Tonight, I want to begin walking through the book of Philippians. The letter written to the church at Philippi was written to encourage a healthy and faithful church, and I hope that my posts over the next few weeks will encourage you, and myself, in our faith, found in Christ and His work. So let’s get started.
Go ahead and read the first 18 verses of chapter one, and pick up with me afterwards.
Even though the first few verses seem to only be an introduction, let’s not skip past them. Look at the fourth word in the letter. Paul identifies himself and Timothy as “servants.” Usually, he calls himself an apostle. But here, in Philippians, he says “servant.” Why?
The book of Philippians is all about having a joy in the Lord and treasuring Him in and above all things, and letting Christ be our life. In doing so, we cease to exist for ourselves and live for Him and others. In this, Paul confidently and joyfully calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus.
Moving on, let’s tackle verses 3-8.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Paul’s joy is primarily found in the church’s love for the gospel.
In the next verse, Paul tells them that God finishes what He started. Again, I’ll note the power of this truth: Our salvation wasn’t bought when we prayed a perfect prayer. It was paid for and bought in Christ’s life, death and resurrection and He gives it to us through faith in Him, by His power, by His grace. Our new life starts with God forgiving us and cleansing us through faith in His Son, and all of that comes before we do anything. And so it is surely God who will finish what He started (sanctification–>glorification). So what do we do? Seek God and trust in Him and develop a love for Him. Work because God is working first.
Paul’s joy is found in the church’s growth and hope/confidence in God’s future work in their lives.
Paul sees God pouring His grace on the church, and this brings him joy.
So the question for us is: Where is our joy in the church? Do we take joy when we get a new worship center? Do we have joy when our brothers and sisters in Christ are blessed materially? Do we have joy because we have a great new sound system? Or is our PRIMARY joy in the gospel’s work in our church? None of the things I just listed are bad, and if your church feels led to have a new center or sound system, by all means, do it to the glory of God. But our deepest joy should be the gospel taking root in people’s lives and manifesting itself in their love for God and others.
That leads us to Paul’s prayer in verses 9-11. These are some beautiful verses. Read with me:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of Christ.”
More than we need to pray for the physical health or financial well-being of those in our churches, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow in their love for the Lord. Paul understood that a love for the Lord, the result of saving faith, is a huge, if not the key factor, in our sanctification.
Let me put it this way: As a teenager, I struggled with sin and I asked Jesus to forgive me every time. But there was never any decision to follow Jesus in new life. There was never a desire for a greater joy to replace my sin. In other words…I was happy in my sin. In Christ, we’ll still sin. More than we’ll care to admit. However, we’ll hate our sin. We’ll fight it. And with the joy of the Lord as our strength, we’ll love Jesus more and grow to be like Him.
Paul teaches us that a love for the Lord leads to wise decision-making and purity of heart and growth in sanctification. So while it’s important that I pray for my family member’s health or my best friend’s job status, it’s eternally more important I pray that their heart’s desire would be Jesus alone.
In verse 11, Paul tells the church he’s praying for the “fruit of righteousness.” In Christ, the fruit being born is righteousness. However, our standard is the one this comes from, and not some standard we set. I don’t want to be perfect. I don’t want to just be “holy” or “righteous.” I want to be Christlike. It is possible to work for righteousness outside of Christ, but it doesn’t resemble Christ. It resembles legalism, pride and attitudes that have nothing to do with Jesus. Strive for righteousness in Christ, in His likeness, as you trust in Him to be your righteousness before God for eternity. This will result not in us meeting a standard, but joyfully bringing glory to Christ as He finishes what He started.
Jump to verse 12. Let’s look at Paul’s attitude.
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul’s attitude is one we should mimic, but one I think few of us really hold.
Paul is in prison when he writes Philippians. But instead of moaning and being discouraged because of the persecution he’s suffered, he sees it as another way to advance the gospel. This drives Paul’s life. It changes the way he sees everything.
I wonder: What would happen if we saw everything that happened to us in our lives, good or bad, as an opportunity to grow in our love for Jesus and advance the gospel? What kind of impact would that have on our faith and the world around us?
What does this look like? Let me share a mistake I made.
Fall 2010: After serving as a missionary, I decided to turn down an opportunity to minister to a student at Montevallo. My roommate needed to commute for the semester, and I was looking at getting a private room. The Housing director threw another student in my room, and from what I knew about this kid, I didn’t want to live with him, for reasons that will, for his sake, remain undisclosed. So I paid (rather, my mother paid) for a private room, and that didn’t do any good for me. I made an idol out of a relationship with a girl that semester and having a private room didn’t help. Had I kept that roommate, I not only could have avoided creating idols, but I would have had an opportunity to share the gospel with someone.
So, moral of the story: Learn from my mistakes. That’s a message for myself and you, reader. When God opens up that door for the gospel, don’t back away because it makes you uncomfortable. Christianity is not a faith for the comfortable. There’s nothing comfortable about the cross. There’s nothing comfortable about missions. There’s nothing comfortable about repentance. There’s nothing comfortable about sharing the gospel. Comfort levels go out the window for the sake of people’s eternal destiny. If we fail to embrace this truth, we will waste our lives. Please don’t make the same mistake I did.
What’s the fruit of seeing every situation as a gospel opportunity?
Well, Paul tells us that it encourages the church to be bold (v. 14) and that it moves the gospel forward. We don’t dwell on past mistakes or failures, but trust in the gospel and move forward in it and sharing it.
Paul shows us how even his enemies are bringing him joy. He tells us that some are preaching the gospel out of enmity for Paul, just to rattle his cage because they know they don’t see eye to eye, perhaps because of his embracing suffering for Christ. But, despite their desire to ridicule Paul’s apostleship, they do in fact present a true gospel, and, despite his circumstances and his being neglected, Paul rejoices because Jesus is being proclaimed.
We should seek reconciliation when possible, but we have reason to rejoice when the gospel is preached (truly), even if the person saying it stands against us for one reason or the other. I add “truly” in there because I don’t rejoice in Osteen/Meyer and other false prophets. This would be more akin to me having strife with a brother and him preaching the gospel out of the motivation to shame me and promote himself. As long as Christ is truly proclaimed, we have reason to rejoice.
I hope that just in these opening verses, you’ve learned more about Paul and his heart, and in this, where your heart lies. Where is your joy? For Paul, his joy was in God, and no matter the situation, he had joy in Christ despite his circumstances, because Christ was honored. This will lead Paul to say “to live is Christ, to die is gain,” something we’ll discuss more, hopefully on Sunday. That statement is a summation of what we’ve already been through tonight, and what we continue to see in Paul’s life. It’s a cry I hope we can all echo at the end of this series. It’s a challenge for me, who at times struggles with faith and can get so distracted (This blog post was delayed due to my distraction via YouTube videos). But I believe God blesses the reading and teaching of His Word when done by those who truly seek Him (Jer. 29:13).
May we love Jesus more. May we trust in Jesus more. May our faith in Him as Savior and Lord increase as we become more like Him. May God bless you and keep you.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve never known the gospel, never trusted in Christ, please let me know so I can tell you what He’s done for you and how you can have life in Him. Love you guys.