Philippians 1:11 and Acts 16:11-40
Beginning a series in the NT book of Philippians
A letter written about 60AD by Paul (the great apostle to the Gentiles) and Timothy, ‘servants of Christ Jesus.’ To the fledgling christian church in Philippi which Paul had planted in the city 10 years earlier..
Paul’s church planting strategy always had an urban focus - Cities were and remain places of openness and influence. (the womb of culture). Philippi, though it is now a ruin in North Eastern Greece, in the ancient world was just such a stragegic city.
Its gold and silver mines - exhausted by the time of the Christian era, and it’s situation on the Egnatian way - the great highway which connected Rome with the East had made Philippi an important cultural and economic centre.
The city’s name came from the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon who founded the city in 356BC. 200 years later the whole region had come under the rule of the Roman empire. And in 42BC, following military victories of Caesar Augustus close by, the city became a Roman colony endowing it’s populace with Roman citizenship. Roman war veterans settled in Philippi. It was an outpost of Rome and Empire in Northern Greece.
Philippians is a wonderful little letter. Many people’s favourite NT book. It is primarily a letter of Christ-centred encouragement. I encourage you to read it in one sitting this week. It’s so short but it includes some of the greatest lines in the Bible: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.’; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.’; Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation ..present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
At heart the letter begs a question:
Is there anything really worth living for? (and dying for?)
What really counts in life? What’s the best way to live? The most worthwhile?
Scientists tell us that it might be possible to prolong average life expectancy to 115 years old but will it be a life worth living?
What are you giving your life, your time and energy to?
Now, Read between the lines and you get the sense that this 10 year old church plant to whom Paul writes - they’re feeling pressure. The hard work of building a church community has taken it’s toll. There’s pressure within and without. From the outside there’s opposition (1:28) they live as a christian minority in an unbelieving city… and on the inside there’s unrest (4:2):complaint and hurts and disagreements. It feels like it’s just costing too much - this church lark.
But Paul writes to encourage.
To encourage them and any who would listen in that this IS the life worth living and rather than pulling away from God’s ways and God’s church .. to discover joy and to live for what really counts, the Philippians and we should press in to God’s ways and his church..
vv3-6 Be confident in the power of God
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,
Partnership in the gospel doesn’t refer to a shared love of a certain kind of music. The gospel is one of those rich bible expressions. It refers to the whole story of what God, in love, has done and is doing to repair this world and us through his son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Paul and the Philippians and all Christians are partners in the gospel in the sense that we are called to share this story with others but also in the sense that we are recipients together of its blessings. We have come to know God through hearing the gospel, seeing its reality - the power of God.
The church at Philippi (like any church) was founded by an extraordinary display of God’s power. You can read all about it in Acts 16. There we read that Paul and his companion Silas had arrived in Philippi in AD52 following the prompting of a vision. On the first saturday they were there they went down to the river where there was a group or women praying. (They were probably gathered there because there were not the necessary ten Jewish men in Philippi to form a synagogue (lack of committed men in the church was a problem even then!)) As Paul shared the gospel, someone called Lydia, a rich merchant woman, an Asian from Thyatira, a spiritual seeker, became a christian and persuaded Paul to come and stay in her home. While he was staying there, he was followed around town by a girl. a greek, a native of the town, she’s a slave, spiritually she is out of control - lit. it says she is a pythonist, she is possessed with some kind of spirit through her involvement in the occult - she can tell fortunes (for real, not horroscopes). She follows Paul and Silas around mocking and Paul finally has enough and in an encounter of spiritual power he commands the spirit to come out of her. This young girl set free by Jesus is added to the fledgling church. The problem is that this young girl was a slave and her owners were furious that she had lost her supernatural powers. They seized Paul and Silas start a riot and Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison.
In prison with their feet in stocks - which means they were being tortured - Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. Tortured and singing! Some of us have trouble singing because we’re still trying to digest lunch. Tortured but singing? Because they had seen God’s power to change the direction of Lydia’s life and bring her whole family to faith. They had seen God’s power to set free a girl afflicted by an evil spirit. Now they saw God’s power at work in another miraculous way: an earthquake shook the prison and every door flew open. The prison officer in charge. He’s a Roman, ex-military, working class, spiritually he’s probably disinterested and hardened, he’s killed people, he tortures people. - he’s about to kill himself, thinking all the prisoners have escaped, knowing he will face court martial for this. But Paul shouts out ‘wait! nobody’s going anywhere!’ And through this whole experience, this rough military guy’s heart is won for Christ and later his whole family are baptised.
This is how the church in Philipi was founded. It’s easy to forget the power of God so Paul reminds the Philippians.
It’s easy for us to forget God’s gracious power in the founding of our church - SBD. We started out with 40 adults and a dozen kids. In 8 years over 200 adults and 50 children have been part of the SBD story. a dozen people have come to faith one through the earthquake of terminal cancer one through a power encounter with Jesus; others through hearing the powerful message of the gospel week by week. It’s easy to forget the sacrificial generosity that has made this church possible. Remain and Be confident in the power of God.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 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.
If God’s power can start a church in Philippi or Dalston, can kickstart faith in the souls of men and women then with Paul we can have confidence that what God has begun … he will complete..
‘The day of Christ Jesus’ refers to the day when Jesus will return. That’s the part of the story that is still to come: ’Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Not this time as a baby come to save but as a King come to bring his eternal kingdom. The work God has begun in you, if you’re a Christian, is eternal life and He promises to complete that work. He will raise us to life, he will make all things well; We’re going to live forever.. Let it sink in. How then should we live? What counts? What’s worth living for? Live in the light of that day. In the light of an eternal future. Give yourself to the work of God’s gospel - God’s transforming power.
Of course, It’s not always easy to just do that. It’s an act of faith. In a moment we’ll see what is fundamental to helping us live in the light of the day of Christ.. But there’s a hint in the text.. God will bring to completion the work he has begun in you… Be confident in the power of God.
Second thing - if you want to give your life to what really matters..
2. Be joyful in Christian friendship
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.
Paul writes this letter from prison in Rome. The imminent threat of execution hangs over him 1:20, 2:17. Paul is in chains… but his heart roams free. The apostle had probably only spent a matter of weeks or months establishing the church in Philippi, many of the newer Christians there he hasn’t even met - he knows them through others but the letter demonstrates this wonderful network of loving christian friendships..
Throughout the letter you have Paul praying for the Philippians, articulating his affection, They’re his joy and crown, he longs to see him. And we learn that the Philippians pray for Paul and have provided for his needs. Just turn to chapter 2 v19 and you see others who are part of this network of Christian friendship. 2:19 Paul wants to send Timothy to them soon so he, Paul, can get concrete news about them. v20 ‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine care for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” See all these relationships? Read on v25 here’s another guy: “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger whom you sent to care for my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then welcome him in the Lord with great joy…”
Be joyful in Christian friendship.
Our shared faith - as Paul says ‘all of you share God’s grace with me’ and our shared mission - defending and confirming the gospel can bring about the most profound love and friendship. Many of you tell me about dear Christian friends. These are friendships that are not known in other spheres of life..
Christian friendships can be profound but they are not not straightforward; they are not a given. All relationships need work. In part, Paul is having to write to the Philippians to remind them to think right about and work at their Christian friendships 1:27, 2:2 Be united - ‘Be of one mind’ Don’t let bad feeling, or disagreement or bitterness get in the way..
You know the church is a bit like a human family in many respects - we are brothers and sisters - we are brought together by something more than just shared interests something that unites very different people. they say don’t they: ’you can choose your friends you can’t choose your family.’ This means that just as in families you can take one another for granted and make more effort with people outside the family than within. So it is with God’s church. It’s more effort - so we don’t bother. But then we miss out on the joy that could be ours.
Paul will urge us in this letter to put on our gospel glasses. Have a gospel perspective. sense the people sitting around you. That person you’re sitting next to is a child of God, their life purchased with the blood of Christ. There is no imagining what one day they will be. Honour one another. Give thanks for one another. Look to the interests of others before your own.
Paul will urge us into gospel partnership. you philippians might be a roman colony an outpost of Rome in the city of Philippi. But the church of JC - are citizens of heaven; an outpost of heaven in the earthly city. Have you forgotten your missionary call that is at the heart of christian friendship? do hard things together. pray for healing, pray for holiness, pray for your friends and then go out and be good news together.
brings us to third point..
how are we to be confident in God’s power? live for the day of Christ? how are we to be joyful in Christian friendships? look to the interests of others before ourselves?
3. Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts
Paul prays. So often we do not have because we do not ask. We find it hard to pray.
What does Paul pray for the Philippians? We should pray it for ourselves and one another..
First verse x he prays that our love would abound more and more. That our love for God and for one another and for everyone would grow. Good thing to pray. But notice that it’s not any kind of love it’s a love that is shaped by the knowledge and moral insight that comes from the gospel. It’s a wise love that comes about through reading the bible and through wise counsel with one another. Because this love isn’t just a feeling it needs to show itself forth in action, in the best way of living and using our gifts - which is why Paul says v10 that we need to be brought to a place where we can ‘discern or ‘approve of’ what is best..’ That is - brought to a place where we can see what counts, what’s the best way for me to live .. and have the will to put that into practice..
Notice that Paul refuses to give blanket commands for what the best kind of Christian life looks like. How many hours should you give to church, care of your neighbour, sharing the gospel with your friends. No, life is far more complex than that. We have different lives and commitments and time and situation gifts and capacities and personalities and so Paul simply prays that your love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight so that you will be able to approve and pursue what is best. The life worth living.
Do you see what this is saying?
Do you want to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ? They’re words that refer to an inner consistency and and an outward goodness of life. Do you want that? Do you want to be v11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God?
Do you want your life to be lived to the glory of God?
If we want these things for ourselves, for one another, for our church then we have only to ask.
Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts..
We don’t know what a life worth living is? But God does. We should ask him.
We can’t manufacture love, wisdom, righteousness in our lives. But God can. We should ask him.
he will change our hearts..
why not pray this prayer this week?