Love for the Church
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Philippians 1:3-6
Love for the Church
October 13, 2019
Turn in your Bibles to Philippians Chapter 1, if you’re not there already. Last week we began our study of the Book of Philippians by looking at Paul’s salutation and greeting and what we found were three ways that we need to be thinking about our identity—as first, slaves of Christ; second, saints in Christ; and third, as members of the body of Christ through our connection to a local church. It was evident that Paul wanted them to think in terms of their local church—we talked about that last week—by identifying in his greeting the church offices of overseer and deacon. They were right there in his greeting, and it’s unusual. In verses 3 through 11, which we’re going to start on today, Paul continues to talk about how he thinks about and feels about those who are in the Philippian church. It is so instructive for us to look at these verses and to see just how it is we need to be thinking about each other as we look around and we see all of those whom God has sovereignly placed within the same local body as ourselves. This idea of focusing on our fellow church members and taking a primary concern in who they are and how they are walking with Christ and how God has gifted them for ministry and how we should think about and interact with each and interact for each other—it goes completely against the way what we call popular, contemporary Christianity looks like in this county—the way it is leading us to think.
If you took a quick look at the top of the charts in contemporary Christian music or Christian book sales, it would prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the one thing most important to American Christians right now is themselves—hearing about how special you are and how God can help you and how your life can get better and how God can make you feel happier and restore your self-esteem. I looked up the titles on the top of the Christian best seller list. Just listen to the titles: Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be. Another one: It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered. Another one: The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. A couple of devotionals are next: 100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self. Another one: Embraced: 100 Devotions to Know God Is Holding You Close. So that one at least brings up God—that’s the first one. I don’t know if you noticed that. But it’s about God holding you, God making much of you. Next one: Own Your Everyday: Overcome the Pressure to Prove and Show up for What You Were Made to Do. Next one: Defined: Who God Says You Are. It brings up God, but it’s really about you. And lastly on this list: The Greatest You: Face Reality, Release Negativity and Live Your Purpose. So that’s the Christian best seller list. In addition, there are about five different versions of Jesus Calling, which is a book that’s mainly about what Jesus thinks about you.
There is very little on this list on how great God is, and if you just look at those titles, you would think there absolutely must not be anything in the Bible that would make us think for a second that we are to care anything about other people. Make no mistake—the message of Christian culture is about you thinking about you. But just doing it in a way where you talk about God a little bit and it sounds less like selfish Hollywood. So, yes, at Barnes and Noble, those might be under the Christian category, but it’s just this constant message that you need to be thinking more about how great you are and how great you can be. And if God comes up, it’s because he is also thinking about how great you are and how great you can be. That’s what we see. In fact, I had a much longer version of this introduction where I also went through and read to you a bunch of lines from the most popular Christian songs on Christian radio right now—and those are even worse. Almost every one of them is about you, about how you are special, how you need to stop doubting yourself, you need to believe in yourself. And when God comes up, he’s there just to reinforce that message. There’s never anything about being great because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. You’re just great because you’re you.
It was a very frustrating experience looking at all those, and so just really quickly, as bonus application for you, I can tell you that if you are listening to mainstream Christian radio stations and contemporary Christian music, you need to be very careful. It is much more likely that it’s going to make you more self-obsessed than invoke any true worship of God. What is even worse is that as you begin to dig a little deeper into the content of these books, and even the songs, trying to discover something about how we are to think and relate to others—when you look at that, in a similar way we see that Paul does in these verses we’re going to talk about today—what we find in those books from those authors is that they almost always present other people as the problem. They’re the obstacles that keep you from becoming everything you’re supposed to become. There’s no instruction in them for how to live in loving gratefulness for those whom God has saved alongside of you. Rather, it’s how to live in spite of all those roadblocks. How are you going to overcome them? This type of thinking that pervades American Christianity has nothing to do with the Christian life.
God doesn’t save you so he can have a personal relationship with you—that’s not the primary reason. He doesn’t save you so you can think better of yourself. God saves a people. He saves a church. He doesn’t save you to make you a better you. He saves a people unto himself. He saves the church to make us more like him. In just living in this country, the fact that most of us have grown up with this means we have all been affected by this wrong way of thinking about what the Christian life looks like. Most of us, hopefully, can at least recognize how undervalued God is in Christian books and Christian music. But the second aspect is how wrong and few our thoughts are when it comes to our actions and attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ within our church. In this passage in Philippians, we see Paul demonstrating what our attitude, actions and affection should look like when it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ, when it comes to our fellow members in church. Let’s look at Philippians Chapter 1, verses 3 through 11. Paul says:
*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. 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. 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. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 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.*
Very different from what we see parading itself as Christianity today. We’re going to be looking at this passage over the next three weeks. Today, we’re only going to be looking at verses 3 through 6. What I want us to do here is to see four ways that we need to be thinking and acting when it comes to each other—when we’re talking about each other. From this passage, I want to show you four attitudes that will help you grow as a Christian, that will keep you out of the prison of self-centered living promoted and championed by the world, and even unfortunately by many in our evangelical culture. We need to see and understand that all of these books, all of this music, and so much in the Christian culture are trying to essentially hang a Christian sign on the slavery of living for our own sinful self-interest when we have been set free through Christ to love God and to love others. These are four attitudes the Apostle Paul exemplifies in this passage. If we are diligent to make them ours also, it will help to keep us from heading right back into some Christianized version of the life that God has saved us out of—a selfish life.
The first attitude is that we are to be thankful in remembrance. We see this right away in verse 3. He says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” So when Paul thinks about the precious members of the church in Philippi, he is filled with thanksgiving. We know that one of the reasons Paul is writing this letter is, in fact, to thank the Philippians for a gift they had sent along with Epaphroditus to him and we know, from what we read earlier, they have longed to help him for some time and only now have been able to. And as we read last week from Acts 16, these memories of the Philippian Christians began during that second missionary journey when Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke headed into Macedonia, and they began to share the Gospel with some women at the riverside there. They can watch as God opens hearts and sees them respond and repent and believe the Gospel. So when you’re thinking of those memories, it is easy to see why Paul would thank God in every remembrance of them.
These are not the only memories Paul would have had about his time in Philippi or about the people that make up that church. Flip back to Acts 16. Let’s look at some of these. If you look at Acts 16:16 through 18, it says:
*As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortunetelling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaims to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.*
So it says in this passage that after several days of this demon-possessed girl following them around, the Apostle Paul becomes greatly annoyed. This is not the type of attitude we often associate with Paul, right? The word that is translated as “annoyed” is used elsewhere in Acts to describe the way the Sadducees felt about the Apostles proclaiming the Gospel—that type of annoyance. In one of the lexicons I looked at, it said this word means to be “provoked” or “strongly irked.” It was in a lexicon. I thought that was a slang word, but it said “strongly irked.” And here we see it used by Paul when talking about a possessed girl who kept following him around for days, crying out to the crowds. And that would be annoying, right? Sometimes people look at this passage, and they don’t understand what the big deal is since the girl is saying true things about Paul—they are servants of the Most High God proclaiming the way of salvation. But when we think, “Oh, that’s not a big deal,” we’re not thinking about the part of the passage that says it was after several days of this and the fact that she is crying out. So if you are on the Red Evangelism Team that goes out every other Friday night, and you went out walking around in downtown Greeley, and the whole time someone was standing next to you screaming, it wouldn’t really matter what she was saying. You’re probably going to become a little irked and you might just pack it in for the night. You’d probably remember that night and come and tell it to all of us, and it would be a Red Team story that we’d tell all the time. You’d probably remember it for the rest of your life—how annoyed you were that day.
In verses 19 through 24, there are more struggles Paul has while he is in Philippi. It says:
*But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us a Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.*
So now we see that Paul and Silas are seized and dragged to the marketplace before the magistrates in the town. We don’t know what is entailed when it says “dragged,” but they were at least forcefully brought to a place they didn’t want to go. They weren’t led there; they were dragged there, forcefully pulled. So whatever this looked like, it was not pleasant or enjoyable. And then look at verse 22. It says they find them guilty without any type of fair trial. They tear off their clothes. That’s pretty humiliating in and of itself. But then it says they are beaten with rods. So usually when we’re reading through Acts 16, we go over this section quickly because we all love the story of Paul and Silas singing in the prison, the earthquake happening, the Philippian jailer being converted—we all like that part. But what happens in verse 22 is that Paul and Silas have either been stripped naked or stripped down to their undergarments. And the magistrates would take out this bundle of rods they’re given—these long staffs they’re given in order to maintain justice in the city, and they have Paul and Silas repeatedly hit across the back, the ribs, and the legs.
The fact that this happens in Philippi is worse than if it had happened somewhere else because the Jews would limit the number of times you could strike a prisoner, but the Romans had no such rule. As we know from last week, the city of Philippi was so proud to be Roman. So there are many accounts in Roman history of prisoners just being beaten to death in these situations.
So then we see in verse 23 that after they inflict “many blows,” they throw them in jail. You can imagine they’re in terrible pain and physical anguish as they’re thrown into prison. They’re probably dropping in and out of consciousness, maybe opening their eyes off and on to see the jailer dragging them into the inner prison and fastening their feet. We know from this very next passage that this jailer believes. And he becomes a part of this church in Philippi. This church in Philippi that Paul is now writing to is the church about which he has just said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”
So this is what we need wrap our heads around, here. Paul is not saying about his relationship with the church in Philippi that everything he knows about them and his time with them is just so wonderful that he could never possibly think of something sad or painful when it comes to them—far from it. Just think about it. Just carry that into our culture. Think about people in our culture today who need therapy for years just for having someone say mean stuff about them. And when people today say they don’t feel safe, they usually mean they’re in a place where someone is expressing viewpoints that make them uncomfortable. The average university student would have no capacity to relate to Paul. “Don’t go over to that student organization, Paul. That is not a safe place.” “You mean they might jump us, strip off all our clothes and beat us with sticks until we’re almost dead?” “No, no, no—just say stuff we don’t agree with.” If what happened to Paul in Philippi had happened to most people in our culture, they would turn into a shell. They’d try to never ever think of anything that would remind them of their time in Philippi ever again. Years of therapy to get that out of their heads.
Philippi would have some of the worst memories for Paul—memories that most of us could never imagine. And some of these people in this church contributed to them in some way. So there’s a good chance the girl who greatly irked Paul joined this early church. It said a “great crowd” joined in beating them that day. Who knows how many of those people later became a part of this church? And we know for a fact this jailer—the one who put them in stocks and dragged them into the inner prison after they were beaten—we know he is definitely part of this church. Yet, Paul says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Some translations say, “every remembrance.” “Every single time I think of you, I’m always thanking God.” That’s what he’s saying.
In light of that, there are probably some who have thought that you could justify thinking badly of someone else in here because of something they might have said or done at some point in the past. You allow yourself to look at that brother or sister in Christ—when you look at them through that lens for something they did in the past. Maybe it’s even something they’ve asked forgiveness for. Maybe it’s something they have no idea that they did, that it even happened. Maybe it’s something you said you forgave them for. Maybe it’s just some sort of personality quirk you believe to be annoying or irksome. Whatever the case, when you think of them, you allow that to be a part of how you see them, and you don’t even care that that’s always on your mind when you see them. How embarrassing would it be to try to justify that bitterness toward that person to Paul, let alone to God. Even though there are plenty of bad thoughts that Paul could have had about these people, he decided only to remember them in a way that allowed him to thank his God for them all the time.
The noun that is translated as “remembrance,” “mneia,” refers to the mental act of calling something to mind. It’s a decision he’s making to do it. This is an action that Paul focuses on. He refuses to let sins against him—sins that have been forgiven—or any annoying times he might have experienced—he refuses to let those enter his mind when he is thinking about his brothers and sisters in this church. And so it must also be for us. “All” or “every” means the entirety of our thoughts are to be given to a remembrance that causes us to thank God for each other. If Paul can look at those who are complicit in beating him with rods and say, “Whenever I think of you, I give thanks to God,” then we had better be able to do that with anyone we’ve ever had a misunderstanding with. If no one in here has ever beaten you with rods or sticks until you were almost dead—first, if that has happened, that’s something the elders need to know about, and we’ll work through some sort of reconciliation—but if that has not happened, then you have no excuse for not being able to immediately begin thanking God for every fellow member of the church as soon as they come to your mind.
In fact, do this—sometime this week. Members, take your church directory and go through it and thank God for every single person you see in there. No—write it down. Do that this week. As you see each face, your heart should overflow with reasons why you are thankful for them, for all the ways you might know they serve in the church, and at the very least, for the fact their hearts have been opened to the message of the Gospel, and they have turned from their sins and they now follow Christ. They’re members of the same local body that you are. If you can’t think of anything to thank God for when you see someone, that’s an issue. You might need to get to know them better—have them over for dinner or something so that you can thank God for them every time you think of them or see them. Being thankful in remembrance doesn’t mean you just glibly look over everyone’s sinful patterns and weaknesses—that is not what this means. We are still called to disciple one another. This is still a calling for us. It just means you don’t dwell on those things, that you praise God for them, you praise God for the fruit of the Spirit that you see in them, you praise God for the growth that you’ve seen in them—the growth that’s a sign they’re going to continue to grow in sanctification. You do that even as you may have to rebuke them or to spur them on in love. But it is still done with an eye toward thanking God for them. A person who cannot thank God for a brother and sister in the Lord, who is not bothered by being bitter with someone, who doesn’t care that they resent someone, that they can hold grudge or have a critical spirit toward someone—that person is almost certainly not a Christian. We are to be thankful in our remembrance of one another. It is good to test ourselves in this. So do that with the church directory.
So we are to be thanking God in all our remembrance of each other and that clearly overlaps with our next point. Being thankful in our remembrance leads us to be joyful in our prayers for one another. Starting at verse 3 it says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy.” Obviously, if we are thanking God for each other, then we are praying for each other. Thanking God implies we are praying. But this word that is translated as prayer, “deesis,” is talking about intercession—the intercession part of prayer when you’re coming before God with an entreaty. So that word can also mean “plea,” asking God to do something for that person, pleading with God to work on their behalf. So Paul is pleading with God on behalf of them. Paul prays for God to do things in the lives of these people to help them to grow and to be strengthened. So he is saying that whenever he prays for them, in every single prayer, he first thanks God for them, but he also pleads for them.
And notice he does this for all of them. When he is praying, when he is thanking God, he doesn’t just have certain people in the church in mind—that those are the only ones he prays for. He prays for all of them, no matter who they are, no matter if they’re causing him trouble or not, whether or not they’re behaving well. So included in the “all” would be the two women he prays for in Chapter 4 who are not getting along, who are causing some sort of division. There is something there that is a big enough deal that Paul must take some time while writing the Bible to address them by name. So even these women are prayed for by Paul. And Paul thanks God for them. We should be regularly praying for everyone in the church. We don’t pick a few favorites—the ones who are the nicest to us, or the ones who don’t cause us any issues. Sometimes, yes, of course, there are some people whom you have more prayer for at different times. That’s why we have the little prayer request spot in the bulletin. That’s why we share prayer requests with each other.
But if you’ve been in this church for even a few months, there really should be no reason you haven’t prayed for every single person in here by name yet. There’s no good reason. The way that Paul writes here—how many times he says “all” and “always” just in these two verses—indicates he is doing this a lot. Praying for you all “always, in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” So you could probably say this doesn’t necessarily mean Paul prays for every single believer in that particular congregation individually. I mean that couldn’t be true—he’s 800 miles away in a Roman prison. He hasn’t been with this church for several years, so he doesn’t know everyone who is in there by name probably. But if you look at the end of Romans 16 and the way he names people at the end of Romans, you get the sense that if he knows who you are in the church, he is praying for you. That’s how we must be also. None of us has any excuse for not regularly praying for each of our fellow members in this church we are a part of.
But the most amazing part of this verse is that Paul says all these prayers are done with joy. The circumstances in the church don’t keep Paul from praying with joy—even though there are these two ladies who are causing division, Paul says both of these ladies have labored side by side with him in the Gospel, and now they’re being divisive over something that apparently is not a big enough deal for Paul to weigh in on concerning which one of them is right. He says, “Agree in the Lord.” That’s what is important to him here even though these two ladies are causing division. One of the most discouraging things I see and experience in the church is when brothers and sisters in Christ stirring up division or doing something that looks like they’ve taken a step back in their spiritual maturity. They lose sight of what’s truly important. They begin to act like immature believers again. I’m sure many of you have experienced the same thing. When you see this, it’s so easy to be led to discouragement, to forget all the great things that have happened in their lives up to that point, and what God is doing in the church. Sometimes we can let sin issues that we observe in one person or in one looming case of church discipline completely cloud out the fact that God is doing amazing work here at Grace Church.
So many people are growing in love and faithfulness, and it’s awesome to watch. Yet some of these other things can become so magnified in our vision. And Paul is clearly concerned about these things. He is, but he doesn’t let that steal his joy when it comes to prayer. Joy comes from the settled disposition that we have been saved by God in Christ and further, that we know that God will accomplish all his purposes for the church. We also know from Chapter 3 that another issue that is going on around this church is that there are false teachers who are endangering the church—people who preach a similar sounding gospel, that is really no gospel at all. They’re surrounding the church—all the churches that Paul has founded and that he still writes to. But their presence in the church still cannot take away Paul’s joy when he prays for them.
Again, coming out of a conference like we had a couple weeks ago, we could have a totally wrong reaction to this whole social justice problem—the fact that it is infiltrating the church across the country and lots of people seem to unaware of it. Well-meaning Christian leaders don’t seem to see the way it’s influenced them. When you look at the scope of it, when you look at who’s being caught up in that influence, it could easily be discouraging if you dwelled on it. And we can begin to forget what God has promised to accomplish in his church. The fact is that the church in no way is dependent on those teachers and preachers who have bought into this stuff. The purpose of the church is not dependent on them. God has promised to build his church. These things cannot rob us of our joy when we pray for the church, when we pray for each other. So it doesn’t matter what kind of circumstances are going on at the church at Philippi, Paul is praying for them with joy.
Not only are we to pray for the church with joy regardless of what the circumstances in the church might be, but more difficult, we are supposed to pray with joy for the church regardless of what the circumstances in our own lives are. The most amazing thing about Paul’s statement that he always prays for them with joy has to do with the circumstances that he is. Think about it. When you’re going through a trial, how hard is it to pray for others? Unfortunately, most of us probably spend most of our time praying—whether we’re going through a trial or not— about ourselves, especially when our circumstances seem difficult. And this, by the way, demonstrates even in our prayer life how much we have bought into that culture that we talked about in the introduction—selfishness. It’s easier for us to pray about ourselves because we know our own trials well. We know how hard things are for us. We know that far better than we might know about someone else especially because we don’t often ask them about their trials. It’s so easy for us to focus on ourselves—to think of our problems as the biggest ones to overcome. It’s probably because we listen to too much contemporary Christian music. We know what is going on in our lives, so we just minimize everyone else’s problems.
Those books that I read and those songs are so important to so many people because everyone thinks they’re the one that needs to hear this message. So Lauren Daigle will say something like, “There’s someone out there who needs to hear the message of this song.” And thirty million people will hear it and apply it to whatever difficult thing in their life they happen to be going through. But whatever difficult thing that they’re going through is something that the Bible would probably put in the category of “common to man,” by the way. They’ll hear that song and they’ll say, “That’s me! I’m the person! I’m the one who really needs to hear this song or read that book or have this message. It’s me!” That is not the Christian life. That’s not it. Don’t be that person driving 15 miles per hour under the speed limit in the left lane with tears rolling down your face, singingly loudly along with Lauren Daigle or Matthew West, voice cracking, feeling sorry for yourself because you’re going through a trial that is not really any different from thousands of other Christians have dealt with, singing about how you’re going to overcome it because you’re worth it. That is not the Christian life.
Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel. His body is covered with scars from being stoned, beaten with rods and whipped so many times in his life. While he’s in prison—we’re going to read about that later in Philippians—there are actually people running around who are somehow sharing the Gospel in such a way that they are trying to inflict more pain on him—trying to inflict pain on him while he’s in prison, covered with scars! When he is going through his trials—if you remember in Acts 16—he does sing. He sings praises to God, it says—songs about who God is, how great God is. And when he prays, he prays with joy and thanksgiving for the church. Faithfully, sincerely, interceding on behalf of the church is what gives him joy. How much better is that than thinking about yourself and worrying about yourself all the time. We desperately need to follow Paul’s example here. When someone else tries to help us be joyful in our affliction, it can be easy for us to think, “They have no idea what I’m going through.” And there can be some truth to that—there probably is some truth to that, but you wouldn’t say it to Paul.
When we’re going through trials, we should absolutely commit them to God. We should absolutely plead with him to strengthen our faith and to use it to conform us more to his likeness, but it is also during these times—when we are the least likely to pray for others—that we desperately need to. Thanking God for the people God has sovereignly placed you with in this local body and interceding for them immediately begins to minimize your own problems, and it brings such joy to your heart. Try it—the thing with the directory. It is impossible to keep feeling bad for yourself when you begin thanking God for all the blessings that he has put in your life and the people in the church and then interceding for them. So turn down K-LOVE and start praying.
So we are thankful in remembrance. We are joyful in our prayers for each other. And we do this because we understand we are—point three—persevering in Gospel partnership. So the reason that Paul can do these first two things so easily is that he sees and understands that these fellow Christians share a partnership in the Gospel with him. He gets that. In fact, the word translated as “partnership” is the word “koinonia.” This is a word that many of you are probably familiar with and is often translated as “fellowship.” It is so much more than thinking of each other as business partners who share the same goal. They have this deep fellowship in the Gospel. It is the fact that God has opened our eyes together to see and understand the sin that we have committed before a holy God that is worthy of the just wrath of that God, worthy of an eternity in hell, that God became man in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, that this perfect God-man lived the life I could never live, being fully obedient to the law of God in word and action and thought even. And then he died the death that I deserve and, in that death, took upon himself the full wrath of God—took it all. And not only that, but just like we sang in His Robes for Mine, he has also credited to us the righteousness, the righteous life of Jesus Christ. We have together been granted faith and repentance. We have repented of our sins and placed our trust in the Gospel, in this good news. So we have this wonderful fellowship in the fact we are all partakers in this Gospel. We’re all participants in it together. All of us who have believed this Gospel have become one in Christ like we talked about last week—our union in Christ because of this.
But Paul is not just talking about the fact the Gospel has placed us into the fellowship of Christ, but that we have a partnership in the ministry of the Gospel. They participate with him in the advance of the Gospel. He sees that. This is seen in the fact they are, yes, giving to him in his ministry. They have given him this gift. But Paul is also confident they are doing the same type of ministry that he is in prison for. He is confident they are fully engaged in evangelism in the city of Philippi and engaged in discipleship within the church at Philippi. That is what Gospel ministry is. That’s what he means when he says, “From the first day until now.” It means they are persevering in it. They have not become stagnant. They have not lost their zeal for the Gospel. So as we go into our communities and as we share the Gospel with people and we are very mildly persecuted or mocked for our beliefs, it should give us great joy and comfort to come back here to gather together on Sundays and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings for men, Thursdays and Fridays for women, and come back here and see each other and remember we are all partners in the Gospel together. We’re fighting the same battles. We’re hearing the same condemnation.
Yet, there are some people like Paul, like many of our brothers and sisters overseas who have to deal with a lot more persecution than we do, but we can all take great confidence knowing that we’re all out there during the week doing Gospel ministry together—Gospel partnership doing the work of the ministry together. Every time we are out there and start to feel that tension when you’re struggling with sharing the Gospel with a coworker and you’re being berated with questions and mocked for your exclusive viewpoint—every time you feel that tension, it should cause you to pray with greater joy and fervency for your fellow partners in the Gospel. And conversely, when you see others battling and being obedient to the demands of the Gospel and you are not, it should motivate you to become a better partner. Who wants that? Who wants to be the partner who doesn’t take any of the hits? It’s hard to pray for evangelistic boldness for your brother in Christ while trying to hide from discomfort for the sake of the Gospel for yourself.
So as we look around this church, we’re to be joyfully thanking God and interceding for each other because of the profound Gospel fellowship in ministry that we all share, and we can and should do these things, and we should think in this way because we are confident that God will complete his work in each of our lives. And point four is we’re confident in completion. Here we see in verse 6 the foundation for how Paul can speak and act as he is. The reason behind all of this—why Paul’s joy in this section is so tangible, why he can feel it, why he can know that all his prayers are worth it, why his thanks for them can be truly from a heart that loves them to his God, why he can be confident they’re going to continue in persevering in Gospel ministry—it’s not because he has so much confidence in these Philippian believers. It’s because he is confident in the promises and the character of the God whose Gospel this is.
Look again at that wonderful truth in verse 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.” This is one of those often-quoted verses from the book of Philippians. Even if you’re not very familiar with the book, you’re more than likely familiar with that verse. It’s one of those verses that is greatly encouraging for us. It is! It’s teaching the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. It gives us confidence when we’re discouraged about ourselves, or we don’t see the growth in our lives that we would like to see when we fail and commit a sin we know we shouldn’t have done. It’s one of those motivating factors when we pick ourselves back up again, when we repent when we need to, when we reconcile when we need to, when we are asking for forgiveness. This is what motivates us: this great truth that you are a divine work of God. If you are a believer, you are a divine work of God. You are not finished yet. He’s not finished with you yet, but he will one day complete that work. He will one day complete the work that you know he began in you when he granted you faith and repentance. Because he started it then, you can be confident he will complete it by bringing you one day into perfect conformity with Christ. This is a greatly encouraging verse to us.
But here Paul is using it not to encourage himself about himself—again, the way we most often use this verse—and we should use it for that, by the way. Rather, he is using is to demonstrate the reason for his absolute confidence in the perseverance of the believers of the church at Philippi. The confidence of Paul—the reason he is able to believe and think the way he does about what is happening in the church in spite of the circumstances that he is in and in spite of whatever circumstances the church finds itself in—is grounded in what he knew happened, what he saw happening the very first day he began preaching the Gospel to those women at that riverside in Philippi. You don’t have to turn there, but remember what was said back in Acts 16, verse 13 through 15.
*And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.*
This is where his confidence lies. He remembers that day. He understands what took place on that day. The same God who began to create the heavens and the earth at one point, and then completed that job in six days—that same God had begun this new work of creation in the heart of this woman and our Creator and Savior does not begin a work that he does not complete. Lydia, the jailer, Euodia and Syntyche—those two women in Philippians 4—every single person in that church whose heart God had opened to receive the Gospel—every one of them is as certain of final glorification in conformity to Christlikeness as if it had already happened. It’s not because Paul is certain they’re going to be able to continue in perseverance themselves. It’s because he is certain that God will act according to his character. He will do it and he will keep them persevering. And he will bring them to that completed work on the day of Jesus Christ. Paul wants them to understand that it wasn’t him, it wasn’t them—he is not confident in their ability to obediently follow. And he’s not confident in his ability to write a convincing letter. He is confident because it was God who began the work. God finishes what he starts.
I love the way one commentator puts it. He says, “For when God is involved whatever begins already has the end in sight. The completed state already exists in the divine initiation.” There is absolute confidence in Paul, and that should be the case with us also—that the God who began a good work doesn’t then step aside and let us finish the job. He continues and completes the work. You should take great confidence as we look at the church—great confidence. The thing that would seem more unlikely, that should make less sense to us is that God would ever begin that work—not the completion of it. Remember in Romans 5:8 through 10 it says:
*But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.*
If God began this work—if he initiated it on those who were his enemies, then of course he is going to continue that work on in his children. God brings salvation all the way through. Romans 8:29 and 30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. And whose whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, those whom he justified he also glorified.” So who is the one working at every step? It’s God. Notice also the way “glorified” is presented in that passage. Even though it hasn’t happened yet, in God’s economy, it’s as good as done in eternity past. God doesn’t look at the circumstance of the one in whom he has begun the work, like some carpenter who realizes he’s got a bad block of wood halfway through the project and then decides to toss it and start over. God does not do that. You can have absolute confidence because of the character of God that he is going to do what he promises in the lives of each one here—each one in whom God has begun that work.
And we also must notice when the work is completed. That’s helpful for us also. It’s completed on the day of Jesus Christ. So that’s a reference to his second coming. Now, has that happened yet? No, it hasn’t. Of course not. Therefore is there anyone in this room or otherwise who represents a finished work? No. So our expectations in our interactions with each other need to reflect both truths: number one, that God is doing a work in each and every one of us in whom he has begun the work. God is doing a work. And number two, that he has not finished that work yet. We graciously recognize that each of us is still in the process of becoming what we will one day be. We do that in all our interactions with each other.
We also expectantly disciple with confidence that the word of God will have a transforming effect on the people of God—among those whom he has begun this work in. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, look around the room. We need to see things the way this passage implores us to. We need to see each other the way this passage teaches us to—your fellow saints, who are all at various points in the good work that God is bringing to completion. Yes, there are unbelievers in here, I’m sure of it. Some of them might know it. Some of them might not know it. Let’s look to each other as partners in the Gospel ministry and identify, evangelize and minister to them. With that in mind, with these truths in mind, we need to actively, frequently be thanking God for one another, joyfully interceding on behalf of one another, choosing to forget and never call to mind anything that would cause us to be bitter or to harbor a critical spirit toward any of those with whom God has made you a close partner in the Gospel by placing you here with them in this church. In all things, all the time, be confident that this same God who began a good work in each of us will bring it to completion.
Father, thank you for your work—the way that it confronts the culture trying to influence us. It has probably influenced many of us in ways we didn’t even know. Lord, I pray that you would help us to apply the truths that we see in this passage to the point that even when it’s uncomfortable and it’s going against the rest of the way other churches or Christian culture in general might think, we trust your Word. We see how we are truly supposed to be and live in the way that will truly bring us joy—not being a slave, once again, to self-centeredness, but freed to love you, love others, to give our lives serving others, thanking God for each other, helping each other to grow in conformity to Christ. Lord, I pray this would be a church who can easily read this passage and agree wholeheartedly with everything that Paul says because they see it in their own heart as well. Make us a church like that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.