Being a Christian in Papua New Guinea

Philippians 1:27-30  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.  For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

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In chapter one of Philippians, it is quite clear to us and to those to whom Paul wrote this letter that he was truly suffering for the Lord.  He was put in prison, simply because he preached the Good News about Jesus.  He never knew from day to day whether he might live one more day or be executed for his faith.

There were others who were trying to get the attention of people.  In so doing, they were stirring up trouble, and doing it deliberately to try to cause grief for Paul because of their envy over the fame and success that Paul had when he had been free and preached Christ.  But from every perspective, Paul believed that all these things were happening to ultimately bring people to Christ, and that Christ would in the end be glorified.

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What a tremendous example Paul set for the Christians of the first century.  He also wrote down very clearly how he expected Christians to live and work out their faith in the real world.  It was too early for him to know if he in fact would be released from his jail, or executed.  And so he hoped to come see the Philippians in person, but if not, he had the highest expectation that he would hear good reports about their unity of their faith.

There are two Greek phrases here in verse 27 which show us just how seriously Paul viewed how Christians’ ought to behalf themselves.  First of all, he tells the Philippian believers to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  This carries the idea of “acting like a good citizen”.  We know that part of the Good News is to announce the rule of God in heaven and on earth, so as good citizens of Heaven, our behavior is to matched the very nature of God himself.

The second idea is that believers should stand firm, shoulder to shoulder, and wrestle with and fight against those who would stand as enemies opposed to the truthfulness and internal unity of the message of Christ as it is contained in the Bible.  Paul promises that those who will make this stand will also experience suffering for the sake of the Gospel, just as Paul often had, and still did in their time, as he sat in that dinghy, dirty, awful dungeon.

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One of the most difficult things that I have had to do in my life was to go to our village in Papua New Guinea where we were actively involved in a Bible translation project and tell them our family would probably not be returning to the village.  Our son had just been diagnosed with cancer and was in the Brisbane hospital.  Jill and our other son were down there too.  And now I was coming to close out our house in the village.

Nine years later, our son is doing okay, and Jill and I are still involved in Bible translation projects.  But we have not been able to return once to the village in PNG.  At the time we ministered there, the only church in the area was the Catholic church.  They tried to hold meaningful services, but the message of salvation was not preached, and for the most part, the Bible truths were shrouded in mystery.

I have agonized like Paul in some ways over these years.  I have wanted at times to be able to go back there and administer the Words of Truth to the people.  I had thought many times, “Where would the people be at spiritually if our family had been allowed to return there?”  But as I have gotten reports from some men of the villages, it would seem that God has another plan in mind, and now is in motion.

Praise God!  There has been an evangelistic breakthrough in the past two years.  People are giving their lives to the Lord, many are being baptized, and small churches have sprung up in almost all of the main villages.  Understandably, some strong opposition has arisen from those that have remained in the Catholic church.  The test of this revival, I think, is going to be how the new Christians will respond to this opposition.

And this is how the message in this passage of Philippians can speak to this moment.  I hear how this new group of believers are uniting together to stand firm in what they believe.  What I hope to hear is that they will “conduct themselves in a worthy manner”.  They will need to live like Kingdom citizens here and now, and love their Catholic friends and neighbors.

Like I said, it is difficult to be separated by distance and circumstances from the people that we ministered to for five years.  But like Paul, I pray for them as God reminds me, and I yearn to hear of good reports of what God is doing among them, and that they are living for God.  Won’t you pray with me for them as well.  And may God be glorified among them.

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