Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Close Bond of Fellowship Forged Through Adversity

Last time we saw that Paul felt a warm spot in his heart for the Philippians. In Philippians 1:3, he stated, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” We see it again in these next couple of verses:
Philippians 1:7-8:
7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.
Do you see? It is “right” for him to feel this way. It is “right” for him to have “affection” toward them. It is “right” for them to hold a special place in his “heart.”

And the reason? When he was in the deepest need, they stood with him. Both in his imprisonment when they financially supported him, and in his “defense and confirmation of the gospel,” they stood with him.

“Defense” and “confirmation” are legal terms referring to the verbal defense an attorney would give in a trial. That’s how the Philippians defended Paul. When people were verbally attacking him, they came to his defense. They argued on his behalf.

Let me tell you that sounds so refreshing. People who preach and teach the word are always attacked – they have a target painted on their chest. They are attacked repeatedly by Satan and by his henchmen. And most people, even those who love their pastor, hurry to get out of the line of fire. When they assure you, “We’re right behind you, pastor. You know we are,” what they really mean is that they are hiding behind you, not propping you up.

Pastors are the front line soldiers in the spiritual war, and it is often a lonely spot. We can take all the fiery darts of the wicked one while others hide and say, “Just don’t let them think I’m standing beside you in this.” That’s all too common.

But, that wasn’t the way it was with the Philippians. They stood with Paul through thick and thin, just as many have stood beside me. Those few who stand alongside you faithfully are so appreciated because every pastor has his Diotrephes or his Demas – those who oppose him. Sometimes we have several.

John dealt with Diotrephes in: 3rd John 9-10:
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

That’s how John, the Apostle of love, was treated.

Paul dealt with Demas in 2nd Timothy 4:9-11:
9Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, . . . (11) Only Luke is with me.

Where is everyone else? Down in verse 16, it says, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.”

Can you see why the Philippians are so special to Paul? When the Philippians heard about his imprisonment, they came to his defense, sending money even. And that touched Paul’s heart.

As a result, Paul says in Philippians 1:8 that they are, “Partakers with me of grace.” That word” partakers” brings us back to that word koinonia, in Greek, often rendered fellowship – but this time, it has a prefix, suq, in front of it, which intensifies it. Standing together through the struggles has so intertwined their lives together that they are bound together irrevocably by love. That’s why some churches become so close – why they can be such intimate places. Like combat troops who fight together, the camaraderie is unshakeable. We become that band of brothers - brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just think, someday, with the hate crime legislation coming to pass, like it has in Europe and Canada, it might become illegal for me to preach the Bible, especially parts that call homosexuality a sin. So I might get arrested for preaching the word of God. I might end up sitting in prison doing my time. Will you stand with me? Or turn against me? Will you stand with me in the “defense and confirmation of the gospel” as the Philippians did? Or will you be like Demas who abandoned Paul in his hour of need?

But then, this applies even before they come with their arrest warrant. When people complain that the sermons are to convicting, that we don’t need to be so literal with the Bible, will you stand with me? Will you stay neutral? Or will you join them in their complaints. “Ah, Pastor, why do you have to be so controversial? Why can’t you just tone it down? You are the one causing dissension in the church. You don’t have to preach so hard.”

Won’t you stand with me in the “defense and confirmation of the gospel?” The Philippians did with Paul, and that forged a bond of love that was unshakeable.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Confidence in Spite of Adversity

Paul prayed for the Philippians. What is the outcome? It brings Paul renewed confidence - not confidence in himself, nor confidence in the Philippians but confidence in God. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

The word, “confident,” in Greek, means to be persuaded. If Paul had any doubts before, now he is persuaded that God isn’t going to give up on any of us who are His. There is no possibility of failure with God. We can have complete confidence - confidence that what God started in us, He will complete it. No circumstances of life can thwart Him.

But, what did God start in us? Salvation! The word translated “complete it” in the New King James version, or perfect it in the New American Standard version, is an interesting word. It is the Greek word, epi-teleo. The preposition epi strengthens the word teleo . And the word teleo means complete. It doesn’t mean to just get it done, but to super complete it. There is no possibility of failure when God has the process under control.

Romans 8:28-29 shows God’s plan for our lives. It says:
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Not that all things are good, certainly not, but God uses everything for good - God uses everything to accomplish His purpose in our lives. God has predestined it. And God’s purpose for every believer is for us to become like Jesus. That’s the end of the process.

But what does it mean to be “glorified?” That’s what takes place in heaven when we receive our new glorified bodies like that of Jesus. We don’t get them until heaven, but that’s God’s whole purpose for us. He has called us and predestined us to be with Him in heaven fully complete and transformed into the image of His Son Jesus. There is no way that God can fail in this.

Scripture teaches this truth? Ephesians 1:4 starts the process in eternity past in the mind of God by saying, “Just as He [God the Father] chose us in Him [In Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

But it isn’t just God’s choice in eternity past, God actively draws us to Himself. Jesus tells us in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Father draws us through the tug of the Holy Spirit on our hearts convicting us of sin and leading us to Christ.

And once we are in Christ, we never get away. Jesus assures us this in: John 6:37-40:
37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
And it will go on “until the day of Christ.” It doesn’t end until we are glorified. 1st John 3:2 says: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Praise God!

To assure that we can’t get away, God gives us His Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 assures us:
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
The point is: for God’s elect, God made a plan to save us, and God carries out that plan. As it says in Acts 16:14 about Lydia, the seller of purple, who was Paul’s first convert in Philippi. “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Who opened her heart? God did! Salvation is God’s work in our hearts. And God completes what He starts.

And it’s all because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross when He removed the penalty of our sin. We come to God clothed in the garments of sin, spiritually starving, and sick unto death, and God receives us as His children. He receives us as if we have never sinned, and He clothes us in His own perfect righteousness. As our Great Physician, He knows we are ill, and He know how to fix us. He gives us His Spirit to live within us and to strengthen us and to guide us. God doesn’t start that work in us to abandon us.

Do you see? God has a plan for you. William Hendrickson, the great commentator, said, “God…is not like men. Men conduct experiments, but God carries out a plan. God never does anything by halves.”

Galatians 3:3 teaches this: “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Of course not!

It is easy to get discouraged if we focus on the day-to-day activities and failures we experience. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like all that much is happening. But God is at work. We need to focus, not on the details, but on the big picture, and the big picture is that God has a plan - God is in control – God is at work in you! God is doing a good work in you that the circumstances of life cannot thwart.

As F.B. Meyer wrote:
“We go into the artist’s studio and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvases, and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death; but as we go into God’s great workshop we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficiency of power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.”
That’s the point of Philippians 1:6 – “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” That should fill our hearts with a warm glow. If God has saved us, God will glorify us. Nothing can stop the process once it’s begun.
Is there any better reason for joy? That’s why Paul could sit under arrest and talk about joy. Those people he had led to Christ, he can be assured of. God will finish the process and bring them on home to heaven.

And for himself? God was still on the throne and still at work. God was using the things in his life for a purpose. He didn’t need to fret or worry. He could rejoice in that. He could rejoice in the fellowship he had with God. And he could rejoice in the fellowship he had with those he loved in Philippi. He could be filled with joy.

And so can you. Are you filled with joy? Are you rejoicing in your fellowship with God and with one another? You can be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Praying for Fellowship

We’ve talked about Paul praying for the Philippians, but what did he pray for? What was his request to God on behalf of them? Philippians 1:5 says he prayed “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”

What is “fellowship? It’s not just standing around and telling corny jokes or having a pot-luck dinner together while we make small talk, “Hi Bill, how’s business? How do you like the weather?” That’s not fellowship, not in the Biblical sense.

The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. It comes from a word that literally means to have in common. But true Christian fellowship means more than sharing a cup of coffee together or playing a round of golf together. It’s sharing in a relationship with Jesus Christ together.

Another misconception is that in order to have fellowship with someone, you need to have something in common. I can fellowship with you because you like the Red Sox, but I don’t know how I can fellowship with you because you root for the Yankees. How juvenile. That attitude has no place in the church.

I heard one rich guy talk in church one time (not here), and he said he couldn’t even pray with someone who made less than $30,000 per year. I wonder what God thinks of an attitude like that.

But, it is true that we have to have something in common to have fellowship. We each have to have Jesus Christ in our hearts. Unless we have trusted Christ as our savior, we know nothing about “the fellowship of the Gospel.” We might have a lot in common to people with our likes and interests, but we might be miles apart spiritually and have absolutely no fellowship.

Which is what Paul talked about in 2nd Corinthians 6:14-16:
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.

The answer to all of those questions is the same: We have absolutely no fellowship. The answer to all these questions is, NONE! That’s exactly why we aren’t supposed to marry an unbeliever or form a business partnership with one. And this is why we are not to let unsaved people join the church. True fellowship only happens between two believers who share a faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Philippians shared in the “fellowship of the Gospel.” But, this fellowship is more than simply that they were both saved. What Paul is really saying is perhaps better seen from the N.A.S. translation. It renders this verse: “In view of your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

“Participation” is the same word, koinonia, that the New King James translated “fellowship.” But it shows that they were not just recipients of the Gospel, they were participants in the Gospel. In partnership with Paul, they were actively engaged in the spread of the Gospel. They were partners together in the Great Commission. They were on the same team.

It’s always more fun to play on a team, isn’t it? They were probably preaching around Philippi as Paul preached around the world. But Paul was probably thinking about their financial commitment to him. They helped finance him as he traveled around the globe spreading the Gospel. They were on his team even though they remained in Philippi, and he sat under house arrest in Rome.

That truth applies here too. We are a team – we are partners together in this great task of building this church. We each have been given gifts and ministries by
God to be used in this great task, and we are working together - shoulder to shoulder. Plus, you are financially supporting me in this work. You give to the Lord through this church, and the church provides for our financial needs. We’re partners together in the Gospel. We need each other. We need each other’s prayers and we need each other’s encouragement. That’s fellowship that brings joy.

Likewise, we’re also partners with the missionaries we support around the world. We participate in their ministries, therefore, we have fellowship with them sharing in common their work of the Gospel. Thus, we have a ministry in Argentina, in India, in Papua New Guinea, and in many other places around the world because of our support of our missionaries. Do you see how this works?

But, let’s think about it in reverse: Lot’s of churches have fractured fellowship. They are torn in half by friction between people - people who aren’t working together in partnership.

But what causes friction? If you’ve got two pieces of wood touching each other, you can create friction in two ways. If you have one piece moving and the other just sitting there, there will be friction. Or there will be friction if the two pieces are going in opposite directions. But there is no friction when they are both moving together – in the same direction and at the same speed - that is fellowship.

This church has a vision to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ. You can get on board and participate with us in the fulfillment of the Great Commission and have great fellowship. Or you can just sit there and cause friction slowing the work. Or you can try to go in the opposite direction and cause a lot more friction until a fire breaks out to consume us. But God’s desire is that we have fellowship. We have that fellowship only when we work together as participants in the Gospel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joy in Prayer

As we continue to work our way through Paul’s introduction to the book of Philippians, we notice in Philippians 1:4 that he gave thanks “always in every prayer of mine.” His prayers weren’t just filled with asking, his prayers were filled with thanksgiving.

It would probably be a good place to ask: Are you the kind of Christian who would bring joy to your pastor when he remembers you? My wife and I can look back on scores of people in our past congregations whose memory brings us great joy. When your previous pastors remember you, is it with thanksgiving? Will you be the kind of people that in our old age rocking on some porch, we will reminisce about with great joy?

But remember, his remembrance of them led him to pray for them. Philippians 1:4 says, “Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.” Ah, the first mention of the word joy in the epistle, and it is in connection to prayer.

Praying for others is a joy: He began to pray for these people, and it brought joy. Our prayer time should be a joyous experience. We get to fellowship and talk with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What could be better? What could be more fulfilling than to minister on behalf of others through intercessory prayer? Our prayer meetings should be the most anticipated event of the week for us. Shouldn’t prayer bring us joy? Does it for you?

Remember where Paul is at. Paul is in prison, right? And later, we’ll find he is being bad mouthed by other church leaders who are all too eager to stick a knife in his back. In that same situation, most people would be thinking about themselves: “Oh, woe is me! How did I get into this mess? Why did God abandon me here?”

Most of us would be having a pity party about then. But not Paul - Paul is in prayer, and it brings him joy. Praying for others takes our mind off our own troubles, and it focuses us on the troubles of others. We become more concerned for their well-being, for their needs, for their welfare, than for our own. And our own troubles seem less and less important as we join together with God on behalf of those we love. Prayer brings joy.

As John MacArthur writes:
“[Paul] was not thinking so much about his own circumstances as about their faithfulness, not so much about his own afflictions as about their love, not so much about his own physical suffering as about their spiritual steadfastness.”
That change in perspective is necessary for joy to reign in us. Are you increasingly becoming more others focused? Here in prison, Paul could still have joy thru prayer. Is there a lesson here for you? Prayer should be one of the joys in your life. It shouldn’t be drudgery. It shouldn’t be an ordeal to pray for one another. Prayer should be a joy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thanking God for You

Paul, as he begins writing his great epistle of joy, his letter to the Philippians, offers thanks for them. In Philippians 1:3, he writes, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” They are part of the reason for Paul’s joy. Our fellow believers can also be part of our joy.

But in giving thanks, Paul is not thanking them. He is thanking God. These believers of Philippi were the results of God’s goodness and grace, so it is God Paul thanks. From before the foundation of the world, it was all God. Ephesians 1:4 says: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” It was God’s plan to save them from before creation. From eternity past, God chose His own. And God planned the way for us to be saved.

Acts 2:23 is from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost as he preaches about Christ. Of Christ, he writes, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

It was God who delivered Jesus up to be crucified – It was His plan from before creation. It was God the Father who sacrificed His Son to die in our place, to die for our sin. And it was Jesus, who willing lay down His life, shedding His own blood. It was the Holy Spirit who took the Gospel and pierced their hearts with conviction, taking away the blindness from their eyes, and convicting them of their sin. Salvation was all of God. Of course, Paul would thank God for them.

So yes, it is proper that Paul would thank God for the Philippians – or me to thank God for you. It was God who saved them, and God who transformed their lives. They are what they are because of what God did. If any of us are saved and sanctified, it is only because of what God did in our lives. Not any of it is of us. We are but beggars holding out empty hands to the King of kings to receive His salvation. All the glory goes to God. May we never take any for ourselves. May we never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, remembering them led Paul to thanksgiving . What might he have remembered? Probably he remembered the beginning of his relationship with them. Paul was setting off on his second missionary journey, and he was forbidden to go anywhere else by the Holy Spirit except Europe. So his first stop in Europe was Philippi.

Paul records his first encounter in Acts 16:11-15:
11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Think about it: The city didn’t even have enough male Jewish believers to have a synagogue so Paul went down by the riverside to worship and pray with a group of women meeting there out in the open along the river. And one of the women, Lydia, a seller of purple, trusted Christ as her Lord and Savior. She was his first convert in Europe, and the church in Philippi was born.

But, Paul also probably remembered some bad times: like the time he cast a demon out of a slave girl, and how she had made a lot of money for her owner by her fortune telling. And he remembered how the owner incited a mob against him and had him arrested and beaten, and cast into prison - he and Silas. And he would have remembered how God intervened.

The intervention is found in Acts 16:25-33:
25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

More people were added to the church in Philippi.

None-the-less, Paul was asked to leave town by the magistrates. Yet, his short stay there left behind a small group of believers. He left behind a church. And it was a good church, a faithful church.

They weren’t perfect. They were sinful people saved by grace, just like we are. They had their weaknesses and problems, just like we do. And Paul is well aware of that. But he looks beyond the problems, and he loves them anyway. He appreciates them with all their faults. Plus, he gives thanks to God for them. He remembers the good things in spite of the bad.

And there was much good to remember about the Philippians. For instance, the Philippians were the only ones who had helped Paul financially. Philippians 4:14-16 records:
14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.

They were the only ones who sent him money while he was in jail. As little as they had, they shared what they could with Paul. And Paul is grateful. They lived out what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:6, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.”

Paul had poured his life into them, and they gave of their livelihood for him. As Paul writes in 1st Thessalonians 2:7-8,
“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”
He had taught them faithfully from the Word investing his life into their lives. And so they provided for Paul’s financial needs. They were reciprocal blessings to one another.

When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, these people lost track of him for two years. They didn’t know where he was, or how he was doing. But finally, they heard. Paul was in prison in Rome. Their hearts went out to him, and they immediately sent their pastor, Epaphroditis, with a gift to minister to Paul’s needs. This letter, was in part, a thank you to them for their generosity to him. But also, it was a thank you to God for them.