1. Confident in Christ Dan Bidwell, Senior Pastor
Philippians 1:1-11 5 February 2023
I want to start with this book. The five love languages by Gary Chapman.
Chapman identifies five kind of primary ways that we share love with others, as well as how we prefer to receive love. Those are our love languages. And the premise of the book is that we can learn to love our husband or wife or kids better if we learn their love language.
As I said, Chapman identifies five primary love languages.
Number one is words of affirmation. Some of us love to hear words that just fill us up. That that's what fills our love tank. If words of affirmation is your love language, you probably like to send handwritten letters and cards to people, you like to find moments to speak words of encouragement and praise into their ear. You love to tell people how special they are to you. And you wish people would say that to you more.
The second is quality time. So the way that you feel loved or the way that you express your love is that you want to spend lots of time with a person. That might be cuddling on the couch or going for a walk together and or sometimes it's just seeing one another and so quality time that's #2
#3 is giving gifts. If this is your love language, the act of either giving or receiving gifts makes you feel loved and so you'll know if you're one of those people. We've got some wonderful people at church whose love language is gifts, and every couple of months we find a gift basket on our doorstep and it's just so lovely.
#4 is acts of service. That means doing things that show that you love a person. So for some of us, when we clean up the kitchen it’s not just practical – it's actually how we show love. You might know someone who is always willing to show up, always willing to lend a hand, always willing to jump in. Chances are their love language is acts of service.
#5 is physical touch. Some of us love to be touched to be hugged. Intimacy and physical closeness is our love language. Cuddles, kisses, snuggling that’s what makes you feel loved.
So five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
You might like to reflect on your love language, perhaps its something to talk about later with family or friends.
The reason I bring up the 5 Love languages is that the Apostle Paul speaks his love language in his letters. Paul loved to write words that pointed people to Christ, words to encourage them in faith, and words to keep them going even when he couldn’t be there.
So over the next 4 weeks, we’re going to listen to Paul, as he wrote to the church in Philippi. A church that he had planted, and a church that he loved.
So why don’t we pray that God would speak to us through Paul’s words to the Philippian church?
Our heavenly Father, we pray that you would speak to us today, through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Teach us how to have great confidence in you, and in the work you have begun in us through Jesus Christ. We pray in his saving name, Amen.
The book of Philippians is a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi.
SAncient Philippi was a city in Greece, part of the European mainland. Macedonia today. In the 1st century BC it was the scene of the Battle of Philippi, where Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius who had assassinated Julius Caesar (Shakespeare – Et tu Brutus!)
Philippi was a miniature Rome – the architecture and city layout was designed to be like Rome. It carried all the same privileges as if it was Italian soil. A strategic place to plant a church, and that’s what Paul did.
You can read about it in Acts 16. Paul and Timothy only stayed in Philippi a few days, but it was enough for a church to start. Paul had gone to a place of prayer, and was sharing about Jesus with a group of women. The first to believe was Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth – an expensive product. Acts 16:4 describes her conversion like this:
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14)
Sometimes it’s that simple. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. And so she got baptized along with the members of her household, and invited Paul and his companions stayed at her house. (Acts 16:12-15)
That was the start of the Philippian church. One person who heard and believed. I’m guessing in each of our households, there was someone who heard and believed, and that’s why you’re here today. Praise God for the way that he opens hearts, and starts a new work in people’s lives. We’ve seen that at Yountville Community Church over the last couple of years since we replanted this church. People hearing, and believing as God opens their hearts. I pray that we witness that more and more as we share the hope of Jesus in the Napa Valley and beyond.
But Paul wasn’t able to stay very long with the Philippian church. Just a few days. And so he writes this letter to encourage them to continue in the faith.
So let’s dive into it at v1:
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.
1. Servants and Saints
Back in NT times, the person writing the letter would put their name at the beginning, not the end. So this letter is from Paul and Timothy. Timothy was Paul’s protégé – a young man who was Greek, and so the perfect person to help Paul plant churches in Greece.
Note what Paul says about himself in the first line. Despite Paul’s leading role in the evangelism of Asia and Europe, even though he was a church planter and pioneer, Paul thinks of himself humbly – as a servant. Paul and Timothy were servants of Jesus Christ, just like Jesus himself was a servant. Jesus said he did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. (Mark 10:45) As Christians, we’re also called to follow Jesus and Paul in thinking of ourselves as servants.
The letter is addressed to God’s holy people in Christ Jesus in Philippi. (Some of the other Bible versions here say ‘to all the saints’. It’s the same word in the original language.)
I know there are some connotations with the word saints – we often think of saints as people who have performed a miracle, or people who have excelled in the Christian faith. But Paul reminds us here that ‘in Christ Jesus’ – when our faith is in Jesus – actually we are all saints. We are all made holy (or sanctified), because of what Christ did on the cross to bring forgiveness.
I think that’s why Paul also starts his letters with a reminder of the ‘grace and peace’ (v2) that we have through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” Grace means a new story for us, apart from our sin.
And Paul begins all his letters with a reminder of the new story and the new life and the new calling that we’ve been set apart for when we put our trust in Jesus.
Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of the same. What would be different about your life if you started to think of yourself as one of the saints.
And what would be different if you thought of yourself as a servant, just like Paul, and just like Jesus…
So that’s the first big idea. Servants and Saints.
For the second big idea we have a little guessing game…
If I say Butch Cassidy, you say… and the Sundance Kid.
I say Bonnie, you say… Clyde
I say Fred Astaire and you say… Ginger Rogers.
One for the ballet fans: I say Margot Fonteyn, you say… Rudolf Nureyev
One for the Gen X-ers: I say Han Solo, you say… Princess Leia.
One for the Millennials: I say Beyonce, you say… Jay Z.
What was the point of that little game? They were all famous partnerships.
Paul says, when he thinks of the church in Philippi, he is overjoyed at their partnership in the gospel.
2. Partners in the gospel
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. (Philippians 1:3-6)
I said before that one of Paul’s love languages was writing words of affirmation. We see here that another of his love languages was prayer.
When Paul thinks of the church in Philippi, he thanks God for them every time he remembers them in prayer. You get the impression that he prays for them a lot. And he prays for them, because he loves them. In v7 he says:
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart (Philippians 1:7)
and in v8:
8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8)
Paul loves the church deeply. He loves what God is doing in their midst, and what God is doing in their individual lives. The days Paul spent in Philippi were not just a long weekend for the apostle. They were the beginning of a significant and ongoing pastoral relationship. Paul loves this church and the people in it with a deep affection that causes him joy.
Did you see that in v4? In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…
Joy is a recurrent theme in the book of Philippians. I think in fact the word ‘joy’ or ‘rejoicing’ occurs 27 times in these 4 chapters. For Paul, the gospel at work in people is a great cause for joy. A great cause for the heart to celebrate. Paul overflows with joy and thankfulness, even when his own circumstances were less than ideal.
We see a hint of what was happening for Paul in v7. We read there that Paul is in chains. Further on in chapter 1 he says it even more clearly. Paul is writing this letter from prison, most likely during his 2 years of imprisonment in Rome that we read about in Acts 28:30-31. Possibly not long before he was martyred by Emperor Nero in 60something AD…
So Paul is writing from prison, and we’ll see next week that he considers his death to be near.
Despite those circumstances, Paul makes it his choice to choose joy. And to choose to be thankful. And to choose to pray.
So come back to v3. Paul thanks God every time he remembers the Philippians. (v4) He always prays with joy. Why?
Because of their partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
The Christian faith is not just a receiving faith. It is not a passive faith. It is not like a membership you sign off on once, and then forget about. It’s a partnership. Where Christ acts as an agent of change in our lives, and then he uses us as agents of change for others.
Think about the partnership for a moment.
- Jesus comes sharing the good news about the kingdom of heaven.
- He recruits 12 disciples who help him with the mission.
- After his resurrection, Jesus commissions all his followers to go and make disciples of all nations
- And so Peter does that first, planting the church in Jerusalem.
- Then Paul goes and plant little baby churches all over Asia and Europe, little churches that will grow and replicate the same mission.
The principle we see here is that God uses his church (the people in the church!) to share the message of Jesus with the world. We are partners in Jesus’ plan to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The Christian faith isn’t passive. It’s an invitation to join in the gospel partnership that Jesus began 2000 years ago.
And so Paul prays for the church in Philippi, full of joy and thankfulness because (v5)
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Philippians 1:5).
Can I say, I’m so thankful for your partnership in the gospel?
Ever since I first heard about this little church in the Napa Valley, one of the things that has struck me is the way you have embraced the mission of sharing the hope of Jesus in the Napa Valley and beyond.
You are a church that has partnered in the gospel. With me, and with the Leadership Team, and with one another to grow the church to where we are today. You’ve partnered with Jesus in the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations.
And I know that because I first visited 4 years ago, most of you were not part of Yountville Community Church. But even with a building under reconstruction, and a global pandemic, God used our humble efforts to bring people into the church.
Think about how you started to come to Yountville Community Church. Perhaps you’re one of the originals, but we all started here at some time. Perhaps you joined us during COVID. Perhaps you saw us online. Perhaps one of your friends or neighbors told you about the church. Perhaps you’ve been the friend or the neighbor who has invited others. I’ve watched it happen time and time again.
That’s how we partner in the gospel. We share the precious message of Jesus through friendship and conversation with those we care for.
Thank you for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I’m confident that this is just the beginning for you and for this church.
3. Confident in Christ
I’ve told you before about a friend who I knew back in Sydney when I was working at an inner city church. He was a former drug addict, or probably a current drug addict who had struggled with homelessness and mental illness for years. He was also a Christian man with a beautiful faith, which we talked about a lot. But he was also profoundly damaged.
I was walking with him one day and there was a little blister pack of pills on the ground, maybe just one or two pills. And without missing a beat in the conversation, he picked it up and popped the pills and kept walking. He didn’t even look to see what they were. It was just second nature to him. See pills, take them…
Despite my horror, it occurred to me that we are all a lot like my friend. We are each a mix of beautiful faith and perplexing addiction to the sins that harms us. We can’t help ourselves. We are faithful and flawed at the same time.
And some days, our failures and flaws can rob us of confidence.
But Paul reminds us of a beautiful, gospel truth. It’s there in v6:
[He prays for them] 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. (Philippians 1:6)
If your faith is in Jesus Christ, you can be confident that God will finish the work that he started in you. It might feel slow, and you might feel like you fail more than you succeed. But God’s not done with you yet. What God starts, he finishes. And you can be confident of that.
Theologians call this the doctrine of perseverance. The idea that Jesus will never let you go, he will never let you slip, he will never fail to finish the good work that he began in you. (John 6:39)
And Paul could speak like that because the church in Philippi wasn’t Paul’s church. It was Jesus’ church. The church didn’t need Paul to carry their faith through to completion. That was something that Jesus would do in their lives.
And I’m confident that God will do that here as well. I’m confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ.
And so on the days when it feels like you are failing, remind yourself: his grace is sufficient for me. When your sin is overwhelming, come to the cross and give it all to Jesus. You can be confident that when you do that, he is at work in you, correcting and rebuking and refining and sanctifying you, little by little, as he moves you ever closer to glory.
4. Bearing Fruit
I’ve told you before that I plant fruit trees wherever I go, because I think fruit is the perfect metaphor for a growing Christian life.
During the summer of 2020, I discovered a fig tree just near church on the Hopper Creek bridge. And so I took some cuttings, and I put them in a bag with sphagnum moss and kept them moist, and after about 3 or 4 weeks these tiny roots started to grow. I planted those delicate cuttings into little pots of seedling mix, I put them in a warm place and I kept the moisture just right. And over the next few months they grew leaves and even tiny baby fruits. After a year I planted them out into bigger pots, and then after another year I got the gardeners to plant my little fig into the ground at the back of the kids playground, just beside the shed here at the church. And it is growing… And in a few years time, it will have delicious figs growing on it that you’ll be able to taste and enjoy.
The Christian life is a little bit like growing a fig from cuttings. It can take time to see real changes. But under the right conditions, it will grow, bit by bit, until the fruit is evident to all.
And so what does Christian growth look like? What should we be praying for, and what fruit should we be cultivating? Paul answers that for us in vv9-11.
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. (Philippians 1:9-11)
First, Paul prays for their love.
One of the biggest distinctives of Christians ought to be our love. Our love for God, our love for one another, even love for our enemies. We’re going to think more about what love looks like in the coming weeks, but for now it might be helpful to reflect at home this week: how am I going with love? With loving others, with loving God, with loving when things are difficult? How is the gospel shaping me in love?
Next, Paul prays that their love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.
I pray a prayer for our church every week that we would be a church with a hunger for the scriptures, a hunger for the Bible, and a hunger to grow in our knowledge of God and his word. Not so that we can be puffed up, but so that the Scriptures shape our conversation and our prayers and our community. When we are soaked in the scriptures, then they help us to know how to act in certain situations, how to manage conflict, how to speak into life issues. This kind of knowledge helps us to discern what is best, and teaches us how to live obedient lives that honor Jesus. So keep reading your Bibles, join a Small Group, join Alpha, take every chance to grow in knowledge.
Third, Paul prays that they would bear fruit. That they would be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. I’m sure this is the same concept as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
What brings me joy is that I see all those fruits of the Spirit evident here in the church. God is at work in you, and I’m confident that he will complete the work that he has begun in you. Because he begun that work long before I got here, and he’ll continue it long after I’m gone. But He will be the constant. He will be the one that grows you. Paul plants a seed, and Apollos waters it, but God makes it grow. And that’s what is happening here. I’m so thankful I got to be one of the gardeners in your life. But God makes it grow, and he will be the one to make this church grow.
Shall we pray?