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Not From Around Here - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Philippians 1:27-30

  • 2004-03-14 AM
  • Sermons

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Shortly after my family and I arrived here at Countryside back in October, we decided to visit some of the local attractions, and we went to the stockyards in Fort Worth. I'm sure most of you, if not all of you, have been there. We had a great time. During our visit there, we came upon a man who is obviously a local fixture. He was an authentic looking cowboy who for reasons I can't imagine has been reduced to having his picture made with tourists. His trusty steed was a Texas longhorn, and for more money than he had paid for the entire can of chewing tobacco that seemed to be in his mouth, you could sit up on old Bessie, or I guess better old Jessie, and get your picture taken.

Well, we visited for a few moments just exchanging discussion and pleasantries, and it wasn't long before he draped his arm over old Jessie there and spit out enough tobacco to speak and he said, "You're not from Texas, are you?" I was really crushed and disappointed. I mean I had worn my most western looking outfit, my kids were in their "don't mess with Texas" shirts, and yet he still picked us out as foreigners.

You see, we cannot pretend to be what we aren't and fool those who really are. On the other hand, what we really are should be evident to all those who see us. It should show. That's the point that Paul is making in the last four verses of Philippians 1. He wants us to know that if we call the name of Christ, if we call ourselves by His name, then our lives should match that profession. We should live like what we really are. It should be apparent to those who come in contact with us. You follow along as a read the last four verses of Philippians 1:27,

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

As I mentioned to you two weeks ago when we began to look at this passage, that is one long sentence in the Greek text, and its theme is found in the first two Greek words. The first Greek word is translated as the first word in our English text "only." It means the essential thing, this one important thing. Paul says, until I'm able to get there I want you to give attention to this one crucial thing. The essential thing is found in the second Greek word in verse 27, but the second Greek word is translated with five English words. Notice verse 27. The English words are "conduct yourselves in a manner," one Greek verb. This verb is often used in Greek and Roman authors, and it means to take an active part in the affairs of the city/state in which you live. In our language we could say it this way. Be a good citizen. What Paul literally says is, live like citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ.

You see, through the gospel those of us who have received the good news of forgiveness in Christ as our own, through that message we have become citizens of heaven. We have entered into a partnership, into a spiritual fellowship. We have become members of a new community, and that community is the church of Jesus Christ. And Paul says we are to live worthy of that. We are to live worthy of the citizenship that we have in Christ, and he's going to use the rest of these verses to explain what that means. Paul says whether first hand, or from Timothy, verse 27, whom I'm about to send, I want to hear that you are living in a way that is worthy of your heavenly homeland.

How is it that you and I can live worthy of the gospel that we've come to enjoy? What does that mean? Well, in the rest of this passage Paul identifies for us four specific duties that come with the privilege of belonging to Christ and to His kingdom. If you're a citizen of heaven because you've embraced the gospel, with that comes duties and responsibilities, and Paul outlines four of them here.

We began last time to look at the first three. Let me just remind you of what they are. First, our first duty as citizens of heaven is to stand for the truth. Stand for the truth. Notice he says, I want to hear that you are standing firm. That verb "standing firm" is often used in the New Testament to refer to actually standing, but when it's used figuratively, it refers to standing immovably being absolutely resolute in something and especially as it regards to truth.

We chased down last time that when this verb is used in the rest of the New Testament, it refers to guarding and protecting the truth of God. I want to hear, Paul says, that you're standing firm for the truth. You see, to be a citizen of heaven means that you love this Book. It means that you commit yourself to knowing it, to obeying it, to defending it, and to teaching it to others who know less of it than you do. If you're a citizen of heaven, then you're committed to the constitution of heaven which is found in this wonderful book that we possess from God. Stand for the truth.

Secondly, we discovered last time that if you're going to live like a citizen of heaven, not only do you need to stand for the truth, you need to seek for unity. Notice he says I want to hear that you are standing firm in one spirit with one mind. In one spirit means to have one common purpose. It means to have a common attitude or mindset a sort of community spirit, and with one mind is literally "one souled" with one soul. It occurs frequently in the New Testament to describe the unity that we enjoy in Christ. You see if you want to live like you belong to heaven, then seek for unity with those who stand for the truth just as you do.

Thirdly, we noted last time that if we're going to live like citizens of heaven we need to stand for the truth, seek for unity and thirdly, strive for the gospel. He says I want to hear that you're striving together for the faith of the gospel. The Greek verb "striving together" translates one Greek word. I should say the English phrase "striving together" translates one Greek word. It's the word that our word athletics comes from. It means to engage in competition with. It's talking about engaging in a competition, not as competitors, but side-by-side with someone.

Paul says I want to hear that you're not competing with others in the new community of the church, but that you're competing along side them. And you remember we discovered last time that this isn't referring to some friendly game of pick up football. This word was used to describe the games of the gladiators. We're locked in a life and death struggle, and we're to advance side-by-side with those who are in the community of the church with us. He says I want you to do it for the faith of the gospel. In other words, Paul wants to hear that we are fighting side-by-side to advance the good news of Jesus Christ. That's our mission both individually and corporately.

That brings us to where we left off last time and the final duty of citizens of heaven that Paul identifies in this lengthy sentence, and without question it's the hardest. Now not only are we to stand for the truth, seek for unity, strive for the gospel, but finally we are to suffer for Christ. The last point he makes and what we're going to look at today is if we're going to be citizens of heaven, we must suffer for Christ. Notice verse 28,

in no way alarmed by your opponents–which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear to be in me.

You know there are some topics that if you knew I was going to speak on them this morning you might not want to come and be here. There are some things we'd just as soon ignore, pretend that they don't happen, but persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ is a reality in our world. In fact, you may not know this, but according to statistics more people died for their faith in Christ during the twentieth century than all the previous centuries combined. Justin D. Long wrote in the late 1990's, "During this century," that is the 1990's, "we have documented cases in excess of 26 million martyrs. From AD 33 to 1900 we have documented 14 million martyrs."

Now he does have some good news. "Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the average number of Christian martyrs per year is down slightly. Currently, this year 2004 there will be about 160,000 martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ, and this is projected to grow to more than 300,000 by the year 2025." We can't imagine that because of where we live and because of the freedoms we enjoy, but you know what, we should be much more in touch with and concerned about the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:3. "Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body."

Four and a half years ago the statistics about Christian martyrs became more than statistics to me. I received an email from a dear friend of mine who ministers in India. Some of you may have met him. His name is Chris Williams. He emailed me to say that there was an Australian missionary to India who was a friend of his who had given his life the previous week as a martyr along with his sons because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Graham Stanes was his name. Graham had worked with lepers in India for more than 30 years. He was sleeping in his car one night. They had gone to one of the northern outposts and were planning to minister in a new city that morning, and he was sleeping in his car along with his ten-year-old son, Philip, and his six-year-old son, Timothy, when a mob armed with axes came and set the car they were sleeping in on fire and then prevented them from escaping and watched them literally burn to death.

The court in India that heard the case was told that the ringleader of this mob, a man by the name of Doras Sing, had accused Graham of using his work with lepers "to convert Hindus to Christianity." It was all about his faith in Christ. Remarkably, Graham's widow, her name is Gladys, remains in India. She absolutely refused to leave, and in fact, she picked up his ministry to lepers along with her daughter and ministers there to this day.

You see as American Christians we know nothing of that kind of persecution, and because of that most of us lose out on the rich promises and blessings that come to those who are persecuted. Often, we miss the joy that Scripture promises to us because we think that persecution is only the kind that happened to Graham Stanes and his sons, only physical harm, imprisonment or death but the truth is, and I want you to listen carefully to this. The truth is many of us suffer for the sake of Christ.

You see persecution for the name of Christ takes many different forms. Let me illustrate this for you by having you turn back to Ezra, Ezra 4. We've just stepped back into the time of the Babylonian captivity. Now the Jewish people have been released to return to the land under Zerubbabel and to rebuild the temple. Verse 1 tells us that in that time there were enemies that heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel. What you have here in these enemies are Samaritans.

Now we encounter the Samaritans in the New Testament, but perhaps you aren't aware of how they started. The Samaritans were a mixed race of people. They were the result of inner marriage from the few Jews that Sargon left in northern Israel after he sacked it in 722. So, a marriage between the few Jews there and the Assyrian colonists that he brought in to sort of take over the land, those people inner married and the results were the Samaritans. The Samaritans proved consistently to be the enemies of God and the enemies of God's true people. What you have in chapter 4 of Ezra is a summary of various attempts to stop the rebuilding. You have this sort of different kinds of opposition that come against the people of God. Ezra wants us to see that persecution, opposition, takes a number of different forms, and they're common to all times. They're true in our time as well.

They're true for many of us sitting here this morning. Let me show you what they are. The first one is in 4:2 of Ezra. So, these people, these Samaritans, "… approached Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers' of households and said to them, 'Let us build with you.'" The first opposition that often comes against the work of God is an invitation to compromise. That's what they're saying, saying oh listen "… for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here." [Listen to the response, verse 3.] "But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers' households of Israel said to them, 'You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel….'"

I've seen this sort of temptation and opposition personally. I had an interaction with a man who heads a large evangelical radio ministry whose name you would recognize. I had an interaction with him when I worked at Grace to You and was interacting with those in similar positions in other organizations, and I was concerned about something that was going on. Basically, he was involved with groups that opposed what we believed. For example, his organization had begun to form an alliance with some Mormons, and I brought this up to him and I said, "You know, how can you do that? He said, "Oh," he said, "You know, I think God is pleased with what we're doing because we're fighting together against abortion." That's right out of Ezra 4:2, "Let us build together…." Our response should be like Zerubbabel, "You have nothing in common with us…."

There's a second form that opposition or persecution takes. Notice verse 4, "Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah…." And by the way, I should tell you something. As you flow through this chapter, Ezra is pulling vignettes from different time periods. These didn't happen all at the same time. Verses 1-4 are contemporary with Zerubbabel, but verse 6 will jump ahead fifty years to the time of Esther and King Ahasuerus. Verses 7-23 moves ahead another eighty to a hundred years to the time of Ezra, and so Ezra is pulling out in the basic hundred, hundred and fifty years around his life examples of the forms opposition takes. And here he tells us, the beginning of verse 4, "… the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah…." Literally, they weakened the hands of the people of Judah. How did that do that? They did it through ridicule and insult, through sneers, and mocking. You can see it in Nehemiah, 4. Keep your finger in Ezra 4. Turn to Nehemiah 4. You see how they weakened their hands. Nehemiah 4:1,

Now it came about when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall…. Now we're to Nehemiah's time and the wall, not the temple. " he became furious [But the same enemies, these are still the Samaritans.] and very angry [and watch how he responds.] … [He] mocked the Jews and … spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day?" [Ha! Ha! Ha! You know, it's having a good time with his friends here.] "Can they retrieve the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?" Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him [and he jumps on the bandwagon] and he says, …) "Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down."

Notice Nehemiah's response in verse 4. "Hear O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads…."

You see the way the people were weakened, the way their resolve was diminished, the way they became discouraged, was through the ridicule of the people against them. Sometimes their voice to us, sometimes the ridicule is said behind our backs. This form of persecution, ridicule, varies from our coworkers rolling their eyes behind our backs when we make some comment about our devotion to Christ, to a fellow student making fun of you because of your open faith and testimony of Christ. It can be as impersonal as a newspaper article that attacks all Bible believing Christians as if they were weak minded and needed a crutch on which to live, or it can be as intensely personal as the verbal wounds of an unsaved parent or spouse because of your faith in Christ, but ridicule is another form of persecution that comes in our world.

Notice the end of verse 4 of Ezra 4, intimidation and threats. They "… frightened them from building." This is another form persecution can take. When I was on staff at Grace church, both because of its size and because it was located in LA, I mean, after all, southern California is like granola. Whatever isn't fruit and nuts is flakes, and because of this we often received threats from those who hated the truth that we stood for. There were threats that were directed at John MacArthur, there were threats directed at his children, there were threats directed at the elders, and there were threats directed at specific pastoral staff members.

On occasion my wife would look down the row and see sitting at the end of the row this off duty police officer with a little earpiece in his ear, and he seemed to have been following us around all morning, and she would ask the question, "Honey is he here because of you?" And often, or occasionally, the answer was, "Yes." There had been threats made. That is a tactic that people who hate the truth and who hate God will often make, just as they did in the time of the rebuilding of the temple.

Notice verse 5. Slander is another tactic. They hired counselors. In other words, they hired counselors to undermine the reputation of the Jews with the governmental authorities. This is reminiscent of the false witnesses that were brought forward to slander our Lord at His hearing before the Sanhedrin, just outright slander to those who are in authority.

Another form it takes is found in verses 6-23 and that is false accusations and legal maneuvering. What you have here in these this extended passage are letters written to the king, letters to Persia. Notice specifically verse 11, "… this is a copy of the letter which they sent…."

"To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings."

That's always the bottom line, isn't it? Listen, your tax base is going to be cut if you don't do something about these guys. Verse 14, "Now because we are in the service of the palace…." In other words, we love you so much. Boot licking is nothing new. "… and it's not fitting for us to see the king's dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king."

False accusations, legal maneuvering, is another form of attack, and then verse 23 it gets eventually to physical force, another form of opposition against God's people. "… as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes' document," the letter he wrote back saying for them to halt "was read … they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms." Physical force. Now that's very uncommon in American Christianity, but frankly it may come, and if it comes, it'll be like in the ancient world. It won't be so much national as much as it'll be localized. There'll be hot spots where people are specifically antagonistic to the gospel and to some of the truth that we hold.

What I want you to see, though, in this fourth chapter of Ezra is that opposition to the work of God takes a variety of forms. Opposition to you, persecution, takes a variety of forms: compromise, ridicule, intimidation and threats, slander, accusations, and even physical force. Did you notice that of those six forms found in Ezra 4, all but one of them is verbal not physical?

You see when we think of persecution, we tend to think of physical. We tend to think of what's done to our bodies. We're incarcerated, or we're hit. We're slapped. We're somehow tortured, or we're eventually killed. That is persecution, but that is one part of persecution. Our Lord reflected this very clearly in his ministry. Turn to Matthew 5. What I want you to see is that if you don't understand what persecution is then you're missing out on some of the blessing that God intends to come to those who are persecuted. Maybe you've never been hit for the sake of Christ. Maybe you've never been in prison. Maybe, obviously, you've never been killed for the sake of Christ, but many of us have experienced ridicule. We've experienced the insinuation that we're weak. We need a crutch on which to lean.

Notice what Christ says in Matthew 5:10.

"… [Happy] are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." [Now when we read that verse, our mind immediately thinks torture, death, but notice what the next verse says.] "… [Happy] are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

In the parallel passage in Luke 6, our Lord adds a couple of other interesting comments. Look at Luke 6:22. Luke 6:22, He says, "Happy are you when men hate you, and ostracize you…." Have you ever been ostracized for your faith in Jesus Christ? You ever been treated a bit like a pariah at the office because you're vocal about your testimony and Christ? You ever seen that at school, young people? Look at what he says. He says (they), "Blessed are you when men hate you, ostracize you, insult you, and scorn your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy." [You know if Christ wasn't saying this we might have a tendency to question what he's saying.] "… leap for joy." [Why?]

Verse 23 continues, "… for behold your reward is great in heaven." You ever been ridiculed for your faith? Leap for joy! Whether its been personal by someone who knows you, or whether its been impersonal in the media, or in a magazine article, and you wince when you saw yourself described in very unflattering terms because of your testimony for Jesus Christ because you name His name, Rejoice! "… leap for joy because your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way, their fathers used to treat the prophets."

What I want you to see is that persecution takes a variety of forms. Most of us have never been physically persecuted, but many of us have experienced verbal persecution and assault and in the face of the gathering storm of persecution in Philippi, Paul wants to teach the Philippians how to face it. Turn back to Philippians 1 for a moment. He says, I don't want you to be alarmed by your opponents. Now we don't know who these opponents were in Philippi, but there're some pretty likely possibilities. It could have been the Judaizers. We'll get to them in Philippians 3:1 and following. These were the Jews who wanted to mix Jewish ritual with faith as a requirement for salvation. They were legalists not in the sense that we often use it of they added little petty commands, but rather they were legalists in the sense that they wanted to add works and performance to faith as a way to be justified before God.

It may have come from them, or it may have come from the Roman government who saw Christians as having this sort of divided loyalty between Caesar and this other Lord. It might have been the pagan population of Philippi. Persecution had apparently begun, that seems to be implied in verses 28 and 29, but I think we have a hint in verse 30 of who it was that these opponents were. Notice verse 30. You are "… experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me…." That must mean that the Philippians were suffering at the hands of the pagan population of Philippi just as Paul had on his first visit in Acts 16.

In other words, their suffering was directly connected to the Roman character of the city in which they lived. Remember that after the battle of Philippi many of the veterans of the army had settled in Philippi. They had settled there, and these retired soldiers were committed to their emperor. In the first century the primary titles for the emperor were lord and savior, and this cult of emperor worship was strongest in this portion of the empire in which Philippi was located. Gordon Fee in his excellent commentary writes this.

In a city like Philippi this would have meant that every public event, the assembly, public performances in the theater, etc., and much else within its boundaries would have taken place in the context of giving honor to the emperor with the acknowledgement that in this case Nero was lord and savior, which is precisely the place in where believers in Christ could no longer join in as citizens of Rome and Philippi because their allegiance was to another "kurios," Jesus Christ.

In the face of that kind of persecution, Paul tells them an interesting thing. Verse 28, He says don't in any way be alarmed by your opponents. The Greek word for alarmed is the Greek word that's used in some of the secular texts to refer to horses that stampede after they've been frightened. He says, listen, don't be like "skittish horses" who, the moment persecution comes, or the moment opposition to what you believe comes, you sort of run. Sometimes we don't speak up for Christ because we're afraid. Paul is saying, don't let a little opposition stop you. Whether your persecution comes in the form of ostracism or insults, whether it comes from strangers, or whether it comes from a family member or a close friend, don't let it alarm you or frighten you.

Now how can we keep from being intimidated in that situation. Well, Paul here tells us there're three reasons we should never be alarmed or intimidated when we suffer for Christ when we're persecuted for our faith. Notice what they are briefly. Three reasons that we should be glad in our suffering for Christ.

Number one, because of what it proves, because of what it proves. Verse 28, the second part of verse 28, "… which is a sign of destruction for them but of salvation for you, and that too from God." The word "sign" means proof or evidence. When people oppose us, and they oppose what we believe, it is proof to us of their coming destruction. The word destruction is a word that Paul often uses to speak of utter ruin, of eternal loss. Now, why is their opposition to us a proof of that? Well, it's because they set themselves not against us. Their persecution isn't against us. It's against God. Remember when people oppose your faith, they're not opposing you. They're opposing God, and that opposition to you is evidence, it's proof that they are on the road to destruction.

But notice Paul says the opposite is true. Their opposition to us is evidence that we will be saved from the wrath of God when Christ returns. How is that? Turn to 2 Thessalonians. You see this illustrated in 2 Thessalonians 1:4. He says,

… we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure." [He said, listen, you people in Thessalonica you've been going through it. You're facing the fire of persecution of various forms.] Verse 5, This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God for which indeed you are suffering. For after all, it's only … [right] for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."

Paul says, listen, the fact that you're being opposed because you name the name of Christ is evidence that those who oppose you are headed to destruction, and its evidence to you that you will be delivered from God's wrath when He comes. And that salvation, he says, back in Philippians 1 comes to us directly from God.

But there's another reason Paul gives us that we should never be frightened by our opponents, we should never be alarmed when we suffer for Christ, not only because of what it proves, that is it's a sign that we will be saved from God's wrath and others will be destroyed, but also because of who it's for, because of who it's for. Notice verse 29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." You and I should rejoice in the midst of suffering for Christ because of what it proves but also because of who it's for.

You see Paul here provides us here in verse 29 with a theological explanation of persecution. This is why it happens. Notice the word "granted." You see that English word. That comes from the Greek word for grace. It literally means "to graciously give." God has graciously given you, if you're in Christ. He's graciously given you two gifts, actually, one gift in a single package. The first part of the gift is to believe on Him. You see faith is a gift from God. We believe that don't we? Ephesians 2 makes it clear that salvation is not as a result of anything we do, but faith and the whole package is a gift from God to us. That's a wonderful gift, but at the same time God gave us another gift of His grace wrapped in the same package, and it's this, to suffer for His sake, to suffer for His sake. That's what Paul says is 2 Timothy 3:12. "… all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

By the way, this suffering for Christ's sake back in Philippians 1, isn't referring to the trials of this life like, you know, your car getting a flat tire, or your being in an accident, or having a bad hair day. Instead, it's referring to suffering on behalf of and in the place of Christ. You see the Christ who gave us the faith to believe also gave us the gift of grace at the same time, and that is the privilege of being His people in the world, and that means we will suffer for His sake just as He suffered for ours. Christ told us this. He told His apostles this on the night before His crucifixion. Turn back to John 15. John 15, notice what He says to His disciples that night. Verse 18, John 15:18, He says,

"If the world hates you, you know that its hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you're not of the world, but I chose you out of the world because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you. 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for my name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me."

Christ says, listen, you expect it because it's just the same way they treated Me. I had a seminary professor who explained and illustrated persecution by taking out of his wallet a picture of his wife, and he held up the picture before us young, eager seminary students. And he said,

"What would you men think of me if I took this picture, and I took my pen out of my pocket, and I began to stick holes in that picture with that pen, and then I grabbed the scissors out of the drawer, and I started cutting that picture up into fine pieces, and then I took that picture of my wife, and I put it in the little trash can here over to the side of the desk, and I threw a match in on it and burned it. What would you think of my relationship with my wife?"

He explained that sometimes people horribly deface a picture of someone that they've come to hate because they can't express their rage on the person. Even so, rebellious sinners hate God, and they hate His Son, but they can't get to God. They can't strike out at God so instead they strike at those of us who bear His image, if you will, pictures of Him. We shouldn't be alarmed by our opponents. It comes as a package with faith.

Suffering is part of the gift that we got with our salvation. Jordan Fee writes, "Suffering should not surprise or overwhelm you. It is rather evidence that God looks upon you with favor." We don't think that way, do we? Because when we think about it, we think that we should focus on the suffering, but God thinks it is a privilege to suffer for His Son. Paul says, think about who it's for. Don't think about the suffering. Don't think about the ridicule or the insults or the threats or the intimidation or even eventually if it comes to physical force. Don't think about that. Think about what it proves, and think about who it's for. It's for the sake of Jesus Christ.

You see when you and I are persecuted in any way verbally or otherwise for our naming the name of Christ, we join a very small circle. It's the circle Paul calls in Philippians 3:10, the fellowship of His sufferings, the fellowship of His sufferings. We shouldn't be upset by persecution as if God were angry with us or had simply abandoned us, instead, we should see even the trial of persecution as a gift of His grace.

But there's a third reason Paul gives us here we should embrace suffering. Not only because of what it proves and because of who it's for, but finally, verse 30, because of whom it's with, because of whom it's with. He says, you're "… experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me." You see Paul concludes his encouragement to the Philippians as they face this persecution by reminding them that as they face it, they're in good company.

"Conflict" is the Greek word. It's the word "agon." It refers to an athletic contest or to a heroic struggle. Paul often uses this word to refer to his entire ministry. At the very end of his life, he says in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good…." "agon," "a heroic struggle." He says you saw it when I was there. You remember they saw him beaten. They saw him receiving strikes for the cause of Christ. They saw his "agon," and now they hear about it continuing in a Roman prison. You see when we face suffering, and when we face persecution, we feel isolated, alone, don't we? We feel like nobody really understands, and yet Paul is saying it's not true.

He reminds us that we're in this thing together with him and with all of those who have ever stood for the gospel with the apostles, with Stephen, with James and as you go into church history with Augustine, with Chrysostom, with Luther, with Calvin, with Martin Lloyd-Jones, and with millions of other Christians whose names are known only to God. We're all partners in one great heroic struggle for the cause of Jesus Christ. So, don't be frightened by opposition. You're in good company. You're in good company.

It's like Christ said in Luke 6:23. Be glad when they persecute you, when they insult you, when they ostracize you and leap for joy. Why? For your reward is great in heaven, but also because it's the same way they used to treat the prophets. You're in great company.

I want you to turn in closing to 1 Peter. Just briefly I want you to see one passage, and we'll be done. First Peter 4:12, he says to the Jews that were facing persecution of various kinds as he writes to them scattered abroad. He says, verse 12, of chapter 4,

Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. [He says you're sharing in His sufferings, and you're going to share in His exultation.] Verse 14, If you are reviled for the name of Christ, [you're insulted,] you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and God rests on you. [On the other hand] Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or [a] thief, or [an] evildoer, or [as] a troublesome meddler; [or I could add as an obnoxious Christian.]

In other words, don't bring it on yourself, you know, like the guy who makes a pain of himself at the office and ends up getting fired, and then says he's being persecuted. Don't be like that. Verse 16, "but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name." Verse 19, "Therefore, … also [those] who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator…." Just keep on doing what's right. Trust God and keep on doing what's right.

If we're going to live as citizens of heaven worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must stand for the truth. We must seek for unity. We must strive for the gospel, and we must be willing to suffer for Christ. Ask yourself. Are you living like you belong to heaven? Are you living worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? May God help it to be so for all of us.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for its truth. Lord, I pray for all of those who are your people, all of us that you would help us to commit ourselves to being willing to live worthy of our homeland. Help us to embrace even persecution, even the ridicule of our society who mocks our faith, who mocks our confidence in Christ, even when it's more intensely personal in our homes with our families who don't believe. Lord, help us to embrace it because of what it proves, because of who it's for. Lord, help us to embrace it because of whom it's with.

And, Lord, for those this morning who've heard this message and really don't have a clue what I've been talking about, I pray that you would help them to see that it's very possible they're not in Christ. Help them to turn this morning in repentance in faith toward Christ and become truly citizens of heaven.

I pray in Jesus name. Amen.