Gilbert Lennox launched his morning Bible Teaching through the book of Philippians:
We are going to be looking this week to Paul’s letter to his friends at Philippi. My main focus and passion is to teach the Bible and to help others to get into God’s word for themselves and it is such a privilege to do this. Just about every major turning point in my life involved me sitting and reading through this letter. Philippians 1 challenged me as a young student that how I use my mind is a measure of how I love God.
Letters are so important. When you get a letter, you read it all. It is one of the most revolutionary things you can do in your spiritual life. Simply take a short book in the Bible and read it through. And when you have done that read it through again. Take time to let the word of God get a grip of your heart and mind. Give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to use His word in your life. Accept the challenge for this week to read the book of Philippians once a day. That will help you enormously. And as you read, allow God to set the agenda.
We have four children. One of the challenges of parenting is to encourage patience and waiting – to help children to understand that the world is not all about them! I want to suggest that we take that and we apply it to scripture. We all have our own agendas and our own questions. The problem comes when we allow these things to dominate our conversations with our heavenly Father. Perhaps we need these words, “Be patient, Abba is speaking.”
Allow God to set the topic of conversation.
Philippians contains some of the most memorable statements in the whole Bible. For to me to live is Christ… I can do all things through Him who strengthens me… Don’t be anxious about anything…
We know these phrases but what do they mean? It is so easy to stick them on a magnet on the fridge but what is Philippians really all about? If the book of Philippians wasn’t in the New Testament, what would we be missing? What is the core message?
Philippi was a Roman colony and its citizens had Roman citizenship. It was situated in one of the main trade routes. Its population was estimated at around 10,000. The church of Philippi is significant biblically and historically because it was the first European church.
We saw last night the fascinating story of how this church came to be. It was a pagan city, with a strong imperial cult. There was a very small Jewish population with just a place of prayer outside the city where God-fearing gentile women would meet. It was there that Paul met Lydia and she opened her home for the new church.
This letter is first of all a “thank you” letter – written in response to one of the many gifts that the church had sent to Paul. But it is clearly much more than that . Paul is inspired to write a letter that is directed to meet the needs and challenges of this small church.
Chapter one reveals that there was still opposition to the Gospel in Philippi and chapter three tells us that there were a growing number of false teachers. The final chapter addresses specific problems within the church of broken relationships. Paul does not give us an explicit statement (I am writing this because…) so we need to do a bit of detective work to discover why Paul was writing. What is emphasised about God in this letter?
Interestingly, God is presented as a worker – initiating the work of salvation and completing this work. In chapter three we read that God strengthens Paul so that he can work. He is also a God who supplies all their needs and He deals with relational dysfunction in the church.
In chapter 2, the Lord Jesus is presented as a voluntary slave. The focus is on His mindset of one who, although He was on equal terms with God, gave up His rights in order to become not just human but a slave, who was obedient to the Father to death on the cross. The question is why? What is the point of drawing their attention to this aspect of Jesus in this context?
The Holy Spirit is presented as the enabler of our witness and our worship.
The majority of these questions have to do with work – God’s work in us and our work for Him. Paul tells them to work out (not work for) their own salvation for it is God who works in them.
Often when we are reading letters, the key is found in the front door. The greeting is fairly standard for a New Testament letter but this is the only NT letter that is addressed to the elders and deacons (not just the whole church). We live in a title-fixated age but these are roles not titles. The word deacon means one who serves. An elder is one who teaches, protects and cherishes those God has entrusted to them.
This is a letter written by servants to servants.
God is presented as a worker. Christ as as the voluntary slave and the Holy Spirit as the enabler of our witness and worship.Timothy and Epaphroditus are put in as examples of the type of workers we are supposed to be. Chapter three warns of false workers (teachers). In chapter four, Paul appeals to women who are workers together in the Gospel to be united.
Paul thanks them for their work, for their partnership in the Gospel. So while this is a letter that is full of joy, confidence and peace, it is in the context of service and work, of adopting the mindset of Christ.
It may well be that we lack joy, confidence and peace because we are doing nothing!
At heart, this is a letter about work: God’s work in us and our work with Him and for Him.
As Paul thinks of his friends in Philippi. The emphasis is on the special relationship that Paul had with them. In his prayers for them, he was able to pray with joy. He longs for them with all the compassion of Christ. For the Hebrews the seat of strongest emotions was not the heart, it was the gut! This is a metaphor for the depths of love that he has. Paul wants them to know how he feels about them. These are not people on a prayer list that he occasionally gets to – you whom I love and long for… dear friends…
In Northern Ireland, we don’t always know how to display genuine affection for other believers. Some of us are so afraid of being hurt that we will never get close enough to other believers!
Paul is talking about a radical friendship because of their partnership with him in Gospel work. They were active partners. Lydia would have been sitting there. The jailer would have been sitting there. These Philippian believers were the first to support Paul and they did so time and time again. These are the types of relationships that develop when the Gospel is the core.
Paul is God’s apostle to us. He writes with the authority of Christ. We cannot claim to accept Christ and reject Paul. The Gospel is at the centre of Paul’s life and it is at the centre of his relationships. It thrills Paul to see people who are partnering in the Gospel with him.
The Greek word is often translated fellowship but this means much more than cups of tea and hanging out with friends. The NT word is more the idea of partnership in a business, having skin in the game. True fellowship happens when we share in a vision and partner in it. The challenge goes back to us – do we see ourselves as partners in our Gospel? Attending church gatherings doesn’t cover this. This is about participation. It is about being a stakeholder in God’s work. Adding to your attendance, prayer and to your prayer, giving, is just the start.
Beyond these small things, there is the reality of becoming partners with one another in the Gospel, across this island. NI has a wonderful reputation for engagement in world mission – we need to retain this as a central priority. Our children need to see that the Gospel means something. It is a reason for sacrifice. We need to understand that there is an eternal world and our entire life is predicated that this world is not all there is.
Too often our children see that our lives are consumed by the consuming world around us!
You don’t know the legacy of the simple decisions that you take. Acts of hospitality that have profound global reach. Can we not rise above our fears about secular culture and Brexit and the value of the pound and realise that God has called us to partner in the Gospel? Can we learn to greet these opportunities with joy and prayer and thanksgiving rather than circling the evangelical wagons?
Paul is filled with joy. Where does he find his joy? Where do we find joy?
It is part of our national temperament – we are perhaps so used to the ethic of duty that it hasn’t been transformed into the joy that should come. Joy in the Lord sounds so abstract and super spiritual but it shouldn’t. Enter into the joy of the Lord.
Paul is so confident that what God has started He will finish! Our confidence is not to come from our gifts and abilities, it is to come from the God who started work in us and who will complete it in us!