We live in apocalyptic times. Or at least, that is the perception. People are concerned that something is happening. Something big. I hear it in all sides of the political aisle. Those on the left are apocalyptically concerned about the existential danger of climate change - Ottawa just declared a climate emergency. They say that we have 12 years to do something about this all or it all explodes. People on the right are apocalyptically concerned about the breakdown of society’s institutions, such as family and the rule of law. People in the middle are apocalyptically concerned about the increasing polarization between the right and the left and the disintegration of dialogue and the rise of totalitarianism on the right or the left. The church is facing apocalyptic-level persecution. As we gathered for worship last week on Easter Sunday, believers in Sri Lanka were crawling out of the ruins of 8 bombings that left over 300 dead and many more wounded at the hands of Islamic radicals. I heard this week a report that Christians are now the more harassed minority group in the world, suffering harassment in 144 countries. So left, right, centre and non-political, the perspective is, that we live in apocalyptic times. If I only heard these things being pushed in the media, I might write it off as click bait from a money-grabbing sensationalistic press. But I hear people in coffee shops speaking about it. Neighbours in conversation saying things like, it just seems like something big is about to happen. Anxiety is epidemic in this apocalyptic age. We’re on edge. Always on edge.
We’re starting today a new series in the book of Philippians. The Philippians were an anxious church. They were anxious not about global warming or internet censorship, but their anxiety stemmed from one particular circumstance, the arrest, detaining and potential execution of their friend and spiritual guide, the apostle Paul, who had started the church about ten years before his current imprisonment. The church at Philippi was desperate to gain any information of what might be the outcome of Paul’s trial, and so they had sent on of their own, Epaphroditus to Paul to aid and assist him and bring back news of Paul’s outlook. Upon coming to Paul, Epaphroditus became deathly ill, delaying his return, and now the Philippians had another thing to worry about, his health and well-being.
If anyone had reason to be on edge, it would be the apostle Paul. He after all was the one in chains, the one awaiting word on whether his sentence would come back, live or die. While he awaits word of his execution, Paul writes a letter to the Philippians, and it’s a perplexing letter. Instead of asking for prayer for his condition, Paul prays for the Philippians in their condition. Instead of being a letter ridden with anxiety, it is an epistle of joy. 16 times in four short chapter Paul speaks of joy, or rejoicing. Philippians: the epistle of joy in the face of apocalypse.
These themes are introduced to us in the first 11 verses of chapter 11, which includes Paul’s thankful, joyful prayer for the Philippian church.
1. A Vision Large Enough to Demand Our All
Paul begins his letter to the Philippians describing himself and Timothy his coworker as servants of Christ. Slaves, really. What an introduction - what a self identified job title. Paul didn’t call himself the teacher, the rabbi, the leader, the apostle, but the servant. The slave of Christ. In other words, Paul and Timothy had encountered Christ in such a way that the very course of their lives, their identity, their vocation, their freedom and deaths were bound up in Christ, in the service of Christ, and in the execution of Christ’s ministry and mission. “I’ve been crucified with Christ,” Paul writes elsewhere, “therefore I no longer live, Jesus Christ now lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul had experienced a literal vision of Christ on that road to Damascus, and that vision demanded nothing less than Paul’s entire life. Paul’s vision was two-fold.
He experienced the saving revelation of the risen Lord
He received a specific task to do in Christ’s great commission
Paul was unique, obviously, both in the vibrancy of his vision of Christ and in the specificity of the call of Christ on his life, that Christ would use Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, but Paul is not unique in the compete and utter claim that Christ makes over each of those for whom He has died. Timothy also is called a doulos, a servant. Timothy also left everything he knew, his family, his hometown, his comfort, his respectability, for the vision of Christ and his mission set before him. And it is the same for each of you, its the same for me. No one can have a vision of Christ and walk away claiming to be his own master. If you walk away as your own Master, than you have not truly experienced Christ. You must experience the saving revelation of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, Paul received a specific task to do in Christ’s great commission. Paul’s task specifically was that he might bring the gospels to the Gentiles, and later, Timothy received his own call to be a servant of Christ Jesus in that same ministry. Paul and Timothy and many otter’s devoted their lives, gave everything they were and all that they had, to make Christ known among the cities of the Roman Empire. They had been commissioned with a proclamation, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and a ministry to proclaim his name.
Although we are not all called to serve the Lord as missionaries as Paul and Timothy were, we all are called to participate in the great commission. Now that’s probably a term you’ve heard of before, based on Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Now, nearly all of you have probably heard of the great commission before, and some of you have probably given it much reflection, but I want to remind you of something of the great commission this morning - why it is called the great commission. There are other comissionings in the gospels - but what it so great about this great commission. It is great because it is comprehensive. It is the all-encompassing mission of God in this world, to make his name known among the nations, and gather his people together into new covenant communities called churches, until he returns at the end of the age. Those who have taken or have finished our Acts course have understood this comprehensive picture. The Holy Spirit sent out his servants, we’d call them missionaries, missionary teams such as Paul and Timothy and others, who would move among the nations proclaiming salvation in Christ. City to city they would move, nation to nation, leaving local churches in their wake. These churches played a different role in the great commission, they would nurture and care for the new believers in a certain city. The Holy Spirit would set aside elders to oversee the congregations and deacons to minister among them, that the faith would be preserved and passed down in each locale. This is work had been established in Philippi, thus Paul could write to a mature church, “to the saint in Philippi, ling with the elders and deacons”. The churches continue to participate in the great commission by partnering with the missionary teams, sending people whom the Holy Spirit sets apart for the work, and resources to aid the mission teams as they move ever onward. That’s the vision of partnership in the great commission. And the ultimate goal is that there might be a missionary movement in every nation, a church in every city, a Christian family in every neighborhood, and a believer in every social setting. That is how the kingdom o God spreads, and it takes us all and it demands our all.
This is a vision large enough to give your life to: the great commission. missionaries and churches partnering together to change the world with the power of the gospel.
If we ever lose sight of what the vision is, then we are just playing church, not devoting ourself to a higher cause, becoming consumeristic and cynical, and nothing pulls us out of isolation.
2. A Partnership Meaningful Enough to Fill Our Hearts With Joy=
As I said above, Philippians is an epistle of joy, but not just any joy. Ecclesiastes was a book of joy as well. But this is a particular joy. It is about the joy that stems from the relationship between believers as they about together in the great commission. In verses 3-8, Paul outlines how his partnership with the Philippian church has brought him great joy even in his trial.
A. True Gospel Partnership Ignites Joyful Prayer
Phil. 1:3 I thank my God [upon every act of your remembrance] 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.
Verse three is a little ambiguous. Literally the phrase is, “upon every remembrance of you”. The ESV inserts the word “my” so that it reads something like upon every occasion Paul remembers the Philippians, he thanks God. It is probably a better reading of the text to understand it as meaning something like, “upon each of your remembrances of me” as it is evident later in the letter that Paul is thanking the Philippians for sending him ongoing support.
However one takes verse 3, Paul is less ambiguous in the source of his joy in verse 4, by referring in verse 5 to the Philippians “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” The Philippian church and Paul had a very special relationship of love and care. Some take the partnership in the gospel to be just the bond of Christian love shared by Paul and this church - but surely Paul shared that bond with each of the churches he formed. What is special about the Philippian church? What special partnership fo they share?
The answer is found in the book of Acts art the founding of the church (notice the phrase, “from the first day”. Acts 16 contains the story of the founding of the church at Philippi. Though Luke could have included many stories from the church’s founding, he chose two to highlight what was special about the Philippian church, and the common thread running through the two stories is that in each, God opens the heart of a resident of Philippi, first a woman named Lydia and then the town jailor, and immediately that new believer brings Paul into their home and shows hospitality and generosity. What an impact on that missionary! What a help! What a partnership! So from that first day, the believers at Philippi demonstrated unusual hospitality, and until the writing of Paul’s letter had generously supported Paul’s ministry. In fact, at the end of this letter Paul writes, in 4:15 “when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”
Thus Paul shared a unique partnership with the Philippians , a partnership of giving and receiving, including financial support, but I don’t suppose only limited to financial support, many letters and gifts and remembrances. True, meaningful gospel partnership, and now in prison, separated from the church he loves, every pray of Paul for them is made in joyful gratitude. i thank my God because of you! Does our hospitality, generosity, and partnership with one another ignite joyful prayer?
B. True Gospel Partnership Inspires Confidence in the Lord’s Sanctifying Work
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.
Paul had seen the initial and ongoing fruit of the Philippians faith and was confident, even sitting in his prison cell, that God would shepherd his church. The ministry of the gospel knows that the preserving and completing of the work of God depends upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Paul had no fear that the church would be ok, no matter what happened to him in prison. This is vital for leaders, ministers, servants to understand. The church, if it is the true church of God, is not only going to be ok, but Jesus will complete the work he has started. it is encouraging for individuals as well. So many times it seems that having once started with such zeal and fire for the Lord, we now lag and the wood is dry, where is the fire! Oh, be faithful to Christ, encourage yourself in him, that he who began a good work in you is the faithful one, and he will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.
C. True Gospel Partnership Kindles Heartfelt Affection
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.
The third effect of true gospel partnership is the affection it kindles between those labouring together in the Lord. Though he spent very little time among the Philippians, only visiting them twice, Paul loved the Philippians because they continually shared of themselves with him, and they maintained a true gospel partnership. Again, verse 7 is ambigious, it may mean that Paul holds the Philippians in his heart, as the ESV translates it, or the greek could also mean, because you hold me in your hearts, as you might have in a footnote. It could be either or perhaps both, but Paul is speaking to an intimacy, an affection that springs up between brothers and sister bound together labouring side-by-side for the gospel. This affection is not mere sentimentality, but it is the affection fo Jeuss Christ himself - that means, it is an affection that, as Paul’s going to spell out for us in Chapter 2, [Does] “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count[s] others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
This is difficult for us in in many North American churches. We lack affection for one another, because we’re not truly partnering in mission with one another. We live most of our lives for ourselves and for our own goals and missions. We must set the vision of the great commission in front of us, and then work together toward that end.
However, a vision is not enough, we can have a vision, but not know what to do with that vision. Implementation is difficult. We know what we are supposed to do, but sometimes are not sure of how to do it. Paul knows that Philippians need that discernment as to how they will continue to partner in that misison, as do we, and so we need the prayer in verses 9-10 just as they did:
3. A Love Discerning Enough to Prepare Us For Christ
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.
Paul had experienced the affections of the Philippian church, their love and their remembrance of him, yet he knew that there was further room for them to grow in their love. For it is not a sentimental, naive, love for which Paul prays, but a love that grows mighty in knowledge - most commentators see this as a reference to their relational knowledge of Christ, that they may know Christ, as Paul say he longs to know Christ in chapter 3, That your love may abound more and more in your knowledge of Christ, and secondly, that their love would grow “in all discernment” - the insight of how to live the way of Christ in every situation, moral discernment of what is the right and proper course of action. This love has a target, a love that knows Christ and grows in discernment, so that more and more the Philippians will embrace and approve what is the best thing to do in every situation, they may know the best way forward, and desire to walk in that way. in this way the Philippians will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, and all of this from Jesus Christ, and bring glory to God.
That’s quite a prayer! I pray that your love might increase in the experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and in moral discernment of any and every circumstance - comprehensive moral insight.