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Apr 14, 2019

What Did You Sign Up For?

Passage: Philippians 1:27-30

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Philippians--Roots of Joy

Keywords: citizenship, consistency, fear, opposition, persecution, perseverance, suffering savior, unity

Summary:

Too often our expectations of what we think our journey in Christ should be like in terms of suffering and persecution doesn't match our reality. Why is that? Paul, under house arrest when he writes Philippians, has a lot to tell us about handling all kinds of pressure and difficulty that we'll all encounter in our walk with Christ.

Detail:

What Did You Sign Up For?

Philippians 1:27-30

April 14, 2019

INTRO:  Welcome to Palm Sunday, the one Sunday of the year where we celebrate Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on a humble donkey.  It was the ancient equivalent of being the celebrated hero in a ticker-tape parade…but riding in on a Chevy Vega or AMC Pacer or Gremlin.  J  Jesus was riding into town on the unbroken colt of a donkey!  But the crowds were going wild.  They were willing to overlook the lack of class and pageantry, just so long as Jesus got cracking taking charge and kicking Roman tail. 

      But when that didn’t happen…in a matter of less than a week… pretty much that same crowd joined in calling for Jesus’ crucifixion on trumped-up bogus charges.  How fickle we humans can be with our praise…and our hatred!  As long as Jesus was fulfilling their expectations of what a Messiah should be—handing out free food, giving amazing medical care, delivering from mental illness and demons, rattling the cages of the religious and political establishment—everyone was on board.  But disappoint those expectations and the adoring crowd became a deadly mob. 

      One of the ongoing challenges for most of us as followers of Jesus is to square the realities of life we are experiencing that may be painful and difficult with the hopes and desires we have for Jesus to level life’s playing field and rescue us more often.  The problem isn’t when life is good to us; the problem is when life and people aren’t all that and a box of Frosted Flakes! 

      That is precisely what Paul addresses in today’s text in Philippians 1:27-30.  So often our expectations of what God is doing don’t necessarily match what we think we signed up for. Let’s read Paul’s own words.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

      I’ve got a question for you.  You all hopefully know that we have what is known as an “all-volunteer military” these days in the U.S, right?  What that means is that nobody who doesn’t want to serve the country in the military is being drafted or conscripted to do so.  Usually when we’re fighting a war, that’s not the case.  It wasn’t in WWII nor the Korean or Vietnam wars.  But when it came to the Gulf Wars 1 & 2, Afghanistan & Iraq, everyone in the military was there because they had signed up for the job. 

      Another question:  Is anyone here foggy about what the main job of any soldier is?  Sure, it’s to fight the enemy.  That usually involves killing “bad guys” while trying to protect one’s country and citizens of all other countries. 

            But apparently that isn’t clear in every soldier’s mind.  Back in the 1st Gulf War—the one where Iraq had invaded Kuwait so we responded by driving the Iraqi military back to their own borders—there were some 260 soldiers who refused to go to war when Uncle Sam said, “We’ve trained you.  We’ve housed, fed and paid you.  Time to actually do what you signed up for.”  Mind you, these were people who had voluntarily enlisted or reenlisted in some branch of the military or Reserves. 

ILL:    Take the case of Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn who had been a Captain in the army and then re-enlisted for the Medical Corp Reserves. When the First Gulf War came along (1990) she tried to claim conscientious objector status saying the war was morally wrong. So she refused to go.  

She had apparently been fine accepting military pay and benefits for some years leading up to this but then, when we actually entered a war, she decided not to go.  Her job was not to fight but to patch up other soldiers who were actually getting wounded in the war.

            Dr. Vaughn was eventually court martialed and sentenced to 30 months in prison… which was then commuted to 15 months…and in the end she was granted clemency after serving only 8 months total.

            For the record, I’m not a fan of war, period.  But I’m left asking myself, “What did the good doctor think she was signing up for when she joined ‘The U.S. Army’”???  A quilting circle?  The Garden Club? 

            Lest we get to sitting too high on our horses about what Dr. Vaughn did, we need to stop and ask ourselves, “What did I expect I was going to be asked to do or experience or even endure when I said “Yes” to Jesus?”  When I said, “Yes, I surrender my life, my will, my present and future to the LORD Jesus Christ who invited me to take up my cross daily and follow Him, what was I expecting this ‘following’ to entail?  What did I really think Jesus meant when He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”?  (Jn. 15:20)

            But more importantly, HOW am I supposed to live and win at this life in Christ I’m called to WHEN the service I actually signed on for under Christ turns into a real spiritual war?  Will I continue to hang onto the mistaken notion that I just signed up for a gym membership, not a soldier’s life in a life-threatening war? 

ILL: When we bought our first home here in Spokane, our back yard backed up to a family whose father was serving in the Army.  It was back in the 1990s during the Gulf Wars.  He had children the age of ours.  And there was a period where he was deployed for two tours of duty back-to-back.  His wife and two grade school aged children were at home.  Interestingly, he later became the key component in helping our son David decide to join the Army ROTC at Gonzaga.             

I’m sure Clayton’s wife and children were never far from his mind while he was fighting in Iraq.  That’s the kind of heart-connection I envision Paul having with the Philippians as he writes them while under house arrest in Rome.  He is going to use his own status as a Roman prisoner for the sake of the Gospel to call all of us in our own various sufferings to engage in a particular kind of living, a particular ‘on-mission’ living, if you will, that propels us through every part of this life. 

Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church was similar to that of a soldier in combat…away from family.  He was out on the “font linedoing battle for the kingdom, conscripted by God and on assignment away from a church family he would have dearly loved to be with. 

      Like troops today, Paul didn’t know when he would be returning from the front.  He was pretty certain it would be sometime soon, but he knew there was always a level of uncertainty and unpredictability in this work.  So he gives a few heartfelt commands to the spiritual kiddos on the home front.  He writes from the heart about what he hopes the home will be experiencing even in his absence.  The over-arching command is this:

“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

It’s a bit like a father saying to his children, “Live up to our family name.”  Only Paul isn’t asking them to make his name look good.  He’s asking them to make Jesus’ name and reputation famous for all the right reasons.  To do that he uses some rather picturesque words that are intended to engage them (and us) in a way of living that’s worthy of the family name we claim as “Christs-ones”.  The first thing he calls for is…    

  1. Conduct consistent with our Citizenship, vs. 27.

When Paul said, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, he used a Greek word, politeou, which means “citizenship.”  Normally Paul used a different word to tell people to “walk” in a manner worthy of their calling.  But here he goes for a word found only one other place in the N.T. (Acts 23:1). 

      It is a word that is derived from the Greek word polis which means “city.” 

EX:  Some of our American cities incorporate that very Greek word in their city name:  IndianapolisMinneapolis.  We talk about a “metropolis” when we are talking about a city.  It’s also the same root word from which we have our English words “politics” and “police”. 

      In Greek life, the polis was the largest political unit.  Citizens belonged to the polis, or city, in exactly the same way that we belong to our country.  The command Paul is giving is really this:  “Conduct yourselves as citizens /[be citizens] in a manner worthy of the gospel/rule of Christ.” 

      Now, most of the residents of Philippi grasped this concept very well.  Philippi was a favorite retirement or resettlement city for Roman ex-military personnel after the civil war between Octavian and Anthony.  Many soldiers who had been favorable toward Anthony settled in Philippi.  Because of that, it was declared a Roman colony, a sort of miniature Rome.  As such, it was given special privileges although it was 800 miles from Rome.  Many of its citizens had their names on the Roman registry as Roman citizens…and they were proud of that fact (probably more so than the pride they had over being Philippian). 

      So, when Paul spoke to them this way, he was touching on an aspect of life many of them identified immediately with--citizenship.  It would be like saying to any of us after we had been living overseas in another country of the world for years, “John, live out your life in that country like a model citizen of this country, America.”  “Live the life of a model expatriate from the United States while you are there in Japan or Iraq or Ukraine.” 

      In fact, a couple of chapters later, Paul comes right out and says it in Phil. 3:20“But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”            Paul is calling these believers to conduct consistent with their citizenship…conduct becoming of a citizen of heaven.      

      Just what does citizenship entail?  Just listen to the Oath of Citizenship that the U.S. takes and ask yourself what you have to DO in order to become a good citizen of the U.S.

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.

  • Certain responsibilities: support and defend the Constitution, obey all laws, pay taxes, serve in the military, fulfill normal civil duties, let go of all allegiances to other nations, etc. 

I’ve sat in court and heart them proclaim allegiance to the U.S.  Naturalized citizens have to go through the time-consuming, sometimes arduous, expensive process of becoming citizens of the U.S.  I think that many of them value their citizenship more or at a different level than most of us who were simply born into it. 

      How many of you have lived for several months or years in another country?  What were some of the reminders that you were a foreigner, as Spaniards say, “un extranjero?” 

  • It happens when you have to renew a visa or driver’s license.
  • It happens when you aren’t allowed to vote in an election and others do.  
  • It happens when someone asks you to repeat what you are trying to say because your accent isn’t familiar.

That’s similar to the experience ALL of us are to have from time to time as primary citizens of God’s kingdom and secondary citizens of various nations of this world. 

What are for you the most frequent or forceful reminders that you are living in a culture that really isn’t yours…a country that doesn’t quite fit???

      Apparently, some of the early Christians did a pretty good job of that kind of living.  A 2nd century church leader, Diognitus, described the way early Christians followed through with these instructions:

      “While they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful and admittedly strange.  They live in countries of their own, but simply as sojourners…enduring the lot of foreigners….  They exist in the flesh, but they live not after the flesh.  They spend their existence upon earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws, and in their own lives they surpass the laws.  They love all men, and are persecuted by all.” 

      That is not unlike the state of the Church in much of the world.  We do hold to a much higher code of behavior than any other religion or government in the world.  We claim to hold to the “law of love”.  When we violate that code of conduct, the world is eager to cry foul and label us hypocrites…even though they have no interest in or intention of adopting and living by our Christ-dominated code of conduct. 

      Pastor Warren Wiersbe has stated that this lack of integrity in the church today is a major crisis facing evangelicalism.  He writes,

      “For 19 centuries, the church has been telling the world to admit its sins, repent, and believe the Gospel.  Today, in the…20th century, the world is telling the church to face up to her sins, repent, and start being the true church of that Gospel.  We Christians boast that we are not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, but perhaps the Gospel of Christ is ashamed of us.  For some reason, our ministry doesn’t match our message.”  [Quoted in David Jeremiah’s commentary on Philippians, p. 51.]

Sheldon Vanauken in his book A Sever Mercy, says it this way:

      “The best argument for Christianity is Christians – their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But when the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians, when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.” 

Paul goes on in vs. 27 to talk about a consistency of citizenship he longs to see in his children “whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence….” 

      That statement begs a question:  What are people hearing and seeing about us, God’s people, at Mosaic and in Spokane? 

[A real mixture of people; accept you like you are; really love and care for people; living the Gospel in downtown; care about the poor; love to worship; live the Word, etc.]

      Our calling, actually our command, is to make sure that what they experience or hear is “the gospel of Christ”…the “good news” of knowing Jesus Christ as actual, factual, real-time Lord and Savior. 

ILL:  My acquaintance with John N., Director of Planned Parenthood some years ago.  What caught his attention was not our theology but our practice; not what we were against but what we went out of our way to do FOR other people. 

      I love being associated with a church that is known FOR its “conduct consistent with its citizenship…Christ’s kingdom.” 

  • What is God asking us as a church to do right now so that the word on the street, in the community, even around in the Christian world is one that says, “These people really live like they belong to Jesus and heaven”?

Now Paul moves onto a second challenge to Christ-followers under pressure in the latter part of vs. 27.

“Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man (soul) for the faith of the gospel….”

  1. Teamwork Consistent with our Calling.

This notion of teamwork is brought forward by Paul in a couple of ways here. 

First, the complementary phrases “one spirit…one man (soul)” are parallel statements.  Paul is not drawing a distinction between spirit and soul here.  Rather he is talking in both cases about the immaterial part of a person.  You can’t divide a person’s soul nor their spirit.  They are indivisible. 

      So is the true work of the church.  If you start slicing, dicing, dividing, fracturing, fragmenting or otherwise segmenting the people of God, you’re not “standing firm” in the gospel nor “contending” for the faith. 

      The leading action or verb in this phrase is “to stand”.  It’s a military term that Paul uses six times in the N.T. to call us to hold our ground.  With a lot of ex-military personnel in Philippi, this word probably conjured up a few memories for some in the church.  It’s got the picture of digging in, holding the ground God has granted us in life in Christ and not retreating in the face of outside pressures.

ILL:  Winston Churchill once wrote about British General Henry H. Tudor, who commanded a division facing the great German assault in WWI of March 1918:  “The impression I had of Tudor was of an iron peg, hammered into the frozen ground, immovable.”  In the war the odds were heavily against him, but Tudor knew how to meet an apparently irresistible force.  He merely stood firm and let the force expend itself on him.  That is how Paul says we are to respond to the pressures around us  

      The kind of standing referred to here is the kind which a Roman soldiers knew depended upon their right and left flank being there to repel the enemy with them.  Nobody can win a war alone.  Way too many of us are living isolated, stand-alone lives.  I’m tired of seeing people try to go it alone and crash…and then

      I’m tired of hearing Christians apologize for “not being stronger”, for showing emotion or asking for help when the battle is hot and heavy.  This is one of Satan’s chief tools for defeating God’s kids today – propagating the lie that if we’re really spiritual we’ll be able to handle this battle on our own…just us and the Holy Spirit.  HOGWASH!!!. 

APP:  So let’s get practical. 

1.)  When do you find it particularly hard to stand your ground spiritually? 

2.)  WHO is “on your team/squad” spiritually, regularly checking in, locking arms, providing fellowship and encouragement?  If you can’t name at least 2-3 strong, fellow believers, you are in DANGER.  Who do you give a shout for help to when the smoke from the battle is getting thick?  Who are you telling when you just got wounded?  

ILL:  Stick scaffolding in China.  Amazing things/kingdom work can be built when we are “bound together” in Christ.   

Well, from military imagery, Paul moves to athletics with the next phrase “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel….”  “Contending” comes from the Greek word sunathleo…from which we get “athlete”.  It’s only used in the book of Philippians, the other occurrence in Phil. 4:3.  Paul is talking about two women who were in disagreement with each other over something.  But he reminds them that they know what it is like to “contend/labor” together in ministry, in the “cause of the gospel.”  This is not a contending against each other but a contending with each other against a common opponent.   

ILL:  An account on NPR radio some time ago highlighted interviews with some of the Civil Rights Freedom Riders.  Freedom Riders were groups of African-American folks who would ride the busses through parts of the Deep South during the early 1960s as part of the Civil Rights movement. 

      In one town in Alabama, these black folks were removed from the bus by the police and taken to jail.  Now the eyes of the entire nation were on this, so the police were very discrete in their attempts to demoralize them.  They would bring them food, but it was so heavily salted that no one could eat it.  They would taunt them verbally in hopes of getting them riled up and violent.  The salty food didn’t break their spirits.  The verbal abuse didn’t do it.  No, these folks were committed and they were together.

      But then the police came up with another plan.  One by one, they removed the mattresses from the cells so that there were more prisoners than bed spaces.  Pretty soon, members of the group began competing with each other for the remaining mattresses.  Morale plummeted.  Their resolve and unity began to fracture and crumble.

      Then someone began singing, “Amazing Grace” in that cell block.  Little by little, each one joined in.  Pretty soon all those black brethren were singing the same song again:  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” 

      The police officers came back into the cell area to see what was going on.  Then something even more meaningful began to happen.  Someone took one of those few remaining mattresses, and pushed it through the bars…and then another, and another, until there were no mattresses left in any of the cells. 

      In one of the interviews with a now older Freedom Rider, he reflected on his experiences from those many years ago saying, “We started thinking of ourselves as prisoners.  We started thinking that we belonged imprison.  That was our mistake.  Once we were able to remember that we were just passing through, we didn’t care if we had mattresses or not.  After all, we weren’t going to need them to sleep on a week down the road.  We weren’t going to be there a week later.  Remembering that we were just passing through helped us put up with anything the police could throw at us.  You can salt my food, you can taunt me, you can take away the mattresses and do whatever you can think of to make my life miserable, but you cannot take away the faith on which I’m standing firm.” 

#3.)  A 3rd challenge to Christ-followers under pressure has to do with fear:  Suffering consistent with our Savior.  Now we are back to the beginning of today’s message.  Did you expect suffering when you surrendered to Jesus?  Did the person sharing the Gospel with you make it clear that there would probably be a time in your life when what you were deciding then would cost you dearly?  Probably not.  But that is probably an incomplete Gospel.  It’s not the one Paul apparently preached. 

      Paul goes on to say in vs. 28 that we are to live in the midst of this world without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”  The picture here is of a horse that gets spooked

  • Ever been on a horse that got spooked?
  • Ever stayed on a horse that got spooked? J

ILL:  I used to ride almost every day of the month in the summer as a kid.  We’d ride trails and dirt roads out on CDA Lake.  I learned what usually spooks horses.  It’s not some big bear or moose foraging in the brush.  It’s often the little guys – the squirrel that runs across the road in front of them or some half-pint deer that bounds away next to them.   

      How many of us have been spooked from sharing the gospel of Christ by a little ridicule or isolation or scorn?  How many of us have been spooked from boldly preaching Christ for fear of losing a job advancement or isolation from some “in-group” of peers we valued? 

      How many churches today are being spooked by the fear of losing a few visitors…or some segment of their people who don’t want to be convicted inside the church…or some well-to-do donor who might be offended by convicting preaching?  So the whole church steps back and plays it safe, doing what they’ve always done rather than doing what God’s asking them to do at that moment?

ILL:  Conversation with Phil Altmeyer this past Thursday at their UGM annual dinner that was highlighting the growing problem of homelessness in Spokane.  During dinner conversation, I asked Phil what was one of his biggest challenges right now with the mission.  His answer:  “Did you see the newspaper today?”  I had to admit that I don’t take the Socialist Review.  In short, because 3 or 4 LGBTQ+ activists at the City Council meeting on Monday night leveled completely false and vitriolic accusations that the Mission was anti-gay and anti-transgender, the Council scuttled a land exchange the city had been working on with UGM for property the city needs for wastewater improvements.  Phil was absolutely right when he said, “We’re going to see more and more of this kind of pressure and persecution for our biblical beliefs in the future.” 

ILL:  You know where we’re going to feel it next?  In our refusal to compromise God’s plan and standards for human sexuality. Your children will be ridiculed, pressured and persecuted at school if they dare to deviate from the belief that you should experiment with sex, with gender, with sexual orientation, with virtually any form of sexual perversion available.  THEY will be labeled and stigmatized, discriminated against and pressured. 

      However, when God’s people refuse to back down in proclamation of the gospel and living it out in a confused world, there is an unstoppable force there.  It doesn’t just change the life of that person or that church.  It changes the destiny of nations.

ILLJosef Tson was a man not easily spooked by men.  He was the pastor of the largest Baptist Church in Romania during the days when the communists ruled his country.  In 1973, he published a document that described how the communist government had obstructed religious freedom in his country.  As the result of his brave disclosure, he was singled out for persecution and harassment.  On one occasion, they threatened him with torture and death.  This was his response:

      “Your supreme weapon is killing.  My supreme weapon is dying.  Here is how it works.  You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country.  If you kill me, these sermons will be sprinkled with my blood.  Everyone will know I died for my preaching….So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before.  I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.”  [D. Jeremiah’s commentary on Philippians, p. 56.]

Read vss. 28b-30

“…without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

      Suffering for the gospel is not seen by Paul as a negative.  According to this text, suffering for the gospel is something that actually speaks more loudly to those who are persecuting us than our normal faith life does.  To the unbeliever, it brings greater conviction.  To the believer, it brings us deeper experience of Christ – “on behalf of Christ.”  Suffering “for the sake of Christ” holds tremendous potential good for not only the believer who receives it but for the persecutor who gives it. 

ILL

Every month, on average, 699 acts of violence are committed 

against Christians, 255 Christians are martyred for their faith, 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned, and 66 churches are attacked. Stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ by caring for them when they are threatened, arrested or forced to flee their homes.

CLOSE:  How is God asking you to…

  • Live in a manner consistent with your heavenly citizenship? Something He’s asking you to let go of (expectation, habit, pattern, attitude) so you can hold more tightly to living out your heavenly citizenship? 
  • Who is God asking you to work together with, be bound/united/in team-work in the Kingdom with?
  • What opposition is God inviting you to stand firm in and perhaps suffer with Christ in? It’s time we Christians in America take our place with millions of our brothers and sisters throughout history in not just believing in Christ but in suffering for Him too.