Philippians 1:18-30
2. Courage in Christ

Choosing Joy
2. Courage in Christ    Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor
Philippians 1:18-30    12 February 2023

It was 480BC. Leonidas, King of Sparta, was preparing to make a stand with his Greek troops against the Persian army, when an envoy arrived from the Persian King. The man urged on Leonidas the futility of trying to resist the advance of the huge Persian army. 

"Our archers are so numerous," said the envoy, "that the flight of their arrows darkens the sun." 

"So much the better," replied Leonidas, "for we shall fight them in the shade." 

Leonidas made his stand, and died with his 300 troops. 


This morning we are thinking about courage, and the courage it takes to be a Christian in the world today. 

But I picked this opening illustration because there is something besides courage in what Leonidas said. It’s his ability to look at a situation and see a different outcome, a different perspective. He finds the silver lining in spite of circumstances.

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul exhibits the same attitude. Writing from prison, he sees the bigger picture in the face of his own suffering. He chooses joy in every circumstance.

And I want us to learn that same lesson. So why don’t we pray that God would help us choose joy today.

Heavenly Father, will you speak to us today as we open your word? Will you guide us in what you want us to hear? Will you give us the courage in your promises? And we pray this in Jesus name. Amen. 

All through February we are dipping into Philippians 1-2, and thinking through the theme of Choosing Joy.

And it comes up right in our first verse today – Philippians 1:18…

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:18-19)

What had happened to Paul? 

We’ve skipped over a few verses in the interest of time. But in those verses, Paul makes it clear that he is in prison. And particularly he is in chains for Christ (v13). 

His imprisonment is because of his work of sharing Jesus.

1.    Courage Under Fire.

When you look at the life of Paul, there were numerous occasions where his ministry left him in prison, beaten, flogged, mobbed and run out of town. And this imprisonment he writes about in Philippians was probably the 2 years he spent under guard waiting to see the Roman Emperor (Acts 28:28), although it’s not certain.

What is certain is that this imprisonment was designed to prevent Paul from continuing his work of sharing the gospel. 

But rather than shutting down the gospel, it actually served to advance the gospel. Paul writes in v12:

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[b] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[c] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Paul’s accusers wanted to shut down the gospel. But actually all they did was to inflame the gospel, and to embolden God’s people to proclaim the gospel without fear.

I just want to reflect on this for a moment. We often hear this rhetoric about our nation (and I say this respectfully): the idea that we were founded on Christian principles, and the government was Christian, and wouldn't it be great if we were a Christian nation again. 

The reality is, we've had that ‘Christian nation’ for a very long time and we've seen the trajectory of Christians in the country do this (dropping). What you see in countries where there's persecution against the church, the number of Christians usually does this (rising). 

There's something about comfort and peace, and prosperity and full refrigerators and access to good doctors, that means most people end up forgetting about their faith. It becomes just a small part of their life because you don't need to rely on God everyday when your refrigerator is full and you can go to the doctor when you need to. 

But when people are telling you: you must not bow down, you must not speak the name of Christ, you must not pray… That doesn't shut Christians down. It actually emboldens them more and more. 

When Paul was in prison, all of the guards became aware of the reason. That he was in chains for Christ. And just like the Philippian jailer, I think some of them would have come to faith. And then there were other believers in Rome. Rather than becoming afraid and stifling their faith or hiding it, instead they owned their faith publicly more and more as they watched the example Paul set. 

When you when you look at the countries around the world where Christians are persecuted the most, they are also the places where the gospel is growing the most. So it's a little lesson for us here. We shouldn't shy away from persecution and actually we should take Paul’s lesson and be bold to speak about Christ. 

At the moment in America (and this will be the same when I go back to Australia) we're often worried about what people will think if I tell them that I'm a Christian. We worry that it might interrupt our friendship or our working relationship. And so we shy away from speaking, possibly more for our own embarrassment than anything else. 

What would the Napa Valley look like if we were more like Paul? If we owned our faith more publicly, if we shared the hope we have in Jesus (with love and grace of course). What would it look like if the whole Napa Valley heard about the extraordinary faith of this little church in the vale?

That’s the first big idea. Courage under fire.

2.    Confidence in the Outcome 

So Paul is in prison because of his public faith. He’s been locked up because of his prominent voice. And he might have seen that as the end of his public ministry, the end of his effectiveness. But Paul sees the silver lining…

Look at v18 again:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Philippians 1:18-19)

Isn't that extraordinary? Paul has been delivered into the hands of his enemies, like Christ was delivered into the hands of his enemies. Paul has been delivered into prison. Yet Paul trusts and believes that Jesus will use the situation for his deliverance. 

Deliverance is the same word as salvation in the original language. 

So Paul trusts and believes that Jesus will use the situation for his deliverance. I don't know if Paul means his physical deliverance out of jail. Or if it means his ultimate spiritual deliverance into the Kingdom of God. 

Paul faces the reality that this persecution could result in his death.

We don't face that kind of religious persecution here in America. And God willing, we probably won’t in any of our lifetimes, as far as we can tell. 

But for those who are persecuted and really facing death, there is often that choice. Renounce Christ or be killed. Renounce Christ, or be imprisoned. 

I had a friend in Bible college who grew up in Sydney, the child of Vietnamese refugees. He grew up in a Muslim area of Sydney. He went to school with all Muslim kids and he loved Muslim people and he desired to share Christ with him. So coming out of Bible College he signed up to the Missionary Service and he said: “I want to go to an Arabic speaking nation, I want to share Christ with Muslims.”

And so for the first six years out of Bible college, my friend and his wife and their kids went to serve in a closed, Islamic country. We weren’t allowed to know what country they were in, or share their names or photos on any prayer lists. They had to delete all their online history so that they couldn’t be identified as Christians or missionaries, because they chose to go to a country where it was illegal to share the gospel. In fact anybody in that country who renounced Islam and became a Christian could be prosecuted by the government. And many of them were thrown out of their families, and some were even killed. 

So my friend went as a as a language student learning Arabic. And he learned Arabic and he talked about Jesus. He was part of an underground church and his his family were very courageous.

One time my friend was taken by the secret police. They took him from a public street and they led him with a blindfold and put him in a room and kept him for over 24 hours. His wife and kids didn't know where he was. He was detained and questioned. And finally after a bit over 24 hours, they let him go, with no charges against him. The Lord delivered him.  

The missionary company took them out of the country fairly quickly after that, I think within a few weeks or a month, and then moved to another country where it was a little easier for him to be a Christian. 

But I thought about my friend, how brave they were to go and do that. For them there is something about Jesus, something that made them say: Jesus is worth the cost. And whatever happens to me, this will turn out for my deliverance. 

And in fact, my friend knew that it would turn out for the deliverance of those who heard about Christ's salvation for them, those who he shared with. 

In verse 20, Paul says. 

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21)

Paul is so certain about what's happening here, he says it actually doesn't matter if I live or die. Because if I live, I get to keep talking about Christ. And if I die, I gain everything. Paul is confident in the outcome, either way.

I have a sad story about verse 21. When I was a young adult, I was part of a very big youth group and so a lot of us ended up in leadership. There were these two guys who were also leaders in the youth group, a year younger than me. We used to surf together. They were best friends, inseparable.

Anyway they both got tattoos on their lower back. It was the 90s! So they both got tattoos right above the boardshorts.

One of them had to live as Christ. And the other one got to die is gain.

I was saddened a few years ago to see on Facebook one of the two. He's in his 40s now, a business guy, and he does a lot of ocean swimming. And he posted a photo with his ocean swimming team, and I could see that the tattoo was gone. 

When he was 21, he had tattooed in in bold letters ‘To live as Christ.’ By his 40s, that tattoo was gone. Perhaps he still with Christ, but I don't think so from everything I've seen. So for him, to live was not really Christ. Perhaps it was never more than skin deep...

Paul, though, is convinced. 

When you read vv22-26 he does a little pros and cons list about whether it’s better to die and be with Christ, or to continue living and sharing Christ, even if it means suffering in the short term. He chooses to go on (v25) because he knows it will mean the joy of faith for those he serves with the gospel. 

It’s quite an attitude, isn’t it. Whether he lives or dies, nothing will stop Paul from living for Christ. Paul was confident in the outcome, and it emboldened him to live with one goal only.

What are you living for?

3.    Conduct Worthy of Christ 

I originally entitled this section ‘imitating Paul’, but actually we probably won’t ever find ourselves under the same intense persecution that Paul faced. And it was the same for the Philippian church. The persecution we face is much more low level, and it plays out in the little decisions, the little moments of courage we need when we’re tempted to make Jesus less important than he really is to us. That’s the real danger for us. Downplaying Jesus, and downplaying our faith. 

In the military, perhaps they’d call that ‘conduct unbecoming’, that is behavior that doesn’t honor the beliefs you stand for. 

And so Paul suggests the opposite – ‘conduct becoming’ or conduct worthy of Christ. Look at v27

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

What does it mean to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ? We're going to see Paul get a bit more specific about this next week in chapter two. But in chapter 1, Paul gives us three ideas. 

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence

(Paul still hopes they'll be able to come and see them. Or if he just hears about them in his absence, he says:

I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Philippians 1:27-28)

So three ideas…

One: standing firm in one spirit. 

There's a beautiful unity of the Church. When we are in Christ, Christ unites us into his body. He makes us one people with one goal and one destination. 

And Paul wants the church there in Philippi to remain united. He wants them to remain united, and to let nothing split them apart. 

Earlier in the chapter Paul says that that some people in the Roman church were preaching out of rivalry and envy, trying to make things worse for Paul. [A strange idea… trying to make things harder for another gospel preacher] Why would they do that? Paul says: We’re all working for the same goal, we’re all working for Christ. We’re all united in Christ. So let’s keep working towards the same goals for Christ. Stand firm in one spirit. 

And then idea number two: striving together as one for the faith of the gospel. 

Our whole project as a church is to strive together for the faith of the gospel. 

That is, I guess, to live out what Christ wants us to live out, to live faithful lives in him, to come and confess our sins at the foot of the cross. To baptize and make disciples. Paul reminds us to stand firm in the main thing. The main thing is the gospel, the Gospel project of sharing the hope of Jesus, into all the places that God had planted them. 

Just keep sharing the gospel and keep growing in the gospel. That's what he wants Paul wants them [and us] to do. 

And he says if you do that, you don't need to be frightened of those who oppose you (idea three). 

It's interesting, you know, being afraid of the world. Being afraid of the culture, being afraid of what's happening in the universities, being afraid of what's happening in public schools. Being afraid of what people might talk about. 

I don't think that ever stopped Paul. I don't think it ever stopped Jesus. 

Jesus spoke the truth in the middle of opposition, and they led him to his death for it, but he triumphed over the grave. Paul was probably led to his death for the same thing, and countless Christians have been. 

But who is going to win the culture war? It's not the culture. Jesus will win the war. His Kingdom will be All in all. That's why we pray your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven. 

I mean, I would love to see God's Kingdom extended amongst us, I'd love to see churches everywhere like little beacons of light and hope in a world that's dark. And I trust it will happen. I’m confident in the outcome if we remain faithful to the task.

Jesus will win. Don't you worry about that. Don't you worry about the culture. Jesus will win. 

Our task is to keep focusing on Christ, to keep living for Christ. 

And Paul says if we do that, we don’t need to be frightened. Jesus said: don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Paul is telling us the same. Don’t be afraid of what the world might say. Stand up for your faith in Jesus. 

Because when you act like that in front of them, halfway through verse 28, 

This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. (Philippians 1:28)

I used to play this position in rugby where I was the one who caught those long kicks. The restart. The opposition kicker would kick the ball really high, and my job was to catch it while all of these big guys tried to kill me. The opposition forwards would chase down the kick, running right at me. 

Typically they were big guys. I was a little bit skinnier at the time and if the kicker timed it just right, I would catch the ball just milliseconds before 2 or 3 guys would flatten me. 

And I’d lie at the bottom of this pile underneath these very large men. And I did my best to always smile. Hi, guys. How you doing? 

They hated it. They wanted to kill me and destroy me and take me out of the game, and this is a sign to them that I'm not going to be destroyed. I will smile as you pile on top of me and I'll hold the ball and I'm not going to let that thing go. 

It was so good, it was brilliant. And it's a sign to them that they can't touch you. They can't touch you. 

And when we do that in the world, you know, as we speak Christ (not with anger, not with poison or venom)… When we speak Christ with love and grace and inclusivity. When we speak Christ in a way that that commends him, it’s a sign to those who are persecuting you, that actually they're not going to win. They're going to be the ones who destroyed, not you. 

The Gospel will never be destroyed. Jesus’ project will never fail. 

And look at verse 29. 

This is one of the hardest parts about living in a modern western, progressive culture, where we expect that things will always be good, all of the time. Verse 29. 

29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him (Philippians 1:29)

In this Christian life, even though we're blessed by God and we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, and even though we experience all kind of material blessings, it has also been appointed for us to suffer on behalf of the gospel. 

We should not be surprised when suffering comes on account of the gospel. This is not suffering due to life circumstances. Paul is talking about the suffering that comes as a result of following Jesus. 

He says if you want to follow Jesus, don't be surprised when you suffer because of it. 

Jesus said in John 15: 

‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:20)

We shouldn't be surprised as Christians when we face persecutions of all kinds. But we know that Jesus will not be defeated. He will win. And even if they defeat us in the small moments, we do it with a smile, as a sign to them that that will be destroyed, not us. 

You can take away my physical body, but you can't take away my eternal life. Nothing can do that. To live as Christ and to die is gain. 

What a wonderful message that we can take into life. No matter what happens, we trust that Christ will have the victory in this life and in the life to come. No matter what may happen to us in these frail and failing bodies, we'll be raised victorious with Christ.

So take courage in Christ.

Let me pray for us. (As Jesus taught his disciples to pray)

Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name. 
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. 
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours.
Now and forever. Amen