Last Sunday I preached on “Honoring Christ” from Philippians 1:12-20. Here’s the outline (point 1 was actually adapted from Warren Wiersbe’s N.T. Commentary):
We honor Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino because they died for our country’s freedom. With all the more reason we should honor the Lord Jesus Christ because he died to set us free from the penalty and power of our sins (II Cor. 5:15). But how precisely do we do that? The example of Paul in prison gives us an idea of how we can honor Christ.
I. WE HONOR CHRIST BY REJOICING IN HIM IN SPITE OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
A. Paul was in chains, but instead of complaining he rejoiced because:
1. His chains gave him contact with the lost (Phil. 1:13)
a. The elite praetorian guard
b. The officers in Caesar’s court
NOTE: God is able to over-rule our “unfortunate” circumstances to further his own purpose of saving many lives. And if we realize this, we will rejoice instead of complaining. Examples: Susannah Wesley was the mother of 19 children – a very heavy burden – but she raised up John and Charles Wesley – the one, a great evangelist; the other, a great hymn writer. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt and, to make matters worse, was cast into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But God meant it for good, to save many lives (Gen. 50:20). I have read somewhere that, a long time ago, Vikings from the North would sometimes raid Christian villages, abduct the women from that place and make them their wives. But God used these very same women to witness to their husbands, thus resulting in their salvation. I know of a man who used to be an officer of a certain bank, but the bank became bankrupt. Today that man is a pastor, used by God in the saving of souls. So you see, God is in control of our circumstances, no matter how difficult they may be. For all we know God has allowed our circumstances to be what they are because he intends to save souls. Precisely because Paul was a prisoner the gospel reached Rome. And precisely because he was a prisoner he had access to the Praetorian Guard; the case would probably have been otherwise had he been free! Therefore let us not be dismayed by the circumstances God has allowed us to be in. For all we know our very failures, our very difficulties, are the very circumstances God intends to use to lead people to Christ.
2. His chains gave courage to the saved.
Yesterday I told the group of policemen I was preaching to that one reason why I am preaching today is because my late father – a dialysis patient during the closing years of his life – continued to preach the gospel even though he was to weak to stand; he preached sitting in his wheelchair. His example continues to inspire and encourage me.
B. Inspite of his critics Paul rejoiced because Christ was preached.
Paul was Christ-centered instead of self-centered. It didn’t matter what happened to him as long as his Lord was glorified. He was not affected by the malice of his foes because he lived for something greater than himself. He could afford to rejoice regardless of his personal fate as long as the cause of Christ was doing well (c.f., Acts 14:19-23). In fine, he was beyond the malice of his foes, for he lived for a cause greater than himself.
For the same reason he was beyond envy, for what mattered to him was not his personal influence or honor, but the honor of Jesus Christ. In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” There is no room for envy in the ministry. The ministry is not about competition; it is not about self-exaltation. It is about glorifying the Savior. Sometimes the Lord allows us to be humbled while others are honored. Nevertheless we will rejoice, for the ministry is not about this servant or that servant – the ministry is about the glory of Christ and his glory alone. Besides, the Lord knows best: it is possible that by humbling you and laying you aside he intends to accomplish much more than you ever dreamed of. In a sense, this is what happened to Samson (c.f., Judges 16:30). This too was what happened to Paul: if Paul had never gone to prison we would not have Philippians and Colossians today in our New Testament, for he wrote these epistle while he was in prison! I remember reading about Arthur W. Pink. He was a preacher of the gospel. But for some reason the doors to preaching were one by one closed to him. And so, not being able to preach, he resorted to writing. Today, many years after his death, he is considered one of our great Christian writers. His book, “The Sovereignty of God” is considered a classic of theology and has personally been a great blessing to me. His influence is all the greater because God laid him aside as a preacher and made him a writer instead. God knows best. Let us not seek great things for ourselves. As long as Christ is honored, even if we are laid aside, let us rejoice.
II. WE HONOR CHRIST BY REVEALING HIM IN AND THROUGH OUR BODIES (I Cor. 12:27; I Cor. 6:19, 20; Rom. 12:1; II Cor. 5:9, 10). Christ’s physical body is in now in heaven. On earth we are his body; we are his hands and feet. He preaches through our mouths; he heals through our hands; he visits the poor and those in prison through our feet.
A. This involves refusal to sin (Rom. 6:12, 13)
B. This involves readiness to serve (Rom. 12:11)
III. WE HONOR CHRIST BY RESTING IN HIM IN THE FACE OF DEATH
Death is an opportunity to testify to the grace of God – to the difference that Christ makes in one’s life even in the face of death. If in the face of death we remain at peace and courageous others may be led to ask what is the source of our strength. For unless the Lord returns in our lifetime death is just a matter of time for all of us. The question then is not whether we will or will not die. The question is: “Will we honor Christ in death even as we honor him in life?” This is the great challenge that will confront each one of us sooner or later. May we honor Christ in death as well as in life.