Friday, April 15, 2011
Last week we looked at the outline of this passage, and we said that the first four verses of this chapter are one sentence, centered around the phrase, “complete my joy.” That is the organizing idea of this passage. Now we’ll look at some encouragements of Paul toward the accomplishment of that idea.
What encourages you to live the Christian life even in the hardest places? Where do you go when you are looking for help or encouragement in those hardest places that God calls you to live life in a manner worthy of the gospel?
Paul is giving the Philippians incentives, motivations, and encouragements in order to deal with fairly common problems in the Christian church. Paul is addressing pride in the Christian church, which has brought some division amongst the Philippians, harming their joy. Paul is not satisfied to over look this common church problem. He is fighting for their joy, he says, ‘Philippians, we’re taking that sin on!’ Because over and over the Scriptures make clear that it is Christ’s intention that our joy would be made full in the Christian life. Not that there would be an absence of trials; in I Corinthians, Paul says that when the Holy Spirit comes with poverty increases, afflictions increase, but joy abounds! The opposite of the “health and wealth” gospels. The Christian life doesn’t mean that all your other problems go away, and therefore you’re happy. It means that in the midst of all your problems, joy increases.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad congregation! They’re young Christians, and they are ready to be persecuted for Christ. This is a young congregation, but they are a Christ-loving congregation. They deeply value the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are awash with the sense of the glory of God’s love shown to them! They are a Bible-believing congregation. They didn’t grow up in good Hebrew homes learning their catechisms and memorizing Scriptures, but they have devoured the Bible from the preaching of Paul and his comrades in the gospel ministry. They care deeply about people coming to faith in Christ, and they’re ready to send people to the ends of the earth in order that people would come to faith in Christ. And they’re a generous, giving congregation, even though they’re poor. But they’ve got some problems, which bring division. And the root problem they have is pride.
The Bible says that pride is a master sin. It leads to all other kinds of sin, and as best as I can tell from Scripture, there is no sin that God hates more than pride.
Paul is in a fight for their joy and it entails a fight against sin, against pride. Later, Paul is going to tell us what they key to a life of gospel joy is: a God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and onto others. This week we will look at what Paul wants gives in verse 1: four incentives for seeking, experiencing, and expressing that joy in your Christian life.
First, Paul says that every Christian experiences encouragement because of union with Christ. Our union with Christ is an encouragement to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel. It is an encouragement to seek, to experience, and to express this dangerous gospel joy that Paul is speaking about here.
Secondly, Paul asks if you have experienced consolation, comfort from the love of God in Christ. If there is any comfort in the love of God in Christ [and there is!], then shouldn’t you comfort your fellow believers with the same comfort you’ve received? Every Christian has received consolation that flows to him from the love of God, and we ought to be expressing that consolation to others.
By the way, in saying these two things, the Apostle Paul has already told us two other things:
First, God never asks you to give something that He has not already given. He asks you to do that because He’s already given you a comfort that’s greater than any void of comfort in human relationship in His comfort.
Second, God never tells you to do what He himself has not already done.
Third point: Paul says that every Christian knows a fellowship, a shared life that is created by the Spirit’s work of the new creation. He’s asking the Philippians if there is any participation in the Spirit, if there is any fellowship, if there is any family belonging that results from the Spirit’s work in you [and there is], then ought you not to be promoting fellowship in the body of Christ in the same way that the Spirit worked to bring you into His family?
Final point: Paul says that every Christian has experienced the love and compassion that is freely and divinely given to those who are in Christ, and so he asks if there is any affection and sympathy, if you have experienced the affection, the love, the tender mercy and compassion of Christ, then shouldn’t you respond to God’s love and mercy by showing the same love and mercy to your fellow Christians? Forgiving when you’ve been wounded? Loving when you have not been loved? Serving when you have not been served? Responding with kindness when you have been dealt with in bitterness and anger? Dispensing mercy when you have been dealt with unmercifully? Giving justice when you’ve not been given a fair shake?
Paul is asking you to stand back and realize what God has already given to you. And when you’re asked to give in hard places, Paul is asking you to go back and realize the treasures that God has already given to you. May God grant that we live in joy, in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ because of the encouragement that God has given us in His love, the comfort that He has given to us in His salvation, the fellowship that He has given to us in His Sprit, and the mercy that He has shown us in His Son.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:34 PM