Monday, January 13, 2014

Sermon: Philippians 1: 1-11 Praying for Gospel Partners

We’re at that time of the year when you might be writing a little ‘thank you’ note for the Christmas presents you’ve received. You’ve kept a note of who gave what, and then you sit down to write to thank them for the pair of socks or bottle of perfume.

Newly weds sometimes do the same thing - after the honeymoon finding the time to send out a wee card thanking great aunt Gertrude for a corkscrew or uncle Uel for some towels.

The apostle Paul is doing something similar. He’s writing a thank you letter from Rome, where he is in prison, to the church at Philippi in Greece. They had sent Epaphroditus with a gift for him, and now Paul is sending Epaphroditus back home, carrying this letter with him.

Except, it isn’t like a typical thank you - at least, not immediately. After the almost standard greeting, the thanks begin in verse 3 - but it isn’t the Philippians Paul is thanking. Do you see who it is that is receiving the thanks? ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you...’ He is telling the Philippians about how he thanks God for them. It’s not what we expect, and yet, when you think about it, it’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?

It’s the right thing to praise and thank God because God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. He is the source of all the good things we enjoy, among them fellowship. So it’s proper for Paul to thank God whenever he remembers the Philippians. Praise where praise is due.

But it’s also the right thing to encourage the people God is using to provide the fellowship and gifts. So Paul writes to the Philippians to let them know that he is thanking God for them. It’s good for the Philippians to know, and will boost them, even as God gets the credit.

Who is it that you thank God for? By all means, thank God for them, but let them know as well - the praise and good will increase as you share in this way. So what was it that Paul was praising God for them? Why was Paul so thankful?

When he remembers them, he makes his prayer for them with joy because (verse 5) ‘of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ Paul had been the person who had brought the good news about Jesus to Philippi. He had told them about Jesus the Saviour; it had even landed him in prison, but he was still thankful as he remembered the Christians he knew in that place. They were partners in the gospel. They were working together in the work of the good news, and this is why Paul gives God thanks.

From the time that the good news had arrived in Philippi (indeed, in Europe) at the prayer meeting by the river and in Lydia’s house and the Philippian jailer’s house, these Christians were partners with Paul. They had a very different background; they were of all different sorts of types of people; but they are partners, workers together.

This is seen in verse 7. You see, some people might be tempted to hold back whenever Paul has landed in prison again. Maybe they would rather be more respectable, and try to forget Paul languishing in prison. But no, they have continued to be partakers with him of grace, both in his imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.

They’re standing with him, even through the hard times. They’re providing encouragement for him to keep going. It’s no wonder that he holds them in his heart and yearns for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. The way that they’re standing, partnering with him, is a sign of how God has begun to work in their hearts and lives. It’s something that only God could have brought about.

Giving to the work of the gospel shows that the good news of Jesus is a priority; that we want people to know the Lord and be saved from their sins; it’s something that comes about as God begins to work. And Paul gives us some encouragement - that what God begins to do, he will bring to completion. He’s not like some of us, with a to-do list the length of your arm, with things started and abandoned. Good intentions, but things left undone.

But God is a bit like Mastermind - what he has started, he will finish. So be encouraged. What God has begun in your life, he will bring to completion. He is working towards the day of Jesus Christ; working to bring us to wholeness on that day.

You know the way children can be very excited about birthday parties or holidays? They might count down the days (or even the sleeps - ten sleeps to Christmas). Every day they might ask - is it today? Paul helps us to be encouraged, even in our mess and muddle, even when we’re discouraged because we aren’t quite what we should be. Simply ask this: is this the day of Jesus Christ? No, we’re not there yet - but I’m not what I was - God has begun to work in my life and is continuing to do so. He won’t give up, so I’ll keep going.

Thanksgiving to God for the encouragement of Christian partnership. Encouragement along the way. In the closing verses of our reading, Paul also prays for the Philippian Christians - it’s the prayer of love for them.

Sometimes our praying can become a little stale. We end up in a rut, never advancing beyond the ‘God bless mummy and daddy and the cat’ type prayers. But here Paul prays for the Christians in a specific way, for a specific purpose.

He prays that their love may abound more and more (with all knowledge and discernment) so that together they can know and approve what is excellent - and then do it. As they continue to love one another, they can help one another to do the right thing, prompting and helping the fruit of Christ to grow, and all to God’s praise and glory.

Why not use this prayer for our church family? Pray that our love for one another will increase - and then watch as it happens, as we become more loving as well. Pray for growth in the things of God, the decision to do the things God wants us to do. What a transformation it would be, for each of us and for all of us together.

Paul’s love for the Philippians is obvious and genuine. That love is expressed as he thanks God for them and prays to God for them. But it’s also expressed as he tells them that he thanks God for them and what he’s praying for them. The partnership is built up; the praise is increased.

Who are you thankful for? Why are you thankful? What are you praying for them? Will you let them know?

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 12th January 2014.

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