Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 18, 2011

2011.09.18 “Live in Such a Way” – Philippians 1:27-30

Central United Methodist Church
“Live in Such a Way”
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 1: 27 – 30
September 18th, 2011

“Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance.
Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.”
– Philippians 1: 27 – 30, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Letters? Anybody remember letters? Anybody still write letters? Will our children ever have the opportunity to learn the lost art of letter writing? Someday, should Facebook and texting and email and Twitter come crashing down, will we have to learn how to write letters again? And if so, will the Post Office still be around to deliver them?

Those of us who remember letters may recall some of the more significant of them, as the means through which significant news arrived (births, acceptances, rejections, deaths), relationships were developed or ended (love letters, Dear John letters, family letters), grievances aired, (Dear Sirs, letters to the editor, Dear Idiots in Washington), or gratitude expressed (thank you so very much.)

Perhaps like me, you still have letters somewhere, boxes of them. Perhaps like me you’ve put off sorting them for the writing of your memoirs, not because it will be tedious, or scandalous, but because it will be emotional. For in those boxes are letters of acceptance and rejection, letters from lost loves and lost loved ones. For example, I have letters from my dear grandmother, who would always end by saying, “Well, I got to go and get this in the mail,” which always gave me the image of the mailman standing by, patting his foot, waiting for her to finish.

Today we begin reading one of the most famous letters ever written, the New Testament letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. So if it feels like we are reading someone else’s mail, we are, now a cherished text of our Christian scriptures. Can you imagine any letters you’ve written that might be read 2,000 years later? Or would be embarrassed by, if they were? I expect the Apostle Paul would be also. If he had only known, I expect they would be far more elegant and far less personal.

To appreciate and understand Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, it helps to know some history.

Like, who’s the Apostle Paul? The Apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was the second most influential person in the history of Christianity, after Jesus. Without Paul, it’s doubtful we would be sitting here this morning. For some – the author of the book of Acts, for example – Paul is a hero. For others, Paul is the one who distorted the message of Jesus, or the one who told women to keep quiet in churches. At times in his writing, Paul can be vain or mocking, self-pitying or despairing; and at other times, inspired and profound. But whatever you think about Paul, it’s likely there would be no Christianity without him, and no better insight into the lives of early Christians and early Christian churches than found in his letters. In fact, Paul’s letters and writing are the first Christian documents, written before the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Paul was not one of Jesus’ original twelve, nor even among Jesus’ first disciples. As Saul of Tarsus, he first shows up in the book of Acts (7:58), holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen, becoming in the next chapter one of the chief persecutors of Christians.

Then, in Acts, chapter 9, Paul’s meets the Risen Jesus. While on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, he is blinded by a vision, and hears a voice speaking to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?” “Who are you, Master?” Paul says. And Jesus says, “I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down.” From that point on, Paul becomes not only a follower of Jesus, but Jesus’ most articulate theologian and most aggressive apostle, articulating the Gospel for the Gentile world, and literally carrying it to them, from Jerusalem to Rome, not only to Jews but to Gentiles, Greeks, pagans. Once again, if it had not been for Paul, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.

What did he look like? No one knows. Based upon historical descriptions, forensic scientists in Germany did this facial composite. Does he look like someone you know, would talk to, or run from? He certainly doesn’t have blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, based upon some references, some have speculated whether Paul had either a speech impediment like a lisp, or perhaps epilepsy. Some have even speculated that’s what lay behind his vision of Jesus.
Eventually, for one of the many riots he wound up inciting, Paul is arrested and transported to Rome for trial, where, for two years, he is under house arrest. This allowed him to have company, as well as to continue to preach Christ, even into Caesar’s own household. According to the book of Acts, Paul was under the care of one “soldier” (Acts 26:16; cf. 12:6), and was chained to his guard (28:20). How would you liked to have been chained to the Apostle Paul? Surely it would have led to some interesting discussions, and likely hazardous duty pay as well.

During this time, Paul was free to entertain visitors, and in addition to Timothy, one of those visitors was a man named Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus had been sent by one of the churches Paul had founded, the church at Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia, Greece. He had been sent along with a care package, to assist Paul in the circumstances of his imprisonment. Unfortunately, while visiting Paul, Epaphroditus got so sick that he had also died, and in addition to everything else, Paul wound up having to take care of Epaphroditus. I wonder if they told him beforehand to stick only to the bottled water?

Anyhow, Epaphroditus is now returning home, and along with him Paul sends a letter of gratitude, encouragement, and comfort, which we now know as his Letter to the Philippians. Even though written specifically to them, it has since resonated with all Christians everywhere.

I would have to say, that if the Letter to the Philippians is about anything, it is about the importance of attitude, as we will see over the next four weeks, over and again.

For example, in today’s reading, consider the attitude exhibited by Paul. Despite being under house arrest, awaiting trial, Paul remains full of gratitude and joy and hope. Under the circumstances, surely he could have had a pity party; he could have said, “So here I am; where are you?”; he could have said, “Thanks a lot for sending Epaphroditus, that only made things worse!” He could have said that, but he didn’t. What he said was:

“Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.” (Philippians 1: 3 – 6, The Message)
No wonder Christians have always found great encouragement in this letter. If we didn’t find joy and encouragement and hope from our own pastors and friends, we could always find it from Paul in Philippians. Who among us doesn’t like being told we’re being prayed for, not sadly, not reluctantly, but with joy and thanksgiving and confidence?

Awaiting a verdict on his trial, not knowing whether he would live or die, Paul could have been discouraged and depressed, even in despair. Imprisonment is hardly a good credential on a resume. And yet Paul is just the opposite, making the most of every opportunity, using his imprisonment as yet another opportunity to preach the gospel. And so he says:

“I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.” (1: 20-21)

Then, as if to show just how personal these letters are, Paul turns introspective, intimate, almost stream-of-consciousness. Listen to hear how a Christian thinks:

“As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues.” (1: 22 – 25)

Even in difficult circumstances, how do we find meaning and hope? It begins when we are able to look beyond the black hole of ourselves and our circumstances, and to focus upon others and their needs. Surely none of us are exempt from those moments of feeling locked-up and walled in, those times of confinement when we feel the walls – yes, sometimes of our own making – come closing in. But it is in exactly those moments come, when we are invited to model for others what it means to face them with hope, as Paul did in Philippians.

And so, with such an attitude, Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi:

“Live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ.” “Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you — and both because of God.” (1: 27 – 28)

So Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is also a letter to us: an invitation to focus on hope, and to find in the midst of life’s circumstances, that in all things God may be glorified. Christian living is not about finding an easy way out; it is about learning to see hope and possibility even in the darkest moments. More often than not, as Paul makes repeatedly clear, this comes down to attitude.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the saying about attitude, by evangelical pastor and author, Rev. Charles Swindoll? A few years ago, he explained how it came about:

“Several years ago I determined to deal with my attitude. I found myself getting pretty testy, even argumentative at times. Our children were young and often had needs that required my time and attention. More often than I’d like to admit, that irritated me — to the point where my wife said I needed to think about how negative I was becoming, and then I needed to do something about it!

At first, like most husbands would, I resisted her words, but after giving them further thought, I realized that what she was observing was painfully true. To use a popular expression, I was in need of a serious attitude adjustment! I knew that if some of my emotional outbursts didn’t stop, I’d not only alienate all four of my children, I would become a lonely, bitter, and crotchety old man. The realization of all that led me to come to terms with my negative attitude.

I am so grateful I did! Among other things, it led me to sit down and write out a carefully worded statement on the importance of choosing the right attitude every single day. I had no idea how God would use it in the lives of people around the world. I’ve come across it in the most amazing places — and I’ve had friends tell me of their seeing it in such places as restaurant menus and hanging on walls in machine shops and hearing it quoted in sales conferences, memorized by cadets preparing to be highway patrolmen, and learned by students in school. Here it is:

“Attitudes”

“Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.

I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances, or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me.”

Says Swindoll, “I share this with you in hopes that it will help you as much as it has helped so many others, including me. Thankfully, I’m a different man today because I came to terms with my attitude a number of years ago. And because I did, as I grow older, I’ve became a lot easier to live with. Just ask my wife . . . and our kids . . . and their kids! (January 20, 2009, The Value of a Positive Attitude, by Charles R. Swindoll, Insight for Living)

“Live in such a way,” said the Apostle Paul to the Philippians, “that you are a credit to the message of Christ.” By our attitude and by our lives, so may we be. Amen.

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