The Importance of the Gospel

“12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice . . .”

Philippians 1:12-18 (CSB)

Introduction:

What is the gospel? It is the good news of salvation: Christ died, was buried, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Why is the gospel important? Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16-17).

  1. The Advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-14)

Paul was in prison, but what others saw as a misfortune, he saw as an opportunity to promote the gospel. Adverse circumstances may be blessings in disguise in that God allows them in order to spread the gospel. In this case, the finest soldiers of the Roman Army were exposed to the gospel by being chained to Paul. God is able to produce good out of evil (Rom. 8:28).

Another benefit that Paul saw in his situation was how his example was emboldening others to share the gospel. The lesson here is: Our courage in sharing the gospel in spite of persecution serves to encourage others to be courageous also.

If the gospel is all-important to us, it changes the way we see our circumstances: Instead of considering them as unfortunate events, we consider them as blessings or opportunities. Just like this pandemic. True, it is a tragedy. Nevertheless, because of it, more people not only have more time for the gospel, they also have greater willingness to engage with it.

  1. Abuse of the Gospel. (Phil. 1:15-17)

Unfortunately, there’s a wrong way to preach the gospel: One can do so out of a spirit of envy and rivalry. Some preachers were taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to increase their own importance and influence.

There should be no competition when it comes to the gospel. This is not about who’s the best preacher or whose church is the biggest. It’s about Jesus Christ and him alone (1 Cor. 3:5-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-5). “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The right motive in sharing the gospel is love and compassion (2 Cor. 5:14; Mark 6:34). We share the gospel because, as Steve Green put it in his song, people need the Lord.

  1. Application of the Gospel (Phil. 1:18)

We should apply the gospel to our lives. One way to do so is to make it the basis of our joy. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances. Our joy depends on what we consider important. For Paul, what is important is that Christ is preached; what happened to him didn’t really matter as long as Christ is proclaimed. That’s what gave him joy (Phil. 1:21; 3:7-8).

Application:

  1. Do we share the gospel?
  2. Do we find our joy in circumstances or in the gospel?
  3. How do we make use of the opportunities in our circumstances to advance the gospel?

Prayer:

Lord, help us to find our joy in you and in your gospel. Amen.

Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

The Foolishness of the Cross

This month at Ikthus East we are remembering the Passion of Christ; that is, the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross of Calvary to save us from our sins. This morning one of our pastors at Ikthus East preached on the Message of the Cross. His first point surprised me: The Message of the Cross is Pointless!

At first, the statement struck me as misleading. Upon deeper reflection, I realized it was faithful to what the New Testament taught. The message of the cross is indeed pointless or foolish to the worldly mind.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Why is the Cross of Christ pointless to many people? Because they can’t see how it solves the problems we encounter in our daily lives.

Generally speaking, the solution to a problem is either political (i.e., power or force) or intellectual (e.g., management, technology). That is, you bend circumstances to your will through brute force, or you shape circumstances to your will through the application of effective techniques.

The first method is crude and often unsound. Many times, we are up against forces far stronger than our puny strength can handle. And even if momentarily we succeed, how long can we sustain the strength needed to keep our enemies down?

Pitting force against force is actually a simplistic idea. People who subscribe to this paradigm are enamored with the idea of accumulating, maintaining, and increasing political power and financial capital. They seek to vanquish their problem by overpowering it with superior force. In extreme cases, they cheat at the polls and assassinate their opponents.

The second method is at its core similar to the first, in that its seeks to get rid of the problem, but in more subtle and indirect ways – ways that require the application of intelligence. If meeting a problem head-on won’t defeat it, then we must probe deeper: Find its weakness and concentrate on that. One does not have to be stronger than his opponent to defeat him. Or maybe one can simply sidestep the problem, make it irrelevant so that it won’t be a problem anymore. If talking to the uncaring sales clerk is a dead end, maybe one can try talking to the supervisor or the manager, since the goal is to exchange the defective product you bought for a functional one, and not to win an argument!

The second method abounds with tips and how-to’s. It studies patterns of success and failure in order to discover what causes success and failure. And then it distills its findings and presents these in the form of easy-to-understand-and-apply tips or techniques.

Incidentally, many churches today have more or less adopted this managerial mind-set. The trend of how-to sermons is proof of this. Doctrinal sermons are taking a backseat to how-to-succeed inspirational messages sprinkled with Bible verses. This should not come as a surprise. People are interested in how the Bible can solve the problems they face in daily life – problems related to money, relationships, work, and physical and mental health. In other words, they want to know how they can live a successful, happy and comfortable life. Sadly, many churches cater to what people want, at the expense of providing soul-maturing spiritual meat, because they too want to be “successful.”

However, the message of the cross goes against this mindset. The cross sounds foolish to the worldly mind because it does nothing to achieve all those things we’ve mentioned that human beings crave: success, happiness, health, meaningful relationships, and the like. In fact, the cross represents the opposite of all the foregoing: The cross represents defeat, sorrow, death, separation and resignation! It is, to the worldly mind, a non-solution.

The irony is: It is in embracing the foolishness of the cross that human beings can find ultimate fulfillment, the satisfaction of their deepest longings, cravings, and desires. For the cross is the solution to greatest problem of all, the one problem that prevents human beings from experiencing life that is truly life: The problem of sin and holiness. In other words, the problem of how sinful human beings can be reconciled to a perfectly holy God.

All this pursuit of happiness, success, health, meaning, significance, and the like, is at bottom an unwitting pursuit of God. This is the paradox of our existence: In running away from God, we prove that we we were made for him. We run after this and that, only to discover that that which we desperately desire, in its truest and deepest essence, can be found only in him.

And this is where the cross comes in, the cross that negates the power and wisdom of this world. For no power of man can force God to bestow on man what he desires according to man’s terms. No wisdom of man can manipulate God into giving him what he wants.

But God gives us all that we need and truly desire through the cross alone: unconditional love, complete forgiveness, peace that transcends all understanding, ultimate significance, unbreakable intimacy, heavenly joy, and everlasting life! And he does this freely and voluntarily. Not because we deserve it or have earned it, but simply by grace. That’s what the cross means. By grace God gave his one and only Son to pay for the sins we could not pay for in order for us to have the everlasting life and joy in and with God we could never earn or deserve.

This is what the Bible calls Salvation. Left to ourselves, it is simply out of reach. Human power and wisdom can acquire wealth, win friends and influence people, improve emotional health and even prolong life! But no amount of human wisdom or power can do what the cross of Christ alone can: Cleanse and save one’s soul and reconcile it to God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Be reconciled to God: Embrace the foolishness of the cross!