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Unshakeable Joy

January 22, 2023 Preacher: Ben Layer Series: Various Messages

Topic: Joy Scripture: Philippians 1:1-30

Sermon Text: 

A few years ago one of my daughters said to me, Dad, today while you were preaching you said that that chapter is your favorite. But, I know that in the past you have said that Romans 8 is your favorite and that Psalm 139, 1 Cor 4.

Oh, yeah.

Well, we are going to have to add to that list Philippians 1.

This is such a wonderful chapter. Paul opens up and is transparent to his beloved readers. He tells them about his suffering. He is suffering greatly. So much so that he says that he would rather die.

It is helpful to hear about other Christians suffering, it reminds us that we are not alone.

But this is not a chapter just about suffering. It is a chapter of joy. This short letter is known for it’s focus on Joy.

Doesn’t that sound interesting? A chapter that has two main points – suffering and joy?!?

Let’s get into it.

The first 11 verses are a bit of an introduction. Paul expresses his great love for the church in Philippi and some of his prayers for them.

Then from verse 12 he gets autobiographical – talking about his suffering.

Then for the last few verses he gives them some commands.

“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.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

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. 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.

 

The Advance of the Gospel

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 selfish ambition, 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.

 

To Live Is Christ

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

 

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

 

A baker bakes, a sailor sails, a farmer farms.

Who you are - affects what you do.

At the beginning of these letters, we see that Paul wants to clearly talk about identity.

In Christianity, our actions flow out from who we are.

It is essential that we have a clear understanding of who we are - that we know our identity.

Paul introduces himself in the first verse. "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus."

Servants?!? This is the word he chose?

I don’t think there are many people in the modern world who would choose that word to start their introduction.

We often hear people introduce themselves as Director, Manager, Executive Manager, Team leader, CEO. Doesn’t it seem like every single job has an impressive title? Are there even any secretaries any more? We now have Executive assistant, There are no more assembly line workers. We have Production technicians.

 

Who in the modern world would introduce themselves like Paul does. “I’m a servant”

In the first verse, right from the beginning, we read something shocking.

But actually our translation doesn’t help us to feel how actually shocking this word is.  

because the word clearly means, "slave."

In Greece in the first century, the difference between being a free man or a slave was incredibly important. This was the first and most important factor to determine the status of person.

One man is a free man – another is a slave.

Paul wants everyone to understand from the very beginning that he is not free. His life does not belong to himself. He was bought with a great price. He is one who is under authority. He has a Lord over him. Paul does not decide for himself, but gets orders from the Lord.

The words of the Bible matter. The word Slave in verse one is worth meditating on.

In the very same verse we find the extremely important word Saint.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi”

The word saint means “set apart” There are all the people of the world and then there is a category of those who have been set apart. They are set apart for God, to be His special people. They have been purchased by Jesus Christ. They are not common, they are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but they are set apart because they are sons and daughters of God. And we will see that they are set apart for a purpose, for a mission. They play an important role in God’s plans.

Paul goes on to express his love for the congregation in Philippi and his prayers for them.

In verse 7 He says, “I hold you in my heart”

Paul planted this church. He knows these people. He was the one who shared the good news with them, he is their teacher and Christian father. They love Paul and Paul loves them.

In verses 3-4 he assures them that he regularly prays for them.

“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”

And he doesn’t just pray generally, we see in verses 9 and following specific prayers. As you pray for your loved ones, let us take the time to pray not just generally, but for specific requests. These, that Paul prays for would be wise to use as our example.

Let’s take a few minutes to look at his prayer for them in verses 9-11.

As I read it, please notice the progression. He wants love in their hearts, which is going to have an affect on their minds, which will affect their actions and that all is going to help prepare them for the day they stand before the Lord.

Let’s look -

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,

with knowledge and all discernment,

so that you may approve what is excellent,

and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ,

to the glory and praise of God.”

 

It all starts with love.

They already have this love. He doesn’t pray that love would be given to them. At the moment of new birth we are given a new heart. One aspect of this new heart means that we now love things we didn’t love before. We have Jesus’ heart in us, we love things that he loves and we hate things that he hates.

However, apparently, at the moment of new birth that love of God that is poured into us is not perfectly mature. Paul is praying that it will increase, mature, grow. He writes, “that you love may ABOUND – then he adds, more and more.

 

Did you ever notice that some modern Christians treat Christianity is a kind of stoicism. That what we are to do as Christians is have fewer passions. Get less worked up about things.

Paul does not want their hearts to be less moved. He wants their affections to be much greater. A greater love. a greater tenderness.

His prayer for them is not only a greater love, but also a more mature love. “your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”

Oh, discernment.

He wants us to know what to love and what not to love.

The current culture acts as if love is always good and hate is always bad. But, it’s not that simple.

Let’s say that there are two women. Woman one feels hate right now and woman two feels love right now – which woman is righteous?

Well that depends. It depends on what they are hating or loving.

“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Hating is not always bad. Loving is not always good.

This prayer is very interesting. Paul is praying that they love more – have greater passions. But, also that these passions become more mature.

He is praying that what they love will change.

This is such good news for us. What you love today, what you like today, what you prefer today, doesn’t have to be what you will prefer, like or love for the rest of your life. Paul is talking about things that are even more fundamental to who we are - than our minds.

My actions flow out of my mind, and fundamental to being a Christian is a renewal of our minds. But, Paul here is talking about a change that is at an even deeper level.

Let's say a particular child only likes French fries and ketchup, he doesn't eat anything else. That's not good, not healthy. We should hope that one day the child will have the discipline to force itself to eat some vegetables, dairy, meat. But that is not our ultimate goal.

We want the child to one day enjoy eating vegetables, dairy and meat.

As we train up our children, we don’t want them to just obey the standard, we want them to love the standard.

Our preferences, our tastes can change and in many cases should change.

We too quickly give ourselves an excuse, “reading theology isn’t for me, It’s just not my cup of tea”

Going to a small group, isn’t really my thing.

Ok, fair enough.

But, there is good news in this chapter. The things that are very deeply engrained us – can change.

Ok, but the progression goes on.

“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”

Love will effect discernment, discernment will lead to a change of behavior, so that on the day when they stand before Christ they will be FILLED with the fruit of righteousness.

So far we have seen a three step progression, a change of heart, which leads to a discerning mind. This discerning mind will cause a person to change how they use there tongue, hands feet, there very life. They will use up their time, talents and very life, for the things that God loves.

What a beautiful thing! An entire life changed by new loves in the heart.

However, This changed life is the penultimate goal.

There is one more step in the progression.

Please look with me at verse 11

“filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

From the day of your new birth, to the day that you stand before your Maker, you will be gloriously transformed. Not just on the outside, not just your actions, But from the inside out. Your heart, your mind, your actions,

And who will get the glory for all of this beautiful transformation? The one who is responsible for the transformation.

Is there any habit in your life which you feel can never change. You have seen it in your parents, it has been in your life now for more than 30 years. You feel completely helpless to change it.

God can change sinners, God does change sinners. Only God can do it. And only He will get the glory.

That is way Paul was not just preaching and writing to the Philippians, He was praying.

Dear God, change them, do what no one else can do.

And may your name be praised for your work. May you get all the credit. All the glory.

God is at work in your life – brother and sister – He is making you beautiful, for your good, and for his glory.

 

Now in the next section starting in verse 12 Paul explains that this glorious work that God is doing in and through is people is painful for the people. God’s work in and through Paul is nothing less than suffering.

“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.”

He says, My arrest and imprisonment have caused the gospel to advance.

His focus is on the positive fruit. But, as we are reading it, we can’t help but notice the difficulties involved.

Notice verse 17.

“The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” There are people inside the church – I don’t know if they are born again or not – they are using Paul’s imprisonment as something they can use for personal gain and cause Paul and his reputation harm.

Let me put myself in that situation. I am the pastor of a church and have been arrested because of my faith. And some of the people I have been ministering to, see my arrest as an opportunity for them to discredit me and lift up themselves. That would be quite a blow.

Please look down at verse 23 “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

Have you ever been this low? At a place when you think, I don’t know if it’s better for me to live or die?

All of his plans have come to a complete stop. He’s been arrested.

This is the setting in which Paul writes this letter.

 

He says in verse 18, “I rejoice, Yes, and I will rejoice!”

I want that.

I want whatever Paul has.

 In great suffering, plans being ruined, he rejoices.

Let’s look at it.

He immediately points out that there are two good fruits from his arrest: he now has access to guards that he would not otherwise have had. These people have now heard the gospel. Secondly, his arrest has caused other men in the church to proclaim the gospel more boldly.

This helps us to begin to see a key to Paul’s joy. The ultimate goal of his life is not his personal comfort, but the building of the Kingdom of God.

Paul’s goal is the spread of the Gospel. His life’s mission is that Christ’s name be known and lifted up.

There is a direct link between Paul’s mission and Paul’s joy.

CS Lewis wrote, do not let your happiness be based on something that you can lose.

Beloved, God is building His church and He will build his church. If you commit your life to this mission, the spread of the Gospel, the lifting up of Jesus Christ, then you can find joy both is times of health and sickness, both is times of wealth and poverty, in times of fellowship and loneliness.

Let’s look at verse 20, “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

His hope is absolutely unshakable.

He has complete confidence, that Christ will be lifted up – either through his further life, or through his death.

And since Christ being lifted up is his goal – He can rejoice.

I can imagine that someone could respond by saying. Yeah, but I’m not an apostle, I’m not a church planter. Paul’s life is spreading the kingdom, through his death the kingdom will be spread. But, I’m just an average Christian. This passage doesn’t really apply to joy in my life.

I would respond by saying, that the both the Old and New Testaments clearly show that God loves to young, the unknown, the weak, the sick – those that no one would expect Him to use.  

His Kingdom will be built not through a handful of giant heroes in a handful of heroic acts. No, the kingdom of God is built through millions of unknown Christians.

There are two institutions that God has ordained to build His Kingdom: the family unit and the local church.

Of course it is a glorious thing when two young Christians leave their parents and plant a new Christian family. Of course it is a glorious thing when a small group of Christians plant a new church.

But, for most of us, we are already in a family, we are already in a church. And the primary way that we can give our lives for the building of God’s Kingdom – give our lives so that Christ will be lifted up - is to pour ourselves into our family and into our church. Give up your life, spend it, pour it out, for the good of your family and your local church.  That is how His Kingdom will grow.

It is glorious when a husband takes upon himself the responsibility of leading his family. It is a glorious thing when a wife takes upon herself the responsibility of following the lead of her husband. It is a glorious thing for parents to take upon themselves the responsibility of education their children and training them up in the Lord.

These are not “little, unimportant, acts” They are world-changing.

No local church is perfect, but we are called to choose a local church, submit to the elders there and pour ourselves into that congregation.

What Paul says about himself, "to remain in the body is for your sake a more necessary thing."

It is not only true that great Christians like apostles are necessary, every member of the body of Christ is essential to the health of the body. 

You

Your family needs you.

Your church needs you.

Commitment to family and local church are the foundations of the Christian life and in these seemingly mundane and unspectacular commitments we join ourselves to the goal of the church of Jesus Christ across all the continents and across all the centuries.

We can have all confidence and say together with the Apostle Paul, “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

 

It is not true that suffering is unbearable.

Senseless suffering is unbearable. Suffering for no purpose is unbearable.

But, Christian’s have the ability to bear suffering with an inner peace and joy that will always confuse those around us. Because we know that our suffering has a purpose. It will be used by God, either in our own sanctification or for the good of His church in general.

We know that He loves us and He would not allow suffering in the lives of His children if He did not have a good reason for it.

Ok, so we have made it through two of the three sections in this chapter: the introduction, then autobiographical sketch of joy in suffering.

Let’s take just a couple of minutes to look at the third and final section.

In verses 27-30 Paul gives them a command.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

HE doesn’t just say – stand firm, be steadfast. He says stand firm – together!

We as Americans can be too independent. Link arms with your brothers and sisters in the faith and stand firm – together.

 

At the beginning of this verse we have a phrase that sounds like a heavy burden placed on us, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”

It’s possible that someone could read that and think, “this means I have to pay God back for all He has done. He has paid a great price so I have to make it worth His while.”

That is not a helpful way to understand that phrase. The phrase walk worthy means, “walk in a manner befitting the gospel of Christ.”

Live as if the gospel is true. Don’t just say that you believe the truths of the Gospel. Live it out. Live a life that is consistent with the things that you say you believe.

Since you have been adopted, and your Father is all powerful, wise and loving – live as if that is true. Since you are a saint – set apart to be used by God for His purposes and His glory – live as if that is true. Let us not just say that we believe the gospel. There must be a consistency between these truths and our daily habits, our emotions, our thoughts.

Look at verse 28

“and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”

What a verse!!!

Notice the word, “clear sign”

What is this “clear sign” to them of their destruction?

The fact that we are not frightened is the sign.

“not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign”

The fact that we have a rock-solid peace and joy in the midst of suffering.

Imagine that you are watching a battlefield just before a battle. On one side there are only 100 soldiers on the other side there are 5,000 soldiers. However, if you look closely, the 100 soldiers are laughing and telling jokes, and happily eating the sandwiches their wives packed for them.

As the two sides begin to draw near, the side with only 100 soldiers is so confident, so peaceful in the face of this battle that the soldiers in the army of 5,000 begin to think, “Do they know something that we don’t know?”

Yes, the answer is yes.

We belong to a God who fights for us. We are not alone, we are not orphans.

Paul gives us an example of how we are to go through difficulties. “Not frightened in anything”

The world will notice our peace and possibly think – why do they have that deep peace and joy – when it looks to me like they are in a bad spot?

There’s a figure in church history, Athanasius of Alexandria, he was born in the third century. He held to the correct understanding of Christ, that Jesus is at the same time completely human and eternal God. In those days, the heresy of Arianism, questioning the trinity and divinity of Jesus, became very popular.

They told Athanasius, "the whole world is against you." This declaration didn’t change anything. He just continued to teach the truth. He isn’t well known today, but if you have heard of him, there is one Latin phrase that he is known by, “Athanasius Contra Mundum," Athanasius against the world.

If the whole world is against Athanasius and his view of Christ, then Athanasius is against the whole world.

Let us go out into the troubles of this world with a deep and stable peace, because we belong to Almighty God. May our peace be obvious to those who are watching us.

And let us conclude with verse 29

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,”

It has been granted to you. That means it has been given to you. Two gifts. For the sake of Christ two things have been given to every Christian.

That you believe in Him and also suffer for his sake.

If you believe today, you may not be aware that it is God who has poured this faith into your heart.

But that's why God gives us His word, to reveal things to us that we wouldn't otherwise know. The faith you have, you have because of the fact that it was given to you.

And also the suffering you have, it too was given to you.

There is a significant strand of Christendom that tries to twist the entire Bible so that neither faith nor suffering comes from God.

But Paul rejoices in suffering - why?

Because he believes that not only healing is used by God, not only wealth is used by God, not only those who are strong and powerful are used by God.

But our God is a God who uses sickness and poverty as well and health and riches.

Paul rejoices that his suffering is not senseless. Paul rejoices that he is being used. For a great purpose. He is being used by God.

“what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel”

What we read in the first verse of the chapter is crucial for us to understand this chapter.

Paul looks at his life in such a way that his life does not belong to himself.

A common perspective of the world today is that the world around me exists for me.

The money, the house, the job, the food, my spouse, even my children - everything goes toward the ultimate goal of my life, my happiness - that I would be fulfilled.

In great contrast to that, is the perspective that Paul lays out in this chapter.

That the house, the job, the money, even my health, my body, my time, my talents, my strength - They belong to me and they do not serve me, but they are all to be used belong to our Lord and are to be used for Him.

Brother and sister

You don’t exist for one little personal goal.

You belong to the church, the body of Christ. You have been called out from the world to have the privilege of taking part in this eternal plan which serves a glorious great purpose.

Give your life to this purpose and you life will not be wasted, none of your suffering will be wasted.

Let us rejoice together with our brother Paul that we are slaves of Christ, and we live, suffer and die for the glory of our Lord.  

Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters around the world. And

Let us pour out our lives for the Glory of God Alone.

Amen

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