The apostle Paul was writing to a company of believers in Corinth, and he wanted them to understand more fully something of the greatness of the gospel. And so he gives them here the essence of it.
Philippi was the first place in Europe where Paul and those with him brought the gospel (See Acts 16:12‑40). From Philippi they moved on to Thessalonica, and then to Athens and to Corinth. As a result, the apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. The first of those two letters is one of the first recorded in Scripture that he ever wrote. He also wrote later to the Corinthians. We have no letter that he wrote to the Philippians until he was in prison in Rome. But here it is. And we have what the apostle has to say, writing from prison. I do not know how we would get on if we were in prison for our faith – plenty of people are discovering the hard way how they get on in such circumstances at the present time, and, of course, we should not forget them. But, if you are imprisoned, you may have various thoughts; you may have thoughts about the injustice of your being there; you may wonder why God allowed you to be there. Or you might be like the apostle Paul who writes as a mature Christian to those who are not in prison, but whom he desires to encourage to persevere for the rest of the time that they are here.
This passage illustrates the wonder of the Gospel. I believe It is one the most wonderful demonstrations of the grace of God that you get in the whole of the Scriptures.
The prophet Haggai says, “Consider your ways” (Hag 1:5). We need to stop and consider the path we are on, and where it will lead. Do you know for sure where your path will lead? If you do not know for sure, I can tell you: you will end in a Christ-less eternity. If you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus, if you are not saved, then the fact is that you are lost. Not that you will be lost, but you are lost.
But tonight, in the glad tidings, we can tell you of a Saviour for the lost. The Lord Jesus said, “[I have] come to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).
I have read of two men because we learn a lot of things by contrast. Both had the same opportunity, but one went away sad, and the other went away glad! Our desire is that everyone may go away glad from this meeting tonight.
The Lord Jesus told us about two men who went up to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9‑14). One was a Pharisee – a very self-righteous, religious person. His prayer was full of himself, and how good he was compared to the other man – a tax-gatherer – who smote upon his breast and prayed saying, “O God, have compassion on me, the sinner.” Jesus said that the tax-gatherer “went down to his house justified.”