This week friends of ours who were in the church we pastored in Mather came by to visit. We hadn’t seen them for quite a few years and it was good to catch up again. All of us enjoy good relationships with other people. We relate with and enjoy some people because they are the same age as us. Others become friends because of similar interests. I know that some of you will have things to talk about after the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen this afternoon. Other friendships exist because of working relationships. Amos and I hadn’t seen each other for about three weeks and it was good to get together and talk again this week. A lot of relationships we have are because of family. Our children joined us at the lake when we were on vacation, my mom and step dad came out and also brought three of my nieces with them. What a great time it was to visit and connect as family members!
Such relationships are a blessing. I am thankful for the friendships I have and for the blessing of a relationship with my family. But as I think about this, another question comes to mind. Each week we gather as a congregation. We attend Bible Study and work together on various projects like camp and SS. What is the basis of the friendships we have in church? How do we express and live out our relationships with other Christians?
This morning I would like to begin a series of messages on the book of Philippians that will go until early December. I mentioned that I was planning this to someone and they said “O good, that is my favourite book.” I hope that as we hear what God has to say in this part of His Word, we will be challenged and encouraged in our walk with God. I invite you to turn to the first chapter of Philippians
Philippians is a letter. Now there are different kinds of letters. Some letters we write are business letters dealing with an issue. I have written many of these, for example when I write a letter of transfer. The content of that letter is different than another letter I recently wrote in which I was addressing spiritual issues and engaging in a spiritual debate with an individual. On the other hand, I have also written letters which were friendship letters. For example, I email my sister, who lives in Edmonton from time to time and let her know what is happening in our family and so on. Each of these letters will have a different tone and content. The letter which Paul wrote to the people of God in the church in Philippi was most likely a letter of friendship. In it he expresses his love for them, lets them know what is happening and also deals with a few issues, but not with the intensity with which issues are dealt with in, for example, the letter to the church in Corinth. This tone of the letter makes it a very encouraging letter, but one which still has much to challenge us in faith.
The letter is written to the saints in Christ – that is those who have been made holy because of the work of Jesus Christ in their life. It is addressed to the saints including the leaders of the church. Paul greets the church with a Christianized greeting, changing the normal Greek greeting to the word grace which comes in Christ. He also includes the normal Jewish greeting of peace. The whole thing is wrapped up clearly in Jesus Christ. Please note that Jesus is mentioned three times in the first two verses. Gordon Fee, writes, “Everything is in, of, by and for Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the basis of their common existence; he is the focus and content of the gospel in which Paul, Timothy, and the Philippians are partners; and he is the Lord, to whom every knee shall bow…”
As I already mentioned, often our friendships are based, on common interest, similar age or blood relationship. In the church, we are called to something deeper. The nature of the letter as a friendship letter permeates the first 11 verses. In this passage we see Paul’s heart – a heart which is first of all in love with Jesus Christ and lives all relationships in the context of that relationship.
Following the greeting, which is found in verses 1,2, the passage divides naturally into two sections. In verses 3-8, Paul gives thanks for his friends in Philippi and in verses 9-11, he prays for them.
In his thanksgiving for them, we get a glimpse of his friendship with them and the basis that friendship.
The first phrase which indicates why he has a special relationship with them is found in verse 5 where he says, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
What does he mean by “partnership in the gospel?” It could mean several things. In 4:18, he mentions a gift they had sent. His needs for ministry were met when they sent a gift. Is that what the partnership of the gospel means? In this verse, he mentions that they have been partners “from the first day until now.” The church in Philippi had been planted by Paul and some of his companions including Silas and Luke, as recorded in Acts 16. By partnership in the gospel does he mean that they and he share the same faith in Jesus Christ? At this time, Paul was in prison, and so, suffering for his faith. In 1:29, Paul mentions that the Philippians also have suffered. Is their partnership in the gospel a partnership of suffering? I believe that all of these things are included, but the basis and foundation of their relationship goes back to the fact that they are all followers of Jesus Christ. His close relationship with the Philippians has everything to do with the fact that they are all Christians. It is a bond in the Lord.
The time reference in this phrase, “from the first day until now” invites the question about the future of that partnership.
In Philippians 1:6, we have a verse that is well known and also speaks about the deep and significant relationship they share with Christ. The beginning of the life of faith is in what God has done. God has begun the work. This reminds us once again that we do not save ourselves. God is the one who begins the good work in us and God is the one who, according to the promise in this verse, will bring us to spiritual maturity and readiness to meet our Saviour.
The matter of God’s work and our participation is somewhat of a mystery. As people who have emphasized our part, which the Bible certainly also teaches, we need to be reminded about how much God actually does in our salvation. I find this to be very encouraging and refreshing. It encourages me that I am not alone in my growth in faith, but that God also plays a large part.
In the context of the friendship with the Philippians which we are talking about, this verse tells us that Paul and the Philippians share a relationship with God who has begun to work in them, who is working in them in the present and who will continue to work in them and bring them to the conclusion which will come about on the “day of Christ Jesus.”
As we think about that we ought to recognize that we are involved in a relationship with God and with all of God’s people that starts when we express faith in Christ and will be a significant relationship throughout all of eternity. Paul’s love for the Philippians is based in what God has done and continues to do in him and in all of them.
We invest a lot in our marriages and we certainly ought to. But we also know that the Bible teaches us that there will be no marriage in heaven. We love our children and have wonderful relationships with them, but in some senses, a relationship with children is about a 20 or 25 year relationship. When they leave home, we still enjoy the relationship, but it is different. The relationship we have with all of God’s people, however, is an eternal partnership. A number of years ago there was a song which was often used at graduations. One line of the song went like this, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” That is true, not only with those who are our friends because of common interest, age or blood relationship, but with every person who belongs to Jesus Christ. That is the basis of the deep love and friendship which Paul has with the Philippians. Since we will spend eternity in heaven with all of God’s people, that is a significant partnership.
The third phrase describing the basis of his relationship with them is found in verse 7 where he says, “all of you share in God’s grace with me.”
Paul begins that verse by saying, “It is right for me to feel this way about you.” He is talking about his deep love for them, which we will look at momentarily. He indicates next that “I have you in my heart.” Then he goes on to indicate that whether he is in prison, far away from them or if he is actively involved in arguing for the gospel and trying to persuade people of the gospel, he and they have this common bond that they “share in God’s grace.” Once again he is saying what he has already said several times in this passage. We are in a loving fellowship which is deep and profound because we both have a life changing, grace based relationship with Jesus Christ who is the Saviour and Lord of all the earth. As one writer says, “the closeness of fellow-feeling is based upon a common participation in the grace of God.” Another writer says, “The believer has no yearnings apart from his Lord; his pulse beats with the pulse of Christ; his heart throbs with the heart of Christ.”
Because of this deep connection that Paul has with the Philippians, which is shared in Christ, Paul has a love for these people that is much more than a surface love, a friendship or a convenient and pleasant relationship. The love for Christ and relationship to Christ which they share creates in his heart a deep, Christ centred love for the people of Philippi.
Twice Paul makes a comment about his love for them. In verse 7 he says, “I have you in my heart.” The circle of love that Christ draws around our heart is also drawn around the heart of all others who belong to Christ. Paul feels and acknowledges that love for the saints in Philippi.
In verse 8, we have another such expression of compassion. He says, “I long for you with the affection of Christ.” Paul’s deep longing has to do with their participation in the gospel. His love for them is an “in Christ” love.”
What is the meaning of such love in our life? It is natural for us that if someone shares something with us, we like them. For example, if you like the Bombers, I like you. If you like canoeing, I like you. Of course such loves are limited and shallow. What if you like the Bombers, but hate canoeing? Do I still have an attraction to you? With our love for Christ, it is completely different. If you love Christ, you have a living person in you, the same living person who is also in me. If you love Christ, you have a deep relationship with the most significant person in the universe, who also has the same relationship with me. Thus when we deeply love Christ, we are also drawn to a deep love for each other. That is the kind of relationship Paul is describing here.
It is out of this relationship of love based on the common relationship with Christ that Paul expresses his thanks to God for them.
In many ancient letters, a health wish was a normal part of letter writing, much like the comment we often include in letters like, “I trust this letter finds you well.” But when Paul does this in his letter, he does more, he transforms and even substitutes this health wish with a word of thanksgiving.
Because he feels this way about God, about what God has done in them and continues to do in them and because he loves them, he expresses his thanks to God for them. He doesn’t do so all the time, but, as verse 3 says, “every time I remember you.” Notice, however, that the direction of his thanksgiving is to God. He acknowledges that God is the author of all that he is and has.
The other expression which is noteworthy in this passage is the mention in verse 4 that he does so “with joy.” Joy is the defining emotion when he thinks about what God has done in him, in them and when he thinks about the wonderful relationship he has with them because of God’s work. As one writer says, “Prayer, thanksgiving and joy go together in a kind of indissoluble union.”
As we reflect on this relationship and the way Paul expresses it, there is something to think about in regards to our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. How often do we think about the shared grace, the partnership in the gospel which we all have? How often do we recognize that the love we have for our Lord is a love shared by all those who belong to Christ? Does this recognition move us to thanksgiving and joy? Does it cause us to live in and express a deep love based on Jesus for all who also belong to Jesus?
As Paul expresses, in verse 8, that he longs “for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus,” we understand that this longing comes because he is not able to go to see them. When we lived in The Pas, it was our first church and the first time we had been away from home. We had a deep longing for the people back home - our families and friends. We couldn’t just go and see them at any time because of the distance involved. It is much different now. If we have a longing for our children, we can just get in the van and go see them because they live so close. I imagine that Paul had a similar feeling for these people. He wanted to see them, but could not, because as verse 7 tells us, he was a prisoner.
But the longing can be fully satisfied as he prays for them. His longing for them is a longing to bless them and help them in their relationship with Christ and distance does not prevent him from doing that, because he can pray for them.
After praying a prayer of thanks in verses 3-8, he continues in a prayer of asking in verses 9-11. Once again, the prayer is based on the relationship they share in Christ. His prayer is that their relationship to Christ will continue to grow. The way he prays for them is so appropriate for one whose love is based on the mutual love they have in Christ. The content of his prayer is a great lesson for us in how we ought to pray if we share such a love.
Although he gives thanks for the “good work” mentioned in vs. 6, which God has begun and will bring to completion, he does not assume that all will just go along fine and come to completion. He realizes the partnership we have in God’s promise and the ongoing work we need to do. Later in 2:12, he comments on this when he says, “work out your salvation.” So that means that there is an ongoing need to pray for one another that we will grow in faith.
There are two things that he prays that God will do for them. First of all, he prays that their “love may abound more and more…” How often Scripture calls on God’s people to love! He doesn’t define the direction of that love, whether it is for God or for one another, and really it doesn’t matter because it is both that must always be increasing. As we realize how much we are loved by God, we must respond with a deep and growing love for God, so he prays that they will love God more. Love for God must result and be expressed in love for others, so he prays that they will love each other more.
A second prayer, although it is also be connected to the first prayer, is that they will have “knowledge and depth of insight.”
Since this is in the context of love and moves next into the context of a pure and blameless life, the knowledge and depth of insight would be in this direction. He prays that they will know more about what it means to love others and to have a deeper insight into God’s will.
Why this prayer? What is his hope for them? He expresses three goals for this prayer.
The first is that “you may be able to discern what is best.” How often we settle. We ask the question, “is it wrong?” when that is such a limitation of what is possible. God doesn’t only want us to avoid what is wrong. God has a much greater intention for us in that we need to seek that which is best. If we only seek what is right and wrong, we can get into the danger of defining things in black and white categories. If we seek what is best, we can discern what truly brings the abundant life that God intends for us. What a wonderful goal in our prayer for each other that we will learn love and knowledge and insight so that we will be able to discern what is best.
Another goal of his prayer is that they will be pure and blameless. We are quick to interpret this as meaning sexually pure, but purity and blamelessness is much broader than that. Purity means that our motives, our hopes and the direction of our life is centred on God and not marred by mixed motives. Do we love God above all or is our love for God made impure by a greater love for self? Do we love others for their good or is our love for others made impure by our desire for them to do something for us? The prayer for love and knowledge is made so that they will be pure and blameless.
Finally, his purpose for what will happen in them is that they will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. The question we can ask about this is does he mean for them to be filled with the righteousness which Christ brings us by faith or the fruit of a life lived in righteousness? I don’t really think it matters. We are made righteous by the work Christ does in us when we believe in Him. When we are so made righteous, we have the basis and grounds for a life of righteousness. It is all of that which Paul desires for these people.
But the goal of his prayer is not only for what will happen in them. The ultimate goal of his prayer is that God will be praised and glorified.
The beginning and ending is God. God has begun the good work in them and when God answers this prayer and they become a holy people who deeply love each other, then God is glorified once again.
The ultimate goal of all things is the glory of God. It is God’s will that He be glorified. To us this seems like a selfish thing on the part of God, but that is not what it is. God is the absolute greatest one. When God brings life, when God makes things happen that are the best, which is exactly what God does, then God is glorified. God is glorified when what He does is seen - when God creates a loving fellowship, when God begins a good work in us, when God “carries it on to completion,” when God creates a pure and blameless people. So Paul prays for them that they will grow in love and knowledge and insight so that God is glorified.
Look around you. What is the basis of your relationship with the other people sitting here? Do you love them because you are partners of the grace we have in Christ?
What is the nature of your relationship with them? Do we have a godly affection towards each other?
How do you express that affection? Do you love, do you give thanks to God with joy, do you pray for each other that you will bring glory to God through a blameless life which seeks for what is best?
I appeal to all of us to hear the heart of Paul and imitate it.