Week 3 in our series on Paul's letter to the Philippians; "Real, Gritty Joy."
A Summary of Week 3 - "Christ is proclaimed, in that I rejoice"
Christianity exploded in the two hundred years following Christ's resurrection amidst beheadings, torture, beatings, burnings, boilings and hackings that killed thousands (see this excerpt from Foxe's Book of Martyrs). In fact, "Tertullian, who lived in this age (A.D. 192), informs us that if the Christians had collectively withdrawn themselves from the Roman territories, the empire would have been greatly depopulated" (Chapter 2 - Foxe's Book of Martyrs).
This explosion was inextricably linked to these Christians' worship of Jesus Christ. Compelled by a great love for their Savior, their lives overflowed with praise and they refused to defame him. It would seem natural to assume that all professing Christians (by definition) worship Jesus but this is not always so. Genuine worship is revealed in persecution (promised to all Christians in 2 Timothy 3:12) and Christians that worship Jesus at all times have always pierced dark and oppressive cultures. The confident joy and peace of tortured Christians has always been convincing and heartbreaking confirmation of their claims. Historically, this has been the greatest cause of rapid, widespread commitment to Christ.
Consider the climate of 1st, 2nd and 3rd century Rome and this prevailing rule "That no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion." Again according to Foxe:
"Pliny the Second, a man learned and famous, seeing the lamentable slaughter of Christians, and moved therewith to pity, wrote to Trajan [the emperor], certifying him that there were many thousands of them [Christians] daily put to death, of which none did any thing contrary to the Roman laws worthy of persecution. 'The whole account they gave of their crime or error (whichever it is to be called) amounted only to this--viz. that they were accustomed on a stated day to meet before daylight, and to repeat together a set form of prayer to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by an obligation--not indeed to commit wickedness; but, on the contrary--never to commit theft, robbery, or adultery, never to falsify their word, never to defraud any man: after which it was their custom to separate, and reassemble to partake in common of a harmless meal.'"
Yet again and again, in the midst of this mad injustice, Christian men, women and children would respond to the executioner like Polycarp at his martyrdom, when asked to renounce Christ:
"Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?"
This confounded and changed the strongest empire in the world. And it all may have started with Paul and letters like this one to the Philippians.
In Philippians 1:15-30, Paul reveals his chief passion, namely, "that Christ is proclaimed" because, "to die [was] gain." This is the true heart of a worshipper, to joyfully proclaim what he worships to all as supreme. In this message we examine how deeply this motive dominated Paul's life and should motivate every Christian. We also examine why Christians truly consumed by a desire to see Christ proclaimed are a force for good to all.
The great tragedy of our lives will never be merely that we die "in the coliseum" but that we die believing we have lost in the end. May God save us from slavery to lesser motives to preserve this life (Heb. 2:14-15) and may we be joyful and fruitful in the face of every lion.
"Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ" - free e-book by John Piper