by Jonathan Whitaker

"Speak for yourself." We utter these words when we don’t want to get lumped in with someone else and their declarations of nonsense. When I was in high school and a member of my football team would get called out for messing around at practice, my coach always used to say, “It takes two.” What he meant was, a jester always needs an audience. And it’s usually the case that a person caught getting into trouble has an accomplice. Why is it that when two, three or a whole group of guys get into trouble, one dude always naturally emerges as the spokesman for the group? The role of the teenage troublemaker spokesman (TTS) is a time-honored tradition. It is the role of the TTS to interface with the authorities for the purpose of misdirection and doubt-casting. If successful, the TTS will adequately conceal culpability and avert punishment for the whole group. The typical result is that everyone just gets into more trouble. It’s best to just speak for yourself.

It’s a rare thing to take responsibility for your thoughts. There’s comfort in receiving confirmation from another person, and there’s validation found in agreement. This phenomenon is beautifully expressed by the “Like" button on Facebook. Click "like" if you agree, and the author receives instant and permanent validation. On the other side of that coin is the naked isolation that comes with speaking for yourself.

HCCF is embarking on a new sermon series exploring the book of Philippians. Philippians is as personal a book as you will find in the Bible. It was written by the Apostle Paul, and its singular focus is on his personal experience with Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, Philippians is just Paul, speaking for himself.

In Paul’s opening greeting he introduces himself and his companion, Timothy. I believe the mention of Timothy is simply to acknowledge to the church at Caesarea Philippi that Timothy had made it to Rome and was present with Paul. The bulk of the letter is a personal testimony from Paul, speaking for himself.

What a testimony it was! Paul was not in Rome as a tourist, though he was a guest of Caesar’s household. Well, I suppose you could call him a guest, but a prisoner is really a more apt description. When Paul wrote this very personal testimony, he was on house arrest literally chained to a Roman guard. Paul had been arrested in Judea some time back and leveraged his Roman citizenship to petition every level of appeal between the lowest regional prefects and governors and worked his way one by one all the way to the Emperor’s court. In the process, Paul gave the Gospel to the most powerful people in the Roman empire. Paul did what Peter advises all Christ followers to do (1 Peter 3:15) make a defense for the Gospel. Paul, who started his career accusing and killing Christians, was utterly changed and redeemed by the work of Jesus in his life, and was now a prisoner of Rome. He was well aware that the end of this road would likely be execution. Ironically, the crimes for which he ultimately died were not the ones he actually committed. Philippians is Paul’s chronicle of the redeeming work Jesus had done in his life.

Craig challenged us this week with a encapsulating statement from Paul about his outlook on his walk with Christ: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.“ (Phil 1:21) The staccato of this succinct 11-word phrase is accented by the fact that it is also 11 syllables. I point that out not to be clever, but to encourage you to memorize it, repeat it, and experience it. Short, punchy verses are easy to commit to memory. And this verse is useful, because it expresses SO MUCH theology that we profess as Christians!

Broken down to the basics -- “to live is Christ, to die is gain” -- Paul told the world that “I might live or I might die. If I live, then I’ll serve Jesus, if I die, I’ll be with Jesus!” This is me paraphrasing the paragraph that surrounds the verse, but you get the idea. Paul even says that if he had his way, he would have picked being with Jesus. Who can blame him.

Peel the onion one more layer and you are struck right between the eyes with the truth that gave Paul the confidence to face death or continued suffering as a prisoner. “TO LIVE IS CHRIST.” I am not exaggerating when I say that Paul literally said that without Christ, he is not even alive. To quote Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Paul said it himself in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were DEAD in your trespasses and sins.” That’s pretty unequivocal language; without Christ all men are dead. Jesus gives LIFE, and that is the heart of the matter. So, when the Apostle John said that in Jesus was “life, and life was the light of men,” he was not speaking figuratively. Apart from Jesus, we are all just dead meat.

Paul said it better than I could have, but to my original point, when someone gets in trouble, it takes two. Well, Paul was in a heap of trouble, and sure he had Timothy, but he has me now too. If you would allow me to pile on to what he already said so well, I have Life because of Christ, and when I die, I will be with Christ.

Paul did not die immediately after writing this letter. As with all bureaucracy, both ancient and modern, you will become ancient waiting for it to work. Paul waited a long time for his audience with Caesar. What did he do with the “life” that Jesus allowed him? He gave it to Caesar’s family. “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.”

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