The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Steven Turner
(with thanks to Prof. Tom Wright)
The road ahead
Last week, we reminded ourselves of the story of Saul’s conversion from poacher to gamekeeper. In the course of the next 30 years, Paul (as he became known) travelled the Roman Empire, preaching the gospel and planting churches.
God told Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). Part of his suffering involved imprisonment, during which time Paul wrote several letters to different churches to encourage, advise or admonish the believers. Over the next few weeks, we shall look at the letter to the Philippians, using some material from Professor Tom Wright’s online course, “Paul and his letter to the Philippians”. In this joyful letter, Paul talks amongst other subjects about being “Partners in the Gospel,” and calls his readers to live holy lives in unity with one another. In this series, we’ll explore how the early Christians sought to do this and ponder what it means in our world today.
The other great theme of the letter is the Joy of the Christian life. So, we begin with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy
Song Joyful, Joyful we adore thee.
1. Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Hail thee as the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the clouds of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.
2. All they works with joy surround thee,
Earth and heaven reflect thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around thee,
Center of unbroken praise;
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Bloss’ming meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in thee.
3. Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean-depth of happy rest.
Thou the Father, Christ our brother-
All who live in love are thine;
Teach us how to love other,
Lift us to the joy divine.
4. Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began;
Father-love is reigning o’er us,
Brother-love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music lifts us sunward
In the triumph song of life.
Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)
Pray the Lord’s Prayer
Who were the Philippians, anyway?
Philippi was a city in the province of Eastern Macedonia, in northern Greece. In Paul’s day, it was a Roman colony, governed by two military officers appointed by Rome. Veteran soldiers were given land and settled in and around the city to keep the peace. The colony prospered due to the nearby gold mine and the Egnatian Way, a highway and trade route traversing Greece and ending up at Byzantium (modern Istanbul).
However, most people did not share this wealth. Many ordinary people lived on the edge of poverty, and between one-third and one-half of the population at any one time were slaves. It was this strange mix of people, many of whom would never mingle in normal life, that made up the church in Philippi. Given the diversity, it is perhaps surprising that Paul does not have to deal with major divisions in the Philippian church, though he does speak often of the need for unity alongside his call to holy living.
This is one of Paul’s prison letters (see 1:14) possibly written in Ephesus around AD 50. Yet it exudes joy and gratitude to God for his readers. As we shall see, Paul believed that God was using his situation to advance the gospel, because of the way he conducted himself whilst “in chains”. Therefore, he seeks to encourage the Philippian Christians to rejoice over the work of God in their lives through Jesus Christ, showing the impact of that work to the world around.
Chorus Running Over
My cup’s full and running over!
Since the Lord saved me
I’m as happy as can be.
My cup’s full and running over!
Bible reading Philippians 1:1-11
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Paul opens his letter to the Philippians with a greeting typical in the ancient world, but with his own twist:
- Naming the sender: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ” (v1a)
- Addressing the recipients: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (v1b)
- Offering greetings: “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
We briefly note a few interesting details:
- Mention of Timothy alongside Paul is essential to give Timothy authority (see 2:19ff)
- Paul always refers to the believers as “saints” – Greek “hagios” or holy ones – in Christ Jesus
- Mention of overseers and deacons suggests there was already some structure to the church in Philippi, though we don’t really know how that worked.
- Paul extends the traditional greeting of “grace” to including peace, and stress that this comes through Jesus.
He then moves on to the most heart-warming passage in any of his letters.
Chorus There’s joy in following Jesus all the way
There’s joy in following Jesus all the way.
There’s joy in following Jesus every day.
His love is like a rainbow
When earthly skies are grey.
There’s joy in following Jesus all the way.
Though far from an exhaustive list, the word Partner can be used to describe a relationship between spouses, significant others, parents, friends, teammates, businesses, governmental organizations, or nations. The word speaks to an alliance where two or more partners agree to cooperate in order to advance mutual interests. Those interests may not always be 100% aligned all of the time, but they must be aligned enough to make the partnership worthy of the investment made by all. Sometimes partnerships are documented in a contract that clearly defines the expectations of all involved, sometimes they happen so naturally that documenting the relationship on paper undermines the inferred strength of the partnership.
When I think of the many partnerships in which I am a participant, there is a set of three criteria that I use to measure the strength and importance of each:
– Shared ValuesQuote taken from https://seanheritage.com/blog/howdy-partner/
– Complementary Skills
– Shared Vision
In reading verses 3-11, you can sense the enthusiasm and joy with which Paul is writing to his friends in Philippi. His experience there was quite mixed; you can read the whole story in Acts 16. Guided by a vision, Paul and his companions set sail for Macedonia, landing up in Philippi, where Lydia (a “dealer in purple cloth”, hence probably quite wealthy) gets converted and offers to host the missionaries for the duration. Although many people believe in Jesus, a run-in with a couple exploiting their slave-girl lands Paul and Silas in prison. They are released next day, having converted the jailer and his family, but have to leave town for safety.
Paul’s joy stems from two main themes, the first of which he calls “Partnership”. As noted above, this could be seen simply as a business relationship, an agreement to perform services for another. Although some sense of shared purpose is essential, there is not necessarily a close personal relationship.
When Paul says, “your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,” he is referring to practical and financial assistance which the Philippians offered when he was travelling through Macedonia (more of that when we come to chapter 4). They had seen his need and had (presumably) clubbed together to meet it.
We would describe this relationship today as sponsorship: providing money to support a person or group in achieving their aim. This may be an ongoing relationship, such as sponsoring a child in another country, an animal in a zoo, am individual sports person or a team, or indeed a charity through regular donations. Or you might make a one-off payment to an appeal or when someone takes on a challenge such as sky-diving or walking the Great Wall of China. These are good things to do, but don’t necessarily require a commitment of time, energy or emotion. There may be no personal engagement between sponsor and sponsored.
The Philippians must have gone further than mere sponsorship, since Paul longs for all of them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v8). Bearing in mind that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), this affection is something way beyond a simple business arrangement. The Greek word translated as partnership is κοινονια (koinonia) refers to all kinds of relationships, much as our introductory quote. It implies a high degree of mutuality, taking an interest in each other beyond the simple exchange of money and services. Paul’s word for “affection” is σπλάγχνοις (splánchnois), which refers to a “gut feeling” or visceral emotion. Imagine the combination of anticipation and anxiety that you feel when spouse or child is an hour late coming home, and you have some idea of what Paul is describing. He longs desperately to be with them as soon as possible (2:24)
But perhaps the greatest cause of Paul’s joy is the Philippians reputation for loving. As we read through this letter, we shall see that there is very little of the admonition, criticism and outright condemnation that we see in some of Paul’s other letters. This is not to say that everything is perfect in this church; there is still room for growth.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight… (v9)
However, it’s clear Paul considers they have a solid foundation. Paul’s word for love is the powerful ἀγάπη (agape), signifying a pouring out for the other person, a willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others as Christ did for us. In a world that tells us we deserve the best, sacrifice does not come easily. Yet concern for others is actually essential to our survival. One factor contributing to the spread of the current corona virus is our desire to have the good things in life for as little payment as possible; this leads to sourcing our food and household goods from countries where labour is cheap and conditions are poor. On a practical level, we need to take more account of the world around us, both in human society and our relationship to nature. And the agape love of the Philippians shows us the way. And Paul suggests that, as our love grows, so will our knowledge and insight. We shall see later what he means by that.
There is one other key point to note in these verses: three times Paul mentions Jesus Christ as central to this koinonia, this blossoming fellowship. We’ve already noted the reference to the affection of Christ Jesus, but he brackets this with two references to the ongoing work of transformation:
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (v6).
so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (v10-11).
Paul is making clear that this love and this partnership are only possible because of the work of Jesus (more correctly, his Holy Spirit) in the Philippians, transforming them into the likeness of Jesus, bearing “the fruit of righteousness” (similar to the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23). This work began when they believed in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit and will continue “until the day of Christ.” The confidence Paul expresses in verse 6 stems in part from the faithfulness of God and in part from the evidence he already sees of their maturing in holy living.
The “day of Christ” appears to be Paul’s updated version of Old Testament phrase, “the day of the Lord”. Often this referred to a day of judgement, which was to be feared. But Paul sees it as a day of joy, when Jesus will return to put right all that is wrong in the world and receive to himself all who have believed in him. Perhaps Paul’s greatest joy is that he is convinced the Philippians will be among the that elect group of believers.
In our modern church, the individualism of society can creep in. Our faith becomes a personal matter, the leader is responsible for “feeding” us, and we expect that other churches should support us though we may decide not to support them. In contrast, Paul believes that we should all be partners in the gospel, creating a koinonia, a fellowship that is virtually unknown in the world at large. To achieve this, we must follow the example of the Philippians, set aside the obvious differences between us, love each other sacrificially and work together to advance God’s kingdom where he has placed us.
To think about
- Do we have a diversity of people in our congregation as they did in Philippi?
- Is our fellowship a partnership or a group of individuals?
- How much would we be willing to sacrifice for each other?
- Are there sign of developing maturity in our relationships?
Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks for showing us the way of true partnership in choosing an odd group of men to be your first disciples. It gives us hope that you can use us, with our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and our tragedies.
Thank you for providing real examples of people who wrestled with relationships as we wrestle with relationships; especially for the Philippians, who set a good example and give us hope that we too can show true koinonia.
By your spirit, complete in us the work you began when we first believed in you, so that we may join Paul and many others among the blameless when you come again.
Song 833 We have caught the vision splendid
We have caught the vision splendid
Of a world which is to be,
When the pardoning love of Jesus
Freely flows from sea to sea,
When all men from strife and anger,
Greed and selfishness are free,
When the nations live together
In sweet peace and harmony.
We would help to build the city
Of our God, so wondrous fair;
Give our time, bring all our talents,
And each gift of beauty rare,
Powers of mind, and strength of purpose,
Days of labour, nights of strain,
That God’s will may be accomplished,
O’er the kingdoms he shall reign.
Founded on the rock of ages,
Built upon God’s promise sure,
Strengthened by the cords of service,
We shall stand firm and secure;
When the Father, Son and Spirit
Crown our labours with success,
Men and angels then uniting
Shall God’s mighty love confess.
Doris N. Rendell
Benediction May God’s blessing surround you each day
May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.