“Caring and Prayer-ing”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Through the Written Word,
And the spoken word,
May we know Your Living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A pastor one time said to a parishioner: “You need to join the Army of the Lord!”
This man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.”
The Pastor questioned, “Well, how come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?”
The man whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.”
Today we begin a new series working our way through the very-non-Secret-Service New Testament book of Philippians. Last week we introduced this series by reading the historical event of Paul and Silas’ visit to the Roman County Seat of Macedonia, Philippi, about 10 years before this letter was written. And in Acts 16 we see a few things happen that impact the writing of this letter. Does anyone remember any of the events we read from Acts 16:
- Paul and Silas got to Philippi because that’s where God directed them
- The first recorded European baptism takes place in Philippi – Lydia, that’s the photo on the bulletin cover, the Strymon River on the western edge of the city
- Paul and Silas are arrested and imprisoned for their Christian faith
- While in prison, they pray and sing, and God opens the doors and loosens the shackles
- The jailer gets baptized
- Paul and Silas create an opportunity to share the Gospel with the Magistrates as well
- One more thing, not from the book of Acts, but from Paul’s First letter to the Christian Church in Thessalonica, chapter 2, Paul himself says, “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.”
That’s not all we read, but that’s a good start. Philippi gave Paul some success stories, but it was not a fun place for him to be.
With that, let’s turn to Philippians 1:1-11 (Page 830 in the pew Bibles) …. —-
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The greeting salutation identifies the author as Paul, and Paul’s spiritual son who by this time had been the pastor of the Church in the Asia Minor (Turkey) city of Ephesus. And he does not identify himself as their superior – not Paul and Timothy, Bishops, or your Church Founder, or Apostle, but as “servants of Christ Jesus”.
And then he writes, “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus…”. Who are these “holy people”? They are the Church – Lydia, and her household; the unnamed jailer, and his household; and all those whom these two had gathered in their homes to worship God in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit – all of them.
“Together with the overseers (episcopoi, elders, bishops, church leaders, not unlike our Council of Elders) and deacons (ordained servants, not unlike our Board of Deacons).
In typical letter fashion from one Christian to another, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What does this say to us? We are all equal under the eyes of God – “priesthood of all believers” is the way Luther and Calvin said it. You are just as valuable and important as the person in front of you or behind you. Lydia is just as important as the jailer (she’s got a name, and he does not!). You are just as valuable as Pastor Kathy or Pastor Mark! Do not ever doubt that!
So, after the Greeting, what does Paul say to these Christians who live in Philippi?
Remember how difficult Philippi was for Paul. But, we also saw Lydia invite Paul and Silas to her house while they were visiting her city; and we saw the jailer take Paul and Silas to his house to clean their wounds and feed them; and we can imagine all the ways the other Christians in this city of conflict may have cared for Paul and his crew of Christian evangelists, so Paul writes:
3 I thank my God every time I remember you.
And the relationship does not end with care – one of my Facebook friends just posted on Friday that she thinks that praying for someone may be the most loving thing we can do for another person – so Paul writes:
4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (I love that Paul connects “joy” with this town of torture – joy is the sense of light and hope we have in our hearts, despite the desperate circumstances we find ourselves in because we have a confident faith in our Savior Jesus Christ! Does that describe you right now?) 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Is Jesus dependable? He who began a good work in you will complete it – that is a reason for joy) 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is where Paul gets specific. The Rev. Dr. Earl Palmer, a retired Presbyterian Pastor, says that this prayer is like the prayer your mom says at dinner when her baby comes home from college for Spring Break – she prays for all the things she’s about to ask – I pray he’s studying hard (how are your classes going?), that she gets good sleep every night (are you going to bed at a reasonable hour?), that the work study program is paying enough to cover basic expenses (do you need your father to give you some money?). Listen:
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, (are you growing in how you love your neighbor?) 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (how’s your ability to defend against temptation going?) 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (do you think God is pleased with what He sees?).
In summary, I see three things that stand out in this opening text – three questions we might ask ourselves – three truths which define for us what it means to live as followers of Jesus in stressful, turbulent, dangerous times:
- The Great Apostle Paul counts himself as a servant of Christ among others who are overseers and deacons and God’s people in Christ Jesus – do you know how valuable YOU are to our Lord and Savior? – this is why Jesus died on that cross, why God gave His one and only Son, and why He calls you His child if you believe in Him!
- Joy in the midst of strife is available to all who have received Jesus as God’s gift – do YOU HAVE this JOY today? In the midst of your struggle, your fear, your chaos, your loss, do you experience joy in Christ Jesus your Lord? – God offers that grace to you, right now; take a moment and reflect on how deeply you need Him, and ask Him to step in and shine His light of hope and peace right now.
- Paul offers his prayers for these Philippian followers of Jesus – do you know who is praying for you? Do you know that your Deacons pray for you every month? And when something happens, prayers are shot out from the whole body of believers here? Do you know that prayer carries with it the power of God almighty who hears our every plea, our every cry our every praise? – You are prayed for today, so you are never alone!
May we hear God’s grace and receive His care … right now, and for-ever. Amen.
Martin, Ralph P.; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Philippians; Wm. P. Eerdman’s Pub. Co.; Grand Rapids, MI; 1983; Pp. 1-67.
Palmer, Earl; Building a Robust Faith: A Study in Philippians, Session 1; Essential Media Services; 199?.