Friendly Chatter or True Fellowship?
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 1:3-8
One of my tasks each week is to follow up with visitors. And it’s always interesting to hear their first impressions of Life Point. A lot of topics come up in those discussions, but visitors consistently say that our church was welcoming and friendly. I’m always very glad when I hear that we made them feel at home, and I’m thankful for your love.
But hopefully we also understand that a first impression has limited value. The fact that we can smile and make small talk with a stranger or that we can stand around and talk for a long time after a service does not necessarily mean that we really love each other and are doing a good job of supporting each other through the difficulties of life and in the pursuit of godliness.
Rather, if we are going to fulfill the NT vision of community, we have to go deeper. And our text for today provides us with a wonderful example of the kind of significant community, and fellowship that God desires us to enjoy at Life Point.
You may have noticed as we read through the text that it is deeply personal. Paul is not so much writing a doctrinal treatise as he is expressing his love for friends. But in the process he provides a wonderful, inspired model of how Christ wants Life Point to function. In particular, this paragraph provides 3 patterns we must follow. First, notice…
I. The Pattern of Love
I’d like to point out 3 principles about love in Paul’s example.
Christians must cultivate deep love for each other. When I introduced Philippians 2 weeks ago, I said that Paul was probably closer to the Philippians than to any other church he planted. And the imprints of Paul’s love are all over this paragraph.
Paul says in 3 that whenever he thought about the Philippians he was filled with thankfulness and inspired to pray. So I imagine Paul listening to Epaphroditus tell stories about everything happening in Philippi. As Epaphroditus talks, Paul interrupts with question after question. He wants every detail about every situation and every friend.
Then night after night as Paul lies in bed, chained to the floor, he rehearses everything Epaphroditus said. He remembers them over and over. It’s obvious that Paul cares deeply for these believers. Notice as well the emotional language of 7a.
And finally notice how Paul reaffirms his passion in 8. The word translated affection is the Greek term for the bowels or intestines, because the Greeks believed that our deepest feelings resided in the abdomen. That’s strange to us, but the point is clear. Paul loved the Philippians.
And in the process Paul provides a model for how we should love each other. Maybe you have heard the line, “I love Jesus. It’s Christians I can’t stand.” Sadly, that’s really how a lot of people feel. They want to come to church to meet with God, but they would prefer to avoid the people.
But God doesn’t want us to merely tolerate each other for a couple of hours on Sunday. He wants us to cultivate deep relationships where we feel each other’s pains, bear each other’s burdens, and express deep affection.
So I want to challenge you to grow this kind of love for the people of Life Point. Get to know them. Share burdens with them, pray for them, and serve them with the love of Christ. A 2nd principal in Paul’s pattern of love is…
Our love must result in unity. Notice how many times in this paragraph Paul says, “you all.” In v. 4 Paul specifies that he is “making request for you all.” Again, in v. 7 he says I “think this of you all.” And in v. 8 he says, “I long for you all.” I mentioned last time that the Philippians were struggling to get along; therefore, it’s pretty clear that the repetition of all is Paul’s way of saying, “I love all of you, and you must love all of you.”
It’s a reminder to us that Christian love demands unity. There is no place in the church for cliques and factions or for personal agendas. No, Christian love requires that I am ready to sacrifice my preferences and to pick my battles cautiously, because the unity of the church is a precious treasure.
It’s also a reminder that God hasn’t called you to love some of the body—those that are easy to love or who are like you. No, Christian love means that you love all the brethren, even the hard ones. The 3rd principle about love is…
Our love expresses the love of Christ. Maybe as I talk about loving all the brethren, you can’t imagine how you could ever truly love some people. As well, the idea that a church made up of people who are black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural, Eastern and Western, Republican and Democrat, old and young, could truly love each other and walk in unity is kind of hard to fathom. So is Paul asking more than is possible?
Absolutely not, because it’s not ultimately up to us to conjure up this kind of love. Not even Paul could love this way on his own. Rather, notice in v. 8 that Paul says, “I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” In other words, Paul’s love was really Christ’s love working through him.
It’s an important reminder that if you want to grow in love whether for the church, your spouse, or a difficult family member, or coworker, you don’t begin by looking inside yourself or even by finding the good in another sinner. There isn’t enough in either of you to produce Christian love.
Rather, true love is a fruit of the Spirit; therefore, growing in love begins by growing in Christ and walking in the Spirit. So if you want to grow in love, then walk with God, read his Word, worship the Lord, and obey his will. As you do so, God’s grace will produce a lasting, sincere love far beyond your capability. I’m so thankful that the Lord always gives more than enough grace to do whatever he requires. So Paul sets a powerful pattern of love. Second, this thanksgiving sets a powerful…
II. Pattern of Prayer
The main theme of this text is fellowship among Christians; however, we shouldn’t miss the fact that Paul sets his example in the context of a prayer report. So vv. 3–8 report his thanksgiving, and vv. 9–11 his petition. As a result, we must not miss the Paul’s example in prayer. I’d like to highlight 3 principles from Paul’s pattern. First…
Prayer must be a priority. Notice in vv. 3–4 Paul’s dedication to praying for the Philippians (read). Paul emphasizes that the Philippians were always on his mind, and whenever he thought about them, he prayed for them.
What makes this especially impressive is that Paul says something similar in all of his letters to churches except Galatians. He even prayed constantly for the Colossian church, even though he had never visited them. So if Paul is constantly praying for so many churches, prayer was a deep habit of his life to which he gave significant time.
That’s so instructive, because when we have problems, oftentimes we just worry and stew. But Paul’s knee-jerk reaction was to pray, and we all need to follow his pattern. So when you lying in bed at night worried about your family, pray. When you are nervous about an assignment, pray. When you get good news from the doctor, give thanks. When your kids make good choices and grow in Christ, don’t pat yourself on the back; praise the Lord. Make prayer a habitual response to both the good and bad of life.
And then carve out significant time for prayer. Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” I know that so often when my task list is overflowing, my impulse is to work faster.
But we’ve got to remember that we serve a sovereign God who alone is able to solve our greatest needs. He can accomplish more with the snap of his finger than we can in a lifetime of effort. So we’ve got to get over the idea, “I’ve got too much to do to stop and pray,” because it is extremely arrogant and foolish. Then notice a 2nd principle in Paul’s pattern of prayer.
Prayer must be worship. So often we pray as if we are reading our wish list to Santa Claus. We know what we want, and we want it now. However, notice that Paul begins in 3 by saying, “I thank God upon every remembrance of you.” In other words, Paul spent a lot of his time in prayer praising and thanking God for his gracious works.
There is a similar emphasis in 4. Paul says he makes his requests “with joy.” That’s so different from how we often pray. So often we are filled with anxiety and discontentment. We complain, and we panic.
It’s so important that we remember that prayer is fellowship with our good and faithful Father. We need to approach him in a spirit of worship, with joy and thanksgiving, recognizing the good things he has done. So learn to slow down. Sit at your Father’s feet beholding his glory and thanking him for his grace.
Prayer is a form of partnership. Again the theme of this paragraph is fellowship among brothers, and so I believe it’s important to emphasize how we serve to each other by holding each other up in prayer. So often we think of ministry purely in terms of activity. Ministry is teaching a class, making a meal, or cleaning a yard.
But one of the most important ways we minister to each other is through bringing each other’s needs before a sovereign God who can do far more for our brothers than we ever could. As well, few activities will bind our hearts together more than wrestling together in prayer.
Just imagine how it would transform our church if everyone us determined to pray through our directory on a regular basis. It would transform our care for each other, and it would bring down the grace of God in a power far beyond any of us. So give yourself to prayer. You might not be able to do a lot of things, but you can pray. And there is really nothing greater you can do for your brothers, because the hand of God can do infinitely more than any of us. The 3rd pattern we see in this passage is…
III. Pattern of Partnership
Again, fellowship/partnership is really the center of the passage. Even though Paul and the Philippians were separated by a long distance, they shared a common grace and a common cause that bound them together tightly. First we are bound together by the fact that…
We are partners in ministry. Notice that 5 states the primary reason for Paul’s thanksgiving. The idea really is, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” So a very important question is what does Paul mean by “fellowship in the gospel.”
Normally when we think about fellowship, we think of talking at some kind of fellowship event. However, in this context, fellowship is something far more significant than small talk. For one, Paul specifies that he is talking about “fellowship in the gospel,” so he is talking about some kind of union based on the gospel.
And notice that he expands on the idea in 7b. It’s important to note that the same Greek root koinonia stands behind fellowship in v. 5 and partakers in v. 7; therefore, “fellowship in the gospel” is based on the fact that they partook in Paul’s “chains” and “the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Paul tells us later in the book 2 ways they did this. The first way is through their financial support. This church gave sacrificially to Paul’s ministry. So they “fellowshipped in the gospel” through their financial investment.
As I said during the Vintons’ commissioning service, this language is very important for how we think about missions support. When we send money to missionaries, we aren’t merely doing a good deed, and we certainly aren’t robbing ourselves of ministry funds. No, our missionaries are gospel partners. When we send them money, lift them up in prayer, and take other steps to encourage, we are fellowshipping in the gospel.
As a result, I can’t think of any better way you can invest your money than to give toward missions. Yeah, you could spend it on nice dates, new furniture, or new clothes. True when you invest in the gospel, you may not get the same immediate gratification, but you are contributing to something far more important. And you are declaring in faith that God’s eternal reward is far greater than anything in this life.
So I hope that we all recognize the importance of our partnerships with our missionaries, that we value them deeply, and that we will remain determined to grow those partnerships.
And then a second way that the Philippians participated in the “chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” was through their own gospel ministry in Philippi (1:27–30). Verse 27 states the goal, which is the advance of the gospel. Paul is urging the Philippians to remain evangelistic.
But notice in vv. 29–30 that advancing the gospel comes at great cost. The Philippians were suffering similar persecutions to what they had seen Paul endure at Philippi and to what he was currently suffering in Rome. We’re talking about real hardship and real sacrifice.
Frankly, we can get a little grumpy about the busyness of VBS. And when we think about this kind of suffering, it scares us to death. But notice that Paul has a very different perspective. He says in v. 7 that through sharing with Paul in prison, and in the advance of the gospel, the Philippians were “partakers with me of grace.”
Remarkably Paul is saying that it is a grace or a privilege to suffer for the advance of the gospel. I say that because of what he says in 29. “For to you it has been granted (that’s the verb form of grace)…to suffer for His sake.” That’s different isn’t it? How could anyone call suffering a privilege?
But when we grasp the importance of advancing the gospel of the Savior we love, we rejoice that we get to participate, no matter the cost.
So we need to consider just how important it is that we spread the gospel. Thinking of VBS this week, yeah it’s going to be exhausting, but we get to declare the good news that Jesus saves to over 100 kids, which hopefully will turn into gospel opportunities with families. That’s huge. It really matters.
And not only that, we get to partake of this grace together. We get to fellowship in the gospel. I can’t imagine a better way kind of fellowship than to work together to make and mature disciples. What a grace!
And not only that, v. 7 would say that as we labor here in AV for the sake of the gospel we also become partakers of grace with fellow laborers all over the world. We are linking arms with other churches in SoCal and the USA, and we are linking arms with the McPhillips, with Ironwood, with the Roberts, the Vintons, and the Eads. That’s awesome.
And ultimately, we are linking arms with Christ (3:10). There’s our word koinonia When we sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, we fellowship with Christ in his suffering, and we come to know him in a more profound way than we ever will when life is easy.
So let’s all be challenged to labor together for the advance of the gospel, because it matters and because there is joy in gospel fellowship that cannot be replicated anywhere else. The 2nd way we are partners is…
We are partners in gospel-hope (v. 6). I’ll just say up front that I considered preaching a whole sermon on this verse, because it is so theologically significant. Instead I hope you’ll buckle up for a few minutes.
Notice first of all that this verse provides the basis for Paul’s joy in his gospel partnership with the Philippians. Paul says, “I thank God…for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” And essentially, I know that fellowship will continue, “Being confident…”
It’s important to clarify that the “good work” that Paul has in mind is specifically the Philippians’ sanctification. I say that because the Philippians are not going to keep giving to Paul’s ministry and sharing the gospel “until the day of Jesus Christ.” The only good work that makes sense in this context is God’s work to make us into the image of Christ.
(Slide) So remember that when a person is born again, Christ makes him a new creature. We are immediately changed, and this transformation begins the lifelong process of spiritual growth. But no matter how much progress we make, none of us will reach perfection in this life. We will always battle sin and the sin nature.
But this verse offers significant hope regarding this process. Paul says that our spiritual growth is not ultimately in our hands. Instead, Christ is the one who started the process, and Christ will finish the process.
That’s not to say that we aren’t responsible to pursue godliness. The Scriptures are clear that we must work hard at our growth. But they are also clear that we can only do our part in the strength of Christ (2:12–13). Paul urges us to work hard. Why? Because God is working in us.
And that should be incredibly encouraging, because if you are pursuing hard after godliness, you know it’s difficult. And you don’t have to look hard to see that the road of discipleship is littered with failure—sometimes by people we never imagined would fall. We can begin to wonder, “Will I make it?”
But God promises that if you are truly in Christ, you will! We are “confident.” We know, “That He…” God promises that he will continue his sanctifying work. He will keep our faith. He will continue to to drive out sin and grow godliness. And will do so until death or “the day of Jesus Christ.”
As you can see on the chart, when we die, or when Christ returns, we will still be far from perfect. However, remember what we saw in 1 John 3:2 last Sunday. One day Christ will rapture the church. We will see him in all his glory. And when we do, we will “be like him.” We will be fully glorified.
Every sinful passion and temptation will be gone. In their place will be wholly godly passions and thoughts. We will love what is good and right. We will be holy as Christ is holy. What a wonderful day that will be, and again, we know that it is coming.
So maybe you came to church today very discouraged about your struggles with sin. Maybe you failed this week, and your conscience is dark. Or maybe you are discouraged about the failures of others. You worry about your family or that new believer you’ve been discipling.
What a blessing it is to know that God promises to keep his own. He will not let us go, and someday he will wash away every stain and make us perfect.
Not only that, I have to emphasize in this particular context that it’s coming for all of us who in Christ. We get to share this gospel-hope together. In essence Paul is saying that the fellowship we enjoy today will someday blossom into perfect fellowship with Christ in heaven! We will enjoy Christ and enjoy each other for all eternity.
And this promise gives us hope to keep going today. It gives us hope to keep working together to advance the gospel. We must stick together, and we must keep preaching the gospel, because every sacrifice will be worth it. Heaven is coming, not because we are faithful, but because God is faithful.
In conclusion, this text pushes us to enjoy deep fellowship that is rooted in a common goal—the advance of the gospel and a common hope—Christ will sanctify us. So let’s see our hope and our goal, and then lets band together. Let’s hold each other up in love, let’s pray hard for each other, and let’s work hard together for the advance of the gospel so that someday we can worship together in the presence of the Lord.