Sermon on Phil. 1:1-11, preached on 8 July 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 9:1-20 / (NT) Philippians 1:1-11
I. We’re joyful because of our partnership in the gospel
II. We’re joyful because of our growth in faith
III. We’re thankful because of our Father’s plan for us all
We stand for singing hymns in worship service and quietly remain seated while focusing on the word of God read and expounded. We’re not angry although we look serious. We look like cold, but inwardly we’ve got a burning heart for the Lord. We Presbyterians are like spiritual volcanos which only smoke. From a distance, they look like sleeping, nothing exciting is happening; but coming closer to the crater, that never quenchable fire and unstoppable lava rising from the unmeasurable depth is evident. With such a spiritual joy we gather together and worship the Triune God, celebrating the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death which is our salvation through faith. The thrust of our joy is the fact that we no longer are under sin but under grace. Also our hope for the eternal heritage deepens our joy.
Truth is that this joy is shared not only among Presbyterians, but also among all Bible-believing Christians of all ages. The story of a Christian martyr who lived in the 3rd century Roman empire which persecuted Christians explains this point well. That Christian was sentenced to death. Facing execution, he wrote a letter to his friend and said these last words: ‘It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians – and I am one of them.’ He was one of numerous Christians of all ages who embraced and enjoyed Christian joy by the mercy of God and Christ Jesus.
Having said, it often seems that many Christians of our time consider this joy in personal and individualistic way only, forgetting its corporate aspect. In other words, Christians seem to enjoy their Christian joy when they’re alone in their rooms, praying to God or reading the Bible. But, they don’t usually consider their presence in the midst of other believers or their relationship with other church members as an important and indispensable part of their Christian joy.
But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Individual Christian’s joy is strongly interwoven with his/her relationship with other Christians in Christ’s church. Individual’s personal relationship with the Lord is only a half of our joy, and its full and complete extent always includes believer’s mutual relationship in the body of Christ. Because we’re familiar with the individual aspect of our Christian joy, I’d like to focus today on the other side of Christian joy which is relatively unknown to many of us. From the passage of Phil. 1 we’ve just read, I’d like to draw three points for this purpose. First, ‘we’re joyful because of our partnership in the gospel,’ second, ‘we’re joyful because of our growth in faith,’ and third and last, ‘we’re thankful because of our Father’s plan for us all.’
I. WE’RE JOYFUL BECAUSE OF OUR PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL
The Apostle Paul says in the Spirit these words in vs. 3-5: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mind for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Simply put, Paul means, ‘I’m so joyful because of your partnership with me in the gospel!’ The word, ‘partnership,’ is in Greek, ‘koinonia,’ which is often translated as ‘fellowship’ or ‘community.’ This word also describes the nature of Christ’s church as a group of people called out of the world to form and function as Jesus’ body on earth. So, Paul is saying, ‘I’m grateful and joyful because I’m one of you in Christ’s church’ or ‘I rejoice because I’m with you here.’ This is an important reason for our joy, thus, our thanksgiving to God.
Yet, it’s an irony that we often forget about this. Guess that you’re alone in this world; you have no one beside you and you’re all alone in a world filled with unbelievers, idolaters and pagans. If that doesn’t help you, try and guess that you’re all alone in a Muslim country. Everyone else calls Allah their deity and, seeing you don’t call on nor bow to their deity, they start fixing their eyes on you. How awkward would that be? You’d be totally isolated, having no one to share your belief, let alone to hear your words. But, here in this world, you and I are together which is our great comfort and joy! I’m not alone; you’re not alone either. I have you and you have me; we have each other in Jesus.
The Apostle Paul was in Rome when he wrote this letter to the Christians at Philippi which was more than 1,000 kms away. Paul couldn’t see them, nor speak to them, nor be comforted by hearing their voices. Yet, he was joyful because he knew that they were in the world together with him. That warmed up his heart and made him joyful although he was bound by chains as a prisoner of Rome. Likewise, we of the 21st century are comforted by each other’s presence and fellowship – in other word, partnership in the gospel. Remember how many times you’ve heard from other Christians that they had been encouraged with the prayers of fellow believers. Usually, we don’t notice that when things go alright, but when someone is unwell or in a difficult situation, his/her troubled heart is often comforted by the presence of fellow Christians and strengthened by their prayers. Moreover, we have this confidence in our hearts that my fellow Christians will be on my side when I need them, haven’t we? Such is the foundation of every Christian’s joy in the Lord Jesus and that is the result of our Lord’s work of reconciliation as explained in Eph. 2:13 and following: “… now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
I’m happy because of you who are, simply, the fellow members of Christ’s church and, more specifically, share Christian faith with me. This is the Apostle Paul’s joy for the Philippian Christians’ partnership with him. When he says that their partnership with him was ‘in the gospel,’ he means that those Christians at Philippi did much more than simply existing as Christians together with Paul; he means that those Philippian Christians worked together with Paul in sharing and defending the gospel by all means. But all these works they did because they were with Paul as fellow members of Christ’s church, partners in Jesus. That’s what Paul means especially in v. 7 with these words: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace … in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Likewise, we’re joyful because of each other, because of our partnership in the gospel.
II. WE’RE JOYFUL BECAUSE OF OUR GROWTH IN FAITH
Moreover, our joy becomes deeper and greater with each other’s growth in faith. This is our second point which is clearly explained in our text passage, especially in vs. 9-11. Hear the word of God spoken through the Apostle, beginning from v. 8: “God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Then, in v. 9, he explains what he yearns and prays for them, saying, “it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,” then, goes on in vs. 10-11, “so that you may approve what is excellent … filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Simply put, Paul rejoices seeing his fellow Christians grow in faith, become mature, understanding the Lord’s teaching, thus, being eager to follow the Lord’s way. That is his joy; he says it again later in Phil. 4:1, saying, “my brothers [and sisters or more precisely, ‘my siblings’], whom I love and long for, my joy and crown”! The more and deeper they grow in faith, the greater the delight in Paul’s heart becomes.
This is similar to parents’ joy with their children. A mum cannot hide her joy of seeing her baby start crawling, standing, walking, and speaking, can she? A dad delights in having his son’s helping hand; he cannot hide his joy. Likewise, Paul delivered the gospel of Jesus Christ to those of the Philippian church, and now delights in witnessing their spiritual growth. This is the Christian joy we have in our souls for one another. Our Christian conscience testifies that it is so, doesn’t it? If we see our Sunday School grows and children transfer to youth group, then, young adults group, not at all being lost to the world, but standing strong in the Lord more and more, year after year. Such is a true blessing for everyone in church. Moreover, immature Christians are built up and, instead of remaining as constant recipients of other’s service, they too grow and become mature in love and begin serving others, knowing the joy of serving, that’s a pure joy of all believers. Such is not only a joy of a local church, but also a great blessing and joy for a wider church.
In these verses, the Apostle Paul thinks about those brothers and sisters at Philippi. Lydia was one of them as the first convert at Philippi and the Philippian jailer and his family were among them. They were spiritual children Paul bore in the gospel; they were Paul’s ‘crowns’ before God; they were the fruit of Paul’s labour in the gospel. Seeing them grow is surely Paul’s great joy.
But there’s a problem with our understanding of this point. What I’ve just said doesn’t seem to be the case with us of St Columba’s. I mean, no one seems to be another’s spiritual parent; none of us have such parent-child relationship with others in terms of our conversion and maturity in faith. Each one seems to be independent in this sense. So, how can we consider each other’s spiritual growth as our pure joy? That is the problem we have and it’s not only for us of St Columba’s, but also of many other churches.
Right here, we must turn our ears to the Lord Jesus and remember His words as recorded in Mt. 12. In v. 46, Mary, Jesus’ mother, and his brothers came to see Jesus. Someone told Him it was so. And hearing it, our Lord replied, saying in vs. 48-49, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers? … whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Do you hear the Lord’s definition of mother and brother and sister? ‘Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven’ is even the Lord’s mother, brother and sister. If it is so, then, how much more are those who do the will of God mothers and brothers and sisters to one another? By the way, what is the will of the Father? Again, hear the Lord Jesus from Jn. 6:40, “this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.” He simply means that all who not only believes in Jesus, but also helps others to love and worship God and grow in it are the doers of God’s will. So, in a word, we’re to each other mothers and siblings!
Now, I believe that we all see how each one’s growth in faith must be our joy! I’ll be delighted to see my family members abound in love with knowledge and all discernment. That’ll surely be my joy and yours too in the Lord Jesus!
III. WE’RE THANKFUL BECAUSE OF OUR FATHER’S PLAN FOR US ALL
So far, we’ve heard about how each one’s joy is closely connected to other Christians. Firstly, we’re joyful because of our partnership in the gospel. That means, we’re not alone in this world, but with each other, and we share the same Lord and faith! Secondly, we’re joyful because of each one’s growth in faith. Seeing each family member bearing the fruit of righteousness completes our joy in the Lord!
Then, our next and last point for today is this – ‘We’re thankful because of our Father’s plan for us all.’ Rejoicing, we altogether should turn our faces toward our Heavenly Father and give Him our thanks because He has a wonderful plan for us all.
What is His plan? Hear the Apostle Paul, saying these words in v. 6: “I am sure of this, that He [God] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The apostle means that the Father of all believers will prepare us and bring us into the kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ, making us perfect citizens for such a glorious inheritance. How will He do this? Look at the second half of v. 10 which says, “[you may] be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” and the end of v. 11, “[you’ll be] filled with the fruit of righteousness … to the glory and praise of God.” In a word, our Father will make us holy and pure and blameless! What a joyful and thankful plan this is!
The point is that we altogether should thank God for His wonderful and gracious plan. Of course, individual believers can thank the Father for His plan for each one. But, we must not forget that our thanks should also be given to God as one, corporate body of Christ. In other words, we thank God for His plan which is carried out through the lives of all believers. I thank God together with my brother in the Lord because my brother encourages me in the Lord and I too strengthen him in Jesus. And together, we’ll surely be led by the Holy Spirit, and together we’ll enter God’s kingdom. I thank the Father together with all of this church because of your partnership in the gospel with me. I thank the Lord together with all Christians who are my mothers and brothers and sisters because they and I together do the will of the Father! Do you see the point? Do you see how important it is to thank the Father together with all true Christians? Our thanks to God the Father is rather the life of Christ’s church, than simply an individual’s act of appreciation. Ps. 133 depicts this in a pictorial vividness in these words: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! … there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”
So, thank God the Father for completing us together with fellow Christians and in their midst. This is why we believe and confess that outside of Christ’s church, there’s no ordinary salvation. Thank God the Father for carrying out His gracious and glorious plan through the lives of all members of God’s household, the body of Christ our Lord!
Let me conclude. When we consider our Christian joy, never limit this joy as a personal, individualistic joy, because it’s not. Rather, our joy in the Lord is closely linked with our fellow believers and their joy. Hear 1 Cor. 12:26 and know its teaching: “… one member suffers, all suffer together … one member is honoured, all rejoice together.”
So, from now on, consider each other in Christ’s church so important for our mutual happiness. Thank the Lord for each other’s presence and mutual building up to fulfil the Father’s plan for all of us. And together, come to our Heavenly Father rejoicing! After all, that’s what we are as children of God, our Father in heaven! ***