Please turn to Philippians 1: 1-11
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
Timothy was Paul’s protégé. Timothy didn’t write this letter; Paul did. But Timothy and Paul are serving together and this letter comes from their joint ministry.
Servants is a translation of the Greek word, doulos, which is probably closer to slave than servant. Slave, not that the service was unwilling or at all negative; but that the commitment and obedience was total.
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Paul is writing to the saints in Philippi. Saints are not an elite Christian group. But a designation for all Christians. Literally, ‘holy ones,’ set apart to God, consecrated to His service.
Not some, but every Christian has been set apart for service and devotion to God. To live toward God. That’s not what he’s trying to become; that’s his situation when he is born again. S/he needs to choose to think and behave according to this glorious reality. Yes, glorious! Really, there’s something splendid about this word, saint.
This letter is to the church as a whole, including the leaders: episkopoi – overseers – and deacons. What Paul will say is directed to the entire congregation, not just the notable ones.
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Standard, yet still a bracing truth.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Even though he’s not with them, Paul remembers the Philippians, and the Philippians don’t forget Paul. Paul loves these people. He prays for them. Recalling them brings him a lot of joy.
Specifically, he is grateful to God and full of joy about their joint partnership in the gospel. This word partnership is one of those few well-known Greek words, koinonia. Sometimes it’s translated “fellowship,” but in our ears that translation is a little too weak for what Paul is trying to say. This partnership in the Gospel is a joint enterprise, up to and including financial investment.
In other words, Paul and the Philippians were working together on the business of the gospel. The gospel is the announcement that God has already reconciled the world to Himself through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which events atoned for our sins. And through this accomplished work the Man Jesus was declared to be the Ruler of the world, King of kings and Lord of lords.
The gospel is the report of something that has happened. God has done it. God has accomplished it. The gospel also holds out the promise of what’s possible: Just as truly as Christ has come out of the tomb, alive, so we can change. Poor character, addictions, do not have ultimate power over us, because we share in this life of Christ, and the life of Christ has defeated sin.
Hallelujah for the gospel. This announcement of what God has accomplished and the consequent power that’s been unleashed into the world.
But we can’t just celebrate it…we’ll need some logistics too! That announcement must be broadcasted into the wider world. Explained. Skeptics will have to be persuaded. Messengers are required, and they will need training. Those who announce this news of reconciliation will also need funds to travel and live.
Since this announcement asserts that Jesus is the world’s Lord (and Caesar is not), it will be seen as a threat to governing authorities, and so there will need to be a plan for conflict. What happens if the messengers get arrested, thrown in jail? How will we know if that happens to them? How can we keep up with them? How will they survive in jail?
This gospel records facts and interpretations of facts that the Jewish Elite find obnoxious and threatening, and so they’ll also be making life difficult for the messengers – what’s the plan? Christ followers in Judea have been cut off from employment and family support– now we hear there’s a famine there…we’ll need to support them from afar.
We’ll need to raise up leaders to teach and train the next generation. We’ll need to keep up with new churches and find ways to instruct them. People are coming into the Church with weird ideas; we’ll need to defend the true Gospel.
This is a supernatural enterprise, in that it’s God’s work of reconciling image bearers while the dark powers seethe against it. So we’ll need supernatural enabling that comes only through prayer.
ETC ETC – The gospel is good news that God has worked to forgive us apart from our works and that sin has been condemned in Jesus’ flesh. But for this gospel to go out into the world it’ll require work. A partnership. And this church has partnered with Paul.
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
We looked at that sentence last week. In the context of these opening words, Paul is brimming over with joy in their partnership because He’s brimming over with confidence that this shared enterprise will not fail. I know this is going to work because this is God’s work. And what God starts, He completes.
No matter how many struggles we encounter, indeed no matter how many bodies are piled up along the way, I’m confident that this gospel that began with Abraham will turn out to be the world’s overarching story. This narrative is the interpretive key to everything else. To use a modern phrase: the arc of the universe might be long, but it bends to the gospel of Jesus Christ the Savior and Reconciler and Lord.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Paul returns to the topic of his love for these brothers and sisters. When he says that it’s right for him to feel this way – to feel such joy in the Philippians – he might be countering the current Stoicism of the day that cautioned against investing too much emotionally into others. Said the prevailing thought: the way to live is to shield yourself against the vulnerability that comes from a deep level of commitment to others. Otherwise, you’ll just get hurt.
And Paul says – I will not apologize for or regret my prayers for you coming out of my deep joy in partnering with you, even if that partnership will mean some extra pain along the way. You are in my heart – a lot of my thinking and planning is wrapped up you. And that’s because you keep investing in, working alongside with me in grace, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. When I’m imprisoned you show up with food and company. When I’m defending the gospel against the naysayers, when I’m showing that it’s reasonable and real – that’s possible because of you. Of course, I should be enthusiastic about you…you won’t allow me to not to be!
8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
So, yeah, I’ll keep being enthused by the fact that we’re partners. I’ll keep praying for you. And I want you to know, be absolutely sure about this, I’m swearing on a pack of Bibles – I miss you. I love you in Jesus Christ.
And the letter will proceed in this same warm tone. All the way through the last chapter: Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Paul, the Intellectual. Yes. Paul, the Driven. Yes.
Paul, the deeply, almost recklessly affectionate One – also, yes.
Paul’s love was with the affection of Christ Jesus, came out of his fellowship with his Lord – Jesus Kurios. To confess Jesus as Lord is to be brought into a companionship with Him. And when you’re continually in the presence of this Lord Jesus, especially when you’re brought into this brotherhood of suffering with him, you don’t become cynical and scared of investing in people and even relying on them – you love. You love not because it’s your personality but because you’ve “been around” Jesus. And He loves. God is love.
And now Paul tells his dear friends and gospel partners what he so often prays for them. Not that he necessarily always uses these exact words, but these words summarize the main points and direction of his prayer.
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
This is a good prayer. On this Father’s Day, I’d like to encourage you fathers: one of the best things you can do for your kids is pray for them. And pray along these lines.
Paul prays three things for this church:
- That they’ll choose what is excellent, which is the first phrase of v. 10.
Our kids will go as their choices go. And so we’re praying that they’ll not just make the good choice, but the excellent one.
So many choices they’ll come up to: scheduling, spending, relaxing, going/staying. Many of our decisions have to do with words – not simply which words will come out of our mouth but more subtle choices about how much effort we’ll invest in choosing words. By far the bulk of our decisions are in what we will think about, what we’ll attend to.
Many of our decisions – probably more than there should be – are made in the moment.
We learn here that the best choices come from a starting place of love that is abounding more and more. That’s a huge insight. The best choices come out of a strong love.
So, Paul prays that your love – for the Lord Jesus, for me, for one another, for the Gospel, for your neighbor, for your city – your investment in all of these, your commitment to all these, your strong feeling for all these, your willingness to make sacrifices in their behalf –
…will just get stronger. Love should….grow. Those who love the Lord need to…love Him more. Husbands who love their wives are counseled to….love better. You’ll live well if you love well. Love is the way forward.
More love! Growing love makes you smarter!
But your love grows how? Not simply with strong feeling:
My prayer [is] that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge. Our kids – the Philippians – we… will make good choices from a love that is more and more knowledgeable. We need knowledge…. to love better… to choose wisely.
Knowledge of what?
At the least, knowledge of the Bible – – that feeds our love and informs our decisions.
True, most of the choices we’ll come up to aren’t scripted by the Bible. Hardly any of them are. The Bible doesn’t tell us who to marry. Direct us to post or not post. Give us an amount of time we can apply toward video games.
And yet the Bible provides a bank of knowledge toward making the best choice: commandments and testimonies and a worldview and stories and an overarching story and repetition and principles and emphases – a wealth of knowledge – that taken together help us choose well.
Or, more precisely – the content of Scripture inflames and informs our love, from which love we make the best decision possible. We need knowledge…
And all discernment – Discernment about all sorts of things.
What is discernment? Perceiving things as they are and valuing them appropriately: we live in a world created good by God. We live in a world of drag queen story hours. We live in a world where – perhaps – you need eight hours of sleep to function the best. We live in a world where Christ is building His church. We live in a world where there is a well-worn path of birthing a baby and then a couple of months later placing him into a daycare for 40 hours a week. We live in a world where the Denver Nuggets are the NBA champs! We live in a world where the gospel message is the only means by which a person is saved from hell. We live in a world where video games are more and more visually stunning and immersive. We live in a world of high mortgages. We live in a world where humans – religious and otherwise – constantly drift toward self-righteousness.
What is most valuable? What should be loved less or not at all? Is there anything that should disgust me? What is most to be feared? What is popular yet unhelpful? Discernment.
A father’s prayer for his kids: that they’ll make the best choices possible – not selfishly, but out of love, the kind of love aligned with the story that the Scriptures are telling, a love that accounts for things as they are and ranks those things rightly. That our kids will live well because they love well.
Paul doesn’t give the Philippians a list of what excellent choices are. He couldn’t have – there are too many variables.
And we can’t script a life for our kids and make their decisions for them. Prayer to God energizes this process that ends in choosing the best.
- Secondly, Paul prays that what they decide now will make sense then.
The then is the Day of Christ. The Day when Jesus Christ returns in the clouds, with trumpet blaring. He comes to be with His people and never to leave them again. He loves His brothers and sisters!
More than that, The Day of Christ is when “Christ subdues all cosmic opposition, consummates His Father’s kingdom, and begins judgment.” (Bird/ Gupta). The Day when it will become the official, public fact that Jesus is Lord, and not Caesar and not anyone else. Every knee will bow before Him.
That’s a big Day. The German Reformer, Martin Luther, said: “I have two days on my calendar: this day and that Day.”
It’s an orienting Day, meaning that the knowledge that it’s coming is part of how the Bible gives us direction, helps us make our decisions. If something is widely laughed at today, yet on that Day it will be seen as valuable, then it’s valuable.
On the other hand, if something is sought after and celebrated today, but on that Day it will be seen to have no import…or worse – than it can be safely ignored.
C.T. Studd was a missionary bearing the Gospel to several countries. This is what he wrote: Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. The Day, the Day will disclose what will last.
Studd also said: Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell, I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell. That sounds uncomfortable. He’s choosing discomfort? That kind of thinking could only makes sense in light of the Day.
A Pottery Barn furnished house with stainless steel appliances and immaculate landscaping – how important will that be on the Day? (Actually, a complicated question.)
Your grandson on your knee and over a few months you’re reading to him The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – his growing up with the memory of your voice reading to him thatstory – what will the Day have to say about that?
Making the big decision to invest into a ministry/ minister that entails the many smaller decisions of reading his prayer letters, sending money that could have been spent otherwise, visiting him on his field, praying in detail for him – what will that mean then?
What Paul is praying for them now won’t totally make sense until then. He’s after what he calls a pure and blameless showing for the Philippians on the Day. Fathers, we want our children to have successful careers, to be able to afford to buy a house, to have happy homes – successful, happy. And all that might lead to a good Day then.
But can we agree that the crucial thing is that our children make those decisions – most of which will be invisible to everyone – that add up to a good character, where there’s nothing that anyone could take hold of and say – there’s this lack of integrity, what you say you believe is not how you act. For instance, you talk of a gospel through Jesus’ suffering but there’s no whiff of sacrifice about you. Your Lord chose pain and you keep choosing convenience.
And after a series of excellent choices, they arrive to that Day filled with the fruit of righteousness. Through Jesus’ atoning death, God has put them in the right. They are His people. They are in an eternal covenant with Him. Righteous.
However, this isn’t just a status, but their union with Jesus Christ and reconciliation with God has borne fruit – they have been transformed…their decision making has been transformed. Thus, their children grow up being trained under different priorities, their investments and efforts are toward the permanent, they are partners in the work of the Gospel. And that makes a difference in them, their wife, their street, their church, and even globally.
That difference Paul calls the fruit of righteousness that comes from a mind renewed by knowledge and discernment that loves well and so it chose wisely.
And even though that all might not add up to much now, it will then.
- Finally, Paul prays these excellent choices with an eye toward the Day will be to the glory and praise of God.
I like where D.A. Carson goes with this in his book Praying with Paul. Paul isn’t aiming to turn these Philippian Christians into perfectionists, into do-gooders. Fathers, the aim of our prayers for our kids isn’t so that they can be the shiny, happy people who everyone gushes over and they themselves are so satisfied with.
No, going after people’s attention and praise, including self-congratulation, shrivels us up. Checking our likes and stats dries us out. Non nobis Domine, non nobis: Not unto us, Lord, not unto us give glory.
What we long for those we love is that they would be to the glory and praise of God. Fathers, right? We don’t want something small and temporary for our kids. What we long for our kids is that God would be glorified in them. By their decisions, in their habits of speech and especially thought, through their productivity in things that will last unto eternity – that they would glorify this great, wonderful, joyous God of deep knowledge and steadfast love.
That’s what humans were made to do – to glorify God. Going directly after happiness is a failing enterprise. But there’s an incidental happiness of a man and woman – to act in a way that’s consistent with our being, with our human being, with our image bearing vocation.
God’s glory and human happiness come together in this: when we reflect the God who made us to bear His image. When, restored in Jesus, we glorify and praise the God who has saved us by hearing this gospel.
Review: Praying that those we love would:
- From love suffused with knowledge and insight, make the excellent choice…
- …which excellence only becomes clear in the light of the Day as there is lasting fruit from those excellent choices…
- …unto the glory and praise of God.