3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Our small group will be studying this passage tonight. But as I was preparing, I was so struck but the warmth of what Paul has to say, that I thought I’d take a moment to ‘blog’ some of the wonderful things I’m seeing here.
The first thing that really strikes me is the depth of Paul’s affection for this church. He says to them,
v 3 - “I thank God for you!”
v 4 - “I’m praying w/ joy over you”
v 7 - “It is only right for me to feel this way about you...since I have you in my heart”
v 8 - “I long for you with the affection of X”
v 9 - “As I pray for you, I think about your love...”
I wonder how many congregations can say those kinds of things about each other? One of the great joys in my life here at Rockport is to see how this kind of deep feeling is alive among us! Certainly we haven’t gotten it down to perfection, and there’s always room to grow. But I really do see this kind of love alive in our fellowship – to which we can say, “Thank you, Lord!”
At the end of last week’s prayer time, I asked our group to spend some time this week looking at this passage and asking two two questions:
1) What ought to bind us together in the body of Christ, and particularly in this church?
2) What does Paul pray will be true about us as people who are ‘in Christ’?
I see several things here that bind believers to one another. First, as we’ve just seen, there should be a deep, Christ-like affection toward one another. Jesus said in John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for fellow believers is one of the first and most important marks of a genuine Christian (see 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7-8; 11-12, etc). Every believer should seek to increase the affection he feels for other believers, and to demonstrate that affection through his/her actions.
The second thing I see that binds us together is a joint participation in the Gospel. Paul says in v 5, that he prays with joy in view of their ‘participation in the Gospel’. Every genuine believer loves the Gospel they have believed, and is committed to sharing that Gospel with other people! That makes us “co-laborer’s and “co-combatants” joined together in this same holy pursuit – that His Name would be great among the nations (Psalm 67). For that reason we purpose together to spend and pray and go and tell and serve and share with one accord this message of God’s grace in Jesus.
A third thing that bind is us a solemn confidence in the power of this Gospel! I love verse six, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The Gospel is God’s work. It is by His power and grace that any of us believe (Rm 1:16). It is through this same Gospel and the grace and power it brings into our lives that any of us continue to believe and thus remain faithful to the end. This confidence then continues to do two things for me. First, it makes me less likely to panic when things don’t go well. I know that God is in control, even when I (or others) blow it. I can rest in His grace. But second it gives me patience with others. This Gospel is not done with us yet. I’m not looking to find perfection in your life, just a genuine change of direction from the old self-satisfied, self-centered life you used to live, to the new Christ-exalting, Christ-centered, life you’re living now. So when you blow it, or disappoint me (or I do you), it’s not the end of the world. I know God’s not finished with either of us yet.
Fourth, we are held together in a Shared grace. Paul says in v 7, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” What is implied here, I think, is that this group of Christians in Philippi were demonstrating the grace of God in their lives by the way they cared for Paul in his time of need! They stood with him! They supported him! They loved and encouraged him! We must do the same for one another! And we will, if we are truly in Christ.
And then fifth, I see us held together by a common experience of new righteousness in Christ. In v 11 Paul says that they have been “filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ” Such Christ-like fruit is something that spills out into believer’s life in a way that can be seen (Galatians calls it the ‘fruit of the Spirit’). Such ‘righteousness or Christ-like attitudes and behavior then spill out from our lives into our relationships with others! And that’s when “church” really begins to happen. You see, whenever these Christ-like attitudes and commitments begin to spring up in a body of people, they become begin to experience the joys of a genuine Christian fellowship. That brings an irresistible and attractive force that soon draws other people in to enjoy the good thing God is doing. I love it when I see that happening among us! And I’m humbled by it, because I know no human plan or program could bring it about! It’s a God-thing!
But then, there is a second question I used to challenge our group as well. I’ll only touch on it briefly here since I’ve already gone so long. But it too is a very important question and could lead to a great deal of very fruitful discussion. Here it is: What does Paul pray will be true of us who are in Christ together? Let me just point out four quick things.
1) That we will experience a growing love! He prays in v 9. “ . . . that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,”. Notice that this love is not only meant to grow outward and embrace more and more people, but it is also full of ‘knowledge and discernment!’ In other words, it’s not a love that is based on empty platitudes and warm fuzzy feelings! It’s a love that is rooted in something real! Something God has done! You see, God through Jesus Christ has created a new reality in us that binds us together in love and then pushes us out in that same love to give our lives together for Christ in the world. This love, rooted in truth, makes us wise as we demonstrate the reality of new life in Christ in everything we do, say and undertake together in Him.
2) This work of Christ gives us wisdom to press toward what really matters! The first part of verse ten says we exercise this knowledge and discernment “ so that you may approve the things that are excellent.” There is a great deal in this world that is not necessarily good, or bad. It’s just mediocre. A great deal of entertainment falls in this category. TV won’t make you a mass murder, but it will certainly cause you to kill a lot of time that should have been spent doing something that matters! Wisdom teaches us in the body of Christ how not to settle with merely avoiding what is bad, but instead to strive for what is “excellent” and what really matters in life by pouring ourselves into the great priorities of life which include family, friends, the Gospel and seeking to glorify God in all things.
3) We are meant to be blamelessness in our behavior. Verse ten continues, , “...in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” Behavior matters – not so that we can be saved (Eph 2:8-9) but as the evidence that we are saved (Eph 2:10, notice the connections here!). It is after all our “good works” that people will observe in order to “glorify God” because of us (Mt 5:16). How many unbelievers have been turned away from ever hearing the Gospel because of what they’ve seen in professing Christians. What if they were constantly seeing us live such good lives – lives in which there was nothing blame-worthy – that they had no choice but to confess that there truly is something different about us! Might not more people be brought to Christ by our blameless actions of love toward them, than by our boycotts and blame casting shouts against them?
That brings me to the fourth thing,
4) We must live fruitful lives of righteousness that bring glory to God. As Paul says in v 11, “... having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
My prayer is that God will make this true at Rockport and every church where his word is faithfully preached and his people seeking to live for the glory of His Name.