Summary: A message on the joy found in living a Christian life.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR JOY
INTRO: The word fellowship seems to mean many things to different people. Perhaps, like a worn coin, it may be losing its true impression. If so, we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.
The word fellowship simply means “to have in common.” But true Christian fellowship is really much deeper than sharing coffee and pie. Too often what we think is fellowship is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. You cannot have fellowship with someone unless you have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life.
So, true Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. It is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually. Paul uses three thoughts in Philippians 1:1-11 that describe true Christian fellowship.
I. I HAVE YOU IN MY MIND (vv. 3-6).
Isn’t it remarkable that even while in prison Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome his mind goes back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he has brings him joy.
It is possible that verse 5 is talking about their financial fellowship with Paul. The church at Philippi was the only church that entered into fellowship with Paul to help support his ministry. The “good work” of verse 6 may refer to the sharing of their means.
We can also apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust his son. In chapter 2:12-13, we are told that God continues to work in us through his Spirit. In other words, salvation includes a threefold work:
1. The work God does for us—redemption.
2. The work God does in us—sanctification.
3. The work God does through us—service.
This work will continue until we see Christ, and then the work will be fulfilled. It was a source of joy to Paul to know that God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi.
II. I HAVE YOU IN MY HEART (vv. 7-8).
Now we move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts. (Someone has observed that many people today would have to confess, “I have you on my nerves!”) Paul’s sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.
Christian love is “the tie that binds.” Love is the evidence of salvation. It is the “spiritual lubrication” that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. Have you ever noticed how often Paul used the phrase “you all” as he writes? There are at least nine instances in this letter alone.
How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love. Because of his trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced.
But how can Christians learn to practice this kind of love? Christian love is not something that we work up, it is something that God does in us and through us. Paul longed for his friends “in the love of Jesus Christ” (v. 8b). It was not Paul’s love channeled through Christ; it was Christ’s love channeled through Paul. When we permit God to perform his “good work” in us, then we grow in our love for one another.
How can we tell that we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another. Christians who practice love always experience joy.
III. I HAVE YOU IN MY PRAYERS (vv. 9-11).
Paul found joy in his memories of the friends at Philippi and in his growing love for them. He also found joy in remembering them before the Throne of Grace in prayer. Perhaps the deepest Christian fellowship and joy we can experience in this life is at the Throne of Grace, praying with and for one another.
This is a prayer for maturity and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be, everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love. Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together so that we have discerning love and loving discernment.
The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, it may call every four-legged animal a “bow-wow.” But then the child discovers that there are cats, dogs, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teen-ager! He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the marks of maturity is discerning love.