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Farnham Baptist Church

A gospel church, Philippians 1:1-11

When you send an email or text, its often to inform or ask a question. The art of letter writing is almost a dying art. In the NT letters are usually sent to correct error. But Philippians is different; it is the most encouraging letter in the NT.

This church is a model church to all the others; what we have here is almost entirely +ve. There are a few troubling matters; some difficult people seem to be infecting the church – Paul tells them to 3:2 watch out for the dogs, and he pleads with two women to be reconciled, 4:2. But the letter radiates joy; a showcase church if ever there was one.  Let’s think about joy

1. What should give us great joy?   Or why is Paul so joyful?

He sees himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, 1:1 He calls the believers saints in Christ Jesus, set-apart ones. And he wishes them grace and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ,2. It’s full of Christ, or actually Christ Jesus – title first, name second. Everything is to take us to Christ Jesus – see the end of 6, the day of CJ. This is a Jesus-centred set of people. And Paul is so thankful every time he remembers them. He tells us he prays with joy, 4 Can you see why?  

  1. Gospel partnership, 5. They are with Paul in the gospel

In Acts 16 where Paul first goes to Philippi he leads three people to faith in Christ:  Lydia, a slave woman and a jailor – 3 people from varied backgrounds.  The church seems to have met in Lydia’s home and grew. Others also were converted to Christ, and they remained in partnership with Paul their founder.  At Philippi, Paul and the believers both experienced the grace of God, and this encouraged Paul, 7

That’s what’s so good about gospel churches; different backgrounds, different people, but partners in the gospel.  All rejoicing in Christ’s good news.

I like this word partnership; I think its better than the word fellowship – which is how its sometimes translated. Fellowship often means just being together; lots of chatting and some food. But partnership has the idea that we’re joined together for a greater purpose – we’re going to DO something together.  It’s like in sport where a team partner together to win the game, or on a project where you work together to create a piece of work, a film or something.

There is always the danger that we Christians form a rather cosy club; or we come together to escape what we stupidly call “the real world”. What these believers here share in is God’s grace, 7, ie in defending and confirming the gospel. Their partnership is in the gospel.

That’s the first cause of great joy

  1. God’s work in them, 6. As they embraced the gospel, God started a work of his spirit in them; and therefore God will complete his work – that’s the sort of God he is.

This is a gospel church a church which has embraced the good news of Jesus, and experienced a real work of God.  Now not all churches are like that.  Not all who claim to be Christian really are Christian.  All are religious, but not all have a relationship with Christ. That’s a helpful distinction. True Christians have a relationship with God – we’re not just religious. True believers are good news people – good news cos of the Gospel. The Gospel is the events of Jesus the rescuer; his coming to earth as incarnate God, his outstanding life, teaching and power; his unique cross-work and death defeating resurrection

A true Christian knows God personally cos through his death Jesus has removed the blockage caused by our rebellious nature.  Christ – we say – really has died for MY sins. I have been forgiven, and put in the clear with God. Even death has been overcome. All this gives me great joy, for myself and for my fellow believers.

Now Paul is really confident, 6 that God has been at work in them. We see that confidence in the fact the God began his good work – and will complete it. So God is a starter/finisher; not like a dodgy builder who comes for the first few days, then leaves the job incomplete.

This work of God in our hearts will not be wasted. God will complete what he has begun. 

Isn’t that fabulous?  Where there is a genuine work of God, it will last.

And we start to see the fruit in changed lives.

There is a doctrine called the perseverance of the saints (saints = believers). True believers, if they are true, will keep going, they will persevere.

But there is an equal doctrine of the preservation of the saints. God will ensure that the true believers who may well stumble, will never totally fall. Paul is confident in God’s work.

Are you ever troubled by people who seem to stumble in their walk with God, or even drop off? I ask myself if they were truly converted in the first place.  But when my confidence is in God, and I see people keeping going, I thank God for his work.  If you have Christian parents/grandparents, they will be delighted if you keep going – they will thank God for you – as I do for my two kids.  If you were part of a youth group, your youth leader will be delighted to know you are continuing in your faith. Let’s be more and more thankful for God’s work in the other believers. God initiated his work; he will sustain it and complete it. And Paul says it is right, 7 to feel like this. He holds them warmly in his heart – and we too should hold a high opinion of our fellow believers, for God is at work in them.

You see, Paul's been in prison and they’ve stuck with him; they could have backed away, since identifying with a prisoner might cast a shadow over their ministry in Philippi. After all, they were Roman citizens and their reputation may well have been on the line. But no, they remained in partnership; they gave Paul great joy cos they were the result of a work of God. He is very fond of them, 8. And that should be our attitude to fellow believers. Joy at God’s work in them.

2. What should we want for fellow believers?  Or what does Paul want for the Philippians?

His prayer, 9-11 has one overriding aim – that they will make it to the end in great shape. See the phrase, the day of the Christ, 10c - already mentioned in 6. Everything points to the great day of Christ’s return.

Paul wants to see a bumper harvest on that day – that’s the picture in his mind; 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness he says. He’s after strong end of yr. results. He takes the long-view – his eye’s on that final day when Christ returns. What will the Lord Jesus find?  Paul is confident that his Philippian partners will overflow with the fruit of righteousness.

Where do the resources come from to produce that kind of result? Remember, this is a very generous church. Paul told the Corinthians saying they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. 2 Cor 8:3-4. But where will they themselves find the resources they need to keep going?

Look at the phrase, filled with the fruit of righteousness, 11 = right relationship with God, being in the right with God, on his right side.  This happens cos of the cross, the great exchange – whereby our sin is swapped for his righteousness. Phil 3:9 is helpful here saying how Paul obtained this righteousness. It’s by trusting Christ, by faith – that’s where our resources come from.

And what happens when we do that: our whole outlook and behaviour changes. We take hold of the love of Christ and long to spread it around. Paul so grasped the love of Christ that he shared his affection with the Philippians, 8. And now he prays that would expand their love with discernment and knowledge, 9, so they may be increasingly godly, 10 discerning what is best, in order to be pure and blameless. And it’s all to God’s glory and praise, 11.

What do you want for your fellow believers? Do you thank God for his work in them, thanking God for being in partnership with them; do you pray for them to keep going to the end? Do you ask for them to expand their love, to increase their discernment, to become mature, rounded people; demonstrating the fruit of righteousness? Jesus’ love should shape behaviour; it should help us with our reactions to every situation; as such it purifies our relationships.

~~end

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