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Philippians - #4

Philippians - Message #4

Due to the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus, unemployment is near a record high. Do not grumble. 

There are still many people sick with the coronavirus. There are other medical concerns we know about, including cancers, seizures, and sore joints. Do not grumble.

The school year just ending has had a bit of a sputtering conclusion. It is too early to tell if in-person classes will be the norm in the fall. Without students, there will be no football. Our sports cravings may continue to go unsatisfied. Do not grumble.

There are still restrictions on some paper products in stores. Some meat counters are not as full as they were a few months ago. We may not be able to get a hamburger at Wendy’s. Do not grumble.

Do not grumble. That, by the way, comes, not from me, but from Paul, the author of the New Testament Book of Philippians. The part of the Bible we are traveling through this spring.

Quickly in review, we have, so far in our consideration of Philippians, covered chapter 1 and the first half of chapter 2. 

In the first part of chapter 1, Paul identifies himself as a slave of Jesus, he wishes the Christians in Philippi grace and peace, and he expresses his love for his fellow Christians in Philippi. Love displayed in him thanking God for them, him praying for them, him encouraging them.

In the second part of chapter 1, Paul challenges the Christians to strive to be excellent, pure, blameless, and righteous, to live lives worthy of Jesus, to pray, and to have unity, agreement, and courage.

In the first part of chapter 2, Paul challenges the Philippian Christians - he thereby also challenges those of us who are Christians now - to be humble and care for the interests of others, using Jesus as the example. As the example, we are to obey Jesus as we grow in our faith.

In this message, the rest of chapter 2 of Philippians, which begins with the challenge in verse 14 to not grumble. Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling.”

As we consider that challenge, it is important to remember that while we have things going on around us that could cause grumbling, so, too, did Paul and those to whom he writes.

For Paul, there was the fact he was in prison at the time. That was not a pleasant thing in general. It was especially bad for Paul because he was in prison because of his faith in Jesus. Paul had committed no crime. It was his preaching of Jesus that landed him in prison.

At other times, Paul suffered. He of course had many wonderful successes, but he also had many very difficult things with which to deal. I am always amazed when I read the list in II Corinthians. In addition to the times he was in prison, he was whipped five times, stoned once. Three times he was shipwrecked, another time adrift at sea. On land, he was in danger from robbers and from those opposed to him. In addition, he worked very hard, sometimes in bad conditions, including being cold and lacking food.

It would seem Paul had every reason to grumble, and the same for the Philippian Christians. Paul was their spiritual father, and he was suffering. We know there were varying levels of persecution of members of the early Christian church. Persecution that sometimes led to family problems or economic problems or prison problems.

Problems are part of life. For Paul, for the Philippian Christians, and perhaps for us, that was multiplied because of faith in Jesus. Again, it would seem grumbling would be the natural thing to do.

However, verse 14 of Philippians 2. “Do all things without grumbling.”

What grumbling refers to can also be translated murmuring. That is not stating it would be nice if things were easier. It is a low, discontented, threatening response to the situations of life, including the Christian life.

Murmuring also shows up in the Old Testament when we read of the people of God on their exodus to the Promised Land. Over and over again those people murmured. As described, more than complaining or wishing for better conditions, those people, over and over again, expressed their distrust, sometimes of their leader Moses, other times of God.

Murmuring is what Paul writes is not to happen. That is because murmuring displays a lack of trust. A lack of trust in the goodness of God. 

And, one more time, with what we are facing in this time, it seems to be OK to wish for a quick return to normalcy, but we are to avoid distrusting God, who promises us - we know this from the Bible and from past experience - to help us through anything and everything in life.

Do all things without grumbling. Paul adds, do all things without “questioning.” Without doubting God’s love and without disputing with others why things happen as they do.

Why has God allowed the coronavirus to be a pandemic? I do not know. But are there things we can learn in the midst of the turmoil? That is OK to discuss. Some answers can be the need to be patient or the persuasion to spend more time with family or the push to be creative when it comes to meal preparation.

Do not grumble or question. Again, that comes, not from me, but from Paul. And yes, this message is for me at least as much as it is for anyone else. No matter what life brings our way, including whatever problems our faith in Jesus brings our way, do not grumble or question. Instead, continue to trust in God, including for the wisdom to learn what He wants us to know as we go through life.

The result? Verse 15. “That you [this was written to the Philippian Christians and it applies to us] may be blameless and innocent.”

This is the second time in Philippians Paul encourages blamelessness. The first time is a third of the way through chapter 1. Being blameless is defined as being beyond fault in our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.

As mentioned earlier in our journey through Philippians, very few people in the Bible are described as blameless, which could suggest being blameless is an impossible expectation. However, Paul’s teaching in Philippians 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.

Innocent can also be translated “pure.” That, too, was mentioned earlier in Philippians. That refers to purity in all parts of life, not allowing even an immoral thought into the mind or heart.

Be blameless and innocent, thereby - still verse 15 - “proving you are children of God.” Children of God “without blemish,” which again sounds impossible, which it is on our own. It is possible to be without blemish only in the sight of God, that coming from being saved by acceptance of Jesus.

Paul writes that being blameless, innocent, and without blemish, and avoiding grumbling and questioning, is difficult because we live in “a crooked and perverse generation.” That was true then. It is true now.

A crooked and perverse generation. A generation that is reluctant to know Jesus, accept Him, and live according to His standards and teachings. Such a generation is all around. That was true for the Philippian Christians. It is true for us. They and we must work all the harder to obey the challenges in today’s passage.

But when we do - when we, with the Lord’s help, stay true to our faith - there will be two rewards. Verses 15 and 16. 

We will be “lights in the world.” Remember Jesus taught the same thing. He said, “Let your light [your spiritual light] so shine before men that they may see your good works,” not to brag on you, but “to give glory to God in Heaven.” What an opportunity we have. The privilege of letting others see God’s love. Love shown by Jesus. Love seen in us.

We will be lights in the world. That is a reward that comes from us staying true to Jesus. Second, concerning the Philippian Christians, Paul will be rewarded. He writes, “Hold fast the word of life so that in the day of Christ [when Christ returns or when I meet Jesus] I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” 

Paul worked very diligently to accomplish what two of our mission statements are, which are to help people accept Jesus and help Christians grow in their faith. That is what he worked to have happen. As it did happen, it validated his ministry. It proved his efforts were fruitful, which of course would make him feel good, despite the problems he faced. Verse 17. “I am glad and rejoice with you.”

“Rejoice with you” brings up one more reward for being blameless and innocent while avoiding grumbling and questioning. Verse 18. “Likewise, you also should be glad and rejoice, doing so with me.”

*       *       *       *       *

In the rest of chapter 2, Paul mentions two people. Timothy and Epaphroditus. Let’s look at each one biographically and what Paul writes about them.

Paul met Timothy on one of the missionary trips Paul made. Timothy was a Christian. It seems that happened, at least in part, because of Paul’s ministry. Following that, Timothy and Paul were very close, often traveling together, Timothy doing what he could to help Paul.

Eventually Timothy became a pastor. Paul put him in that position. But before his pastoring days, one of the ways Timothy helped Paul was to be a representative for him. For instance, when Paul could not travel to the church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy to offer Paul’s advice, teaching, and encouragement to the Christians there. Timothy was also sent to Corinth for that same purpose.

As Paul writes, that is his plan regarding Philippi. Remember Paul was in prison, so he was unable to travel to Philippi. Paul’s plan - his hope - was to send Timothy in his place.

Listen to how Paul describes Timothy in verses 19, 20, and 22. Timothy was willing to share good news. Of course there were problems all around as well, but the way I read it, Timothy chose to concentrate on the good things happening. Those were the things he was most interested in talking about. Timothy was also “anxious for the welfare” of fellow Christians. Not anxious as in overly worried, but his concern was to make sure fellow Christians were growing in their faith. 

In verse 21 Paul refers to some other Christian leaders who were more interested in themselves. But not Timothy, who was like a son to Paul. That was their spiritual relationship. Timothy was dedicated to serving others in the name of Jesus, staying positive in that role.

Epaphroditus. His is an interesting report. Sometime in the recent past, the Philippian Christians had taken an offering for Paul, designed to help him survive prison. The offering was sent with Epaphroditus. The plan was that after delivering it, Epaphroditus would stay with Paul, acting as his personal servant.

Unfortunately, when in Rome, which is where Paul was imprisoned at the time, Epaphroditus became ill. Very ill, even to the point of death. He recovered, but it seemed appropriate for Epaphroditus to return to Philippi.

The problem, at least potentially, was that Epaphroditus had been sent to stay with Paul. If he returned before Paul’s release from prison, would he be accused of being a quitter? A wimp? Of course that would not make sense, but we know how rumors can start and spread.

Paul knew Epaphroditus needed to return to his home in Philippi. Listen to how Paul described him, making the point Epaphroditus was anything but a quitter or a wimp. Verses 25 through 30. It is “necessary” to send him back to Philippi, even though he is a “fellow worker and soldier, your messenger and a minister to me,” until his illness. And yes, he was ill, to the point of death. Receive him with “joy.” “Honor” him. Joy and honor are due him because he almost died for the cause of Christ, including serving me.

*       *       *       *       *

In the part of Philippians we have concentrated on today, Paul instructed the Christians in that city to live in ways that would make them lights in the world. He also commended two people to them. Which brings up the question that has been used in earlier messages on the Book of Philippians.

The question is, “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? As with earlier passages, 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.

Concerning Timothy, may we continue to have the attitude he had. The attitude of looking for good things to report. I doubt Timothy neglected to acknowledge when there were problems, either when he represented Paul to other Christians or when he worked with Paul or when he was a minister, but what I get from Paul’s words about Timothy is that Timothy tried to find positive things to talk about.

I think we do that in this congregation. That is what I do when talking about this congregation. Let’s continue to do that. To me, that is part of displaying God’s love, helping people accept Jesus, and helping fellow Christians to grow in our faith.

May we have the attitude of Timothy. Concerning Epaphroditus, one thing I get is the fear he had of being considered a quitter or a wimp. Which he clearly was not, but apparently some appeared to be willing to jump to such an unjustified conclusion. 

My thought is to challenge us to not jump to conclusions about fellow believers, understanding I or we might not have the whole story.

That is important all the time. It will continue to be important as we as a congregation transition to new pastoral leadership. How good it will be to get to know and work with the new pastor. I trust he will enjoy getting to know and work with us.

May none of us jump to conclusions. Instead, let’s get to know the new pastor, and let him get to know us. As we learn about each other, the camaraderie we have enjoyed over the years will continue.

Concerning the challenge that we be lights in the world, may our acceptance of one another allow that challenge to be fulfilled as the world sees us getting along. May our positive attitudes be part that fulfillment.

Attitudes that include not grumbling. Not murmuring, even as the pandemic continues and unemployment is high and schools are in danger. Even if there is no football in the fall. Even if we cannot get a hamburger at Wendy’s.

Such attitudes will please those who are currently church leaders. We know it will also please Jesus.

Jesus is worthy of our positive attitudes and our acceptance of each other. With His help we should be able to avoid murmuring, even as we think about and discuss the negative things around us. 

He is worthy because His name, which refers to everything about Him, is wonderful. Let’s sing about that.

His name is Wonderful, 

His name is Wonderful,

His name is Wonderful, Jesus, my Lord;

He is the mighty King, Master of everything,

His name is Wonderful, Jesus, my Lord.

He’s the great Shepherd, 

the Rock of all ages,

Almighty God is He;

Bow down before Him,

Love and adore Him, 

His name is Wonderful,

Jesus, my Lord.

Lord, thank You for the challenge to be positive and fair. Thank You for Your offer of help so we can fulfill the challenge. Thank You that by being fair and positive, we can please You as we walk with one another in our Christian faith. Amen.

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