Good morning, church. As you just saw, we start a new book of the Bible today, probably my favorite book of the Bible other than Romans. And just as yet another reminder why we spend the majority of our time on Sunday going through books of the Bible. A few reasons:
- It helps ensure that we’re sticking to God’s ideas instead of my ideas.
- It will teach us to be God-centered as opposed to man-centered.
- It will help us to emphasize what God emphasizes.
- It will help us to understand context which will help us get the meaning.
- We can’t skip over the hard parts. I love that!
- Hopefully it will help you to study the Bible on your own.
- God’s Word is the primarily tool of the Holy Spirit to transform lives.
Introduction to Book
It seems like all of these will certainly be true of the book of Philippians. Paul is writing this letter to the church at Philippi, which was actually the first church that he started in Europe. In fact, you can read about the days that Paul spent in Philippi in Acts chapter 16, where you can read about one of the first converts in Philippi, named Lydia, and also hear some of the specifics of Paul’s hard times in Philippi.
Paul and Silas were put into prison while in Philippi for forcing a demon to leave a slave-girl who told fortunes. God delivered them from prison and they got to share the gospel with the jailer on their way out. And even though he may have
visited Philippi a few other times, we don’t know that for sure. So, as far as we know, these several days that are recorded in Acts 16 are the only days that he actually spent there.
Now, the reason why he wrote this letter is because the Philippians had sent one of their own church members, Epaphroditus, to Paul with a gift while he was in prison. Now this is fast-forwarding to when he wrote the letter. We’re not talking about about him being imprisoned while in Philippi, but now somewhere else. But that’s where he was when he wrote this letter, jail! Which is pretty remarkable, because even though he was in jail, he uses the word “joy” 59 times in this one book. And that’s just the noun! That doesn’t include the verb, “Rejoice!” which is used multiple times in this book as well.
We’re not sure where he is in imprisoned when he wrote this, but it seems most likely that it is in Rome because he speaks of “Ceasar’s household” in chapters 1 and 4. So, assuming that’s true, he’s likely in a type of house imprisonment. And even though that may not seem as serious of a situation, Paul is still wondering if his execution is coming, with the way he writes later in chapter 1, talking a lot about his death.
So Paul wanted to express his thanks for the Philippians and their support in the faith of the gospel, and just their personal support of him, Paul, sending care packages through Epaphroditus. But, he also wants the Philippians to continue to grow in their health as a church. And the biggest theme in this book to that end is JOY. It’s not the central purpose of every single text we’re going to cover this series, but it is certainly a unifying theme.
Joy. And the thing about this joy is that it’s not mere positivity or emotional happiness. It’s not merely having a mentality of, “Well, it could always be worse.” It is far more than that. In fact, this joy has a name. His name is Jesus. It is as clear as can be in the book of Philippians that Jesus is Paul’s joy. And so, one of our main goals for this series, is that more than ever, Jesus would be our Joy. My prayer is that through this series, maybe we all would be that much closer to being able to say of ourselves what Paul said in chapter 1 verse 21: “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Introduction to 1:1-11
For today, we look at the opening of this letter from Paul, and hear of Paul’s love and affection for these believers at Philippi. It’s quite remarkable how much Paul wanted to see these Christians, and how much joy it brought him to think of them and pray for them, even after spending only several days getting the church started with them, as far as we know! And so, as Nathan Schad comes to read these first 11 verses for us, I want you to have this question in mind: Why does Paul so love fellow fellow Christians? Why is he so affectionate for these who are part of the body of Chirst? Nathan, take it away:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 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, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.
Thank you, Nathan. Did you hear Paul’s blatant affection for these people? Verse 3: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy…” Wow. He loves them. Every prayer he prays for them brings him joy. Verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart.” Verse 8, especially: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Clearly, he loves these believers. He yearns for them.
Now here’s the question I want us to ask ourselves: Do we feel this way about fellow Christians? Do we have this strong of an affection and love for one another? When we’re not here, maybe we’re on vacation or visiting family or something, do we get homesick for the church, the people of God? If we don’t, I think we’re going to be surprised that the reasons we don’t feel that way have more to do with us than with the Church. In other words, it’s not because the Church just isn’t quite worthy of my affection. No, it has more to do with our hearts when we don’t have a genuine affection for the Church, God’s people.
So, why should we yearn for one another like Paul yearned for the Philippians? What is it that brings us JOY about other believers? From Paul’s heart for these fellow Christians, three reasons for a Christian’s affection for the church. Or at least, three reasons for our supposed affection for the church:
- We share in God’s grace (1-2, 5-8).
This comes directly from verse 7: “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.” Verse 5: “We’ve been partners in the gospel from the first day until now.” What he means there by the first day, is since the first day of your faith! Since that time that God in his grace saved you, we have been brothers and sisters, partners in the gospel, including in the hard times like the one I’m experiencing right now, talking about Paul in prison.
Do you realize, as Christians, that we share THE most central and vital part of who we are? Christ! This is crucial to understanding why Paul so loved the Philippians. Have you ever noticed that when people have shared experiences, there’s not only a shared interest, but there’s often a shared affection, especially if it’s something BIG. Most singles are naturally drawn to other singles, because that’s the life phase they’re in. They’re sharing that life experience. Most young marrieds that don’t have kids, at least many of them are drawn to people in that same life phase. Same with parents, and empty-nesters, retired people, etc., etc. Shared experiences naturally bring people together.
Listen: there is no greater nor more life-changing shared experience than that of being adopted into the family of God. No greater shared experience than having your sin completely wiped away and Christ’s righteousness given to you, so that you are a New Creation and are reconciled to God! There’s no bigger shared experience than that! We’d probably all agree with that. So why don’t we get along sometimes?!
The problem is that when we’re more focused on this world, and not the things of God, we’re being pulled more toward people that are like us in worldly ways than like us in Godly ways. In other words, it’s easy to think that we have more in common with those in the same occupation, or in the same life phase, like I already mentioned, than those that simply know Christ like we do. And so, our affection for all Christians starts to dwindle, and our affection for people who have other things in common with us kind-of take over. In other words, we surround ourselves with people in the same worldly status as us.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed on Facebook and other social media sites, the algorhythm they use to determine what posts you see in your newsfeed—it is based on the types of posts that you like or comment on. In other words, over time, you see in your newsfeed more and more and more of what you want to see, more and more of what you like. Over time, on social media, you can very easily become surrounded by people that think just like you. Social media sites do that because that’s how they compete and stay relevant. People don’t want to be surrounded by people different from them.
According to Pew Research, half of consistent conservatives and consistent liberals, HALF, specifically admit that it is important to them to live in a place (like a neighborhood or community) where most people share their political views. That’s remarkable. Many of us don’t even want to live around those who are different from us politically-speaking. But this goes for every realm of life. We want to be around people with the same interests as ourselves, and the same opinions as ourselves. Some of this may be natural, but some of it is merely cultural.
Listen, this is why the church is so countercultural. In the body of Christ, we have people of completely different backgrounds, different cultures, different socio-economic statuses, different political views. What brings us all together, what even brings us JOY to be together? We share in God’s grace. We have THE greatest shared experience there is. God saved us from our sin, providing Christ our Substitute and King. That’s number 1. Number 2, the second reason for a Christian’s affection for the church, God’s people:
- We are confident in God’s work of sanctification (6).
Think about this: we get to see God’s work in each other. In a very real sense, we get to see Christ become more and more evident in each other’s lives! And we KNOW that this is happening and will keep happening! Verse 6, one of my favorite verses in Philippians: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul was so affectionate for these saints in Philippi, because he saw that they shared in God’s grace with him not only for salvation but also for sanctification. He loved them because he saw God working in them. They were a testimony to God’s work and his character.
THE one who began a good work in us, as Christians, is the same one who will carry it to completion! What a GREAT encouragement! Just on its own, what a great encouragement! Not only to us as individuals, but to as a church! God did the work in us to save us. He chose us before the foundation of the world according to Ephesians 1:4, he drew us to himself according to John 6:44, and NOW, HE does the work of sanctification. He is refining and purifying us, and bringing us more into the likeness of his son. Despite our inadequacies, despite our failures that we still have as Christians, God does not give up! That’s maybe a good little summary. Five words: God does not give up.
Why does that bring us joy, when we see this not just in ourselves but in other Christians? Because it’s a testimony to the character of our God! He is a God that does not go back on his promises. He is a God that cannot and will not be stopped by anything in bringing to completion what He has begun in me and in you. He does not give up. He is relentless.
In Ezekiel chapter 20, which I believe I’ve shared with you before, a long time ago perhaps, we see one of the most blatant examples of God’s commitment to never giving up on His people, no matter their rebellion and inadequacies! God commands them over and over to turn back to him, but:
Verse 8: “But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Eqypt. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. BUT, I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt.”
They rebelled, so God was going to pour out His wrath, but he decided not to, for the sake of his own name. In other words, because of his character and not wanting to confuse the surround nations about his own character. Then, in verses 13 and 14, the exact same thing happens again. They rebelled, he was about to pour out his wrath, but he relented, for the sake of his name. Then, guess what? Verses 21-22, the exact same thing! We see this throughout Israel’s history, but it’s such an amazing thing to see so many examples in one chapter in Ezekiel.
It reveals God’s heart in that he does not let his people go. God’s faithfulness not only in our salvation, but also in our sanctification, should bring us great JOY, especially when we see this in other people. Not only is our growth in Christ a testimony to God’s faithfulness, but every Christian around us, their growth and their sanctification are also testimonies to God’s faithfulness. Yes, we should encourage each other when we see Christ in one another, but ultimately, we should thank GOD like Paul does, because he’s the one doing the work in us. In a very real sense, we’re all little pulpits walking around testifying and preaching of God’s faithfulness. That’d be a neat skit. Well, maybe not. But it’s still a good picture to have in mind. Despite my inadequacies, I am confident that GOD will finish the work. And I KNOW that to be true because I see it in the people around me!
If God doesn’t give up on us, on his children, then it’s probably the case that neither should we. Right? If you’re ever frustrated at Christians not acting completely like Christians, which at times happens, see it as a JOY to not only hopefully see those Christians mature in the future, but also maybe even to be part of their maturing. We can be confident that God will do this, and we must also realize that maybe we’re the ones God will use to help them.
The hypocrisy and sin of the church shouldn’t only be a frustration. I know many who have said to me, and perhaps I’ve said this before: “I love Jesus, but I just don’t like the church.” We have to understand that when we get that way, when think like that, the problem is not with the church. The problem is with our hearts. Of course the church is full of hypocrites. Where better for hypocrites to be?! I’ve heard people complain, “Well, people in the church don’t even know they’re messed up hypocrities.” My response to that is, maybe some don’t know. But my experience is that that’s exactly why we’re here!
We know we’re depraved; and we know we need a Savior. And that Savior died for these people. When we say we don’t like the church, the body of Christ, we’re actually exposing our own hearts. Do we not see God at work in each other’s hearts? Maybe not everyone, and maybe not all at the same pace, but God is moving, and he will bring to completion what he began.
It’s a beautiful thing to SEE this in the body of Christ. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we’re all in different places in our walks with Christ, different parts of the journey toward being like Christ. So guess what!? Being together means that we get to see more and more of who Jesus is by looking at the collective holiness of the church. In other words, by knowing Barbara Holmberg, we know one of the most servant-hearted people on earth. In knowing her or Jim Bean (another great example), by knowing them, we get to see that character trait of Jesus on display perhaps more than in others, like me! By knowing Vergil and Kathy Nelson, we see, in particular, the care and consideration for other people above themselves that we also know to be true of Christ.
In the collective holiness of the church, we get to see a far better picture of the heart and holiness of Jesus than we ever would if we were apart. This is part of why we come now to number 3. This kind-of leads into it. The third reason for a Christian’s affection for the Church, God’s people:
- We desire one another’s spiritual growth (9-11).
We want to see this in each other! We’re confident that God will finish the work, and because of that we pray for this, like Paul. We’re jealous for each other’s sanctification. We want to see Jesus in each other, partly because we want to have that joy, but also because we’re jealous for Jesus’ reputation as seen in the body of Christ.
Paul expresses what is his primary prayer for the Philippians, starting in verse 9. After talking about the affection he has for them, and his love for them because they share in God’s grace, and because he’s confident that God will finish the work in them, now he prays to that end. Verses 9-11:
“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 God.”
He wants them to grow. He wants them to continue on this path in the gospel, which is what he wants throughout the book of Philippians. And this doesn’t contradict verse 6, which gives God all the credit for all this work. It may seem like what Paul is now telling the Philippians to do, abound more and more in love and knowledge. It may seem like that conflicts with saying that God is the one that does all the work. But certainly it doesn’t. The same grace that saves us is the same grace that empowers and energizes us toward holiness. D.A. Carson calls it “grace-driven effort.” We’ve been given new life in Christ, according to Romans 6, we’re new Creations, and now we strive, by His grace and the ability he gave us, to live that new life that we’ve been given!
Specifically, what does this spiritual growth look like? First and foremost, it’s love. Love is perhaps the greatest mark of the Christian in the New Testament. More and more, genuine love for God and for others becomes part of who we are. And this love isn’t just contrived of our own selves. It is the love of Christ. Verse 8, again: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” As Christ lives more and more in me, his love will be shown through me. His love for God will become my love for God. His love for people, especially God’s children, will become my love for people.
So, how, specifically does this love abound more and more? How does that happen? With knowledge and discernment. That’s what Paul says in verse 9! He doesn’t say, “You just have to worship more and more, or you have to just really turn on the feels.” No, he says knowledge and discernment are what will help us to be pure and blameless, filled with the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Knowledge and discernment is how we grow spiritually, and how we grow to love like Christ loves!
Now that may not be what we normally hear in mainstream Christian circles and churches. That knowledge is what it takes to grow spiritually. We hear that we need to just express our love more and more. Express it! Love, more and more and more! And when you don’t express your love enough, that’s when your growth will be stunted. Not according to Paul. The reason our growth is stunted, and even the reason our love for God and for each other is stunted, is not because we need to have some extra experience, but because we are ignorant. How can we love a God whom we do not know? We can’t! Knowledge of who God is and what He has done, theological knowledge found in His Word, what he’s given us will progress us toward maturity. In other words, we must be students of the Word, all of us!
This knowledge is directly linked to discernment. How these two go together, one commentator puts it this way: “Paul links knowing the truth wit applying the truth to life; he joins ‘What does the Bible teach?’ to ‘How does this truth affect daily life?’” The more we grow in knowledge and discernment, the more we grow in our love, and the more we progress toward purity and blamelessness. Purity being holiness of heart, and blamelessness being holiness of actions. Purity is internal, and blamelessness is external. And as this progression takes place, we’ll be filled with the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, from verse 11.
This is all a process, right? “More and more” gives us a clear picture of a long-term, slow process of growth. There is no spiritual growth microwave or insta-pot. Real spiritual growth is the slowest slow-cooker you can imagine. And that’s part of why we have such a lack of maturity in the church. Because we’re so impatient. Not only do we want five ways my life can be changed this week, that’s what we want from the pastor every Sunday. But we also are impatient with each other. Instead of recognizing slow, long-term spiritual growth in one another, maybe we get frustrated because he won’t grow up fast enough! Or she won’t grow up fast enough. It’s a slow, life-long process. We must be patient, and we must persevere, by God’s grace, and by His power, because we know he will bring it to completion.
Here’s the question I want us to close with: Do I love the body of Christ? Do I have an affection for these people of God because of what we share? Or do I let small, worldly differences overshadow what we share? If you try and come up with the most annoying type of person to you; just try and make it up in your head. Maybe you don’t have to make it up; maybe you can look around and find him. Maybe they stand really close to you when they talk. Maybe they’re overbearing. Maybe they’re selfish. Let’s get specific: maybe they support kneeling during NFL football games. Maybe they support extreme gun control. Maybe they’re introverted to the extreme and you’re extroverted. Whoever these people are that are different from you even in big ways, at least in our worldly eyes: Can you have an affection for them based on the Gospel? Because you have more in common with them than anyone else on the face of the planet?!
Paul did. Jesus did, certainly. Find joy in seeing the diversity of the body of Christ coming together around one truth, one message: the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. He is more than a mere shared experience. He IS our life and our joy.