A Wise Love
Scripture: Philippians 1:3-11
Eternal Light of the world, you have promised to live among us, to save your people from fear, oppression & death. Open our hearts to the wisdom of your holy Word, that we may see & hear & feel your presence in our lives. Amen.
A young man’s fiancé had broken off their engagement. But a couple of months later, he received the following letter from her:
No words could ever express the great unhappiness I have felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you will take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you; I love you; I love you!
Yours forever, Marie.
P.S.: Congratulations on willing the lottery!”
How many of you believe that her words of love do not ring quite true? She said she loved him. She said she wanted him back. But it was fairly obvious it was not him she really wanted. She was willing to love him because he had lots of money. But once the money was gone – so would she. For her – to live was the lottery. For her – to live was the value of his wealth & the blessings that would bring her.
But she really did not really love Jimmy. And she did not really want to live for him. Hers was a “fair-weather” love. In other words, as long as life was fair & pleasant, she would be faithful.
Too often, Christians can respond to God in the same way. As long as God does what we ask, as long as He answers our prayers the way we want them answered, as long as life goes exactly the way we believe it ought to, then we will live for Him. But if not…
Here in Philippians, Paul is giving us a distinctive look at Christianity. The chapter we are reading today comes from one of the “Prison Epistles”. They were letters Paul wrote while he was under house arrest in Rome. He was in chains because of his faith in Christ.
Not only is Paul under arrest, but there is also a good possibility he might soon die. In verse 20, Paul tells his friends in Philippi: It is my expectation & hope that I won’t be put to shame in anything. Rather, I hope with daring courage that Christ’s greatness will be seen in my body, now as always, whether I live or die.
I want you to picture this scene: Paul has been a faithful servant of God’s for years: he has planted several churches; he has won countless people to Christ; he has written so many letters to the churches that they now make up half of our New Testament. And now he is in chains & potentially facing execution by beheading.
You would think that he would be depressed & angry. But he is not.
If anything, he sounds excited. He sounds as if he is faced with two life enhancing possibilities & he is not sure which one to choose. He writes: If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life & be with Christ, which is far better. However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. He is saying, “I cannot lose!”
If he dies, he goes to heaven & gets to be with Christ. But if he lives, he gets to stay here & gets to accomplish that much more for Jesus. How could Paul look at his options with such anticipation?
There is a legend about a wealthy merchant who traveled thru-out the Mediterranean world looking for an opportunity to meet the Apostle Paul. After a time, he encountered a disciple of Paul’s named Timothy, & Timothy arranged a visit. But at the time (according to the legend) Paul was a prisoner in Rome, living in a jail cell.
Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a weakened old man. But as he talked with him (& they talked for hours) he found Paul to be a man of deep peace & power. Finally, the merchant left Paul, & outside the prison, he asked Timothy, "What is the secret of this man’s power? I have never seen anything like it before."
“Oh, didn’t you know?" replied Timothy. "Paul is in love." The merchant looked bewildered. "In love?" "Oh yes," Timothy answered, "Paul is in love with Jesus Christ."
The merchant scoffed. "Is that all?" Timothy smiled & then replied, "Yes sir. That is all. But that is everything."
You see, the reason Paul could face imprisonment - & even death – with a calm assurance was because he was in love with J. Nothing else mattered as much to him as living for Christ.
Have you ever seen two young people in love? They live for each other. They are consumed with each other. They spend every conceivable moment on the telephone or the internet exchanging words of love & affection. Nothing else matters because they are so much in love.
Likewise, because Paul lived for Christ, & loved Jesus so deeply, he framed everything in his life around Christ. Here he is in prison, but he does not think about his discomfort because it is not about him – it is all about Jesus.
Listen to what Paul writes in verse 12: Brothers & sisters, I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have actually advanced the gospel. His imprisonment has served to advance the gospel. Really?
Yes indeed. Verse 13: The whole Praetorian Guard & everyone else knows that I’m in prison for Christ. Now this is an intriguing phrase Paul uses: He says, “My guards & everyone else.”
One person once observed that Paul was chained between two soldiers every moment of the day. Those soldiers would have been relieved every few hours, but they would have been his constant companions for several hours each day.
Now, who is Paul going to talk to all day? The guards. And what is Paul going to talk to them about? He is going to talk to them about Jesus because he loves Jesus.
At the close of this letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: All God’s people here, especially those in Caesar’s household, send you their greeting. Imagine that! There are Christians in Caesar’s household! How did there get to be Christians in Caesar’s household? Well, Paul talked to the guards, the guards talked to others, & before you knew it there were baptized believers all over the palace.
You see, it was not Paul who was chained to his guards, it was his guards who were chained to him. They could not get away. They were forced to listen as Paul talked about Jesus & explained why God had done what He had done at the cross. And Paul’s message was compelling because he loved Jesus. It was the most important thing on his mind.
In addition, Paul’s manner would influence them because Paul lived as a free man, even when he was in chains. Prison could not defeat him. Chains could not bind him. Walls could not imprison him.
Years ago, there was a preacher named Owen Crouch. He was a man who had been highly regarded, but he now was retired on a limited income. So, he was delighted when some businessmen approached him who said they wanted him to be part of their company. Because of his sterling reputation, they wanted him to be their treasurer. He was given a decent salary to sign the company’s paperwork & make out its checks. However, the company turned out to be a fraud. The businessmen were dishonest. When the officers of the company were taken to court the only man whose name was on the paperwork was - you guessed it – Owen Crouch. He went to jail. And he had not done anything wrong.
How would you have responded to that situation? It was not fair. It was not right. But Mr. Crouch did not think about it that way. He saw it as an opportunity to serve the Jesus he loved. So, he began a prison ministry. He preached, counselled & baptized prisoners.
He lived as a free man because he loved Jesus & was willing to live for Him. He did not just live for Christ when things were going well. He lived for Christ even when life was unfair & difficult.
You see, that is the essence of a wise love. Because wise love is all about sacrifice. Anybody can live for Jesus when things are going well. Anybody can put a bumper sticker on their car or a “Thank you Jesus” sign in their yard.
Towards the end of the chapter 1, Paul says one of the oddest things: God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. Paul is telling us that we have “granted” the right to suffer for Jesus!
And the Apostle Peter wrote the same thing: Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These men talk about suffering as if it were a good thing!
Excuse me. But I am not really into that. Suffering is not something I enjoy.
But J told us that - when we truly live our faith – when we genuinely love J with all our hearts, then we are going to suffer. We are going to suffer because there are going to be people who will not like us.
In John 15:19, J said: If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, I have chosen you out of the world, & you don’t belong to the world. This is why the world hates you.
David Limbaugh has written a book called, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, and in it he observed: "It’s one thing for Christophobes to be nervous about Easter & Christmas, given their obvious association with Jesus Christ, but surely holidays like Valentine’s Day should escape their scrutiny. Well, not quite. A public school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, permitted its students to exchange valentines of all varieties, including those highlighting pop stars Britney Spears and NSYNC. All varieties, that is, except one honoring Jesus Christ. Eight-year-old Morgan Nyman was told she could not pass out her homemade cards saying ’Jesus loves you.’"
50 years ago, that would not have happened. 50 years ago, the church would not be bothered by this kind of badgering & frustration. But it has become increasingly common for our society to wage war against Christians, & they wage war because they do not like Jesus.
Now, we can get angry about that, or we can recognize that this kind of suffering presents us with a great opportunity. I am not saying that we need to look for ways to make people upset with us. And I am not saying we should find ways to suffer for our faith. Because if we live our faith the way we should, that is all going to happen anyway.
But when we do suffer because of our faith, it gives us an excellent opportunity to show the world the quality of our love for Jesus. Anybody can “say” they believe in Jesus. It takes a real believer to live out their love for Him. And you & I really do not show a strong faith when the weather is clear. We do not really show how much we care for Christ when everything is going our way. We only show the depth of our affection for Jesus when we are in the midst of a difficult situation.
Now, what I want you pause for a moment & do something for me. I want you to think about someone who really bugs you. Someone who causes you no end of frustration. Someone who really makes you suffer when you are in their presence.
Can you think of someone like that?
Could it be that God has called you to show that person how much you love J by how you respond them? That is what Paul is saying to the church in Philippi. Listen again to verses 9-11: This is my prayer: that your love might become even more & more rich with knowledge & all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters & so you will be sincere & blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory & praise to God.
In other words, he was praying that their love for Jesus would grow so much that they would know how to conduct themselves in this world, & thus bring glory & praise to God.
You have to realize; this world does not care what church you go to. They may not even care that you go to church. But they will pay attention if you show them what Jesus means to you.
Let us pray. Light of our hearts, we have heard your voice in the words of your messengers. We give thanks that you are Immanuel, God with us. Amen.