john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Philippians 1 - Living a gospel life

    Good Shepherd 18/9/2005 (Communion Service)

    Philippians 1.21-30, Matthew 20.1-16

    What is the good news for today? Most of us get our good news from the TV and from the billboards on our roads, and from magazines. The gospel according to the advertisers is the most popular gospel for today. And if we believe what the adverts tell us then we live in a world where:

    Cleaning products will remove any stain in one sweep of a cloth.

    Razors glide across male faces and leave baby-smooth non-irritated skin underneath.

    Driving in a brand new car leads immediately to all other traffic staying off the road.

    All babies spend their time being either naked and perfectly happy or clothed and asleep.

    Saving a few quid on a car insurance bill of several hundred pounds will make you ecstatic for the rest of the week.

    Now, a lot of the time we do actually believe this gospel; we'll go out and buy these products. But once we've done that we usually, eventually realise that the advertisers' gospel is flawed. That we don't after all live in a world where:

    Eating yoghurt can change your life.

    Babies have conversations with each other about the relative merits of their nappies.

    Anyone who is at home in the afternoon is in desperate need of a secured loan, a pension plan or no-win, no-fee solicitor.

    Public transport is a beautifully clean and relaxing way to travel.

    Women are unable to remove their glasses without shaking their hair down in slow motion. [1]

    It's a strange gospel, the gospel of the advertisers. Because on the one hand we are drawn into it, we believe it, we want what it offers, we identify with it, we belong in the world it portrays. But on the other hand, we know it can't satisfy our deeper needs and we feel we don't identify with it, we don't belong in its world after all.

    Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

    - wrote Paul, to the believers in Philippi, while he was under house arrest in Rome. Paul identified above everything else, with the gospel of Christ. To Paul, the gospel of Christ gave him his sense of belonging. Because of the gospel of Christ this prisoner nevertheless felt free, because he felt a deep sense of belonging - to his fellow-believers in Philippi, and to Jesus Christ himself. [2]

    For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain

    - he wrote, convinced that Jesus has released him from the fear of death.

    [But] if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer.

    - he wrote, committed to serving Jesus Christ alongside his fellow-believers for a long time to come:

    I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

    What is the good news for today? In Paul's day the believers in Philippi knew what it was and boasted about it, these Roman citizens who had come to understand that they were now, by faith, citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

    And what does it mean to live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? Paul wanted the believers in Philippi to strive for the faith of the gospel, unafraid of their opponents, willing to suffer for the gospel, eager to imitate Jesus Christ in seeking the welfare of others with humility, carrying out responsibilities without grumbling and keeping themselves pure and holy, blameless children of God. [3]

    As we follow the book of Philippians over the next four weeks we shall return to some of these themes. But just now, to get us started, let's talk about these questions:

    What is the gospel we believe in?
    What does it mean to live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?

    The the gospel we believe in may throw up some surprises. And we need to keep reminding ourselves what the gospel's really about.

    We are tempted to think it's about loving our friends, praying for those who we like or respect. But Jesus said that the gospel is actually about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, so that we may become the children of our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45). Living our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ means living this way.

    We're tempted to think that the gospel's about being rewarded for long, faithful service. But today's gospel reading is a story Jesus told to illustrate what the gospel means, and it tells us something very different. It tells us that God is generous to all-comers, those who have been with him for decades and those who have only just arrived.

    The story of the landowner and his labourers ends with Jesus saying, '"Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" So the last will be first, and the first will be last.' Living our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ means opening our hearts to others in the way that Jesus does, opening our minds to the possibility that the least desirable, the least deserving, have a special place in God's kingdom - and that we can share their joy.

    What is the gospel we believe in? - and what does it mean to live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? - Paul's letter to the Philippians can help us to find answers to these questions; you may like to read it at home, or come back next week for more!


    [1] Quotes from an article on the BBC News website, via Liz.
    [2]Sense of belonging paragraph is adapted from Fred Taylor, The Power of Belonging in The College of Preachers Journal 119, July 2005, pp.66-68
    [3] Paragraph adapted from G.F. Hawthorne, Philippians entry in Hawthorne, Gerald F.; Martin, Ralph P.; Reid, Daniel G; eds, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters