Join Pastor Ray Viola for a deep word on motives and the Sovereignty of God. Why do we serve Jesus? Is it for recognition or the fame of the Lord? The way we are noticed or unnoticed is a great indicator. God’s refinement has a way of showing us our hearts, may all that is seen be for the glory of HIS great Name!
Our precious Lord Jesus Christ said: If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:34, 35)
Now that’s a way to get a following, isn’t it? The way to find life is by dying to self and living for Jesus Christ. We will see this morning, Lord willing, that it is possible for someone to experience real life in Jesus while at the same time be living in not the most comfortable conditions or situations.
In our texts this week, we find Paul was in circumstances in which we could not fault him for being unhappy. He is incarcerated for his faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. By now he was over 60, and this life of persecution and imprisonment has been going on for around 30 years. Paul is at a time in life when a man looks forward to enjoying the fruits of his lifelong labors.
Many American pastors by this time are looking forward to a relaxed schedule, a little more golf. If you’re as successful in ministry as Paul was, you could expect to live off your book sales and speak at a lot of conferences and retreats.
But where was Paul? Instead of being out on the links or speaking under the pines at a retreat center, he was in prison in Rome, awaiting a trial that could result in his execution. He was not in the strictest confinement, in a dungeon (as he later was). He was in his own rented quarters, and his friends were allowed to visit him (Acts 28:30, 31). But he was chained to a Roman guard 24 hours of every day. Listen to his perspective beloved….it is real…it is challenging….it is as Watchmen Nee wrote, the Normal Christian Life.
- 12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
Furtherance: Paul’s confidence in the sovereign hand of God upon his life allowed him to see his imprisonment as a strategic way to advance the kingdom of God because it was actually clearing the way for the gospel of Jesus Christ to penetrate the ranks of the Roman military.
Paul was bound, but the word of God was not bound.
- I suffer trouble as an evil-doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound, 2Ti 2:9
Another way that the gospel was furthered by Paul’s imprisonment was his prison epistles Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and this letter to the Philippians were the fruit of this time in Paul’s life. We are impacted today, nearly 2,000 years later!
Paul’s plan and desire was to go to Rome and preach the gospel….I am certain that sitting in a prison cell was not the way he expected God to answer his prayers.
Submission to the will of God prevents the devil from getting hold of our thoughts and attitudes. It’s amazing that Paul does not speak a word of complaint about his situation. He’s not asking, “Why is this happening to me? I’ve served God faithfully all these years! I’ve always sought to do His will. Why this?” He yields because he knows that God is The Potter and he is the clay.
Rosemary Gallatin once said “in the Christian life, it is only hard when you kick against the goads.”
A.V. Simpson writes: Paul was disciplined in the sturdy conflict of adversity and suffering.
- 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;
The word palace here is a reference to the Praetorian Guard, which was composed of the soldiers in the imperial regiments whose barracks were at Rome. They would be equivalent to our Navy Seals or Army Rangers. As the different soldiers took turns guarding Paul, they would hear the gospel.
Paul thus turns a distressing, abrasive, personal humiliation into an opportunity to share Christ and as a means of glorifying Christ and furthering His kingdom.
- 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Please note here saints that whenever we exercise faith, it has the potential to embolden other saints to serve Jesus without fear. There is another thing that is contagious and that is fear and unbelief. How we need the same spirit of Joshua and Caleb instead of the unbelief of the 10 spies.
Although he acknowledges that he was in prison, not once does Paul call himself the prisoner of Rome; he was the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:1; 4:1). The soldiers chained to his wrist were not nasty, Emperor worshipping, trained to kill individuals; they were lost souls for whom Christ died. They were the harvest field that God planted him in.
Whether they knew it or not, Paul was determined to preach the gospel to them. Whether they liked it not, Paul was going to preach the gospel to them. I mean, other than kill him, what else could they do to him?
- 15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16 The one preach Christ of contention (selfish ambition), not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.
Those preaching from envy and strife were not heretics, as was the case in Gal 1.6-10 and 2 Cor 11.4, 13-15. These individuals were apparently Christian pastors in Rome whose doctrine was correct, but whose hearts and motives were wrong. They were jealous of Paul and selfishly ambitious to promote their own ministries. But, at least the message they preached was the true gospel. Paul would never rejoice at the preaching of false doctrine concerning something as crucial as the gospel.
Envy says, “I don’t think much of you”. Strife stirs up that bad attitude and sows division and dissension amongst believers. Envy and strife are more dangerous to the spiritual health of any church than drugs and alcohol.
The Greek word for contention, which can also be translated selfish ambition, was used of politicians who canvassed the multitudes to build a personal following. Oh precious flock of God, let us beware of falling into the “Corinthian” pit of I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter spirit. Jesus said Follow Me…beloved, I love you dearly and pray for you daily, but my exhortation to you is to follow Jesus. May Jesus increase and Ray Viola decrease.
Fortunately, others preached Christ with good motives. They thought well of Paul and of the gospel message and were dedicated to serving God faithfully, regardless of who got the credit as long as Jesus got the glory!
Lets take a few minutes to address the topic of motives in serving The Lord. What is motive? The word motive refers to that something or someone which moves a person to take a course of action. It is that something or someone which drives them to do what they do.
Because God knows the thoughts and intents of the heart, Scripture is full of verses that admonish us to make sure that our motivation for doing what we do is right in His sight because we can fool one another, we can even try to fool ourselves, but we cannot fool The Living God. .
- 1 Cor 3. 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
The only acceptable motive for serving The Lord is agape love. As I mentioned last week, before Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His sheep, He first asked him the most important question…”Do you love Me?”
Paul said, The love of Christ constrains me 2 Cor 5.14. 1 Cor 13 clearly reveals that a person, a church can have great faith, be very giving, extremely charismatic and even give their lives up as martyrs and still lack the motivation of love for Jesus Christ. In Rev 2.1-5, we see the church at Ephesus doing many great things, but lacking the most important thing. The motive of love for Jesus Christ and love for others.
- 18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
Paul rejoiced because he knew that God is bigger than frauds and charlatans and wrong motives. He rejoiced in the fact Jesus Christ was being proclaimed and nothing could stop the power of the gospel to seek and save those who were dead in trespasses and sins.
In the providence of God, and because of God’s great love for lost sinners, many have come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that was proclaimed by a hypocrite who may have presented the gospel in what you and I may call a strange or unorthodox way.
I truly believe that God loves us so much that He heals, saves and delivers a sincere seeker in spite of the wrong motives of the preacher or pastor. Like in Luke 15, Paul rejoiced in the fact that people were hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, being convicted by God The Holy Ghost and coming to know Jesus in a very real way.
It is The Holy Spirit that convicts a person and regenerates their souls when the gospel is preached, regardless of the motives of the instrument that is delivering the message.
Paul’s circumstances were enough to make any man unhappy, and yet we find him abounding with joy (1:18). May be many of you are here this morning living in circumstances that you never thought would happen. What was his secret? How could Paul be filled with joy in these dismal circumstances? The answer is, he had put into practice the words of Jesus, that the way to find true life is to lose your life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel.
Paul’s theology caused him to recognize and rest in the providence of God. Some of you, like Paul, are in situations you never planned to be in. He planned to go to Rome, but not in chains! Maybe you’re in a confining situation where you feel bound by chains. It may be a difficult marriage that you didn’t plan on. Maybe you’re chained to a house full of kids. It may be a family problem. It could be a boring or a difficult job or the lack of a job. It could be a personal problem over which you have no control–a health problem or a situation that you’ve been thrust into with no choice on your part.
What should you do? Like Paul, interpret your chains as an opportunity to the greatness and majesty of Jesus Christ. Peter speaks of the fiery trials of our precious faith in 1 Pet 1.7. After all of the unjust and cruel things that happened to him, I think of Joseph’s perspective regarding his fiery trial.
- Gen 50.20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. This is the OT version of Romans 8.28
- And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
The gospel is not, “If you’re having some problems in your life, invite Jesus into your heart and He will help you work out your problems.” Nor is the gospel, “If you’d like a happier life, try Jesus.” Those are unbiblical concepts that trivialize our most desperate need.
We are all sinners by nature and by choice. Sin is rebellion against a holy God. Sin separates man from God. For the debt of our sin to be forgiven, an innocent, sinless sacrifice is necessary. Until that sin is paid for, a person is living under the wrath of Almighty God (John 3.36), and if he or she dies in this condition, he will spend eternity in hell, under the just condemnation of God.
The bad news is that none of us can do a single thing to change our condition before God. All of the good deeds cannot take away our sin. All of my religion and ritual cannot take away our sin. The solution? God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Jesus Christ, the sinless, Only Begotten Son of God, met the requirement of God’s Law in His perfect obedience to the Father. He went to the cross as the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). On the third day, Jesus bodily arose from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and hell.
God offers to every person a full pardon from sin and total reconciliation to Himself based on what Jesus Christ did on the cross. The only way to receive this full pardon of sin and divine deliverance from God’s judgment is to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8, 9).
The gospel is not a guarantee of a pain-free, problem-free life. The gospel is not a promise of perfect health and abundant wealth. The gospel is the promise of forgiveness of sin. The gospel is the promise of deliverance from the power of darkness. The gospel is the promise that no matter what adversities or sorrows you experience in this life, Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. The gospel is the promise of life everlasting in heaven with Jesus Christ.