John C. Paton was a missionary who, during his later years, was determined to take the Gospel to the South Sea Islands. In one church where he preached an elderly saint approached him and attempted to dissuade him from going.
“Why, you will be eaten by cannibals!”
Mr. Paton replied, “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave and there to be eaten by worms! I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
This true story reveals more than Paton’s witty answer. It reveals an entire philosophy of life – one that Jesus commanded each of His followers to live by when He gave us His last command, the “Great Commission” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Nothing could be more important or strategic to the life of a church than for them to take His last command seriously and make it the supreme priority of their lives!
There is a passage in our New Testaments that sets forth how this was accomplished by the Apostle Paul in the lives of the members of the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:3-18). Let’s examine it to see how we can take our faith public by putting the Gospel first in our lives.
First, we must cultivate relationships that center on the Gospel (Phil. 1:3-8).
Paul is writing these words from a prison cell in Rome. It is very evident that he is writing to people who are believers and very precious to him. And he is thankful for the fact that they have faithfully remembered him and acted on his behalf – “every remembrance of you” is probably a reference to them remembering him in prayer. He is also thankful for their “partnership” or fellowship in the Gospel.
It is clearly evident in this passage that the foundation of Paul’s relationships with other believers was a shared commitment to the Gospel. It was not based on common interests, hobbies, activities, or even mutual acquaintances. His deep and permanent relationships were formed with people who shared his passion and commitment to the Gospel.
So if you want to take you faith public, are you willing to re-evaluate your close relationships and re-order them around the Gospel?
In other words, if we want to take this seriously, we are going to have to base our close Christian friendships around a shared commitment to the advancement of the Gospel.
Think about your conversations with your close friends – what do they tend to center on? Your aches and pains? Your woes and foes? Your work and play?
Do you hang around people who take the Gospel seriously? Those kind of people motivate me and stir me up to “good works” (Heb. 10:24).
Also, we must embrace life priorities that focus on the advancement of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-18).
This passage reveals clearly Paul’s priorities in life. He evaluated every circumstance – good or bad – based on how it advanced the Gospel.
Here he was in horrible circumstances – the worst prison in the Roman Empire – and his evaluation of it was this: it advanced the Gospel.
The reason he could say this was because this was what he was living for. Later, he will write, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21)!
Most of us are living for other things, and so when something like this happens to us, we tend to evaluate it in terms of the implication for the goals for which we are living.
Some of us live for our children, our job, our possessions, our pleasures, our plans for the future, our health, or our security.
But Paul’s greatest joy and point of rejoicing was that the Gospel was being preached.
Do you evaluate your life circumstances by their effect on you and your plans or by whether they advance the Gospel?
Here is the question for us all: am I making a difference for the Gospel’s sake? Am I putting the Gospel first – or has something else crowded it out?
And the key test is simply this – when was the last time I shared the good news with someone clearly and intentionally?
Even the most shy among us talk about what is important to us!
We are not hesitant to talk about our family or our jobs. We are not shy to talk about our vacation plans or our hobbies. We certainly have no problem sharing our ideas about who should or shouldn’t be president.
But – do you get excited enough about the good news of Jesus Christ to share it with others?
Do you take your faith public? Or do you just keep it as a private matter?
Let’s live for the advancement of the Gospel.