This morning, we will continue with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the Christians in Philippi. If you were here last week, you would know that we discussed the author and the setting in which the author wrote the letter. As you remember, Paul was writing from prison, and he was there because his teaching about Christ conflicted with the teaching of the day. They put him in jail for creating public disturbance. As I mentioned last week, I will further introduce the context of the letter along the way, as the information becomes significant to understanding the section of the letter we will study.
The introductory information relevant to today’s passage comes from the book of Acts, chapter 16, where Dr. Luke records Paul’s first trip to Philippi and the people Paul introduced to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. These people became the first members of the diverse congregation at Philippi Community Christian Church.
The membership at Philippi Community Christian Church included
the wealthy Asian female merchant, Lydia, and her household, a Greek slave girl, and the Roman jailer and his family. Not only was the membership diverse in ethnicity, but they were diverse in socioeconomic status.
To these diverse believers Paul wrote this joy-filled letter. I want to show you what I’ve discovered from the letter to the Philippians that made possible for joyful relating despite differences that would otherwise become barriers or causes for relational conflicts.
From the outside, people might think that we, the Marin Community Christian Church, is a fairly homogenous church. But anyone who has been with us for more than a year knows the diversities that have at times become barriers and causes for relational conflicts.
We have generation differences, philosophical differences, and cultural differences. We have professional and educational differences, socioeconomic differences, and language differences, even though English is our common language during our worship gathering.
We also are different in what we consider fun and what we consider important. We differ in our preference for music and preference for worship style. I imagine that some of you would think that I had not done my homework unless I referred to Calvin at some point in my preaching, while others of you would wondered why I would mention Calvin and not Hobbes in the same sentence. That’s the kind of diversity we have in the church.
Philippians 1:3-8: Four ingredients to experiencing joy in your relationships:
If I didn’t know Paul, I might think he was trying to butter up the Philippians, that is to say something nice in order to get what he wants. But I do know Paul, and he is not one who uses flattery to manipulate. Paul is one who seeks to please God and not people. Paul is one who spoke the truth, and he had to remind himself that truth-telling needs to have the motive of love rather than the motive of demonstrating superiority.
The Apostle Paul demonstrates in these six verses, four very simple, yet important ingredients to experiencing joy in any relationship. Let’s look at them in the order they show up.
The first ingredient for experiencing joy in our relationships is the practice of affirming: (We see this in verses 3-5.)
Paul tells the Philippians that he values them and they bring him joy. Paul counts them as partners in the important work of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
You want to experience joy in your relationships? Begin by affirming the people you are relating with. You cannot enjoy those you criticize. This is not to say that you overlook sin, or you do not correct those who are going to hurt themselves or others. Nevertheless, there is enough good in the worse of us to affirm. You can only enjoy those you affirm. Affirmation lubricates relationships.
Affirmation often takes the form of verbally praising what another does or is worth. But affirmation can take other forms also. When you take time to play with your child, you are affirming her that she is important. When you are patient in teaching someone a new skill, you are affirming him that he has the potential to learn the skill. Husbands, when we fulfill our vow of fidelity and unconditional love to our wives, we are affirming our integrity and the value of our wives.
Most of us know how to affirm people, especially people who are like us or people from whom we want something. Unfortunately, we often do not affirm those who are different from us or who oppose us, because to do so we suggest they are right and we are wrong. Even worse, we sometimes don’t affirm those who are closest to us, because we take them for granted.
The good news is that we can intentionally affirm anyone and everyone. I’ve seen fathers who affirm their children but are careless with their wives. I’ve seen the reverse also. I’ve seen church people who affirm one another at church and are careless with their family members at home ... and sometimes I’ve seen that in me. I’ve also seen people who affirm those they work with but are careless with words and actions at church meetings.
The truth is God gives us enough time, resources and words to affirm our spouse, child and anybody else He brings into our lives. The practice of affirming is the first ingredient to experiencing joy in any relationship.
Before I move onto the second ingredient, let me give a homework assignment: Tonight, before you go to bed, pray with (that means out loud and maybe holding hands) your spouse, your parents or your child, and include in your prayer for what you are thankful to God regarding your spouse or your child or your parent. You’ll be amazed how affirming that is to them. I imagine this is very difficult for some of you, so if you cannot do this with them, at least do this without them in silent prayer tonight.
The second ingredient for experiencing joy in our relationship is the placement of confidence: (We see this in verse 6.)
Paul is confident that the Philippians will remain faithful to God and that they will continue the ministry God began through Paul even while Paul is absence in jail. But Paul’s confidence is not in the Philippians or in himself, but in the God who began the work.
Where or on whom we place our confidence determines how much joy we can have in our relationships, whether in church or in the family. What often ruins relationships is the inappropriate placement of confidence.
Let me give you an example in the church. If you are placing your confidence in your pastor to grow this church or to meet your needs or to be caring all the time, you’re going to be disappointed and even resentful. I’m not neglecting my responsibilities as a pastor; I’m just not that capable.
If I place my confidence in you to be there when I need you, to change when I teach you a life-changing truth, or to serve one another without complaining, I would be so discourage I wouldn’t last a year here. I’m not a pessimist, but I have an accurate and biblical assessment of humanity.
Likewise, if we place confidence in ourselves we will eventually be disappointed or we will manipulate others to achieve our own goals. Not placing our confidence on each other or on oneself is not to say we don’t count on each other or try to follow through with our commitments whether in our responsibilities at home, at school, at church or at work. Not placing our confidence on each other or oneself is a realistic evaluation of our fallen nature.
We are not perfect, only God is. There is only one God, and I’m not Him, and neither are you. That means we’re going to forget our spouse’s birthday or our wedding anniversary; that means our children will sometimes not act their age; that means as much as we want to be promise keepers, we will sometimes be promise breakers. And if we expect each other to be perfect, then we will experience great disappointment rather than great joy in our relationships.
The correct placement of our confidence in God frees us to enjoy each other and rejoice in our periodic successes. The second ingredient to experiencing joy in our relationship is the correct placement of confidence -- in God.
The third ingredient for experiencing joy in our relationship is the presence of community: (We see this in verse 7.)
When you have people in your heart, it matters not whether they are in your presence. Paul was reliving the joyful relationship shared with the Philippians in his heart even though he was many miles away in a prison cell. The presence of true community exists in the heart.
During the latter part of my wife’s pregnancy, Susan wasn’t always able to travel with me. I remember going to Washington, DC and visiting the Smithsonian, wishing Susan was with me. Every exhibit I got excited about was a reminder that Susan was not with me. How I longed for her to see what I saw. That is the presence of community with Susan in my heart.
If the relationships you have exist only in the presence of formal gatherings, you have a crowd, not a community. Almost five weeks ago, when I called Shaoling to see if she had any prayer requests, she mentioned a couple and then informed me of Cindy’s delivery complication and asked that I pray for Cindy. That was the presence of community with Cindy in Shaoling’s heart.
Three weeks ago, when Susan and I visited Cindy at her home, Mrs. Cheu was already visiting with her. Susan and I were scheduled to bring dinner to Cindy that afternoon, but Mrs. Cheu was there even though she was not scheduled to be there.
The presence of community starts in the heart, whether or not the relationship is revealed in a gathering. Scheduled programs and decorated facilities bring organization and appeal to the senses, but they can never produce joy in relationships; only the presence of community in the heart will.
The presence of community is a by-product of sharing our lives together with one another in positive experiences. The practice of affirming one another and the placement of confidence in God instead of others or ourselves make the sharing of our lives together much more enjoyable. From this enjoyment, the presence of community develops.
The Philippians shared with Paul the grace of God. Both placed their confidence in God’s goodness. From this enjoyment, the presence of community grew. Take time to share your life with your family, in your work place and in this church. Otherwise, you live as one among crowds and not one in the presence of community.
For a starter, take five seconds to look around this congregation and make a mental note of who is not here. Then go home and call or drop the person a note to let him or her know you noticed their absence. Or go out to lunch with a different family or individual one Sunday out of the month and spend time getting to know them. This would be a small, but a good beginning to share your life with others in the presence of community. Some of you already do this on a weekly basis, and you can testify to the joy that this brings you and those you spend time with.
The fourth ingredient for experiencing joy in our relationships is the principle of reciprocity: (We see this in verse 8.)
Reciprocity is the doing to others what has been done to you. Paul is saying, the same way Jesus loves me, I love you. This is more than Paul loving all the Philippians as Jesus loved all the Philippians; this is Paul loving all the Philippians because Jesus loved Paul. In other words, Paul was being honest in how he could love everybody in the Philippian church.
If you say that loving people is easy, you haven’t tried to love everybody. And in the church, the gathering place of sinners who know they are sinners, very few are lovable without some serious effort, including your pastor. So how can I say with all honesty that I love all of you? I love all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
1 John 4:19 phrases it this way, "We love (each other) because He (God) first loved us." That’s the principle of reciprocity.
Susan frequently addresses me affectionately as "maniac driver." I’m not the same person behind the wheel that I am behind the pulpit. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet. I’m recently learning to let people cut in front of me in my lane, even when I’m in a hurry, because four weeks ago, I found myself three feet behind a stopped bus without enough space to pick up speed to cut over to my left, where cars were coming up quite fast. A van behind me was able to cut over and stop traffic so that I could cut over in front of him.
Since then, I’ve been able to be gracious toward other drivers with the graciousness of the driver of the van. Going from the human and unusual to the divine and universal happening, we love everyone because of the great love that God has for us.
Steve Brown says it quite well, "We can’t love until we’ve been loved, and we can only love to the degree to which we have been loved." That’s the principle of reciprocity regarding love.
You don’t love someone at this church? Check to see how much God put up with you when He loved you enough to send Christ to the cross on your behalf. You don’t love someone at your work? Go back to Calvary, where Christ hung on our behalf. You can’t forgive your family member who hurt you? Look at how much God has forgiven you!
The nails didn’t keep the Son of God on the cross; the nail was in some sense cosmetic. His love for you and me kept the Son of God on the cross. Payment for sin by the Judge Himself was the only solution for the coming together of holy God and sinful people.
Susan sometimes asks me, "Why do you love me?" I always answer, "Because I chose to." The real answer is, "Because God loved me incredibly.
Love in response to something or someone who deserves love is reward. Love in response to being loved is reciprocity and that’s the kind of love that every Christian has to give another because God has loved tremendously.