Making the Best Out of the Worst, part 1 (Philippians 1:12-14)

They say that two things are certain—death and taxes.  But for the Christian there is one thing that we can depend upon—we will go through difficult times.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33).  James doesn’t say “count it all joy IF you go through various trials” but “when you go through various trials” (James 1:2).  Paul was careful to remind his disciples “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)

Of course, the reason Paul said this was because he went through many trials himself.  He had “been there and done that.”  Yet, through it all, he maintained his joy.  Listen to his words to the Philippians in Philippians 1:12-18…

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

You’ve heard of Murphy’s law?  It has been formulated in a variety of ways:

  • Nothing is as easy as it looks.
  • Everything takes longer than you think.
  • If anything can go wrong, it will.
  • If everything seems to be going well, you’ve obviously overlooked something.
  • It is impossible to make everything foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.

Well, Paul might have adopted Murphy as his last name, because in almost every town he entered, he encountered trouble.  Many lesser men would have become soured and scared, and would have quit.

But, you see, one of the surest measures of a Christian’s spiritual maturity is what it takes to rob him or her or their Spirit-bestowed joy.  For many, it doesn’t take much—long lines, whiny kids, being underappreciated or unappreciated.

Yet Satan’s ploy is to destroy our joy.  Why?  Because he knows that the “joy of the Lord is our strength.”

He brings trouble into our lives to try to keep us from maintaining our confidence that God is for us.  He wants to destroy our joy.  Yet, it is vital that you keep your joy.

In this passage, even though Paul was in prison and going through some tough times, he says, “I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice…”

Let’s review just a few basic facts about joy.

First, the joyful Christian is the most attractive witness for Christ.  We have “good news of great joy” to declare.  How can we be “bad news believers” when we have such “good news” to share?

Second, when we truly know Jesus Christ as our Savior and His work for us, joy is a natural (or should I say supernatural) by-product.  In fact, it is called the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).  Thus, it should mark us as believers.

Finally, joy is a matter of obedience.  The Bible commands us to rejoice and to “serve the Lord with gladness.”  C. S. Lewis believed that this command to rejoice was the most disobeyed command in the Bible.  A persistently sad saint is a disobedient disciple.

So “joy up cowboy!”

Here is what Paul will teach us in this passage, and it is a very important lesson.  Paul teaches us here that “joy is a matter of perspective.”  It is a matter of how we view things.

Joy is the settled conviction that God is for us and sovereignly works all things together for my good and His glory.  All things!

The issue that determines our happiness, therefore, is not so much what happens to us as in how we interpret what happens to us.

If we can view every circumstance, no matter how tragic or troublesome, from the settled conviction that God is for us and working everything for our good, then we can breathe a sigh of relief and rejoice.

Joy is a choice, regardless of circumstances.  And joy comes from choosing to rejoice in difficult circumstances.

The key to making the best out of the worst is by focusing on what really matters—the greater realities of God and His love for me, His goodness and control over all things in my life, and eternal rewards.

Now, Philippians 1:12-26 is all one section.  The focus is on the present troubles Paul was experiencing.  It is common in epistolary literature of the time, to follow an introduction (such as vv. 1-11) with a description of what was going on in the reader’s life.

Philippians 1:12-26 tells the Philippians that Paul was still in prison awaiting trial, still somewhat unsure whether he would live or die.  The passage begins and ends with the signal word prokopeo, which means “progress” or “advancement” (Phil. 1:12, 25).  This signal word not only shows the boundaries of this section of Philippians, but also points out Paul’s key concern.

Paul was joyful because the gospel was advancing (1:12-18) and because he might potentially advance into Christ’s presence (1:19-26).

Today and next week we’re going to focus on vv. 12-18—where Paul is describing his imprisonment.  The amazing thing is that Paul’s real focus is less about him and more about the gospel—how it was advancing despite the fact that he was standing still.

In this section, Paul faces two problems—the trouble of chains and the trouble of competition.

The Trouble of Chains

The bad news was that Paul was still in prison.  He had spent 2 years in prison in Caesarea and now nearly 2 years in Rome.  He had been in jail for four years, unable to move around the churches he had planted, OR plant churches in new areas.

The good news, however, is that although Paul was stationary, the gospel was advancing into unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

Gerald Hawthorne in his commentary to the Philippians says it well:

“When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21) and shut away in prison in Caesarea (Acts 23, 24), one could easily imagine that this was the end of his ministry, especially as his imprisonment dragged on month after month (Acts 24:27). But in the providence of God the place of his imprisonment, the Praetorium of Herod (Acts 23:35), and the length of his imprisonment, both served to thrust the gospel up into higher levels of Roman society than it had ever reached before.” (Word Biblical Commentary)

Mike Leake then comments:

What I really love about this story is that Paul is dying to get to Rome—and in the wisdom of God he sends Paul to Rome as a prisoner.  As we are going to learn in the coming days Paul was able to minister to people and places that had he not been a prisoner he probably would have never won an audience.

We so often base our happiness on getting what we wanted…now.  But God in His wisdom and goodness plans other ways to give us our greater joy and it brings Him greater glory.

Now, notice that Paul is not talking so much about his imprisonment.  That is old news and the Philippians were already aware of that.  Rather, he is focusing on the opportunities that this imprisonment was bringing.

Homer Kent suggests

Perhaps Paul had been moved from his hired house (Acts 28:30) to the Praetorian camp or to some place more accessible to the trial scene.

Satan will stop our plans in an effort to spark frustration so that we will gripe and complain rather than rejoice.

But good news shines brightest in bad news situations.

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress (which probably wouldn’t have been written if he had not been jailed), Bunyan was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  He was allowed to preach to his inmates, but when crowds started gathering outside the prison walls, they put a stop to that.  In solitary confinement he penned Pilgrim’s Progress, a treasure to us still today.

Here was Paul’s situation: Although he was still imprisoned and didn’t know whether he would be released, what has happened “has really served to advance the gospel.”  The word “really” or “rather” in some versions, serves to announce that something unexpected has happened!

Far from hindering the spread of the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment was actually helping it; instead of slowing it down, it was actually speeding it up!

Instead of impeding or stopping the spread of the gospel, God was using Paul’s bad circumstances to “advance” the gospel.

Now that word “advance,” which, as we mentioned, comes from prokopos, is a word-picture of pioneers cutting a path before a marching army.

History has shown that “chains” (sometimes even people dying for their faith) has served to advance the gospel. In fact an early Christian writer Tertullian proclaimed that, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The story of Jim Elliot and 4 other missionaries to the Auca Indians portrays this beautifully:

“In the Autumn of 1955, missionary pilot Nate Saint spotted an Auca village.  During the ensuing months, Elliot and several fellow missionaries dropped gifts from a plane, attempting to befriend the hostile tribe.  In January of 1956, Elliot and four companions landed on a beach of the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador.  They had several friendly contacts with the fierce tribe that had previously killed several Shell Oil company employees.  Two days later, on January 8, 1956, all five men were speared and hacked to death by warriors from the Auca tribe.” (Taken from http://www.intouch.org/myintouch/mighty/portraits/jim_elliot_213678.html)

These men never had the opportunity to share Christ with the Auca tribes—at least not with their lips.  What is really interesting to note is that a few years after Jim Eliot was martyred his wife, Elisabeth, among many of the other missionary wives were able to make contact with the Auca Indians and many where led to Christ; in fact it is told that Elisabeth had the opportunity to lead the Indian who had killed her husband to faith in Jesus Christ.  Jim Elliot and those 4 other missionaries where much like the Apostle Paul—pioneers cutting a way before the gospel could march through.

Jim Elliot’s now famous quote sums up well the motivation of those who give their lives (whether in life or death) to the cause of Christ.  In a journal entry a few years before he ultimately gave his life Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

  • Ask yourself today am I giving my life for what I cannot keep?  Or am I giving my life to gain what I cannot lose?  To put that another way—are you living for eternity or for the fleeting pleasures of today?
  • In what areas of your life is God calling you to be a “path cutter”?
  • In what areas of your life is God calling you to advance the gospel after those who have already “cut a path”?

The key to Paul’s joy is that he kept a kingdom perspective.  Instead of focusing only upon himself, he was more concerned about the spread of the gospel.  His joy derived from seeing this and being committed to placing the salvation of others ahead of his own comfort and convenience, indeed ahead of his very own life.  In other words, he made the best out of the worst by remembering what was most important.

Paul then explains in v. 13 how this “advancement” had taken place.

First, the gospel was being declared more broadly.

Paul was chained to a member of the palace guard, and I’m sure they rotated in and out.  This palace guard were the Navy Seals of their day.  They not only had a major influence within the military, but also in political issues.  Also, these very men would be sent out (as missionaries!) throughout the Roman empire to take care of problems and secure goals.

In Paul’s mind, he wasn’t chained to these guards, they were chained to him!  He had a captive audience for several hours a day.  With the potential of 8-hour shifts, Paul could have potentially met with as many as 2,200 of these elite soldiers during the past two years!

Many of them had come to faith in Christ.  We know this because of Paul’s greeting to the disciples at Philippi in 4:22, where Paul says “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”

Now, this may well be another group of people that Paul had an opportunity to witness to, the very members of Caesar’s household, certainly servants and possibly family members.

This was literally a “chain reaction!”

Wiersbe notes:

“Little did the Romans realize that the chains they affixed to his wrists would release Paul instead of bind him!  Even as he wrote during a later imprisonment, “I suffer trouble, as an evildoer (not because he was an evildoer, but as an evildoer would), even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9)

The result is that it had “become clear,” an adjective expressing the idea “known for what it really is” and expresses the notion that Paul’s imprisonment might have appeared at first glance to be truly defeating and miserable, but on closer inspection it had been a gold mine for evangelism.

What we need to do when we go through trials and troubles is to ask God to make it “clear” to us what He is trying to accomplish through it.  Like James encourages, “ask for wisdom” (James 1:5).  The clearer we are on what God is trying to accomplish, the greater our ability to fight for joy.

Paul wanted the Philippians (and us) to develop this same ability to see clearly and to be amazed at how God can use negative circumstances for a greater good.

Throughout history God has been using trials and troubles to advance the gospel.

By Tertullian’s day (about 150 years later) there were so many Christians in the Roman Empire that it was causing problems for Rome and their pagan way of life.

Secondly, we see that the gospel was advancing in that it was now being declared more boldly by others.

Paul says that others had been emboldened by Paul’s imprisonment and his continued urgency to preach the gospel, that “most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:15).

People were being challenged by Paul’s example.  If he could do it, they reasoned that they could do it.

The word “speak” here is not “preach,” but rather in their everyday conversation.  Maybe the Roman citizens knew of Paul’s case and the Christians were using this opportunity to direct them to the good news.

Paul was clearly rejoicing in the fact that neither he nor these people were letting anything stop them from sharing the good news with others.  May you and I be emboldened as well.

Praying for a Smarter Love, part 2 (Philippians 1:9-11)

We are back in Philippians 1 today, looking at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians in 1:9-11.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.

We noted last week that Paul was praying that their love would increase and that it would be intelligent, that it would be boundless, but have boundaries—that we would express it in large measures, but in the right way at the right time for the right reason.

Another verse which expresses this balance is Romans 12:9

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

For love to be “without hypocrisy,” implying that it is quite possible for our love to be hypocritical (self-serving, for example), we have to abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good.  Obviously, even knowing the difference involves a moral judgment, but then we have reject (literally “hate”) what is evil for our love to be genuine, and not let go of what is good, and right.

Far too often in the name of love we have jettisoned what is good and right and true in order to go with the flow of our culture.  But if our love is to be genuine, we have to hold the line on truth and “abhor what is evil.”

Genuine love takes a stand against evil.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:6, love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Love deals with sin because sin destroys people.  Therefore, genuine love must discern sin and bring truth against it.

When love is increasing and intelligent, Paul says it then allows us to “approve what is excellent.”

The word “approve” is sometimes translated “discern,” but this one is a common word.  It is dokimazo in the Greek.  It has the idea of “to test in order to approve.”  It referred to testing money to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit, to test a candidate for political office and Luke 21:56 speaks of testing the sky to discern the weather.

Do you remember how, when you bought a pair of pants, a piece of paper with a number would be in the pocket?  That number showed that the pants had been tested, not to see if they would fail the test, but to prove that they were of good quality.

Paul is praying that they would abound in love and knowledge so that they would make good choices in their daily lives.

We might say that in this case Paul is concerned not so much with whether they can discern good from evil, but the good from the better and the best.  To be able to set proper values on things, activities or even people is not only distinguishing good from evil, but the good from the best.

We want to approve and pursue those things, activities and people that really matter in life, and not live trivial pursuits.

Sometimes Scripture is very clear as to what our priorities ought to be, such as “seek first the kingdom of God” and “Mary has chosen the better part.”  Paul, later in this book, will say, “This one thing I do.”

In order to approve the things that are excellent and do them, we must “renew our minds” through God’s Word so that we can “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2) and “test all things; holding fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

We all face choices in life. Some are crucial, many seem less consequential.  How do we decide?  How can we make choices to do what is excellent, what is important?

Little choices may matter greatly.  Even gray areas can be vitally important for us to make the best choice.

Unless we have this knowledge and discernment guided love, we are likely to make poor, selfish choices of how to use our time and energy and money.

But Paul is praying that their love would ramp up to white hot and also be guided by cool reason and practical discernment so that they make excellent choices in how they will spend their lives.

Since the Bible doesn’t give us clear “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not” in every situation, we need a love guided by wisdom to make the right choices.

Now, Paul’s second request for the Philippians is that they would live an authentic life—that they would be sincere and blameless and fruitful (vv. 10b-11a).

and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness

Paul knew that when people begin to lose their love for Christ, their moral lives begin to go downhill.  Choosing the best in life consistently is that allows us to live sincerely, blamelessly and righteously.

Our English word “sincere” comes from the Latin sine cera, literally meaning “without wax.”  In the ancient world normal, everyday pottery would be thick and not very pretty.  But decorative pottery was thin and therefore could easily crack in the firing or drying process.  Less then honest dealers would fill those cracks with wax and repaint.

Honest dealers would put a sign marking their pottery as “sine cera,” without wax.

The Greek term for “sincere” is eilikrines, a compound word consisting of helios (“sun”) and krino, “to judge.”  When you take something out into the light of the sun it makes it easier to judge whether there are any cracks or smudges.  The sun exposes stains and blemishes in materials, or cracks in pottery, even beneath the wax.

God wants our lives to pass the test of exposure to the light, to the truth.  God wants us to live blameless lives.  The word “blameless” here is aproskopos, meaning “not stumbling.”  God wants us to be able to stand or walk without stumbling, without falling.

It makes a difference both where we walk and how we walk, according to Psalm 1.

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

When we traffic in the ways of sin (v. 1), we are bound to stumble.  Later in Psalm 1 David describes their lives as like chaff, so insubstantial that a breeze blows it away.  But the man who delights in God’s law and consistently meditates on it will be as strong and stable as a vibrant tree.

Now, you and I both know that we sometimes fall.  We do sometimes stumble into sin.  But Scripture gives us clear instructions on how Christians are to deal with their sins.  Although judicially all our sins were forgiven at the cross, relationally we must come to the Father and confess our sins (1 John 1:9).

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Not only are we not to stumble, but we shouldn’t cause others to stumble.  Paul talks about this in terms of the strong not causing the weak to stumble, in Romans 14, by choosing NOT to do things which are lawful to do, but which would damage the conscience of weaker Christians.

Likewise, Jesus speaks of causing children to stumble and how damnable that is.

6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

The reality is that children practice in excess what their parents excuse in moderation.  So watch your life.  Not only do you not want to stumble, but you don’t want to cause others to stumble.

Whereas “sincere” focuses primarily upon our own character, “blameless” focuses more on the result of my character.  Will my life result in blame?

Notice that Paul qualifies this with “until the day of Christ” (cf. v. 6).  He is referring here to the day Christ returns and we stand before the Bema seat to give an account for our lives.  To be sincere and blameless before our fellow man is one thing, but to stand before Jesus Christ sincere and blameless must be our goal and our desire.  This requires more of us.  It makes our choices in life much more serious.

The emphasis here shows that the future coming of Jesus Christ should be much more than a prophetic curiosity, but a truth that has significant impact on how I live my life each moment.  Knowing that Christ may return at any moment and I may have to give an account of my life should lead me to make different choices and live completely committed and pure.

1 John 2:28-3:3 says…

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Christ may appear at any moment.  So every moment I must live as if it were the moment and live so that “when he appears I may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”  Since Jesus is sincere and blameless, and we will be made like him (3:2), we should want to “purify ourselves” (3:3).

So live today as if it were THE DAY.

Paul indicates in Philippians 2:15 that we need to be “blameless and pure” in the midst of a “crooked and depraved generation.”  This means it certainly won’t be easy.  Everything around us will have a great attractional pull on our lives.  It will be difficult to be “blameless and pure” but if we can, we will “shine like stars.”

The third aspect of authentic living that Paul speaks of here is that we would be righteous.  But Paul indicates that this righteousness is based not so much on our own efforts, but in cooperation with and dependence upon God to produce this kind of righteous life.

In three ways Paul emphasizes this dependence upon God.  When Paul says we are to be “filled with fruit” he uses the passive voice, indicating that we are being filled by someone else, not ourselves.

Now, to “be filled” with something is a picture of being controlled by something.  When someone is “filled with anger” or “filled with fear,” it means that anger or fear controls them.  Thus, to be “filled with the Spirit” means to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and here to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness” means that righteousness is controlling our lives, it dominates our lives.

Using the perfect tense here, Paul is indicating that this filling was completed in the past BUT has still continuing results of producing more and more righteousness in our lives today.  I believe Paul is referring to the gift of a righteous life that we received when we were united with Christ.  When we believed in Christ and the Spirit baptized us into Christ, we were united with Christ and received all His benefits.

Thus, His perfect righteousness was credited to our account.  Now, positionally, or definitively, when God looks at believers He sees not their sins, but Christ’s righteousness.  In God’s eyes were stand perfectly righteous.  That is the completed part in the past.

But that righteousness is now manifested in our practical, daily lives—again through faith—as we reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, believing that the Christ who lives in us will live His righteousness through us.

Also, by using the imagery of “fruit” Paul is again emphasizing that this kind of life comes from our connectedness to the source of life.  It reminds us of Jesus’ teaching in John 15 that we cannot produce fruit on our own, but simply through abiding in Christ.

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Every good thing that comes from our lives is produced out of our regular communion with Jesus Christ.  When we fail to “tarry there,” we cut ourselves off from the source of life.  We are like a hose that could produce water, but we have failed to turn the spigot.  But the real power is not in the faucet, but in the vast reservoirs of Jesus Christ.

You’ve heard of Lawrence of Arabia.

After the Great War, Lawrence was in Paris with some of his Arab friends.  He showed them the sights of the city: the Arch of Triumph, the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, and the Champs Elysees, but none of those impressed them.  The one thing that did interest them the most was the faucet in the bathtub at their hotel room.

They spent much of their time in the room, turning the water on and off.  They found it amazing that one could simply turn a handle and get all the water he wanted.  Later, when they were ready to leave Paris and return to the Middle East, Lawrence found them in the bathroom with wrenches trying to disconnect the faucet.

“You see,” they said, “it is very dry in Arabia.   What we need are faucets. If we have them, we will have all the water we want.”

Lawrence had to explain to them that the effectiveness of the faucets did not lie in themselves but in the vast reservoirs of water to which they were attached.  And even beyond that it was the rain and snowfalls of the Alps that produced the water for the reservoirs.

Are you attached to the source of spiritual power, Jesus Christ?  And do you access that power through daily communion with Him?

Now, the end result of increasing and intelligent love and an authentic life that shines with righteousness is that we glorify God.  Paul says all this is “to the glory and praise of God.”

This is the great goal of all of life.  This is what all creation exists for—to bring glory and praise to God.

Adam Clarke says…

“Every genuine follower of God has his glory in view by all that he does, says, or intends.  He loves to glorify God, and he glorifies him by showing forth in his conversion the glorious working of the glorious power of the Lord.”

What an excellent prayer this is!  In our day, when we tend to voice prayer requests for physical needs primarily, we need to follow Paul’s example of putting the spiritual needs of others high on our prayer lists.  Christians still need God’s supernatural enablement to value highly the things of greatest importance as revealed in Scripture.  Only then will we make choices that will prepare us to give a good account of ourselves at the judgment seat of Christ and bring maximum praise and glory to His name!

Praying for a Smarter Love, part 1 (Philippians 1:9-11)

Choices, choices, choices.  We are inundated by so many choices.  From television programs, to food choices, to books, to music.  We have so many choices to make every day and what we need is insight into how to make the right choices, choices that will help us live lives that bring us greatest joy, greatest joy in God—because that is the greatest joy.

Some people don’t take the choices they make very seriously.

And that reminds me, a very important man died about a decade ago.  His name was Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote the song “Hokey Pokey.”  He died peacefully at age 93.  The most traumatic part was getting him into the coffin.  They put his left leg in…and then the trouble started!

Well, here’s the serious question, “What if “hokey pokey” was what life was all about?”

Yet, I think that is the way some people live, as if life didn’t have a purpose, didn’t have any real meaning, so you can just “do the hokey pokey” through life.

In our text here in Philippians 1, vv. 3-11 is all one paragraph.  In this paragraph Paul first explains that he prays for the Philippians with thanksgiving and joy because of his gratefulness for their participation with him in the gospel ministry.

In vv. 9-11 he tells them what he prayed for them.

Sometimes we tell people that we’re going to pray for them, but then we don’t.  Perhaps we forget, or are too busy, or just don’t really pray that much, or maybe we don’t really know what to pray.

This prayer of Paul, as well as prayers such as Ephesians 1:15-18 and 3:14-19 and Colossians 1:9-12 are great prayers for you and me to pray for one another.  These prayers also give us keys to the spiritual formation of God’s people.

Listen to Paul’s prayer here in Philippians 1:9-11:

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so 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.

In this prayer Paul focuses on two strategic things that the Philippians needed in their lives—a love that was abounding (1:9-10a) and a life that was authentic (1:10b-11), with the ultimate purpose that God would be glorified.  That, of course, that God be glorified, is the primary purpose of our lives and therefore the highest purpose of our prayers.

Both of the clauses in these three verse begins with the Greek conjunction hina, which introduces the content of Paul’s prayers.  It almost functions like a quotation mark, introducing what Paul actually prayed.

In other words, if you were to ask, “Paul, what are you praying for the Philippians?” he would identify these two objectives—abounding love and authentic lives.

Now, it is also quite likely that the second objective is built off the first.  In other words, we can only live authentically when our lives are guided by love that is abounding.

So first notice that Paul is praying that their love might be increasing, then notice that he wants their love to be intelligent.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment

The first characteristic of the love Paul is praying for is that it is super-abundant.  It exceeds any attempt to measure it.  It overflows in our lives.  It goes beyond expectation or capacity.  It’s like trying to pour the ocean into a Big Gulp cup.

When he says “your” love he is addressing everyone at the church in Philippi.  He is praying that everyone’s heart would be filled to overflowing with love for one another.  He knows that when love is expressed it is most normally reciprocated.  Thus, your love affects my love and my love affects your love.

Another thing to notice is that Paul is speaking about agape love.  I don’t know if you noticed the New York Life ad in the Super Bowl last week which explained the four Greek words for love—philia, storge, eros and agape.

They said…

“The fourth kind of love is different. It’s the most admirable. It’s called ‘Agape’ – love as an action,” the ad continues. “It takes courage. Sacrifice. Strength.”

Agape love is the willingness to do whatever it takes to serve the needs of someone else, even if they don’t deserve it and even if it costs you dearly.  It is a choice to put another’s needs above your own and to expend yourself—your energy, your time, your concern, your finances, your life—in order to help them.

It is, of course, the type of love Jesus showed to us by sacrificing Himself on the cross.  He demonstrated His love by dying for people like you and me who were “still sinners.”  We weren’t good people; we didn’t deserve it in any way, but Jesus sacrificed His life to save ours.

Now, Paul is not scolding them, as if they weren’t loving.  He’s not pointing out a deficiency in their lives, but rather challenging them to raise the bar and love even more.

It’s like when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes so much that not only did everyone have enough, but 12 baskets were left over.  It was to prove to the disciples that Jesus always had more than enough to provide for their needs.

Many things we need in moderation.  Many things in excess can kill us.  But this is one thing we can never get enough of.

Now, Paul does not ask them to direct their love at anything specifically, although informed by the Old Testament, Paul was probably thinking of love for God first and then love for others.

He is praying for them that they would overflow in love in all directions.

The fire in the apostle never says, “That’s good enough.”  There must be move love, more love,  more love, a ceaseless overflowing of love.

When a person is overflowing with love, it will affect others, just like when a bathtub overflows you can’t fix it without getting wet.  Abounding love is contagious love.

Our love should be like a geyser shooting up to God and like a flood spreading out to others.

Paul further emphasizes this by adding the words “more and more.”

Don’t let your love be under-developed.  It needs to experience compounding growth.

Growing love, always growing, never plateauing—is a key mark of the Christian life and a key indication of spiritual growth in our lives.  When we stop growing in love we stop growing in maturity.

Step one in developing the kind of abounding love is to recognize the gap between your ability to love and God’s ability to love.  Transformation in our lives begins by immersing ourselves in the amazing, extravagant, passionate, unending, unquenchable love of God for us.

Just listen to these verses:

Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

God doesn’t just love you; He likes you.  He rejoices over you and delights in you.  He is your troubadour, singing love songs over you.

1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

John, the apostle of love, is astounded at the “kind of love” that calls former rebellious enemies children.  The Greek is literally “Take notice of the out-of-this-world love the Father has given to us…”

There are passages which call us the “beloved” of God just as Jesus was called the “my beloved Son” at His baptism.  And in the last verse of Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, notice the words of Jesus…

26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus prayed that we would experience the same amount and kind of love from the Father as the Father had been showing His Son throughout eternity!  The Father loves me as much as He loves His Son Jesus Christ!

Let this wash over you, flood over you as Romans 5:5 says.

So our love should flood out to more and more people with greater and greater sacrifice precisely because that is the way we are loved.

Let’s not be like the priest and Levite, whose love was at best a trickle when they ignored the wounded man beside the road.  And let’s not voice the pious “be warmed and be filled” mantra when we have the means to help someone…even if it costs us.

By the way, you will notice that Paul is not commanding the Philippians to increase in their love.  He could have, as he does the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:9.  He is praying for them because He knows that this kind of love is not natural.  It doesn’t come from trying harder to love.  It comes from being filled with the Spirit and basking in the Father’s love for us and meditating on Jesus’ love for us.

So Paul prays that this will be the result of their cooperation with God’s working in their hearts.

Second, not only should our love be increasing more and more, but it should be intelligent.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment

This is the only limit Paul places on their love.  Yes, it is to be boundless, but it must have boundaries.

Some of you remember the 60’s when “all you need is love” and you know what that has led us to!

We know that Paul is not talking about sappy or sloppy sentimentalism because he used the word agape.  But he doesn’t want a sloppy agape either!  He wants our love to be discerning, to be based upon knowledge.

The Greek word for knowledge here is epignosis, a compound from gnosis (to know) and the preposition epi– which serves to strengthen it.  The general consensus is that it means something like “full knowledge” or “exact knowledge.”

It is the kind of knowledge that comes not only from careful study or experience, but from revelation.  It is a deep and personal, intimate knowing.

Of course, God wants to be known like that (as He knows us).  And it is in knowing God more and more that our love for him grows.  Likewise, our love for others grows because of our willingness to get to know them on a deeper and deeper level.

Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage shows why these two facets are both important:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial.  To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.  But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.  It is what we need more than anything.  It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

But notice that Paul is not talking about being known and loved as the recipient, but rather knowing and loving as the active agent.  Like God took the initiative with us, so we are to take that initiative with others.

The other discipline which must guide our love is “discernment.”  This is the only time this word shows up in the New Testament but in the Septuagint in occurs 22x in the book of Proverbs.  It has the idea of “moral discrimination” or “ethical judgment.”

In Proverbs discernment is the skill that allows us to navigate between life’s question marks.  People slumbering through life have no ability to distinguish between right and wrong, truth from error, good from bad.

“Discernment” is what allows us to make the best choice, the right choice, out of many options.

Discernment is developed by having our senses honed through consistent study of God’s Word.  The author of Hebrews says…

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Paul knew the danger of an undiscerning love. He rebuked the Corinthian church that seemed to glory in their “love” and “openness” which lacked any sense of knowledge and discernment (1 Corinthians 5:1-7).

The Corinthians apparently thought it was the loving thing to allow this man to continue in sin.  Paul says that they should deliver this man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5b)

Paul was making a judgment that the kind of love they were showing this man was the wrong kind of love.  Love also rebukes and disciplines.

But notice that even in this dire case, Paul’s ultimate goal for this man was loving—despite the potential that his life may end, he wanted his “spirit…saved.”

What our culture touts as the highest virtue today is tolerance.  Of course, what is meant by this word is “you must turn a blind eye to anything wrong in me [you can’t even call it “wrong”], but I can hate you without remorse.”

Paul says that our love must be discerning.  We can be socially tolerant in that we can treat people with respect and honor, even if we disagree with them or even if they are living in sin, but we cannot be rationally tolerant of what goes against truth.

The mood today is that if you are critical of anyone’s doctrine or personal life, no matter how unbiblical it may be, you are not loving and you are arrogant to judge this person.  Jesus’ words, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1) are wrenched out of context and misapplied.  If people would just keep reading, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6).  How can you determine if someone is a dog or swine if you don’t make discerning judgments?

A few verses later He warns us to beware of false prophets who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).  It takes a discerning sheep to see that this isn’t a fellow-sheep whom we need to embrace, but a ravenous wolf we need to avoid!

The kind of love Paul is praying for is both increasing and intelligent.  It is boundless, but discernment guides its expression so that the outcome is for the genuine best of the other person and not necessarily what feels good.

May our love grow and be smart!

A Warm-Hearted Affection in a Cold-Hearted World, part 2 (Philippians 1:3-8)

Last week we were looking at Paul’s declaration of his joy in praying for the Philippians.  We noted how Paul’s relationship with them was warm with affection and genuine love.

I think all of us yearn for at least a few relationships in which we take great joy in one another’s affection and love and partnership.

So last week we noted three principles for developing warmer relationships:

The first principle was:  focus on the best and forget the rest. It is difficult to have warm feelings for someone when all you think about are their faults and failings.

If those cannot be overlooked, then they need to be talked about and resolved.  But most of the time, our thoughts towards others should be on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy.

Believe me, when you’re in a conflict with someone, it takes discipline to turn your mind to positive qualities in your opponent.  We naturally bring up all their faults.  But Paul shows us that we need to focus on the best and forget the rest.

The second principle for warm, affectionate relationships is to pray for others.

Prayer for others can change them, and change us as well.  When we pray for others, thanking God for the good qualities we see, and praying that God would fill them with love and the knowledge of His will (1:9-11), then our relationship will definitely grow stronger and warmer.

The third principle is to minister together.

Nothing creates camaraderie like working hard together on something vital.  We noted soldiers in World War II and the story of the Fellowship of the Rings by Tolkien as examples, both real and fiction, of the deep bonds that men experience in wartime or on an important mission.

One of the best ways to draw close to someone is to get involved on the front lines of ministry with them in the battle for the souls of people.

Today we want to look at three more principles for growing closer to friends or family.  But let’s read these verses together first:

The fourth principle is to be patient with their progress.

6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Verse 6 is perhaps people’s most favorite verse in this opening section.  Paul says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

All of us are in progress.  Paul was in progress, the Philippians were in progress.  Every Christian is in progress of becoming more like Jesus Christ.

John Bunyan, of course, wrote the famous Pilgrim’s Progress showing the dangers Christians face on life’s journey.

Actually, we can either be transformed and become more like Jesus, or deformed and become less like Jesus.  The choices we make each day determine the direction of our “progress.”

Paul, however, is not hesitant in affirming his confidence that the Philippians were making good progress towards Christlikeness.  He knew that they were “saints” by calling and that God would make sure that they complete the process.

The way the Greek expresses it, Paul’s confidence had begun and was now continued.

Paul was not only patient with their progress, but he expressed his confidence that what God started He would finish.  Paul’s confidence was less in them than in the God who was at work in them.

And this is what we can be confident of in others—that God is at work in them.  And what He has started, He will finish.

Paul’s confidence was not in their faithfulness, but in God’s goodness.  He had started a “good work” in them, which reminds me of Genesis 1 and every time God created He pronounced it “good.”

They are not yet all God intends them to be, but having begun that “good work” in them, He will complete.

In the context, Paul was assuring the Philippians that the work of the long-term fellowship of the gospel that God had begun in them would be brought to glorious consummation when Christ returns.  Though Paul was in prison, he was absolutely confident that the good work of their gospel partnership would succeed gloriously.

The fellowship of the gospel in Philippi began individually with God’s sovereign choice of Lydia as the first convert in Europe.  Of Lydia, Luke writes, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14).  God chose Lydia in Christ before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:4).  God had begun his “good work” in her, and her salvation was part and parcel of the great work in Philippi.  God’s sovereign initiative and sovereign faithfulness would see them both through to the end.

Notice that God is the starter, the continuer, and the completer.  As he will express in Philippians 2:13, the spiritual life is always a matter of responding to God’s initiative, every step of the way, from justification to sanctification to glory.

My salvation is by God’s gracious initiative in choosing me; my present sanctification is by God giving me both the desire and power to do His will in my daily life, and my future completion will be all because of God’s amazing grace!

As I reflect on my fifty plus years in Christ it is indeed God who has kept me.  It is not my grip on God that has made the difference, but his grip on me.  I am not confident in my goodness.  I am not confident in my character.  I am not confident in my history.  I am not confident in my “reverend” status.  I am not confident in my perseverance.

But I am confident in God.  I am confident in this word to Lydia and to the jailor and to all the saints in Philippi — and to me: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 6).  This is a promise for every man, woman, and child who turns to Christ, and it is a promise for the great fellowship of the gospel!

So when we look at others, we can be patient with them because they (and we) are still in process.  I can remember that old saying, we saw in sometimes on bumper stickers, “Please be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.”

But we can also look at others with confidence.  What God has started, He will finish.  He doesn’t leave projects half done.

The question, of course, is: “Has God made a start in your life?”

He wants to.  If he has, have you responded?

If you have responded in faith to God’s gracious provision of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ, then a “good work” has already begun in you, a work that no one else can take credit for, but because God has initiated it, He will complete it.  You can be sure of that.

What this means is that Paul entrusted the Philippians growth into God’s hands.  This has two great benefits:

  • First, it takes the pressure off Paul (and any minister) to make sure his followers “get it” and make it to the finish line. God is the one who makes that happen.
  • Second, it removes any space for pride on the part of the Philippian converts. All of us make it to the finish line only because of what God has done in our lives.

Now let’s look at a fifth principle for developing deeper, warmer relationships:  Look forward to being with one another.

In vv. 7-8 Paul bares his heart to the Philippians:

7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Did you notice all the words of feeling? Of affection?  Paul was not afraid of feelings, and he wasn’t afraid of expressing his feelings.

For years we’ve been taught the image of the train from Campus Crusade—that the engine is facts, the car is faith and the caboose is feelings.  The point of the illustration is that we are not to depend upon our feelings, but on the facts and put our faith in the facts.

However, the unintended message of this illustration is that feelings are not important.  Jonathan Edwards and John Piper would certainly disagree.  Although they refer to them as affections, it is true that few of us do something that we don’t want to do.

Thus, in the gospel, we are given facts to believe in, but our heart is opened up also to fall in love with Jesus Christ because we see Him in his sweetness and supremacy and satisfaction.  As Jesus expressed in the gospels, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Here Paul acknowledges that because they had served alongside him in gospel ministry (though sometimes from afar), it was “right” for him to “feel this way about you all.”  These feelings are the appropriate response for their camaraderie in the gospel.

The word “feel” (phronein) is a Greek word that spans both thoughts and feelings, both the heart and the mind.  Thus, not only does he feel joy and confidence in them, but he will mindfully express that through his prayers in vv. 9-11 that they will have a “smart love” that brings glory to God.

The phrase “hold you in my heart” again emphasizes that the Philippians didn’t just come to mind on a whim, but that Paul disciplined his mind to consistently think about them and put them in his heart.  This phrase is very similar to “because you were very dear to me.”

Because Paul held them in his heart, his inner person, he is saying, “You are a part of me; you’ve been woven into the warp and woof of my deepest being, my heart.”

The “grace” that they share in is the grace of participating (same word as in v. 5), together in the gospel ministry.   As we’ve noted, when you’ve been through the fire of ministry together, you feel strong and deep bond.  It knits you together.

The “grace” that Paul mentions in the middle of v. 7 is not the grace for salvation, but the grace for suffering.  Proof of this can be seen in 1:29 where the verbal form of charis (“grace”) is used: “For it has been granted [graced] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

Paul then says that “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”  Paul is using a strong word that expressed intense longing.  Just like Jesus deeply longed to share Passover with His disciples one last time, so Paul deeply longed to be with them.

It was a longing that came from deep within—the word “affection” is literally “bowels,” the Greek word splangxna.

But these are the affections “of Christ Jesus.”  He longed for them on the same level of intensity as Jesus longed for them.

Paul longed to be with them.  He looked toward to the time when they would be reunited.

Some people think they can do without church—they can watch TV preachers or listen to them on the radio or internet—and they can give financially to various ministries.  But the problem is that they are missing something very vital.  They miss the very essence of church by not availing themselves of the supportive fellowship there.

Charles Spurgeon was once visiting a man who had not been to church for some time and expressed how he thought he really didn’t need to be in church.  Spurgeon pulled a red-hot coal out of the fire with the poker and set it aside, away from the other coals, without saying a word.

It didn’t take long for the red-hot coal to become grey and then smolder.  The man nodded, understanding the meaning of this visual parable, and said, “I’ll be in church next Sunday.”

Several years ago, studies were conducted among former American POW’s to determine what methods had been the most useful in breaking their spirits.

Findings revealed that it was not physical deprivation or torture that broke them down as quickly as they did from solitary confinement or the disruption of friendships caused by frequent changing of personnel.

They drew their strength not from their loyalty to country or faithfulness to their cause, but rather in the close attachments they had formed with their fellow comrades.

It’s one thing to attend, another to look forward to attending—to having great expectations of the joy you will have in seeing friends, serving alongside them, worshipping with them and listening to and obeying God’s Word together.

If you don’t belong to a church fellowship, I encourage you to get involved.  Come try out Grace Bible Church.

Finally, if you want deeper, warmer relationships at church or in your family or with your friends, don’t be afraid to voice your affections for one another.

Paul was not hesitant about voicing his deep “affection” for them.  He didn’t fear impropriety.

Paul was moved inside whenever he thought about the Philippians.  They meant a lot to Paul.  His affection for them was deep and real.  He genuinely loved them.

The genuineness of Paul’s affections for them is reinforced by calling God as witness.  Paul used this convention to establish the fact that what he said about his affections for them was absolute truth.

Paul wasn’t afraid to express his affections.

Now, this is difficult for our culture, but especially for men.  We are not used to voicing our feelings.  Most of the time we cannot even name our feelings!

But this is one thing that will improve your relationships, not only with your wife and children, but with other men.

Let me ask you this:  Have you voiced your affection, your love for someone this week?  This month?

Our church would grow much warmer if you did.  Your marriage would improve if you did.  Any relationship with deepen if you did.

For years I’ve been asking the congregation at Grace Bible Church, “What kind of church do we want to be?”  I’ve trained them to answer, “An ‘I love you’ church.”  Then I tell them that I love them.

Last year, after having seen several expressions of love I’m instead asking, “What kind of church are we?”  Sometimes it takes awhile for love to become a deep part of the culture in any relationship.

Don’t give up.  Keep at it.

For any love to be genuine, it has to be the “affection of Christ Jesus.”  It is only as we bask in the abundant, amazing love of Jesus Christ for us, that we then have the security and power to go out and freely and genuinely love others.

The love we are to have is a genuine devotion, like Romans 12:10 says.

This world can be a cold, cold place.  It needs churches that express warm, deep affection for one another.  If you are dying inside, then pursue a relationship by focusing on the best, praying for that person, getting involved in ministry together, being patient and confident with their progress, looking forward to every interaction together, and expressing your affection for them.

A Warm-Hearted Affection in a Cold-Hearted World, part 1 (Philippians 1:3-8)

Just watch the news for a few minutes and you’re bound to come face-to-face with some pretty grisly, stomach-turning news—from shootings, to pedophilia, to terrorists beheading captives, to immorality proudly displayed.

While, for the most part, we can turn off the TV or pocket our phones and be shut off from the reality of these terrible events, but Paul was not so fortunate.  When Paul penned his letter to the Philippians, it was a pretty cold, hard, brutal world.

You’ve heard of Nero.  Well, Nero’s mother murdered her own husband.  Her ambition was to rule Rome through her son, Nero.  But Nero had his own ambitions.  He moved his mother out of the country away from the center of power and when she allied herself with the younger Brittanicus, Nero had him assassinated and then later had his mother clubbed to death.

He divorced Octavia and had her executed.  His new mistress he kicked to death.

Then, when in A.D. 64 fires broke out in the Circus Maximus and quickly spread through the city, Deo Cassius reports that Nero watched Rome burn while playing his lyre.

When it died down he spent excessive amounts of public funds building a huge palace.  When he started to come under suspicion as an arsonist, he found a scapegoat in the new sect called Christians.

In Rome Christians were being wrapped in fresh animal skins and fed to wild animals.  Others were crucified, burned or impaled.  Around A.D. 67 both Peter and Paul were executed.  Nero eventually committed suicide in A.D. 68.

When Paul penned Philippians in A.D. 61 it was already evident that Nero was cruel, brutal, hateful and unpredictable.  This had a chilling affect on the whole empire.  It was a “darker, colder place.”  When Paul talked about living in a “crooked and depraved generation” (2:14) he wasn’t exaggerating!

It is remarkable then, that in this epistle, but especially in chapter 1, vv. 3-8, there is a breath of warm affection and genuine compassion.

There Paul says…

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Can’t you feel Paul’s passion and pride for the Philippians.  They had helped him before through their generosity and Paul is brimming over with affection and love.  In these few verses he thanks God for them and their partnership in his ministry.

This is a very personal, heart-felt thanksgiving from Paul for the Philippians.  There are several principles here which show us how to increase the warmth of our relationships and our churches.  I want to focus on six principles that will help you better enjoy the people in your life.

Are you ready?

The first principle is this:  focus on the best and forget the rest.

Paul begins verse 3-5 by saying that every time he thought about them (remembrance), he gave thanks to God for the good things he had seen in their lives.

Pleasant memories are a choice.  That is why Paul, in the conflict situation between Euodia and Synteche in chapter 4, we tell them to concentrate on things that are true, and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely, and commendable, excellent or praiseworthy (4:8).

You have a choice:  you can focus on the negatives you see in someone, or you can focus on the positives.

When Paul says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” in 1 Corinthians 13:8, that is only possible if we focus our minds on the positives.

I talk about this in premarital counseling.  Of all the couples I’ve married, almost every one of them has been opposite personalities.  Why?  Because we are drawn to someone who has strengths where we are weak—structured people marry spontaneous people, talkative people marry quiet people, spenders marry savers.

We do that because God in the beginning made Eve to complement Adam, to “fill in the gaps.”  So we are drawn to someone who has strengths where we are weak.

But inevitably, those very qualities that you saw so endearing while you were dating, become sources of frustration after you are married.  Now, “she’s always late.”  “He never tells me when he’s going to invite someone over.”  Or, “she never shuts up.”  “He never talks to me.”

In marriage, and in all relationships, we have to realize that other people are not weird, they are just wired differently than we are.

The key to making relationships work is to accept that you are different, affirm the strengths God has given the other person, and adjust your interactions so that you can play to their strengths.  If you do that, they will likely reciprocate and adjust to your strengths at times too.

Paul could think of some very positive things about the people in Philippi:

  • He could remember the conversion of Lydia and her hospitality.
  • He could remember God’s deliverance of a demon-possessed slave girl.
  • He could remember the jailer’s conversion and his medical care.
  • He could remember how the Philippians had sacrificially provided finances for his ministry in Thessalonica, just a few weeks after he had been chased out of Philippi.
  • He could remember how the Philippians had supported him while in Corinth.
  • And now, they have sent Epaphroditus with a gift.
  • And it was not just their gifts that he appreciated, but their hearts of love for him that motivated them to give.

Paul not only focused his thoughts on the positive things, but he gave thanks to God for them.

The quickest way to change your thinking about another person (and to change your relationship with them) is to start thanking God for that person.  Whenever a negative thought pops up in your mind, start thanking God for them and the good things you see in them.

Paul enjoyed people.  God wants us to enjoy one another, not endure them.  He doesn’t want us to just be nice and civil to someone, but to genuinely love them.

So start focusing on the good in others.

That doesn’t mean that we ignore problems.  We will have to deal with relational conflicts.  We need to “speak the truth in love” and sometimes confront a person with their sins.

But we don’t need to dwell on the negatives.  Confronting someone will be more effective if we can affirm the good we see in them before presenting their misbehavior to their attention.

When negative things happen between people—and they do happen!—deal with it immediately.  Work toward forgiveness and reconciliation.  But all the while keep focusing on the best that you see in them.  Remind yourself: “He is a saint; God has been working good things in her life.”

So, let me ask you:  What do you tend to remember about people?  Do you have pleasant memories?  Pleasant memories are a choice.  If you’re going to really enjoy people, you’ve got to focus your mind on the good and eliminate the bad.  Focus on the best and forget the rest.

Or, do you have a joy deficit in your life because you have a tendency to focus on the negative?

Change your thinking.  It’s your choice!

The second principle for warm, affection relationships is to pray for others.

Verse 4 tells us the context of Paul’s thanksgivings—it was in the midst of the prayers that he prayed for the Philippians.  Intercession is praying for others and this is what Paul regularly did.  Whenever he thought of them, he prayed for them.

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (Phil. 1:4, NIV)

In your Bibles underline the words “all,” “all,” and “always” in verse 4, and go back to verse 3 and underline “every.”

Let’s highlight four things from this principle:

  • First, notice the intensely personal nature of his prayer. These are “my prayers…for you.”  They came from Paul’s heart and were specifically directed towards them.  These were not general “bless them all” prayers, but were very personal and focused and specific.
  • Second, the constancy of Paul’s prayers for them is picked up in the words “always” and the Greek present participle for “making” prayer. It was a continuous activity in their behalf.  Paul said to the Thessalonians, “pray without ceasing” and the adverb there depicts a “hacking cough.”  So like an asthmatic or someone with a bad cold, Paul was consistently praying for them throughout the day.
  • Third, notice that no one is excluded from Paul’s prayers. It was for “all of you.”  Not even the troublemakers at Philippi were excluded from Paul’s prayers and thanksgiving.
  • Fourth, the spontaneity of his prayers is indicated in that he “always pray[ed] with joy.” Paul didn’t view intercession as a chore or duty to get through, but a sheer delight.  He enjoyed praying for them.

Now, I have to tell you.  When you start to pray for someone, and you do it like Paul did—specifically, continuously, inclusively and with delight, someone is going to change—either the person you are praying for or you…or both.

That is what makes prayer such a powerful force for increasing the warmth of love and affection in a church, or a family, or a workplace.

Paul realized that one of the best ways to improve relationships and increase relational warmth within a church was to regularly pray for them.

The primary responsibility of spiritual leaders in a church is to be continuously involved in the “word and prayer” (Acts 6:4).  The greatest impact leaders can have on the level of warmth and growth at Grace Bible Church will occur through prayer.

So let me suggest that you make a list of all those you want to deepen your relationship with and begin praying habitually for them, for God’s love and God’s will in their lives.  Thank God for the good things you see Him doing in their lives.

Joy delights in seeing God bless others.

If there is one thing that is clear in these verses (not to mention the rest of the book), it is that Paul is a happy, joyful Christian.  His present circumstances looked less than promising, but Paul was jubilant and joyful.

John Piper has written many excellent books, but one that changed my life is, Desiring God: The Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.  Piper’s thesis is that it is not wrong for a Christian to experience great pleasure in this life, so long as his pleasure is in the right things.  To take pleasure in God is a good thing.  To take pleasure in one’s fond remembrances of a dearly beloved church is a good thing.

Now let’s get to the third principle which will help you better enjoy the people in your life.

And that is, enjoy ministering together for the gospel.

Verse 5 signals for us the cause (not the word “because”) of Paul’s joy-filled prayers for them “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

Their partnership with him in the ministry of sharing the gospel with others was what gave Paul great joy.

This word “partnership” is koinonia.  It represents a joining together for a cause.  In this case, it was Paul and the Philippians working together in the gospel ministry.

Of course, Paul is referring to the financial gifts that the Philippians had sent to him in Thessalonica, Corinth and now Rome.  They had been amazingly generous, even when they couldn’t afford to give.

But in a broader sense Paul saw them as genuinely and actively with him whenever he shared the gospel with others.  They played a vital part in his ministry, equal to what he was doing.

He didn’t view them as passive or insignificant, but vital partners in the gospel ministry.

When theologian Broughton Knox was serving as a young chaplain in the British navy on a ship preparing for D-day and the invasion of Normandy, he noted that the minds of all hands on board, regardless of rank, were focused on the invasion’s success. No one thought of his own interests, but only on how he could help his shipmates in their commonly shared task.  He says, “I remember noting in my mind how I had never been happier” (Tony Payne, ed., D. Broughton Knox, Selected Works , Vol. 1 (New South Wales, Australia: Matthias Media, 2000), p. 58).

After the invasion and return to England, everyone noticed a difference in the atmosphere on ship.  It was still friendly because it was a well-run ship.  But several of the sailors, sensing the difference, asked the young chaplain why things had changed.

Knox reflects, “The answer was quite simple. During those months that preceded and followed D-day, our thoughts had a minimum of self-centeredness in them.  We gave ourselves to our shared activity and objective. . . . Once the undertaking was over we reverted to our own purposes, as we do normally” (Ibid)

Broughton Knox was, of course, reflecting on his ship’s experience of the fellowship that people experience in pursuing a common goal. Human friendship is a wonderful thing, but fellowship goes beyond friendship. Fellowship occurs among friends committed to a common cause or goal and flourishes through their common pursuit of it.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring rides upon this reality.  The fellowship of the Ring is made up of individuals of disparate origin and ridiculous diversity that exceed any of our ethnic or social differences: four hobbits, tiny beings with large, hairy, shoeless feet — Frodo Baggins and his friends Merry, Sam, and Pippin; two men, warriors of the first rank always dressed for battle — Boromir of Gondor and Aragorn, son of Arathorn II, King of Gondor; one wizard, Gandalf the ancient nemesis of evil and a repository of wisdom and supernatural power; an elf, Legolas, from a fair race of archers of the forest with pointed ears; and a dwarf, Gimli, a stout, hairy, axe-wielding creature from the dark chambers under the mountains.

The nine members of the fellowship bore few affinities.  The elves and the dwarves were like the English and the French because both had an unspoken agreement to feel superior to the other.  However, the nine very different individuals, bound together by their great mission to defeat the forces of darkness and save Middle-Earth, became inseparable and their covenant indissoluble.  The man Boromir, despite his lapses, gave his life for the hobbits.  And the elf and the dwarf came to form a great friendship, so great that Gimli was inducted into an honored order reserved only for elves.

This is the deep kind of partnership that brought Paul great joy.  As he thought about the Philippians, he thanked God for them and prayed with joy for them because they were his partners, his comrades.

This brought Paul joy not only because they were partnering with him, but because what they were doing was very significant.  They were involved in the “gospel,” in bringing the good news of Christ’s victory.  God has intervened and won our deliverance from sin and Satan and death and now reconciles us to himself through Jesus Christ.

For Paul, the gospel was not merely a proclaim with liberating content, but a real power that liberates its readers.  It itself brings the power to change people’s lives (Romans 1:16).

One of the things that brought Paul such great joy was the constancy and faithfulness with which the Philippians had stood by him—“from the first day until now.”  From the moment of Lydia’s conversion to the latest gift sent through Epaphroditus, the Philippians had been loyal to help Paul through “thick and thin,” through successful times and hard times.

If you’re not actively involved in gospel ministry with someone else, get involved.  Enlist!

One of the best ways to draw close to someone is to get involved on the front lines of ministry with them in the battle for the souls of people.

Uncommon Servants and Unlikely Saints, part 3 (Philippians 1:2)

So far in Philippians we’ve seen that if you want to experience real joy, you have to submit yourself to Christ’s lordship as “slaves” of Christ Jesus, live in the reality of your true status as “saints” in Christ Jesus, and you have to position yourself relationally with others so as to honor them.  Today we get to Philippians 1:2, where Paul blesses the Philippians with a fairly familiar salutation:

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is saying here that another foundation for joy is experiencing and remembering the grace and peace that come from God.

This is the most familiar formula of greeting from Paul.  He always places grace before peace and acknowledges that they do not have their source in this world or within ourselves, but in God.

It was common for Greek letter writers, or even in public, to start with the greeting xaipein.  It was almost like our hello.  But Paul infused it with much deeper theological significance.

Grace and peace are more than mere greetings: they are two of God’s greatest gifts through the gospel. Grace (God’s unmerited favor or undeserved lavish blessing) and peace (restored, non-hostile relationship with God) come only through Christ’s self-sacrificing work on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.

Paul was also combining a Greek greeting (“Grace!”) and a Hebrew greeting (“Peace,” shalom).  Perhaps Paul combined the Greek and Hebrew greetings to show that in Christ there is no distinction between Gentile or Jew.  We are all one in Christ.

When Paul begins his greeting with “grace to you” he expressing the idea, “May you experience the great gladness of receiving undeserved favor from God, freely given to us not because we deserve it or could earn it, but simply out of God’s sovereign joy in bestowing it—because He wanted to!”

Grace is, quite simply, God’s unmerited favor, shown to those who actually deserve His judgment.  If you earn it, it’s not grace, but a wage that is due.  God’s grace is extended to the ungodly who know it, not to those who think they’re deserving (Rom. 4:4-5).

God’s grace is the only way to be reconciled to God. If you think you deserve a place in God’s kingdom because you’re a pretty good person, you don’t understand and have not laid hold of God’s grace.  If you think things are right between you and God because you do good things for others and try to live a clean life, you have not grasped God’s grace; you are, in fact, alienated from God.

God resists the proud (those who think they’re deserving), but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). The only way to receive God’s unmerited favor is to see yourself rightly as an undeserving sinner and call out for His grace. If you don’t know grace, you don’t know God!

Grace is what allows us to come boldly into God’s presence, to the terrifying throne…of grace.

Romans 5:2 says that because we’ve been justified by faith we “have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…”  This means that believers live in an atmosphere of grace.  We are surrounded by grace in every interaction with our Lord.  He never treats us as if we deserve something—good or bad—but lavishes every interaction with grace.

Peace is the result of experiencing God’s grace.  The order is important: You cannot know God’s peace without first appropriating His grace.  Where God’s grace is lacking, peace will also be in short supply.  Peace points to the inner well-being that comes from being reconciled to God through what He provided in Christ.

Romans 5:1 says

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is peace with God (Romans 5:1) and the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).  Justification by faith secures the first and supplies the second.  We do have peace with God and we can have the peace of God.

Peace with God means that although we were formerly enemies of God—rebels against His will, spitting in His face with our sins—through the cross God has been reconciled to us and we are urged to be reconciled to him through faith.

Through the cross once enemies are now made friends.  Ephesians 2:14-16 proclaims:

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 says…

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

So although our sins had hid His face from us, through the cross God is reconciled to us and through faith in the gospel we are reconciled back to God.  Thus, now we are closest friends.

But we can also experience the peace of God—a calmness and wholeness—in our daily lives.  Anxiety can be replaced with that sense of calm and serenity that comes from the heart of a God who is never pacing back and forth, never wringing His hangs wondering what this world is coming to, but is in total control.  We’re not in control; but God is.  When we rest in that truth, we can experience peace.

Now, Paul includes no verb here.  In our minds we supply the word “be,” “grace be to you and peace…”

But I like the way Peter puts it.  He begins both his letters, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Paul would be very happy with this verb.  It’s what he means when he says thirteen times, “Grace to you and peace.”  The verb behind be multiplied is used twelve times in the New Testament and always means increase — move from lesser to greater.

John Piper references seven important implications in these words for our lives, that I just want to quote today.

  1. Grace and peace are experienced.

Grace and peace are not only the objective status we enjoy before God. They are also the experiential enjoyment of that status. It is gloriously true that God made an objective peace between him and us by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:14–15). And he did it by a historical act of divine grace that was firm and unchangeable (Ephesians 2:8).

But Peter says that grace and peace are “multiplied” to us. They are not static. They are not only a status. Peter is offering to us, and praying for us, that we experience an increase of grace and peace.

He does not mean that God is variable, as if he were a gracious God some days and not others. Nor does he mean that the objective status of peace between us and God comes and goes. If we stand in the unshakable grace of God (Romans 5:2), and if we are reconciled to God in unchangeable peace (Romans 5:1), then what is multiplied to us is an increased and deepened experience of grace and peace. This reality is not simply status. It is the overflow of status in serenity, strength, and sweetness.

  1. Grace and peace vary in measure in our lives.

That is what the word “multiply” means. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” May there be an increase of grace and peace in your experience. Grace and peace are not static. They go up and down in our lives.

Hour by hour, and day by day, our enjoyment of grace and peace changes. It ebbs and flows. One moment we are carried by a wave of grace into a harbor of peace. An hour later, after a painful phone call, we are storm-tossed out of sight of land again. That is reality. We need to own it and seek continually to receive the gift of these words: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” New measures for new moments.

  1. There is always more grace and peace to be enjoyed.

Paul and Peter never assume your present experience of grace and peace cannot or should not be increased. They assume the opposite. They do not say, or imply, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you, unless you have all there is to have.” You never have all there is to have. That’s why this prayer is at the beginning of every letter. You always need more grace, more peace.

Since Paul doesn’t use a verb (“grace to you and peace”), you might try to water down his meaning to something like: “I pray you are now enjoying grace and peace.” No increase implied. You would try in vain. The word “to you” implies movement. Grace and peace are on the way. More is coming.

With Peter, there is no doubt what he means. He assumes we need more grace and peace. And we do. In this life we will never be able to say, “I have arrived. I have all the grace and peace I can use.” No you don’t. If there is more coming, you can have more. And you need more.

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The Christian life is not static. It is movement. We are growing in grace and peace, or we are going backward.

Real life in a fallen world is a river. You go upstream with growth, or you go downstream. There’s no standing still. Your anchor is not straight down. It’s in heaven (Hebrews 6:19) — the headwaters. And it is pulling you in.

  1. Grace and peace are multiplied by God.

Peter uses the passive voice, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” The implied actor is God. We are stewards of “God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace does not just happen, it comes from God. “God gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Peter’s prayer is that God act. “May God multiply grace to you and peace!”

  1. Grace and peace are multiplied by God through human means.

If God did this multiplication without respect to human means, Peter would not say these words. They would be pointless. He says them because he believes his words are God’s means of multiplying grace and peace.

We need to see this truth because of how common it is today to think of grace only as unconditional. There is unconditional grace and there is conditional grace. Paul speaks of those who are “chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5). That grace is unconditional. God’s election is not a response to conditions we can meet.

But there is grace that is a response to conditions we meet: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). God responds to humility with more grace. Humility is a condition of receiving this grace.

Of course, humility itself is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). But the fact that “God is at work in you to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) does not lessen your responsibility to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, to say that receiving some grace has conditions does not mean we are left to fulfill the conditions by ourselves. “Command what you will, and grant what you command” (St. Augustine).

But it is a serious mistake to bring in the doctrine of justification at this point in a way that says, “Christ fulfilled the conditions of God’s blessing, so we don’t have to.” Christ performed some conditions in our place — namely, the ones necessary for God to be 100 percent for us in spite of our sin. But when he died, he also obtained for us the gift of the Spirit by which we fulfill other conditions for multiplied grace and peace. That is what Peter and Paul are praying for.

  1. One means of multiplied grace and peace is prayer.

The unique thing about a spoken blessing is that it is bi-directional. It is addressed both to man and God. When we say, “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), we are asking the Lord (vertically) to bless you (horizontally). So it is with Peter’s words, “May grace and peace be multiplied (by God) to you.” God is being addressed. And the church is being addressed.

And these words are not spoken in vain. Peter speaks them because he believes they matter. They are a means of bringing about what they aim at. They aim at more grace and more peace. So Peter believes that asking God to do this work will in fact be an instrument in bringing it about. God answers prayer. We should believe that too when we say these words over ourselves or others.

  1. Another means of multiplied grace and peace is the epistle these words introduce.

It is astonishing that Paul begins every letter with some form of “grace be to you,” and ends every letter with some form of “grace be with you.” To you at the beginning. With you at the end. This pattern is unvarying. Why?

My suggestion is that at the beginning the letter is about to be read. And in being read, grace and peace will come to us. The letter itself — the word of God — will be the means of multiplying grace and peace to us. Then, at the end of the letter, Paul sees us leaving our encounter with the word and going out into the world, and he prays that grace go with us.

Peter confirms this understanding. In 2 Peter 1:2, he says explicitly that grace and peace are going to come “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). In other words, not only am I praying for grace and peace to increase, I am writing a letter to give knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as kindling for the fire of this increase.

God always has more grace and more peace for you to experience. He has appointed that you experience it “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” He has inspired Scripture to bring you this multiplied grace and peace. Therefore, to experience these overflowing increases of grace and peace in your life, give yourself to this book. And as you listen to him, pray.

Now, it is important for us to realize that Paul was not thinking merely individually about this experience of grace and peace, but that it was a corporate outpouring of grace and peace that would meld them together.

Paul writes that the grace and peace are not from him, not from the world, and not from themselves, but from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, it would have been pleasantly startling for Paul’s readers to have received a greeting like this from God.

It is even more startling for us today, in light of what we know about Paul’s monotheistic Jewish heritage, to see Jesus functioning in the same capacity as the father.  Both of them, according to Paul here, are the authors of the grace and peace for the Christian.  Thus there is at least the implication, in light of the ease with which Paul allows the statement to flow from his monotheistic pen—unencumbered—that he regarded Christ as deity as well.

O, that we would celebrate and honor and praise one another like the three persons of the Trinity, never worrying about whether we “get ours” because we trust one another and know that it really doesn’t matter.

Grace and peace are such powerful theological truths that they give us the confidence we need to relax and allow others to get the credit or get their way.  They allow us not to have to cling to titles or rush promotions, not to need applause or demand our way.  Rather, they allow us to experience the joy of having settled confidence that God will fulfill His promises and purposes and rewards in our lives.

When we experience grace and peace from God, we can express grace and peace to others.

Through the New Covenant, we now have God as our Father and Jesus as our Lord, and they are continually multiplying grace and peace to us.  That is good news!

End Notes

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/may-grace-and-peace-be-multiplied-to-you

 

Joy on the Frontlines of Ministry, part 2 (Acts 16:16-40)

Last week we began focusing on Paul’s first interactions with the people who would be the core group of his church plant in Philippi.  We saw that Paul’s first convert there was Lydia.

Not long after the conversion of Lydia, Paul’s team was again meeting at the place of prayer.  Notice that although Lydia had opened her home as a meeting place, they were still taking the gospel to the marketplace, to places they would find unbelievers.  It had likely become known as a place where people were eager and open to hearing the gospel.

Here Paul encounters another obstacle—a demon-possessed girl who could tell fortunes.  So we read in Acts 16:16-18

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  And it came out that very hour.

You realize that whenever God’s church begins to advance against the gates of hades, Satan is moved to attack.

This girl “had a spirit of divination” (in Greek, a “python spirit”), a demon, and that made her useful to her owners.  She started following Paul and his team around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you that way of salvation.”

Although there was nothing incorrect about what she was saying, she was throwing the attention upon the men rather than the message they were preaching.

It is obvious here that Satan can use the truth, bend the truth, in ways that suit his purposes.

Paul became “greatly annoyed,” possibly more out of concern for the welfare of the slave girl than because it was causing problems for them.

Notice that he didn’t speak the gospel to her like he had spoken to Lydia, but rather he commanded the spirit to come out of her, and it did.  This had to occur before she could hear and respond to the gospel.

This passage shows that the early gospel ministry involved speaking the power of the gospel to people so that they can repent and believe, but it also involved speaking against the powers of darkness, to free people from their enslavement to Satan.

Now, we could spend a lot of time discussing the mechanics of casting out demons.  Suffice it to say here that Paul does not address the spirit by name, but merely says, “In the name of Jesus come out of her” and it did.

Whether this is a formula to emulate we’re not sure, but this incident at least helps us realize that spiritual warfare is real, spirits can and do inhabit unbelievers, and the key part of casting them out involves speaking to the spirit “in the name of Jesus” (for that is our only real authority) and then telling it to “come out.”

This act of liberating a spiritual prisoner, however, only caused Paul more problems.

By the way, we can probably assume that Paul now had another convert to his fledgling core group for the Philippian church—another woman, but this time one with significant spiritual baggage and no money.  Luke, who is careful to point out the significant contribution of women in his own gospel, is careful to point out that the first two converts of the Philippian church were indeed women.

From purely human standards, at this time in history, this was not, however, a promising start.

Then notice what happened next.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

Unfairly charged, Paul and Silas were “inflicted with many blows” (which the NIV and NLT translate “severely flogged” and “severely beaten”) and then thrown into prison.  You have likely seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and you know that flogging is much more severe than any whipping your father ever gave you!

If you’d been flogged, you had a really bad day!

The Greek text doesn’t emphasize the severity as much as the amount of blows—“many.”

It would be hard to smile through the tears that welled up in your eyes.  It would be hard to sing while stifling cries of searing pain.  It really would make joy a real spiritual discipline, at that moment.

This was not the first physical abuse Paul had experienced.  He had been stoned earlier in Lystra.  But to be “severely flogged” would have caused significant physical damage to his body.  This wasn’t headaches or back problems or a common cold that was getting him down.

But, this was the first time Paul would be thrown into prison.  Certainly not his last.

His first thoughts might have been, “God, how could you do this to me?  Did I misread Your will?  Now how can we plant a church here in Philippi?”

But it is here we see a defiant joy beginning to take root and bear fruit in Paul’s life, for there in the dark, dank cell, swollen and bleeding, hurting with very breath taken, they “were praying and singing hymns to God” (16:25).  The first Christian concert in Europe was taking place.

Starting around midnight, the Greek text indicates that they kept on singing and praying.

Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” and these men were strengthening themselves in God by verbally rejoicing in God in the midst of very difficult times.

With every stinging, pain-filled breath they offered “the sacrifice of praise” to God.

When do you think our praise means more to God—when we offer it out of a life filled with God’s blessings and opportunities, or when we sing through gritted teeth and sob-filled voices, lifting arms that have been torn and smashed?

I think we know, don’t we?

Harry Ironside, in his Lectures on Philippians, reminds us…

“The world is watching Christians, and when they see Christians shaken by circumstances as they themselves, they conclude that after all there is very little to Christianity; but when they find Christians rising above circumstances and glorying in the Lord even in deepest trial, then even the unsaved realize the Christian has something in knowing Christ to which they are strangers.”

Since we have just recently celebrated Thanksgiving, it might be helpful to understand what the Bible teaches about thanksgiving.  Obviously, we are to avoid grumbling and complaining like Israel did.  Paul will even remind the Philippians about this issue in when he says in 2:14, “do all things without grumbling or questioning…”

But are we to be thankful for all things?  Even the bad things?

Scripture requires us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But there’s a but: Paul says to be grateful “in” all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances. Perhaps we are not required to be grateful for hard times, just to find a way to be grateful in them.

Apparently not.

In Ephesians 5 we find this command: “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). Not “in” but “for.” “Always” (pantote) for “everything” (panton).

Taken together this means that whatever we are going through, we can and should give thanks for everything that happens to us, knowing that it is God’s will for us.

Peter told us that suffering for doing good can be God’s will.  In 1 Peter 3:17 he says…

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Paul knew that this was part of God’s calling in his life, this suffering and pain.

God said of Paul, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). There could be no greater privilege for a Christian. But this privilege would come at a high price: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (v. 16).

If there had been a better way for Paul to reach the Philippian jailer, God would have planned it that way.

Joy is a settled state of mind that causes us to rejoice because we are confident in God’s promises and purposes.

Though suffering, Paul was confident he was doing what God had called him to do and that God’s promises had not failed him.  Therefore, he could rejoice.

Rejoicing is the action and joy is the attitude.  Sometimes, maybe often, we have to act ourselves into an attitude.

Well, as a result of their faith-filled, joy-filled praise, there was suddenly a violent earthquake (16:26) and “immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.”

The jailer suddenly awoke and immediately assumed the worst—that everyone had escaped and his goose was cooked!

Paul assured him that they were all still present and the jailor immediately came to him and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Now, he might have simply meant, “how do I get out of this jam,” but it’s also possible that he recognized this as a divine moment with more significance than mere physical survival.

At least, that is how Paul took it.  He took it as an invitation to share the Gospel—again, very simply and straightforward, saying, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

That is all that God requires of us—simply believing in Jesus Christ.

Of course, that goes against our fiercely independent nature and our pride.  We want to have something to do with our salvation.  We feel like we have to “earn it.”

But salvation is not based upon our obedience, but rather Christ’s obedience.  He lived a perfect life of obedience and then died in our place so that God’s wrath would consume Him and not us.  He asks us simply to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.

What does it mean to believe?

Well, back in the late 1800s a man named Charles Blondin stretched a tight rope across Niagara Falls—1,100 feet across and 600 feet above the water.  He then proceeded to cross from one side to the other—sometimes blindfolded, sometimes balancing on one leg of a chair and eating his breakfast.  One time he came across to the Canadian side having carried something across in a wheel barrow.

He then asked if they believed he could carry a person safely across.  Having seen him do numerous feats they all said that he could.  He then asked, “Who wants to be the first one in the wheel barrow?”

You see, faith is not just knowing that it is possible to be saved, but fully resting in Jesus’ ability to save you.  He cannot remain a Savior; He must be “my Savior.”

Like Lydia, his heart was opened up to be able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Golden-tongued Chrysostom, in his Homilies declared…

“… ‘the prisoners’ chains were loosed, and worse chains were loosed from himself; he called for a light, but the true heat was lighted in his own heart’ (Chrys[ostom]., Hom [ilies]., xxxvi).

Now, some make a point that Paul calls upon this man to believe in “the Lord Jesus Christ” and that salvation only comes to those who not only believe that Jesus died for their sins but submit themselves to His Lordship.

Paul is not calling for some act of obedience on the part of the jailer to be saved, but merely calling him to acknowledge who this Jesus really was…that He is “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Having offered salvation to this man and his household, Paul then goes to the jailor’s house and “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”

So Paul is not baptizing infants before they have an opportunity to believe, but preaches the gospel to them and then baptizes those who believed.

Notice the order of vv. 32-33

32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

What amazes me is not the preaching of the gospel prior to baptism—that is normal—but rather than Paul preached the gospel to the jailer’s household and then he got treated for his wounds.

Not only is this an evidence of the hospitality of the jailer (as with Lydia earlier in the chapter), but it shows how Paul put the spiritual welfare of others ahead of his own physical needs.

And notice the specific reference to joy in the response of the jailer, “he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

Joy is the supernatural outflow of a life that has been touched by the grace of God.

To the Thessalonian church Paul wrote (1:6), “you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus said something similar in his parables when he says in Matthew 13:44

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

A truly converted man or woman joyfully sacrifices anything and everything to gain the glorious gospel, to embrace the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Later Paul revealed a trump card that he had not played to get out of painful torture—that he really was a full Roman citizen.  As a result, the city officials asked them to (please) leave, and they did after meeting with the brothers and encouraging them (16:40).

So the Philippian church was born and Paul had the stretch marks to show that it had been (at least for him) a painful delivery.

In some respects it was not promising—two women and a jailer—along with households.  Paul wasn’t able to stay very long to ground them in discipleship.  But because it was God’s will for the gospel to invade Europe, God was sovereignly bringing key people to Him and establishing a solid core group that would allow a church to be born and grow there in Philippi.

So what can we learn from Paul in this church planting venture in Philippi?

When one team falls apart, but together another one.  If God has called you, He will bring people together for your venture.  Be ready to share your cause and if it is compelling and God-centered, others will join.

Don’t get frustrated by foiled plans and fumbled beginnings.  Again, if God has called you, trust Him to complete the work He has started.  Paul expresses this confidence in Philippians 1:6.

Be open to changes in your plans.  Be flexible enough to receive and adopt new guidance from God and make changes to the plan.  When circumstances seem to be closed against you, remember to seek God more earnestly.

See beyond the pain to the purpose.  It’s easy for us to see that, in Paul’s case, God was working toward the jailor’s conversion through Paul’s flogging and imprisonment, but it was probably not so obvious to Paul at the time.  Nevertheless, Paul had grown enough in his confidence of God to know that—although he could not see it—God did have a purpose and plan behind the pain and therefore he could praise God through the pain.

I hope we can learn and adopt these responses in our own lives.