Tuesday, August 31, 2010
IN CHAINS FOR CHRIST
IN CHAINS FOR CHRIST
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing
“Now I want you to know, brothers,
that what has happened to me
has really served to advance the gospel.”
What had happened to Paul? He had been confined in prison for his subversive activities. Accused of spreading dissension and political turmoil, or impacting the livelihoods of local merchants and businessmen, or teaching people to worship God rather than the works of their hands, or disrupting the religious lives of the self-righteous religious people. Thrown in prison for the crime of preaching Christ, he had been accused, convicted, sentenced. He was in chains now, literally.
Paul was in prison a number of times, but it certainly could not have been routine for him. It was uncomfortable, dirty, and considered unworthy of good men. Common criminals surrounded him, and his jailers would have been, in the main, anything but kind and helpful men. This was a dank, smelly, sour, unwashed, filthy prison before the days of prison reform gave us the modern jail’s decent living conditions. There was no running water, no flushing toilets, no televisions or lunchrooms or clean uniforms. These were the foulest places on earth.
Yet his entire letter to the Christ-followers in
Philippi was an encouragement. How could Paul, out of such extreme circumstances, be so full of power and joy?
This is where modern Christianity and the true gospel of Christ are miles apart.
There is no connection between our affluent, must-have-our-comforts-and-fun Christian religion and this vital, powerful, thrive-in-the-worst-conditions Christ-life Paul was living. There may be words we use in common, or verses we quote, or sermons we preach that bear some resemblance to what many would term “the Christian life”. But overall, there is so little commonality that even casual observation would not connect them.
Paul’s only concern, his only purpose, his only life, his only ambition or thought or actions, were Christ. He was not concerned about himself, or his position or status in the churches, or in the community. He was not concerned about his worldly reputation. He was not concerned about his own body, whether it was treated well, or treated poorly.
He cared only that Christ would be exalted, even in his imprisonment. His prayers were constant, and were for the Philippians themselves, and their spiritual growth in Christ. His thoughts were upon how he was representing Christ Jesus, not whether he had attorneys representing him. His heart was in heavenly places with Christ, not in the dark, dirty cell where his body lay daily. His zeal was for the truth of Christ to be declared, whether by those who preached Christ out of bad motives or good.
He taught from prison through his letters, urging the brothers to be willing to suffer for Christ as he was, and to pursue humility, love, patience, and servanthood. While he was being “poured out like a drink offering” (2:17), an older man well along in years, suffering physically and mentally every hour, he was powerfully exhorting, encouraging, strengthening, correcting, warning, pleading, and being the voice of Christ to those he loved.
What a difference between this life portrayed to us in Scripture, and what we see and hear around us in our modern “Christian” subculture.
For one simple reason. We have not learned the basic truths of the Christ-life. We have been brought up and taught a lie. That is why we have people by the thousands crowding our comfortable sanctuaries on Sundays, listening to comfortable, uplifting sermons, and enjoying the entertainments we prepare for one another. That is why there is a form of godliness without power. Even if there is much noise, God’s ears are stopped because of our self-focus, and the sentimental attachment we have to all our religious ways. We love ourselves, and our ways of doing church, and we feel at ease with our lives, and the blessings we believe God has bestowed on us.
What do we have in common with this poor, ragged, suffering man kneeling in a filthy stone prison and praying in the power of God for the life of Christ to be shown in His people? This man who, like Christ Himself, was willing to be sacrificed so that others could know the Truth, and be set free from their lives of self-indulgence and self-focus? This brother who knew such betrayal and pain, shipwreck, disaster, opposition, hatred, danger, difficulty, disease, chains, flogging, beatings and separation from those he loved? All for the sake of Christ, for whom he was willing to suffer the loss of all things?
“Join with others in following my example, brothers,
And take note of those who live according to the pattern
we gave you. For, as I have often told you before
and say now again with tears,
many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach,
and their glory is in their shame.
Their mind is on earthly things.”
The examples we see today are not the example Paul talks of here. The pattern we see is not the pattern we see here in Scripture. The examples we see portrayed by our churches and our leaders in modern, affluent “Christianity” are far removed from these examples and patterns. Many of us, we must say with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. We have our minds on earthly things. We have our agendas, and our plans, and our goals, and we run our churches and our ministries like they are businesses, with boards and balance sheets, and careful programs and marketing campaigns. We pride ourselves on our wonderful ministries, and how far we have come from those dismal days when being with Christ meant suffering and opposition, being hunted and persecuted.
Today, if you are called to minister, then you are called to emulate Paul, and emulate those who live according to the Biblical call. This call involved death to self, no personal agenda, and an absolute giving up of all things for the sake of the gospel. We must get back to this pure, unadulterated Christ-life, or we will be lost. There is no room for personal or professional agendas in the Christ-life. We must be willing to die, today, every day, to all that.
This is why Paul could rejoice and give out the light of Christ from the darkest situations a man can encounter. Why he could have power in weakness, and give that to others. It was Christ in him; Christ’s energy, Christ’s love, Christ’s strength, Christ’s joy, Christ’s mind speaking and writing. It was not Paul, it was Christ. This is the life we must strive for, brothers and sisters, and accept nothing less.
We must begin the rebellion against disobedience to Scripture, or be lost along with the world. We must begin to confess and repent of our own sins, our own worldliness, our own depravity, and turn to Christ in humility, willing to forsake these things for the sake of the One and Only who calls to a disobedient and rebellious people now.
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