As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, let’s review the history of Philippi. It was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Philip captured the city in 358 BC from the Thracians. Later around 42 BC Marc Antony and Octavius would defeat Brutus and Cassius and transform the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Later Augustus Caesar would make Philippi a Roman Colony. It was a principal stop on the great trade route. Traders going East or West would come through there. It was a perfect strategic place for the spread of the Gospel. Acts 16 records how Paul came to first go there. In some ways we might consider Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi a ‘thank you note. He has received a gift from the church sent by Epaphroditus, who ‘was sent to take care of my needs.’ Epaphroditus would become sick nigh unto death before returning.
Thankfulness and thanksgiving is a subtheme of Paul’s letter. Have you ever realized thankfulness and thoughtfulness are related?
The main theme of this letter is joy found in the all sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote these letters to maintain fellowship with these churches he had established. Fellowship is mentioned in verse 5 in the KJV, the NIV refers to it as partnership. Fellowship comes from follow-ship. Following the Lord Jesus is what we have in common. Fellowship simply means to have something in common. Have you ever noticed you can have fellowship with some of your friends from years ago? You may not have seen them in years- but immediately you pick up where you left off. Others you realize you have nothing in common any more. I have discovered through reunions of my classmates or running into people from my hometown, if he/she was a fellow believer, we soon discovered what we had in common- the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Word of God and the power of the Gospel- kindred spirits.
Unless a person has trusted Christ as His Savior, he/she knows nothing of the fellowship of the gospel. This is what Paul is rejoicing in- (if we can peek ahead for just a moment) Philippians 2_ “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship with Jesus Christ that we have in common with fellow believers- kindred spirits.
Paul writes in his letter: “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 (fellowship, KJV) 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 to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” You do realize, God abandons nothing He has undertaken. There are no unfinished projects-only projects and works in progress. Paul is confident of the sanctification process in each believer, because his confidence is in God’s ability, not the individual’s. Salvation includes a threefold work:
- Salvation- the work God does for us ( Ephesians 2:8,9)
- Sanctification- the work God does in us (The transforming process described in 2Cor. 3:17,18)
- Service- the work God does through us. ( Ephesians 2: 10)
God will continue to these works in us and through us until we see Jesus.
The KJV uses the word ‘fellowship’, whereas the NIV uses partnership. I prefer fellowship. Fellowship is a source of joy when the fellowship comes from what we have in common- our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a source of comfort and consolation when we grieve. It is a source of encouragement to know others are praying for us. And when our fellowship is also a partnership in the spread of the Gospel it strengthens our fellowship even more.
Paul uses three thoughts here to describe true Christian fellowship: I have you in my mind; I have you in my heart; and I have you in my prayers. Let us look at each of these three examples of fellowship
- I have you in my thoughts. Where is Paul? He is under arrest and in chains. Is he complaining about his situation? No. Is he even thinking about himself? No. He was thinking of others, not himself. In his single mindedness, Paul is thinking about: “whatever is true; whatever is noble; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely and admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.” Got personal problems, family problems? Do they consume your waking moments? Are they what you find yourself constantly thinking about and worrying over? I know the feeling- I am familiar with problems that seem to never go away. How did Paul deal with the fact that he was under arrest, in chains awaiting trial? Let’s be practical- I have a problem, it is a serious problem. Do I worry? Yes. Does worry help? No. What am I to do instead of worry? Pray. What am I to do about my thoughts that constantly turn to this problem? Turn your thought to those things you know are true. What do I know is true? I know God will never place more on me than I can bear. I know when I pass through the waters, He will be with me; and when I pass through the rivers they will not sweep over me. I know when I walk through the fire, I will not be burned, and the flames will not set me ablaze. ( Isaiah 43) In other words trust God. This was and is the message of God from the Garden of Eden to this day- trust me. Where do I learn to trust God? In those circumstances which are unfavorable; in adversity and in the midst of storms, raging rivers, fiery trials.
- I have you in my heart. The royal law of the Bible is love. Love is what makes the world go round. When we look at nature, we find God has given us examples of this law of love all around us. We breathe out carbon dioxide which plants need in the process of photosynthesis to give off oxygen which we breathe in. The sun draws up the waters of the oceans through evaporation, storing them in clouds which then pass over land and let down the rain for the soil which needs it for the growth of plants. And of course the greatest example of love and giving- For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son. Guess what God even provides us with this love- ‘God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. ‘It is with this love- I love others. *The intellectual acceptance of the truth’s in God’s Word result in what we often call intellectual faith- in our mind. To get it into our hearts, God places us in a situation, a test, where we must trust God to do what He says He will do. This is when we experience God and it moves from our head to our hearts.
- I have you in my prayers. When we think of those God has brought into our lives and thus our thoughts and when we love them with the love God has shed abroad in our hearts- the natural result is to pray for them. And do you know what happens? You begin to care even more for those God has you praying for. What does our Lord Jesus do for us now in heaven? He intercedes for us in prayer. The Lord Jesus is praying for you and me! What about our Heavenly Father? His thoughts toward us outnumber the grains of sand. Whatever concerns me- concerns Him. The Psalmist said: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” ( Psalm 139) Is this not amazing? To know and believe Almighty God thinks about you- is concerned about you, loves you with an everlasting love! To know the Lord Jesus our High Priest is praying for us personally. My name is engraved upon his hand.
Now let us turn our attention to this prayer Paul is praying in Philippians 1: 9-11. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth and insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ- to the glory and praise of God.”
This is a prayer for maturity and it begins with love. It is both an abounding love and a discerning love. The ability to distinguish is a sign of maturity. Maturity is also reflected in the development of our character which is described as – pure (sincere) and blameless. How does one refine gold or silver- with the fire. It is the winnowing of our desires to remove the chaff from the wheat. This is how our character becomes more pure- through the refining process.
How do we exercise spiritual discernment? Ask yourself these two questions: will it make others stumble? Will it make me ashamed when Jesus returns?
Paul prays we will be fruitful. A mature Christian bears fruit. Fruit that brings glory to Jesus, not self. Fruit that comes from abiding in the vine.
So let us pull over to the side – let us park for a minute and think about what we have read and heard. What does God want to do with us- with the new believer? And the mature believer in their faith? What does God want in the seasoned believer? Same thing he wants in the new believer to continue to mature in their faith, to produce fruit. To be conformed to the image of Christ.
How do we do that? Churches want to attract unbelievers, unchurched people so they feel connected. Then having connected what do we do to keep them continually growing. We cannot make them feel connected and comfortable by lowering our standards- they are invited to come –just as they are- but to allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to change them into what God knows will bring them joy unspeakable.
Do we have classes that help teach new believers about who and what they have become? Of course we should have those. But classes can produce those who are theologically smart, but not necessarily spiritually mature.
Let’s go back to the beginning and see what God’s plan was from the beginning. “God blessed them (Adam and Eve) and said to them: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God gave them everything they needed with only one rule. They could eat from every tree in the Garden, but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; for when you eat of it, you will surely die.
From the very beginning God said: Trust me. Take me at my word.
Understand this principle: TRUST IS AT THE CENTER AND HEART OF RELATIONSHIPS. A BREAK IN TRUST- WILL RESULT IN A BREAK IN THE RELATIONSHIP.SIN BROKE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ADAM AND EVE AND GOD. AND EVER SINCE THEN ALL HAVE BEEN BORN WITH SINFUL NATURES IN A BROKEN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.
Man’s relationship with God was destroyed by lack of faith, confidence, trust in the nature of God, in His promises and principles and person.
Jesus, God the Son, took on flesh and came to earth to fulfill a plan drawn up before the foundation of earth. The plan of salvation would allow Holy God to restore His relationship with sinful man. It would be an intimate relationship build on trust, faith, and confidence in God. Jesus said – believe in Him.
Walking by faith is nothing more than believing, trusting, and having confidence in God. Believing He is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. Based on this faith in Him and His Word we can act upon what we believe.
Throughout the Scripture we see stories of faith or its absence. Little faith and great faith.
Our question and quest is what fuels faith? What ingredients result in the growth and development of faith? Is this not what Paul was praying for these believers in Philippi? Of course it is- he wants them to grow up in knowledge and insight and discernment.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
- Practical teaching
- Private devotionals and spiritual disciplines
- Personal ministry
- Providential relationships
- Pivotal commitments.
Andy Stanley offers these 5 ingredients as a method that has proven to work in his book: “Deep & Wide.” In the quest for spiritual maturity- these are used to grow our faith. These will be shaped differently for different levels of maturity and also for the different seasons in life.
Practical teaching is what Jesus modeled for us. His Sermon on the Mount was not to a group of intellectually, educated theologians it was to the common people. Their response: they were amazed. Notice Jesus taught for response. When he finished his teaching Jesus gave the illustration that those who put his teaching into action were wise like the man who built his house on the rock. When the storms came- the house did not fall. The man who heard this teaching and did not put them into action was like the man who built his house on the sand- the storms came and it fell with a great crash. As your teacher I want the teaching to be practical, applicable, and understandable. It should result in action taken as a result of what you hear. It is truth plus here are the next steps.
Private devotionals and spiritual disciplines. Daily Bible intake is a MUST. There are also other disciplines you must develop in your life in the pursuit of godliness. Prayer; worship; evangelism; service; stewardship; fasting and learning. (Get a copy of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney.) Also I recommend: Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.
Personal ministry. Getting into teaching became my personal ministry 26 years ago. There is nothing like a personal ministry to stretch and grow your faith. The upcoming “in as much “program can be a way to start exploring where God would have you work.
Providential circumstances and relationships. Individuals and events which God brings into your life for the purpose of using these people and circumstances to grow your faith.
Pivotal decisions. Defining moments in your life. Not just salvation- but times when you made a decision to put your hand to the plow and not turn back. A decision to teach, to serve in a certain area, to be involved in a short term mission trip. To mentor a new believer.
Paul uses words that express this continuous process and viewed himself as a work-in-progress. He said he did not consider himself to have arrived. He chooses to describe his process as straining, pressing on, laboring.
And so it will be with us as we pass through each season of life. The pursuit of mature faith will mean there will always be something to learn. New experiences await us in each phase and season of life.
But Our Faithful Lord has promised to always be with us.
But of one thing we can be sure- we can be confident that He who began a good work will complete it.
He will get us through the storms. His grace is always sufficient. His love is everlasting. He will supply all our needs. He will never leave us.
Each season of life will bring its own round of pivotal circumstances and decisions. Where will I live my last days? What and who should I invest my time and what I have learned with?
What are my priorities? What are my worries? What am I doing for the kingdom of God?
The valley of shadow of death looks different at 70 than it did at 30.
Faith is not just developed from a series of classes or studies. It comes from having experienced God’s faithfulness in the past. It is birthed from personal devotional time when you know God has personally spoken to you.
So what do we do? We press on!