Our Joy, Unity & Mission
Pastor Jon Hueni | January 24, 2021
Pastor Jon Hueni | January 24, 2021
Scripture reading – Acts 16:11-34
Please open with me this morning to Philippians. We're beginning a new series today on this little letter to the church of God at Philippi. Our scripture reading has already told us how the gospel first came to this leading city of Macedonia, which is present day Greece. And it tells us of some of the first converts to Christ there that made up that infant church plant. Lydia, that seller of purple and her family. That demon-possessed girl that was set free. And then that jailer and his household. And that was the beginning of the church at Philippi and it held a unique place in the heart and love of the apostle Paul as from the very beginning they financially supported Paul in his mission. And so 10 years later when these folks at Philippi heard that Paul was in prison, they sent help once again to him through one of their own leaders, Epaphroditus. And along with their gift from the church Epaphroditus brought news of the church. And Paul is now writing back from his Roman prison to thank them and to instruct them. Follow along as I read the first 11 verses from Philippians 1.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.
Fourteen years ago we worked our way through this little letter verse by verse. That is not my plan this time. Instead I just want to hit highlights of this book. I'm calling it "Lessons from Prison". In the letter Paul addresses a variety of topics, but at least 3 major themes stand out...joy, unity, and the mission.
Joy. Some have even called this letter the epistle of joy. Indeed, joy is the triumphant note that runs throughout. Back in the 17th century about 100 Godly pastors and Bible scholars met in London at the Westminster Assembly to come up with a statement of faith and a catechism for the saints to use...to teach their children, to grow in knowledge themselves in the great truths of the Bible. Question number one of the shorter catechism...What is the chief end of man? The main thing, the main goal, the main purpose for man, for mankind? Answer: To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Joy is at the heart of what we were created for. The enjoyment of God, who is Himself the fountain, the source of all true joy. And when our race forfeited that joy by sin, God's purpose in sending His Son to save us is that He might be glorified and that we might be joy-i-fied... if I can put it that way. For His glory and for our joy. That our joy in Him might be restored, starting here and now, and then perfected, unmixed forever, as " in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures evermore".
Now we've had a lot of attacks on our joy this past year. And indeed this is part and parcel of life on planet earth, isn't it? There are many joy thieves. Many joy killers. Joy killers, kill-joys. And it's hard to rejoice in hard times. But if we'll learn, we'll find it's not impossible as Paul will show us. In fact God's words in this letter are calculated to instruct and to feed our joy, and to bring us to rejoicing in the Lord always. It's a big word, isn't it? Always. Every day. All day. Not pretending with a painted smile, but really rejoicing from our hearts in the Lord. I'm wanting, and I'm needing an extra dose of this joy food in my life right now. Maybe some of you, due to the pandemic, are taking extra doses of vitamin C, and vitamin D, and some zinc. Just to strengthen your immune system and to combat the virus. Well, the apostle Paul is giving us some vitamin J to combat all that might steal our joy in days like these.
But another major theme of this letter... secondly... unity. Unity within the local church, but unity with ALL the people of God, the true saints. There were cracks in the unity in the Philippian church. Epaphroditus had come and no doubt told him of them. And Paul treats them seriously. He addresses both the problem and the solution, and the vital importance of unity in the family of God. He'll teach us both the basis of our unity and the practice of it... practically. How to practice it. Indeed the very first verse takes up this theme of unity. Maybe you missed it, but he says, "Paul and Timothy, the servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi". Here's the basis of our unity. It is our union with Jesus Christ. You see by faith in Christ, I have been united to Christ. I am in union with Christ, never to be separated.
But I'm not the only one. All who are in Christ, all the believers, all the saints, are in Christ with me. And that's the foundation of our unity. And we need to start there. Our union with the same Christ is the foundation of our unity together. We're all joined to each other because we're all joined to Him. And as we live out of that union with Christ we will enjoy union with each other. And again this past year has not been easy on our unity as a church, but I'm speaking now of the broader situation. We bless God for what we have experienced here, but it has been a difficult year for unity in the broader body of Christ at large.
At the end of December, at the end of last year, World magazine published an article that I think just the long title will give you a hint about what the article was about: “2020’s Church Divide: A pandemic and national controversies have splintered churches & taken a toll on pastors struggling to hold them together” Pastors were interviewed who are at their wits end. Burned out. Some fired from their churches. Many had members leave their churches because church leaders were not taking the virus seriously enough, while others in the very same church left because they were taking it too seriously. And so the pastor was being pulled in both directions and losing bleeding people on both sides.
But the handling of the pandemic was just one thing. There were also divisions over how to address the racial unrest in our nation. There were differences thrown in about a nasty election and the politics that are splitting our country. Just one of these might have been enough to deal with, but the Lord has seen fit in His wisdom and love to stick the church with all of these in one year. It was like the perfect storm and we were hit with it from many sides besides all the usual interpersonal stresses and strains that are in every congregation.
Local church unity is under fire, big-time, and just as Christ, the head of the church, delights in the unity of His congregation, even so Satan delights in the frictions and fractions and unloving divisions in God's family. So unity is another major theme in this book, and it's not difficult to see how joy and unity are related and affect one another. Joyful Christians promote the unity of the church, don't they? Their joy is contagious and it's healthy for the church. It's not difficult to see that un-joyful Christians, grumbling and complaining and discontented Christians erode unity and sow seeds of disunity in the church. Paul will deal with that. And at the same time, united Christians promote the joy of the church. Indeed we have a whole Psalm in the Psalter that's dedicated to rejoicing in the blessedness, the joys of unity. Psalm 133..."How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity!" There the Lord commands blessing, even life for evermore. So we'll see the interaction of joy and unity.
But there's a 3rd major theme of the letter and I couldn't miss this as I read and reread the letter, and it's mission. Mission. It's paramount in every age that the church stays focused on our mission. The mission given to us by our victorious Lord Jesus before He ascended into heaven, the mission to make disciples of all the nations. And there's hardly a more pagan nation than this. This is one of the nations where we're to be making disciples and then baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and then teaching them to obey everything that Christ the head has commanded. But the very issues before us at any given time in our country are tremendous temptations to pull us away from our primary mission. Our reason for existence. I'm not saying that the Bible does not speak to issues such as pandemics and politics and race, and that it is never profitable to address such. No, but the church cannot afford to become reactionary. Simply being jerked here and there by the latest problem in the land. We must stay on mission to advance the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to this diseased and dying world and the place where God has put us. So the devil would like nothing more for us than to retreat in these times from our mission. To hunker down in cowardice, apathy, paralysis. So we find in this letter Paul's constant concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ to remain central in all that the church does. That in all things in all times we might be advancing the cause of Christ's mission.
Now it's not hard to see again how joy and unity promote the mission of advancing the gospel. A happy and united congregation is a loud advertisement for the life changing power of Christ to save self-centered people and make them concerned about others even to sacrificing of their own rights to each other. Their joy reveals that it really is a big thing to have all our sins forgiven. To have a personal relationship with the eternal Creator through Jesus Christ and to be a citizen of heaven. So joy and unity promote the mission... so Paul will tell us when we come to verse 27 of this chapter: "whatever happens”, you see...that's a big armory...”whatever happens conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel". Not contending against one another, but contending together for the faith of the gospel.
A united church with a united heart and voice commending the gospel that brings us together in a world that's increasingly divided. That is part of our mission which is greatly to God's glory. So this letter is for us. These lessons are for us. The Lord has had them written down for us and preserved 2,000 years for us living in 2021. Well, may the Lord meet us then in our study and help us as a congregation to be more and more armed against these attacks of the enemy against our joy, our unity, and (to have) an unswerving commitment to our mission.
So let's jump right in. Philippians 1:3-4: "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy". Here we are. Just got the greetings over and Paul is already talking about joy, isn't he? What makes that even more remarkable is just to remember where Paul is. He's in prison...he's in prison. He's under enforced social distancing from his work, not allowed to come and go as he pleases, strict limitations on his freedom. All so unjustly and unfairly imposed upon him for the sake of his master, Jesus. And he's not grumbling and complaining. He's rejoicing. A joyful prisoner, just as he was 10 years earlier in a prison in Philippi when he first brought the gospel there, and was beaten and bloodied and locked in the stocks of the inner prison. And what's he doing there with Silas about midnight? Singing the praises of his Lord. He's a joyful prisoner, and even so now from his Roman prison he has access to the throne of grace where he always prays with joy. I wonder, are your prayer times joy times? Are those time that you enjoy your Lord?
Here's our first lesson from prison: Prayer times are joyful times when marked with thanksgiving. Prayer times are joyful times when marked with thanksgiving. You notice how Paul's joy is fed from his mind. "I thank my God every time I remember you". That's an activity of the mind. Every time I think about you. So what do you think about and remember when you're praying for your brothers and sisters? Their weaknesses and sins and faults? What do you think of when you pray for your pastor here? If you're thinking about my faults and weaknesses, God help you because your prayer time is not going to be a joyful time. But Paul's thinking about things for which he can give thanks to God for his brothers and sisters. Maybe he was thinking how God in Christ had interrupted these people who were living their Christ-less lives. Lydia, pursuing her business selling material. This poor slave girl, demon-possessed. This rugged jailor, and how the Lord came and set him free and saved him. Paul's got food for thanksgiving right there, doesn't he? Do you think of your brothers and sisters and how Christ has converted them? And changed them by the power of His grace? Our joy, like Paul's, follows our thanksgiving.
Now if we're praying without thanksgiving, we're going to be praying without joy that we could have if we did pray with thanksgiving. Notice what Paul specifically mentions...what he joyfully thanked God for about them.
First their commitment to the gospel mission. Verse 5: "I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now". From the very get-go they were all in for the mission. Partners. If you're in a business and you have two partners, they both share in the rewards, and Paul says that's what you are with me, you're a partner. You're there in Philippi and I'm out and about, but we're partners. And that's the way it's been from the beginning. The gospel had saved them and they wanted a vital part. They wanted partnership in this work of taking that gospel to others. Say, that's an evidence of new life in Christ!. When someone is tasting the joy of sins forgiven and says, "I want others to taste it. How can I help that cause forward?"
So Lydia, as soon as she's saved, immediately what does she do? She invites Paul and his evangelistic team to stay at her house, and opened her home as a meeting place for the believers. That rugged jailer who had just slammed these men into stocks, came to hear the gospel and believe and at once he welcomed Paul and Silas into his house He washed their wounds. He fed them. Why? Because "he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family". You see he wanted others to know this joy of sins forgiven. Being right with God. The promise of eternal life. He said, "come in and tell my family what you told me". And then when Paul and Silas left, he and the other believers there in Philippi, this little group, said, " Here, Paul, take our hard-earned money and you go and tell others about Jesus so that they too can rejoice like we have come to do".
It is a true joy to see the saints taken up with the mission of Christ. To see you involved in witnessing to lost people that God has planted you beside. To see you discipling one another, urging each other on to follow Jesus. Praying and sacrificially giving of your finances to advance the cause of Christ. It filled Paul with joyful thanksgiving every time he thought and prayed for these Philippian believers because he knew that this was the work of God begun in them. This is not natural. This is supernatural and he thanked God for it. Are you praying for your brothers and sisters here and elsewhere? Be sure to add thanksgiving to God for His good work in them and turn your prayer times into joy times. That is to rejoice in the Lord as you pray for one another.
Another reason he always prays with joyful thanksgiving, he tells us in verse 6, is "...being confident in this that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus". This is our second point. What does he give thanks for? Well, their commitment to the mission and now for the certainty of their salvation being perfected. The certainty of themselves being perfected. You see Paul had no rose-colored glasses as he thought of the saints. Epaphroditus had told him about the troubles there in Philippi. He knows they're not perfect. No saint in this life is. But though they were not perfect they were on their way to being made perfect and that in itself was enough to cause Paul thanksgiving and joy as he prayed for them. He was confident that the One who had begun the good work in them (he was there when that good work was begun in many of them) and the One who had begun it in them would be faithful to complete that good work and carry it on to perfection.
Now what is that good work that He began in them? Well it was clearly the work of salvation, and Paul had seen it, he'd heard of it, and he rejoiced to know it would be completed one day. How could Paul be so sure, so confident of that? Just because God never begins the good work of salvation without being committed to fully finishing what He started. And that's joy food. That's joy food for us and for those we are praying for.
So I want to camp on this awhile. I think we can suck joy from this truth for our own salvation but also for our brothers and sisters. Who began this good work of salvation? That's what's at issue here as well as who's going to carry it on? It is "He who began the good work"...well, who's the He? Well it's not me and it's not you. It's the Lord. Jonah says, "Salvation is of the Lord", and he ought to know. He was going down for the last time in the angry sea, sinking down to the roots of the mountain, the seaweed wrapped around his head, and suddenly he's swallowed alive by a great fish commanded by the Lord. Three days later he's vomited out at the command of the Lord on to dry land. All Jonah can say about the whole thing is, "Salvation is of the Lord". It's His doing. And that's what the whole Bible says. It's a most elementary truth, but it's a most important one to get right that God saves sinners. That He begins the work and He completes the work and finishes it.
Now sometimes Christians think that they began it by saying, "but I remember seeking the Lord" or "I remember calling on Him to save me"... " I believe that He saved me but I began by asking Him and seeking Him". But you see the question is, Why did you seek Him? Why did you call on His name? The Bible says there's no one...Rom 3:11-12: "There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
If there's none of us who do good, how can we begin this good work? It's a good work, this work of salvation. We can't. Somebody else is going to have to start a good work because we can't do good works. Because a work that God considers good is done by faith the Lord Jesus. It's done by love to God. It's done with the right heart motive, and none of us had that good. And none of us seek God as the text says. (You say), "But I remember seeking God". We seek God like a felon seeks the law. Like Adam and Eve sought the Lord after they had sinned. No, we don't seek Him. We run from Him, we hide from Him. So if we ever came to seek the Lord it was because He first sought us, and He moved us to seek Him.
We sing that in number 397...I sought the Lord and afterward I knew, He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me, It was not I that found O Savior true, no I was found of Thee. You see, it was when we were not seeking and would not and could not seek Him that God sent His Son and the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. "No one can come to me", Jesus said, "unless the Father draws him". You see were unable, unwilling to seek Him. Eph 2:1-5 makes it clear it was precisely when we were dead in sin that God made us alive in Christ. We were the walking dead. Physically alive but spiritually dead. We had no heart for God, no heartbeat for God. Dead spiritually. No love for Him, His law, His gospel. No, I was alive to myself but not to God. And it was precisely then, when I was dead toward Him, that He made me alive. He began the good work, you see. Was Paul seeking God on the road to Damascus? (He was) going down there to kill some more Christians or imprison them. No, he wasn't seeking God, but Jesus sought him and found him and saved him. God starts and begins the good work in us.
So a man is lying on the beach and he's unconscious there along the ocean edge. He had been swimming and he got caught up in the riptide. And now he sputters and spits out the water and he comes to. He comes to his consciousness and he remembers kicking furiously as he was being drug down by the undertow. "Man, I must have really kicked and swam hard to make it here to shore.” The life guard that's bending over him says, "No way, pal! You were going down for the last time, and I saw you and hopped on my wave runner, and got to you and dove in and went down, and scraped you off the bottom, and drug you to shore, and have been working on you for 15 minutes with CPR. Don't get this idea that you saved yourself. Now, you won't remember all that I did because you were unconscious . And yet the one who did the work of saving was me, not you".
Now you get the parallel. Yes, you remember seeking the Lord, but you don't remember what God was subconsciously doing to you. He was beginning the work if you ever sought the Lord. If you ever had true, saving faith in Him it was because He began the work first.
Remember Lydia? Paul went down to that river where he found these ladies and he preached Christ to them and she listened and she responded in faith in the Lord Jesus. (You say), "Oh, well there, see? The gospel's offered but she began the work when by faith she laid hold of Christ". Oh, but wait. You notice how Luke explains what happened that day down by the riverside. When it tells us in Acts 16:14 "...when the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message". And that's simply saying to us that before the Lord opened her heart... it was closed. Closed to the message. " No room here for you" is the sign over all of our hearts. Closed until the Lord unlocks the heart, and opens the heart. Then Lydias and jailers come to Jesus. But it's the Lord who begins the work.
Did you understand the gospel? It was because God enlightened you and opened your heart. Did you feel convicted? Do you remember being convicted of your sin and the heaviness of guilt and of the wrath of God upon you? Well, that's because the Holy Spirit was working conviction in you. Did you receive Jesus Christ by faith because God first opened your eyes to see beauty in Jesus and to see that He meets everyone of your needs as a sinner to be right with God? Whatever you have done in this believing...this repenting...it's always the response to something God did before. And that's why Paul says, "that He who began the work in you" and we need to take that to heart. For ourselves, for one another.
This is good news! That the One who began this work of salvation is God and not us. Why is that good news? Because the One who begins the work is the One who completes it. And if it depends on me I won't see you at the finish line. I will have trailed off along the way. But if the work begins with God I'll meet you at the finish line because He carries that work that He began on to completion.
So here's the reason all true believers will persevere to the end in holiness. Because God is preserving them. The Holy Spirit dwells in us. Why does He dwell in us? For many reasons, but one is to sanctify us, one is to keep us going for this very work..." to work in us to will and to do what pleases Him." To be careful to obey his commandments so that when we stray, the Holy Spirit seeks us out, convicts, and humbles, and disciplines us in grace. Draws us back to Himself, and restores our souls. His love will not let us go and that's why Paul's so confident that the work of salvation that God begins He will complete.
Well, can you see why that would bring joy and thanksgiving to Paul's heart as he's thinking about these Philippians? Imperfect(ion), troubles, weaknesses. All kinds of spots and wrinkles in the church. Because he says, "I know one day you're going to be as perfect as Jesus". And you can give thanks and you can rejoice in that. Be sure to do the same with your brothers and sisters. Especially if you're having trouble getting past some of their imperfections and failures. Go to the end and thank God that He who has started the work will finish it.
So having told the Philippians what he joyfully thanks God for about them, he now tells them what he asks God to do for them. Verses 9-11, "and this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more". There were unity problems in the church as we'll see, but Paul wants them to know up front that these are failures of love. And that's our third lesson and last lesson for today. Failures of unity are failures of love. And here's the proper diagnosis of unity problems in the church. It's a love problem, it's not ultimately the science of mask wearing or social distancing. It's a failure to love your brothers and sisters when there's a difference over the science of mask wearing and social distancing. The issues will change, but whatever they are, real love refuses to allow such things to come between brothers and sisters in Christ. We, who are united in Jesus--that is too precious to let something destroy it. And he acknowledges they do love one another. Indeed, 1 John, as we saw weeks ago, tells us that you are not a real Christian if you don't love the brethren, but their remaining troubles of disunity shows that their love still needs to grow and to abound more and more. Indeed every failure of love is a need for more love. Every failure in unity is a need for more love and that's why he's praying for it.
He begins with prayer for unity because he knows any growth in love is a fruit of the Spirit. And we call down the blessings of the Spirit in prayer. When I pray for you I pray for love to abound more and more. Is that your reflex response to people that are hard to get along with in your life? Do you go the throne of grace and pray for love to increase and abound in your heart for them, and in their hearts for you. To thank God for them and to pray for this love?
Notice it's not just any kind of love he prays for. Our feelings of love can easily go astray and so we need a love that abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. A love that is grounded in knowledge. And he prays this seeking two results. First, "...that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ". We need knowledge to know how love is to act in every situation. Love's a powerful emotion but it needs to be informed, directed, and guided by God's law. Love is what fulfills the law. Every commandment is just spelling out what love looks like. And so we need not only love welling up in our hearts for one another, we need the law to tell us what love should do in each situation. God's law is the track on which the engine of our love is to run. It teaches us how to love. How love acts.
So, are you coming daily to God's word to learn how to love? We need increasing knowledge and deep insight to be able to discern, not just what's good, but what is best. Love seeks the best in the other. So we need wisdom to know what is fitting, what is proper, what's the very best thing to do in this situation. What's the best thing to do? What's the best thing to say? What's the best left unsaid? What's the best time to say it? Place to say it? Manner to say it? It's not undirected love that will do. That could do more harm than good. We want our love to abound more and more in knowledge, and depth of insight, and discernment of the very best way to love. Now you see why he's praying for this. It's no easy thing. But there is knowledge and God and prayer to seek the Spirit's help in making our love to abound in knowledge and depth of insight.
The second result of this is that we may be "...filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God". " I'm praying for your love to increase and abound more and more in depth of insight... knowledge...that you might be filled with such fruits of righteousness. It is the fruit of the Spirit, this love you see. And it only comes through Jesus Christ. I've said it before, I'll say it again, it takes Jesus to live the Christian life... and this love, this unity, it only comes through Jesus Christ. And that's why in the end it brings glory and praise to God because this entire salvation, begun, continued, and completed, is the work of God in Christ.
So to Him be the praise, to the glory and praise of God. Augustine said, "The only thing that really unites men is a common desire for the same ends". So here it is....what's our end? Our great end is to glorify and to praise God. To bring glory to Him by abounding in love for one another. Now that's an end worth living for. It's an end worth suffering for. Its an end worth denying ourselves for. And Paul will unpack that.
So Satan will oppose this with all of his might. He hates glory and praise coming to his rival. He can't steal our salvation. He would steal our joy in the Lord. Because he knows that the joy of the Lord is our strength. The joy of the Lord is our adorning advertisement of the goodness of our saving God. And so God has us go through the very same trials as the world. Only with the fruit of the Spirit of love and joy and peace that His glory and praise might be advanced. And if Satan can't steal our salvation, he would steal our loving unity because our unity greatly glorifies God. That in this divided and hateful world, He has a people who are united in supernatural love. Even with many differences. These are the people of God. And what brings such people together? Oh they're one in Christ. That's the basis. What must this Savior be to accomplish that? Unity in variety and differences.
And if Satan can't steal our salvation, he would love to undercut our mission. Distracting us with arguing and complaining and bickering and dissension. And the mission always suffers when the church is fighting with each other. That's Paul's concern. The church striving against one another within is not a church striving together for the faith of the gospel, the mission our Lord left for us. For we're not ignorant of Satan's devices. Let's watch and pray. Let's joyfully give thanks for one another. Let's grow more and more in our love for each other with knowledge and depth of insight and discernment to know what is best. Praying for it, laboring for it, and all by Jesus Christ, drawing everything we need from Him so that glory and praise will come to our God.