We have come to the final verses in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and I think it’s important to note that Paul’s letter is just that. It was a letter to a church who partnered with him in ministry, who supported his work, who loved him, and whom Paul loved in return. His letter wasn’t divided into chapters and verses, it was one seamless letter which thanked them, and encouraged them to keep going after Christ.
The introduction to the book of Philippians in my Bible states it like this:
…as we read through the text we see that the crucial and urgent subject matter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is the gospel. The apostle Paul is grateful for the Philippians “partnership in the gospel” (1:5, 4:15) and preoccupied with their continuous progress in faith/gospel (1:25). He is in chains for “defending and confirming the gospel” (1:7, 1:16) though happy that his imprisonment serves “to advance the gospel” (1:12). Finally, in the key verse of the letter, which expresses the essence of his message, Paul exhorts the Philippians to live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27)…only as they manifest their heavenly citizenship will they be responsible earthly citizens….Two important parts of the letter exemplify the kind of life he envisions: the example of Christ, his obedience, humility and concern for others (2:1-18); and the example of Paul, who gladly lost everything in order to gain Christ (3:1-21)…. There is an important connection between theology and ethics…which is seen in the close link that Paul makes between believers’ identity and their behavior. Their life in society should reflect their double citizenship (3:20)….Being a Christian is not about being religious. It is rather about being faithful to the one who was crucified and rose again and brought into being the new creation thus fulfilling God’s story to redeem the world, to bring peace and justice and love…
In the very first part of the letter, Paul prays that our “love (agape) may abound more and more in knowledge an depth of insight, so that [we] 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.” (1:9-11)
Pastor John highlighted some excellent points as he wrapped up this series. He said:
*Healthy churches don’t just happen–it’s an intentional choice to love Jesus and others well.
*Being a healthy church is about giving others a second chance because we’ve been given one.
*Church is about entering into the lives of others; as God gives to us, we give to others.
*Worship is loving God and letting it flow out to others so that we can connect them to God’s love.
*We lay our lives down, not because we are the Savior, but because we know Him.
*Ministry is living with the mindset of–how can I serve you, how can I connect with you, how can I pray for you, and the entire Church is part of this ministry.
None of this flows from obligation. It all flows from being filled with God’s agape love for those around us, which is impossible apart from us knowing His love personally, and in choosing to live life His way through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We have seen, as we’ve worked our way through Philippians, that the verses we pluck out of context to make them personal promises don’t actually hold up in light of Paul’s entire letter. A relationship with Jesus, salvation in Him, is very personal, but it is not about us–it’s about becoming part of The Church that exists to advance God’s kingdom of love peace, and the restoration and flourishing of all things, across the face of the globe.
Another verse that we’ve taken out of context and turned into a personal promise from Philippians is:
AND my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (4:19)
I know that I’ve been guilty about claiming this promise for myself, without regard to the full context in which Paul wrote it. He is sharing his final thoughts before he closes his letter and he has just thanked the Philippians for sharing in his sufferings, for giving generously to him (even though they themselves were poor), for being an encouragement to him, and for partnering with him in advancing the good news of Jesus. He is letting them know that because of their generosity, he is amply supplied–that their generosity is a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. AND my God will meet all your needs… They have met Paul’s needs; God will meet their needs.
Paul has leveraged his life to advance the kingdom of God. The Philippians were recipients of the message, took hold of the message, and have generously and sacrificially partnered with Paul in advancing the kingdom of God. They have sought God first…
As Pastor John was reading Philippians 4:19 , I heard Jesus’ words–Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. (Mt. 6:33).
Jesus spoke those words in his sermon on the mount right after he told his listeners not to worry about what they will eat, what they will wear–that unbelievers make their lives about those things…but that we are to make our lives about the Kingdom, and God will take care of the rest.
Paul is commending the Philippians for their friendship and partnership with Him in sharing the gospel, acknowledging their sacrifice for the Kingdom and assuring them that in living with a God first mindset (not worrying about or chasing after the things of this world) that God will take care of them.
I believe this is what Jesus was teaching in the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins with acknowledging that God is Father of us all, that His name is most holy and set apart. Then comes the request–May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The prayer ends (in Matthew’s gospel) with “Yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever”.
Jesus mentions the Kingdom twice in this prayer, and sandwiched between those two mentions he teaches us to ask for God to supply our daily needs, to forgive us as we forgive others (we cannot love like Jesus and hold grudges against people), to not lead us into temptation, (which can lead us away from doing life His way), but to deliver us from evil–which is sometimes translated as the evil one.
That entire phrase is interesting…the Greek word “evil” used there has been translated as annoyances, hardships, something that causes pain and trouble, of a bad nature or condition, wickedness, or ethically bad. (Strongs).
James, in his book writes: but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…(1:14).
Is it possible that Jesus is saying–pray that your life will be all about living under God’s rule in His Kingdom doing His will so that His Kingdom can advance across the face of the globe to all people–don’t get distracted by going after your own “daily bread”, trust Him to provide for your needs as you seek His Kingdom first–Love others well, with God’s agape love-don’t hold grudges against people, and ask for God’s help to keep you strong when you are enticed to lose your way due to hardship, or your own desire to chase after other things– God’s Kingdom is available to you, His power to carry out His will is available to you, and when you live this way His glory will be seen?
Is this what Paul is saying to the Philippians when he commends them for their partnership in making Jesus name known, in advancing the gospel of the Kingdom of God which is now available to everyone through Christ, and in seeking that Kingdom first? As they pour out their lives for God Paul assures them that God will supply all their needs….following that up with “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Dear Church, would the watching world say that our lives are defined by agape love, sacrificial living, and supernatural power for the glory of God? Does the watching world want what we have? If yes, glory to God! If no, are we willing to reboot and do this His way?
Lord Jesus-help us, the individuals who make up your Church, seek Your kingdom first and trust you to take care of everything else, so that the world can know that You, Emmanuel, are here, and have come to deliver God’s love and life to them, right here, right now. Forgive us for living for ourselves and chasing after the things of this world. Holy Spirit, please empower us to live for the glory of God.
Luanne highlighted several points that Pastor John made in Sunday’s message. I want to highlight one more:
“Love like Jesus. Offer grace. Sacrifice self. Live like Jesus, in the power of Jesus.
Be. Like. Jesus.”
I love that Luanne mentioned that this book, Philippians, was written as one seamless letter in its original form. It wasn’t broken up by chapter and verse, or by headings and subtitles. It was a letter from a man to his friends who had been and still were faithfully supporting and encouraging him in his work. And the point I highlighted above? It is even more meaningful to me when I remember that this was a letter between friends.
Pastor John talked about the beauty of this friendship that Paul and the Philippians shared. He used the word Koinonia, which is an intimate, deep, communion between those who believe in Jesus; it is sharing and entering into the trouble and struggles of one another, coming alongside each other. Only the presence of Jesus can create these connections and bind hearts together this deeply. This is the relationship that existed between Paul and the church he was writing to. If you have experienced the joy of this kind of friendship, you know what a blessing it is.
With this in mind, read the point I highlighted above again… In a letter to his friends, the bottom line was clear. We have written about it every week of this series. It’s all about Jesus. We see it all over this letter. You may be thinking, “Okay, Laura. We get it. It’s about Jesus. Why is this such a big deal, again this week?”
This is why it’s a big deal. Still. Again. Think about it… If you wrote a long letter to some of your closest friends, what would stand out? What would the bottom line be? What would be the undercurrent of your message? Maybe you’re not a letter writer. I am. And when I think about letters I’ve written to people I dearly love, I am fairly certain they don’t sound like Paul’s.
And they don’t have to.
I am not suggesting that the way we communicate with those we love should always, only be about Jesus. I am certainly not in favor of adapting a template that is modeled after the letters of Paul–I’m not in favor of templates at all, actually–for so many reasons. In fact, I’m not suggesting that we model anything after Paul. It’s not about Paul at all–except that Paul modeled his life after Jesus. And encouraged his friends to do the same. In his beautiful words, long-preserved, he encourages us to do the same thing, too.
I don’t believe Paul was trying to write something “churchy”and “religious”. His letter flowed from his heart of gratitude and love. That’s why it’s so beautiful. That’s why it matters that he kept bringing it back to Jesus over and over again–because he got it. He understood that real life is not about a list of dos and donts. It’s not about obligation or duty. It’s not about fear and shame and punishment. No, he had experienced something other. Something that changed everything. He had encountered Jesus and was filled with His love-a love that had to pour out because it was never meant to be hoarded as an individual gift, and because once you know that kind of love, you want everyone else to know it, too. He had an encounter with the Kingdom come, the Kingdom Luanne wrote about so poignantly above. And he believed that the Kingdom lived and breathed in the people around him. He was absolutely convinced of the power of Jesus and His Spirit among them. It was his reality. Jesus and His Kingdom were at the center of everything Paul believed and he longed for those he loved to know and remain in that truth. And so, when he wrote a letter to his friends, it was all about Jesus. Because nothing in his life was separate or disconnected from Jesus. Everything revolved around Him. He didn’t have to try to write something spiritual–he was living and breathing the Spirit in every moment. He didn’t have to muster up affectionate words–the Agape love of Jesus was flowing through him.
Luanne asked us, “Dear Church, would the watching world say that our lives are defined by agape love, sacrificial living, and supernatural power for the glory of God?”
Paul’s life was. And his letter evidenced that. I think it was less “how to” and more “cause and effect”. His words overflowed from a heart completely convinced and compelled by the Love that had won his heart. And because it was the natural overflow of his heart, I don’t think he had to try to say things just right in his letter. I think he simply wrote what he knew to be true, and he believed that as his friends continued to experience the grace and love of Jesus, they would be completely overtaken by Him, too.
The other night in a prayer service, the man leading asked this question…
“How often do we miss God while we’re looking for truth?” (Pastor Beau Gamble)
There’s a lot to ponder within that question… But as it relates to what we’ve been studying together, this book called Philippians, I think I have an answer.
Every time–we’ll miss God every single time–if we’re looking for truth outside of the person of Jesus. I have read this book, Philippians, so many times. I have many of the individual verses memorized. But I’ve read it through lenses focused on personal promises, individual growth, shoulds and shouldn’ts. And somehow–even though we’ve spent the summer writing about how it all points to Jesus–I hadn’t seen it before. How did I miss it? How did I miss that this entire letter points to Jesus and becoming one with Him so as to become like Him and carry His love and His Kingdom to the world? How?
It’s easy to do if it’s all about us. If we’re looking for truth for ourselves, personal promises like Luanne wrote about, we run the risk of missing the point entirely. The point of not only this particular book, but the whole of Scripture... Jesus Himself. He is the point. Jesus. He even tells us in John 5:39-40, “You pore over the scriptures for you imagine that you will find eternal life in them. And all the time they give their testimony to me! But you are not willing to come to me to have real life!” (JB Phillips)
Thirteen messages that have covered four chapters of our Bible. And ultimately, they all point to the same thing. Jesus. Pastor John summed up the whole series in the quote I opened with:
“Love like Jesus. Offer grace. Sacrifice self. Live like Jesus, in the power of Jesus.
Be. Like. Jesus.”
Dear Church… this is really what it’s all about. Do we believe it? Do we believe it so deeply that our lives revolve around it? Around the person of Jesus and all of His ways? So much that if we wrote a letter to our closest friends, our love and intimacy with Jesus would be the undertone of every line–simply because it’s who we are?
Dear Church… it’s our turn. How, then, will we live?