Summary: What are the characteristics of a Church that's alive? See what Paul prays for.
Paul had some tough times as he traveled around the Mediterranean telling people about Jesus. He faced opposition from various sources: from the Jewish leaders who were worried that he was taking people away from their Jewish worship, from Roman authorities who were concerned that this new religion was causing civil disturbance and even from commercial interests who were bothered that this new found faith might take people away from their superstitions so they’d stop buying the religious mementoes that were on sale everywhere. This particular opposition came to a head in Philippi when Paul and Silas cast out an evil spirit from a female slave; an evil spirit that had enabled her to tell fortunes, at considerable profit to the woman’s owners. As a result Paul & Silas had been thrown into prison and even when they were released were asked to leave town quietly.
So Paul & Silas had left Philippi, not being quite sure how effective their ministry of the gospel had been. They had a couple of converts, Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth and the Philippian gaoler, who’d been converted when God had miraculously freed them from gaol. But you can imagine him worrying. Lydia and the gaoler were from opposite ends of the social spectrum. She was a well-off Jewish woman, he a working class Greek. How would they go working together?
So just think how he must have felt when he finally received word that the church there was flourishing. And now he’s just received another visitor with a gift of money sent from the Church in Philippi to help him while he’s living under house arrest in Rome. And so he writes to them, telling them about his joy and explaining what it is that he prays for them. In fact it’s quite instructive to see what he prays for them and to think about what it is that makes a Church alive.
I thank God for you - v3
The first thing to notice is that the thanks for their faithfulness goes entirely to God. Too often the person who gets thanked is the minister or the evangelist. I guess we’ll be thanking Roy next week for the work he’s done here for the past 6 years and it’s quite right that we should, but at the same time we need to remember that it’s God who brings the increase, God who gives the harvest. We need to remember that, because it’ll inform our prayers. So we won’t just pray for the ministry team but we’ll be praying that God would bless their ministry, that God would be at work among us.
I pray with joy - v4
Secondly he says he prays with joy. It’s not always easy to be joyful when things aren’t going smoothly. Paul would have had lots to worry about. He was in prison in Rome. The Church in Philippi, like the Church in most places, was under attack from those who wanted to bring Christians back under the control of Judaism and he had little control over what was happening so far away. Yet he says whenever he thinks of them he prays with joy. So what is it that gives him such joy?
Because of their sharing in the gospel - v5
He says it’s because of their sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. You see, they didn’t just receive it. They shared in it. I guess that means they continued to speak the gospel to those around them. Speak the gospel was part of their mission statement as well as ours. The church had grown because they’d become fellow workers with Paul, even in his absence. Just as the gaoler had taken Paul to talk to his whole household, so the church had continued to tell others.
Does it give you joy to see the way people in this Church are sharing in the gospel? When you read the reports of the Youth Group or Tom’s Crew or the Rainbow Fellowship or the ESL service and you see how young people are coming to faith in Christ do you get excited? I can tell you, I do. Just the week before last Jan rang me to say that one of the Chinese students who’s been coming to our 6pm service for the last 5 months has decided she needs to give her life over to God. Isn’t that encouraging? On Easter Sunday we’re going to baptise a number of the Rainbow Fellowship members who have become Christians in the last year or so. Isn’t that exciting?
We may be flat out getting ready for Christmas, we may be dreading the work involved in moving everything from Broughton Rd to Station St, but God is at work among us.