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Mosaic Spokane

Soil of Joy

God’s Soil for Joy

Philippians 1:1-11

March 24, 2019

 

Greeting time:  Share one of the happiest moments of your life.  Listen carefully for the response.  Remember what it is.  You’ll be quizzed on it later.

INTRO:  Remember the greeting time?  I want you to answer according to the answer of the person you met, not your own.  We’re talking about the happiest moments of life right now.  For how many of you, did someone say to you something like, “One of the happiest moments of my life was when…

  • I got hired at my job?”
  • I got a raise at my job?”
  • I got fired from my job???” J
  • I acquired (something) a car, new boat, house, inheritance, a diploma, etc.”

Not doing real well. 

Well, how about this:  How many people, when you asked them about one of the happiest moments of their life, shared something that had to do with relationship…either with a person or with God?  How many shared something like,

  • “The day I was married,” or
  • “When my kids were born,” or
  • “When I met Jesus Christ as my own Lord and Savior,” or
  • “When I took a vacation with my best friend”???

      I don’t mean to down play the importance of jobs and cars and houses and food.  There is no doubt that those things can bring a high level of joy and satisfaction in life.  But even there, take away the people in those experiences, and how many of those things would still be considered the happiest moments of your life? 

      Think back over just this past week.  What were the happiest, the most enriching, the most blessed and joy-filled moments of your week.  Were they…

  • crunching numbers at work…or
  • ordering materials for the construction site?
  • Were they reading the newspaper or
  • working on the computer?
  • Were they…paying bills…or
  • doing the dishes …or
  • taking out the trash?

      (If you answered “yes” to very many of those, we probably need to talk after the message.  I’d be glad to make you “happy” around my house!)

As I thought about my week and the joy-filled experiences in it, here’s what my memory bank brought up. 

  • I thought of sitting next to my wife, Sandy, at dinner talking about the day.
  • I thought of sitting across the lunch table from a long-time friend, listening to the ache of his heart about his wife being diagnosed with cancer and praying together about life.
  • It was sitting at the dinner table surrounded by my children and grandchildren.
  • Having my devotions and reading about Israel…and seeing hope for a whole rebel nation like our own in the midst of God disciplining His people.

You see, the happiest, most joy-full memories for most of us have to do with relationships, with either people or God, not things and stuff.  At the same time, most of life’s saddest experiences do not have to do with loosing things but loosing people – loved ones, meaningful friendships, times of blessed fellowship with God and people. 

WHY is that?  Why is it that the most gripping or touching poetry and songs and movies that are written and made have to do with human relationships, not just things? 

  • Do you suppose that God might be trying to tell us something?
  • Do you suppose that what we are almost universally feeling in our hearts is there because we are made in God’s image to feel what he feels and long for what he longs for?
  • Do you suppose that joy and happiness in the human experience was meant to be found most deeply in relationship because God is, by his triune nature, a God of deepest, richest, most loving relationship???

APP:  That has real implications for the church. If we are really experiencing God, joy should be a rather frequent and even dominant experience?  Unfortunately, many churches seem so devoid of really joyful people?  Genuinely happy, rejoicing people seem to be on the Endangered Species list in lots of congregations.  It’s as if you could be arrested for “disorderly conduct” if you broke out in a shout of joy.     

      I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of life.  Many of you may be struggling to pay the bills, or battling health issues, or staying up nights worrying about a wayward son or daughter.  Those are important issues, but they don’t have to steal our joy!

      We’re diving into the book of Philippians today.  It’s a letter written from the Apostle Paul to a bunch of people who meant a whole lot to him.  They had been through some tough stuff together.  They had experienced some transforming work of God’s Spirit together.  They had also been separated for some time.  And now their spiritual Dad, Paul, is writing to them after and in some very difficult circumstances

      BUT you wouldn’t know it from this letter.  Of all Paul’s letters to churches, this one is a LETTER OF JOY.  It is filled with more words of joy and rejoicing than any other letter Paul wrote in the N.T.  It’s running over with joy and that from a man who had been pretty “serious” much of his life and suffered plenty the rest of it. 

  • Paul’s pre-Christ days: Acts 7-8 – Paul was a walking hurricane—dark, foreboding, angry, destructive.  He’s the main religious official presiding over the martyrdom of Stephen.  He goes on to become deadly serious about eradicating the church by getting permission to hunt down and arrest both men and women and drag them back to Jerusalem for trial and death.  He’s not exactly your poster-child for Project Joy!
  • Circumstances of Paul when he writes this letter: he’s living in his own rented quarters in Rome (Ac. 28:30), but under house arrest and the constant guard of several Roman soldiers…not exactly your ideal setting for a book built around joy.

But remember, the richest and happiest experiences of life have to do with relationships, not things or circumstances.  That’s what the first 3 verses of this book had to do with too:  one’s relationship with God and with fellow followers of Jesus Christ. 

  • Just notice the number of references to God the Father and Son (5 times).
  • Notice the number of saint-to-saint connections referred to (5 times) -- (Paul & Timothy; saints @ Philippi; overseers and deacons; ‘you’; ‘you’).

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So let’s go ahead and fill it in on your outline, the 2 major points:

Lasting joy flows from….right relationship with God and personal partnership with God’s people.

 

Whatever this “joy” thing is we’re talking about, it has everything to do with relationships.  And not any or every relationship. 

1.)  First it’s about right relationship with God and then…

2.) secondly, it’s about our partnership with God’s children

You’ll never find Paul getting his joy from

  • how the world is treating him… or
  • how the Roman soldiers are treating him… or
  • how his fellow Jews are treating him.

He doesn’t get it from

  • reading the daily news feed from Rome or
  • listening to the banter of the Roman soldiers chained to him.
  • He doesn’t get it from whatever Caesar is in political power at the time or the laws they are pushing.
  • It didn’t come from a spouse or family or even job.

Whatever joy is about, it doesn’t have its fountain-head in THINGS/stuff/material possessions of any kind.  And it doesn’t come even from people around us who are disconnected or out of fellowship with God.   

APP:  Let me ask you this morning, “Is your joy in life dependent on marital harmony…or national civility…or human justice…or a boss’s personality???  If so, we’re never going to really have joy as God wants us to.  Real joy is always built first upon enjoying God

      Paul recognizes that lasting joy has everything to do with first our relationship with God.  He begins by speaking a blessing of grace and peace to the whole church, a blessing which, his very words acknowledge, comes “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

      Now, two of the relational qualities that God wants to constantly shower on us that bring joy are “grace” and “peace.”     

  1. GRACE Give me a simple definition of “grace” from God.  ‘Any of God’s undeserved goodness to me.’ 

“Grace is the experience of receiving totally undeserved approval, favor, love and goodness of God despite the fact that I deserve exactly the opposite.” 

ILLHodu MuthanaYemini woman born in the U.S. who left the country on her own to go fight for ISIS and encourage jihad against Americans.  Now that ISIS is in shambles and defeated, she wants to come back to the U.S. and enjoy the benefits of citizenship.  How would justice treat her?  [Keep her out; keep us safe.]  How would grace treat her?  [Welcome her back; help her get readjusted.] 

[Just a NOTE:  A nation’s civil law and international policy is not bound to operate on Christ-like grace.]

  1. PEACE: in the biblical sense was used to indicate the harmonious bonding together of someone/something previously at odds/war/enemies.
  • Cello strings : binding together of gut and silver >> beautiful, warm tones.  If there is any separation of either, the result is ugly!
  • In relationships, it is the harmonizing or making right what was formerly at odds.

ILL:  Sandy & I have been feeling a bit of stress about our next move.  It isn’t even that one of us is right and the other is wrong on timing and order of move. But when we’re not on the same page, there is not deep “peace” in our relationship.  We need more “binding together in harmony” for that to happen. We need a coming together in agreement about the next step.

What does it mean to have peace from God then?  It means to be in a state of “binding togetherness,” or harmonyno unfinished business with God…no rebellion against His perfect plans and will… no chafing against what He is calling me to be or do.  It’s the binding of myself in every possible way to the perfect nature of God.

      It is even safe to say that when we’re not “at peace” with God at any given moment or situation in our lives, it is not because God needs to change—get smarter, have better wisdom, be more loving, etc.  It’s because WE need to change and align our imperfect understanding, wisdom, ideas, etc. to God, not visa versa.   

 

Now we move to the HUMAN SIDE of joy.  What was it that actually caused joy in the middle of a prison for Paul?  What experience actually outweighed and out-muscled his experience of incarceration and probably ill-health?  

Vs. 3 – “I thank my God every time I remember you.” 

Can you say that about everyone you know?  Probably not.

  • I don’t thank God every time I think of Kim Jong Un, the cruel dictator of N. Korea.  
  • I don’t thank God every time I think of Chinese President Xi Jinping who is becoming a repressive dictator of China.

But most of us have some people in our lives for whom we are deeply, deeply grateful.  They’re not perfect people, but they are people who have blessed our lives deeply.

Assignmenttake a piece of paper and write down the names of 2 people for whom you are deeply grateful.  You might want to list a couple of people who have built into your life in some significant way.  It could be a parent or child…or teacher…or friend…or doctor…or counselor…or pastor. 

      You’ve probably got some good reasons for why you are thankful for these people, right?  What is it that makes for those kind of relationships in our lives?  [Feedback.]

      Emotionally bonded and blessed relationships like this have a HISTORY.  You don’t get to feeling this way about people you don’t know and with whom you haven’t had some deep, bonding experiences.

ILL:  Marriage study about “most memorable family experiences.”  Know what most consistently came to the surface? CAMPING!  Began to drill-down trying to figure out why.  Results:  it was the unplanned crisis that seemed to always develop on camping trips—rained on, tent collapsed, forgot the fry pan or can-opener, bear ate their food.  In the moment it was a terrible crisis, everyone was panicked…or mad…or crying.  But 2 weeks later, it was what everyone was talking about and laughing about. 

      So what are the specific reasons for which Paul found himself so joyful in prayer for this group of fellow Christians.

Verses 5 gives us the answer:  “…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now….”   That “first day” had been some 10 years or more earlier.  You’ll have to go to Acts 16:11ff to get the story of Paul’s first visit to Philippi. 

  • Paul, Silas & Luke are traveling in Asia Minor. They come to Philippi. 
  • Lydia, a dye and textile dealer, was their first convert, along with her whole household. The traveling missionary evangelists stayed at her house for several days.
  • A demonically-oppressed and induced “fortune telling slave girl” was delivered of her demons. Her owners, realizing that their “investment” had just lost her value to them, dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace and accused them before the city officials.  They were stripped and severely beaten, then thrown into the local prison under the watch of the jailer.  (We can probably surmise that this slave girl went on to find Christ and join the church.  Imagine how she felt towards Paul—instead of being used to make money for some abusive men she is freed of demons and gets a completely new life!) 
  • During a midnight prayer and praise meeting between Paul and Silas in the Philippi Municipal Jail, a massive earthquake shook the whole city, opened the cells and awoke the jailer. Thinking the inmates had made for a jail-break, the jailer starts to commit suicide but is stopped just short of success by Paul’s shout and promise that all the inmates are still there.  In gratitude, the jailer takes them into is home, cleans and bandages the wounds, hears the gospel of life in Jesus Christ and gets saved along with his whole family!
  • There were undoubtedly more believers as the chapter ends with them gathering with “the brothers” at Lydia’s house church at least one more time before they left town and moved on to evangelize Thessalonica.

Those were the “first days” in which a new “partnership” was forged. 

      The Greek word for “partnership” here is one some of you may know – koinonia.  It sometimes means “fellowship”, other times “participation” or “partnership” together.  Means “to share in common.” 

      Notice, it wasn’t a business partnership that produced bonded partnership and joy.  It wasn’t a sports team partnership that brought this result.  It was a GOSPEL partnership that brought such joy and depth of gratitude. 

      What does a “Gospel partnership” require? 

  • Someone (Paul & Co.) actively sharing the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Someone personally receiving the gospel of Jesus.
  • Some shared experiences as brothers and sisters in Christ that result from shared embracing of belief in Jesus.  

In short, a shared birthing experience AND a shared family growth experience. 

ILL:  Katie M and Steven had a little baby girl this past week.  There was new birth that resulted from their love relationship as husband and wife. 

  • Parents, for how many of you did the experience of being in on the birth of your child cause JOY? Birthing a new life into this world is one of THE most amazing experiences any man or woman will experience in life…especially when it is done in love and in the love relationship marriage is designed to be. 

The same is true in the spiritual realm

  • If you shared Jesus with someone in the last year or two…and they responded to Jesus by faith, was that a sad, depressing experience OR a satisfying, joyful experience for you? (Hands:  sad vs. satisfying).
  • For those of you who have been personally and closely involved in the nurturing process of some brother or sister in Christ over the past year or two, was that a depressing downer or a uplifting joy? (Hands).

I’m seeing a trend, I think! 

That’s why new churches are usually pretty exciting, happy places to be a part of.  There is usually a level of vitality in those churches that does not exist in churches that are not adding new believers. 

      It seems to me, in studying this passage, that is the way God meant church life to be.  There is a continual rip-tide and strong, almost overpowering pull among God’s people to move away from reaching out to lost people and move into focusing more one the internal life of the church.  It takes a monumental, sustained, almost radical effort to keep us going out rather than focusing in. We cannot hope to find the joy of the Lord if we are not doing what the Lord of joy loves to do: rescue lost people

      We need to ask both as a church and as individuals in the church, “Where and how often am I really partnering with God and other Christians to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ?” 

      This question isn’t designed to make us feel guilty or ineffective or unproductive.  It’s designed to actually bring us joy.

ILL:  If I’m gaining weight and feeling tired most of the time and I go to the doctor for advice and he asks me, “John, what are you doing to get physical exercise and how often are you doing it?”, he’s not asking that question to make me feel bad.  He’s asking it to eventually make me feel much, much better. 

      We’re looking into the mirror of the word today.  We’re asking God, “What counsel can you give me about experiencing a life of joy that is not dependent upon my bank account or lack thereof, my health or lack thereof, my job or lack thereof?”  God responds, “Are you exercising your spiritual muscles in sharing the gospel with others?”  If not, we have some decisions to make.  But we can’t take helpful steps until we make an honest diagnosis. 

ILL:  Too many churches or Bible study groups are like football teams that love to practice, love huddles, love run plays in practice, love the crowds and ticket sales BUT never actually face an opposing team in a game.  What would we think of a football game in which players huddled every down but never lined up on the line of scrimmage to run the plays? 

      There is a joy that comes when the Gospel is shared and received that doesn’t come other ways in life.  There is a bonding that happens when between spiritual parents and children that is unique. 

If that is missing from our lives, what can we do? 

  • Make it our top daily prayer priority.
  • Start sharing at least one thing spiritual with someone else every day: your spouse, coworker, someone you meet for the first time on the bus or street or waiting room. 
  • Start hanging out around someone who is bold with the Gospel.
  • Start where you live: neighborhood, work, school, sports, hobbies. 
  • Join a Building Bible Study team in one of the downtown buildings.
  • Invite someone to church…every week.
  • Ask if you can pray with people.

Shared “birthing” experiences give joy!  Because when you birth, you bond.  Does birthing involve pain?  Usually for someone!  Did it mean pain for Paul in Philippi?  Of course!  When the Gospel actually started hurting the financial bottom line of businesses that were making money off of a demon-possessed woman, Paul and Silas were caught up in a riot, dragged before the local police, stripped, beaten, flogged and their bloody bodies thrown into prison and legs put into stocks.  And since they couldn’t sleep, they chose to sing and pray, apparently loudly enough for the whole prison to hear them. 

Now, in vs. 6 we find the 3rd cause of great joy to prison inmate Paul…and, by extension, to every one of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ. 

I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Joy comes to those who are confident in God’s continuing work of growth in His children/saints.

ILLWhose job is it when you have a baby to feed that little spurting, screaming and spitting bundle of burps?  Change diapers?  Keep it warm?  Bathe it?  Get it proper medical care?  Give it rest? [PARENTS!]

As the child passes through every stage from infancy to adulthood, whose job is it to provide housing? ClothingFoodMedical care?  EducationCharacter training? Protection? 

      Now, sometimes earthly parents fail to do that.  But everyone recognizes that it is truly the parent’s responsibility to provide those things for every child…not the neighbors, not the siblings, not even the government

      While we may have people who initially introduce us to Jesus and help us grow in Christ along the way and, in that way, become sort of “spiritual parents,” even Paul understood that he hadn’t really “birthed” any of those new converts.  They were first and foremost God’s children.  God was their Father.  And as such, Paul was able to enjoy the confidence that comes when you know someone is being raised well by their parents. 

ILL:  Praying for my grandchildren knowing that each of their parents are doing a fabulous job of loving them, raising them well, disciplining them, building their character and self-esteem, training them, educating them, etc.  I pray for both them and their parents BUT I don’t lose a minutes sleep about their parenting…because I know and trust the parents! 

      Part of faith in God is faith in HIS ability to parent His kids.  Despite all the stuff of life that pushes in on every person, God the Father will carry us to spiritual completion until the “day of Christ Jesus”—the day He takes you home OR the day He returns to earth.  You can be sure that, if you have put your faith in Jesus and experienced that new birth the Holy Spirit brings to every true child of God, then GOD is going to be fighting to guard, guide and grow you until your last breath in life. 

      Now we can all fight against His work…and we all do from time to time.  But regardless of how fast you might run from God after you’ve been born again, God is faster!  He’s better than Dash in The Incredibles.  He’s there before you finish your first step of running!

ILL:  My period of doubts and questions in college.  Was a Philosophy major at that point—learning to disprove everything… including my own existence!  J  Was walking on campus, thinking about turning away from my faith. I didn’t think I’d heard from God in a personal way for months.  So I’m walking along on campus, and I shoot this question to God:  “So what’s going to happen if I just walk away from You, God, and never come back?”  And then God spoke:  “You can walk away from Me all you want…but you will never get away from me.”  I knew right then that running from God would be futile and leave me more miserable than I was with all my wrestling with God at that chapter in life. 

APP:  Maybe that’s you today?  With all your doubts and questions and even frustration with God, He is not about to disown you or let you go.  We can act like little children who go crying to our rooms and slam the door, angry at a parent who is trying to mold them into a good person.  But parents know that childish emotions and tantrums pass. So they let little Johnny calm down…and then they follow you to your room and wait for you to be ready to talk about it. 

      Has God been doing a lot of waiting for you?  You ready to stop throwing a temper-tantrum and start enjoying His work in you?  [Call to surrender to Christ.]

APP:  Parents particularly—we need to learn to let go of our children to God.  He’s really the only one who can “finish” the work He began in them the day they were conceived…the day they put their faith in Jesus…and the day they are rebelling against God.  This is a verse many of you parents need to hang onto.

ILL:  John & Coral’s son who was dying of AIDS in the mid-1990s.  He had been raised in a very spiritually dynamic home in Mead. He was molested by a male relative, went off to college and eventually immersed himself fully in the gay lifestyle in S.F. where he contracted HIV/AIDS.  There was no treatment or cure in those days.  When he could no longer care for himself, his parents, who he had all but broken relationship with, drove down to S.F. and asked him to move back home with them so they could care for him in his dying days.  Sick and with no other options, he begrudgingly agreed.  Over the remaining few months of his life, his parents cared for him with amazing love.  They brought him meals…many of which he literally threw back at them.  They changed his soiled clothes and diapers.  He would shout and yell, curse and spew awful words at them. 

      Then one day their love broke through.  He broke down and cried, admitted it was not their fault but his, asked their forgiveness and re-surrendered his life to God.  That was just 2 or 3 weeks before he died.  But those last few weeks were some of the best he and his parents had ever shared. 

APP:  If you have experienced new birth in Christ at some point in your life, God is NEVER going to let you go.  This is what we mean when we talk about “assurance of salvation.”  You can run from God and His family all you want.  But YOU can never undo the “spiritual DNA” that God has put in your soul.  You can mutilate your mind, your soul and even your body with sin, but you can never “undo” at the “genetic” spiritual level of your soul what God has done to make you His child…NEVER! 

      Friends, this verse and that promise should be an eternal spiritual truth that brings joy and peace to every one of us no matter how far we may have wandered from God. 

      There is joy knowing that the finish line of our faith is certain.  

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