Philippians - Message #2
A few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended into Heave. Shortly after that, the early Christian church began, led by the disciples of Jesus, who had some spectacular successes. For instance, after the first two sermons by the apostle Peter, thousands of people came to believe in Jesus. Their belief was proved by them being baptized and being devoted to learning more about Jesus and having fellowship and prayer with one another.
However, life for the early Christian church also featured some troubles, many of them at the hands of a man named Saul. A man whose purpose in life was to rid the world of followers of Jesus.
Saul was an energetic, devoted, violent enemy of Christians, he himself taking part. In the capital city of Jerusalem, he himself entered houses in search of Christians. Any he found, men and women alike, he took to prison where they would either renounce their faith in Jesus or be held in prison or executed.
So intense was Saul’s desire to fight Christians, he asked for and received permission to travel away from Jerusalem and beyond Israel. His plan was to go to Damascus in Syria, which is to the north of Israel. It was there Saul wanted to expand his search for Christians, once again to find them, arrest them, and deport them to prison in Jerusalem.
Saul was anxious to reach Damascus. However, shortly before he arrived there, a miracle happened. As Saul rode on his horse, a great light from Heaven suddenly appeared. The light was so sudden and so bright, Saul fell off the horse. On the ground, a voice from Heaven was suddenly heard. It was the voice of Jesus, asking Saul why he was persecuting the Lord, then telling him to proceed into Damascus as planned, but to wait. Jesus did not say for what Saul was to wait. He was simply to wait.
When the light and the voice were gone, Saul rose from the ground. It was then he discovered he was blind, meaning he had to be led by the hand into Damascus, where Saul did wait, doing so for three days.
It was then Jesus spoke to a resident of Damascus. A Christian in that city. A man named Ananias. Jesus instructed him to go to Saul and lay hands on him so he - Saul - could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Ananias objected, reminding Jesus how dangerous Saul was to Christians. Doing what Jesus said would put Ananias at great risk. Ananias tried to talk Jesus out of what He asked.
However, Jesus was not dissuaded, explaining that Saul was going to change into a chosen instrument who would take the message of Jesus beyond the Jewish people. He would preach to Gentiles. The next step in the plan was for Ananias to minister to Saul.
With that, Ananias obeyed. He went to Saul and did lay hands on him.
Saul regained his sight. He did become a chosen instrument. He did indeed have a ministry among Gentiles, going throughout the region that is now Turkey and Greece, and eventually into Europe, all the while, not fighting against Christians, but being a minister for Jesus.
Because of his work with Gentiles, Saul began to be called Paul, which was the Roman form of his name, and like it was for the early Christian church, Paul had some spectacular successes and some very troubled times, including times in prison. In prison because of his faith in Jesus as Savior.
In his ministry, Paul did a lot of preaching. He also did a lot of writing. He wrote letters to many of the people he had visited as a Christian. People in cities where Christian churches had been started by Paul. The Bible has 13 such letters, some of them written while Paul was in prison. It is one of those letters we are considering this spring. A letter written to Christians in the city of Philippi. A city in what is today Greece.
Our consideration of Paul’s letter to the Philippians - the New Testament Book of Philippians - began last week as we thought about the first third of chapter 1. Quickly in review, Paul identifies himself as the author of the letter. With him is Timothy, a fellow missionary. Paul describes himself and Timothy as servants or slaves of Jesus. Not a bad connotation of slave, but a good one, denoting the need to stay true to the privilege of telling others about Jesus. Paul wishes the Christians in Philippi the Lord’s blessings of grace and peace. Paul also expresses his love for his fellow Christians in Philippi. Love displayed in him thanking God for them, him praying for them, him encouraging them.
Remember what Jesus had told Ananias. That Saul, who would become Paul, was to be changed into a chosen instrument for the Lord’s work. Paul certainly fulfilled that role, including in how he treated the Christians in Philippi, some of whom he himself had led to believe in Jesus.
Let’s continue through chapter 1 of Philippians, beginning with verse 10.
Actually, in verse 9, Paul made another comment about love. it was his prayer that the love felt within the Philippian congregation would abound. Not only continue, but grow, thereby promoting within that group of Christians knowledge and discernment. Part of Paul’s prayer was for those people to enjoy each other’s fellowship so much they would study together and gain understanding of the word of God.
In verses 10 and 11, Paul explains the results of that. Together, they will follow what is excellent, including being pure and blameless, ready for the Lord’s return, and being filled with the fruits of righteousness.
Follow what is excellent. What is worth following, as in whatever is good and wholesome, helpful for yourself and for others.
We of course know there are all sorts of bad, negative things that can fill our minds, hearts, and time. In our present pandemic situation, that can include discouragement caused by isolation or family issues or financial shortfalls. Any of those things can and will be thought about. However, we are to work on concentrating on positive things. In fact, as Paul writes, our love for one another is to promote a congregation in which we will encourage one another in that way.
Pure. So pure that not even immoral thoughts will find their way into our minds. Blameless. Being beyond fault in our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.
It is interesting that very few people in the Bible are described as blameless, which could suggest being blameless is an impossible expectation. Which it certainly is on our own. It can be difficult even with the encouragement of other Christians. Even with the Lord’s help. However, Paul’s teaching in Philippians 1 is to strive to be blameless. To make that the goal so that day by day we can get closer and closer to that ideal.
That is important so we can be filled with the fruits of righteousness. In another of Paul’s letters, he lists fruit of the Spirit. Fruit by which the Holy Spirit makes us righteous. I assume the list was on his mind in Philippians 1. The list is love, joy, and peace, patience, kindness, and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Follow what is excellent. Advance toward being pure and blameless. The result is being righteous in the Christian family. That is what the Christians in Philippi were to work on as they showed loving fellowship with each other.
Verses 12 through 14. In those verses, Paul reminds those to whom he writes they are not alone in the spiritual challenge to be excellent, pure, blameless, and righteous. They are not the only ones to have heard from Paul about Jesus. The only ones who had become Christians. The same was also true many other places. We know some of those other places - Colossae, Galatia, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Rome. Such teaching was shared with a wide variety of people.
And get this. Even those who guarded Paul when he was in prison heard about Jesus. Isn’t that interesting? Paul did not allow his suffering to get him down and discouraged to the point of stopping his ministry for Jesus. Paul continued to preach and teach, even to those guarding him.
And, we know, he preached to fellow prisoners.
In fact, in another interesting way - this is in verse 14 - Paul’s preaching was more effective because of his imprisonment. Paul expresses awareness that when other Christians saw him staying strong when he suffered, they were encouraged to be bold in their faith, no matter what.
Let’s slip over to verse 19. From there through the end of chapter 1, Paul shares some requests and some more challenges for the Christians in Philippi.
First, Paul requests prayers for himself. Earlier he let the Philippian Christians know he was praying for them. Now he requests they pray for him. To pray for his deliverance.
Deliverance from what?
Maybe deliverance from prison .I imagine that would have been a wish for Paul. Yes, he was able to present Jesus to his guards, but freedom would, I think, have been preferred.
Perhaps spiritual deliverance, as in reaching Heaven.
Or how about emotional deliverance? Could it be Paul’s request was for prayers that he would be at spiritual peace no matter where he was? No matter what he faced?
It seems, from what I studied, that all three possibilities were probably on Paul’s mind, but that it was emotional health he especially wanted. It also seems he already had such health. As he writes, “For to me, to live is Christ” because while he was alive, he had opportunities for fruitful labor for the Lord. At the same time, “Death would be gain for me” because then he would have his full reward of Heaven.
Paul admits he is torn between life and death. He adds, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, but to remain here in earthly flesh is more necessary on your account.”
So, his request for prayer from the Philippian Christians is that whichever of the two is better - death or life - is what will be granted to him.
And as long as the Lord’s choice is life for Paul, he promises to keep ministering to those to whom he wrote this letter. He expresses anticipation of seeing their continued spiritual progress and faithful joy, in both his absence from them at that time and when he hoped to visit them in the future.
Paul asks the Philippian Christians to pray for him. Second, he challenges them to live their lives in ways worthy of the Gospel - the Good News - of Jesus.
Paul then lists some examples.
Unity, worded “standing firm in one spirit.” Together staying true to the cause of Christ.
Agreement, worded as “being of one mind.”
Whenever that concept comes up, it seems appropriate to mention that what is suggested is not a call to never express a different opinion about anything. If that was the case, rarely could new ideas be presented.
What is called for is agreement of purpose. That no matter what we do, our goal is the same. This is how it is worded as our mission statement as a church. Our goal is to display God’s love, help people accept Jesus as Savior, and help Christians grow in their faith. We may have different ideas about how to do those things, but we must agree on those things. That is what Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to d
Unity and agreement. And courage, worded as “not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Paul adds that they and all Christians are called upon to not only believe in Jesus, but also suffer for His sake.
As Jesus suffered, so will His followers suffer. That is sobering to think about, but an example was Paul, which makes Paul’s attitude so important. As he was willing to endure, both when he first visited Philippi (he was imprisoned after healing a demon-possessed girl) and at the time he wrote this letter (remember he was in prison again), so were the early Christians called upon to endure as they followed the Lord,
Unity, agreement, courage. Those are examples of living lives worthy of Jesus, which we are to encourage each other to do as we pray for one another, in that way serving the Lord as long as we live, all the while striving to progress toward being excellent, pure, blameless, and righteous.
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As we often do, the question comes up, “So what?” As in, how can what we have thought about today be applied so that what Paul wrote is not just a nice history or literature lesson, but something that will live in us and affect us? You can of course come up with many other things, but let me suggest a few applications covering a few of the points made by Paul in today’s verses.
On the topic of unity, as difficult as this time of pandemic and isolation has been and continues to be, it is so good to hear about people in our congregation staying in contact with one another. I do not know if everyone has been contacted or if everyone contacts others, but I hear reports of many conversations going on by phone, text, letter, or email. What wonderful encouragements those things are. What great reminders we are not alone. That our fellow Christians still care for us, checking to see how we are doing, including spiritually. The challenge is to keep that up, including when things open up again. When we can worship face-to-face again, let’s stay in contact with each other.
On the topic of courage, again referring to this time of pandemic and isolation, it can be so easy to fear. To be afraid of getting sick or, for those with lost jobs or reduced hours, how the bills are going to be paid. Those are two very big concerns. Concerns are valid. We all have them. But can we rise above fear, as in dread and anxiety? That is what Paul would have us do.
And prayer. Let’s pray for one another, that we will each work toward being pure and blameless so it will easier to work together for the cause of Christ. As mentioned, we may not always agree on everything, but there must be agreement on our basic purpose of serving and representing God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for that to continue in our congregation, now and in the future.
In fact, let’s sing about that. Today’s closing song is Lord, Be Glorified. May that happen in us and through us in our lives, our songs, our homes, and in our church.
In my life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,
In my life, Lord, be glorified today.
In my song, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,
In my song, Lord, be glorified today.
In our homes, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,
In our homes, Lord, be glorified today.
In our church, Lord, be glorified, be glorified,
In our church, Lord, be glorified today.
Lord, You have so many key words in today’s verses - excellence, pure, blameless, righteous, prayer, living lives worthy of You, unity, agreement, and courage.
None of those things are easy, but they are doable through Your presence. Thank You for Your promise that You are with Your people, always. Help us to accept Your presence. Help us to use it so we can be all You want us to be, personally and as a congregation. Amen.