A Right Attitude in Serving
Paul went through a lot of sufferings in serving the Lord.
During his first missionary trip, he was persecuted by the Jews and was almost stoned to death in Lystra. And he said, we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God . Acts 14:22
On his second missionary trip, in Philippi , he was stripped, severely flogged and put into prison by the Romans. He said he was in chains for Christ.
Again, on his third missionary trip, in Ephesus , the Greeks were trying to take his life. And when he barely escaped them, the Jews caught him later in Jerusalem . They was plotting to murder him but failed.
Paul later was kept in jail in Caesarea for two years. It is during this period of time he wrote the letter to Philippians. And he wrote: v12 what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.
Paul here says, the sufferings he went through, the hardships, the persecutions that happened to him didn't do any harm to the gospel. On the contrary, they served to advance the gospel. Now that's a strange logic.
It is strange because here we live in the 21 st century America . And persecution is a forgotten word to many people. Instead we have consumerism, we have wealthy healthy gospel. Tele-evangelism. We need to make people feel good. We need to provide people's needs otherwise they won't stay. They will leave. Who wants to suffer anymore?
One thing you might hear is: My parents persecuted me by not allowing me to go to the Internet. Or, I suffered from leg pain or should sore and some minor headache because I shopped the whole day during this huge store sale.
Can you imagine living a life like Paul did? It is unthinkable to us. Who would imagine that Christianity's number one spokesman lived a life like that?
But I would say, it is exactly because he lived a life like that, in that way so that his serving was powerful, his serving was spiritually rich and his serving was absolutely effective and influential.
So let's look into one of his case to see how that will help us to learn more about serving.
As we stay at Philippians 1: 12, hold that with your finger and turn with me to Acts 16. Acts 16 tells us in detail how the Philippians' church started and how Paul served the Lord in this wonderful chapter of the book of Acts.
Firstly we need to serve the Lord with wisdom.
Acts 16:6-10 says the Holy Spirit forbid them from preaching the Word in Asia . So they want to go north, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't allow them to. Then they went down south and in the night God showed them through a vision of the Man of Macedonia to lead them to go across the sea into Macedonia . So they were led to the city of Philippi .
There are several reasons that God handpicked Philippi as their place of serving.
Philippi city is a strategically handpicked city by God for the spreading of the Gospel.
Not only did God strategically handpick this city, He also specifically targeted the people group in that city for the gospel.
The first representative person that came to faith in Christ, was who? Lydia , right and she was a dealer in purple cloth.
The second representative person that came to faith was the jailor and his household. And he was a soldier.
So we have here two representatives for the biggest parties of people group in Philippi : the dealers and the soldiers.
Not only that, not only did God strategically handpick this city, specifically targeted the people groups, he even individually designed Paul's ministry there.
Paul was a Jew, so it fits him well to share this Jewish rooted faith to a gentile worshipper of God. The bible says while Lydia was listening, the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. Her home later became Paul's first missionary church planting in Europe .
Paul was a Jew, but he was also a Roman citizen. His Roman citizenship gives this young church in Philippi a remarkable protection and support in the society when people know that a Roman citizen founded this church.
We can clearly see God's arrangement and design in Paul's serving in Philippi .
How about us? Is there anyway we can learn from this? Of course we can. We need to be wise in our serving.
Now that we know we need to follow God, follow God's guidance and design in our serving, we need to further cultivate our love in our serving . V13-14 says “ As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. “ The thing strikes me most here is that Paul was willing to love Christ to the point of being in chain for Christ. And it is his in chain kind of love to Christ works out all the good things in other people.
The jailors beat him up, stripped him, humiliated him and locked him in the inner cell and fastened his feet in the stocks, but Paul treated him with love. Paul said, don't harm yourself. We are all here. Paul saved his life. Not just once when the Jailor was about to commit suicide, but when he repented and Paul spoke the Word of God to him and when he believed he even baptized him. Paul even in his chains shows to his persecutor nothing but Christ's love.
It is kind of like Christ, isn't it? He came to his world, yet his own people mistreated him. We stripped him, beat him, humiliated him and in the end crucified him. Yet he still loves us. He still loves his own people. Jesus didn't ask Peter, will do this for me? Will you do this and do that to serve me? Jesus asked him: do you love me peter? I don't want you to do things for me. I want you to love me, to serve me with love. To live a life of love for Christ is the best service we can offer.
Often times, we look too much into activities. We forgot that Paul's effectiveness lies not in his doing. Paul's effectiveness lies in his loving people with a Christ-like love. His ministry is an outflow of Christ's love rather than his own endeavor or personal enthusiasm.
How do we cultivate our love in Christ? By staying close with Christ. By falling in love with Christ everyday through singing and praying to God. One of the most striking and astonishing scenes in Paul and Silas's prison ministry was in the midst of persecution and suffering. They were able to pray and sing hymns to God in the prison. Their prayer and singing were so beautiful that all the rest prisoners were listening to them and that is probably why they didn't dare to run away from the jail after God shook the whole prison with earthquake and they were so shocked and so much in fear of God that they couldn't move. And Paul did that just by praying and singing hymns.
How is your daily prayer life? How is your walk with God? Is it filled with prayer, with thanksgiving, with singing? Or is it just dry and cold with some meaningless words? We need to fall in love with Jesus everyday and that's again the best service we can offer to him.
1Cor 13 says love never fails.
Many of us watched the movie, the Cross-Jesus in China . What motivates you? What touches our hearts? It is their love to God. It is their willingness to be in chain for Christ and rest their souls in Christ's love. There was no disguise. There was no other reason but their love to God. Many of us watched the Passion movie. What touches your heart? It is Christ's sacrificial love. He was willing to be in chain for us so that we are set free.
We need to serve the Lord with wisdom and with love; we also need to serve the Lord with purity.
There are good examples in believers. There are also bad examples of believers. We all know that. So Paul here honestly and sincerely told the believers in Philippi what he saw and what his response is.
It is unbelievable, isn't it? Out of envy and rivalry is ok. We know that's our old nature. But preaching Christ to stir up trouble for Paul while he was in chain is kind of evil. Could I use that word here?
That reminds us that we need to exercise our spiritual discernment. We need to discern as Paul did. That kind of alertness and discernment is healthy for the church and beneficial for God's people.
Also we also need to watch out for each other and for ourselves so that our enemies won't be able to tempt us and drag us into serious sins. Never underestimate human sinfulness.
Another thing we need to guard ourselves is that we need to respond toward this kind of evil with purity. We need to safeguard ourselves from being stumbled.
Those things can easily discourage people especially when it happened to their leaders. Young believers can get very upset and disappointed. Some become cynical toward Christianity and harbor bitterness in their hearts toward the church. Other might become lukewarm and getting cold in their serving.
Well, Paul here honestly told them that these things happened. But he also wants them to respond to it in a Christ honoring way. That is, we Christians have the responsibility to safeguard our own heart, to safeguard our own purity and not to be negatively influenced.
We can choose our way of reaction. We can choose joy over bitterness. We should guard our love toward Christ and toward other good believers. We should know that other believers serve the Lord out of goodwill and out of love. We need to put down our weakness and rise up again as a strong man. The important thing is to honor Christ. He is our Lord. He is good. He is the one we serve and he is faithful.
Paul has a big heart. He has a heaven-sized heart. His eyes are not set on people or things focused. His eyes are heavenly oriented. His way of thinking is not just who is right or who is wrong, nor am I being treated justly, but is it beneficial to people? Is it useful to God's kingdom?
Paul even gave them some credit in their preaching of Christ. What purity and love here. If we have this kind of simplicity and purity, life will become much easier and we will become much happier.
The transcendent joy and purity in serving the Lord is ours if we guard our heart in honoring Christ and put our hope in God, not in man.