Summary: This exposition of Philippians 2:19-24 focuses on the qualities of godly leadership exemplified in Timothy. His mindset and proven character are Paul's focus. Statistics on the impact of Covid-19 on the American church are also examined.
Our text today is in Philippians 2:19-24.
But before we go there, I want to process our current situation in America with you. I’ll begin with a couple of hypothetical situations as a backdrop for what I want to share with you.
What would you say if I told you that the Federal government has shut down one third of the churches in America? How would you respond if troops were sent into each city, and they padlocked one third of the church doors forbidding those people to worship? Take a moment an imagine the concern you would have over that kind of event.
Let’s consider another scenario. Suppose last year you were attending your church, and one Sunday you look around and one third of the people are no longer coming. That sometimes happens with a church split. How concerned would you be about that loss of one third of the congregation? Ponder that scenario for a moment.
Now let me tell you what has happened since the Covid-19 impact in March. One-third of the attenders have dropped out of church! I only got these statistics this week. However, in the last two messages I warned of this because I was sensing it in the Spirit. You may recall those exhortations to not forsake the assembling of yourselves. You may recall the warnings against drifting away. I believe God is sifting His church. We have worked hard to make it easy for people to go to church. But circumstances beyond our control are making it harder. Even today the city government has added the requirement to wear masks. It’s harder to breathe. It’s easier to stay home. It’s harder to sing. It’s encouraging to hear the voices of fellow believers singing I one accord. It’s just harder. And it may get even harder. The bottom-line question is: How bad do you want to do it. How bad to you want to worship? How bad do you want to obey the command in Hebrews 10 to not forsake the assembling of yourselves together? The increased obstacles test the resolve. 2 Thessalonians 2:3 tells us there will be a great falling away before the Tribulation Period. 2 Timothy 3 says perilous (difficult) times will come in the last days. One version says, “times of stress.” Sifting separates wheat from chaff. Refining separates gold from the residue. Jesus will not return for a lukewarm, half-hearted bride. Something will happen to prepare His bride. He will have a bride without spot or wrinkle. The times will live in is testing our resolve. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” iWhat if more difficulties arise? What will you do? We now have more excuses for backing off. In the future we may have additional excuses. Excuses are of little value. They’re abundant. Resolve is valuable. Set your face like a flint to do the will of the Father no matter what happens.ii
So, this is already happening. One third of the Christians who were attending, are no longer attending! This is not just a subjective feeling I have about the situation. This is not a prophecy about what might happen. This is in fact what is happening!
In June the BARNA Group published their research on the state of the church. They measured the changes that have taken place since March. Here are some of their findings:
(1) “Half of Churched Adults Have Not Streamed a Church Service in the Past Four Weeks.” Ninety-six percent of churches are streaming their services, but 48% of the church did not attend the streamed service in May, and 32% have not streamed a service since the March shut down. That’s where we get the one-third figure.
(2) Fifteen Percent of Practicing Christians Multitask While Streaming Worship Services. So, some who are attending the streamed service are significantly distracted while doing so.
(3) Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Are Not Viewing Services Online. This was surprising to me because I assumed millennials would quickly adapt to streaming services. But the sense of accountability is lower in a streamed service than physically meeting together.
(4) Just 3 in 10 Churchgoers Have Had Contact with a Church Leader in the Last Month. Only 15% have attended a prayer meeting in the last four months. And only 12% have met with a Bible Study.iii I wish I could report to you that the hard times are causing Christians to press in more than ever. But the facts do not indicate that. I’m sure there are groups who are pressing in. These statistics indicate overall trends with a 95% confidence level.
I share this to alert you once again to the dangers of drifting during this time. It’s easier to do when you are not meeting physically in a location together. As is our custom we will get into the word this morning. We have been studying the book of Philippians. Last week we considered Paul’s exhortations in Philippians 2:12-18. The primary theme in that passage was New Testament obedience. Verses 12-13 provided general guidance for that: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”iv