Pursuing and Protecting the Priority of the Gospel
8th Sunday of Easter–June 4, 2017 (am)
Philippians 41-9 could seem like a strange passage to preach as the opening message of Global Outreach Month. But there are two reasons I’ve chosen it: 1) two of our three visiting workers will also be preaching from Philippians (and the third will be in a Prison Epistle as well, Ephesians). And 2) more importantly, I believe the instruction Paul gives in this very familiar passage—the reason why he’s so concerned to restore unity in the Philippian church, and is giving such intentional instruction on how to pursue it—is due in no small part to their partnership with him in gospel mission.
We might even say that Paul is instructing the Philippians on how to be (or remain) a solid, sending church. We hear it right from the start of the letter: 13 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, … 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Then he ends by affirming that this partnership (4:15) included financial contribution. The Philippians were a supporting church. And that magnified Paul’s heart for them—his passion for their spiritual health and wellbeing—in ways that we clearly hear in our text. And our hearing them can still give us instruction today on how to pursue and protect the priority of the gospel among us so that we become (or remain) a stable and reliable sending church, in good partnership with our missionaries. Let’s hear three affirmations in the passage: 1) Paul’s love and appreciation for the Philippians (1); 2) The Philippians love and appreciation for Paul (2-3); And 3) Paul’s impassioned instruction to this beloved church (2-9).
PAUL'S LOVE AND APPRECIATION FOR THE PHILIPPIANS - 1
Paul transitioned to his concluding remarks in this letter by affirming his love and appreciation for the Philippians: 1 Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…. He first visited their city after being called to their region by God in a night vision (Act.16:6-10). He was imprisoned there, as he was again in Rome when writing this letter—remember how the jailer and his family believed after an earthquake shook the doors open but no one escaped? (Act.16:25-34) Then after being released, Paul and Silas visited this church again before leaving town (Act.16:39-40). The Philippians held a special place in Paul’s heart. And he was writing them here, urging them to stand firm (1) (as [citizens] of heaven, [awaiting Christ’s] return [3:20]) in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (1:27). Paul (longed) for them to stand firm (cf. 1:27) in the faith—proclaiming and defending the gospel just as he did—illustrating gospel unity in their church, in their relationships, being of one mind (1:27; 2:2) in Christ. And this (longing) was part of Paul’s expression of love for them (1).
THE PHILIPPIANS' LOVE AND APPRECIATION FOR PAUL - 2-3
And the Philippians loved and appreciated Paul as well (2-3). We’ve already mentioned their partnership (1:5; 4:15) with him, and their financial support. But there was more to it than that. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he told them these Philippians gave to his work even while they were in a severe test of affliction, and were enduring extreme poverty (2Co.8:2). They were facing persecution, and they had very little to give! But 2Co.83 … they gave according to their means, Paul wrote, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in this way. They loved Paul, and sacrificially supported his work.
But their love and involvement was not just financial. Here he identifies two women who have labored side by side with (him) in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers (3). So, the Philippians were also personally invested. They were co-laborers with Paul in the spread of the gospel.
PAUL'S IMPASSIONED INSTRUCTION TO THIS BELOVED CHURCH – 2-9
And because of that, Paul needed them to take good care of themselves as a church. Any time we co-labor with one another, we grow to depend on one another. We feel hardship, struggle, and division together, just as we feel cooperation, benefit, and achievement. That’s just how it is in close, loving relationships—in collaboration.
We recently went through a season of trial as a church and our missionary family was quite interested in what was happening, and why, and how things were going. They felt it with us, keenly. In fact, it’s possible the insecurity, instability, and turmoil we felt was actually magnified for them out on the field, so far from home. Some offered help. And we received it gladly. That’s what Paul is doing here. Not just with the authority of an apostle, a church-planter, but with the passion (angst?) of a supported missionary, he offered instruction to the Philippians. Specifically, he urged these two women (by name!) to put away their conflict (2). And he asked another dear friend, and the rest of his co-laborers, to help them (3).
Yet, he didn’t just urge them to agree in the Lord (2)—to (stand) firm in one spirit (1:27)—he gave them clear and compelling instruction on how to do it (4-9). 4 Rejoice in the Lord always, he wrote. Then, (did) I say, rejoice?! That’s where it starts. That’s how we begin to put away conflict, and not just in order to enjoy peace but, even more specifically here, in order to protect our status as a solid, reliable sending church—a stable home-base for our missionaries on the field. We rejoice in the Lord—in God’s great glory, in our salvation in Christ, in our privilege of co-laboring in the spread of the gospel, and even in our personal conflicts.
Paul continues: 5 Let your reasonableness, your gentle spirit (NAS), be known to everyone—interesting. We don’t have trouble identifying (reasonable), gentle people, but it’s harder to nail what it is precisely that makes them gentle. One helpful definition is that biblical gentleness (NIV), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:23), means receiving whatever God gives as good—really living in real-life, real-time trust that the promise of Rom.828 is true (for those who love God all things work together for good). Now, just think about what a spirit of gentleness would do in a conflict. Wouldn’t it would disarm it? If we actually believed that each difference of opinion we experience with our finite, fallen brothers and sisters is being allowed (introduced?) by God for our good, how would we respond differently? And that different response is what gentleness looks like. That what gentleness enables.
And that’s just where Paul goes next; he unpacks gentleness. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, (rather) in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Tell Him your concern, your grievance, your difference with your brother or sister. Trust Him! 7 (Then) the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Get your eyes so fixed on Jesus (Who is present—the Lord is at hand , near, engaged, watching) that no division is able to arise among you.
Now, some may say: That sounds impossible! What if the conflict is over the gospel—justification by faith? If this teaching from Phi.4 were true there’d have been no Reformation! Martin Luther would’ve remained a Roman Catholic!
I understand the concern. But, 1) it’s very rare that our conflicts are on that level of significance. And 2) in lower level conflicts, we’re only responsible for our side. We can’t ensure that no conflict will persist, but only that we won’t extend it. Paul wrote to the Romans: 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
From there, Paul gave the Philippians a summary list of what’s profitable to set their minds on—what to dwell on when conflict looms. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things, rather than the things that generate conflict. And (imitate) Paul (cf. 3:17): 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. You’ll be strong, and ready to support missionaries.
Bottom line, the healthy sending church just won’t abide any division growing up among them. And any potential division is not crushed out by the unyielding will of one or a few. It’s starved out by such a deep passion for the Lord and His work that nothing lesser can rise to the level of importance where we’d fight about it.
So, I want to commend Philippian like-mindedness to us this morning—(agreeing) in the Lord (2), standing firm in one spirit… for the faith of the gospel (1:27)—as our new standard at GCD, not just for personal peace, but toward being a healthy, sending church. And, make no mistake, it is Jesus alone Who can enable such a characteristic among His people.