Have you ever heard the argument that “the Bible isn’t relevant to today’s culture?” As I read Philippians 1 this morning, it struck me that Paul could be writing today, and we can read the God-breathed and God-inspired words as wisdom for what is happening right now, today, in our twenty-first-century world, like never before!
Consider first verses 12-20. Paul has been imprisoned for preaching the gospel, yet he is rejoicing because the result is that everyone is causing attention to be drawn to Christ. We have a present-day “Paul” in John MacArthur’s bold stand for the freedom to worship corporately. He has reopened the church he pastors in California despite repeated attempts to close it down. When those who think they know more than God couldn’t twist the Constitution to suit their purposes, they canceled the church’s lease on their parking lot to discourage the people from coming. They’ve threatened Pastor MacArthur with fines, and even imprisonment. Yet, he has stood firm, returning each week to preach the gospel just as God has commanded and called him to do. Pastor MacArthur isn’t the only faithful one; many pastors have followed the same path, choosing to obey God rather than men.
Paul’s words ring true to me…most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear (1:14). Pastor John’s bold stand wakes up our passion to stand up for our right to worship freely before we lose that freedom altogether. And even if that freedom is taken away, we are inspired to obey God at all costs, and worship in the face of greater persecution.
Apparently, some of those preaching Christ thought Paul was wrong to disobey the religious leaders; they preached a “selfishly ambitious” gospel, thinking to cause [Paul] distress (1:17). I’ve read a few articles from other pastors criticizing Pastor MacArthur’s decision to continue to meet for various reasons. Regardless, attention is being brought to Christ. Christianity and the worship of God are being talked about. Those looking on have to ask the question, “Why would Pastor MacArthur risk prison or ridicule?” We pray that God brings them to the correct conclusion…the gospel cannot be contained, and God is a God worth worshipping even at the risk of our lives because He is the higher authority and His commands supersede any law man might make.
The last part of this chapter speaks to us as well. Paul expresses his desire that Christ be exalted in his body, whether God allows him to continue to live and preach, or whether he dies in prison. He is convinced at this point in time, his role is to keep on preaching, even though he would far rather go to be with Christ. I can relate. I long for Christ’s return. I’m tired of this world. I’m tired of politics, of division, of hatred. I’m tired of fear ruling people’s lives. I’m tired of masks. I’m tired of all of it.
But Paul gently reminds us to continue on, and to make it our goal to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together or the faith of the gospel (1:27). What timely words! When we are tempted to be distracted by all that is going on around us, we are to keep our focus on the gospel.
We are also not to be alarmed by your opponents [those who refuse to submit to God] because their resistance and hatred for God is simply a sign that destruction is coming to this world, and that God’s word is true. In the interim, while we observe God’s patience, giving time for their repentance, we will very likely suffer the same kinds of things that Paul suffered. The groundwork is being laid for the persecution of Christ-followers that is already happening all over the world, to come home to America.
It can’t get more relevant. Have you noticed human nature hasn’t changed at all? As God’s great plan of the history of mankind unfolds, we always seem to land at the same spot no matter what the current state of the world. There is a spiritual battle between good and evil being played out in the lives of men. Man’s fallen nature leads him farther and farther down the road of depravity until God intervenes and draws us back to Himself. One day, the last bend in the road will appear. Time will be up, and God’s final plans will be revealed. The last rebellion will be quelled. The final battle will be fought. And good will win…the good that is found only in the God who created us, the God whose very character defines us…and the good and glorious Savior, Jesus Christ will take His place on the throne for eternity.
Don’t be alarmed.
Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel.
And rejoice when Christ is proclaimed, no matter the cost.