Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1348
April 29, 2018 Philippians 1.1-11
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“God’s Work In Us”
I want us to look at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in what might be an unusual manner. I’ve outlined the passage with the center at verse 6, that God has begun a good work in us and will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Visualize a “V” shape with the bottom point being verse 6 and the two points at the top or the “V” being verses 1-5 on one side and 7-11 on the other. These two points feed into the meeting point at the bottom of the “V”. Two points that converge into one. Two prayers that converge into what God is working in our lives. So, I want to take us the first three points of the outline as the first prayer. And the last three points of the outline as a second prayer. These surrounding prayers meet in the middle to what God is doing in our lives.
Paul opens the letter with a greeting, but we might also look at it as part of his prayer for the Philippians. Grace and peace to you. This is a way of blessing someone, asking God to give grace and peace to someone or some group of people by way of greeting. It’s what we are doing when we pass the peace, we are praying for God’s peace to be with one another. Perhaps this is what Paul is also doing.
We think of grace as God’s unmerited favor to us. It is grace that brings faith. Grace is the means of salvation, the source of blessings, and I think it is all that God gives and does that embodies beauty.
Peace is the wholeness God gives. Peace is comfort, order, rest, refreshment, and, as Psalm 23 states, a restoration of the soul.
Thanksgiving, and Remembrance
In verses 3-4 is the more tradition understanding of prayer. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” I wonder if Paul’s mention of remembrance was that they simply came to mind or he remembered them intentionally. Sometimes I remember someone for no apparent reason, they just come to mind. Other times I have written their name down so as not to forget. Either way, Paul remembers the Philippians and gives thanks to God for them. That may be one of the greatest things we could hear from someone, that they thank God for us. It may one of the best things we could say to someone else, that we thank God for them. It is also a wonderful prayer, to offer thanks for someone is to pray that God would grow the reasons for the appreciation.
Prayer for Fellow Believers
Much like the Psalms that we might use in prayer, we can also use this portion of scripture as a prayer to God. When we struggle for ways to pray for people and even for ourselves, we can think about these terms and concepts to cover a variety of concerns. We might pray for grace in someone’s life when they need any sort of help in life. God’s favor – Lord, grant your favor to him or her. Peace is perhaps more obvious for us because we all have experienced the need for peace in life. It might be after a great loss. It might be for conflict of spirit or relationship or tension. And then there is the opportunity to remember friends and family with thanksgiving for who they are and for what God is working in their lives.
Consider this first prayer the first tong of our “V”. Now, let’s skip over the next outline point and move to the second prayer for fellow believers.
God’s Work In Us
Now, before you read this section of the outline, skip down to the next and last two points, then return here!
Paul writes in verse six, “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.” What might God being working to complete in His people? Let’s consider these two prayers and the elements and terms that Paul desires for these people. Grace, peace, thanks, remembrance, love, knowledge, discernment, ability to approve that which is excellent, to be pure and blameless, and become filled with the fruit of righteousness. We could easily incorporate all these things into our prayers for others as well as ourselves.
We also know from many parts of Scripture that God is working these kinds of things in us as He worked them into the Philippians. Of course God wants us to be filled with grace and peace and love and discernment. Of course God is working His will for knowledge and forgiveness and a heart of thanksgiving in each of us.
These prayers bolster the work of God in us. They build on the positives already given us in Christ. They seek to complete our character of faithful discipleship. We would do very well to include these things in our prayers for self and others. We would benefit greatly to recognize how God is working these things into our lives.
Take these two prayers and pray them for others and pray them for yourselves that we might all come to know the joy and wonder of all God’s benefits and the good work that will be done in us to bring us to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Prayer for Fellow Believers II
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. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 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.
Keeping with the discipline of prayer, Paul speaks of his feelings for them using phrases like “hold you in my heart” and “affection of Christ Jesus”. We certainly pray for those who are close to our hearts and we would be most happy to pray with the tender affection of Christ. Paul shares what many might think is an uncommon tenderness himself with these sentiments. I think Paul is often portrayed as a harsh, hard man, and perhaps rightly so since he once was a leader in persecuting Christians. But here we see a certain kind of warmth and tenderness for a people he once pursued to arrest. This is yet another example of the radical transformation that occurs in a person’s life when Christ is received as Lord and Savior. Paul is transformed from the harsh persecutor to the tenderhearted prayerful mentor who deeply cares for Christ’s own.
Paul, then, most directly speaks of his prayer for them and the details of his prayer. The details are in the last to bullet points in the outline.
Love, Knowledge, Discernment,
Paul prays for love, knowledge, and discernment.
I’m not going to go into great detail on each of these terms, but we know how Paul treats love in places like 1 Corinthians 13, that it is the greatest of faith, hope, and love.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Next Paul speaks of knowledge. This reminds me of Hosea and the criticism that the priests and thus the people did not know God’s word.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children (Hosea 4.6).
Discernment can only really come with there is love and knowledge. Without those two ingredients, if you will, we cannot discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness.
Approval, Pure, Blameless, Fruit of Righteousness
The prayer enables us to approve what is good and excellent. Paul clearly states this concept further in chapter 4,
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4.8-9).
Think about these things, put your mental energy toward those things that are excellent, pure, lovely. Paul does this again when he writes to the Colossians about the things above which are also excellent things.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3.1-4).
When Paul uses the pair of pure and blameless I think that might equate to forgiveness. God is working to present us cleansed of all unrighteousness and sin.
And then finally he speaks of the fruit of righteousness. It may be that this is related to the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Gal. 5.22-26).
These are the ingredients of the second prayer of our “V”: Love, knowledge, discernment, approval, purity, blameless, and fruit. This prayer and the first in the other stem of the “V” are feeding to the center at the bottom. So move with me know back to the center of our outline with God’s work in us.