Philippians 1:19-26

Philippians 1:19–26

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 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. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Max Anders tells the story of a man who was walking along a beach and found a magical lamp. He rubbed the lamp and a genie came out. The genie told the man that he would grant him one wish for having set him free from the lamp. The man thought about it and then said that he wished he could have a copy of the stock page of a local newspaper dated one year from that day. So—poof!—the genie disappeared and the stock page of a local newspaper appeared in the man’s hands.

As the man sat on the beach reading the stock page and making investment plans, the top of the page bent over and he saw, on the other side, the obituary page from one year in the future. At the top was a name that caught his attention: it was his own.[1]

The two realities that are inescapable to our existence are (a) life and (b) death. The question is this: How should we conceive of these two realities? Life is inescapable to those who possess it and death is as well. These realities can overwhelm you if you do not think of them rightly.

N.D. Wilson writes:

With an average life expectancy of 78.2 years in the US (subtracting eight hours a day for sleep), I have around 250,000 conscious hours remaining to me in which I could be smiling or scowling, rejoicing in my life, in this race, in this story, or moaning and complaining about my troubles. I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end.[2]

That is an interesting way to look at it, and a helpful way. Paul, writing from prison, considered his life and his death and he too came to terms with it. In fact, he makes one of the all-time great statements about life death. He is hopeful, as he writes to the Christians of Philippi, yet he does not know if he is going to live or die. He writes:

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 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.

So there is a note of uncertainty as to what exactly is going to happen to his body. Yet, he is optimistic either way. Whether Paul lives or dies, he is going to experience great good. And it is in this context that he writes his great sentence about life and death.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 

Paul is defining the twin realities of life and death as a win-win situation! Whether the Christian lives or die, it is gain! How is this so?

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Philippians 1:12–18

Philippians 1:12–18

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

A lot of inmates in prison have accomplished a lot of very impressive things over the years. Take, for instance, William Addis.

William Addis was an Englishman born somewhere around London in 1734. In 1770, Addis was imprisoned for causing a riot. While he was in prison, he washed his teeth with a rag, some soot, and some salt. This was the standard method throughout Europe and had been so for centuries. He watched a man using a broom to sweep the floor and decided that there could be a better way of cleaning teeth.

Addis saved a small animal bone from one of the meals that he was given. Then, he drilled small holes into one end of the bone. He obtained some pig bristles from his guards, tied them into little tufts, and stuck them through the holes with some glue. This was the original toothbrush invented in Europe.[1]

Or how about Jesse Hawley, a flour merchant from New York?

Eventually, in 1807, Hawley’s difficulties in securing reasonably priced transportation drove him in 1806 to debtors’ prison for twenty months. While in prison, writing under the name “Hercules”, he published fourteen essays on the idea of the canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie; they appeared in the Genesee Messenger.

Considering his modest education and lack of formal training as an engineer or surveyor, Hawley’s writing was remarkable; he pulled together a wealth of information necessary to the project, provided detailed analysis of the problems to be solved, and wrote with great eloquence and foresight on the importance the canal would have to the state and to the nation. Though they were deemed the ravings of a madman by some, Hawley’s essays were proven to be immensely influential on the development of the canal.[2]

Or consider Robert Franklin Stroud, “The Bird Man of Alcatraz.” A dangerous man and a murderer, Stroud nonetheless made an amazing contribution to science and medical knowledge while in prison. His Wikipedia article states:

In 1920, while in solitary confinement at the federal penitentiary of Leavenworth, Stroud discovered a nest with three injured sparrows in the prison yard. He cared for them and within a few years had acquired a collection of about 300 canaries. He began extensive research into birds after being granted equipment by a prison-reforming warden. Stroud wrote Diseases of Canaries, which was smuggled out of Leavenworth and published in 1933, as well as a later edition (1943). He made important contributions to avian pathology, most notably a cure for the hemorrhagic septicemia family of diseases, gaining much respect and some level of sympathy among ornithologists and farmers.[3]

Amazing! How about one more example. A first-century Jew is thrown into prison because he will not stop preaching about Jesus. He is so passionate about Jesus that his presence and his preaching and the riots they sometimes cause are seen as positively dangerous by some of the authorities. While in prison, this first-century Jew wrote some letters that were so powerful they are still studied by groups of people all around the world who find in his letters the very words of God to mankind. That Jewish prisoner was named Paul and one of those letters was called “Philippians.” Paul’s imprisonment was not incidental to the writing of Philippians or to his life. In fact, it was quite important, and in verses 12 through 18 of this most remarkable letter, Paul talks about the role that his imprisonment played.

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Philippians 1:1–11

Philippians 1:1–11

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Imagine that you gather for church on a Sunday morning. It is the year 60 AD. You live in the city of Philippi “in the northeast section of the Roman province of Macedonia…about eight hundred miles from Rome and approximately ten miles from the seaport of Neapolis…”[1] You are happy to gather again with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

There has been whispering all morning, rumors of something exciting that might happen at church. As you gather with the church and sit on the floor, you feel a kind of electricity in the air! Something is going to happen today!

The pastor stands up and looks around. Then he smiles and says, “Brothers and sisters…we have a special guest this morning. I think you may know him…” Suddenly the room is galvanized! Some people stand up and look about. And sure enough, out of the shadows, there steps a man. You know him! Epaphroditus! Immediately there is a joyous commotion. Exclamations of happiness, tears, hugs and kisses! The room moves toward Epaphroditus, a beloved member of the church who had been sent many moons before to take a love offering to the Apostle Paul in prison. You and the rest of the church have been worried about Epaphroditus. You had heard rumor that he was sick. Some thought Epaphroditus was dead! But here he stands, back…thinner, but alive!

Finally, order is restored. Tears are wiped from cheeks and the church sits and watches Epaphroditus. He speaks, his voice broken with emotion: “It is so good to be home. I have missed you all so much. Yes, the rumors are true: I was sick…very sick. But, friends, I was cared for by our brother Paul and our brother Timothy and, as you can see, I am very much alive!” Murmurs of amazement ripple through the crowd. “And brothers and sisters…[and here Epaphroditus pauses for dramatic effect, then grins widely]…I have come back with a letter from Paul.”

Suddenly, more tears of joy flow in the room! Epaphroditus holds the letter up and clears his throat. He is going to read it to the church! A letter from Paul! And the Philippians are going to get to listen in…and so are we!

The book of Philippians. More accurately, the letter to the Philippians.

In this letter, Paul is going to tell a first-century church in a city called Philippi that he loves them, that Jesus loves them, that he is proud of them, and that they can press on to becoming more and more like Jesus.

What is more, the letter to the Philippians is overflowing with joy! “Paul is filled with joy,” writes Frank Thielman, “and expects the Philippians to be joyful also (1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 17–18, 28–29; 3:1; 4:1, 4, 10).”[2]

One important detail is the fact that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians of Philippi from prison. This is one of the “prison epistles” of Paul. And this makes Paul’s joy at the Philippian church that much more powerful. From his prison cell, Paul looked with love toward the believers in Philippi.

This is a letter of hope. This is a letter of joy. This is a letter of love. And it is an honor to read it with you today.

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“And the Reaching of the Nations”: The 4 Canons (A Review)

Among the many brilliant things that Charles Spurgeon said, the following deserves special attention:

It is the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world.

And I have a simple question about this statement: Do you believe that to be true? Do you believe that it is the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world?

At our church, we have used the language of “the reaching of the nations,” but Spurgeon’s sentiment is what we mean by that: It is the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world. 

I believe Spurgeon’s statement is true. And I believe a lot hinges on whether or not we all think it is true. And I would like for us to all walk out of here believing it is true and living out of the truth of it.

Why is it the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world?

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Dr. Mark W. Graham of Grove City College

I was happy recently to come across a video of a friend of mine. Dr. Mark W. Graham is a professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Mark and I met almost thirty years ago in a Latin class at The University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. We became quick friends and, though our paths have gone in different directions, I still try to keep up with Mark. Mark is one of the smartest guys I have ever met. And he is a dear brother in Christ. I was happy to find this video. It is a great and insightful conversation.

Matthew 26:17–29

Matthew 26

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

It is not uncommon for food and meals to be at the center of very significant moments in the development of stories. Think of the books you have read and the movies and shows you have watched. I bet right now you could think of a number of important moments involving food in these. One list of “The 20 best food scenes in film” offers these examples:

The dogs eating spaghetti in “Lady and the Tramp.”

The meal in “Babette’s Feast.”

Audrey Hepburn eating breakfast outside of Tiffany’s in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Peter Clemenza’s recipe for pasta sauce in “The Godfather.”

The meal in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Remy the rat preparing ratatouille in “Ratatouille.”

Some of these are winsome and some of these are poignant. All of these examples are at least interesting.

I firmly believe that our culture oftentimes reenacts the contours of the Christian faith without knowing it, because our culture originates form a largely Christian framework. The Christian story is, in a sense, in the DNA of our culture, even if our culture seems to be trying desperately to move past Christianity.

It is not surprising, then, that food and meals oftentimes arise at seminal moments in the development of plots and narratives. It does so in the Christian story as well. In fact, in our text, it is at a meal that a number of profound truths begin to coalesce under the tutelage and revelatory power of Jesus. Jesus reveals the heart of the gospel in its fullest form in a meal and, in so doing, establishes that meal itself as a powerful signpost to the reality of the kingdom of God and of Himself, Jesus, the King.

In the unfolding of Matthew’s gospel, we have now worked our way to a most significant meal. A meal now takes center stage, because it is a meal that is more than a mere meal. It is a meal that reveals, that explains, that depicts, that challenges, and that calls us to believe.[1]

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“For the Glory of God”: The Four Canons (A Review)

Sometimes one little letter makes all the difference in the world.

George Weigel once noticed a small change in a Washington, D.C., school’s slogan that was not actually small at all. The slogan of this school came from Ignatius of Loyola: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Translated, that is “For the greater glory of God.” And that slogan is oftentimes abbreviated as AMDG. So the school existed, in other words, “For the greater glory of God,” AMDG.

What Weigel found curious and then upsetting was seeing a billboard for the school’s fundraising campaign in which that great slogan had been altered, seemingly slightly.

What I find disturbing about the campaign is its “branding” slogan. I first became aware of it when, driving past the campus a few months ago, I noticed a billboard at the corner of Rockville Pike and Tuckerman Lane. In large, bold letters, it proclaimed, “FOR THE GREATER GLORY.” And I wondered, “…of what?” Then one day, when traffic allowed, I slowed down and espied the much smaller inscription in the bottom right corner: “Georgetown Prep’s Legacy Campaign.”

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (For the greater glory of God), often reduced to the abbreviation AMDG, was the Latin motto of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. Georgetown Prep is a Jesuit school. So what happened to the D-word? What happened to God? Why did AMDG become AM[D]G while being translated into fundraising English?

I made inquiries of Jesuit friends and learned that amputating the “D” in AMDG is not unique to Georgetown Prep; it’s a tactic used by other Jesuit institutions engaged in the heavy-lift fundraising of capital campaigns.[1]

Well. Dropping God’s glory from your slogan in order to keep the glory undefined seems ill-advised to say the least. In fact, the question of who exactly gets the glory seems to be a very important question, especially in scripture!

So who does get the glory? God? You? Somebody else?

How we answer this matters…a lot!

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Matthew 26:14–16

Matthew 26

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Island of the Day Before, a 17th-century man named Ferrante surprisingly encounters Judas Iscariot chained to a rock in the sea. After inquiring as to the nature of his punishment, Judas offers this explanation:

            Why, because God has willed that my punishment consist in living always on Good Friday, to celebrate always and every day the Passion of the man I betrayed. The first day of my suffering, when for other human beings sunset approached, and then night, and then the dawn of Saturday, for me only an atom of an atom of a minute of the ninth hour of that Friday had gone by. As the course of my sun began to move even more slowly, for the rest of you Christ was rising from the dead, but I was still barely a step from that hour. And now, when centuries and centuries have passed for you, I am still only a crumb of time from that instant…[1]

This is not the only legend that creatively depicts Judas Iscariot’s suffering and punishment. There must have been something especially heinous about Judas’ behavior for the coming generations to engage in this kind of imaginative exercise. And, indeed, there was!

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“Around the Whole Gospel”: The Four Canons (A Review)

If you stand on the South Korea side of the Demilitarized Zone and look into North Korea, you will see a town. The North Koreans call it “Peace Village.” It was actually constructed in the DMZ by North Korea in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. They say that 200 people live there. It has the fourth tallest flagpole in the world, homes, shops, a tall water tower, a hospital, fields, farm equipment, buildings, and streets. From time to time you can hear music playing, coming seemingly from the homes and businesses. At night, the lights of the town come on.

All in all, “Peace Village” appears to be a vibrant little town.

Except for one problem. It is fake. It is empty. It is an empty façade. Except for a few workers that clean the streets and carry on other tasks, nobody lives there and apparently nobody ever has. The buildings appear not to have actual floors. They are empty shells with lights at the top. Many of the windows, upon close examination, or simply painted onto the walls. The lights are turned on by the state, as is the music. The lights are one but literally no one is home.

The South Koreans refer to “Peace Village” as “Propaganda Village.” It appears to have been built by the North Koreans as a move in psychological warfare. It is intended to communicate to those looking at it from South Korea that North Korea is healthy and prosperous and the people are happy there. It is ostensibly intended to lure defectors to the North from the South.

It has all the appearance of life—the externals are in place, everything looks right, the lights are on, the music is playing—but there just is not actually anything there. There is no life there.

I would like to talk about church.

That which makes the church the church is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

Without if, we are simply “Peace Village”: an empty husk with the lights and music on.

We have committed ourselves to being “an authentic family around the gospel” because we do not want to be an empty shell. We want to be alive. And the gospel alone is what makes us alive!

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Matthew 26:1–13

Matthew 26

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

We Baptists do not do a lot of anointing with oil. Let me be very clear: I not only do not oppose anointing somebody with oil while praying for them, I actually find it quite beautiful and powerful and biblical and good (“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:14). I have been asked to do so on occasion over the years, and I am happy to do so. Like all good things, it can be abused, but the abuse of a thing does not render the thing itself inherently wrong (unless, of course, it is!).

I recall one of the first times I was asked to anoint somebody with oil and pray for their healing. I gladly and quickly agreed. I and some others went to the home of this brother. I had brought a little vial of oil. When it came time to pray, I went to pour a drop or two on his head when…you guessed it…a great deal of oil came pouring out in an instant!

I recall trying to hide my surprise as I placed my hand on his oily hair and prayed. We all prayed and, when we finished, we all had a good laugh at how much oil I poured out on him! There was no getting around it: I doused the brother when what I intended was a couple of drops.

But now that I think of it, why not douse with oil when calling for the blessing and favor of God upon another?

Excessive oil is a sign of excessive favor and blessing. Consider, for instance, Psalm 133.

1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Or consider our own text, Matthew 26:1–13. The context is very different, but here too we find an excessive, lavish anointing. Here too the greatness of God is extolled, though, here, it is extolled before the approaching storm of the sufferings of the cross.

In our text, a woman lavishly anoints Jesus. Though, for her, it was not an accident. And, in doing so, she is placed in stark contrast not only to those plotting the death of Jesus, but even to the disciples themselves who protest her actions.

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