Pastor Shim's sermon from January 23, 2011:
Acts 16:11-15 and Philippians 1:1-11
“Your countenance is a press conference that your face calls to give the state of the union of your soul.” -- Dudley Hall
A little girl had been to a revival and been happily converted. She came home laughing and singing, her little heart so light and full of joy. "Oh grandpa," she cried, rushing into the room where the old man sat, "I have got religion! I have got religion!" He took her by the shoulders and set her down hard on a chair. "You don't know what religion is. People don't shout and skip when they have religion. Now, sit still."
The child sat there a while, then crept away, all the joy and gladness gone from her heart. She went and climbed on the lot fence, where she went each day to feed sugar to an old donkey. The old donkey put his head up, and as she stroked his face she said pityingly: "Poor old donkey! Poor old donkey! You have got religion--I know you have; your face is long, just like grandpa.” - author unknown
Last Sunday we talked about Paul and Silas praising God in prison. Unlike the above story, Paul’s religion was about joy and thanksgiving. We can see Paul’s positive attitude in today’s lesson in Philip1:1-11.
Paul and Silas were led by God to go to Macedonia of Philippi. Their obedience to share the good news about Jesus Christ opened the door in Europe for the first convert, Lydia, and the first church in Philippi. The city of Philippi was named after King Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the great. Later on it was taken over by the Romans. As a colony of Rome, the Philippians were granted Roman citizenship.
Philippi was strategically located. God, in His wisdom, chose to establish His church there to reach the western world. We're here this morning to worship God because of the church of Philippi. Why did Paul write the letter from jail to the Philippians? He wrote it to thank them, because of their love and support for him. Let's pay close attention to how Paul addresses himself and the Philippians.
Paul calls himself and Timothy "servants of Christ Jesus.” The actual Greek word used means bond slave. He justifies why he called himself the slave of Christ in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” Paul had a clear understanding of who he was and whose he was, and he lived and died for the glory of God.
Paul addressed his beloved friends as saints. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and overseers.” As you know, some churches give the honor of sainthood for a few chosen people. To Paul, the qualification to be a saint is to be in Christ. It is because of Christ’s death for our sin and his resurrection for our eternal life that God accepts us - no other means will do. Jesus said that in John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” Jesus is the way to God for all people. We are called to share this good news to all. Paul gives thanks to God in remembering his friends in Philippi: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” and "I always pray with joy.” What a wonderful gift of friendship the Philippians church gave to Paul. There he was, locked up in a dark jail waiting for his death, yet he was filled with joy in remembering them. Paul tells us the reason for his joy when he thought about the Philippians: "Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." Do you remember Paul's first convert to
Christianity, Lydia, and her hospitality to Paul and his friends? "'If you consider me a believer in the Lord', she said, 'come stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us" (Acts 16:15). The jailer and his family also took in Paul and Silas and showed them kindness (Acts 16:32-34). That’s why Paul wrote this letter to the church of Philippi, "I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns."
Paul tells the other reason why he was joyful about the Philippians. It was the common bond they all had in Jesus Christ, and the common bond we have as Christians, what Paul called the “good work” that God started in us would complete in His time.
The "good work" is God's saving grace that established our relationship with him through Jesus Christ. There is nothing to add–it’s Jesus Christ plus nothing, all by grace through Jesus’ expense paid by Him. The saving work of God will be completed when we see Christ face to face. Since God is the on who initiated our salvation in Christ, He will see to it that we make it to our eternal home, Heaven. Paul was certain about God’s faithfulness to complete what He has begun. One of God’s names is Faithfulness.
Paul affirms that God's grace will keep us to the end in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, "He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful."
The Philippian Christians, by standing with Paul in chains, teach us that love is proven more in times of trouble than pleasure. Paul expressed his gratitude for their love and support. Paul felt the same way, “Whether I am in chains or defending the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me.” This a wonderful thought. When we share in the joy and sorrows God’s family, we share his blessings together as his children.
Paul prayed for the Philippians to help them to seek God’s help and wisdom. He prayed three blessings for them:
1) For them to be faithful witness for Christ until they met him here or in Heaven (Philippians 1:6)
2) That they might be filled with God’s love and wisdom to be able to discern what’s right.
3) For them to be filled with the fruit of Christ’s righteousness, the harvest of the Holy Spirit.
In Paul’s own words, "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God" (Philippians 1:9-11).
Application: How can we apply today’s lesson and Paul’s prayer to our lives? There two ways:
a) Paul teaches us that our relationship with God determines our feelings of despair or joy. His praise set him and others free from prison chains. Paul was Christ-focused even in prison. Are you Christ-centered, as Paul was? If not what is preventing you? His praise of God got God’s attention and God sent his angel to shake up the prison and set him free. God can set you free from whatever is hindering you from experiencing God’s freedom and joy.
b) Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is applicable to us because we need the same thing that they needed. He prayed for them to be filled with Christ’s kind of love - love that is self giving, intelligent, wise, and discerning. Do you think you need such prayer? I need a bucketful. He prayed for them to be filled with fruits of righteousness. In other words, for them to show the “harvest of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).
The main point to remember is this: Paul’s commitment to Christ was the source of his joy. As Paul put it, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Charles Spurgeon writes about St. Paul’s mission in life. “Paul's words mean more than most men think. They imply that the aim and end of his life was Christ. In the words of an ancient saint, he did eat, drink, and sleep eternal life. Jesus was his very breath, the soul of his soul, the heart of his heart, the life of his life. Can you say, as a professing Christian, that you live up to this idea? Can you honestly say that for you to live is Christ? Are you, in your business, living for Christ? If a Christian professes to live for Christ, how can he live for another object without committing spiritual adultery? Who would dare say that he has lived wholly for Christ as the apostle did? Yet, this alone is the true life of a Christian. Lord, accept me; I present myself, praying to live only in You and for You.”
The Christian joy is a life fully committed to God. All other means finding joy are as futile as the following list of high achievers attempts shows. People have pursued joy in every avenue imaginable. Some have
successfully found it while others have not. Perhaps it would be easier to describe where joy cannot be found:
Not in unbelief - Voltaire was an infidel of the most pronounced type. He wrote, "I wish I had never been born.”
Not in pleasure - Lord Byron lived a life of pleasure if anyone did. He wrote: "The worm, the canker, and grief are mine alone."
Not in money - Jay Gould, the American millionaire, had plenty of that. When dying, he said: "I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.'
Not in position and fame - Lord Beaconsfield enjoyed more than his share of both. He wrote: "Youth is a mistake; manhood a struggle; old age regret."
Not in military glory - Alexander the Great conquered the known world in his day. Having done so, he wept in his tent, before he said, "There are no more worlds to conquer."
(From The Bible Friend, May 1993)
"Where then is real joy found? The answer is simple, in Christ alone." That's Paul's message to us from prison. Paul’s message to rejoice in Christ is repeated in the book Philippians between 11 and 14 times.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians4:4).
If we focus on Christ as Paul did, it will show in our attitudes!
Shim Habte - Willows United Methodist Church
544 North Shasta Street
Willows, CA 95988