Listen to Jim Bell from Sunday March 27th 2011
April 2nd – Notes now added:
I am both honoured and humbled to be asked to speak here today.
Honoured – because I know this marks a special moment in the history of the church here.
Humbled – because I know full well that you could have invited better men than me to speak.
I want to read from one of Paul’s Captivity Epistles. One of four letters written during Paul’s imprisonment at Rome. Lasted two years. He makes reference to this in all four “Captivity Epistles”.
- Ephesians 3:1; 6:20 (“coupling chain”).
- Philippians 1:7, 13, 14.
- Colossians 4:3, 18.
- Philemon 1, 9, 10, 13.
Ephesians. Philippians. Colossians. Philemon. Chained to a guard twenty-four hours a day. God put him to one side – confinement under God. Are there some things that can only be done under such divinely organised circumstances in our lives? Paul was confined for two years. Assume not by choice. Chained to a situation he can do nothing about. Freedom to move about, preach, influence etc taken away. The only thing he could control in that confinement was his inner attitude. God kept him in that place for reasons not obvious at the time. We are no different – we may feel “chained” to a situation we can do little or nothing about. Cannot shake it off or pretend it is not there. We may wish ourselves free of it – even pray for God to remove it. Why has God / is God allowing that? And the only thing we have a say in is our inner attitude. Guard your heart attitude during such times. But God has a much bigger task in mind for Paul. He will do something through Paul that could not be done unless he was confined for some considerable time.
Please note that this confinement had nothing to do with satan (as the hindrance which led to him writing Thessalonians). It was allowed by God. Paul could do nothing about it. He could do nothing about what was happening out side his confinement either. Except write (more accurately – dictate) and pray. That was the only means of influence open to him. So he finally got down to writing four letters which have had a massive impact on the church ever since. Even in his confinement he had a heart for others outside his own immediate situation.
Four treasures in darkness. That’s what God brought out of this situation Paul would never have chosen for himself. What can God bring out of your life and mine during those times when we are confined against our own natural choice? What treasures in darkness?
See Acts 16:11-40 for start of church. First church planted in Europe after great Crossing Moment in Acts 16:6-10. Started with a few prominent women at a riverside. You women of God here – never underestimate your influence. And don’t allow others to do so. This church was started with a few women and became one of the churches closest to Paul’s heart. They supported him financially from time to time. Timothy had been part of that developing relationship and had already visited twice. Preparing for third visit. He and Epaphroditus would carry this letter to the church for the first public reading. Timothy and Epaphroditus. Interesting men around Paul – Timothy had “frequent illnesses”. “Often” = close together, compact – used in the close planking of a ship’s deck. One after the other. So – use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. Been used for some bad jokes at times. But what is the underlying principle Paul is laying down here? No mention of healing here .. so .. if there is something you can take to help the condition you suffer from then take it. The frequent illness may lie in the realm of mental health not just in the body.
Isaiah told the king Hezekiah to apply a poultice to the boil and (you) will recover. 38:22. So what made him better? The poultice or God or both? The leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. The basis of so much modern medicine.
Epaphroditus? Was at one time full of heaviness. Used of Christ in Gethsemane. For Paul it was sorrow upon sorrow – wave after wave. Nearly died.
Paul left another friend, Trophimus, sick in Miletus.
Paul himself had a significant illness when he first visited the Galatians. “As you know it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn”. The relationship at that initial point was strong. What makes a relationship work? (John Gottman – thin slicing. No relationship will withstand contempt. When you start to hold each other in contempt you would be as well closing the doors again).
So – he writes. To “all the saints”. This word “all” occurs nine times in Paul’s personal greetings. And note the order in which he addresses the church –
- Paul AND Timothy .. servants.
- To all the saints (FIRST and before the leaders)
- Together with the overseers and deacons. (Only here in Paul’s letters).
- I pray for all of you
- I feel this way about all of you.
- All of you share in God’s grace
- I long for all of you
What about us? Look around – do you thank god for all the people here? Hmm? I thank my God for all / most / some / a few? Oh alright then … I thank God for me! I pray for all / most / some / few? He has a capacity to embrace all odds and sorts. Even you!
How is he praying for them?
Always with joy because he is so confident of this – that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Note – his confidence is not in them but in the One Who began the work in them. The work is not the building or the programme. They are the work that God is doing. You are a work in progress. What we are is incomplete. Sometimes we judge the work (i.e. us) as if we were complete. How stupid of us to judge an unfinished work by the standards of a finished work. I look at others and judge them as if they were the finished article but I want them to remember that I am not! This applies to family, church etc. Whatever judgment you make of others do remember they are – like you – a work in progress.
What is he praying for them?
That your love might abound more and more.
Why is he praying this for them?
So that you may be able to discern what is best. Discern the best way to go. The best way to handle this tricky situation. The best way to respond to that offense. The best way to deal with your family.
Not the only way – but the best way. How to make such discernment?
1. Be in agreement. The best can only be discerned in an atmosphere of love / agreement. Love discerns with tremendous accuracy. Where there is conflict it is much, much harder to discern what is best. Best done in prayer not debate or vote. This is such a key challenge for all of us. We make so many decisions based on other methods. What is the best thing to do in this situation I am facing? What is in my heart to do? Trust this. As a church you will discern what is best when the prevailing atmosphere among you is one of agreement. (Paul is a realist – he knows this is not an easy place to get to. He actually mentions two of the women in the church who were in total disagreement with one another to agree with each other in the Lord and he also asks the leader to help them because they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel).
2. Focus on the important things. In family, work, church. In his situation he knows that others are seeking to advance them selves while he if confined. Envy. Rivalry. Opportunists. Ambitious trouble makers etc. What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way … Christ is preached. 1:18. So – what is the important thing in that situation?
3. Allow your circumstances to shape your discernment. (Follow the money – Watergate. Money is speech – Syriana). In your current circumstances – what is really important? To keep family ties? To exercise “tough” love? Paul came to this conclusion during his confinement. What has happened to me (past tense) / is happening to me has really served to advance the gospel. Don’t allow understandable despair in your current state to be what you hold on to long term. You will have to work this through. Paul could not have come to the conclusions he did right away. It takes time but it is possible given time. Don’t jump to conclusions hastily. Some things become clear only after much time has passed and under pressure. Ask – what is becoming clear to me in this situation?
And his circumstances were such a mixture. He is such an unusual man – he is content whatever the circumstances. This he has learned. It is a secret.
4:12. “I know both how to run low (falling of a river in drought) and run over”. He has known both and learned in both. This is Biblical teaching about life. Any teaching that tells you can always “run over” and never “run low” is wrong.
Some of you here have been through incredibly hard times – the river has run very low. But you are still here pressing on (to use Paul’s language). That pressing on is rooted in something else Paul prayed for in another context “May God direct your hearts in to Christ’s perseverance.” 2 Thess. 3:5. That is the church of which he said “I boast about your perseverance.” Possibly first letters in NT. Arose out of Satan stopping Paul from a course he wanted to go on i.e. to visit them. So instead he was forced to write to them and for 2000 years these letters have been read all over the world. Satan would have been better letting him go to visit them!
That contentment is rooted in the strength of Another. “For all things I am strong in Him who makes me able”. It does not say you can do anything you want. It means that whether the river is high or low you will be able to deal with it. Not get carried away by one or walk away because of the other. Apply this to all areas of life. Church. Family. Health.
The Testimony of Taliesyn Jones. Mother wound the clocks up each day. She regulated time and order in that house. When she walked out her husband was a broken man. He ignored the clocks. Time no longer mattered to him. Order fell apart. Could not move on. The clock became a metaphor for the life of those in the house. Husband is consumed with anger. Starts to drink to get through the day. But never attends to the clock on the wall.
At end – he winds the clock up again. He is getting on with his life again. The time of anger and denial was over. This is the new reality. He has worked through the disorder in his life and the breakdown of order. Now he can move on. For those of you here who have been or are in such times like that (e.g. health) – there will come a time (it may be here today) when you will be able to rewind the clock again and get back into step with the order of life.
So Paul urges these people who were close to his heart to press on and to take a lead from him. (Live according to the pattern we gave you).
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 3:12 Not yet taken hold of it (the renewal of his body).
But – one thing I do (you see – focus on what is important. Discern the best)
- Forgetting what is behind
- Straining towards what is ahead
- I press on towards the goal
I am pressing towards a fixed point. The fixed point was the resurrection from the dead. I would grasp that for which Christ grasped me. Christ had seized Paul on the road to Damascus. That he might take the gospel to the Gentiles and also press on towards his personal salvation. I am stretching forward towards the mark / goal.
So – Cornerstone – what has Christ laid hold of you for? He has laid hold of you for a purpose. You are not just a random group of people who have drifted together and somehow ended up here. You were laid hold of, grasped, seized by the Risen Lord for a reason. Press on towards that. Forget what is behind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Lay it down – press on towards the prize. Keep on allowing the perseverance of Christ to be in your heart.
I am confident of this – that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.