Sunday, July 06, 2014
"I Thank" Sermon: Philippians 1:1-7
July 6, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Today, we begin a look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Philippi was an important city in northeastern Greece when Paul visited during his second missionary journey around 50 A.D. It had become part of the Roman Empire which was interested in it both as a location of gold and as a key link in the ancient trade route.
With a history as Greece and as part of the Roman Empire, as well as being along the trade route, there was a variety of religious beliefs in the city – the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods – along with others – were worshipped there. A unique absence was there was no Jewish presence in the city – no synagogue in Philippi.
We read of Paul’s journey to Philippi beginning in Acts 16. Without a synagogue to preach in, Paul went to the river, where the women gathered to wash their clothes and talk. There Paul preached and Lydia, a seller of purple clothes, and others, came to faith in Jesus Alone for salvation. After this, Paul cast a demon out of a woman who prophesied by the demon, and she believed. And, perhaps most famously, while he was in jail, Paul preached and the Philippian jailer and his whole family believed and was baptized. They were the beginning of the church at Philippi.
Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi around 60 A.D., while he waited in jail in Rome to appear before Caesar – which would end in Paul’s execution.
Paul begins his letter with a typical salutation:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,”
Paul, along with his travelling companion, wrote to the Philippians, and Paul begins by stressing the fact that they were servants of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ was their Master – they answered to no higher power than Jesus, Himself. This was important to emphasize as Paul did not know whether his request to speak to Caesar would end in his death. He wanted the Philippians to understand that he placed his hope in Jesus and not in the rulers of this world. Paul was ultimately subject to the Will of Jesus, not Caesar, nor any other human authority.
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:”
The letter is addressed to all of the believers – all the Christians in Philippi – with the church leadership.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The opening salutation ends with Paul’s blessing and hope that they would receive grace and peace from God. Specifically, that they would more fully understand, hold to, and defend that the Gospel as freely received by grace and not by works, and that they would more fully understand what is the full nature of the peace they now have with God through Jesus Christ.
After this opening salutation, Paul turns to give thanks.
Here we see:
First, Paul thanks God for their love and care of him.
Second, Paul thanks God for their proclamation of the Gospel.
Third, Paul thanks God for God’s promise to persevere them.
Fourth, right belief evidences itself in right action.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,”
Notice in the first three points we are making this morning that Paul thanks God for a number of things. Humans do not tend to be a thankful people. We think we are deserving of this and that blessing and honor and gift. But Paul gives us the right example that we are to thankful for anything and everything we receive, because everything and anything we receive – even through others – is by the Hand of God.
One of the problems of the unbelievers in that they do not thank God for all they have received – as Paul explains: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, ESV).
Paul instructs the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).
Humans tend not to be a thankful people – and we in the Church tend not to be any better – to our shame. Do we not have reason to be thankful to God for all things at all times – we for whom God came to earth and died?
I use to have a friend who complained constantly. One day I asked her if she did not have anything to be thankful for. She screamed: “I have nothing to be thankful for! Everything I have, I worked for myself! No one has ever given me anything!” I found that attitude heartbreaking.
James tells us, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:16-18, ESV).
Yes, we have bad days. Yes, we do not always receive the recognition we believe we deserve from people. Yes, people lie to us and cheat us and steal from us.
But, if we are Christians, the Almighty God came down off His throne and reconciled us to Himself that we would not have to suffer His Wrath for our sin – by living and dying and rising in our place! Our Loving Father has adopted us as His children out of His Own Sovereign Good Pleasure! We do not merit forgiveness. We do not merit adoption. We do not merit eternal life.
But God promises this will be the end for all those who believe: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).
Brothers and sisters! Strike us blind, deaf, mute, unable to smell or taste, take away our memory, kill off all of our family, put us out on the street, give us terrible diseases, and we have reason to give thanks, because God, our Father, has chosen us to be His children and live in His Kingdom forever!
Are you alive? Are you breathing? Do you have food? Do you have shelter? Do you have clothes? Do you have enough money to get by? Are you here among brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our God and Savior? Has Jesus saved you to His Glory? Then you have more than enough to give thanks for – don’t you think?
We ought to be thankful towards each other – and towards all the other humans who participate in our lives – even though they may get on our nerves now and then – but our thanks should always be first to God from Whom all things come.
And so we see, Paul first gives thanks to God for the Philippians love and care of him.
Every time Paul thought of the Philippians, he gave thanks for them.
He gave thanks to God for them as fellow Christians – believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we thankful for all those that God has called to Himself in salvation through Jesus? Are you thankful for the Christian beside you or behind you or in front of you? Do you thank God for him or her?
He gave thanks to God for them as people who came to him in prison – sending emissaries to him to make sure he had what he needed and to send support for him while he was under house arrest. Are we thankful to God and do we take the opportunity to be in contact with those who are in need – sick, shut-ins, people who are down, people who are in prison or suffering in some other way, people who are struggling with addiction to sin – to inappropriate sexuality, to gambling, to alcohol, to drugs, to food.
He gave thanks to God for their financial gift to him – we will see more about this later. The Philippians gave to Paul financially – as a missionary, as a brother in need. Can we be counted on to give financially to those in need – to those who are serving in the ministry of Christ? When was the last time you heard of a financial need – especially in the Church – and rather than reluctantly giving your spare change, spent time in prayer – not asking yourself how little you could get away with, but how much you could possibly give to support the Work of Christ and His servants?
“because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Second, Paul gave God thanks for their proclamation of the Gospel.
The Philippian believers did not just receive the Gospel and sit back and wait for the Second Coming. No, the Philippians got off their pews and went out and told their friends and families and strangers about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They had a passion for wanting people to hear and believe in Jesus for salvation.
If you are a Christian, do you care that there are millions of people going to Hell every day? Do you care about those people you know who do not believe in Jesus savingly? Do you desire them to believe and repent and be welcomed into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Have you told them?
Jesus has commanded us to go: “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15, ESV).
Paul knew it so important to be willing to be executed: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).
Peter preached the urgency of the Gospel: “And there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV).
And some of you may be thinking, “That’s your job.” And you’re right, in the sense that I am a Christian and am to be proclaiming the Gospel – and, pray God, I do. But this is for you, too.
Paul explained, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).
Did you hear that? Paul says that the church leaders were given to equip you to become mature in the faith and go out and build up the Church – to proclaim the Gospel – to tell others about Jesus!
And when we do that – when God brings people to belief and repentance – I thank God – you thank God – all the beings of heaven thank God! Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).
Are we thankful that God uses us to proclaim the Gospel? Are we thankful to God that He brings people to belief and repentance through us by the Holy Spirit? Do you ever get giddy when an opportunity presents itself to tell someone that God has a made the Way to be right with Him through Jesus?
Let me plead with you – if you are not telling others about Jesus – in whatever way God has gifted you – we are not all evangelists – pray that God will show you how and give you the joy and wisdom to tell others. Pick up the book on evangelism that is available in Freeman Hall. Ask God to make you thankful for the command to tell others – for the fact that God will even use you to His Glory – and for knowing that it is God’s work to save, not ours.
“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.”
Third, Paul thanks God for God’s promise to persevere them.
God commands us to be faithful and obedient – holy, as He is holy. How’s that going for you?
Paul writes to give thanks to God for His promise that He will bring the Philippians – and all believers -- to perfection – holiness – transforming them into the Image of His Son, Jesus, just as He promised.
Paul describes the life of the Christian as a striving, a race, and a boxing match – listen: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).
And he tells the Philippians later: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV).
We are striving towards holiness, faithfulness, obedience, and we do better or worse from one moment to the next – that is not what Paul is giving God thanks for – Paul gives thanks to God that the time of striving will end one day – one day we will no longer have to fight against temptation – one day the struggle towards holiness will come to an end, because when Jesus Returns, we will be glorified, like Jesus is. The struggle in this life is worth it for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of Jesus – because it will one day come to an end – thanks be to God!
And God will not let us ever fall completely away. If God has elected you to be His, you are His and will be His for all of eternity – though we struggle through this life. God has promised He will persevere us – He will bring us to the end for which we were created – to glorify and enjoy Him through our complete salvation through Jesus Christ.
David writes, “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8, ESV).
And Isaiah describes us as God’s work: “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8, ESV).
And Paul puts the promise again this way: “ For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
We are God’s workmanship, and God will bring us to completion – to the end for which He created us. God will not get frustrated and throw us away – but He will work in us and through us and transform us into what we shall become.
On those days when we are down on ourselves for giving into sin – on those days when we don’t know how God can love us – how God can use us – how we can continue in this deceitful, broken world – hold fast to the promise that God is working you and me into the men and women He has called us to be – that is the promise that He has made – He will not allow His Work to be frustrated. It will be accomplished – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, ESV). Thanks be to God!
“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.”
Fourth, right belief evidences itself in right action.
Paul tells the Philippians that he is right to thank God for their love and care of him, it is right for him to thank God for their proclamation of the Gospel, it is right for him to thank God for His promises to persevere them, and because it is right for him to give thanks to God for them, he holds them in his heart – and he remembers them every time he goes to prayer and prays for them – because their belief has evidenced itself in right action.
They were partakers with Paul of grace – they believed in Jesus Alone for salvation by faith alone by grace alone – their belief was right – they held onto Jesus Alone for their salvation. They were brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ as is everyone here who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation.
And they evidenced their belief in two ways that he mentions:
They partook with him of the Grace through the Gospel in his imprisonment – they supported him in his imprisonment by visiting him, sending him money and other things he needed, and they prayed for him and his witness to the Gospel while he was in prison.
Jesus explains that the Grace of the Gospel shared with brothers and sisters in this way: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV).
Paul was really in prison and they tended to his needs – but this participation in the Grace of the Gospel extends beyond that to all those who are in any type of prison – as we have already noted – people who are hungry, sick, in prison, needful of basic supplies, shelter, deliverance from addition to gambling, alcohol, sexual immorality, food, and every other kind of addiction or imprisonment.
Do you know of a fellow Christian who is struggling – striving towards holiness – but trapped in one way or another? Is there anything that you can do to help that brother or sister for the sake of the Gospel? What have you done? What do you know you need to do? Do you pray for those who you know are imprisoned in one way or another?
And they partook with him of the Grace through the Gospel in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel – they proclaimed the Gospel and showed why it is true and the only Way to salvation. They lived lives that showed they were striving towards all obedience to God in the love of Jesus Christ. People looked at the way they acted and what they said, and they recognized them as Christians and saw that they were trying to follow Jesus in all that He said and did.
The question is sometimes posed, “If Christianity was outlawed, would there be enough evidence to arrest you?”
Are you known as someone who defends the Gospel with your mouth and confirms it by your actions? Do others know that it is your joy to talk about Jesus and His salvation? Do people look at your life and see that you are striving with all your might and by the Power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of obedient holiness to Jesus?
Paul opens his letter to the Philippians by thanking God for them, as brothers and sisters in Christ who care for him, who proclaim the Gospel, who hold fast to the promise that God will bring their striving towards holiness and obedience to fruition – that they would be – at the coming of Christ – holy, glorified men and women – transformed into the Image of Jesus. And he tells them that he is confident in his thanks because they were a people who lived out what they believed – ministering to him and others in prison and defending and confirming the Gospel as a witness to Who Jesus is, what He has done – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us be a thankful people – especially to God for what He has done and continues to do in and among us. Let us live out the Gospel that we say we believe – telling others, showing the reasonableness of it, and acting like Christians are called to act.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Most Blessed God, Giver of Salvation, we thank You for the witness of the Philippian Church – for Paul’s thanksgiving for them and their living lives that bear witness to their being Christians. We thank You that each moment has been ordained by You and You are bringing us closer to the day when all we who believed will be glorified and our struggle with sin will be no more. Glorify Yourself in us – use us to Your Glory – Magnify Your Name through this people – that the world would hear Your Gospel and believe and repent and live obedient, joyful lives. We ask these things in accordance with Your promises and Your commands to us, confident that the Holy Spirit Who lives in us will bring all that You have willed to pass. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.