Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 10-8-23 “A Message to Practice” 

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Philippians 3:4-14

The letter Paul wrote to our sisters and brothers in Philippi is known as the letter of joy. In this four chapters letter, the word joy is used by Paul five times and the verb rejoice is used nine times. What is interesting is that this letter was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison. We do not know exactly where, most likely in Rome; but he was in prison. And not only was he in prison, but his life was also in danger. He did not know if he was going to be released; Paul probably was facing death penalty. Paul’s reality at that moment reflected more pity than joy, yet what does Paul do -besides writing- while he is in prison? He rejoices.  

Why is Paul rejoicing? His joy is the result of a change of values, the principles governing his life now are different than those that governed his life before following Jesus. Before following Jesus, his confidence was in the “flesh.” Meaning who he was and all he had accomplished. He was “circumcised on the eighth day; of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” That pedigree was enough to make any Jew proud and satisfied, consequently, joyful. However, -Paul continues because everything Jesus did in his life-, whatever were gains to him, he now considers loss for the sake of Christ.  

After Paul came to Jesus, he had a transvaluation, a re-interpretation of his values and principles. Before his encounter with Jesus, he and the law were the center of his life, now is the faith in Jesus and his message of grace and inclusion. For any Pharisee to be in prison it was a reason to feel ashamed. For any person called to preach the gospel to the whole world to be in prison could had been considered a failure. However, for Paul what looks like a failure contributes to the fulfillment of his calling as a minister to the Gentiles. Prison is not a failure; prison is not something to be ashamed of, because in prison he was able to communicate the gospel to the whole palace guards -who were gentiles- and because of his imprisonment other brothers and sisters became more confident and proclaim even more the gospel without fear. As he describes in Chapter 1 verse 12-14. Because of this re-interpretation of all his values, Paul now values as good everything that serves the advance of the gospel, even his imprisonment and chains.

Before his encounter with Jesus, he was putting Christians in chains for preaching the message of Jesus; before his encounter with Jesus, Paul the successful and devout pharisee spent all his time, strength and resources persecuting Christians. When he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he had already re-examined his old principles and values and now what we see is not a proud Pharisee, but a servant who spends all his time and resources not persecuting Christians -as before- but pursuing Christ; we see a disciple who wants to know Christ -his master- and the power of his resurrection. Now Paul even wants to participate in Jesus’ sufferings and even become like him in his death, so, he can attain the resurrection from the dead.

What a change! From Saul in Acts 9:1, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples to Paul in Philippians, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus. Only Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit can make those radical changes in our lives.    

Considering this text, we may reflect on our own values. Are they the same as when we did not know Jesus? Who or what should be at the center of our values and principles? What should we value most as individuals and as a church? Paul can help us to answer those questions and to reflect on our personal and community values.

Philippians 3:4 helps with the question, are our values the same as when we did not know Jesus? Paul says, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Here he is remembering the old Paul. In Galatians 6:14, the same Apostle Paul says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” What a change, before Jesus his confidence was in the “flesh” after Jesus, his confidence is on the cross. How can we explain this change?  To answer that, we must go to our second question, Who or what is at the center of our life and values? Galatians 2:20 gives the answer, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul, who he was and what he had are not the center of his life anymore, Jesus and his cross, Jesus and his sacrifice are.

To answer the third question, what do we value most as individuals and as church? We can go again to Philippians 1:12, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.” And verse 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 values more prison and chains than freedom because it is through prison and chains that the gospel is advancing, and it is because of his imprisonment that others are preaching the gospel without fear.  

What a great lesson Paul is sharing with us. He is now inviting us all to re-examine our values. What are those values he is asking us to re-examine? Christian principles or values refer to those values derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Love is the main principle or value Jesus taught. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This means, we must surrender ourselves completely to God and obey his commandments. That is what Paul, and many other men and women did.

And in Matthew 22:39 he says, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself” To love our neighbor means to practice acts of kindness with others out of the desire of pleasing God who loves us all. Paul in Philippians 1: 23-24 says “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” He wants to be with his Lord and Savior, but because of the love and commitment with Jesus’s people he wants to remain in the body. 

Who or what is the center of our lives and values? What or who drives our lives? Paul leaves no room for doubt. Jesus and his message must be. Ever since he had the encounter with Jesus, he considered himself servant of Jesus. That is the title he used to begin all his letters.

What do we value most as individuals and as church? As individuals we value our comfort very much, we value our freedom, we value our plans, we value our civil rights, we value the amendments of the constitution even though by practicing them we harm other people. Paul would tell us today, all those rights, comfort and plans; all those amendments are great. However, if they do not help us to advance the gospel they must be considered as garbage. If they do not help us love God and our neighbor, we must consider them loss for the sake of Christ. As church, what do we value? We may value our building or our heritage as Saul, “Hebrew of Hebrews, from the tribe of Benjamin.” However, the only thing we must value as the Church of Jesus Christ is our mission. Mission given by Jesus in Mathhew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Everything we have and all who we are must be used to do as Jesus commanded us. 

Listen once again to Paul in Colossians 1:24-25, confirming what Jesus said, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking regarding Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” May God help us to re-examine our values and to put Jesus and his commandment, Jesus, and his church at the center of our lives and ministry. God bless you all.   

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