Philippians 1: 1 – 11 (NLT)
“This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. 8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”
In Paul’s introduction to this letter, you can see how much he loves the church at Philippi. He has a relationship with everyone, not just the church leaders. Paul starts this letter saying, “I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi … including the church leaders and deacons.” That almost makes the leadership appear to be an afterthought. Paul loves everyone in that church. As a result, this letter is an upbeat one, one that stresses all the good things they have done, and encourages them to keep on going. It’s a good book to read as we continue to face this pandemic and all the stress and difficulty it has brought and continues bring to our lives and to our churches.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners”. That is something each of us can do as well. Stop for a moment and think of the Christ followers in your life who have been a positive influence in some way, or those who have worked with you in some area of ministry and have been so great to work with. Right now, stop and pray for those people and thank God for bringing them into your life.
Paul is so confident that the church at Philippi will keep on growing in love for each other, and in a close relationship with God. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” That is something we can be confident about as well today. It feels so strange to attend church spread out over the auditorium to make sure we aren’t close to one another. We don’t have the same programs at church that we used to since hanging around, talking and eating together are not permitted. We need to remember that God is still at work; God is at work until the day Christ returns. Maybe we should try to think about ways we can connect with others at our church. At LSA we are hoping that we can start community groups, groups of people who keep connected, pray for one another, and grow in their spiritual lives together. With the pandemic restrictions, meeting in homes makes some of us rather nervous. But, we can meet online. Or we can book rooms at the church where there is much larger space.
Paul did not live in easy times. As he wrote Philippians, he was in lock-down – far more that we have ever been. He spent 3 years locked in a house with a guard watching over him day and night while waiting for an audience with Caesar. We can’t believe it’s been a year and a half that life has been turned upside down by Covid. Yet Paul was in lock-down for 3 years! He was allowed visitors, and he loved that. He also wrote several of the epistles. He made use of that closed in experience. So perhaps we should start thinking creatively how we can stay connected in this historical time.
The church at Philippi didn’t have an easy start either. Philippi apparently didn’t have a very large Jewish population. When Paul arrived, he discovered there was no synagogue, likely because there were few men to organize and build one. But he did discover a small gathering of Jewish women near the river. That church started with Lydia, a business woman who sold expensive purple cloth (likely a strong personality) and a Roman jailer (maybe a tough guy). Interesting that that church was known for its love and spiritual growth. Hard times often produce amazing results.
Just in case you want to reread the story of the founding of the Philippian church, I’ve included it. As you read, think about it for a few moments. Can God give us good things in difficult times? How is God leading me in this hard time?
Acts 16: 6 – 40 (NLT)
A Call from Macedonia
6 “Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.
9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
Lydia of Philippi Believes in Jesus
11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.
13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
Paul and Silas in Prison
16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.
35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 36 So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”
38 When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. 40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.”
Our song for today is Shoulders by King and Country.