Summary: Philippians 1:3-8 teaches us to put the fellowship of the gospel at the center of our relationships.
In January we began a series of sermons on Paul’s letter to the Philippians that I am calling, “The Christian’s Contentment.”
Paul’s letter to the Philippians follows the letter-writing convention of his day. The pattern was to give the names of the writers and recipients at the beginning, then a greeting, followed usually by a thanksgiving and a prayer, and finally the body of the letter. Previously, we examined the writers and recipients, as well as the opening greeting.
Today, we are going to examine Paul’s thanksgiving to God in verses 3-8. I was going to examine Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer in verses 3-11, but there is so much material in his thanksgiving that we will not have time to cover Paul’s prayer as well. Much of the material for this message comes from D. A. Carson’s fine exposition of Philippians.
So, let’s read Paul’s thanksgiving to God in Philippians 1:3-8:
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-8)
In his exposition of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, D. A. Carson writes:
I would like to buy about three dollars’ worth of gospel, please. Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars’ worth of gospel, please.
None of us puts it quite like that, do we? We want all the benefits of salvation but few—or none—of the responsibilities. We want to pick and choose what we would like in our relationship with God, and feel free to decline what we don’t want to do.
Our elders take their shepherding responsibility very seriously. Sometimes, however, it is difficult for elders to have meaningful conversations with members about their growth in grace. Why, some members don’t even return phone calls! Now, it is not that these members have abandoned Christianity; rather, the gospel is not that important to them, and it is something that they bring to church on Sunday, and then it goes back into the closet until next Sunday, if they make it back to church. Three dollars’ worth of gospel, please, but no more.
Another issue with which we struggle is that we live in the most self-indulgent time in history. Modern amenities make pleasure-seeking and self-serving incredibly easy. We buy into the culture’s craving for comfort and security rather than sacrifice and service. Why, some members don’t sign up for anything because something better may come along! Three dollars’ worth of gospel, please, but no more.
Moreover, many people don’t believe in such a thing as absolute, objective truth any more. There is “your truth” and there is “my truth.” “Because truth is impossible,” writes Carson, “it is wrongheaded, and perhaps immoral, to claim that any ideology or any religion is superior to another.” This view is especially common among young people. So, any attempts to evangelize others is frowned upon by many people. Three dollars’ worth of gospel, please, but no more.
The Apostle Paul lived and served in a culture that was hostile to the gospel. There were all kinds of views regarding eternity. There was frankly massive confusion, not unlike there is in our own day. And then, on top of that, there were false teachers going around the churches teaching heresy, again not unlike there is in our own day.
Paul wrote this letter to the believers in Philippi, the church that he had planted in about 51 AD. He had visited them several times since he planted the church, and the Philippian church was probably his favorite church. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians in about 62 AD in response to a financial gift that he had received from them. So, the Philippian Church was about 10 years old.