Philippians 4:10-23 – Are You “Comfort”-Able?

Mark Wheeler
August 31, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 4:10-23
Are You “Comfort”-Able?

Sovereign God, in Your mighty acts You reveal Your justice and truth. We sing Your praises, for You bring down tyrants and raise the poor from the dust. May Your Son be our confidence and comfort, our strength, as You judge the world with righteousness. Amen.

This week I read a story about a Russian couple who lived in a small hut with their two children. The husband’s parents lost their home and so the couple invited them to move in with them. This was a small hut that now housed 4 adults and 2 children. It seemed unbearable to the wife, so she went to the village wise man to seek his advice.
The wise man’s solution to the problem was to bring their dog into the house with them, and come back in a week. But, of course, the situation only got worse. A week later the wife went back to the wise man and complained that it was not better. He told her to bring their chickens into the house and come back in a week.
Well, you can imagine. By the next week this poor wife was pulling her hair out. So when she went back to the wise man, he told her to bring the cow into the house and come back in a week. Unbearable turned into desperate which became miserable which escalated to torturous.
So the wise man said, “OK, now remove the cow, and take the chickens out, put the dog in the yard, and come back in a week.” By now the little hut seems like a mansion and these 4 adults and 2 children were happy and contented!

Contentment almost always seems elusive, doesn’t it? We think, if I just had this one more thing, then I’d be content – but it never stops with just one more thing.
This is not just a 21st Century American problem. It seems the New Testament people 2 millennia ago, across the globe, struggled with it, too. The desire for more money, for more prestige, for more free time, for more respect, for a little love….

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the Christian fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
Today we read from Philippians 4:10-23, where we’ll find the apostle Paul living in complete contentment – joy even. He will give us three keys to discovering this comfort, and being strong in the Lord because of it. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 4:10-23…. —-
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

In stark contrast to our world, our contemporary world and the world of Paul’s day, Paul found contentment and comfort – while chained to a Roman guard in jail, he teaches us three keys to being “comfort”-able. (We can probably see more than these three, but we will concentrate on these today.

Before we begin looking at Paul’s direct teaching to us here, let me remind you, first, of the Good News, we see all through this short letter.
The Heidelberg Catechism of 1562 asks, “What is your only COMFORT in life and in death?” And it answers, “That we BELONG—body and soul, in life and in death—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, JESUS CHRIST.” Remember that Good News!

First Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay connected to Jesus Christ. Verse 13 says, “I can do all this through HIM who gives me STRENGTH.”
Remember that the word for “strength” has the same root as the word for “comfort”. Where does Paul find “comfort”? “From HIM who gives [him] STRENGTH!”
Paul may have heard some of the original 12 apostles remind each other that Jesus had said, “without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5); and “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).
He might have remembered his own experience and teaching to the Church in Corinth when he wrote, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God!” (II Corinthians 3:5). Paul knows that our comfort and contentment is found in the fact that we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!
In fact, he just wrote in Philippians 3:10, that all things pale in comparison to knowing Christ!
Paul reminds Timothy, in II Timothy 4, that there is no circumstance ever that we could possibly face that Jesus could not provide the power to overcome. I just read a Facebook post from a friend quoting Louie Giglio, an astrophysicist and evangelist, who tells a man facing problems he does not how to cope with, that God looks at us in those situations and says, “Dude, I got this; I created galaxies!”
God promises, that in all our life’s troubles, He “will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Get/Stay connected to Jesus Christ.

Second Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay connected with the Body of Christ/the Church. Verse 14 says, “it was good of you to share in my TROUBLES.”
Notice that we are not promised a trouble-free life. No one can make that promise. But we are promised strength to get through the troubles.
Paul talked about the Philippian Church’s generosity, their cooperation, and their effort.
Their generosity was like a budding tree (verse 10) flourishing and healthy; it was a spiritual investment from which future fruit would abound (verse 17); and it was like a sweet-smelling sacrifice, a fragrant offering, pleasing to the Lord (verse 18). No church is perfect in this way, but the story of this church being generous to the Rogers High School football team is a story of biblical proportion – like a budding tree, from which future fruit will produce, and of which the Lord is greatly pleased!
Their cooperation shared in Paul’s physical distress, and provided for him in ways no one else had. And by doing that, they were credited in sharing with Paul’s Gospel work, his work for God’s kingdom purposes! Again, our cooperation with several other RHS neighborhood churches allowed us to bring the entire football squad, freshman thru varsity teams, to share together in an entertaining and inspiring evening at the movies.
And the Philippian Church did not stop just because it was a challenge. They persevered and gave their best effort to be/stay connected with the true Church of Jesus Christ! May we stay connected to the true Church of Jesus Christ!

Third Key to being “Comfort”-able: Get/Stay confident in God’s provision; proclaim “the riches of God’s GLORY in Christ Jesus” (verse 19).
Notice how personally Paul says this: “My God will meet all your needs.” Not that Paul owns God, but that Paul belongs—body and soul, in life and in death—to God. And the proclamation is that this Almighty God, our heavenly Father, will meet all our NEEDS! A colleague reminds us, he said “our needs, not our greeds”!
Paul says, in Ephesians, that God provides “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine”.
And he says that the source is “according to the riches of His glory”. Not “out of the riches”; not “from the left-overs of His riches”. The word “according to” in this sentence implies that the well cannot run dry – there is no limit! All of His riches are available to His children.
Get/Stay confident in God’s provision! And tell your stories to the people around you.

There’s a story about William Randolph Hearst, the famous and extremely wealthy newspaper magnate from the late 1800s until he died in 1951. He was a collector of rare and unusual artifacts. The story says that there was one item he desperately wanted to own, so he hired an agent to locate the item and make bids on it until it would be his. It took months of searching, but the agent finally found this rare object … in one of Hearst’s own warehouses! The treasure he so desperately desired was already his!

If it is contentment we seek – we do already possess it in Jesus Christ! Are you “comfort”-able? Your strength is available – it is already yours, in Jesus Christ.

As we move into our time of prayer, with Kathy leading us in prayer, let me start simply by praying for anyone in the room with us this morning who is grasping for that peace that passes understanding, that contentment beyond what we own, that only comfort in life and in death that comes from knowing we belong—body and soul—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Resources:
Neill, Greg; The Joy of Contentment; Marble Falls Church of Christ; Marble Falls, TX; March 2005.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 460.

Philippians 4:1-9; Rejoice in Your “Comfort” Zone

Mark Wheeler
August 24, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 4:1-9
Rejoice in Your “Comfort” Zone

Faithful and compassionate God, we know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Enable us to see with eyes of faith beyond a broken and hurting world that You are sovereign, and to believe with trusting hearts that You are undeniably good. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

What do you think of when you hear something about someone being in their comfort zone, or getting out of their comfort zone?
Usually this phrase is used as a challenge: We must get out of our comfort zone and boldly go where no one has gone before!
The term is almost redundant all by itself. It is when someone is “in their zone” that they are most comfortable. When Felix Hernandez is in his zone, for instance, the Mariners cannot be beat. When Felix Hernandez is “not in his zone”, you can bet he is most uncomfortable.
When I was in Little League, in my 3rd and 4th and 5th years, I was a nearly unstoppable sidearm pitcher – All Stars 3 years in a row – and undefeated (that’s how I remember it, anyhow)! But there was one game when I could not throw a strike! Ball after ball after ball. After I had walked the 4th run in my coach came out to talk with me, and in tears I begged to stay in for one more batter. I walked him. I was not “in my zone” and I was not, at all, comfortable. Fortunately, our team had batted in several more runs than I had walked, so we still won the game.
My coach never stopped believing in me, and he told me how proud he was that I stayed in for one more batter, but he wisely took me out of the game and sent in a relief pitcher.
That was a hard game, but those were happy, dream-filled days.

We tend to equate “happiness” with joy, but they are two totally different ideas each springing from a different source. One comes from the world around us. The other originates directly from the Spirit of the Living God. Happiness is conditioned by and often dependent upon what is “happening” to us. If people treat me well, if things are going well in my life, if I am winning, if I am pitching sidearm strikes, then I’m happy. If my circumstances aren’t favorable, then I’m unhappy – that describes me throwing nothing but “ball fours”!
Joy, on the other hand, throbs throughout Scripture as a profound, compelling quality of life that transcends the events and disasters which may dog God’s people. Joy is a divine dimension of living that is not shackled by circumstances. The Hebrew word means, “to leap or spin around with pleasure.” In the New Testament, the word refers to “gladness, bliss and celebration.”

Today we read from Philippians 4, a piece of Paul’s prison epistle to the Christian fellowship in Philippi that resounds with “joy” in the midst of struggle. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 4:1-9…. —-
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Today I am going to challenge you to NOT leave your comfort zone, but to make your comfort zone work for you!
Some of you might remember that a few weeks back I introduced the 16th century Heidelberg Catechism to you – this Reformation Era statement of faith in Q and A format. Question 1 asks, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” And Answer 1 is, “That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”
And in that study we learned that the root meaning of the word “comfort” is “strength”. That is why a “fort” is called a “stronghold”. Now, let me challenge you again. Do NOT leave your comfort zone. Not this week, anyway. Stay in your zone. Where you find joy and are able to rejoice – even if/when life throws curveballs you cannot hit – or that hit you! Rejoice in your “comfort” zone. Rejoice in your strength.

So how do we recognize our true “comfort zone”? It is not, necessarily, when you pitch nothing but strikes. What my coach reminded me of during that horribly bad game was that our team was still ahead! Not because of my excellent pitching – far from it. No, we were ahead because I was not alone on that team!
That is still true today. We are not alone! Not only do we have each other, for which we might be extremely grateful – but we have God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Last Thursday our Bible class in Mark 10 discovered Jesus telling the crowds and the disciples that we need to recognize our own helplessness in earning our salvation – like babies we cannot save ourselves – even the “rich, young, ruler” was told to sell everything and give the money away so that he, too, could see that he was helpless to save himself!
Paul understood that it was in his own weakness that he experienced God’s ultimate strength! (“But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” II Corinthians 12:9)

And notice, too, the connection between “joy” and “peace”. Happiness often brings with it a lack of peace – for fear of losing that which brought the happiness. But joy is always accompanied by peace.
Today’s third paragraph begins with the imperative to rejoice (again, I say, rejoice!); and ends with the promise that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Some people fret and worry about everything under the sun – and if they can find nothing to fret or worry about they make stuff up – and others experience nothing but peace all the time! What do you think is the difference? It is not their life circumstances – for I have known down and outers, sick and dying, in the depths of hardship who are at peace; and I have known wealthy, healthy, easy-lifers who fret over every possible thing!
In Galatians 5 Paul lists what he calls the Fruit of the Spirit, and he lists them as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The top three? Love, joy, and peace!
To have the fruit of joy ripen in our lives is to recognize the journey involved in getting there. It takes time, diligence, patience, and hard work – but the result is peace that passes understanding (down in my heart).

I have given you the challenge to remain in your “comfort” zone, and rejoice there. But you need something to take with you today – application steps, action steps, so you’ll know you are in your “comfort” zone.
These are the bullet points on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page.
• “Be of the same mind in the Lord” – guard against joy BUSTERS! Paul names names here: Euodia and Syntyche, two women who were at odds with one-another. Guard yourself against those joy busters that crash into your life like a tidal wave. Be vigilant. Ask someone to hold you accountable so that you learn the secret of contentment, so that you keep short accounts with people, and to help you get into the habit of regular confession of your sins.

• Identify one joy builder that you need to work on. Pick one that is weak for you and bring it into your comfort zone:
o Recognize God as JOYFUL! He is a joyful God!
o Worship God for His qualities, His attributes, His character traits.
o Allow Jesus to take your problems from you!
o Remain close to Jesus – every day, every moment.
• Read through the entire book of Philippians every day this week (it is like 3 pages long!). Highlight the words “joy” and “rejoice” every time you see it. And ask God to ripen this fruit of joy in your own life.

Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

In closing, let’s allow Romans 14:17 to penetrate our lives: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Let us rejoice in our “comfort” zones! Amen.

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 458.

Wheeler, Mark; “Being in CommUNITY”; Ledger; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; August 2014.

Philippians 3: Complete Joy in God through Christ

Mark Wheeler
August 17, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 3:1-21
Complete Joy in God through Christ!

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

This weekend marks joy and happiness in the lives of at least 6 different individuals connected to this church, and when you count their closest family members, many of whom are also connected to this church, that number goes up to a couple dozen (that’s one-third of the attendance this morning). What’s so special about this weekend?
Today is the one-year anniversary of Melissa and KJ (Tufto) Halvorsen, and exactly 52 weeks ago was the wedding of Jake and Ashley Davis, and this evening is the wedding day for John and Rebecca Roger-Hirst. (That is why most of you have bulletin covers with “wedding” scenes.)
Wedding days are among the most joyous of celebrations! (Babies are right up there!)
So, we celebrate with Kelly and Melissa, and with Jake and Ashley, and with John and Rebecca! And those of us who are married, or who have been married, we remember our wedding days, most of us with a deep sense of joy and gratitude.
But the wedding day, we all know, is no guarantee of “happily ever after”. In fact John and Rebecca enter their wedding today with the harsh reality that John just attended his mother’s funeral on Thursday! Where’s the joy in that?! And for both of them, this is their second marriage – their firsts not being what they had anticipated.
Last week, some of you will remember, we read where Paul said we must “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”. We enter marriages in a little fear and trembling, too.

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”.

Today we read from Philippians 3, where we’ll learn something about complete joy coming to us by no other means than by Jesus. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 3:1-21…. —-
1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

I have a few friends that preach whole chapters every week – and they take most of a whole hour to do it; but this is gonna be like your wedding day – quick and easy, with a one-point sermon, and then on to testimonies and prayers.
There are probably a half-dozen different sermons I could easily preach from these 21 verses, but I am giving you the clearest, most straightforward message I can.
That message is: the only way to discover complete joy is in a living relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and it is enhanced in and through and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wedding days, admittedly, are good! They represent the second most important decisions we will ever make (probably); the first is to follow Christ!

Cory Vawter, a former member here who now lives on Cheney, gave the following post on his Facebook page last Friday. This is a very familiar quote, but it’s one that no one really knows who said it first. Here it is: “Joy is not the absence of sorrow, but the presence of God; so we ask not that He calm the storm, but that He walk with us through it.”
If joy were defined simply as the absence of sorrow, then Paul would have no words of joy to send to the Philippians. Instead, though his hands were chained, his heart was free. Paul knows that joy is not the absence of sorrow. No, joy is found in the presence of the Lord who is with him in the midst of his sorrow.

In today’s world of Smart Phones, tablets and instant Internet access, we can “know” almost anything in an instant. If someone asks the question, “how much concrete is in the Grand Coulee Dam,” a nimble-thumbed person with a 4G connection and an iPhone can ask Siri, “How much concrete is in the Grand Coulee Dam?” and they will get an almost instantaneous response of 11,975,521 cubic yards (I know, I tried it). But if we had sitting here a 100 year old retired construction worker that spent 5 years of his life building the Grand Coulee Dam 75 years earlier we would still get the right information, but we would also get it with great passion!
When we went to Mt. Rushmore a few years ago we got to meet one of the “carvers”. Passion in every sentence!
That’s what it means to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” It involves much more than repeating facts concerning Christ or the Bible. Knowing Christ is an intimate relationship with Him that changes everything.

Jake and Ashley learned that 52 weeks ago, on a different level, with each other; Melissa and Kelly discovered new passion in their relationship one year ago; John and Rebecca will start a new venture of joy and gratitude in about 5½ hours after they say their “I do”s.

But if any of them believe that their marriages will bring them nothing but joy and happiness, allow them to talk to a wife who just lost her husband, or a husband whose wife aches with pain.
Paul wants us to know, with passion, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, that our only comfort in life or in death is that we belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to ourselves but to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul wants us to know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Paul wants us to know that the only means of finding complete joy is in God through Jesus Christ.

Complete joy is ours for the taking – not based on our life circumstances, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death.

If you have lost the joy of the Lord, get it back this morning! Make a conscious decision that you are going to follow Christ. The only way to have complete joy is to turn what does not make you joyous over to the Lord.
Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
We have to remain close to Jesus! I read a guy who says it this way, “Joy suckers do not like to be around Jesus, so stay close to Jesus! ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you’, that is Jesus’ promise!”

Resources:
Book of Confessions, Presbyterian Church (USA); 4.001, 7.001.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 447.

Philippians 2:12-30; It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

Mark Wheeler
August 10, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 2:12-30
It Is God Who Works – So Rejoice!

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Last week our church met at Harmon Park with a half-dozen other churches to help celebrate the Hillyard Festival and to bring the Word of God beyond our doors into the open-air of a big community event. One of the most exciting parts of this Worship in the Park is the opportunity to show our outside neighbors that these other churches are not only not our competition, but they are our family – we actually love each other.
Could you imagine how much work it would be to do what we did last Sunday all by ourselves? On our budget, and with our resources, impossible. But with God leading the way, and our ecclesiastical extended family at our side, not only does it become possible, it was amazing!

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”.
Today we read from Philippians 2, a piece of Paul’s letter that challenges our real acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior by challenging our response to life’s circumstances. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 2:12-30 ….—-
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

Did you catch the challenge? Right at the start: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.
Wait, what? Wheeler, you have been telling us for nigh unto 20 years now that we humans cannot earn or deserve our salvation no matter how hard we work!
Every month when we gather at the Communion Table, as we are about to do this morning, I remind this congregation that we are not invited to this Table because we are so good that God wants to reward us with an invite – we are here simply because God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son – and He invites us to His Table so we can re-experience the trauma and the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the anxiety and the ecstasy of eternal life offered us through faith.
But today we read where Paul says we have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling? Something’s not right!
Let me shed a little light on this challenge. The verse starts with a reminder of this church’s obedience to the Scriptures, their faithful obedience to Christ’s commands (see Matthew 28:20). Now, in the midst of their hardships and persecutions, Paul challenges them to remain faithfully obedient (continue to work out), and reminds them that even their desire, let alone their ability to be obedient, is God who works in [them] to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Have you ever heard someone say (maybe you have said, or still say this yourself) that the main reason they don’t want to become a Christian is that there are just too many rules. “I still want to have fun. I want to do what I want to do, not have a whole new set of ‘laws’ to follow.”
When I did a lot of youth ministry and youth outreach, this is the pushback I got from kids – and then I realized that I still get it from full-grown adults, and seniors. What we don’t realize at first – and Church, this is our job to help people realize – is that following Christ is the most exciting and thrill-seeking lifestyle out there, and it honors God and serves humanity at the same time!
John Ortberg, a well known Christian author and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA, once said it this way: “Spiritual growth doesn’t mean a life of doing what I should do instead of what I want to do. It means coming to want to do what I should do.”
I used to tell my youth that amazingly, what I want to do changes – and now I actually can do whatever I want – and it’s legal and no one gets hurt.
That wasn’t terribly convincing, but we can show its truth simply by being joyful, joy-filled! And God does the work to get us there! We just have to let Him, then working out our salvation becomes second nature!

Full disclosure time. I fail at this every day! Every day I realize that what I want to do is to fall into temptation and do something that does not honor God or follow Christ or serve humanity. That’s where Paul’s challenge to continue to work out, with fear and trembling, comes in. And the reminder to pray, because God actually wants to help me. And He wants to help you!

I’m going to end my message early today – to help you be grateful and joyful; but before I do, take a look at the rest of this chapter in Philippians. Paul has a paragraph with attitude advice. He says, “14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Do everything without grumbling or arguing. I am greatly encouraged by the fact that these Christians in 1st century Philippi really were no better than any church in 21st century anywhere. This is Paul’s most joy-filled letter, but even these good friends require a little wrist-slapping admonition – don’t grumble any more, and stop that arguing! A little later he even names names.
Have you heard the slogan, “If you love what you do for a living, you never have to work a day in your life!”? In everything, love what you’re doing; and it becomes play instead of work.

And then, the rest of this passage is Paul thanking the Philippian Church for their friendship and Paul passing the love of friends back and forth. I read somewhere that Paul mentions over 100 individuals by name in his letters. He was a man who made deep friends, and knew how to help others do the same.
And it always has to do with allowing God to do His work in and through us.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the Heidelberg Catechism, and the wonderful way it proclaims the Gospel and disciples Christians. Remember Q&A 1? What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
This same catechism teaches us how to work out our salvation, how to allow God to do His work in us. The catechism teaches that the key to this kind of success is in being grateful. I have not gotten permission to use these people’s names in today’s sermon, so I won’t – but we have a number of folks who happily and readily serve in almost any manner of ways – because they live in a world of gratitude and joy. Yes, there are others who do a lot of work, but insist on getting credit and complain about how much they do.
Which ones do you think honor God better? Which ones follow Christ with more obedience?
The Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 90 talks about cultivating this gratitude in our lives. Craig Barnes, president at Princeton Theological Seminary, says this, “The catechism describes our gratitude as ‘a love and delight to live according to the will of God’ (Q&A 90). The more grateful we are, the more we delight in the will of God. … this life-altering gratitude is so much more than an attitude or theological commitment. It must be grounded in specific acts of praises.”

Work out your salvation in fear and trembling is our challenge – not based on our abilities or even our endurance, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death – who does the work in us and through us.

If you, like me, find yourself dreading another meeting or phone call or sermon, then heed Paul’s working solution – allow God to work in you, and re-discover the joy and gratitude of one who walks and works with God Almighty.

You, O Lord, have placed Your hand upon us. We need not run from You in shame. You, O Christ, have placed Your life within us. Our lives will not end in isolation or obscurity. You, O Holy Spirit, are nurturing Your passion within us. Turn us from vanity and reckless desire. Father, Son, and Spirit, we give You thanks and praise. Amen.

Resources:
Ortberg, John; The Me I Want to Be; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 2009; P. 81, Kindle edition.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 447.

Philippians 2:1-11, “Complete Joy”

Mark Wheeler
July 27, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 2:1-11
Complete Joy

God of every nation, Your law is right, Your rule is just, and even in this fallen world Your kingdom knows no boundaries. May the compassion, patience, and forgiveness You show us in Jesus Christ our Savior form the ministry of reconciliation we offer to all people in Jesus’ name. Amen.

What, in this life, gives you the greatest joy? What makes you giggle with glee? What puts a smile on your face that you simply cannot just “think” away?
Is it when the pizza is delivered in less than 20 minutes? When the price of gas was surprisingly 10 cents lower than you expected? Seeing your family after something that might have injured or taken someone away? Being first in line at the food counter in Costco? A giggling baby? A 9th inning, game saving homerun?
What is it that gives you joy?

This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”. In fact, our hymnbook has almost 30 hymns in it using these verses as their joy-filled inspiration!

Today we read from Philippians 2, a piece of Paul’s letter that scholars believe contain the words of one of the very first Christian hymns, sort of an early Praise and Worship song (in fact, first song we sang this morning comes from this “song” in Philippians), & we’ll learn something about complete joy. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 2:1-11…. —-
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Paul closes chapter one challenging his readers to live faithfully: 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…. striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him….
Chapter 2, 1 therefore …. Since you are going to behave in a way that declares your belief, since you are going to work together for Christ’s sake, and since you will suffer as a result … therefore, Paul gives four “if” statements – 1) if being united with Christ encourages you, 2) if Christ’s love comforts (strengthens) you, 3) if you experience the Holy Spirit, 4) if you know the fruit of the Spirit, kindness and concern….
We’ll stop there for a minute – do those “if”s apply in your life? Do they apply in our church’s life? Are we encouraged by Christ? Do we feel Christ’s strength in our bones? When was the last time the Holy Spirit’s presence was very real in our worship? Does kindness for one another and concern for the world around us give us direction and motivation?
If we say “NO”, then we have a whole lot of other questions to answer. But if we say “YES”, then there’s a THEREFORE to listen to.
If all of that is true, therefore, make my joy complete….

Apparently, a big part of “complete joy” for the Apostle Paul is in the Church faithfully being in community – one with each other.
He asks us to “be like-minded”. I do not think that means we need to agree on every topic of conversation. We can still have different favorite movies; some of us can still like watching golf on TV; and it’s OK for some to be more inclined to join a prayer ministry and others to volunteer at the soup kitchen.
But I also don’t think we simply need to compromise our values when we find ourselves in disagreement.
Paul goes on to say that we should be Christ-like in matters of humility, generosity, grace and truth.
So what do we do when we encounter “family” with whom we strongly disagree? At least according to this passage, it looks like we encourage mutual humility, considering others as more important than ourselves (Jesus said to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of someone else’s); we encourage mutual generosity, giving ourselves and our personal agendas away for the good of the whole; we encourage mutual grace, offering love and forgiveness even at great cost to ourselves; we encourage mutual seeking after biblical truth, remembering that Jesus never forsook His purpose or His relationship to His Father even when to do so might have seemed gentler and more compassionate.

Some of you are aware that our denomination, at its recent biennial national meeting, made a few decisions that have been long-waited-for by some in the denomination – and they are ecstatic; those same decisions have caused deep concern, regret, and heart-break for others who see the decisions as apostasy, maybe even heresy.
How do we continue to strive for unity, like-mindedness, when we are at such a drastic degree of difference? And it’s not just that some prefer a different color than others, we are talking about an entirely different set of standards for authority.

John 17 records what we know of as Christ’s High Priestly Prayer – much of which describes His petition that we, the Church, would be one even as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus is not talking about institutional unity (organized unity, denominational unity); Jesus is praying that we would be “united together with Christ” in our missional, worshipful, focused, faithfilled lives.

I would be very happy to talk about what all this means with any/every-body who wants to know more. I can arrange for speakers who were present at the General Assembly meeting to come and answer questions. Our Presbytery has a whole system set up to assist congregations to discern their own role and partnership with the Presbytery and the denomination. Our Elders just finished a year-long study on the essential tenets of Reformed Theology and what it means to be Presbyterian in America in the 21st century.

Philippians 2 is a great guide in the process. Be like Christ – humble and generous, but faithful and steadfast. He came from heaven to earth, to show the Way;
From the earth to the cross, our debt to pay;
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky,
Lord, we lift Your name on high!

Paul says, 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (so we will listen to the Word of God first and foremost to discern our direction) 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (and we choose to do that today!, rather than wait for the day when we will have no choice – Jesus, You ARE LORD and Savior right now!) 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Lord, we lift Your name on high!)

Complete joy is ours for the taking – not based on our life circumstances, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death.

If you have lost the joy of the Lord, get it back this morning! Make a conscious decision that you are going to follow Christ. The only way to have complete joy is to turn what does not make you joyous over to the Lord.
Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
We have to remain close to Jesus! I read a guy who says it this way, “Joy suckers do not like to be around Jesus, so stay close to Jesus! ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you’, that is Jesus’ promise!”

Next Sunday, we have an opportunity to put this joy-making unity in action. Next Sunday, August 3, our church doors will not be open because we will join together with several other churches here in Northeast Spokane at Sharpley-Harmon Park to hold a unified worship service during the Hillyard Festival weekend. We will provide valet parking for anyone who wants it; they also will have golf-carts to help people get from their cars to the amphitheater in the park. Worship will be at 10am, I suggest coming early to get a closer parking spot and a better seat (in the shade), and to listen to some “warm-up” music before worship actually begins.
And since we won’t be here – we invite/encourage your August 3 tithes and offerings to be sent in during the week or on August 10.

May God bless us, every one.

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 439.

Wheeler, Mark; “Being in CommUNITY”; Ledger; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; August 2014.

Philippians 1:12-30: “My Only Comfort”

Mark Wheeler
July 20, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 1:12-30
My Only Comfort

Faithful God, You walk with us throughout life’s journey. As our strength diminishes, may our faith increase. As our eyes grow dim, let the light of Christ shine more brightly before us. Help us live to the end of our years in joy, knowing that You lead us into eternal life! Amen.

As most of you know, last week while you were faithfully worshiping here under the leadership of Gene and Kathy and Lilly, I was in AZ worshiping with my Mom the day after my Dad’s funeral. My Mom’s pastor was also on vacation, so they had volunteers and Associate Pastors leading their worship – which, frankly, helped me pretend I was here with you.
It was an awkward worship experience because just 22 hours earlier I sat in the front row while my Dad was being memorialized. So, my mind wandered off to my final days with my Dad just a week before his death. One day my Mom was whisked off by a church-friend to go to the store – a much needed break from the care-giving she had been responsible for. So my Dad and I got to talk with each other. In his final couple of weeks he was very lucid some times, and very confused other times. This was a lucid moment. I told him how much I loved him, and I thanked him for how he had taught me to be the best I could be. And I asked him if he was scared. Listen to how he answered:
“What would I be scared of? I guess I wish I knew how long it would take – but I’m not scared. ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until [sic] that day.’”
As my eyes welled up with tears, I asked him what he meant. And he said, “I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I know that it’s good.”
Not exactly a PhD in statements of faith; but I remember clearly when he became a Christian during my senior year of high school; and have full confidence that this was Dad’s way of reminding me of his faith and God’s perfect faithfulness.

This Summer we are working our way through Paul’s epistle from prison to the people of Philippi. Last time we saw that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).

Today we read Philippians 1:12-30, & discover our only comfort in life and in death. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 1:12-30…. —-
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me (being arrested and bound and imprisoned for my faith) has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

These verses serve to remind us of one basic truth: the choices we make do not define us – we are defined by something far deeper.

Paul had chosen between arresting Christians and accepting Christ; between facing a Roman execution and facing the Roman emperor; between denying Christ and relying on Christ; between being grouchy/grumpy about his treatment/predicament and being grateful/ about his appointment; between death and going to his eternal home in Christ and life and continuing his eternal life with Christ.
And he tells his readers in the northern Greek city of Philippi to choose between conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and any other lifestyle; between being fearful of religious opposition and standing strong in their faith.
And he challenges us in our every choice – to do good and be rewarded or to do bad and be punished; to choose a job in manual labor or a job in an office; to go to this school or take that job; to marry at all, or whom to marry; to stay close to home or to move farther way; to buy these prescriptions or to pay rent; to choose expensive treatment or to allow nature to take its course; what are you deciding today?
These decisions, as important as they are – and they are very important! – , do not define us. What defines us, what gives our lives meaning, the thing that drives our purpose, is in recognizing one truth.

Almost everybody in this room has lost loved ones to some kind of death – some tragically too soon and unexpected and some after suffering far too long and prayed for. I have lost personal friends, some very close friends, but until two weeks ago I had not lost any close family members. So the week between my father’s death and his funeral was a wonderful reprieve from my regular routines and responsibilities. I had, long before, signed up for a week of continuing education and spiritual renewal at Whitworth University. One of the speakers there, the President of Princeton Seminary, made some passing remarks about his reliance on a Reformation era statement of faith – The Heidelberg Catechism (written just over 450 years ago, when the Protestant Reformation was still young and developing). So I started re-reading the Heidelberg Catechism, and my faith and life has been fully revived (not that it was dead, but this really jump-started it again). A “catechism” is a statement of faith written in question & answer form, often used to help teach new believers and people who wonder and want to learn more about what these “Christians” believe.
I re-recognized this singular truth and realized that this is exactly what my father told me a week before he died! And I have rediscovered this truth in almost every reading of Scripture since 10 days ago. And I have heard it said again and in different ways from some of your mouths and lives. And I am now compelled to make sure we are all on the same page!

Today’s passage from Philippians 1, and Question/Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and my father, and our faith together expresses this singular truth.
Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
My dad said, “‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until [sic] that day.’”
The Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 1 says: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? – That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…. Because I belong to Him, Christ by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him”!

Did you hear those words? “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” That does not mean, do you know where your remote control is when you’re in your Lazy Boy?! The word “comfort” comes from the Latin root “fortis” (which means “strength”) and prefix “com” (which means with). What is your only source of strength in life and in death? My only source of strength is that – I am not my own! – I am not responsible for my own salvation! I am responsible for receiving the gift of faith; I am responsible for choosing to obey and honor God rather than reject and turn away from God. But my salvation is totally in God’s hands because I belong—body and soul, in life today and in death forever—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!

And while we nourish and enrich our faith by being in community, by sharing our lives and our struggles together, notice the singular nature of this question and answer.
What is your (singular) only (singular) comfort in life and in death?
That I (singular) am not my (singular) own, but belong—body and soul (my whole being), in life and in death (my entire existence)—to my (singular) Savior, Jesus Christ. This is very personal. I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

If you’re here this morning and have not yet made that personal choice to receive God’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ, you can change that. You can make Jesus the Lord & Savior of your life right now.
If you need to renew or refresh your belonging to Jesus today, you can do that as well.

In just a few minutes some of us will join together for our Lord’s Prayer Corps time – an extended time for prayer and worship downstairs in the Social Hall – we will pray for each other there, and rediscover our only comfort in belonging to our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Resources:
Barnes, M. Craig; Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism; Faith Alive; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 433.

Philippians 1:1-11: “Partnering Well”

Mark Wheeler
July 6, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Philippians 1:1-11
Partnering Well

Lord Jesus, with saints throughout time we pray, “Come quickly!” And we hear Your promise, “I am coming soon.” With this hope in our hearts may we run the race marked out for us, keeping our eyes, minds, and hearts fixed on You. Amen.

This morning I would like us to go back nearly 2,000 years to the city of Rome. It is an exciting time to be in Rome, a metropolis of gladiators, chariots, & palaces. But we’re not going to stop at the coliseum or the emperor’s palace.
Instead, we’re going to look into a drab little room. Inside we see a man seated on the floor. He’s an older fellow, shoulders stooped & his head balding. Chains are on his hands & feet that are also attached by a longer chain to a Roman guard.
It is the apostle Paul. The apostle who has traveled all over the world of his day. The apostle whose message has liberated people in almost every port. The apostle who was bound only by the will of God is now bound by chains, restricted by walls, accused by enemies, & scheduled for trial in the court of the cruelest of emperors, Nero.
Paul is writing a letter. No doubt, it is a complaint letter to God, a list of grievances. No doubt, he is writing the New Testament version of the book of Lamentations. You see, he has every reason to be bitter, to complain.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he is writing a letter that now, 2,000 years later, is known as the “letter of joy.” That is the letter we are looking at this morning.

Bobby Jones, champion golfer from a generation ago, once said, “Have you ever noticed how much golfers practice? Smart businessmen have been quick to take advantage of that, developing public driving ranges where we can practice driving the ball, & putting greens where we can practice our putting.
“But why hasn’t someone developed public sand traps? Sand traps are an inevitable part of the game of golf, & every golfer ought to practice ahead of time how to get out of trouble.”

I think that’s good advice for all of us. For even as we talk about being thankful for the blessings that come our way, we must admit that problems & troubles also come our way.

I think it was Norman Vincent Peale who said, “Problems are a part of life. All of us are going to have problems right up to the moment we die. And some of you are going to have problems after you die.”

So it only makes sense, if we’re going to find ourselves in sand traps, that we learn how to get out of them. And the letter to the Philippians, written by the apostle Paul, can help us do just that.
He writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome under what we would call “house arrest.” Now that was usually better than being in a dungeon, but Roman soldiers could be cruel; yet, Paul’s letter is filled with thanksgiving. And in it, Paul writes, “I always pray with joy…” (Philippians 1:4)

So let’s look at the first 11 verses of Philippians 1, & see what they teach us about praying with joy and the benefits of partnering well. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 1:1-11…. —-
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.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 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.
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.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may 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.

From this we learn three things about prayer.

I. PRAYER SHOULD BE A FIRST RESPONSE RATHER THAN A LAST RESORT
Listen to verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”
Then, in chapter 4, verse 6, he says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
What is Paul saying? He is saying that whenever anything happens to him, whether positive or negative, he prays. That’s his first response. He prays, “God, thank you for the blessings that you give me. God, I even thank you for the troubles that come my way. Now teach me the lessons that I need to learn from them.” Paul always started with prayer.
But for many of us, we wait until we’re knee deep in the sand traps of life, & there seems to be no way out of our problems. Then we call upon God & cry, “Help me. I’m in trouble.” We turn to prayer almost as a last resort.
On June 13, my Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, and less than 3 weeks later he died. I was privileged to be able to spend time with him just a week before he passed – and he showed peace and confidence, because he had been a man of prayer.
If you suddenly discovered that you had just a short time left to live how would you react? Would you curse or would you pray? I’ll tell you what you would do. You would respond instinctively. You wouldn’t think about it. You would just respond in the way that is most natural for you to respond.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It is a habit.” So what kind of habits have you developed in your life?
I read about a soldier who was doing sentry duty on the front line in WWI. After being relieved of duty, as a Christian, he wanted to pray, to thank God for protecting him, & to ask for His continued protection.
But the enemy lines were very close, & he couldn’t go far, so he just walked a little ways away from where he had been standing guard, knelt & began to pray aloud.
The sentry who replaced him heard his voice & thought he was speaking to someone in the enemy lines. So he reported him. The officer in charge said, “You’ve been accused of revealing secrets to the enemy. How do you plead?”
The soldier said, “It’s not true. I wasn’t doing that.” The officer replied, “Then what were you doing when you were out there facing the enemy & talking?” He said, “I was praying.”
“You were praying out loud?” “Yes, I was.” The officer said, “Show me. Pray right now.”
So the young man knelt & prayed. And when he finished the officer dismissed the charges. “Because,” he said, “nobody can pray like that unless he has been practicing.”

So what do you do naturally when troubles come your way? Paul says that prayer should be a first response & not a last resort.

II. PRAYER SHOULD BE OFFERED IN AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.
This is important. Nothing inhibits prayer more than a grumbling, complaining spirit. Notice verse 3: Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Now that’s an amazing statement because if you go back & read in the Book of Acts about Paul’s first visit to Philippi you’ll find that some very bad things happened to him while he was there.
He could have said, “I remember Philippi & that demon possessed slave girl who followed us around & harassed us. I remember how they arrested us, & beat us, & put us in chains, & then tossed us deep into that dark & dirty dungeon. Oh yes, I remember the terrible experiences we had in Philippi.”
But no, he said, “I remember Lydia & how she & all her household became Christians. I remember casting a demon out of a slave girl & seeing her set free. I remember the Philippian jailer & his family, & all those other people who are now followers of Jesus. And when I remember, I thank my God for you.”

Like Paul, we have a choice. Positive & negative things happen every day. We can focus on the negative & become unhappy grumblers if we want. But if we’ll focus on gratitude, wonderful things can happen in our lives.

The 2nd thing we see is that Paul was confident they would allow God to continue working through them. Listen to verse 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.”
God has a plan for your life, & for mine. There’s a task that He has called us to do, a place that He wants us to fill. And He’s not finished with us yet.

There is a story told about a 300 lb. man who went to his preacher & said, “Preacher, I’m so depressed. I’ve tried to lose weight & I can’t. I can’t even get a date. I feel like an outcast in society. Can you help me?”
The preacher said, “Well, I think I can. Go home & be ready at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”
So at exactly 8:00 the next morning his doorbell rang & the man opened the door expecting the preacher to be there. But instead, there stood a beautiful girl dressed in a jogging outfit who said, “The preacher says that if you can catch me I’m yours.” Then she took off running. Well, this guy took off after her, huffing & puffing. Of course, he couldn’t catch her.
Well, this went on for 6 months. Every morning she was there. He chased her for 6 months & lost 120 pounds, & the next to last morning, he almost caught her.
Well, he could hardly wait for the next day to come because he knew that he would catch her that morning for sure.
The next morning the doorbell rang. He opened it eagerly, & there stood a 300 lb. woman. She said, “The preacher said that if I can catch you, you’re mine.”

Now, that isn’t quite the way that I would handle the situation. But I suppose that is one way of utilizing the potential in people. Paul looks at the people in Philippi & says, “I see great potential here. I see God working in you, & He is ready to complete His work.”

Thirdly, Paul had developed some deep relationships with the people in Philippi. When you read his letter you sense that Paul really loves them. In verse 5 he thanks them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
And in verses 7 & 8 he says, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” In other words, “I love you as Jesus loves you.”

Now listen, when you’re in trouble it is important to have friends who will stand beside you, friends who will be there through thick & thin, that you can always count on. You know they’ll never leave you nor forsake you. That’s what a church is – a people who partner with each other well, and who partner with Jesus well.

Boris Zdorovetz is an ex-underground church leader from communist Ukraine. He spent years in prison. He lost one eye to glaucoma. He lost one arm to a WWII bomb. But he never lost his faith in God through Jesus Christ.
When you look at him, he’ll look back at you with that one eye & you know you have his undivided attention. He has a personality that just draws people to him. And he’ll reach out with his one good hand, & grip your hand tightly as he exchanges greetings with you.
Boris Zdorovetz has an optimistic spirit, even though life has been tough for him. He looks ahead to the “finish” which he knows will be “good”.

There are times when we need to let go of our burdens & look ahead to the “good finish”. So we need to pray with an attitude of gratitude rather than complaining.

III. WE SHOULD PRAY FOR GOD’S GLORY RATHER THAN FOR OUR OWN
Listen to verses 9-11. He says, “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
The lasting legacy is always in giving the glory to God. When I take the glory as my own, the legacy ends when I die – when I give it to God, God uses it to continue blessing people into eternity.

Is prayer a first response for you? Or is it a last resort? Do you pray in an attitude of gratitude? Or are you always grumbling? When you pray, do you make sure that God receives the glory, & not you?

If you’re here this morning without Jesus Christ in your life, you can change that. You can make Jesus the Lord & Savior of your life.
If you want to renew or refresh your partnership with Jesus today, you can do that as well.
In a minute we will join together at the Lord’s Table for communion – and we invite you to pray with us as we dedicate ourselves to partnering well with Him and with each other. Amen.

Resources:
EXTRA THANKS TO: Newland, Melvin; “Praying with Joy”; Ridge Chapel Church of Christ; Kansas, OK; November 2011.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 429.