One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poorer and less fortunate people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, ‘How did you enjoy our trip to the country? ‘
‘It was great, Dad’ he replied.
‘Did you see how poor and less fortunate people can be? ‘ the father asked.
‘Oh Yes’ said the son.
‘So what did you learn from our trip? ‘ asked the father.
The son answered . . . ‘I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lights in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.’
With this the boy’s father was speechless and then his son added, ‘ Thanks Dad for showing me how poor and less fortunate we are.’
Sometimes, it’s all about perspective. Please turn with me to Philippians 1 as we examine Paul’s joy filled perspective of life and ministry.
Sometimes we look at our leaders and see someone great, someone to be held on a pedestal. And sometimes our leaders think they are great and they hold themselves high, but Jesus said, “11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” Matt 23:11-12.
Sometimes we look at the ministry of other Christians and we see how we would do it better, but Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” John 14:12.
Perspective: a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance
Yesterday, I was texting my brothers as we reminisced over some of our childhood memories. Most of the conversation had to do with who made the messes, who pushed who into the irrigation ditch, and something to do with machetes and one of the neighborhood boys running from our house for fear of his life. Somewhere in the conversation, one of us reminded the others of a proverb:
"One side of the story is always right, until you hear the other side of the story."
Sometimes our perspective on life does not regard the situation and the facts according to their real importance. Sometimes our perspective on life and ministry needs to be altered.
In chapter 1 of Philippians, Paul presents a perspective on life that ought to give us pause and cause us to reflect on our own perspectives …
1. perspectives on service,
2. perspectives on community,
3. perspectives on evangelism, and
4. perspectives on suffering.
Today, I would like for us to examine the first two verses of Philippians 1 and look at Paul’s “perspective on service.”
Now for any of us who have read Paul’s letters, it is tempting to just pass over his introduction because they so often sound the same. They are standard greetings, but like all of Scripture, these verses are inspired by God and are profitable for God’s people. So read with me the introduction to his letter in Phil 1:1-2.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Having a biblical perspective means that we judge the importance of situations and facts. I would like you to notice four situations and facts that Paul draws our attention to in his introduction.
I. The Importance of Servant-hood
First note “The importance of servant-hood.” Philippians is introduced by its author, the apostle Paul. As many of you know, Paul was used by our Lord in advancing the cause of Christ probably more than any other individual except our Lord himself. He was converted on the road to Damascus, studied the Scriptures, taught the Scriptures, and travelled throughout the Middle East and Europe to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He was responsible for the message of the gospel spreading into Europe and is largely responsible for that message eventually making its way to you and I.
But look at how Paul describes himself here. He calls himself a servant of Christ Jesus. He doesn’t draw attention to his title, though the Philippians loved the apostle dearly. He doesn’t boast about his works, though they were plentiful. He just reminds them of the one who is truly important.
The word ‘servant’ is the word that was commonly used and translated as ‘slave.’ Gerald Hawthorne remarks in his commentary:
There was no autonomy for the slave. His own will was totally subject to the will of another, so that he was a person with “no right of personal choice” (R. Rengstorf, TDNT 2:261). The service he provided was not voluntary but forced. He was totally in bondage to the claims of his master. He had no rights and no freedoms (Hawthorne, Philippians, 5).
Paul recognizes, though he was freed from sin and though the One who bought him did so with his precious blood in love and grace—Paul recognizes that he owes everything to Jesus.
I’m afraid that our way of regarding service and ministry sometimes is very skewed. We see ministry as being about us, about what others think, about how we look. We prepare and serve not so that we can give Jesus our best, but so that our leaders and our friends will think more highly of us.
Paul says that’s not what it’s about. We’re slaves, totally subject to the claims of our Master. Our rights have been surrendered. Our freedoms have been surrendered. We are in good and gentle hands of a Master who tenderly shepherds us, but let us never think that we are our own.
So in this letter in which Paul addresses ministry and our partnership in the gospel, he first reminds us of the importance of servant-hood.
Paul first met the Philippians on his third missionary journey. He was travelling west through Asia Minor and on his way he met a young man named Timothy. Timothy had a Jewish mother who was a believer and a Gentile father. He was spoken of highly by those in his hometown of Lystra and nearby Iconium. And Paul wanted to take him along as he ministered to the churches on his missionary journey. So Timothy followed Paul, was trained by him, eventually became a pastor and served the churches that Paul had planted. Timothy would play an important role in the church of Philippi. It was during Paul’s imprisonment (most likely in Rome) from which he wrote this letter that Timothy was there with him and together they sent this letter.
Now it is common for Paul to mention others in his letters, but he usually introduces himself as “Paul, a servant, and Timothy … and Silvanus … and Sosthenes.” He words Philippians a little bit different than the other letters. He includes Timothy in the statement that they are servants … slaves, together.
This is important because Paul is going to address the partnership that we have together in the gospel and by stating that both Paul and Timothy are servants, he is emphasizing that ministry is something we are in together. It is not about any one individual. We all serve Jesus Christ and it is about him.
II. The Importance of Saints
But also regard “The importance of saints.” Paul addresses his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi.”
The common perception of the word ‘saint’ is that it only refers to the most holy, the most important, the most prominent of Christianity. Some churches teach that to be awarded sainthood, you must first perform two miracles, you have to be dead, and you have to have lived an exemplary life or have died a martyr’s death. But that is not what the Bible teaches.
The word ‘saint’ comes from the same word from which we get ‘sanctification,’ ‘holy’ and ‘to set apart.’ Quite literally, if you are a Christian then God has already declared you a saint. You are declared holy. You are set apart by God. If you have trusted Jesus Christ and are relying on the work he fulfilled on the cross on your behalf for the forgiveness of your sins, then you are a saint. The moment you believed, you were made to be ‘a holy one.’
And so Paul addresses all the saints in this local church.
As for their history and location, you may read about the church of Philippi in Acts 16 if you haven’t done so already as part of your Bible reading and Bible study this past two weeks. Paul was in Asia and was trying to move north but the Spirit prevented them from those plans. In the night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, from Europe across the Aegean Sea; and this man urged Paul in his vision to “come over and help us.” So they set out.
The first city they went to in order to preach the gospel was Philippi. There, a cloth maker named Lydia became one of the first European Christians. Secondly Paul cast a demon out of a young slave girl and upon being beaten and thrown in prison, they led the jailer to Christ. Their visit was short and Paul was sent off the next day after the city officials apologized, but God began a good work in Philippi in a small group of believers that would remain some of the apostle’s most faithful supporters and partners in the work of the gospel.
Many times he makes reference in his letters of these Macedonian believers who financially supported the apostle, not out of abundance, but out of the little that they had. They were partners in the work of the gospel in more than one way.
Regard the importance of the work of the saints. Ministry and service are not only for the leaders of the church, but they are important for all of the saints. That includes you. Here at DeWitt EFree you will hear us stress the importance of everyone sharing in the work of the church. If you are a member or a regular attender I cannot emphasize enough that you are called to serve alongside the saints. There are many opportunities in this body where you can use the gifts and talents that God has given to you. Don’t neglect that.
III. The Importance of Leadership
Third, Paul touches on “The importance of leadership.” Philippians was written to all of the saints at Philippi, but with them as part of their church body were the “overseers and deacons,” the leadership of the Philippian church
The word ‘overseer’ makes reference to those who are guardians. They are supervisors. Elsewhere, Paul calls them ‘elders’ and these leaders served as the pastors, teachers, and the spiritual caregivers of the churches.
The word ‘deacon’ literally means ‘servant.’ It is not the same word which Paul used before that meant ‘slave,’ but deacons in the ancient world were table waiters, they were those who saw to the needs of others. This word is used of Jesus himself, of government officials; Paul uses it of himself and his coworkers. In the church, deacons are biblical servants who are called to the same high standards of character and godliness to which God calls overseers. Deacons are distinguished by their functional roles and their actual deeds of service.
I’m not going to belabor this point, but I would like offer a particular charge to those in our church who serve in roles of leadership. Never forget that you are fellow saints together with all of the rest of the saints. Your position and title does not set you apart merely to bestow upon you honor, but you are called to serve our Lord’s flock. You are called to lead. You are called to high standards in which you set the example for the rest of the saints. You are called to present yourself and your work as servants of the people, not as their masters. And most of all, you are slaves of Jesus Christ, called to submit your everything to his will.
Paul wanted the Philippians to be aware of the importance of leadership.
IV. The Importance of the Gospel
But finally, we need to regard “The importance of the gospel.” It was customary for Paul to greet each of the churches and he usually included the blessing of “grace and peace.” “Grace to you” was a common Greek greeting and the customary Hebrew greeting was shalom … “peace.” Paul commonly combined those two, but don’t miss the importance of the theology that is embedded in this salutation that the apostle so commonly offers.
Grace means something good that you are given, but that you don’t deserve. Grace comes to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and is most evident in the gift of salvation that he has freely offers to everyone. If you are a Christian, then you have become a partaker in this undeserved gift, his goodness. Some of you sit here in this church and you have not yet received the forgiveness that he offers you.
You may sing the songs. You listen to sermons. You may even get involved in some of the ministries that take place in this building. But you do not know his grace. You do not experience his joy. You do not have eternal life. And if you died today your eternity would be void of the grace that belongs to the saints.
Peace not only refers to tranquility that rests within a Christian’s soul as a result of their salvation, but peace also refers to changed relationship that Christians have with God the Father.
If you have not placed your soul in the balance and are not depending upon Jesus alone as the one who took your place as the object of God’s wrath so that you will not have to pay for the penalty of your sin, if you have not believed on Jesus then you are still at war with God. You do not know peace, but only turmoil and you are an enemy of your Creator. He is holy and you have no better standing before him than terrorists serving ISIS. Though he loves you, that is still how he sees you.
But place your faith in the finished work of Jesus that he completed when he was crucified to a cross to pay for your punishment, and you will receive the forgiveness of every and all of your sin. You will become a partaker in his grace, his goodness; and in his peace, here on earth and for all eternity. And those blessings will be continually bestowed on you as you continue to serve him.
Do not miss out on the importance of the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ and what he has done for you.
And believer, do not miss the importance that you are a servant of Jesus Christ as a partner in the work of the gospel. You and I are his slaves, his servants. And we have work to do.
Perspectives: ways of regarding situations and facts and judging their relative importance. When it comes to serving Jesus Christ, many of us have lost perspective. You have forgotten who you serve. You think that this is about you and what you get out of Christianity. You think that ministry is about how others see you, rather than how you see and serve Jesus Christ. You must judge the importance of your service differently.
Many of us have lost perspective and you’ve forgotten that you are a fellow saint. Your position is one in which you have been declared holy. And we must live accordingly as those who are set apart.
Many of us have lost perspective and miss what true leadership is about. Jesus came not to be served, but to seek and to save the lost. He was a servant to those who deserved to be rejected. Leaders are servants. Elders, deacons, ministry leaders, husbands, parents: You serve so that you can lead and you lead by serving both Jesus Christ and your fellow coworkers in the Lord.
Many of us have lost perspective of his grace and peace. We’re neglecting our role to tell others of his great sacrifice. We must share the message of his grace and peace to those around us. If you are here today and you placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the first time or you would like talk more, please catch me at the back door so that I can rejoice with you or visit with you more about how you can know for sure that you have peace with God and eternal life to spend with him.
Where does our perspective need to shift? Let us not miss out on the joy that Jesus promises to those who live their life in faithful service to him.