Summary: Introduction to study of Philippians. Topic for series is "Reclaiming Joy"
THE PASTOR’S POINTS
Bible Teaching Ministry of
CEDAR LODGE BAPTIST CHURCH
Dr. Russell Brownworth, Pastor
Roy Robertson is one of the founders of "The Navigators," and has been instrumental in the follow-up ministry for Billy Graham’s Hong Kong crusade. Robertson shared this revealing insight from his own past:
"My ship, the West Virginia, docked at Pearl Harbor on the evening of December 6, 1941. A couple of the fellows and I left the ship that night and attended a Bible study. About fifteen sailors sat in a circle on the floor. The leader asked us to each recite our favorite scripture verse. In turn each sailor shared a verse and briefly commented on it. I sat there in terror. I couldn’t recall a single verse. I grew up in a Christian home, went to church three times a week, but I sat there terrified. I couldn’t recall a single verse. Finally, I remembered one verse -- John 3.16. I silently rehearsed it in my mind. The spotlight of attention grew closer as each sailor took his turn. It was up to the fellow next to me. He recited John 3.16. He took my verse! As he commented on it I sat there in stunned humiliation. In a few moments everyone would know that I could not recall from memory even a single verse. Later that night I went to bed thinking, ’Robertson, you’re a fake.’ At 7:55 the next morning I was awakened by the ship alarm ordering us to battle stations. 360 planes of the Japanese Imperial Fleet were attacking our ship and the other military installations. My crew and I raced to our machine gun emplacement, but all we had was practice ammunition. So for the first fifteen minutes of the two hour battle,we only fired blanks, hoping to scare the Japanese airplanes. As I stood there firing fake ammunition I thought, ’Robertson, this is how your whole life has been -- firing blanks for Christ.’ I made up my mind as Japanese bullets slammed into our ship, ’If I escape with my life, I will get serious about following Jesus.’"
A rather stark reality that plagues the Christian community is the "firing of blanks" when it comes to joy. We live in an age consumed by entertainment, directed at pleasing us, or capturing our attention so we will pass the time -- at the very least pass our money. Blazingly fast computers and telephone services cater to our whim or demand. All around us signs and services inform us that there is absolutely nothing money can’t buy to make our lives happier. Of course our Christian theology tells us materialism is wrong, and our happiness cannot be found in things or pleasures. Then why is it that so many believers are "firing blanks" when it comes to joy?
Many Christian people talk about joy; some actually exhibit joy -- at least when they’re near other believers. But all too often the common experience is a spiritless sourness that trudges through life as if the believer were a bug, trapped by a vampire spider, having all the vital juices of life sucked-away. Call me radical, but I find it hard to accept THAT as the "abundant life" Jesus said He came to birth in us.
Paul wrote about real joy
Six times in the four short chapters of Philippians, Paul uses "joy" as his frame of reference. His letter to the church gathered at Philippi is:
PERSONAL There are expressions toward individuals, and the group, that are more intimate than any of Paul’s writings.
PRACTICAL Paul gives sturdy advice and cautions regarding personal relationships, and joy in rotten circumstances (Paul was writing from a prison he likely would never leave.).
PASTORAL There was much supportive praise and joyful remembrance in Paul’s letter (especially concerning the Philippian folks’ service in the kingdom). He had only one small rebuke toward a few of the sisters in the fellowship who had trouble getting along with each other. Paul was a pastor, and he certainly recognized how disunity and selfish attitudes can wreck a church.
Paul cared a lot about this church. He had been instrumental in founding the group on his second "missionary journey". It is recorded in Acts 16, how Paul had wanted to go north with the gospel (through what we used to call the "Eastern-bloc" countries), but a strong vision of a Macedonian man calling-out for his help compelled Paul to cross the Aegean Sea towards Greece, and the European continent.
The first town Paul encountered was Philippi. His first convert was Lydia, and she opened her home for the first (and only) church Paul ever allowed to financially support his work (see 2Co 11.7, Php 4.15,16). This church evidently had a number of members gifted by God with a giving spirit. They not only supported Paul, but, even though they were themselves poor, got involved in seeing to the needs of the poor at Jerusalem (see 2Co 8.1-5). This is a secret we will see in Philippians -- You are in a better position to receive when your hand is open to give.