
Fifth, he prays that they would continue in sincerity and integrity, that they would cultivate the moral life, that they would be true from the inside out, and that they would act with integrity in their moral lives; that their interior and exterior would correspond; that what they are outside they would be inside, and what they are inside they would be outside; that what they are out in the community they would be at home, and what they are at home they would be out in the community–there would be a moral unity to their lives.
Sixth, he prays that they would live in fruitful righteousness, that they would produce fruit in Christian life for witness to Christ; and he acknowledges that this comes through Jesus Christ and through His ongoing work in us.
And then, finally, he prays that they would live for God's glory. Notice again his words:
“…that you would be filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
And so he wants them to live consciously for the glory and praise of God.
Then in this section we're going to read this morning (from 12 to 20), he is having to explain a little bit of a problem to the Philippians. The Philippians are deeply concerned, because Paul is, after all, writing this letter to them from a state of imprisonment. He is in chains and the Philippians are deeply concerned about that. They’re concerned about the suffering that he is enduring; they are concerned about what the sentence is going to be against him by the Roman officials; they are afraid of the punishment or even the death that may well await him. They are concerned about the fact that the best evangelist in the known world is in prison. He's not out there preaching Christ on the street. And, after all, the Philippians are partners with him in the gospel. They’re very concerned that the gospel be preached, and they’re concerned about the fact that the best evangelist in the world has been sidelined. And they’re concerned to figure out what God is doing in this…’Lord, what are You doing? You know of all the people that need to be imprisoned, Paul is not one of them! He's the best of Your apostles in reaching the Gentiles. This part of the world,’ the Philippians would quickly point out, ‘has been evangelized in large measure because of the Apostle Paul. He's the last guy that you would want in jail, O God!’
Now all these questions are running through the Philippians’ minds, so the Apostle Paul is writing to the Philippians to explain to them. And I want you to see three parts in the passage before us.
First of all, if you’ll take a look at verses 12-14, you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul is explaining how his circumstances are actually furthering the cause of the gospel, rather than hindering the gospel. So he's concerned to explain to the Philippians that their fears are unfounded; that his imprisonment isn't going to result in the hindering of the gospel, but in fact, by God's glorious sovereign providence, the gospel is going to spread all the more, despite his circumstances–and even because of his circumstances.
Secondly, if you look at verses 15-18, you’ll see him make an aside. He pauses. He knows that the Philippians are wondering what their attitude ought to be to the people that are continuing to spread the gospel while Paul is chained up. I mean, after all, the Philippians are big supporters of Paul. They've been sending him money. In fact, in chapter four we’ll find out that Paul's almost embarrassed by the fact that these relatively poor Philippians are sending him such generous gifts so that he can devote himself fully to the gospel. He's their missionary. He's their church planter. He's their evangelist. They’re sending money to him. What should they think about these other people that are out there preaching the gospel while he's chained up?
Well, he tells you in this section what you ought to think.
And then, thirdly, if you look at verses 19-20, he tells you what the burning hope is that he has that keeps him from being discouraged in his present situation.
And I want to look at all three of those things with you for a few moments: The first one, his circumstances; the second one, what to think about other preachers who are preaching while he is in prison; and then, third, what his hope is. In the first one, we're going to be seeing Paul pointing them to the promise of God in his circumstances. In the second issue or question he raises (those others who are preaching the gospel), he's going to point the Philippians and you and me to the propagation of the gospel, or the spreading of the gospel, and ask us to consider that. The third issue is his purpose in life. He's going to point us to the purpose not only of an apostle, not only of a disciple, but of all of us who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, he's going to point us to providence, he's going to point us to the promotion of the gospel, and he's going to point us to our purpose in life as he wrestles through this very practical question with the Philippians.
Now before we read God's word, let's pray and ask His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. It is a lamp to our feet; it is a light to our way. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It can pierce even to the bones and marrow and joints. It can sift out our motivations and inner thoughts and attitudes. That's why You say it's powerful and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It reveals Christ to us. You reveal Yourself to us in Your word. We acknowledge that we need the help of Your Holy Spirit to understand it, to believe it, and to practice it. We understand it so that we would believe it; we believe it so that we would practice it; but we need the Holy Spirit if we would do these things aright. So open our eyes by Your Spirit that we may behold wonderful things in Your word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well-known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I an appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
In answering the Philippians’ questions–they’re concerned about his imprisonment, they’re concerned about its ramification on the spread of the gospel, they’re concerned to know how they ought to respond to the others who are not in prison who are preaching the gospel while Paul is imprisoned, they’re wondering where Paul's heart is, how his spirits are–in answer to that question, the Apostle Paul writes this section. In the course of it, he teaches us something about the providence of God, he teaches us something about our concern for the promotion of the gospel, and he teaches us something about our purpose in life. And I want to look at those three things with you, and then I want to draw three more conclusions by way of application of this passage.
I. God uses Paul's imprisonment for His glory.
First of all, look with me at verses 12-14. The Apostle Paul is responding in this passage to the Philippians’ expressions of concern for him. ‘Paul, you’re in prison. If ever there was a time when you were needed, it's now. What in the world is God doing, Paul, for you to be imprisoned right now? Won't the gospel be hindered if you are imprisoned? You are God's first string! There's no evangelist out there like you, Paul. You are, amongst all the apostles, the supreme apostle to the Gentiles. There is no backup who can step into your shoes. What is the Lord doing?’
And in response to this the Apostle Paul tells us in verses 12-14, ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but in fact they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ In response to the Philippians’ concern that the gospel is somehow going to be hindered by Paul being in prison, Paul says ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ This is quite extraordinary. Paul actually goes on to give two examples of how his imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message in this region, and even all the way to Rome.
You remember how Derek has been telling us over and over that Luke's concern in the book of Acts is to show you that the gospel gets all the way to Rome. Why Rome? Because Rome is the economic, governmental, social, cultural center of the world. And Luke wants to show you how the gospel is even going to get there. Well, in this passage the Apostle Paul says ‘Let me give you one example of how my imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message. For one thing,’ he says, ‘the whole praetorian guard has heard the gospel.’
You know, Paul may be chained up, but he's chained up to praetorian guards, and let me tell you, they’re hearing the gospel whether they want to hear it or not! And the praetorian guard happens to be the guard that guards whose house? Right! Nero's house. So the gospel has spread all the way to the guards who guard Nero's house. In fact, Paul, in one of his letters, will greet those who are Christians in Nero's house. Maybe it was through this very path: the guards are witnessed to; they embrace Christ; they tell others who embrace Christ. But the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Look, even though I'm in prison, I'm sharing the gospel and the praetorian guard is hearing the gospel! The gospel is going forth. I'm chained up, but the gospel is not.’
And he says, ‘Let me give you another example.’ [Look at verse 14.] He says, ‘There are brethren who are trusting in the Lord in ways that they have never trusted in the Lord before, just because I am in prison. They turn around, suddenly I've been sidelined, I'm in prison, and they say, ‘Well, we're going to have to trust the Lord more than ever before, and if Paul's voice has been muffled for a while, if he's been sidelined, if he can't be out in the streets and marketplace sharing the gospel, then I guess we need to be out in the streets and in the marketplaces sharing the gospel.’’ And so he says, “…They have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” It's as if in their very moment of crisis they say ‘Hey, we have to step up and trust the Lord, and we have to get out there and share the gospel.’ And so Paul gives two examples to the Philippians about how even though he's chained up, even though he's in prison, even though he's awaiting sentencing, even though he is possibly awaiting death, nevertheless the gospel is not hindered. In fact, his imprisonment has served the purposes of the greater expansion, or the greater progress, of the gospel.
Now what makes Paul respond to his imprisonment in this way? How is it that Paul can look at his circumstances and not say, ‘Lord, what are You doing? Lord, I am the one apostle concerned to primarily spread the word of Christ to the Gentiles, and here You are locking me up in prison! Lord, I'm trying to serve You faithfully, and here I am clamped to a Roman soldier.’ Why isn't Paul asking “Why me?” kinds of questions? For two reasons.
First, because the Apostle Paul believes Romans 8:28…I mean, he wrote it, after all! “God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose,” for those who love Him. Paul believes Romans 8:28. He believes in God's providence over, His care for, His sovereign oversight of His people in such a way that He works everything in our lives for our good. Paul believes that, and so Paul doesn't look at his circumstances and say ‘Lord, my circumstances show that You don't love me, that You don't care about me, that You’re not in control. What's going on here? Why me? What are You doing, Lord? Where are You?’ No! Paul looks at his circumstances and he is confident that God is at work even in those circumstances.
II. Prison bars cannot stop God's plan for His Church.
Secondly, Paul believes what Jesus said in Matthew 16: that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Apostle Paul knows that the gospel cannot be stopped. You can't take a faithful gospel preacher off the field and stop the gospel. You can't even stop the gospel by taking the Apostle Paul off the field. I mean, the Apostle Paul had a little personal experience of that. He was on his way to Damascus to kill and persecute Christians, and what did God do? He took the biggest persecutor of the church off the field and turned him into an evangelist! The Apostle Paul knew that God would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. And because of these two things, as Paul looks at his circumstances he doesn't throw his hands up in the air and say ‘Lord, what are You doing? Are You in control? Why me?’ He says to the Philippians, “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”
Why? Because as far as Paul is concerned, his circumstances were not the big picture. God's plan is the big picture. The gospel is the big picture. The spread of the kingdom of God, that's the big picture. His circumstances are only part of that picture. Yes, those circumstances are important to God, but they’re not at the center of things. And so when things go bad for Paul that does not become the crisis of the moment or of the day, or of all time. Because all of those circumstances, good and bad, the Apostle Paul knows that God is working for his good and is using for the building of Christ's kingdom.
Now, my friends, let me just say that that is hugely important for us. I understand that Paul is in prison for the gospel, and so that in a sense the kind of circumstance he is wrestling with here is having something bad happen when you are trying to do something explicitly for Christ in the spread of the gospel. But what Paul says here about his circumstances has a universal application to all Christians in how we look at our circumstances, and especially the hard circumstances of our lives, because the Apostle Paul is absolutely convinced that our circumstances, however difficult, have in them a larger purpose: the glory of God, the gospel of Christ, the propagation of the truth of God's word.
You know, when we face difficult circumstances, we are very quick to call God on the carpet. ‘Lord, You've got to answer for this. How could You do this to me? How could You do this to us?’ People look at calamities that happen in the world–and friends, face it, this world is filled with calamities. I had the privilege of hearing a message by John Piper this last week in which he made this point, that if you could know only 1/10,000th of the pain and the suffering that was being endured collectively in this world at any one time, you would not be able to bear it. There's only One who can know all the suffering in the world and bear it; that's our God. But when we see that suffering, and especially when we experience that suffering, those times of difficulty, those circumstances which are the things that we never ever would have picked for ourselves or for our loved ones, we are very quick to ask God, “What in the world are You doing? What's wrong here?”
And the problem, you see, is we've put our circumstances at the center of things, and we've declared a crisis. In fact, what is at the center of things is the gospel, is the exaltation of Jesus Christ; and all of our circumstances, good or bad, are just a part in that bigger picture. And that's how the Apostle Paul looked at life–I'm a disciple of Christ. ‘The big picture,’ he is saying, ‘is the advance of the gospel, the spreading of the gospel; the declaration of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; and all of my circumstances fit in that big picture.’ And so he says to the Philippians ‘Don't look at me and think that somehow God has made a mistake. Don't look at my circumstances and think that God was asleep at the wheel, or that He's not on the job, or that something's gone wrong. No, my circumstances are under the sovereign control of my heavenly Father, and God's gospel is going to go forth no matter what. Therefore, God will use even these circumstances for the expansion of the gospel.’ And so it changes, it re-frames the way that the Apostle Paul looks at his circumstances.
It ought to re-frame the way that you and I look at ours. We ought not to be surprised by hard circumstances that come into our experience. We should recognize that when those circumstances, when those trials come, we have an enormous privilege and gospel opportunity to make those circumstances count for the glory of God, for the spread of the gospel, for a witness to Christ. The Apostle Paul could say ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ And when those kinds of circumstances are encountered by us, we ought to be asking the question, “How in my response can I serve the further progress of the gospel, even in this circumstance?”
And you understand that for every believer in every trial there is a way for that to happen, because God works all things together for those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose. In other words, God never wastes those circumstances. You are too precious to your heavenly Father for Him to waste pain and suffering. He always has gospel purposes in your pain, suffering, difficulties, your hard circumstances. He always has gospel purposes.
That's not the only thing He has going on, by the way! That's one of the marvelous things about God's providence: He does multiple things all at once. But He always has in view gospel purposes, even in your pain and suffering, and you see how it transforms the way that Paul looked at this difficulty. He could have been, like godly John the Baptist, in prison scratching his head, saying ‘Lord, what went wrong?’ Even John the Baptist reacted that way to his imprisonment, but Paul is not reacting that way because the big picture for him is the advance of the gospel. It's the progress of the gospel. And if his circumstances, however difficult, however dangerous, however discouraging that they are at the human level, serve the advance of the gospel, then the Apostle Paul re-frames the whole way that he looks at his circumstances. That's the first thing I want you to see. Paul says to the Philippians, ‘Don't worry; my circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’
III. Paul urges love for his captors.
Look at verses 15-18. Paul is now responding to the Philippians who are wondering, ‘Well, Paul, we've supported you, and now that you’re chained up there are other people out preaching the gospel…some of them are stepping up. They’re saying ‘Paul's in prison; we better get out there and share the gospel.’ But others of them, Paul, they’re your enemies. They’re envious of you. They don't like you. They want to build their name. They want to have more converts than you. They want to be more famous than you. They want to be more influential than you. They want to get more credit than you. How are we supposed to think about them?’
And the Apostle Paul responds in this extraordinary way:
“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”
So the Apostle Paul says ‘Look, some of these folks are out there because they know that I'm in prison. They love me, they love the gospel, they love Christ, and so they say ‘Lord, Paul's in prison. We better step up. We better go out and share the gospel.’ They’re doing it out of love, they’re doing it out of right motives. Others, however, may be thinking something like this: ‘Paul's in prison, and when he hears that we're out preaching the gospel and winning converts and gaining fame through our faithful proclamation, he’ll be discouraged because we're winning the converts.’’ And the Apostle Paul says to the Philippians ‘Uh-uh. As long as Christ is being truly proclaimed, I don't care who does it or who gets the credit for it, because the point is the promotion of the gospel.’ And so he says to the Philippians ‘I am not discouraged when Christ is truly preached, even if it's out of envy, even if it's out of competition, even if it's designed to discourage me. As long as the gospel is preached truly…’ [He's not saying, by they way, he doesn't mind it when false gospels are taught. Oh, no! He does mind it when false gospels are taught.] He's talking about the true gospel being proclaimed, but by people with wrong motives. You know, their motive is to get at him; their motive is to discourage him; their motive is to get more converts than he gets, so that they get more credit and it discourages him in his state of imprisonment. But what they’re saying is true. You know preachers can preach the truth and not have hearts right with God. And the Apostle Paul says ‘Look, Philippians. Here's the big concern. The big concern is the promotion of Christ, the promotion of the gospel, the progress of the gospel; and I'm not discouraged when Christ is truly preached, In fact, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, in this I rejoice.’ Why? Because as far as Paul is concerned it's not about him, it's about Christ. It's not about Paul being first, Paul gaining fame. It's about Christ.
IV. Paul's goal is to glorify God whether free or in prison.
And then, thirdly, if you look at verses 19-20, he tells them what his hope is. Here's what is my anchor, Philippians, while I'm in prison:
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
The statement begins by an indication that Paul is confident that he is going to be released, that their prayers are going to be effective, that Christ's Spirit is going to grant him physical as well as his presently enjoyed spiritual freedom. But after saying that, he says ‘You know, whether I'm released or not, I know I'm not going to be put to shame, because my goal is that whether I live or die, Christ is exalted. Here's my hope.’ The Apostle Paul is saying ‘Here is my hope, and nobody can take this hope from me. Here's my hope: that Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.’
Now, this is Paul speaking and living out the theology of the cross. Jesus’ great instrument of shame is Jesus’ great instrument of victory–the cross. And if that is the case for Jesus, so also it is the case for all those who trust in Him, and so the Apostle Paul is saying this: ‘There is no shame that I can endure in this world that can ultimately shame me, as long as Christ is exalted in me, because that's what I'm about. I am about glorifying and enjoying God through Jesus Christ forever; and whatever shame I bear here will not ultimately be my shame, as long as Christ is exalted in me. So whether I live in prison or die at the hand of a Roman executioner, if Christ is exalted I will not be put to shame, because I am here to live for the glory of God.’
Do you see how gospel-centered, how Christ-centered, Paul's way of thinking is? And do you realize how this can be transforming for the way we approach life? If we are living for the exaltation of Christ, when that diagnosis comes that no person in his right mind would wish for and which catches us completely off-guard, if we are living for the exaltation of Christ, the question becomes not ‘Lord, why me?’ but ‘Lord, how will You cause this to work for the exaltation of Christ? I can't wait to see it. I know I'm in Your hands. I know You love me like You love Your own Son. I know that even the death of Your saints is precious in Your sight. All of that, I'm taken care of. I'm taken care of, God, whether I live or die, I'm taken care of. But the question for me is this: How are You going to be exalted in this, because that's what I'm about! That's what I'm here for, I'm here to glorify You and to enjoy You; I'm here to exalt You. And I want to see how Christ is exalted, because no experience in this life can abase me that exalts Him.’
It's the principle of the cross, that the way to glory is the way of the cross; that the way up is the way down. And we see it here playing out in Paul's experience. Remember what the last thing that he prayed for the Philippians was? That they would live for what? Live for His praise, live for His glory. But the Apostle Paul doesn't pray for them to do something that he's not prepared to do himself, and so he's saying ‘I don't know what's going to happen. I may live; I may die. But either way, my goal is for Christ to be exalted in my body.
I don't know what the diagnosis you have heard is. I don't know the family situation that you face. I don't know the situation in your job. I don't know what the circumstance is. This world is filled with hard, hard circumstances. This congregation is filled with people enduring hard, hard circumstances…circumstances so hard I have no right to speak of them. But in them the Apostle Paul is saying it is our joy to exalt Christ in our bodies, whether we live or die.
Now three things by way of conclusion and deduction from this truth:
One, Paul makes it clear that Christians know that the word of God can't be imprisoned. Christians know that the word of God can't be imprisoned. You know the Philippians are concerned that Paul being imprisoned is going to hinder the spread of the gospel, and Paul makes it emphatically clear here–‘No, no, no! My imprisonment is not going to stop the gospel, because you can imprison the messengers of the word of God, but you can't imprison the word of God.’
Friends, you've got to have that confidence in this world. You've got to have that confidence in this world, that the word of God cannot be imprisoned. You know, I think sometimes God sidelines the choicest of His servants precisely so that He can show that He can do this without us. If there was ever an indispensable man in the first century for the spread of the gospel, it was Paul. And the Lord just puts him over in prison, and He says to the Philippians ‘Watch this! The word of God can't be imprisoned.’ That's so important for us to understand in the Western world today, where everywhere we look around it looks like in the English-speaking world that what's happening? That the word of God is being hindered, is being imprisoned, is being rejected. Sometimes that makes us think, “Oh, no, we've got to change the message,” or, “Oh, no, we've got to change our method,” or “Oh, no, we've got to use a new strategy.” No, no, no, no! The word of God cannot be imprisoned; when He is ready to let the lion loose, there will be no one who hinders it. All we need to do is be faithful to that word of God.
Secondly, Paul makes it clear here that Christians rejoice when the gospel is being preached. The Philippians don't quite know how to react to the progress of the gospel amongst these other preachers, some who love Paul and some who don't, while Paul's in prison. And Paul says to them, ‘Look, when the gospel goes forth, I'm happy!’
I want us to love very doctrine in our Confession of Faith. I want us to understand it more and more and appreciate it more and more every day, every week, every year. I want us to live it out in joy and in gladness as we bear witness to the truth. I want us to have conviction about the doctrines that we believe. But when we see God using faithful servants who may be different from us, may believe a little bit differently from us, but who share with us a true understanding of the gospel, when we see that gospel going forth through their ministries, our response should be to rejoice! Even if they’re growing faster than we are, even if they’re gaining more converts that we are, we should rejoice! Because the point is not us or them, it's the proclamation of Christ, it's the spread of the gospel, it's the building of the kingdom. We ought to love the kingdom so much that we rejoice when we see the gospel proclaimed, even when it's not us, even when it's not our tribe, we ought to rejoice when Christ is proclaimed.
Thirdly, Christians long for Christ to be exalted, whether this is in our life or in our death. It's the thing that we're about. This is why our response to our circumstances is so important, because if our response is “Why me?” what does that say? Who is at the center of our worldview and universe? Me. But if our response is “How is Christ going to be exalted in this?” then who's at the center of our universe and our worldview? Christ. That's how it was for the Apostle Paul.
Friends, I know…I know that this is a word for so many here today, in a dazzling variety of circumstances. Paul has a word for us about God's providence–to trust in God's providence. He has a word for us about the desire of our hearts in seeing the gospel proclaimed, and he has a word for us in understanding the purpose of our lives. What is our purpose? To exalt Christ, whether in life or in death. Or, in the words of The Catechism, to glorify and enjoy God forever. That's what we're here for. In every circumstance we have the privilege and opportunity to exalt Christ. May He help us to do so.
Heavenly Father, give us such a love for the kingdom, such a burning desire to see Christ exalted, that we will approach all our circumstances, the worst of our circumstances, asking gospel questions; not ‘How could You let this happen, Lord?’; not ‘Are You in control, Lord?’; not ‘Why have You done this to me, Lord?’; but ‘Lord God, I know that You love me, I know that You care for me, I know that You gave Your Son for me, I know that You won't let a hair fall from my head apart from your will. I know that You’re working all things together for good for me. But, Lord, help me to exalt Christ even in this, so that whether I live or die, He is glorified.’ This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord]