A Different Way of Seeing (Sermon)
1 out of every 12 men and 1 out of every 200 women are colorblind. That means roughly 300 million people have trouble seeing color correctly. A few years ago, a product was developed to assist in laser surgery. It was a pair of specially coated glasses which would allow the surgeon to see the laser more clearly. The maker of the product soon discovered that the glasses could also help some colorblind people see colors they couldn’t see before.
I don’t know if you’ve watched one of the viral videos of colorblind people putting the glasses on, but they’re remarkable. The joy and amazement on their faces as they perceive the brilliance of the world for the first time is enough to bring tears to your eyes. My favorite one is of an older man, big and strong, who looks like a former football player. He puts the glasses on and looks around, then he takes them off and looks around. He does it a couple times, amazed and overwhelmed at what he sees. His lip starts to quiver as he’s overcome with emotion. He stands there crying, slowly pumping his fists in excitement.
Imagine seeing the world differently than you’ve seen it your entire life. You look at the same yard, the same sky, and the same people, but you see them like you’ve never seen them before. How would you not be overcome with emotion? How would you not be overwhelmed with gratitude?
Christians should see the world in a different way. Because of what Jesus has done in us, through us, and for us, we should look at the same old things, but see them like we’ve never seen them before. What others cannot see should be clear to us. The Gospel, like a special pair of glasses, reveals overwhelming and stunning details we never knew existed.
As we continue our study of Philippians, we find the apostle Paul transitioning from recounting his prayer for the Philippians to filling them in on his own situation. He knew they were concerned about him, and he wanted to give them an update. His update is surprising and unexpected. It’s probably not what they anticipated. The update he gives reveals how he sees the world. The way he looks at life is different than those around him. His view is shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, the gospel should cause us to see the circumstances of life differently. As those who’ve been united to Jesus Christ through faith, we have a different way of seeing, and this different way of seeing leads to remarkable outcomes. Paul’s example in these verses is instructive for us. He’s faced with two obstacles, but his outlook on life—shaped by the Gospel—produces three unexpected outcomes.
Two Obstacles: Injustice and Insult
This letter is written from prison. What had Paul done to deserve imprisonment? Did he steal from the government? Did he kill someone in a fit of rage? Did he litter? What had he done? He’d told people about Jesus. That’s it. That was his crime. Look at verse 13: “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” He’s in prison because he was vocal about what Jesus had done.
This happened to Paul often. He was thrown into prison for talking about Jesus. We can’t pinpoint which prison stay he’s referring to here, but most believe it was when he was transported to Rome to stand trial before the Roman Emperor.
Did Paul deserve to be thrown in prison? No, not only was it ethically wrong for him to be thrown in prison—he had not harmed anyone—but it was against Roman law as well. He should not have been imprisoned. He was a Roman citizen, who had not been found guilty of breaking the law. His imprisonment was unjust. And His unjust imprisonment was preventing him from visiting new cities to spread the Gospel. Paul was ambitious to take the gospel to new places, but here he is stuck in one place, confined to prison, and chained to a Roman soldier.
Brothers and sisters, we may find ourselves facing injustice. Christians in China are dealing with it right now, as more than 5,500 churches in China were attacked or closed down by the government this past year.[i] In Beijing, where we have friends and co-workers, 1,147 Christians were jailed or detained without charges over the past 12 months.[ii] What did these Christians do to deserve punishment? Nothing. They were good citizens, who invested in their communities and cared for their neighbors. They’re victims of injustice.
We’re not in the same situation, but it doesn’t take a magic 8-ball to see that it’s coming. As the sexual revolution conquers more territory, those who believe the Bible and choose to obey God will watch as government authorities wield their power to harm and hinder gospel work and gospel workers. We follow a Savior who suffered the greatest injustice, and we stand in a long line of men and women who have also suffered unjustly.
The first obstacle for Paul is injustice, and the second is: Insult. Apparently some people, possibly Christians, saw Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity. It was an opportunity to damage Paul’s reputation while increasing their own. They thought that if they preached the gospel and people responded, they could steal some of Paul’s followers. I want to read a paraphrase of verses 15–17. I think it helps us understand what was happening.
(Philippians 1:15-17 MSG) “It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.”
Some people were wielding the gospel as a weapon to harm Paul. They were trying to make his imprisonment worse.
It’s hard to understand exactly how they thought preaching the gospel would harm Paul, but that’s what they thought. It’s interesting that they didn’t change the gospel message, they just preached it with the wrong motive. If they had altered the message in any way, Paul would have condemned them, like he did in Galatians:
“If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9b ESV).
So they were preaching the correct message, but with corrupt motives.
We see the cleverness, the ugliness, and the impotence of demonic strategy. It’s clever—convincing people, probably Christians, to use Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to gather followers. It’s ugly—attempting to hurt a man who’s already been unjustly imprisoned. And it’s impotent—there’s no real weapon the enemy has which can stop what God is doing. He tries to use the gospel against Paul, but it backfires, as we’ll see in a moment.
Paul longs to take the gospel to new places and reach new people, but he’s facing these two obstacles: injustice and insult. If you were in his position, how would you respond? Would you be frustrated and disappointed? Overwhelmed and crushed? Ready to give up and give in? The apostle Paul doesn’t respond with anger or despair, and we see the reason why in verse 12.
One Outlook: The Advance of the Gospel
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12 ESV).
He saw the world through gospel glasses. He saw everything in his life, even obstacles like prison and persecution, soldiers and slander, as opportunities for the gospel to advance. Nothing he faced could keep the gospel from moving forward.
I love verse 12. Paul starts it with a phrase that’s designed to make us focus. He’s like a coach saying, “Listen up,” a parent saying, “Look at me,” or a teacher saying, “Pay attention, this will be on the test.” He wants us to know something specific and important. He says, “I want you to know.” Know what? Everything that’s happened to him, including the bad things, provides him with opportunities to advance the gospel. No obstacle you face can hinder the forward progress of God’s saving grace. Not one. Are you listening? Do you believe it?
Maybe one reason the Lord allowed Paul to face so many difficult situations—beatings, stonings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, snakebite, and on and on, is so that when he says this, we realize he knows what he’s talking about. We can’t say, “Well, Paul, you’ve always had it easy. You don’t know what it’s like to suffer.” Yes, he does. And he can still say that all things provide opportunities for the gospel to advance.
If the only thing he said about this topic was verse 12, it would be enough. If he didn’t go on to explain his situation but simply said, “What has happened to me has advanced the gospel,” it would be sufficient. Because he would say this about everything he encountered. What he says is true for all Christians in all situations at all times. Everything God allows in your life can serve to advance the gospel. From the small things—delays and detours—to the large things—diagnosis and death—everything can and should serve to advance the gospel.
When the apostle Paul stood before a group of pagan philosophers in Athens, he said something to them that’s relevant here. He said:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26–27a ESV).
Even the boundaries of nations and the length of their rule is intended to point people toward God.
So, the injustice and insult Paul faced were not obstacles to the advancement of the gospel. They were opportunities. Where did Paul get the crazy idea that the gospel can advance through injustice and insult?
Maybe it was when he read the story of Joseph as a little kid. Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, was sold into slavery by his brothers. He was then falsely accused of rape by a powerful woman and thrown into prison. After helping another powerful prisoner get release, he was forgotten and left to languish in prison. But God used all of this to promote him to second in command in Egypt in order to deliver his family from famine and death. God took injustice and insult in the life of Joseph and made them instruments of His deliverance.
Or maybe it was what happened to Stephen. Paul witnessed the stoning of Stephen at the hands of Israel’s religious leaders. He heard Stephen preach the gospel and forgive those who took his life. And Paul knew personally how powerful Stephen’s testimony was, since God used it to bring many, including Paul, to faith in Jesus.
It might have been Paul’s own experience in Philippi. When Paul first visited the city, he rescued a demon-possessed girl, and her owners were angry. They complained to the authorities, who had Paul arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison. While in prison, Paul and his companion, Silas, praised God. God brought an earthquake on the city, which opened the prison doors. The jailor, realizing his prisoners could escape, was going to take his own life. But Paul stopped him, shared the gospel with him, and saw the jailor with his entire family repent and receive salvation.
While these may have been on Paul’s mind, I’m sure he was also thinking about Jesus. Can the gospel advance through injustice and insult? Of course. The gospel was born out of injustice and insult. Jesus, perfectly righteous and innocent of any wrongdoing, was arrested, beaten, mocked, and then executed. He suffered the greatest injustice in human history. He was insulted by those He created. But He triumphed over injustice by rising from the dead, and so we know, without a doubt, that nothing can hinder the advance of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, do you see your life through the lens of gospel advancement? I think most of us do at times, but struggle at other times. Instead of wearing gospel glasses, we wear transition lenses. Are you familiar with transition lenses? They’re designed to be clear when you’re inside, but then to darken and serve as sunglasses when you step out into the sunshine. I think we do the same with the gospel. In certain situations—church on Sunday and small group on Wednesday—we have our gospel lenses on. But then Monday comes, and we transition back to our normal way of seeing the world.
We need to see everything, everything through gospel lenses. Listen to these wise words from D.A. Carson: “Paul’s example is impressive and clear: Put the advance of the gospel at the center of your aspirations. Our own comfort, our bruised feelings, our reputations, our misunderstood motives—all of these are insignificant in comparison with the advance and splendor of the gospel. As Christians, we are called upon to put the advance of the gospel at the very center of our aspirations.
What are your aspirations? To make money? To get married? To travel? To see your grandchildren grow up? To find a new job? To retire early? None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.”[iii]
Do you see everything in your life this way? I don’t. But I want to. The reason I don’t is because the advance of the gospel is often pushed to the edges of my life. Instead of being the center of my aspirations, it drops down the list a little way. When that happens, when something else takes higher priority, then I’ll struggle to see obstacles as opportunities for the gospel to advance.
Let me give you one example: Too often comfort replaces gospel advancement as my central aspiration, my chief goal. When that happens, I grumble and complain at what seem like inconveniences instead of seeing how they might serve to advance the gospel. For instance, when the air-conditioning doesn’t work at FVMS. I don’t like it. It threatens my comfort. But is God not sovereign over air-conditioning units? Could there not be opportunities for gospel advancement through them not working? I think so. In fact, I don’t think we would have partnered with Fuquay Baptist all summer if the A/C worked here. And partnering with them gave us some new and unique opportunities to share the gospel.
Do you understand how radical it would be to live this way? Paul is in chains, and he says his chains help the gospel advance. How do you see chains as freeing? How do you see prison as liberating? You look at everything through gospel glasses.
If you feel chained to your desk at work, try asking God to show you how your job can help the gospel advance right there.
If you feel imprisoned by a number of little ones at home, ask God to show you how the gospel can advance in your home and with those around you.
If anything in your life feels like a dead-end, ask God to help you see a path forward for the gospel.
This outlook on life changes everything. And we see it here in Paul’s example. He faced two obstacles: injustice and insult. He did so with one outlook: everything in life can serve the advance of the gospel. What happens when you add this one outlook to these two obstacles?
Three Outcomes: Boldness, Love, and Joy
Here’s one reason this passage is amazing. It recounts how Paul was unjustly imprisoned and cruelly insulted, but it’s not a depressing or discouraging account. It’s a victorious account. When you add the right outlook, the formula changes completely.
The first outcome—boldness—is mentioned in verse 14.
“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14 ESV).
Because of Paul’s example, others were sharing the gospel boldly. In fact, these normally fearful Christians are described three ways: confident, bold, and fearless. Even though they had many reasons to be afraid—Paul was, after all in prison for preaching Christ—they weren’t fearful. They were bold. So bold that the gospel was spreading throughout the Imperial Guard.
Paul, as part of his imprisonment, was chained to a soldier each day. Instead of seeing his chains as limiting his freedom, Paul saw his chains as giving him a captive audience. He shared the gospel with the guards, and his example inspired other Christians to share the gospel as well.
When you’re confronted with difficulty and you don’t shrink back, but instead see it as a gospel opportunity, you inspire others to be bold. This is why we do member’s moments each Sunday, and most of them are stories of our members sharing the gospel. Hearing about others gives us boldness to share as well.
I remember Jackie telling us about trying to sell something on Craigslist around Christmastime. When she met the buyer, she realized the woman was poor and was trying to buy her children Christmas presents. So Jackie gave it to her, and God gave Jackie an opportunity to tell the woman about Jesus.
I’ve been encouraged by Dayna's strategic grocery shopping—going to the same store on the same day at the same time to cultivate a relationship with the store employees. From this, God has given her open doors to share and show the love of Jesus to a Jewish worker who Dayna has befriended.
Jesse regularly encourages me to look for gospel opportunities as he shares open doors God has given him in his neighborhood. Just last week, he introduced himself to a neighbor who recently immigrated from Ghana. She had just been shunned by the Jehovah Witnesses for asking too many questions and questioning their teaching. God brought Jesse at just the right time.
Are you looking for opportunities to advance the gospel? If Paul could find them in prison, then you can find them too. Do you realize this is why people are moving into your neighborhood? Why new students are joining your class? Why that obnoxious person at work was added to your department? It wouldn’t surprise me if that new person in your orbit had a mother or grandmother praying for them to meet a Christian and hear the gospel.
We need to see everything through gospel glasses. Did you know the kids here at church are learning about unreached people groups each week? We want to train them to see the desperate need for gospel advancement. The more we look at the world this way, the more fearless we’ll become.
The second outcome—love—is seen in verses 15–16.
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:15–16 ESV).
Watching Paul’s bold suffering for Christ caused some of the Christians to grow in love for him. Their hearts were moved by his suffering. This is one effect of suffering. God uses our suffering in the lives of others—when they see us suffer and suffer well—it wakes them from slumber and deepens their affection not only for us, but for Christ and for other people.
When you’re in a season of suffering, you’ll be tempted to hide. You’ll not want to come to church, but instead stay isolated. You’ll get sick of people asking you how you’re doing and telling you they’re praying for you. Don’t hide. Your presence and perseverance impact people. When others see the gospel shaping and sustaining you during times of suffering, their affection for you and Jesus grow. Someone mentioned to me this week how watching Jason and Demi go through their lengthy and difficult trial has encouraged them to greater faithfulness. God can use your suffering to encourage others.
Paul mentions the third outcome—joy—as he wraps up his report in verse 18.
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 ESV).
Sitting in prison, chained to a guard, hearing reports of people trying to harm him and his ministry, yet still rejoicing. Had I been in his situation, the most I would’ve hoped for would be acceptance. But he found joy.
What does it mean to find joy in difficult circumstances? It doesn’t mean you wake up singing the opening bars to the musical Oklahoma. “Oh what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day, I've got a wonderful feeling, Everything's going my way.” Everything is not always going our way. We’ve seen this a number of times already in Philippians, and we’ll keep seeing it. Joy is not an emotional response to our circumstances. So what is joy? I like this definition: “[Joy] is not the self-satisfied delight that everything is going our way, but the settled peace that arises from making the gospel the focus of life and from understanding that God is able to advance the gospel under the most difficult circumstances.”
I was listening to a podcast recently that told about a study of Olympic athletes. This study discovered that bronze medal winners are much happier than those who win silver. Why is that? Those who win silver can’t seem to get over not winning gold—-they focus on what they don’t have. Those who win bronze realize how close they were to not getting a medal at all—they focus on what they do have.
Joy comes from focusing on what we do have in every situation. We have Jesus. We have the Gospel, and Jesus is using our circumstances, no matter how rotten, to make a path for the gospel to advance. Even circumstances that look like impediments to the gospel can fuel the progress of the gospel. If you look at the world this way, you can rejoice at all times because when something unexpected, even unwelcome happens, you can say, “Ok, Lord, how can the gospel advance here?”
John Bunyan was an English preacher during the mid-1600’s. During his ministry, a law was passed which made preaching illegal unless you were part of the Anglican church. Bunyan was not, but he kept on preaching anyway. As a result, he was thrown in jail. But jail didn’t stop him from preaching. He kept preaching, and people began to come and listen outside the window to his cell.
The authorities told him he would be released if he would stop preaching, but he refused. He told them that if they released him, he would preach the next day. Because of the crowds that showed up to hear him, his jailers relocated him to an inner cell of the jail. At this point, Bunyan’s ministry appeared to be over. No longer able to preach, he was stuck.
But no jail can stop the gospel. In that inner jail cell, Bunyan picked up a pen and began to write. He wrote a book that for centuries was printed and purchased more than any other book beside the Bible. His book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, has been used by God to save and minister to millions.
No obstacle can hinder the advance of the gospel. I think we believe it…in general. But it’s harder to believe in our own circumstances. Be encouraged and find courage to share the gospel, brothers and sisters. Put on your gospel glasses each day, and see the world differently. Look for opportunities to advance the gospel in your home and neighborhood, in our city and around the world.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2020.
[i] Jayson Casper, “The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian” Christianity Today, January 15, 2020, accessed at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/january/top-christian-persecution-open-doors-2020-world-watch-list.html on 1/16/20.
[iii] D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), 23; quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon: The Fellowship of the Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 51—52.