Having The Right Focus

Having The Right Focus

Stand up, step up and speak out, because those people will spend an eternity in hell if we don’t.

Worship sure looks a little different these days, but man, we still worship Amen?  Amen.  If you have your Bibles or your phones, I invite you to turn or Click to the book of Philippians.  Philippians Chapter One. We’ll start out in verse 12 today. Philippians Chapter One, verse 12.  We’re in a series of sermons we’ve called Advancing the Gospel Together.

And just to piggyback off of Graham’s Song he sang, as we look at the world around us as individuals and as a church, do we see the brokenness?  Do we see the need for Jesus?  We know that Jesus loves us, that Jesus died for us, that Jesus has forgiven us, but there’s people who don’t. Those people who don’t know that reality and so God has called the church, His church, to be on a mission together to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That that is really the main focus of the book of Philippian, along with joy and many other themes. But the thrust that he’s trying to talk to this church about is unifying together to advance the Gospel of Jesus. And so as we open this passage of Scripture this morning, let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for the perfect, holy and inspired Word of God.  And Father as we open the Bible today, may it be a light for our feet, a lamp for our path.  And Father we ask today that what we know not, that You would teach us, what we have not, You would give us, and what we are not, You would make us, in the Name of Jesus Amen and Amen.

About eight years ago, our youth ministry was on the way home from Fort Caswell. Many of our students, and many of you may have been to Caswell before, and there’s as you leave the camp, there’s that long two-lane road before you get to any kind of highway. I was driving one van which already put me under a considerable amount of stress, ’cause I didn’t really like driving the vans.  There was a van in front of me pulling a trailer, and we were booking along really good. If you’ve ever chaperoned one of these camps, you know it’s tiresome. And by the end of the week, you are ready to go home. Yeah, y’all can laugh at that. I mean, we’re ready to go.  If you’ve spent a week with 6th through 12th graders, you’re just ready to go home.

And so I was ready.  It had been one of those weeks. It was somewhat stressful of a week.  They picked with each other and they stole each other’s stuff. And there were fistfights and it was just one of those weeks, and all I wanted to do was go home. That was the objective of this Saturday.  We got them up as early as possible. Yeah, I see I don’t know if Graham does this, but I’m the youth pastor that goes in about 5:00 and starts with the pots and pans because I know they kept me up all night, so I’m going to wake them up early. I mean, that’s the kind of guy I am, so we got him up. We got them packed and the stress of getting everything packed. So here we are. There’s this two-lane road, in the middle of nowhere just driving.  And the trailer blows a tire. I mean, it just went pop!  Now, I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t in that van, but I was driving the van behind. So I start going all over the place. That has nothing to do with the point of the story. It’s just me being funny, reacting. I was in the ditch, was on the road. I was on the other side, you know.  It was bad!  And so finally pulled off. That wasted about an hour or two of our time to get home because what we found out is the spare tire in the trailer was flat.  So all I want to do is go home.  I want to give these kids back to their parents and let them bug them for the rest of the summer. And there’s an obstacle of this tire, in this flat tire, in my way.

Now, needless to say, my attitude was not very good. I was frustrated, I was mad and you don’t know me that well yet, but I can have a temper and so kids were getting out of the van, I was yelling at them. I was threatening to beat them, and we would never do that, but this obstacle had created a problem and had stopped me from getting to my destination, which was home. And then we finally got it fixed. What we did is the smarter people in the group, the smarter adults, they put the flat tire on the trailer and said, we’ll make it.  Now, we didn’t have to make it all the way home. We made it about 45 minutes to a service station where we could actually put air in the tire and so we did make it home and I was able to say goodbye, see ya in September.  And that was that was good, but as I thought about that experience, it got me thinking, the way I viewed that was probably not the best way.  I viewed it as an obstacle, stopping me from getting home. I was frustrated. I was angry. I’m pretty sure at one point, I just threw my hands up in the air and said “God, why me?”  Maybe because all these other youth groups were just driving right by.  Like “why me?  Why am I stuck in this situation?”

Now, let me ask you. Do you ever experience something in life where you’re asking why me?  Where you’re saying what is happened? I had these great plans. I have an objective. I had a goal and now there’s this obstacle preventing me from accomplishing that? Or maybe it’s an obstacle that’s redirecting you?

When we lived in Oakboro, we had to take the kids to my mom and dad’s a lot. They were our child care providers and so we had a nice way to go. But then the bridge went out and so we had to detour. So that bridge was an obstacle that added several minutes to my trip. Not a bad deal, but it was an obstacle that detoured me to have to go a different way.  Sometimes in life when we have goals and we have plans, there are going to be obstacles that cause us to detour. We have to do things that we didn’t expect. We have to go places we didn’t expect to go and our attitude in those moments can be crucial.

Now there’s a lot of things we can talk about, and the Bible talks about trials and obstacles. But today, we’re going to focus on our attitude as we look at these circumstances. When we see an obstacle and maybe you have an obstacle staring you in the face today, you can either look at it as “why me?”  Or you can say, “how can You use me?”. You say why me, God or God how can you use me? We can basically say it can be an obstacle or it can be an opportunity. And the Apostle Paul is writing from a prison.  Well, he’s writing from being in prison. He’s actually, just so you understand he’s not in a dungeon. You know when we say prison, we can think of like the bars in the Andy Griffith Show in Mayberry, that’s not really what he’s in. He’s in a house that he rented, and he’s just kind of house arrested. He’s just stuck in the house under guard with restricted freedoms.  He can’t go anywhere, but he can see people, but it’s a hard thing because he’s experienced a lot of hardships to get him to Rome, which we’ll go over in just a minute. And so the Church and Philippi heard about this.

Now they heard about the guy who planted the church.  They heard about Paul, the Billy Graham of the 1st century, is in jail. And they’re like, oh my goodness.  Have you ever heard something like “Oh my goodness, that person?  They’re going through this?”  So the church sends a guy named Epaphroditus to go and check on Paul and take him a gift. The church in Philippi, Paul’s favorite church, a church that they partnered with over and over and over again. He goes and Epaphroditus this gift to Paul to check on him.  Because the church they want to know, how is he? How’s his physical condition?  How is his imprisonment going?  But they also want to see how is Paul responding to the persecution. How is Paul responding to the circumstances in the obstacles that he now faces? Because the church in Philippi is going through persecution.  They’re going through hardships they are facing obstacles themselves.  And so what Paul wants to write to the church is that he wants them to understand that you need to view your circumstances not as obstacles but as opportunities.  Not as obstacles, but as opportunities.

And so here’s what he writes in Philippians chapter one. He writes this in verse 12.  “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, what has happened to me.” Now, let me just give you a list.  If you wanna know what happened to Paul that’s led him to prison, start in Acts Chapter 21 and read through the rest of the Book of Acts, because it’s been a journey to get to this point in Paul’s life. He goes to Jerusalem in Acts 21. There’s a riot, so he has to live through that.  He ends up spending two years in Caesarea prison before this. He then makes an appeal to Caesar, so he’s got to travel to Rome. There’s a threat to his life. The Jewish leaders want to kill him. He’s illegally arrested, he’s misrepresented in court.  On his way to Rome, there’s a shipwreck and he stranded for a while. When he gets to Rome, he’s in this prison, this rented house, and he’s forgotten about for two years. Two years, another two years of restricted freedom.  He is the definition of a victim.  A victim of these bad circumstances.  That’s what’s happened.  And so, I mean, it’s pretty bad.  He’s going through a lot in about a four-year timeframe.  “So I want you to know brothers in Philippi, what has happened to me has actually advanced the Gospel.”

All these circumstances have advanced the Gospel. That word advanced is so awesome.  It’s describing a group of pioneer lumberjacks and those lumberjacks went ahead of the Roman army and cut down all the trees and cleared a path so that when these soldiers and when the army actually got there, there was no obstacle standing in their way and they could continue to march to where they wanted to go. And so he’s saying that, me going through all these circumstances has actually cleared a path. It’s advanced the Gospel.  It’s progressed the gospel to where a new city, the mighty, mighty Rome itself can now hear the Gospel.  The mighty Army of the Roman Empire is hearing the Gospel, so it’s actually advanced the Gospel.

Verse 13.  “So it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly.”  Fearlessly.  So Paul says these circumstances as bad as they’ve been have been an opportunity to glorify God and advance the Gospel.

So here’s what I want us to see.  How can we look at our circumstances as opportunities? The first one is stay focused on the Gospel. I mean, that’s it. Stay focused on the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Paul is not focusing on what he’s lost.  He’s not focused on what he can’t do. He’s not focused on the detour of his life. He’s focused on the Gospel. He’s focused on spreading the Gospel to anyone and everyone. He’s not complaining.  I got a shirt, and there’s actually a verse in Philippians that says “don’t complain.”  I’ve got a shirt that I wore on a mission trip one time it says “no whining” and I wear that on most of my youth trips we go on.  We’re not going to whine. Paul’s not whining.

Paul’s not complaining. He’s in jail, but he’s like, you know what? I’m going to be joyful and I’m going to celebrate because through this I’ve got an opportunity to tell people about Jesus. And I think it’s easy for us to look at our circumstances and focus on what we don’t have, what we’ve lost, or what we can’t do. If I was in prison, it would be easy for me to sit back and say, “bless my heart. I don’t know what I’m gonna do.  Well, I’m just gonna give up.  I was doing this thing for God. I was spreading the Gospel and then I got arrested. God why me?”  That’s what our focus can be. And we can just give up. We can just quit. But Paul didn’t he didn’t ask that question. He says God, how can you use me. And because of this people’s lives were changed.  He has this focus on the gospel.

I just want to back up a little bit. There are three things I want to tell you that will help you stay focused on the Gospel.  First, never forget the impact that the Gospel has had on your life.  If you are a Christian, don’t ever forget how that Good News message impacted you greatly and saved you from an eternity separated from God. Listen Romans 6:23 is one of these passages that just give us the heart of the Gospel. It says “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  We are all sinful people. Everybody is sinful and separated from God.  But that is the reality and this is what we have to remember. The world that we see that’s not here, if they’re not following Jesus, then they are sinful. They are lost and the wages of sin is death. The results of the sinful life is death, and that is a separation from God.  In the Bible, when you see this word death, oftentimes it is referring to just being separated spiritually from God. And that’s a separation for all eternity.  And those who die without knowing Christ are separated from God for eternity in hell.

But look at the verse.  “But the gift of God is eternal life.”  Every gift has a giver. God gives us this gift of eternal life. God reaches down through His Son, Jesus Christ, dying on a cross, and He saves us from the reality of this separation.  He restores us.  Everybody in this room was destined or is destined for hell.  But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, and saved us, so that now we will have eternal life in heaven.  Don’t ever forget that.  Don’t ever forget what Jesus did for you. Don’t ever forget that in your circumstances, He loves you dearly. He loves you enough to hang on a cross for you.  And in all your circumstances and all the people that you interact with, you need to look at them and you need to ask yourself, do they know Jesus?  Do these people know Jesus.  Jesus changed my life.  I want Him to change their life as well.  Paul is focused on his life changing experience and he doesn’t want anybody to perish because God doesn’t want anybody to perish. And so, Paul is focused on what God did for him and you need to never forget the impact of the Gospel on your life.

Another thing to help you stay focused is pray.  Pray that God would send people to you to share the Gospel with. Pray for those divine encounters that you just know; whether it’s a coworker, a neighbor, a stranger at a gas station, or somebody in the beauty parlor or the barbershop, you just know that God wants me to build a relationship with this person and to tell this person about the love of Jesus. Listen, they may reject it. They may not be receptive. Our job is to plant seeds. We’re seed planners and we’ll let God do the work.  But you need to pray about opportunities to plant seeds in people’s lives.

And the third thing is, kind of goes with the first thing, tell your story often.  Everybody’s got a story about how you were saved.  Now I know you’ve probably heard these, what we would consider powerful testimonies, about these guys who stand up and say, you know I was a drug dealer, that I was doing this and then God saved me. Well yeah, that’s a powerful testimony.  For me, it was just at a youth retreat for three days. I wasn’t a bad kid; I was a good kid and God just saved me.  My testimony is a powerful testimony.  Your testimony, no matter what it is, is a powerful tool to tell people about Jesus. If you want to stay focused on the Gospel, don’t ever forget the impact on your life. Tell your story and pray for opportunities because it will change lives.

The results of a Gospel focused life is going to change the lives of people.  God can use you and wants to use you to change the lives of other people. Paul is chained to Roman guards. This is the imperial guard, the elite special forces. I mean, these were the soldiers, and so these people, about 9,000 of them in Rome. So every day a couple times a day, they’re just coming in doing shift changes.  Can you imagine?  This is what I think.  This is my sanctified imagination. Every time somebody shows up that’s different, I bet Paul looks at me like there’s a new one.  I get to tell somebody else.  There’s 9,000 of these people in the city, and here’s another one I get to tell them about Jesus.  Paul didn’t look at him being chained to a Roman guard. That’s not how he viewed it. He viewed it as them being chained to him.  I’m telling you.  He had a captive audience. Rome was trying to shut him up and shut him down, but they gave him a captive audience. These people where literally chained wrist to wrist to Paul.  They couldn’t go anywhere.  I bet Paul talked their ears off about Jesus.  I bet he didn’t shut up. And then if a new guy, let’s say you know guy was here one morning, he came back the next morning. I bet he said where did we leave off yesterday?  Oh OK, let me continue the story.

But also man, I imagine Paul asking about their families.  it wasn’t just about telling them, I mean it was about the Gospel, but I bet he said, “hey John.” He’d probably to say Cletus or whatever his name was. “How’s your dad doing?  How’s your mom doing?  How’s your kids doing?”  He got to know these people.  Most criminals are going to be angry and violent and hostile to these soldiers because they don’t want to be there.  But Paul, took an interest in them, Paul, loved them the way Christ loved them. He didn’t see their skin color. He didn’t see their uniform. He didn’t see their economic status. He just saw a person that God loved.  And he got to know them.

A couple of years ago, we had some Jehovah’s Witnesses that came to the house.  And I know that can be kind of you know, not an obstacle, but people don’t like to have people knock on their doors.  It’s kind of annoying, but I saw it as an opportunity.  For six months every Monday at 10:00. I mean they were talking about people who can keep a schedule. Every Monday at 10:00, they would knock on my door and every week I took a pamphlet, ’cause if you take their pamphlet they’ll come back.  We had conversations.  They told me what they believed.  And there’s some things we agree on, but the areas of disagreement we discussed. But here was the greatest thing I did, I built a relationship with them. The young girl who started coming, she actually stopped, they wouldn’t let her come anymore. I guess God was working on her heart, but the guy that came after her, I found out his dad was in the hospital.  So I checked on his dad every day.  I got his phone number, we texted, we prayed together. It wasn’t just about talking about what we agree and disagree on. We’re talking about each other’s families. Built good, solid relationships.  I don’t know. I was just planting seeds. We talked about the disagreements, we talked about Jesus.  I don’t know where they’re at today, because again, they wouldn’t let him come back.  After a while with somebody else.  And eventually that third person that started coming he was pretty hostile, so we just had to stop the conversation.

God used me to plant a seed.  I don’t know where they’re at today. I hope and pray for them. The guy’s name was Dale, her name I think was Susan. I pray for him often. Maybe one day I’ll get to see him in heaven because of those opportunities.  I didn’t look at it as, how can I get rid of these people as fast as I can, ’cause they’re ruining my TV watching.  I saw it as an opportunity to love on them and to spread the Gospel. And I hope that their lives are changed through the Gospel message.

Paul is talking to these soldiers and he says it became known to them that I was in prison for my faith. Many of them received the Gospel and their lives were changed.  One life changed. One soldier’s life meant a whole family was probably reached with the Gospel.  And if you get a family, you get multiple families. If you get multiple families, you get a city. If you get a city, you can get a state. If you can get a state, you can get a nation.  By committing to spreading the Gospel to one person, lives can be changed forever. Listen, Paul didn’t hate these people, even though they hated him.  I will say this if you want change in the world, hate, anger, division, revenge, complaining, whining will never change the world.  Will never change it.  If you want to see change in the world, then you better be spreading the Gospel like crazy. ’cause it is the love of Christ and the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing that’s going to change the world we live in. That is the only thing that’s going to change somebody’s heart.

I’m a really good debater and I can debate with the best of them and I can win arguments. But you know what? Winning argument will not change anything.  Only the love of Christ will change the hearts of people.  Listen, I don’t know what the next two, three or four years are going to look like.  I got no clue.  And I know that some of us look at the circumstances of our nation as being an obstacle.  And things might change.  But we need to view it as no matter what happens, we need to view it as an opportunity to tell people about Jesus.

The early church, they were persecuted, they were hunted down and they were killed.  And they never stopped loving the people.  And through the persecution, the early church exploded in grew.  Not because of anything those people did, but because Jesus loves the people and they loved people like Jesus. That’s where change comes from. There’s power in the Gospel.

Another thing that results from being a Gospel focused person is the motivation for proclamation.  Paul says what my imprisonment has emboldened people to stand up and preach the Gospel.  I love this. Remember I told you in the beginning that the church in Philippi was eager and waiting to hear how Paul responded to his circumstances?  And I can imagine they’re reading this and they’re like the USA Hockey team sitting there listening to the speech back in the 70s or 80s, The Miracle movie.  I saw that movie.  It’s really good.  Or Notre Dame getting that Knute Rockne speech? And they’re just like let’s go!!!  Paul is in prison and he’s sharing the Gospel, I’m ready to jump up and go!!

We did this thing as a football team one time.  We were in a conference championship game and so the coach played Phil Collins In The Air Tonight, that’s a great song.  As soon as that song was over, we jumped up and we got beat, but we jumped up when we went out there and we were motivated. Paul circumstances motivated the people.  He’s in prison. He’s in chains and he’s still serving the Lord. Let’s get up and let’s go!!!

Motivation for proclamation. They did it without hesitation, without fear, without fear of the consequences. With many Christians in Philippi and around the world are going to die for their faith, but they can look at Paul and Paul will eventually die for his faith.  They’re going to kill Paul, not at the end of this imprisonment, but the end of his next imprisonment. He’s going to die for his faith, but people are motivated to proclaim the Gospel.  As you read this and you’re like man, I gotta tell my coworker.  This person I’ve been talking to, I’ve gotta have coffee with them and build a better relationship. I don’t care what the consequences are, I’ve got to do it because what you do might motivate somebody else. That’s why I tell you the stories about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s why I tell you the story about the interactions I’ve had because I hope it motivates you to go tell others about Jesus.

It’s just people’s lives need to be changed. Let this motivate you to go and tell your circumstances, no matter how good or bad, your circumstances are an opportunity to spread the Gospel. Paul’s horrible circumstances have made it possible for the Gospel to go into the most powerful city, to the most powerful military might in the world.  And everyone else is hearing the Gospel. I love that he goes the Imperial guard, know it, and everyone else.  The cities being changed lives are being changed. Paul is blazing a trail for the expansion of the Gospel, setting an example for us to follow today.

Several decades ago, there was a missionary who went down to Ecuador.  His name was Jim Elliot and anniversary of his death was this past week. So that’s what got me thinking about it. He was a graduate of Wheaton College.  He was passionate about Christ and he was committed to taking the Gospel to a very dangerous and violent tribe in Ecuador.  Elliot went down to engage the people and they went through a long process before they ever met the people. But he took a gun with them because they knew they were violent.  But somebody asked him, he said, “Jim, if they get violent, will you use your gun?”  And in response, Jim Elliot said, “no, I will not use the gun.”  They said why?  “Because I know where I’m going.  They don’t know where they’re going.”  He was one that sacrificed his life to save their life, so until they had a chance to hear the Gospel.  And guess what?  They went down there, him the his buddies. They went down there, they went to the village and all five of them died. The villagers got hostile. They took spears and Elliot and his friends were speared to death, all because they were committed to advancing the Gospel.

Now that’s not the end of that story, because word gets back to Wheaton College that it’s happened, and a revival of international missions breaks out and that college became committed to sending more and more people around the world to spread the Gospel. But more impressive than that is his wife, Elliott’s wife, in her circumstances, losing the husband, losing the father of her kids, she eventually gets on a plane, goes back to the same village, walks into that village where those people killed her husband, and she shares the Gospel with them. The man who killed her, husband, the exact person, there’s pictures you can find them, the man who killed her husband is a Christian and is probably in heaven today because she went back. That whole village accepted Christ because she went back in her circumstances to advance the Gospel of Christ. We could almost hear Jim Elliot from his grave crying out, “don’t worry about your circumstances. Don’t worry about the things that are happening. Advance the Gospel no matter what.  No matter what.”  As you continue to grow in your faith , you need to be willing to stand up, step up and speak out for Christ.  There may be people who hate you and disagree with you and want to throw you in prison. Stand up, step up and speak out, because those people will spend an eternity in hell if we don’t.  They need us to share this truth with them.

Let’s pray

Father, we thank you for the Apostle Paul and for his example.  We thank you for inspiring him to write this letter, to motivate us that through our circumstances we can advance the Gospel.  That no matter what we go through, we can see it as an opportunity to bring glory to Your Name to tell other people about Jesus.  We pray this week, help us to have one conversation. That there’s just one person, all of us, one person that we can tell about Jesus and give us the fearlessness to do so.  Give us the words to do so. Give us the boldness to say Jesus loves you, and this is how much.  Bless this church.  Bless us as a community and help us as a community to do it together, impacting the world for Jesus.

We ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen, and Amen.