Advancing the Gospel

Sermon by Ed Hartman on Feb 18, 2018

Philippians 1:12-26

I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Philippians chapter 1. If you’re using the Bible in the rack in front of you, it’s on page 980.

Before we read the text, I’d like to follow up on what Wiley said earlier at the beginning of the service. That is, our Mission Conference starts this next Sunday. Actually, we have three conferences back to back. What I mean by that is, we have a pre-conference on Friday and Saturday, which is called Gospel Renewal Dynamics for Leaders. But really, we’re all in a sphere of leadership influence. Even if you’re a teenager, you have leadership influence in the people around you. And the question that we’re addressing in that Friday night/Saturday morning seminar is, “How does the Gospel bring renewal? How does it change us?” Certainly, the Gospel has rescued us from the eternal hell that we deserve, but what about the brokenness of my life today. What about the challenges that I’m still facing. How does the Gospel bring renewal to me today? How does is actually change me? That’s what this seminar is focused on. The man who will be leading the seminar will be preaching on Sunday. He is in charge of all of the global training for Tim Keller’s Redeemer City to City church planting ministry. He’s in charge of training church planters all over the world and the centerpiece of that training is going to be taught here this Friday and Saturday.

It’s going to be really good. If you want to come, you need to register by Tuesday. We’re including dinner and breakfast Saturday morning so we’ll need to know how much food to prepare for. But we’d really encourage you to come. You can register on your iPhone on the church app or online, or you can call the receptionist or email my assistant, Christina. It will be well-worth your time coming. I know it’s a Friday night/Saturday on a weekend; it’s a big chunk. Sunday starts the Mission Conference. We’ll be focusing in church planting in the US. We’ll have seven church planters with us and they’re going to talk about the rescuing work God is doing in churches started through our investment all over the country. Then the following weekend, we’re going to have our international focus with missionaries and Sandy Wilson coming to preach. That’s two weeks from today. A lot of really great content; solid people who are all going to be pointing us to Jesus and our desperate and on-going need for Him. So I encourage you to make plans to come.

But I really also wanted to focus on that seminar Friday and Saturday. And the best way I can encourage you to come, I decided was, I’m going to preach a long introduction to that seminar. And here’s the point. If you understand what this sermon is pointing to, this passage and how we’re going to unpack it, if this resonates with you, you’ll need and want to come Friday and Saturday. If it doesn’t resonate with you, it will just bounce off and you don’t need to plan to come! So, there it is! If this connects, plan to come. Okay?

Philippians chapter 1. Let me pray for us before I read.

Father, we ask for the help of Your Holy Spirit. We desperately need not just His presence but His deep, inner work, to show us what lies hidden, to show us our fears, our brokenness, our guilt, our shame, to do that diagnostic work, apart from which we don’t understand why we even need the Gospel. But thrill us afresh by the rescue You offer us, for the very things You show us in Your Word that are still broken and still need restoration and healing and rebuilding. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Philippians 1, verse 12:

“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.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”

This is God’s Word. May He drive it deep into our hearts and illumine what otherwise remains hidden.

This past week I read an article by John Piper in which he made one statement that’s been retweeted and shown up on multiple social media platforms. He said this. “God is always doing at least ten thousand different things in your life, and you’re probably aware of about three of them. And even the things you are aware of, may not make any sense to you at all.” Let me say that again. “God is always doing at least ten thousand things in your life, and you might be aware of about three of them. And the three that you’re aware of, the three things, may not make any sense to you whatsoever.” Is that true for you? Do you sense it?

Do you think it was true for the apostle Paul? And Paul says, “Yeah, that was true.” He says so in verse 12. He says, “I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me” – pause. What is that “what has happened to me”? What’s he talking about? Well, Luke tells us what's happened to him. If you go back to Acts 21, follow it all the way through the end of the book of Acts, Acts 28, you read about what's been going on with Paul and what he's talking about when he says "what has happened to me" includes his being accused falsely of what he hadn't done, his arrest, his being beaten literally tortured, being thrown into prison, languishing in Caesarea for two years, appealing to Caesar to say, "I want to be tried before the highest court in the country," being sent to Rome where he's going to be tried by Caesar, being shipwrecked, being abused there again, marooned on an island, bitten by a venomous snake with no ill-effects – imagine – and then being taken on to Rome and ending up spending two more years in prison there, house arrest, and we don't know for sure what the rest of the story looked like. He says, "I want you to know that what has happened to me, all that, has really served to advance the Gospel."

Pause again for a second, because that word "advance," that's what really captured my interest. It's a rare and unusual word in the New Testament. It only shows us three times in the New Testament, all three by Paul, who of which are in this very passage we've just read. Actually, they bookend the passage, and that’s what made me think about, “What is he really saying?” The word originally was a military or a pioneering word which meant – the root word is “to cut down; to chop down.” It means to cut down all the obstacles that stand in the way of forward progress. It’s what an army would do when it wanted to go from here to there but there was a forest in the way. Instead of going all the way around, they sent their engineers to chop down the trees so that they could make a road and mark the army through. That’s what the pioneers did when they blazed trails to get to undiscovered places. It’s the advance that Paul is talking about. “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel.”

Advancing Outward

And here’s what I’d like you to see in our study today. There’s two places where Paul talks about the advance in this passage. One is outward; the other is inward. He’s saying the Gospel has to advance outward, but it also has to advance inward. It has to go more deeply. And what you’ll discover is the two are inseparably linked. Without the first, you can’t have the other. So let’s look at those two trajectories and then draw some conclusions.

In the World

First of all, the Gospel is advancing in the world. It’s going wide. Paul talks about that in three contexts. There’s a wider audience, a greater courage, and a clearer proclamation. The wider audience is in verse 13. “It has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” The imperial guard is a praetorium; 9,000 soldiers suddenly know why this guy is here. It’s all about Christ and his commitment to Him. At the end of this letter, Paul is going to say, “and those of Caesar’s household, they greet you,” meaning, there are a lot of people in Rome who suddenly know Christ because Paul has had all of this stuff happen to him. And the Gospel is advancing; there’s a wider audience.

Greater Courage

Secondly, there’s a greater courage. He talks about that in verse 14. He says, “Some of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, they’re much more bold to speak the word without fear.” He says, “All this that’s happened to me is actually emboldening others to speak about Christ more freely, with greater courage.”

Clearer Proclamation

Third, he says there’s a clearer proclamation. Four times you hear this preaching language, beginning in verse 14. They’re “speaking the word without fear.” Verse 15, they’re “preaching Christ.” Verse 17, they “proclaim Christ;” 18, “Christ is being proclaimed.”

Do you hear the argument? The Gospel is advancing widely. You’re going to hear from church planters and missionaries, people who are doing work all over the world, who will tell you that in unprecedented ways the Gospel really is advancing and your investment in the mission endeavor of this church by making this pledge, completely separate from our church stewardship campaign, your investment is actually accelerating that advancement. That’s huge. God condescends to limit His working to our willingness to be generous. Has that dawned on you? The Gospel is advancing throughout the world and God is doing the work. Paul makes that unmistakably plain.

Advancing Within

But secondly, the Gospel is also advancing within you and me. He says that in verse 25. Here’s the second time in the New Testament that this specific word shows up. Here, it’s the exact same spelling, same context, same format, everything. Paul says it this way. “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress, advancement, and joy in the faith.” He’s saying the Gospel is advancing outwardly because the Gospel is advancing inwardly within you. And both are critical; they’re inseparably linked. This is why I believe John Piper said God is always doing ten thousand different things in your life, and you might be aware of three of them. And not even those three may make sense. But He is at work. Why? Because He’s determined to advance it more deeply into your life. The means by which He does that are often very difficult and challenging. Just like they were for Paul, they will be for us.

To Love the Truth

What’s his purpose? What’s the trajectory and the target? John Piper helps us with this. He says, “God’s purpose in redemption, God’s purpose in advancing this Gospel within you, is not simply to lead us to believe the truth but to love the truth, and so be radically transformed by it. His mission in your life is not simply to call you to new duties, but to new desires. Not to new deeds, but to new delights. Not to new tasks, but to new treasures.” So here’s the question. In these ten thousand different things that God is doing right now in your life, things that you may not even be aware of at all, do you find new delights, new desires, and new treasures being shaped into your heart? That’s His mission within you. It’s not just for you to do different things or to perform different tasks, but to find new delights, new desires, new treasures that He is shaping within you. It’s His work, but He is determined to perform it.

Reality Check

And here’s the reality check. The context in which that happens in my life and in yours is described by J.I. Packer in his book, Rediscovering Holiness. This helps me. When I read this, this past week, it really helped me. It may not resonate with you, but think about how J.I. Packer describes the Christian experience. He says, “Really, we’re all just invalids in God’s hospital, invalids in the process of being cured. Our spiritual life is, at best, a long and fragile convalescence easily disrupted.” “Our spiritual life is, at best, a long and fragile convalescence easily disrupted.” That helps me when I wrestle with, “Why is it so slow? Why is it taking so long? I should be so much farther ahead?” And yet I’m wrestling with the same things I thought I learned in kindergarten. But this is where, precisely where, He meets us and drives this Gospel more deeply within us, advances the Gospel within us, so that He can advance it through us across the world.

Visible

So there’s the question. “Is the Gospel advancing within you?” How would you spouse answer that question about your life? How would your kids answer that question about your life? A week ago, Friday, I sat back there in the memorial service for Dr. Paul Long, Sr., whose life we were remembering. Great service. His son, Paul Long, Jr., stood in this pulpit and talked about his father. His dad was a missionary, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. I had tears streaming down my cheeks as I listened to Paul talk about his daddy. Because he said, “You know, my dad was just an ordinary man. There was nothing flashy about him; nothing great. Ours was an ordinary family. We had problems; we had conflicts. We struggled. There was scarcity. But you know, my daddy loved Jesus and it showed and it made him bold. It made his courageous. It made him willing to do hard things. Daddy loved Jesus.” I sat back there with tears running down my cheeks and I thought, “What would my kids say at my memorial service? Would they talk about how demanding their dad was? How impatient their dad was? Yeah, dad believed the right things, he had good theology, but would my kids say, man, dad loved Jesus?”

I ask that question because the advance of the Gospel is not something that we treasure and hold close to ourselves, but Paul says it needs to be visible and evident to the people around us. That’s demonstrated in the third time that he uses this word in the New Testament. It’s the only three times – two in this passage and one as he writes to Timothy. 1 Timothy 4:15, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them so that all may see your progress.” So that all may see the advance; that it’s visible.

The Marks

And so the logical question then is, “How would someone know? What are the marks? What evidences this Gospel advancing more deeply in our lives?” Now we could talk about all that the New Testament says about the things that should be growing and advancing in our lives. The Fruit of the Spirit, for example – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Great. What if we were to limit ourselves just to what Paul says in this passage in Philippians 1. There are at least five markers that he talks about that demonstrate the Gospel advancing more deeply within us. Let me run through them briefly, quickly.

Deeper Repentance

The first is a deeper repentance. I get that from verse 25 where he uses that one military, pioneering word that talks about advance, progress; cutting down the things that block the forward movement of the Gospel penetrating and permeating every part of our lives. You know what that is. I know what it is my life; I suspect you know what it is in yours. It’s the addictions, and we all have them. They’re not just the substances, but to how other people feel about us, how people think about who we are and how we come across. It’s the places where we feel like “I have to be in control.” It’s the places where “I think I’m right and people need to agree with me.” There needs to be a deeper repentance in my life. There needs to be a cutting down of those things that block the work of the Holy Spirit going deeper and deeper into my life. And that’s the first evidence of this work moving forward in our lives.

Abounding Love

Secondly, an abounding love. Verse 9, Paul talks about, “so I pray that your love would abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” He’s praying for an evident, growing love. That’s the opposite not of hatred. You do understand that the opposite of love is not hatred; it’s indifference. And that’s what comes naturally. I worry about the stuff that affects me and the stuff that’s hard for you, well, it’s easy to be indifferent to that. Isn’t it? But Paul is praying for an ever-abounding love, worked only by the Holy Spirit, that’s an evidence of things being cut down that block his forward-moving advance in progress in our lives.

Growing Courage

Third, a growing courage. He talks about this full courage in verse 20 that, “now as always, Christ will be honored in my body whether by life or by death.” A growing courage in contrast to our lives that are marked by fear, anxiety, and risk aversion thinking, “What if I don’t have enough left if I’m generous with my time? If I’m generous with my money? I want to make sure that I have enough left for me. Me time.” Of course, we believe in margins, but some of us take that to an extreme.

Deeper Desire to Be with Christ

Fourth, mark is a deeper desire to be with Christ. Verse 21, he says, "for me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Verse 23, "I'm hard pressed between the two, staying or going, dying. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." It's not just a growing desire to know about Him. It's a growing desire to know Him and delight in Him and find Him to be more beautiful; to find Him to be more trustworthy and believable and satisfying. That's the growing desire for Christ. It's an upward-lifted gaze that says, "I know how this ends and it doesn’t end with a long retirement where my wife and I are rocking on chairs in the front porch and that’s it.” But there is a future marked out by the best that is yet to come that we have not experienced yet, but will. A future that goes past death and takes us into the very presence of God where, for all eternity, we get to celebrate the worth of the Lamb and the delight of being in union with Him before the presence of the Father where we will finally no longer feel like a motherless child but be home.

Our Expectation

Is that your expectation? Paul says, “My desire is to depart, to die, which is better by far. My desire is to be with Him.” Do you think about the end of your life and what will you have to show for it? What will be said by the people who know you best at that gathering of your friends and family members? We were on a trip last month and I was reading The Atlantic Monthly and there was an article about a new iPhone app that intrigued me. It’s called, “We Croak.” And it was only ninety-nine cents so I downloaded it to my phone and now, five times a day, five times a day at random times, my phone pings and says, “Remember, you’re going to die.” And it’s uncanny when my phone pings me! I can be in a conflict with my wife and, ping, “Remember, you’re going to die.” This is not funny! It’s sad! We can be talking about how we’re going to spend this money and what we’re planning for this event, ping, “Remember, you’re going to die.” Does it really matter? Uncanny! But are you lifting your gaze to what Paul was looking at when he says, “For me to live, that’s Christ. To die, that’s gain. It’s not losing. It’s getting what I finally and have always wanted”?

The last mark he talks about in verse 25 is joy; a joy in the faith. Verse 25, “for your progress and joy in the faith.” It’s not just believing the right things but being happy about them. But saying, “This is the best truth I’ve ever heard.” It’s being so delighted in what we believe to be true that it’s not just, “I recite the creeds. I know the confession. I can rattle off all the right answers. I can pass the exam.” But to say, “Wow, this is all true! And I win in the end? And all that is Jesus is mine? And in union with Him, all that He possesses I possess already? And it’s all true!” And there’s no yawning in that reality. Paul says, “I’m going to stay longer for your advance and for your joy in the faith.”

So, God is always doing at least ten thousand things in your life. You might be aware of three of them and they may not even make sense to you. But here’s the point. What you know for sure is that all of us is designed to advance the Gospel more deeply into your life where it becomes more precious to you, where Jesus becomes more trustworthy and reliable to you, where He shapes new desires and delights and new treasures within your heart where you say, “This is what marks out my life. This is what makes my life worth living.”

The Caution

But there’s a caution. The caution is this. It’s not automatic. You’ve heard it said that “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay." What it means by that is the same suffering and heartache and disappointment and loss and grieving and brokenness that makes some people delight and trust Jesus more, other people, they become hardened and embittered and more cynical in response to those things. And so the question is, “What makes the difference?” It’s not just going through hard stuff that drives the Gospel more deeply, right? You know people, you might be one of those who just, you find yourself angry, disappointed, frustrated that “God owes me more! This should have been better!” So what makes the difference?

The Expectation

Here’s a picture. Death Valley. Three thousand square mile desert. Inhospitable to life. Lots of people have died there over the centuries. Surrounded on all sides with mountains, some as high as 14,000 feet and the deepest part of Death Valley is the lowest place in the western hemisphere – 282 feet deep. Average summertime temperatures – 116 degrees. Highest recorded temperature on planet Earth – 134 degrees in Death Valley. Inhospitable to life. A place that’s hostile. Cannot sustain life as we desire it. I’ve just described some of your lives, haven’t I? Maybe some of our lives. Sometimes life feels like Death Valley – inhospitable to life; cannot sustain life as we want it.

And yet four years ago, Emily and I loaded our bikes onto the car, drove to California, and we decided we were going to ride across Death Valley because we love riding our bikes. I have photographs of some of the most awesome, stunning beauty; two bicycles riding with the phone snapping pictures of shadows stretching 100 yards. Of bicycles with color everywhere in this rugged, stunning, breathtaking beauty. Now, what made the difference between a hostile, violent, inhospitable life place to a place of rugged beauty, breathtaking beauty? What made the difference? Answer – it was all about our expectations. We expected to find beauty in that place in which many had lost their lives and we prepared, prepared to find beauty. Our bicycles were loaded with the biggest water bottles we could find, our car had a full tank of fuel and had at least ten, gallon jugs of water. We had extra food; we had everything we could possibly need, GPS maps, and we expected to find beauty. And oh, did we, in a place where many others had lost their lives. It's all about expectation, eager expectation.

He Will Do It

And do you realize that’s the exact word that Paul uses in this passage? He says in verse 20, “As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed but that with full courage, now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Here’s his point. All that stuff that had happened to him – arrest, imprisonment, torture, languishing, shipwreck, snake bit, all of it – he says “It’s all working to advance to the Gospel more deeply within me and through me because this is what God promised He would do and I expect Him, eagerly, to keep His promise.” Isn’t that exactly what he said in the sixth verse of this chapter? “I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day I see Christ face to face.” He’s going to do it.

So all of this stuff, all of this – I’ll summarize it with three letters – yuck. All of the yuck in my life, He’s using it to drill the Gospel more deeply in my life, to make it advance to the farthest reaches of my experience, and through me to others to free me to be a man or woman of generosity. To free me to live expectantly to say, “This is hard. I know what He’s doing though. I see some of what He’s doing but I know what He’s doing all the time because He’s determined to advance the Gospel always.” I don’t know about you, but I have found it reassuring that in the places where things have not gone as I hoped they would this past week, I was rehearsing this in my head. “This is hard, but this is advancing the Gospel in me. God is building new desires, new delights, new treasures into my heart. He’s reshaping who I am. This is hard, but it’s advancing the Gospel within me. By His grace, it’s going to advance the Gospel through me. This is hard, but it’s good. It’s going to be good. I know how this ends.”

Don’t you? He’s already told us. The question is, “Are you living with eager expectation? Are you looking for the beauty in the brokenness?” He’s promised it would be there. No matter how bad the brokenness gets, it will advance the Gospel more deeply if you look up with eager expectation and say, “Father, Daddy, You promised. Make good on Your promise, would You?” God is always doing at least ten thousand things in your life and you may be aware of three of them. Next time you ask, “Why is this happening to me? Why is this taking so long?” I already know the answer.

Back to where we began – does any of this resonate with you? If it does, then I’m going to encourage you to come Friday and Saturday because one of the men who is in charge of training the most aggressive church planters on the planet will be here helping us unpack this further, looking at the mechanics of how this works, looking at the pitfalls to preventing it, and looking at the beauty, the wonder of God’s determined purpose to finish the good work that He’s begun. He's not going to fumble you. He’s not going to fumble me. And He’ll delight us in the process as we look with eager expectation to what He has promised to do. May He build that expectation and grow it each day of our lives.

Let’s pray.

Father, we come to You, we lift up our gaze expectantly in all of the places of brokenness and heartache, places where our lives have become inhospitable, where the life we long for cannot be sustained; or at least, so we feel. Would You please advance the Gospel within us, make Jesus more precious, more beautiful, more trustworthy, more of a delight, more of a treasure to each one of us? And then make us bold. Cause us to abound in love and encourage in the joy of the faith that we claim to believe. Make good on Your promise, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

© 2018 First Presbyterian Church.

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