Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity - Phil 1:3-11

                                                                                                       Trinity 22

                                                                                                Phil 1:3-11



            When I go to meetings with other pastors and hear about what they are experiencing, there are many times when I come home and tell Amy about how thankful I am to be pastor at Good Shepherd.  Now don’t get me wrong, Good Shepherd is certainly not the only good congregation around. There are indeed many other pastors who feel the same way I do.

            But there are also congregations - more than you would like to think - that make life difficult for their pastor.  I have talked with a number of pastors recently who are in that situation.  Doing the biblical and faithful thing is not always accepted.  Doing what we as Lutherans confess to be our belief and practice is not always accepted because sometimes it doesn’t match “what we have always done here.”

            This is nothing new. In fact, we can find examples of it in Paul’s letters to the congregations he founded.  So, the church at Corinth made Paul want to pull his hair out.  They wanted to accept the culture of the world around them, and didn’t see how faith in Christ set them apart and caused them to live differently.  They challenged Paul on what should be believed, and were very willing to accept other teachers who came in, contradicting and undermining Paul.

            And then, on the other hand, there were congregations who loved and supported Paul – congregations who were very dear to the apostle for this reason. That describes the church at Philippi.  Paul had preached the Gospel there during his second missionary journey. And from the moment the congregation was founded, they had been supportive of his work.

            Paul begins our text by writing, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” This wasn’t empty rhetoric. Paul really meant it, because the support of the Philippians was more than talk.  They put their love into action.  The Philippians had once again sent money to help support Paul in his mission work.  In the last chapter of the letter Paul gives thanks for this and recalls: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” 

            At the time that Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was imprisoned, probably in Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. Paul makes no excuses for the strong expression of his love and appreciation of the church at Philippi.  He says in our text, “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. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

            The portion of our text that I really want to focus upon this morning is found in the last verses where Paul writes: And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

            Paul says that his prayer is that the Philippians’ love will abound more and more.  We hear a lot about “love” these days.  Love is the great force that is supposed to bring everyone together, not matter what differences may exist.  We are told that love is the great equalizer in which no differences exist – “love is love” we are told, even if it is between two people of the same sex involved in a sexual relationship.  Love is a warm fuzzy feeling that justifies whatever I want to do.

            But the apostle Paul has no use for such definitions of love.  Yes, Paul wants the Philippians’ love to abound more and more. But what he writes is, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” This is not love defined by what sinful man decides.  First this is love that is defined by knowledge. Paul means the knowledge of God and of his will. This is both his saving will that he has revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, and his will for how he has ordered life. And Paul also says that this increasing love is to be defined by “discernment.”  It is love that perceives matters on the basis of God’s word and will.  It discerns between truth and error.

            This is Paul’s prayer because he says that only in this manner it is possible “that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  The Greek word translated as “approve” here describes the outcome of testing and examining.  And the phrase “what is excellent” can be translated more literally as “the things that really matter.”  Love that abounds in knowledge and discernment is able to evaluate and recognize the things that really matter  - the things that really matter because they are about the salvation God gives, and life that please him.

            Paul says that when this happens the Philippians – and all Christians – will “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  Now notice that the goal that dominates Paul’s thought is the “day of Christ” – the return of the Lord Jesus on the Last Day. This is the same thing that we heard earlier in our text when Paul expressed the confidence, “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.”

            Paul says in our text that Christians are to be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Paul is describing the fruit that righteousness produces, the righteousness that comes through Christ. In chapter three of this letter, Paul rejects the idea of a righteousness before God that is based in any way in us.

            Left on our own, a righteous standing before the holy God is simply not possible for any of us.  Look at your life and you will find that you are not going to be pure and blameless on the day of Christ.  Instead, you will be guilty of putting God second in relation to your time, attention and money when he should be first. You will be guilty of not honoring, obeying and loving your parents.  You will be guilty of not loving your spouse by putting his or her needs ahead of your own.  You will be guilty of harming the reputation of others by sharing gossip.

            But Paul says in this letter that our standing before God is not based on anything we do.  Instead, Paul now considers everything about himself in which he once placed his trust as garbage, “in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

            Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we could be justified – counted as righteous before God.  He received God’s judgment against our sin. Our sin has been judged and condemned in Jesus Christ the sinless One.  And now through faith in Christ, God considers us to be righteous.  Faith receives this righteous standing before God as a gift. It is a gift guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Righteous in God’s eyes because of Christ, we know that God will raise us on on the day of Christ, just as he raised Jesus from the dead on the Easter.

            God’s righteousness is his saving action in Jesus Christ to put all things right.  He has given us this righteousness – this innocent standing before him now and on the Last Day - through faith in our crucified and risen Lord.  Through the work of the Spirit – through baptism and faith – he has made us a new creation in Christ.

            And so Paul tell us that this saving action by God directed towards us produces fruit. This fruit takes many forms.  But Paul mentions two of them in this letter and I want to emphasize these. In this first chapter Paul goes on to write: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 

engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”

            One fruit produced by God’s righteousness is our willingness to suffer for the sake of Christ.  Make no mistake, if you are you going to let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ; if you are going to strive for the faith of the Gospel, then you will suffer for the sake of Christ.  You will be derided for saying that there is a holy God who judges sin, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. You will mocked and pressured when you say that sexual intercourse is God’s gift for marriage and is to be used only in that setting. You will be condemned and labeled as a bigot for saying that homosexuality is a sin, and that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. But remember, we are suffering for the sake of the One who has risen from the dead, and so we know that final victory and vindication will be ours.

            Another fruit produced produced by God’s righteousness is described by Paul in the next chapter.  He writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul then presents the Son of God’s incarnation and willingness to humble himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus Christ humbled himself in this way in order to make us righteous, and now through his Spirit he leads us to humble ourselves in serving and putting others before ourselves – an action that begins in your own home as you live with your family members.

            In our text today Paul tells the Philippians: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 

filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  May the Spirit of Christ lead us to abound more and more with love as God defines it – a loves that is shaped by knowledge of God and discernment as we recognize the things that that really matter.

            What really matters is that God has made you righteous in his eyes because of Christ.  Through faith in the crucified and risen Lord your sins have been taken away, and God regards you as holy. The righteousness of God – this saving action by God to put all things right - has given you salvation, and through the work of the Spirit it produces the fruit of a life that is willing to suffer for the sake of Christ and to serve others.






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