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I was really happy Friday morning. I sprung out of bed with praise, walked Aiko to school and went to the gym. While I was swimming, I was thanking God for many blessings. On my way in to the office, my good mood swelled into generousity as I stopped at Tim Horton’s to pick up a coffee for Abraham. I got some funny looks from the children at the daycare as I walked into the church singing. Abraham thought that that perhaps I had drank a little too much coffee and was wired, but that was not it. Every thing was bright and sunny. Don’t you love mornings like that? Those really good mornings where the world is alive and God is God and we are his people? What made me so happy that day? Don’t you want to know? What if I just found the secret of happiness? Maybe in our culture people would spend big bucks and line up down the street for a seminar from the happy guy. Well, you don’t have to pay $19.95 or get advanced tickets today. I’ll tell you the secret of my happiness Friday. But not right now. You’ll have to wait.
The Westminster Confession, a document that was crafted by reformation theologians, begins by declaring that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Obviously that is too religious-sounding for a secular state such as Canada, so we have cut out whom we have deemed to be the middle man and simply edited the statement to read, “The chief end of man . . . is to enjoy.” Ockham’s razor at its finest. Enjoy what? Anything. Everything. What is the refrain of parents and enablers (sometimes the same thing) in this age – “As long as he’s happy . . .” My country was founded on this philosophy, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So not only is it my right to be happy, it is my pursuit and my destiny. Canadian culture as well is consumed with this pursuit.
This pursuit of happiness above all else has infiltrated the church, to the point in which people select churches based on their perceived happiness derived. Some go to church to have their ears tickled – give me the theology I want to hear, conservative or liberal, but don’t challenge me. Some seek happiness through socializing – some to get a friend, some to get a date. Some want their happiness programmed for them and their kids.
Our pursuit of happiness colours our Biblical interpretation. I am going to start a series today on the book of Philippians. Nearly every person I have told that I am going to be preaching this book has said to me – “Oh, you’ll be preaching about joy.” That’s what they’ve been told the book of Philippians is about. It’s the joy book. Now on the surface – that’s what the book of Pihilippians seems to be about. A cursory read of the book turns up the word Joy and it other forms (rejoice, enjoy, etc) sixteen times in four short chapters. Indeed, the joy Paul expresses is striking, particularly when one considers the circumstances he faced. He was in prison – and this does not seem to be under the conditions faced at the end of Acts when he was under house arrest and could continue teaching and preaching. Here, he describes himself as being in chains, awaiting word on whether or not he will shortly be executed. So the fact that he can writes a letter that even hints of joy is nothing short of extraordinary. So our happiness pursuing selves read Philippians and connect with this theme of joy and think this is some sort of Christian self-help book. Yet I contend that we’ve read Philippians completely wrong. Joy is not the main theme of the letter. So if joy is not the main theme, then what is?
Partnering in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3-11)
Let’s read Philippians 1:1-5. What is the theme? Partnering in the gospel. Look at verse 4-5: Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the first time you heard it until now.” In verse 7 Paul again calls them co-partners with him in his chains and his defense of the gospel. This is the them of the book: Partnering together in proclaiming the good news of Jesus. It is this partnership that inspires the joy that spiritually lifts Paul up out his prison cell. Today, we are going to look at how the Philippians partnered with Paul – the Acts of Partnership - how those acts of partnership encouraged Paul – the Joy of Partnership, and then how Paul prayed for the Philippians as his partners in the Gospel.
The Acts of Partnership
As we look at the Acts of the Philiipians partnership, we want to let them define for us what partnership is for us. There are a lot of misconceptions about what true partnership is. You’ll notice that I am intentionally avoiding the word “fellowship” – which is how the Greek word is often translated into English in many Bibles. I am using the word partnership, because I think in our church-ese (you know, like Chinese, or Japanese) in our church-ese the word fellowship has taken on meaning that do not fully signify all that the Biblical term suggests. We have our fellowship halls, and our fellowship dinners. We meet at peoples homes for times of “fellowship” For many of us the word fellowship means nothing more than “getting together with other Christians” for social purposes or encouragement. Let me say, that stuff is all good and builds unity and affection in the church, but that is not all that the Biblical word means and that is definitely not how Paul is using it here in this passage. Another, slightly better definition of this word plays on the word “fellowship” I heard this illustration while I was a senior in college. “Fellowship” the speaker said, “is like two fellows in a ship” The idea was that if the fellows are both rowing in the same direction, the boat gets somewhere, if they rowed in opposite directions, what happens? Circles. This definition stresses that fellowship must be directed – that we reason we have fellowship together is because we are all moving in the same direction – toward Christ. This definition raises the stakes a little bit. But it still does not go far enough to fully encapsulate everything that the biblical word demands. So let’s look at bit at Paul’s experience with the Philippian church to understand what he was getting at when he thanked God for their “partnership”