Connecting with Christ to advance the gospel
By: Scott Grant
The gospel rises
Today we begin looking for God’s heart in the book of Philippians. Why Philippians? The Apostle Paul’s overarching concern in this letter is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although Philippians is a relatively short letter, the word “gospel” appears more here than in any of Paul’s other letters.
This year what we call “the gospel,” or “good news,” has risen to a place of prominence in my thoughts and prayers. In particular, three events have influenced me. First, in April I preached the gospel to thousands of people in Lahore, Pakistan, and hundreds of them expressed a desire to begin following Jesus. At the very same time, Osama bin Laden was conducting a conference of his own in Islamabad, Pakistan, urging that country to crack down on Western influence. Whatever power bin Laden has, it is not more powerful than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, when I returned from Pakistan, a man who I had been meeting with regularly for almost three years told me he wanted to begin following Jesus. Finally, on Sept. 11, terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In recent months, I have seen the gospel instantly convert the hundreds, and I have seen it incrementally convert the one. I have seen the power of God to change lives through the gospel. I have come to believe that the way to address the pain of the world — and if Sept. 11 proves anything it proves that the world is in pain — is through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the gospel? The gospel — and preaching, or proclaiming, the gospel— is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. To “preach the gospel” meant to announce good news of victory in war. In Isaiah 52:7-10, the news is that the Lord himself has won a great victory and has begun to reign (Isaiah 52:7-10). The Romans preached their own gospel, or good news. When a future emperor was born, when he came of age and when he ascended to the throne, the Romans would announce this “gospel.”
The New Testament writers preach “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” which is also “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mark 4:23). The New Testament gospel concerns a king, Jesus, who in his death on the cross has won a great victory over the forces of evil (Colossians 2:15) and in his ascension now reigns over all creation (Ephesians 1:20-23). This means “salvation” for those who welcome his reign and “judgment” for those who do not. The way Paul puts it in Philippians, it means that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). The Roman emperor was called “Lord” and “Savior.” The gospel of Jesus Christ relativizes all other claims to authority. It means that there’s a new king in town and his name is Jesus. The gospel that Jesus is Lord, as it is proclaimed and lived out, is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). I pray that in the coming months, we discover, employ and spread this power.
A bigger vision
Let’s dream for a minute. What do we have in this fellowship? A sizable group of young people, most of whom are followers of Jesus, who are trying to find their way in the maze of faith, relationships and career. You have some time and energy to burn. What if we all got a vision for something much, much bigger than ourselves?
For me, it wasn’t until I was a little older than most of you before I began to get a vision for something bigger than myself. (I have to say I feel like the vision is still just beginning to form.) I try not to dwell on what could have been, but on occasion I have caught myself wondering: What could have been if I had gotten that vision earlier? I wonder what would have happened then, and I wonder how much stronger the vision would be now.
What if we all started now? What if we all said, yes, we’re trying to find our way in the maze of life, but Jesus is the way — and the truth and the life? What if we all got a burning vision to carry the love of Jesus Christ to the world? What would this fellowship look like? What would this church look like? What would this community look like? What would this world look like? I don’t know, but I wonder.
I want us to approach Philippians with two prayers: 1) That the Lord would use me/us to advance the gospel. 2) Is there anything the Lord is asking me/us to do in order to advance the gospel? I expect the answers to these questions to both challenge and surprise us. Most assuredly, there is more than one way to advance the gospel.
How are we going to do this? First, I’d like you to consider incorporating these prayers into your daily prayer time. (If you don’t have a daily prayer time, consider starting one. Start by simply making a list of what you’d like to pray for, establish a regular time and place of prayer, and start praying.) Second, I’d like you to consider incorporating Philippians into your daily Bible reading time. (If you don’t have a daily Bible reading time, consider starting one.) Each day start with reading and finish with prayer. This rhythm will allow you to respond in prayer to anything that struck you from your reading. Make it your intention, both in your reading and in your praying, to meet with God and hear from him. Second, I’ll be teaching through the book most Sundays in the coming months. Third, on occasion we’ll set aside time on Sundays for you to share what’s happened in your lives as our journey progresses. We can also make this part of our weekly prayer gatherings (10:15 to 10:45 a.m. Sundays, Room A-15).
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Philippians in the early 60s of the First Century to the followers of Jesus in the Macedonian city of Philippi who were suffering because of opposition and who were experiencing unrest among themselves because of “selfish ambition.” Both the suffering and the unrest were threatening the advance of the gospel. Similarly, suffering and unrest threaten the advance of the gospel today.
The privilege of being “in”
Over the years I’ve spoken with several Stanford graduates, lovers of golf, who have one serious regret about their time at the university: They didn’t play the golf course. The golf course is not open to the public, but it is open to students, for ridiculously low rates. As students, they had access to one of the great golf courses of the world, and they didn’t take advantage of it.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are “in Christ.” We are, in a sense, residents of Christ. As residents of Christ, we have some amazing privileges. But if we are not aware of them, and don’t take advantage of them, we are like the Stanford student who loves golf but doesn’t play the golf course.
What do we need if we are to even desire to advance the gospel, let alone be effective in advancing it? Realizing what we have in Christ, and taking advantage of what we have, is where we begin. It’s where Paul also begins.
What we have in Christ
 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These people live, literally, “in” Philippi. The letter addresses the issues they face as followers of Jesus where they live. What issues do you face as a follower or potential follower of Jesus Christ? Do you know something of suffering? Does your faith community fail to live up to your expectations? Do you hope to be part of something bigger than yourself? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you too are living in Philippi, so to speak, and this letter is addressed to you.
What do you need in Philippi? One word: Christ. In the first two verses, Paul mentions Christ three times. We’re left with the impression in this letter, right out of the chute, that living in our Philippi has something to do with Christ.
We not only dwell “in Philippi” but “in Christ Jesus.” In a sense, we have dual citizenship: Philippi and Christ. Paul will later say in this letter that “our citizenship is in heaven” and leaves no question as to which is the more significant address (Philippians 4:20).
What do we have as residents of Christ that helps us as residents of Philippi? We have perspective, connection with Christ, and grace and peace.
Perspective in Christ
First, living in Christ takes us to heaven, gives us heaven’s perspective on the earthly grind and therefore opens up for us a whole new world right here in Philippi. Through the scriptures, prayer and openness to God, we seek to evaluate everything that we do, think and feel, and everything that happens to us, in light of God’s perspective. I hope this letter opens up for you a new way of looking at things and creates a desire to live in a new way that involves living for the gospel. I hope it opens up for you a whole new world right here in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale or wherever.
Have you ever looked at one of those three-dimensional posters that appears to be simply a random collection of colored dots? If you look at it in just the right way, a beautiful scene emerges. The dots are actually carefully arranged to reveal a whole new world to those with eyes to see. Living in Christ gives us eyes to see the place in which we live as filled with possibilities for amazing adventures that feature the gospel.
Relationship in Christ
Second, living in Christ enables us to have a relationship Christ. For three months this summer, when I was on sabbatical, I woke up each morning with no urgent agenda. There was no job to go to — only books to read, sights to see and a wife to share them with. I had no idea what this would do for me. Thoughts, feelings and memories rose repeatedly and forcefully from within me like steam from a geyser. Dreams from the previous night would linger with me throughout the day. I wrote furiously, trying to figure out what everything meant. I came to the conclusion rather quickly that there was no way I could assign meaning to each experience. Everything was happening so fast. One thought would trigger another, and that thought would trigger another thought. It was quite overwhelming. Based on what happened to me this summer, I can say this: There’s a lot of stuff inside me, stuff I didn’t know was there. There has to be a lot more stuff I don’t know about. What is it? In a word, I’d call it passion.
There’s a lot of passion inside you, much of which you don’t know about yet. If you linger with your heart for a while, you’ll feel some of it. How did it get there, and what are you supposed to do with it? Passion seeks passion. Whatever you’re passionate about, be it sports, literature, computers or ministry, you love sharing your experiences with others who are passionate about the same thing. God created us with particular passions. And he has become one of us that we might relate with him on the most intimate terms. God created us with particular passions that we might share them with Jesus Christ, God the human. Our passions are the calling card of Jesus. If you have given your life to Jesus, you are “in Christ.” You are connected to Christ. He’s easy to find. Share your passion with him.
You might discover that one of your passions is the gospel. Once you start sharing your passions with Jesus, he shares his passions with you. His passions begin to rub off on you. If he is passionate about anything, he is passionate about people, and the way people are helped is through the gospel. Paul became passionate about the gospel because Jesus himself is passionate about the gospel. May we become similarly passionate, not because we are ordering ourselves to be passionate but because something irrepressible has risen within us as a result of our connection with Christ.
Grace and peace in Christ
Third, living in Christ means we receive grace and peace from him and the Father. Grace is unmerited favor from God extended to us in his gift of Christ. Peace, or human wholeness, results from grace. Peace (Hebrew: shalom) is what Israelites were looking for when God would get together with them again. He gets together with us through his grace, the gift of Christ.
In the Philippis of this world, grace and peace can be hard to find. We are more aquatinted with harshness and brokenness. Therefore, we really don’t believe we can receive something without having worked for it; otherwise we’d be very happy to receive a gift without feeling obligated. We really don’t believe that there’s a place that can heal our wounds and make us whole; otherwise we wouldn’t be working so hard to heal ourselves. It comes as a shock to the system that grace and peace can be found at all; that’s why it’s so hard to receive them. We project our experiences with humans onto God. But grace and peace can be found — sometimes in Philippi, all the time in Christ. God at this moment is extending you grace that will give you peace. He is greeting you with grace and peace, his favor and wholeness.
Henri Nouwen writes of his struggle to receive the grace of God in trying to understand that God’s words, “You are my beloved son,” are addressed to him:
“My tendencies toward self-rejection and self-depreciation make it hard to hear these words truly and let them descend into the center of my heart. But once I have received these words fully, I am set free from my compulsion to prove myself to the world and can live in it without belonging to it. Once I have accepted the truth that I am God’s beloved child, unconditionally loved, I can be sent into the world to speak and act as Jesus did.
“The greatest spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world — free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless; free also to receive love from people and to be grateful for all the signs of God’s presence in the world. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”1
This is what grace and peace can do for us if we will accept them as gifts from God.
And so we begin
So we begin with what we have in Christ: perspective, relationship, and grace and peace. That’s not all we have, but it’s enough to get us started. If we appreciate and employ what has been given to us through out connection with Christ, the desire to see his gospel advanced will rise within us.
SCG / 10-14-01
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, “Beyond the mirror,” © 1990 by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Crossroad Publishing, New York, New York. P. 57-58.
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