Confidence

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Let me start by asking you to imagine something. Imagine that next week, the Government passed a new law against extremism. And it said that the message of the Bible was extreme, and that anyone teaching it publically would be breaking the law – so that by the end of the week, Ken – who's been leading the service – has been arrested, and is in custody awaiting trial. So, he's been part of three years' planning for this new church, he's moved his family to a new house, he's seen the excitement of the start of things here over the last few months. And now he's facing prison. Well, put yourself in his shoes. And think: how would you feel? And if you were writing to your closest friends, what would you write? Perhaps you'd write things like…

'This is a nightmare.'
'I'm desperate to get out and get back to doing something useful for the Lord.'
'I'm worried about the harm this could do to St Joseph's.'

Well, in Sunday services here we're learning from the Bible book of Philippians, which is a letter that the apostle Paul wrote – to a church he started in the Greek city of Philippi (so I'll call the people in that church 'the Philippians'). But since starting that church, Paul had been arrested for spreading the gospel – the Christian message about Jesus – and he was in custody in Rome awaiting trial before the Emperor. And the Philippians' natural reaction to that would have been the same as our natural reaction to Ken being arrested –they would have been thinking, 'This is dreadful – dreadful for Paul and dreadful for the spread of the gospel.' But that's not how Paul saw it. And this morning we're going to learn from his example in the next bit of his letter to the Philippians. So could you find one of the Bibles that are around the seats, and could you turn to Philippians 1.12-13, where Paul says:

"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ."

That is an amazing attitude, isn't it? Because there he is in custody – and yet he's saying, 'Look, what matters most is more people hearing the gospel.' And that's the first of two lessons from this part of the Bible this morning:

1. What Matters Most is More People Hearing the Gospel (vv12-14)

Paul was saying, 'What matters most is not that I'm in prison, or when I might get out – but that more people are hearing the gospel'. Have a look at verses 12-13 again. He says:

"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ."

So you can imagine each new guard looking after Paul saying, 'So what are you in here for?' And Paul says, 'Talking about Jesus.' And the guard says, 'Who's he?' And off Paul goes and tells him the gospel. And then at change-over time, the new guard comes in and has exactly the same conversation, while the first one goes off to the canteen and says, 'I've just had the weirdest conversation – wait till you hear this…' Until loads more people have heard the gospel. And for Paul, that's what mattered most.

But why? Well, it was because he knew that everyone needs to be put right with God – and that that only happens through Jesus. He knew Jesus died on the cross so that he can forgive us everything we've done wrong, and he knew Jesus rose from the dead so that he can come into our lives and start changing what's wrong and get us ready for heaven. That's the gospel in a nutshell. And if you've not yet put your faith in Jesus, what matters most in your life is whether or not you do. That's your biggest need, your biggest decision to make. And if that's you, why not pick up a free copy of one of these 'Why Jesus?' booklets, which is about what it means to put your faith in Jesus. And why not come to an Explore group here? It's not too late to join in this week!

Applying this bit of the Bible to all of us, the whole reason for this new church is that what matters most is more people hearing the gospel. So people have given serious money to get the building redone. I know one couple who scrapped plans for their own house in order to give to this. Why? Because what matters most is more people hearing the gospel. For those of you on the team who've moved over here, you'll probably be finding it a bigger upheaval than you thought. And for parents, it's a big ask of your children. But you're here because what matters most is more people hearing the gospel. And it will already have been hard work. And it will carry on being hard work – because that's what starting a new church is. So at least sometimes you might wish you weren't starting a new church, but you're doing it because what matters most is more people hearing the gospel.

So Paul's example here is that he looks at his circumstances – even if they're hard (like being under arrest, or being the only Christian in your family or workplace) – and he says to himself, 'God has put me in these circumstances. Now how can I use them so more people hear the gospel?' So just think of the Roman Emperor's imperial guard. It might have been impossible for your average Christian in Rome to reach any of them with the gospel. So what does God do? He takes Paul and plants him right in the middle of them – as a prisoner. It isn't the easiest of circumstances for Paul, but it's a great 'way in' for the gospel.

Likewise, God has planted this new church in the middle of this community. It's not the only church in this part of Newcastle, but it is a great, new 'way in' for the gospel on this side of the city. And I know The Rise, the new housing estate, is only one part of the community – but what a great 'way in' for the gospel there that God should start a new church at just the time that new people are moving in. And if you've come along as a newcomer in the first few months of this church, you'll be planted into parts of the community where no-one's hearing the gospel and no-one else is a Christian. God is saying to you this morning, 'I want to use you as my 'way in'.' But Paul didn't just say that more people were hearing about Jesus because of him being in prison. He said that his example meant that more Christians were talking about Jesus. Look down again to Philippians 1.14, where Paul says:

"And most of the brothers [i.e. the Christians in Rome], having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."

Before Easter, I was involved in an Explore group at Jesmond. And two new Christians in the group said they'd already been really discouraged by how friends and workmates had reacted to their new faith. And we talked about how, on the one hand, you want to tell people about Jesus. But on the other hand, you're tempted not to because you're worried about what they'll think or say. And that's when we need the example of Paul here, or of the many other suffering Christians in the world today, or that you can read about in Christian biographies. Because you think, 'If they were willing to suffer as much as they did to make Jesus known to other people, shouldn't I be willing to suffer something – or something more – myself?' 

So that's lesson one: what matters most is more people hearing the gospel. And lesson two is really the other side of the coin of lesson one. It's that:

2. What Matters Most is More Christians Spreading the Gospel (vv15-18)

Paul has just said that his example was making the Christians in Rome bolder in talking about Jesus. But now look down at what he says about some of those Christians, in verses 15-17:

"Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me [i.e. to give me grief] in my imprisonment."

Which leaves you thinking, 'What is going on? Aren't Christians supposed to be on the same side – all playing for Jesus? And yet here Paul says some of them are treating him like a rival and even trying to do him down while he's in prison. That's like Shelvey tackling Mitrovic just as he's about to score the winner; or like Coloccini putting the ball in his own net; or like that crazy fight on the pitch between Kieran Dyer and Lee Bowyer, if you're old enough to remember that. So what is going on here? Well, these people really were Christians. And they really were preaching the Jesus of the Bible – Paul doesn't say their message was dodgy. But probably they didn't like the way Paul went about spreading the gospel and they were criticising him publically for it – saying things like:

'If Paul had been wiser, he wouldn't have been arrested and damaged the reputation of the church.'
'He should have said things more carefully.'
'If he was getting into trouble for talking to Jewish people about Jesus, maybe he should have just stuck to telling others.'

So this group of Christians had the attitude, 'We know better and our way of doing things is better.' And I guess that in their worst moments they might even have been secretly glad that Paul was out of the way. (Christians can still be that sinful, can't they?) So what does Paul think about them? Well, once again, his attitude is amazing. Look down to verse 18:

"What then?..."

That is, 'What do I think of them?' And at this point, if we'd been writing, you or I would have let rip and said, 'They don't even sound like they are Christians.' Or, 'The church would be better off without them.' But look at what Paul says:

"What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth [i.e. with bad motivation or good motivation], Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."

That is, 'If people are talking about the Jesus of the Bible, I rejoice – even if they're bad-mouthing me at the same time.' Because what matters most is more Christians spreading the gospel. If you've been a Christian for a while, you'll know that it's so easy for different groups of Christians, who are all preaching the Jesus of the Bible, to criticise each other and think they're better than each other and behave as if they were on different sides. And we need to guard against that attitude, and have Paul's attitude instead.

So I guess there may be other Christians in Benwell who feel that the starting of this church is an indirect way of criticising what they're doing. And we need to say and show that that's not true: this church started because God put the opportunity in our path, and we believed he wanted us to take it. So this church hasn't started as a rival to churches that were already here. We rejoice that Christ is proclaimed in other churches this side of the city. We're glad they're there and glad they're doing what they're doing – not least because different kinds of churches often reach and help different kinds of people. There are things that, God-willing, this church will be able to do that others may be struggling to do – like stuff for children and youth (like the Holiday Club back in February). But that's not because this church is better. It's just because it's got the resources that others may not have.

So all Christians need this attitude that what matters most is more Christians spreading the gospel. Christians who are preaching the Jesus of the Bible need to look at one another's churches and say, 'I might not do it that way, or I might not think that way about something secondary. But I rejoice that your church is there and making Jesus known.'

Let me end by mentioning a couple of things that will test whether we have that attitude. One applies to all of us who are Christians. And it's the fact that you may have neighbours or meet people who get invited to another church in this part of the city. And you may have hoped you could invite them along here. But the test is: will you rejoice that someone is telling them the gospel – even if that someone isn't you? Because what matters most is more Christians spreading the gospel.

And the other thing applies to those of us who were in any way part of the old St Joseph's. I was talking to someone who'd been part of this place for years. And it brought home to me what a very big deal it was for him that the building had changed hands and that the ministry has changed hands. But the test is: are we able to say, 'What matters most is that the Jesus of the Bible is being preached?' Another person who grew up coming to St Joseph's started coming along just before Christmas. And he had exactly that attitude. Because he said, 'An awful lot has changed here. But I've agreed with everything that's been said tonight. And I'll be back.' And the apostle Paul would say, 'That's great. That's someone saying what I'm saying in v18:

"Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."

So those are the two lessons from this week's bit of Philippians:

  • What matters most is more people hearing the gospel.
  • What matters most is more Christians spreading the gospel.

In other words, what matters most is the gospel – the message about Jesus and how he puts us right with God. And if we have that attitude, it'll make this a united church which is both a blessing to the community around, and an encouragement to the other churches.

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