Second Baptist Lincoln
August 19, 2018
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons[a]:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
The Civil War documentary series by Ken Burns came out nearly 30 years ago. One of the most moving segments was a letter written by Solomon Ballou to his wife Sarah. It was the epitome of love letters as he seemed to have a strong sense of his impending death on the battle field. In one place, he writes, “If I do not [return], my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, nor that, when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name. "
Most of us from other generations have written a love letter. I’m guessing that more than a few of you have received a love letter in your life. Grace and I sent love letters back and forth when we spent a year apart back in college. That was at least a decade before the internet, and nearly as long before free long distance phone calls that come with having a mobile phone. So at least once, often times twice a week, we would sit down and write, her in Tennessee and me in North Dakota, and express our love for one another. I wonder what love notes look like today? “Hey Nichole, you’re awesome. #loveyouforever.
This morning we begin a short series on the book of Philippians, one of my favorite books. Paul writes the most flattering, affectionate, love letter to this church. We see right away in his opening words that he has a special relationship with this church. It would be hard for you and me to be as perky and joyful as Paul was throughout this book, considering he was in prison. Most scholars think he wrote this from a jail in Rome, but there is no way to confirm the exact location. This is an important passage of scripture because it not only gives us a window into Paul’s love for the Philippian church, but it also demonstrates to us how we should regard one another.
This is an ideal conversation that we see here. Truly, it is a love letter of the Agape type. Agape, meaning Christian, spirit-filled, God-inspired, ultimate and total LOVE. It is important to us, because this is our ideal type of love for this church. Honestly, it’s what I see every day as your pastor. It hasn’t always been this way. There have been times of conflict and even what I would call a “negative spirit and influence.” But that is not what I see today. When it comes to division and disunity, I can honestly say, “not anymore.” So this greeting that Paul has for his church can truly come from my heart and your heart.
Paul did not have this same regard for other congregations. They were dealing with some serious “stuff”. Cult worship and disunity and even jealousy in the Corinthian church. The Ephesian church had issues with false apostles (Rev 2:2) and at some point began to lose their first love of Christ (Rev 2:4; 1 Tim 1:5). They had regular struggles against false doctrines (1 Tim 1:3, 1 Tim 4:1, 1 Tim 4:7, 1 Tim 6:3-5, 1 Tim 6:20-21, 2 Tim 2:16,23, ). They also (like all churches) had a number of pastoral issues to face and one of which was young widows with not enough to do who had been particularly prone to false teaching (1 Tim 5:13, 2 Tim 3:6-7). The Galatian church was giving up the Grace of Christ and returning to their Jewish legalistic doctrine of law.
The church at Philippi was not without struggles, but they seemed to have handled them with wisdom and grace. They were under the severe threat of persecution, something Paul could identify with since he himself is in prison. The did have the threat of False Teachers, but again, they seemed to deal with it with wisdom and the false teachers did not gain influence. And they even had some disunity. Two women didn’t seeme to be able to agree on anything, so Paul addresses it in chapter 4, verse 2. The two women were told by Paul in this letter, “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” He then asks the other members to help these women come into agreement with one another.
Let’s return to the greeting and let’s see what it says. He addresses them as “Saints”. We get the idea from popular culture of our day, that a saint is someone who has reached some level of “goodness”. We get the image of a “halo” above their head. We use it in common speech saying, “He’s a real saint for taking care of her for all these years.” That’s not the meaning of the word at all. It simply means, “Someone who is ‘set apart’ as a follower of Christ.” I am a saint, you are a saint, and we can call each other saints. We have been set apart for God’s use. We are no longer people of this realm, but people of the heavenly realm, as Clay Ford talked about a few weeks ago.
Next, Paul offers thanksgiving for the Saints at Philippi. They have added to his life and they have enriched the work of the Kingdom of God. We ought to be grateful for one another in this sanctuary this morning, Each has enriched our lives. It would take me hours to stand up here and individually call out the people who have enriched my life over the past nine years. You may not be aware of how you have been a blessing to others, but they know it. So Paul’s words are a general thanks to God for those who have been a blessing to him.
And Paul also reminds them that he prays for them. I hesitate to say this, because I’m afraid he might quit doing it if I mention it. But every Monday morning, Craig Erickson prays for Grace and me. I love it. I cherish it. My grandmother used to pray for me every morning when I began ministry. I faced every day with confidence because I knew my grandmother was praying for me. We ought to always pray for one another. Last week, I handed out books to the parents. I ordered some more in case some of the grandparents might want to pray for their grandchildren. Maybe some of the middle age adults like myself, might want to pray for their young adult children. But I believe in the power of prayer and how we ought to pray for one another.
Paul says that he is in “partnership” with them. I like the word partner. The Greek word here, however, is not partnership, but the word “Koinonia” that I used in last week’s sermon. Now I am not a pastor that expects you to learn Greek. My Greek skills are nearly non-existent. But if there are two words in the Greek I would want you to know, it would be the words “Agape” and “Koinonia.” Agape is the special kind of spirit-filled love we have for one another. “Koinonia” is the result of that spirit-filled love. Koinonia is the special spirit-filled FELLOWSHIP we have together.
Paul is really feeling it. He has experienced that “Koinonia” or “fellowship” with the people at Philippi, and he is expressing it to them. The translators use the word “partnership” in the NIV and “Fellowship” in the King James. The New American Standard says “participation in the gospel”. He is reminding them that they are united in their mission of sharing Christ. They are bound together by the spirit in order to be fellowship workers. We get the idea sometime that we come to church as an individual being. That somehow, we are a group of independent worshipers. I don’t believe that. I believe something happens when we walk through the door and gather in this place. We become a single unit, bound together by the spirit of Christ. We become co-laborers.
This is not unique to the church. When you walk into your workplace, you join with other workers to become a single workplace. You are not an isolated person in your own family. Your presence there helps form a family unit. Scott Frost will likely tell you, that the most devastating thing for a a football team, is to have a bunch of single individuals positioned out on that field, each one trying to gain fame and success for themselves. What he wants is to form a team, a single unit, rather than a group of individuals.
Yet there is something unique about the unity and fellowship of a church congregation that differs from all those other units. Koinonia implies a spiritual unity under the power and dominion of the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century English evangelist and pastor said, “Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people.”
In verse 7, Paul justifies his love for the people at Philippi. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…” This is heartfelt. This is real. He carries them in his heart wherever he goes. Finally, he ends with a prayer for the Philippians. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” This is truly a discipleship prayer. Paul is both BEING an alongsider and showing them HOW to be an alongsider. He is praying that they will grow into the knowledgeable and insightful followers of Jesus who will be DEPENDANT upon the Holy Spirit, but INDEPENDANTLY useful and productive in the church.
We have Bible study on Sunday mornings, Wednesday mornings and evenings, and I teach Gods word from the pulpit. We don’t do this so that you will know more names and details about things that happened anywhere from 2000 to 6000 years ago. We teach and learn so that we can have the ability to discern decisions, behaviors, and insights in our own lives. Abraham was faithful, so we ought to be faithful. Moses was used by God, and we can be used by God. Paul spoke with boldness, so we should speak with boldness.These characters are living (or at least previously living) examples of how we should. So Paul praying that the people of Philippi will have more knowledge and insight, is something we should seek. “Lord, help us to know you more. Lord, help us discern your will, Lord, help us to teach others to know you..” Amen