Rejoice in Your Christ No Matter What (click to view/download originally published pdf file)
12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
The Christian church is a mess. There’s no point in denying it. The whole world knows it, and we know it, too. What to do about it, though… that’s another problem.
The Apostle Paul called my attention to the solution to this problem by the way that he wrote about his imprisonment in Philippians, chapter 1. For such a huge problem, the solution was surprisingly simple. I didn’t really see it, though, until I had noticed the way that Paul focused on one particular name for our Savior, a name he used again and again and again. Let’s see if you notice it:
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Did you notice the name for our Savior that Paul focused on throughout the reading? It was Christ. Do you remember what Christ means? It means, “The Anointed One,” or, as we would probably say, “The Appointed” or “Chosen One.” This is one case, however, where we’re probably better off just trying to learn the way that the people of the Old Testament thought, because anointing a person with oil in order to appoint them for their work had a very significant meaning. When Old Testament people heard “Christ” (or “Messiah,” as it was said in Hebrew), they thought of three special offices: Prophet, priest and king. Each of those offices would make them think of the Messiah, the Savior that God had promised long ago. He would be the Ultimate Prophet, the Ultimate Priest and the Ultimate King.
And that picture can help us, too. That picture can help us the way that focusing on the Christ helped to focus Paul when he was in jail. Focusing on the Ultimate Prophet, Priest and King helped Paul to write confidently to the Christians in Philippi: Rejoice in Your Christ No Matter What. No matter what may come, you can still rejoice in the One who is your Ultimate Prophet, Priest and King. And, by the way, it can also help us as we think about the mess of Christian denominations and movements throughout the world today.
First think about Jesus as the Ultimate Prophet. People look at the many Christian churches and they laugh at how divided they are. They say, “How can you know that your church is right and all the other ones are wrong?” They think that’s funny because you can list your reasons, and it’ll sound good. Then they can go on to the next church and have them list their reasons, and that will sound good, too. They imagine us, then, to be dumb or egotistical or closed-minded or whatever silly name they want to call us because we can’t just agree to get along and get over what, to them, seems like petty differences.
Should you feel slighted? Should you think that such mockery is deserved? Have you ever responded like it was deserved? By being unsure of why you belong to this particular church, did you not make it easier for them to say that the differences really don’t matter and that the churches are squabbling pointlessly?
Before you let such mockers steal all your joy, take a minute to think about your Christ! Rejoice in the Ultimate Prophet! A prophet speaks as God’s messenger. He shares God’s Word with his people. That’s the comfort we have in turning to Christ when someone says that the truth makes no difference. Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Prophet, so he says that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Did you catch that? Despite the assertions of false teachers that tear the visible church on earth apart and create division after division, there is still just one truth. Rejoice in that truth—rejoice in your Christ—no matter what false teachings work to divide and split, to split and divide.
Although if you want genuine confidence in the truth that Christ gave us in his Word, don’t be like so many of the weak church leaders of today. Many of them say that the false teachings that have divided the church don’t really matter so long as we all just accept Christ as our Savior.
But Jesus wasn’t one to compromise the truth like that, was he? No. If he compromised the truth, he would be compromising himself! Paul wasn’t one to compromise the truth, either. It’s fair to say that he was in jail for refusing to compromise the truth. Meanwhile, all the false teachers who were trying to make money and a name for themselves were out doing their best to capitalize on Paul’s imprisonment!
You’d think Paul would be more upset by that than he was by that. You wouldn’t be surprised, however, if you had his focus on the Christ, because the Christ not only serves as the Ultimate Prophet. He also serves as the Ultimate High Priest.
How does thinking about the Ultimate High Priest help Paul deal with those who were hijacking Christ’s name “out of envy and rivalry” and “selfish ambition”? You’d think that knowing that Jesus was the Great High Priest over all would cause Paul to become all the more upset that they were twisting the message of the Christ by their false teaching.
But that’s missing the point of the Ultimate High Priest. Think about this, brothers and sisters. Think about this and find every reason to rejoice mightily in your Christ. Think about what priests in temples normally do. Picture them offering sacrifices to their gods in the hope of getting rain or finding a wife or having children. Picture the priest providing food, animals, money to the god of that temple, hoping to find favor and, finally, happiness.
Now, who is your High Priest? Your High Priest is your God! Your High Priest is Christ! Your God is up in heaven serving you in his temple! “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). You know what interceding means, don’t you? It means that he is praying on your behalf. That’s right! Because our High Priest is God himself, that means that God is constantly serving us by praying to himself on our behalf in order that we might constantly receive his favor and blessing!
Do you know what that means? Simply put, it means that you don’t have to worry. It means that you don’t have to pray the way that all people pray by nature. And how do we pray by nature? Without the miraculous gift of faith in our Savior God, Jesus Christ, people worry about whether or not God hears them. As Jesus himself said, “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
Our God obviously deserves more from us than all that worried hand-wringing we’re all too prone to do. For failure to trust the faithful Word of our Perfect Prophet, repent! For worried wondering about whether or not God is listening and acting on our behalf from heaven, beg his forgiveness. And know—know brothers and sisters—that the Perfect Priest has won for you the perfect forgiveness that you need. Know that he hears from his heaven and holds his perfect, sacrificial death before his Father’s eyes in order to put your heart at ease. Know that there is nothing left for you to do to appease him. Remember that he inspired his Apostle to say, “He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Then you will be able to express the same confidence that Paul had in this Universe’s Anointed King—which is the final office that our Christ holds. Even as Paul sat in jail, he knew our Christ was in charge. In the confidence that the forgiving love of Christ affords, he was not blinded to the good that his imprisonment was bringing. He had peace and he had confidence, and everyone else could see that this was a gift from the one, true God and from the Lord Jesus Christ, for his calm had no natural explanation. His guards were touched by it. His friends were touched by it. Face it: The world has been forever touched by it!
That’s our Heavenly King at work. Rejoice in him, no matter what comes along. His plans don’t fail. They have won your forgiveness. They are working your blessing. They will bring you to eternal bliss in his heavenly kingdom for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Pentecost 19 Rejoice in Your Christ No Matter What October 11, 2009
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Philippians 1:12-18a