Many years ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Israel. As a student in Anglo-Chinese Secondary School, I studied Bible Knowledge as one of my O level subjects. And as part of an educational tour organised by the school, I went to Israel/Egypt/Turkey. One of the places we went to was the Dead Sea. Why is it called the Dead Sea? Well, because no life can survive the salinity of the waters. It is so saline that you can literally float on the water without needing to even tread water. You sometimes can spot dead fish along the shores caked with salt.
Upstream of the Dead Sea is another body of water. The Sea of Galilee. And the contrast could not be greater. The Sea of Galilee teems with life. Fishermen can be spotted along its banks. The interesting thing is both the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee share the same source: the River Jordan. But what’s the difference between the two places? The Sea of Galilee has both inlets and outlets whereas the Dead Sea has only an inlet with not outlet. What’s true in the physical world is true in the spiritual world as well. If we only take and take and never learn to give, we will end up dying spiritually. Spiritual growth and life takes place in the context of receiving from God and passing it on. Evangelism. Discipleship. Where your Christianity comes to life, where your spiritual life really begins to grow and develop, is when you not only receive of God’s love but you learn to pass it on. [Receive, pass it on. Receive, pass it on. Evangelism. Discipleship. Evangelism. Discipleship.]
We will see this principle at play in the apostle Paul’s life, in our passage of Scripture for this evening. Philippians 1:12-30.
Some background to the apostle Paul’s letter to the church of Philippi. First of all, it is known as one of Paul’s prison letters; it was written while he was in jail for preaching the gospel. The second noteworthy thing is that one of the key words and ideas in this letter is joy, J-O-Y, joy. Can you see the seeming paradox? Prison. Joy. What? Was the apostle Paul a masochist? Did he enjoy suffering? No. But what he found great joy in was the opportunity to be a witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and subsequently other believers taking courage to share the gospel because of Paul’s example.
You read this in Philippians 1:12-14 “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 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.”
The consuming passion of Paul’s life was to share the gospel. We read on in 1:15-18 “15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
Dear friends, what do you feel about the gospel? Is it the all-consuming passion of your life? Have you and are you personally experiencing the power of the gospel in your life? Sometimes, we become so familiar with the gospel message that we lose the sense of the incredible power available to us in the gospel.
But what is the gospel? In the original language, it means good news. But good news of what? Hey, I got good news to share, I got attached. Good news, I got a promotion. Good news, I got good grades. Good news, I struck lottery! What is the gospel? Good news. In ancient times, we didn’t have email, or FB messenger etc. Messages would often be conveyed by messengers who rode on horseback to deliver them. These messengers who brought good news from the king were called heralds of good news. And if it was victory on the battle front, it would be good news indeed. The king has won and rescued the people!
The gospel, the good news of Jesus is He has won! He has won the victory over Satan, sin, death and has rescued His people from these. This is the greatest news the world has ever known.
This evening, let me inspire you with several true stories of the power of the gospel in the lives of various people. The first is a man in China by the name of Dong. Raised in atheist China, Dong even mocked his mother when she became a Christian. However, through his university experience with a Christian who shared the gospel with him and also God’s miraculous healing of his cancer, he became a Christian. Not only that, but at the time of printing of this story, he was preparing himself to be sent as a missionary to an unreached city in China.
Perhaps the most famous Indian convert. Sadhu Sundar Singh. The death of Sundar Singh’s mother, when he was fourteen, plunged him into violence and despair. He took out his anger on the missionaries, persecuted Christian converts, and ridiculed their faith. In final defiance of their religion, he bought a Bible and burned it page by page in his home while his friends watched. Three nights later he took a bath before going to the railroad track to commit suicide. While he was bathing, Sadhu loudly asked who was the true God. If the true God didn’t show Himself that night, he would commit suicide. Finally that night before the break of dawn Singh saw a vision of Christ with His pierced hands.
Converting to Christianity, he was renounced by his family, and he would give up his home and possessions to preach Christ throughout his life. He has continued to be one of the most treasured and formative figures in the development and story of Christ’s church in India.
In 1999, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University, a skeptic of all things Christian, and in a committed lesbian relationship. Her academic specialty was Queer Theory, a form of gay and lesbian studies. Today Butterfield is a mother of four, a homemaker, and wife of a Presbyterian pastor named Kent. This is her journey…
“I tried to toss the Bible and all of its teachings in the trash — I really tried,” she says. “But I kept reading it, reading it not just for pleasure, but reading it because I was engaged in a research program trying to refute the religious right from a lesbian feminist perspective. . . . After my second or third, maybe fourth, pass through the entire Bible something started to happen. The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. And it absolutely overflowed into my world. I really fought against it. And then one Sunday morning, no different from any other Sunday morning, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later I sat in a church pew. I went there very conspicuous of the fact that I didn’t fit in. But I really had to confront this God.”
And she did. Her conversion meant she lost everything meaningful to her in the past. Her PhD. Her lover. Rosaria said, “I lost everything but the dog.” But, she had gained Christ.
Finally, how about a Muslim militant? Mosab Hassan Yousef is the son of a founding member of the radical terrorist group Hamas and heir apparent to his dad. But a chance encounter with a British tourist who shared the gospel with him started a 6 year journey which changed his life. He is now a Christian on a mission to share the gospel particularly to the Muslim/Arab world.
Chinese. Indian. American. Arab. Atheist. Hindu. Skeptic. Muslim. All converted through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the power of God, people! I recently returned from a family holiday in Japan. One of the highlights of my trip was a divine encounter with an old friend. So, my family and I were deciding where to go for church service on Sunday, and I was randomly Google-ing churches that had English services and was near downtown Tokyo. I found one – Tokyo Baptist Church – and we went. After service, I was standing in the newcomers welcome section, when lo and behold, who was at the booth? My old friend Yoshinobu. I literally shouted out his name! It was good to catch up with him.
Let me tell you the story of how we met. Many years ago in 2003, I did a 3-month missions stint in Japan with OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship). One day, I was with a Singaporean team from Woodlands EFC, the home church of the Singaporean missionary I was attached to. We were hanging out at Starbucks hoping to make some contacts. Unfortunately the missionary was not with us then because he had something on. And we were in a dilemma because none of us could speak Japanese fluently.
And then we spotted this guy who was reading an English book! Like sharks we converged on our prey. His name? Yoshinobu. We managed to strike up a conversation. And it was good. Eventually time came for us to leave for Friday evening’s bible study at the missionary’s place. And the Holy Spirit prompted me, “Invite him.”
Ok. Invite a stranger we just met to a bible study? For real? But, in obedience, I did. He paused for a moment, then said, “I’m free. Let’s go!” He packed his stuff and followed us. And he kept coming week after week for bible study. He was a student then, so I also met him for lunch or dinner just to build on our friendship. Eventually my 3 months in Japan was up and I returned to Singapore. Yoshi and I kept in contact via email.
One morning, I received an email from him. The title of this email was “I have two birthdays”. His english wasn’t great then (it’s much better now), so I thought, “ah, what is he trying to say?” So I read the email. And my heart just leapt with joy. Yoshi talked about the first time we met and how he started to get to learn about the bible. He talked about how much sense it made and yet the struggle he had – particularly being Japanese, and his family traditions – conflicted with what he was learning. But he said he finally could not deny it any longer. He had decided to become a Christian and was baptised by our fellow missionary friend.
And all this started at a very simple yet divine encounter at Starbucks 13 years ago. My friends, divine opportunities exist every day of our lives. We never know how a simple act of obedience can open doors for the gospel to touch and transform the lives of people. We who receive and experience God’s love, have a mandate to share it with others. Metanoia. Repentance. Conversion. It’s not only for us. It is for all people, of all nations, for all time!
Listen! The epistle of Philippians is an epistle of joy. How many of you have had the joy of leading someone to the Lord? If you haven’t or haven’t done so for some time, may the Lord give you a fresh vision and reenergise you for this essential mission. How many of you are familiar with Jesus’ Great Commission? Matthew 28:18-20 “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There are 4 verbs in this passage of Scripture (verbs are action words). Go. Make disciples. Baptise. Teach. Which is the main verb? Many Christians assume it’s, “Go!” Therefore, they encourage Christians to go on mission trips and challenge them to be involved in full-time or bi-vocational missions. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in missions with all my heart. However, the main verb in this passage is: make disciples. In fact, the passage more accurately is rendered, “As you are going, make disciples.” Jesus assumes we would all go. Go do what? Make disciples.
Now that you know this, it’s not for you to go sound wise and tell someone, “Did you know that in the Great Commission, there are 4 verbs and the main verb is make disciples?” Now that you know this, it’s for you to go find some younger men and women to pour your life into; so that they may grow and they in turn would learn to pass it on. Discipleship is at the heart of the Great Commission, not just evangelism.
1:21-26 “21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
Let me start with a question: what’s the goal of salvation? Most Christian’s would say…? It is not heaven per se. It’s true but inadequate. If the only goal of salvation is getting us to heaven, then immediately when we believe in Jesus, God would have transported us to heaven. But He left us here on earth. We have a mission to complete.
We see in the passage of Scripture we just read that the apostle Paul makes this point. He says, if it were up to him, he would much rather leave this earth and be with Christ. In fact, he says this is far better than life! Many of us can’t imagine this. But it’s true. Heaven is a far, far more glorious than we could possibly imagine. And yet, Paul says, it is more necessary for him to remain here on earth. Why? So that he can continue to be involved in “fruitful labor”… discipleship, to build up fellow believers for the purpose of their “progress and joy in the faith”.
I want to return to talk about my old friend Yoshi. When I met him in church during my recent holiday and as I was catching up with him and asking about how he’s doing, I was so encouraged. He’s actively mentoring younger men in a small group. He’s involved in a program in his church that reaches out to refugees in the country. You know what really blew my mind? You see, I was asking Yoshi if his work was busy and whether he was going to take a break for a short holiday and stuff like that. He said, yeah, but he wasn’t going anywhere, just chill. He didn’t have much money because he was supporting two refugees out of his own pocket. Amazing. Yoshi did not just believe in Jesus. He was discipled and as a result, he had grown in his walk with the Lord and is making a difference in God’s kingdom work!
Let me illustrate to you how important and far-reaching discipleship is. How many of you have heard of Edward Kimball? Not many. He was an ordinary gentleman who taught Sunday School in his church. Those of you who have taught in Sunday school know that it’s not easy, right? Sort of like doing chapel in St. Andrew’s Secondary School. Haha, joke!
Edward wanted to teach each of his boys well and when he saw one of his boys not really understanding the gospel, he gathered the nerve to witness to him and as a result, this boy came to know the Lord. His name? D.L. Moody. D.L. Moody went on to become one of the greatest evangelists in his day. There is a Bible school, Moody Bible Institute that still exists today. But this is only the start of the story. D.L. Moody went to England and worked a profound change in the ministry of F.B. Meyer. F.B. Meyer, with his new evangelistic fervor, influenced J. Wilbur Chapman. Chapman helped in the ministry of converted baseball player Billy Sunday, who had a profound impact upon Mordacai Ham. And Mordacai Ham, holding a revival in North Carolina, led Billy Graham to Christ. Now how many of you know Billy Graham? According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior”. As of 2008, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience, including radio and television broadcasts, topped 2.2 billion. Because of his crusades, Graham has preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. What do you think about the legacy of Edward Kimball now? The ministry of a simple man, who faithfully taught in Sunday school.
Not all of us can be like Billy Graham. But all of us can be like Edward Kimball. We find this principle in the life our Lord Jesus as well. Jesus and His 12 disciples changed the world. In university, I also led a small group bible study. In between studies, preparing and leading bible study. Going on mission trips. Part of worship committee. Was it worth it? All these men are walking with the Lord today. Dear friends, we can all find a small group of young men and women to disciple. But this takes time and commitment. It is not an easy journey. To do bible study together. To pray together. To hang out and do life. But what’s the potential of this? Who knows if the person we are discipling will eventually become Singapore’s next great preacher/pastor?
So what’s our response and what shall we do? Philippians 1:27 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…”
There are two actions here that I want to commend to you as application. The first is to live out your Christianity, to be a witness, to shine for Jesus. Your life must match your beliefs and your proclamations. Having been involved in school ministry for the past 11 years, it’s my opinion that one of the greatest hindrances to the spread of the gospel message is… Christians. Christians who say one thing and do another. Christians whose lives: their words and actions are no different from any other student of other faiths.
Christians who don’t work hard in their studies, don’t pay attention in class, don’t respect their teachers… who curse, use vulgarities, gossip, form cliques, ostracise others… Christians who aren’t loving, aren’t kind, aren’t pure and holy, aren’t full of good deeds. This, is the greatest hindrance to the gospel because non-Christians watching us won’t find Christianity attractive at all. “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. Friends, this is not a call to perfectionism or legalism. Rather, it is a high calling of God to be like Jesus. To become transformed into His likeness – we talked about this in the first message. Sharing the gospel is not only a matter of words, but also of our lives. So that’s the first application.
The second application is a call to unity in the body of Christ. “One spirit… one mind… side by side…” In this your youth ministry. Be united. Love one another. Put aside petty squabbles. Put aside your pride. Humble yourself. Reconcile with that brother or sister with whom you had a disagreement with. Choose to love and serve others by denying your personal preferences in issues that are not spiritual or moral in nature. Jesus said, in
John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Dear friends, when the Church of Jesus Christ demonstrates love, the gospel message sounds out loudly and clearly! Discipleship also takes place in the local church. Multiply your life by investing it in a few good men and women.
To sum it up – the end goal of discipleship is this: becoming more like Jesus individually and becoming more united as a body of Christ in love and purpose.
Young people, God has a mission. Years ago, I learnt this at a missions conference and I want to share it with you. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham and makes a covenant with him saying, “I will bless you, and through you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
In Revelation, God fulfils this covenant, this promise… Revelation 7:9-10 “9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””
Genesis 12. Mission. Revelation 7. Mission complete. In between, the story of God on mission. If you take mission out of the bible, you’re left with very little. If you take mission out of your Christian life, you’re left with very little. We have a mission dear friends, and God calls all of us to be involved. As Hudson Taylor (the founder of OMF the missions organisation) says, “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.”
As we come to a close, I want to tell you that church camps are great. I have been deeply impacted in camps. But the power of God is not limited to camps! God’s work in your life and His ability to transform you and use you is still the same when you leave camp. When you start school, enter army, start work and so on. TOMORROW is the start of a brand new journey that God is going to take you on – individually and as a church family. Metanoia continues!