Philippians 1:18-20 “Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed,”
The Christian is a happy man. Paul tells the Philippian congregation, “I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” Here is declaration – “I rejoice!” Here is confirmation – “Yes!” Here is determination – “I will continue to rejoice.” He is in prison, but he is rejoicing. His own plans are thwarted, but he is rejoicing. He has no certainty that the result of his appeal to Caesar is going to his vindication, freedom and life, but he is still rejoicing. His enemies are busy, “supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (v.17), but he rejoices and will continue to do so. The true Christian is characterised by joy. Of course there are griefs which break our hearts. Jesus himself wept. There are times of stress when our joy is muted and crafted by quiet determination. There’s not a Christian who will not pray at different seasons in his life, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.” Paul himself was not always able to live up to his determination to rejoice. There were times when he despaired even of life (2 Cors. 1:8). An absence of joy may also have as its basis some medical or chemical problem, and not be the sign of the absence of saving faith. Certainly a person’s evident happiness is alone no indication that he possesses true faith. Herod was happy while Salome danced before him. Wales is full of people within and outside of the professing church who experience temporary bursts of happiness. The great lesson this passage would teach us is the source of true happiness.
“What has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed,” (v.19&20). Deliverance or shame: those are the alternatives facing every person. They lay before Lot and his wife as they were warned to leave Sodom and not look back in fondness to that evil place. Lot obeyed and was delivered; Lot’s wife looked back and was put to everlasting shame. They lay before King Saul as jealousy of David gnawed away at him. Would he mortify it by the Spirit and trust in God to be delivered, or would he be put to shame? They lay before Judas as his contempt for Christ grew. What course of action would Judas take, the one which would end in eternal shame or the one which would end in his deliverance? They lay before Peter as he walked out into the night weeping bitterly after denying his Lord by the fireside with curses. Would he repent of his sin finding forgiveness again in the Lord Christ and be delivered? Or would he be overwhelmed with despair and die in shame like Judas?
Those were the alternatives facing the apostle in his long incarceration in prison. Would be become bitter at this trial, and give up his faith? Many who profess Christ fall away from him when troubles come into their lives. Loved ones die, churches divide, Christians let them down, prayers are unanswered, their ‘chains’ are binding them to an unacceptable providence and their faith in a sovereign loving God begins to evaporate: “I can’t believe in a God who does this,” they say, and though they do not recognise it they are being put to shame. We are all taught by the Lord to pray that we may not be led into such temptations, and be delivered from evil. Paul was delivered. When he talks of his ‘deliverance’ he is not referring to Caesar coming down to the prison, shaking his hand, apologising for this ‘little misunderstanding’ and escorting him through the jail’s doors waving him goodbye. Paul had no ‘eager expectation and hope’ for his physical freedom. Rather, this deliverance is one he will experience irrespective of what happens to him in prison – whether he leaves it alive or dead. John Calvin himself judges, “Paul is not speaking of the safety of his body.” The apostle is writing about something far more important, his ultimate vindication before the King of Kings. His words echo Job’s desire to argue his case with God: “I will surely defend my ways to his face. Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance” (Job 13:15&16). This is precisely Paul’s confidence, that everything will turn out for his salvation in that great day. He has been saved from the penalty of sin. He is being saved from the power of sin. He will be saved from the very presence of sin in that tremendous day. Count Zinzendorf knew such hope and turned it into praise, and John Wesley went on to translate it thus:
“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I life up my head.
“Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.”
No shame at all in that great day: that was Paul’s eager expectation and hope. That mighty deliverance awaited him and all the elect of God. In other words, Paul thought in terms of eternity. He aimed at this complete and final salvation. If only we would all do that then every lasting pleasure of earth would also be thrown in, but if we aim merely at this world’s pleasures then neither earth nor heaven will be ours.
Retired 77 year-old Member of Parliament Tony Benn is travelling around the country preaching his socialist message and encouraging Marxist revolution in a gentle kind of way. He comes from Congregationalist and Independent background and the earlier contact with the Bible has left its inevitable mark on him. He had a splendid long marriage which produced four children and he grieves the loss of his wife Caroline from cancer. He has kept a diary since he was nine, and now he keeps video events of each day and adds them to his archives. It seems a very self-conscious enterprise. He says, “Your job is to make maximum use of your twenty-four hours. You mustn’t waste time. On the day of judgment when God says ‘What did you do with your life?'” . . . And how do you think Tony Benn plans to answer God? This is what he says, that he will present God with his archives, his diaries, and cassettes, videos and clippings. “I will show him thirteen million words. I have a compulsion to account for how I’ve spent my time.” (The Times, July 13, 2002). Very literally, Tony Benn will show the Holy One his works.
The apostle Paul wouldn’t do that, and neither would any Christian. Rather we will show God the works of Jesus Christ. “Our own works are full of crossings out, errors, blots, vaunted ambition and plain old sins. They are no foundation for your approval, Almighty God, but Jesus’ works are holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from us sinners’ works. Please accept me on the grounds of the perfection of what he achieved.” In other words, to gain vindication from a holy God our trust is in the merits of this faithful Saviour. The gospel declares that to all such God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ the God-man, and declares them justified. Before the bar of God’s justice we are as holy as Christ himself. Wesley sang, “No condemnation now I dread. Jesus, and all in him is mine. Alive in him my living head, and clothed in righteousness divine.” We have no works to add anything to or detract anything from that spotless righteousness. Nothing we can do can get God to love us any more than he already loves us in Jesus Christ his Son. Let us all be settled with that conviction. I have been saved by the works of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, his obedience to God’s law and his submission to the penalty of the broken law. That is the foundation of my hope of deliverance in the great day. That will be all my plea. Jesus has lived and died for me.
“So you can live as you like?” someone asks. No. No one can be delivered by the works of Christ while at the same time going through life ignoring God. Such attitudes as worshipping the Saviour who died in my place, serving his people, witnessing to the world my faith in him, keeping the Lord’s Day different from every other day, growing in my knowledge of his Word, bearing the burdens of the weak, loving my enemies, seeking God’s face in prayer, being the kind of family member I should be, honouring those in authority over me – such conduct is not optional if I plead that I am covered with the blood of Christ. When the New Testament calls people to trust in Christ that call is inseparably connected with obedience to Christ’s commandments. We can only come to the Lord Jesus in faith, not by “what our guilty hands have done,” but the faith with which we come is clearly joined to a new obedient heart which God gives to his people. What God has joined together let no man put asunder. In other words, the decision of trusting in Jesus Christ is an act of obedience to my God.
So how will those who claim they are trusting in Jesus Christ be delivered before the throne of God? The New Testament says through true faith in Christ, and that faith’s reality is shown by a life of doing God’s will. Not a perfect life but that new life which is energised by God and strengthened by all the means of grace. These true Christians support and uphold God’s people, they sit under Bible ministry and are not hearers only but doers; they are involved in the ministry of mercy to the least of Christ’s brethren; they pray for one another, and so on. Thus they achieve eternal deliverance, through the obedience of faith.
That is Paul’s theme in these verses. He selects three of the many ways in which those who are trusting in Christ will not be put to shame but rather will know a glorious deliverance.
1. THROUGH THE INTERCESSION OF FELLOW BELIEVERS.
The first illustration of his new life in Christ evinced by Paul is the fact that he belonged to a praying fellowship of believers. The four marks of salvation evidenced by the 3,000 who were converted on the day of Pentecost were steadfast continuance in the apostles’ teaching, apostolic fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. Through the intercession of Christ’s brethren Paul will be vindicated: “through your prayers” (v.19) that great deliverance will come to Paul. He tells them how he prays for them, and what he prays for and now he tells them that he is conscious that they also pray for him. Genuine new life in Christ is manifest in our being set in the midst of an interceding congregation. This is all-important for our deliverance in the great day. Let’s remind ourselves again of Joseph Hart’s words:
“Prayer was appointed to convey
The blessings God designs to give.
Long as they live should Christians pray,
For only while they pray they live.”
The risen Christ met with this man on the road to Damascus and revolutionised his life, commissioning him to take the gospel to such gentiles as these Philippians. The Lord had thus begun a good work in Paul’s life and he knew that God would carry it on to completion until the day of Christ. What need, then, of the prayers of gentile Christians? Because God has appointed prayer as one of the means of conveying the blessings of perseverance and ultimate vindication at the judgment seat of Christ. The Philippians knew that Paul would never perish, neither would any man snatch him out of the Saviour’s hand. Did that hinder their prayers for him? Not at all. Their love for him constrained them to pray and God had appointed those prayers to convey the blessings of deliverance. New measures of divine life came daily into that prison cell as people prayed. It was not that the Philippians merely uttered words about Paul, nor expressed to God their grief that their dear preacher was in jail, but that there was an intercourse of the souls of that church with the Creator, by the Holy Ghost. In other words, the Holy Ghost revealed truth to them, exciting deep feelings about Paul’s needs and he gave them appropriate utterance to intercede for the apostle. This praying came from God and returned to God. So they would pray such concerns as these, “Father send your Spirit to keep Paul from discouragement, and give him freshness in speaking to those soldiers each day. Provide him with all he needs and bring his case to a satisfactory conclusion. Keep him faithful. Lead him not into temptation, but deliver him from evil.” We know that today, with many similar petitions, the friends and family of Ian Stillman are praying about him while he languishes in the Indian jail. They believe in the total control of God over every event that led Ian to be there, even getting into that particular taxi where it seems that some drugs had been left on the back seat. His praying friends also believe in the Lord’s power to deliver him from that cell at any time he chooses. But such persuasion does not make them fatalists – “so whatever will be will be.” No! God’s total and absolute control of all things past, present and future is no hindrance to their prayers, for they know that “Prayer was appointed to convey the blessings God designs to give.”
It is thus at the beginning of the Christian life. We have a duty to call on all men to believe in Christ, yet knowing that God alone can make the dead sinner live. We preach and we pray, and God alone knows how these two activities are to be reconciled. A former professor of Church History at Columbia Seminary, South Carolina, who was before that a pastor in Woodland Street Church in Nashville, Dr R.C.Reed (who died in 1925) recounts how he once attended an evangelistic service conducted by an earnest Arminian minister. That brother preached the gospel impressively for about an hour, and then he closed the sermon by saying to the congregation, “Now, sinners, I have done all that I can do, and God has done all that he can do, and so your salvation rests with you.” Then he turned to R.C.Reed who was sitting on the platform and he asked him if he would close in prayer. Dr Reed says, “It occurred to me that it must be a waste of breath to pray to a God who has already exhausted his resources. If the whole matter rested with the sinner, then he was the proper person to plead with in prayer. But the preacher had been pleading with the sinner for the last hour most earnestly and ably. It seemed rather an embarrassing position. What did I do? Just what the preacher wished me to do, and expected me to do: just what he would have done had he led the prayer: I asked God to do more than he had done; asking him to come in ‘convicting and converting power’; I asked him to bestow invincible grace. When on their knees Arminians and Calvinists agree in ascribing to God absolute power over his creatures, and in entreating him to do what he could not do if man’s will were independent of his control” (R.C.Reed, “The Gospel As Taught by Calvin” Baker, 1979, p.53). It must be so. All Christians are united in singing the words of Philip Doddridge:
‘Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.'”
When Peter and John were released from prison the joyful church acknowledged in their prayer to God that the enemies of the gospel, whether Jews or gentiles, had done “exactly what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:28). Their belief in the sovereign control of God was as plain and straightforward as that. There was no sophistication in their praying. They believed in the utter control of the living God and it became the stuff of their intercession, but the fact of God’s sovereignty did not make them fatalists. Coming to such a Sovereign gave them confidence to pray more earnestly, for they went on to pray “Lord . . . enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). They prayed thus because, “Prayer was appointed to convey the blessings God designs to give.” So a year or so later we read that Peter was again arrested and “was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5). That is one reason why we are present at the weekly prayer meeting, and why E-mailed letters of missionaries are printed and distributed. It is one indication of our faith in the prayer-answering Sovereign Christ that we are found there each week, and that we pray.
Are you praying? Some say, “I can’t pray like you. My prayers are poor, short bursts with many wandering thoughts.” I will tell you for your encouragement what William Romaine recalled; “Once I uttered the Lord’s prayer without a wandering thought, and it was the worst prayer I ever offered. I was on that account as proud as a devil.” Don’t let Satan accuse you of pathetic prayers, or make you proud because of eloquent prayers. Do what your Saviour has told you to do: pray continually in Jesus’ name as the one who alone can bring you to God, and do not faint. Our lives will end in deliverance at the throne of judgment – in part (either large or small we know not) through our prayers for one another.
But how else did Paul hope for deliverance on that great day?
2. THROUGH THE HELP GIVEN BY THE SPIRIT OF JESUS CHRIST.
How instructive that before he mentions, “the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v.19) he refers to the prayers of the Philippian church. We would fear that order – ‘our poor prayers – it is all the Spirit and his work and nothing to do with us.’ That is our approach, yet Paul is unfazed by such attitudes and mentions first of all the help he has received by Christians’ prayers and then the help provided by the Spirit.
Sinclair Ferguson points out that the word ‘help’ was used outside the New Testament in various picturesque ways – “for example in medicine for a supporting ligament, or in the theatre for the provision the leader of the chorus made for its members” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Philippians,” Banner of Truth, 1997, p.27). Let us consider some of the ways the Spirit helps the Christian:
He helps by being the doorman into the presence of God. He ushers us in to meet with our Father. It is by the Spirit that we have access to God (Ephs. 2:18). In the ancient world an emperor was hedged around by many barriers, and it was difficult if not impossible to gain access to him, even as today none of us could turn up at Buckingham Palace and tell the policeman that we would like an audience with the Queen. Royal authority is needed to access royalty. In Paul’s day a trusted court official would decide who would be the fortunate ones to meet the ruler that morning, and who was to be refused access. The title of that official was the ‘prosagogeus’, the introducer. The Holy Spirit is God’s introducer, the one who opens the door and brings us into the presence of God, giving us the assurance and confidence that we are accepted through Jesus Christ. By him we pray, in Jesus’ name, to God the Father Himself.
Again, he is the teacher helping pupils by leading them into the knowledge of truth. He illuminates their minds, and makes a subject come alive. He causes them to fall in love with the Scriptures. He gives them new insights and brings fresh truths out of the Word. The Holy Spirit even aids Christians in their very mental operations: “A Rhondda coal miner, who had been brought into the Kingdom of God during the 1904 Welsh Revival and whom I came to know well, told me something of the sad and sordid background of his life. He was not only loose-living, but, he insisted, completely illiterate. By the time I knew him he was a man of keen spiritual perception, and had quite remarkable insights. But what struck me forcibly was that in describing the nature of his great change he should say to me earnestly, ‘The Holy Spirit even taught me to read'” (J. Ithel Jones, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Preaching,” Epworth Press, 1967, p.32). The Spirit further gives men like that courage to communicate the word – it was said of Cromwell’s pikemen that they rejoiced greatly when they saw the enemy. They were delighted at the prospect of the fight for righteousness which lay before them.
He helps by becoming our coach and personal trainer. He is our spiritual fitness expert. He strengthens our graces, faith, gentleness, hope, wisdom, patience, and so on. He puts us in circumstances where these graces have to be exercised and thus can thrive. A coach will not wrap up in cotton wool a weak arm and put it in a sling. That will make it only weaker. “You must exercise it every day,” he will say and give you a personal regimen of activities to make it stronger. So it is with us. God will arrange circumstances and people to come into your life to exercise the grace of non-retaliation, forgiveness and self-control. That is the Holy Spirit’s doing. He will sustain you under your discouragements.
He helps us by becoming our body and soul-guard. He protects us by keeping us and the whole church trusting and obeying; he keeps us all following the Lamb wherever he leads us. He keeps us in step with himself, and so there is decent orderly progress, a strength, a purity, and an ability to cope with life. Such things are the marks that these men and women are under the guardianship of the Spirit. Paul says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gals. 5:25). The word for ‘keeping in step’ in the original refers to ordered walking, to marching. Dr Joel Nederhood uses this illustration; “I remember early one morning when I was marching as one of a company of infantrymen. The sun had not yet come up, and we could see one another only faintly in the pre dawn darkness. The field first sergeant barked out his commands and the company moved onto a roadway; at first he called out, ‘hup! two, three, four; hup! two, three, four!’ – and then he was quiet. We had all caught the cadence, and we simply marched along into the dawn, each man’s foot falling at precisely the same instant, the weapons and cartridge belts making metallic sounds, and the webbing and packs creaking – all together. It was a very special experience to march with so many men, all in step with one another” (Joel Nederhood, “The Back to God Hour,” “Walking with the Spirit”, June 1986, Vol 32, No. 6, p.40). Dr Nederhood’s infantrymen were not a rag, tag and bobtail bunch of irregulars, out of step with each other, undisciplined freelancers. They were men under the protection and authority of a sergeant who was directing and bringing them safely to their destination. That is the Spirit’s work with us. For example, that is how he leads true worship services, as Paul tells the Corinthian congregation, “God is not a God or disorder but of peace . . . everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (I Cors. 14:33&40). That is especially evident when he is working in a mighty awakening. So Christians helped by the Holy Spirit are not first of all men who live day after day in a state of other-worldly euphoric ecstasy. They are primarily people making progress in the Christian life under the protection of the Holy Spirit. They keep in step with the Spirit.
The Spirit helps by being our comforter. This is especially prominent in the New Testament period because those first believers in Jesus Christ could end up in prison for years, or even martyred for following the Saviour. The early Christians were often in the crucible of suffering as an afflicted people, and the Spirit would be especially active persuading them of the love which God had for each one of them. He would reveal the infinite glories and blessedness that lay before them. He would calm their fears and bid their sorrows cease. He brings those special blessednesses upon them of being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, being merciful, being pure in heart, being peacemakers, and being persecuted because of righteousness. The blessedness of that life and those God-created experiences the Spirit himself would bring right home to their lives and really lay it on them! He delivers us from the dark night of the soul. He is our comforter.
He helps by being our unifier. “Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” exhorts Paul (Ephs. 4:3). There is scarcely a service which does not end with a pastor commending the congregation to the fellowship of the Spirit. Division is the characteristic of the natural man: love is the characteristic of the Christian. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love to one another,” (John 13:35). W.H.Davies was a tramp, a poet and a writer who lived in South Wales a hundred years ago and wandered the world. One night he was in Ebbw Vale and he saw two drunks walking along the pavement and another man came walking up towards them. One of the drunks stirred himself and shouted at this stranger, “Are you from Abertillery?” He clenched his fists and his face was red. “No,” said the other man and walked on by. If that man had said “Yes” then those two men from Ebbw Vale would have set on him and beaten him up. There used to be a vehement rivalry between those two communities. There is a mountain between Ebbw Vale and Abertillery which was a barrier to the people growing and joining together. When certain foolish men had too much to drink they looked for a fight with someone from ‘that other place.’ But the Holy Spirit brings people together from the other side of different mountains – rich and poor, master and servant, male and female, old and young, people from different races and nations who are now fellow believers. He creates the oneness there is in Christ Jesus. I speak at a meeting, say, in the north of England, and I am given grace to minister at quite a profound level to people whom I have never met before. Some of them inform me of that in conversations we have together afterwards. I don’t determine whether I shall enter into fellowship with those individuals or not. Every Christian experiences the fellowship of the Spirit because by him we have all been baptised into one body. So Paul was far across the sea from Greece in Italy, but to the Philippians he was often with them in their thoughts because the Holy Spirit had joined them together.
So in such ways (and many more) every follower of Christ is being helped each day by the Spirit. You notice that he is identified as “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Paul tells the Galatians that it is the Spirit of his Son that God sends into our hearts. Of course, to have the Spirit is to have Christ; to have Christ is to have the Spirit. Not to have the Spirit is to lack Christ. To have the Spirit of Christ is to be indwelt by Christ. There is, of course, a clear distinction between the Son and the Spirit (they are different persons), and yet there is also a functional equivalence. The technical terms are ‘ontological distinction’ but ‘economic identity.’ Since Christ’s resurrection and ascension he has become the life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45). There is that remarkable statement of Paul’s to the effect that “the Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:13). Sinclair Ferguson says, “In effect, Paul is teaching that through his life and ministry Jesus came into such complete possession of the Spirit, receiving and experiencing him ‘without limit’ (Jn. 3:34), that he is now ‘Lord’ of the Spirit (2 Cors. 3:18). With respect to his economic ministry to us, the Spirit has been ‘imprinted’ with the character of Jesus” (Sinclair Ferguson, “The Holy Spirit”, IVP, 1996, p.55). You think of a man who becomes a Christian through one particular preacher. He has attended his ministry for a number of years and that man of God has shaped the younger man’s thinking, his emphases, his preaching and even his very gestures. So that when he preaches people tell him how much they are reminded of his great mentor. That is a very imperfect analogy, but I am trying to point out how much the Son of God has contributed by all his thirty years of incarnate humiliation to the Spirit of God. The Spirit has come under the dominion of the Son of God; he is the virtual property of Christ; the Spirit is absorbed and assimilated into him. Christ, the last Adam, has become a life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45). He possesses the seven Spirits, that is, the Spirit in his fulness.
So the Spirit who helped Paul in the prison is virtually identical to the Lord Jesus himself, that is, the One who himself spent time under guard, the plaything of soldiers who taunted and hit him. Those memories that Jesus has of his entire life, moment by moment, are as fresh in him today as then. They are the stuff of his compassion. He empathises with Paul’s loneliness and bouts of weariness now that the apostle is in jail. In every pang that rent Paul’s heart the Man of Sorrows had a part. He could sympathise with this prisoner as none other being in heaven or earth could. The Spirit’s ministry to us under the new covenant has become utterly identified with Christ’s. There is not a membrane, even as thin as Indian paper, that could separate the Spirit from the Son. We are affirming that the Spirit has been shaped and moulded by all that the God-man Redeemer has experienced. The Spirit is thus marvellously qualified to help reshape us into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another. This is the central help which the Spirit of Jesus Christ provides in the life of each Christian.
So a mighty deliverance will come to Paul (when he meets the Lord of Glory on Judgment Day) through, firstly, the effectual prayers of the church, and, secondly, through the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Then there is one more mark of the reality of the Christian’s saving union with Christ which bodes well for divine vindication in the coming Day:
3. THROUGH ALL THE WAYS GOD HAS LED US.
“What has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance” (v.19). Paul is writing here about God’s providential dealings with him; God’s most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all Paul’s life and all his actions. Paul had walked with God for about twenty years. He had had more glorious experiences of fellowship with Christ than many men. He had been the recipient of the Lord’s pastoral care. The Lord loved Paul deeply and he knew it; Paul felt loved by God. He could face the prison in Rome with all its demands from the perspective of his intimate knowledge of God’s faithful dealings with him. Paul had a living archive of all of this built up over the past decades. God could be trusted when his providences seemed to run contrary to his promises.
Our fathers were very conscious of how God had dealt with them. It was George Muller who said, “If our circumstances find us in God, then we shall find God in our circumstances.” There is a gravestone in Port-Royal in Jamaica and on it you can read this epitaph of a certain Lewis Galdy: “Here lies the body of Lewis Galdy, who departed this life at Port-Royal, the 22nd December 1736, aged eighty. He was born at Montpelier, in France; but left that country for his religion, and he came to settle in this island. He was once swallowed up in the great earthquake of 1692, but by the providence of God, through another shock, was thrown into the sea, and was saved by swimming until a boat rescued him. He lived for many years after, in great reputation, beloved by all who knew him, and much lamented at his death. God is the God of providence, as well as the God of grace. ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.'”
Here was an old Christian who had been remarkably delivered from a powerful earthquake, which in one shock cracked the crust of the earth and he fell in, but in another shock he was projected into the sea, and he lived to tell of his deliverance. “God saved me,” was Lewis Galdy’s constant testimony, and his church who set up this stone with its fine epitaph wanted posterity to know what had happened to dear brother Galdy.
Paul refers to “what has happened to me” and how all that is busy working out for his deliverance. What sort of thing is he talking about? In what ways did the things that happened to Paul turn out for his deliverance? How would all his experience of God become another means of vindicating him in the great day of Christ? What have you learned from everything that has happened to you as a Christian which is helping you now to face the future and the day of ultimate salvation with peace and hope? What has experience taught us? These are not difficult questions. We all can think of how God has poured grace into our lives, loving us, and helping and teaching us when we’ve made wrong decisions. God has led us through a number of mazes during our pilgrimage. He has worked out numerous details in our lives to accomplish good for us. Even when situations turned out in ways we hadn’t planned thenGod worked things out much better than we’d expected. Think of all the people God has placed in our lives to encourage us and model holy living for us. Their faithfulness has inspired us and helped us grow spiritually. Can’t you recall the many ways God has provided just what we needed. Think of the many prayers the Lord has answered in our lives. Hasn’t the living God taken such a personal interest in you caring about every aspect of your life? There were times when you were able to resist temptations because the Holy Spirit gave you strength. There were other times when the source of temptation was removed. Your faith has not failed. There have been tremendous deliverances, and looking back you now believe God must have sent one of his holy ones to keep you. Think about the acts of kindness you’ve benefited from, in which God’s love came flowing to you through the most unexpected people. In other words, we’ve been beneficiaries of mercy throughout our lives. Then will not that same mercy be ours at the throne of judgment? Let us be specific about some things:
Firstly, whatever happened to him Providence had taught Paul that nothing whatsoever was getting out of control. Evil men were stirring up trouble for Paul, but God was still in control. The Roman bureaucrats seem to have forgotten all about ‘Prisoner No. MCCCLXXVIII: Saul of Tarsus, in jail for religious strife’. Nothing was happening month after month, but God was still in control. Paul could rest in the certainty that God worked all things together for good to everyone who loved him and was called according to his purpose. There had been many similar discomforts and uncertainties in his life – other prisons, floggings, exposure to death again and again, a stoning, a night and a day in the open sea, many nights without sleep, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness, injustices, oppositions, slanders, concern for all the churches, and yet in them all God had never forsaken him and was working everything for his good. “This too will be for my good,” Paul would say to himself at the close of the most difficult of days, or, in grief, when he had fallen as badly as only a Christian can fall. Paul could walk into the unknown tomorrow knowing that a heavenly Father who loved him deeply, who had been with him every step of the way would be there too. He was a God of unqualified power and unfailing goodness, and he was in control of everything. To the eyes of faith there are no accidents, only incidents. Paul had learnt that from the Scriptures, but the truth had been validated by the things that had happened to him.
Jackie Ross, who founded ‘Blythswood’ the Christian tract and ministry of mercy agency, died of cancer earlier this year. In an interview on the Moray Firth Radio last year he acknowledged, “Sometimes you can have experiences when you say to the Lord: ‘What are you doing? I don’t understand what you’re doing.’ Then you have to come back and say, ‘I don’t understand, but the Lord knows what he’s doing and there’s no mistake. Absolutely.'” Jackie knew, with brother Paul the apostle, that God was in control of everything.
Secondly, Paul had learned from what had happened to him that the scale of time in which God works out his purposes is very different from our incessant focus on the present. We are like children who want things now, but God does not work like that. With him a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years just like a day. From the promise made in Eden that One would come who would bruise the serpent’s head to the Messiah’s actual arrival in the world, was a period of thousands of years. The gap between the covenant promise made to Abraham that his seed would bless the nations of the earth to the actual birth of Jesus Christ the Son of Abraham was two thousand years. Then later this Saviour told his apostles, “I will come again and take you unto myself”, but they would have been dumfounded to know that his coming would not be for another nineteen hundred years at least. Paul knew of God’s time-scale and had learnt patience in waiting on the Lord.
Paul had learned that there are two measures of time – hours, days, weeks, months, years, centuries being one of them. The other was by events. What three years of the world’s history can compare with those of our Lord’s ministry? How crucially important were the forty years of the lives of the apostles for all the subsequent history of the church. How crucial was that one day – or maybe two days – in which Paul sat down, picked up a scroll and a pen and wrote this short letter to the Philippians from his cell in Rome. How could he have dreamed that in 1900 years’ time Christians all over the world would be reading sermons preached in Wales upon this very epistle on the World Wide Web. Again, how vast the consequences of that morning when Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Or think of the implications of the teenage Spurgeon entering the Primitive Methodist Church in Colchester that snowy Sunday and hearing the anonymous preacher exhorting the congregation to look to Jesus Christ and be saved. Or again, to come very close to us all, how things have changed in the world since the morning of September 11, 2001. So it was with Paul: as he considered all that had happened to him he would measure it not by hours but by how it would all seem on the great day of judgment. There must have been one extraordinary period when he had to resist the temptation to make Christianity another branch of Judaism. There were powerful pressures from the Judaizers. The Galatian congregation he had planted quickly succumbed to them. They even affected the apostle Peter for a while in Antioch. It would have been death for the gospel if Paul had succumbed to that. He would have been brought to shame in the coming great day if he had spent his days promoting another gospel.
So Paul’s years of discipleship had taught him that he would have time for everything God wanted him to do. His responsibility was to take care of the minutes in prison, and if he did that then the years spent there would take care of themselves. Each day Paul gathered up the fragments. In prison he sought to do everything he could with all his might. Though he was always in chains he was never idle. He knew he must give account to God for those years of abasement as much as for his years of abounding travel and evangelism. God had entrusted a great talent to his care for which he was answerable. The issues of the prison years were issues of eternity. Paul’s present would determine his deliverance. What had happened to Paul had taught him that and prepared him for deliverance.
Thirdly, Paul had long since become persuaded that there were no surprises for God, nor any insuperable problems. He was now in prison, but not for the first time, and other servants of God had also met the indifference and later the hostility of a godless monarch. Moses had encountered the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart and God had caused him to triumph. Daniel had served under four kings in Babylon and had triumphed. Elijah had been threatened by Queen Jezebel, but initially that prophet appears not to have dealt with the situation as well as Paul did. Had the apostle learned from Elijah? God had to teach Elijah that sometimes he operates not through mighty confrontation and powerful, dramatic storm, but through a still, small voice whose Speaker reserves seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Paul had no false expectations of release that very day; he had no “Name it and Claim it” heresy which was pulling him into the pit of discouragement. Elijah had to learn to trust in God’s time and God’s way of delivering the land from Baal, Ahab and Jezebel. Paul too had learned over many years that quiet confidence in God breeds stability and delight.
Jackie Ross talked about discovering he had cancer and living with that illness. “I found it a very great comfort just to know that I was in God’s hands. You’d think that pain and suffering would be a message that God doesn’t care for you. But on the contrary, God does care and it’s wonderful to know and understand that. That’s just God’s grace, and I think it’s quite wonderful” (Blythswood News, Number 9, Summer 2002). Jackie was learning from this fearful providence that his illness was not a problem to God, and so it wouldn’t be for him either.
So those would be some of the many things that had happened to Paul that would turn out for his deliverance, keeping him trusting, loving and working for his Lord and Saviour.
Let us conclude: we know that all Paul’s hopes of salvation rested in the great achievements of his Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was justified by Christ’s righteousness which he received by faith, and only because Paul was united to Christ. But we have gone on to say that if he were truly united to Christ then Paul was a partaker of Christ’s life, and if a partaker of his life, then Paul must live as Christ lived. “I live, yet not I; Christ liveth in me.” Who says that? Every single Christian says it. How do they live? A new life, and in our text Paul has selected just three experienced blessings which are marks of new life in Christ. Notice their Christ-likeness: firstly, the Lord Jesus had asked his disciples to come aside into the garden and pray with him. Paul was also the recipient of the prayers of the Philippian disciples. Secondly, the Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism to help him, and Paul was also helped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the Lord Jesus could look back at the end of his life and say to his Father that he had competed the work God gave him to do and what lay before him was the glory they had once known together, and Paul also could see that all that had happened to him was working for his deliverance.
These three things were not the ground of Paul’s deliverance, but the evidence and effect and ongoing ramifications of what the Son of God once and for all had done when he delivered him at Golgotha’s cross. So you see how this virtually incidental exercise in appreciation and self examination results not in morbid doubts but in this resolute confidence: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed” (v.20): “Christ having died for my sins and me – brought to shame at the last? No way! Fellow Christians constantly praying for me and me – brought to shame at the last? No way! The Spirit of Jesus Christ helping me and me – brought to shame at the last? No way! Knowing how God had led me in everything that happened to me – and I am brought to shame at last? No way! ‘I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed.'”
Let us consider this striking question: Can God put to shame Jesus Christ who is at his right hand? Can he turn away his beloved Son? Can he drive him away from his throne and exclude him from the holy place? We would say that it would be blasphemous to imagine it. It is an impossibility, and so we are saying that it is equally impossible for any true believer in Christ to be ashamed. If God will put you to shame, then he will put Christ Jesus to shame, for you are a member of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. You are part of him. Christ owns you; you are not your own; you are written on his heart. If God puts you to shame then he will forsake the Lord Jesus! But he cannot put his beloved Son to shame again. Once only and for ever Jesus bore our shame and blame upon the cross. Never again! Will not this truth stimulate your faith and give you the same confidence that Paul displays here: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed.” The Lord Jesus Christ as he rose from the grave could certainly have said those words, and so can you if you are in him. If you have a part in Christ then you are both one, and you may be as much ashamed on the day of judgment as Christ himself! Let that be our hope. Plead as you go to God in prayer in such words as these: “Grant that as all my eager expectations and hopes are in the Lord Jesus Christ that I with him shall in no way be ashamed when I stand before you, but live all my days in the fellowship of prayer, helped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and upheld by the knowledge of your life-long dealings with me.”
14th July 2002 GEOFF THOMAS