The 17th Sunday After Trinity September 18, 2005
2, 251, 767 [TLH alt. 477], 464
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now…For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what shall I choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again. Only let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
A man and woman stand before the altar, pledge themselves to each other for as long as they live, exchange rings, and then celebrate with family and friends. The CEOs of two major corporations sit down in a boardroom, sign a legal document, shake hands, and then break out the champagne to celebrate the merger. The neighborhood meets at your house and agrees to set up a block watch. Afterward, you celebrate with a backyard barbecue. These are all occasions for celebration because a partnership has been formed which benefits everyone involved.
St. Paul was a happy man for the same reason. He was celebrating a partnership the benefits of which cannot be calculated with dollars or any other earthly standard. What makes this so exciting for us today is that by God’s grace, we belong to the same partnership. We, too, have reason to celebrate with one another!
This partnership meant so much to Paul because he remembered how things had been before. At one time he had been an outsider separated from God. He wrote, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13 NIV). Paul’s sin put him outside God’s kingdom and made him deserving of eternal punishment. That was our situation as well. We are born with a sinful nature. We are guilty of doing what God forbids and neglecting the good which He commands. By nature we are enemies of God without hope or real joy. After all, why would the holy God want anything to do with sinful people? Sin and holiness don’t mix!
Yet Paul addresses the congregation at Philippi as “saints in Christ Jesus” and says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.” [vv.3-5] The impossible was accomplished. A new, wonderful, blessed fellowship was established between the Philippians, Paul, and the Lord.
The credit was all God’s. The Philippians, who by nature were sinners through and through, were now saints, holy people set apart for God, because of God’s grace toward them. He had shown them His undeserved love. He gave them exactly the opposite of what they deserved. Instead of rightfully condemning and punishing them, He sent His Son and held Him accountable for their sins. The result was peace, peace with God through Christ’s holy life and suffering and death on the cross. Instead of being outsiders doomed to death, the Philippian believers were now partners in the Gospel. They were united with Christ and with one another by a shared faith.
We, too, can thank God for that partnership. All of us at one time were lost sinners cut off from God. By grace He reached out to us with the good news of Jesus, called us to faith, and united us with Himself and with one another. We are no longer outsiders. We are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
Paul treasured that fellowship. It meant that he wasn’t alone. There were others who shared his joy and confidence in the Savior. We gratefully share in that same partnership, for “there is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV). Do you need a reason for hope and joy? Just look around and consider your fellow Christians. See the evidence of God’s saving grace in all of us being here as fellow saints made holy by Jesus’ blood. Thank God for our blessed partnership in the Gospel!
How valuable is this partnership? The accusation has been made that “Christians are so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.” People see Christianity as having no real effect on the practical side of life, the concerns and needs which we face Monday through Saturday. They reject faith in Christ and go looking for something more “meaningful” and “relevant” to everyday life.
The truth is, there is nothing more relevant to our lives than Christ. It is a terrible misconception to think of faith in Jesus as though it were an insurance policy we take out, lock up in a safe deposit box, and forget about until it may be needed. No, faith, says Luther, is a “living, active, mighty thing!” It is a powerful force created by God in the heart which affects every part of a person’s being and life. As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV). Faith becomes the driving, motivating force in the believer’s life. It is going to show then in words and actions. It is a natural thing, just as natural as an orange tree producing oranges every year. If the fruits of faith are not present, Scripture warns, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26 NIV).
Paul found such great joy in his fellowship with the Philippians because their faith showed in all kinds of ways right from the start. When Paul first began preaching in Philippi there was not a church building with a sign out in front reading “Philippian Christian Church.” Instead, Paul began preaching beside a river. A woman named Lydia heard him, and we’re told that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:15 NIV). She and her family were baptized, and then she invited Paul and his helpers to stay at her home and use it as a base of operation for their preaching. The partnership in the Gospel showed in Lydia’s willing involvement.
We can thank God for the same spirit. When there is an opportunity for service, whether it’s cleaning the church, teaching Sunday school, or serving on a committee, and a fellow believer gladly steps in and says, “I would like to help,” it is a wonderful expression of that loving partnership we enjoy with one another.
Our partnership in prayer is a joy for the same reason. Paul thanked God for bringing the Philippians to faith and for preserving them in it. The Philippians, in turn, were praying for Paul, asking God to rescue him from imprisonment in Rome and to give him the courage to defend the Gospel in front of the government authorities.
We can praise God for giving us His saving Word in our churches and schools. We can thank Him in prayer for giving us true unity of heart and mind, and not just an outward unity with little or no agreement on Bible truth. We can pray for our pastors, teachers, and missionaries. We can pray for new church members whom the Lord has brought into our fellowship. We can pray for those who are sick or who are wrestling with an especially strong temptation in their lives.
We can take comfort in knowing that others are also praying for us. We can ask one another to pray in our behalf, being assured that the prayer of a believer is powerful and effective. Jesus promises: “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20 NIV).
Our partnership in the Gospel gives us a common purpose in life. We have different occupations and interests, and we are at different stages in life. Some of us are eagerly looking forward to adulthood, jobs, and families. Others are in the middle of all these things, and still others have reached retirement. Yet all of us have the same basic purpose in our lives. It is not to gain money or possessions or some measure of fame, but to live for Christ.
Whether he was a free man traveling from one city to the next preaching the Gospel or in prison chained between two guards, Paul’s purpose was the same: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [v.21] Our partnership in the Gospel gives us the same perspective. Whether we are a pastor, teacher, business person, student, stay-at-home mom, etc., we want to live for Christ, so that everything we do serves to bring credit to Him.
That gives us a joy and satisfaction which the unbeliever knows nothing about. When you live for Christ, your job is more than just a means to keep busy and pay the bills. It is an opportunity to show by word and example that you love the Lord. School is more than something you have to put up with, it is an opportunity to honor the Lord by faithfully using the abilities He has given you, and to honor the teachers He has placed over you. Life itself becomes more than a losing battle with disappointment and death, it is an opportunity to walk in the saving light of the Lord, and to grow in love for Him. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV).
But where are we going to find the strength to live for Christ when everyone else is living for themselves? How can we live in the world without caving in and going along with it? Can you do it alone? What if you were the only one in church one Sunday morning? What if you were the only believer in town? How long do you think you could hold out-a week, a month, a year? Thankfully, the Lord helps by bringing us together for mutual support. Paul told the Philippians, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” [v.27]
Each one of us is truly a blessing from God for all the rest of us. We can encourage and build each other up in the faith as we grow in the Word together. When one stumbles or falls, the others are there to help him up. One of the gravest threats to our faith is to buy into Satan’s lie that we don’t need one another. “I don’t need Sunday worship because I already know the Gospel.” “I don’t have time for fellowship with other believers, because I’m working 60 hours a week and family obligations take up any free time left over.” A congregation which abandons fellowship activities because they are too much work and “no one comes anyway” is in real danger of dying.
Never underestimate the worth of our Christian partnership. The worship service and Bible classes are not just weekly rituals with no real benefit for daily life. They are precious opportunities to recharge our spiritual batteries so that we will have the strength we need to follow Christ in a hostile world. Potluck fellowship meals, work days, and other congregational activities are not just time to quiet a rumbling stomach or clean up the property, but a wonderful occasion to talk informally with one another, offer encouragement, and at the same time receive encouragement for our own daily struggles. Taking time for casual conversation before and after worship is more than just common courtesy, it is a joyful exercise of Christ-like love and concern for partners in the faith. If we fail to use these opportunities, we deprive ourselves of the joy the Lord wants us to have.
We are blessed people. By grace God has called us from sin and death and united us with Himself and one another. What a great partnership that is! May we always treasure and use it. May the Lord preserve, strengthen, and increase it; and may we everyday by both word and action thank God for it! Amen.
May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power inspiring
All I do or say.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.