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GodStory, Act V: NPOG (New People of God)
Key Event #39 (and a half) of 40
Reading: Philippians 2:19-30
Title: “Strong Generous Christians”
We continue in the “love letter” of Philippians.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve really been trying to make this letter come down to earth. It’s a letter. Yes, a letter of love and encouragement, but written to a group of ordinary people like you and me. This isn’t lofty stuff. This isn’t Paul asking us (or the philippians) to do something outlandish, or spectacular.
So today we’re going to get really human with it…and talk about some real names, real lives. These are not mythical characters, these are people who are doing their best to share the Jesus story, but at the same time, they find themselves chained (like Paul) or sickly (like Epaphroditus). And Paul’s letter of encouragement is to keep on keeping on…not in your own strength, but in the strength of one another’s strength and the presence of the Spirit that enables these ordinary Christians to put the life of Jesus on display.
Review: Remember our Vision statement for June? “Making Jesus attractive to all.”
How’s that going??
Q: Do I make Jesus look attractive?
(is that like asking…do these pants make me look…?)
→ it’s interesting that in North Am. Christian culture, we’re learning that “attractive” does NOT mean…cool, relevant, fun, logical…
How are we making Jesus attractive in these days??
One of the ways we might make Jesus attractive is to make Jesus look generous!
[Christian, the most generous people I know!]
So today, in light of our 2nd “Stewardship Sunday” for the month of June, I’d like to talk about generosity.
FIRSTOFF, I want to remind us of our FBC “why we exist” statement…
– seeking the peace and well-being of the city (Jer. 29:7) – a 20+ year vision!
– And in the earlier part of this year, Church Council and the ministry staff have affirmed 2 other pre-quel pieces to this statement…it answers the “how”… We LISTEN TO GOD’S HEART….We are MOVED BY THE STORY OF GOD… and in that listening & in that being moved/animated, we seek the peace and well-being of the city.
– And for those of you who need a “measurable objective” for what that looks like, I have suggested a term that I tweaked from Brian Mclaren
[carey Doctorate, “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha & Mohammad cross…] and that is “STRONG, GENEROUS CHRISTIANS.” If you are here at FBC EDMONTON in our present season of life together, the prayer of many of our hearts is that you would be able to say…this place makes me a strong, generous Christian.
Now…caveat for the word “STRONG”… when Mclaren talks about strong, he’s not meaning bullet-proof or warrior-like. You won’t hear of warrior-like xianity here at FBC…but I hope you hear of us being strong Christians in the sense that we are un-ashamedly Christian in the way we reflect on life and faith. We are a people who believe that that Jesus is way, truth and life, not in the sense of “we’re better than you, other religions” but in the sense of having encountered a living Jesus and because of that encounter, it has changed the way we live and move in the world.
—- we live the WAY of Jesus…we speak the TRUTH as person VS proposition…we believe that LIFE is most fully expressed and found in the person of Jesus —
[again, we are strong… but not as in… _____ ]
And let me say a word about “GENEROUS”…for Mclaren, this is mostly about our posture in the world as Christians. As part of our Christian journey, we are called to move through the world with hearts/hands/minds of generosity. In the way we treat others, in the way we interact with others, in the way we respond to others. The trademark of our devotion to this risen Lord of ours, it to be all about generosity → echoes of “making Jesus attractive to all”?
Today, we’ll spend most of our reflection time in the generosity area…
So let’s bring it back to our Philippians letter –
In today’s text, I want us to be reminded that real people, with real names, were walking with Paul. In the early church, the Spirit was on the move, doing wild and wonderful things (ie. angels setting prisoners free, Philip being swept up in the spirit) but sometimes things were just plain old hard and ordinary, and people needed help.
In today’s portion of the letter, Paul writes of 2 dear companions: Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Timothy is like a son to Paul. Paul dearly loves Timothy…it’s perhaps why one his last letters of love and encouragement was written to Timothy (1, 2 Timothy).
Paul writes: “I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare…I hope to send him soon.” Since Timothy’s like a son, it seems that Paul is going to hold onto him a little longer than Epaphro…but the hope it that Timothy will come soon after Epaphro.
Now Epaphroditus was like a brother to Paul…a co-worker, a fellow soldier. Epaphro was sent like an ambassador/missionary from the Philippian congregation, bringing resources (money, clothing, food) and ministering to and caring for Paul while he waited in prison. Remember, these weren’t fancy prisons, these were more like holding tanks…if you wanted to stay alive, healthy, sane in a roman prison, you needed outside help! Epaphro probably bunked out with a friend, and visiting Paul daily, bringing him food, clean clothes, & stories from the “outside world.”
Now the hitch/drama with Epaphro is that he has become ill while out on the “field.” In the midst of caring for Paul and representing the generosity of the Philippian congregation, he’s sick – – “he was indeed so ill that he nearly died.”
And so now, Epaphro, back from the brink of death, Paul sees that it’s urgent that he get back home. It seems that Paul has also heard of some negative murmurings from the Philippian church. Perhaps it’s connected to the Euodia and Synteche’s fight…some in the church are siding with Euodia… they think Epaphro is just a victim of bad luck…he was doing his best to support Paul but then got terribly ill and needs to get back home to be cared for…caregiver burnout perhaps? At any rate, he needs to get well again – – – BUT others are murmuring with Syntheche that Epaphro is a weakling. We raised all that money to send him and what does he do? He gets sick! And all the money that was supposed to go to Paul, is now going to take care of Epaphro. That’s what I’ve heard…and I hear he’s paying for the expensive medication not the generic brand! Harumph.
What a disappointment…ministry dollars hard at work huh…he should be ashamed of himself…taking money from the poor widows and needing to eat specialty foods and herbs? I never!
Perhaps this is partially the reason why Paul pleads with Euodia and Synteche to be of the same mind in the Lord. There’s no division in Paul’s mind – – he knows by experience that Epaphro is the real deal… he ministered to my need…but now I need to send him back to y’all… “in order that you may REJOICE at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious”… “Welcome him in the Lord with ALL JOY, honour him…he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that YOU could NOT give me!”
So there a couple layers of generosity that need to be spread around here…
Paul wants his favourite, supporting, giving, resourcing Church to keep on being generous…they’ve been generous with their money…now be generous with your attitude! Remember… your attitude ought to be the same as Jesus…who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but EMPTIED himself…and because of Jesus and the presence of the empowering Spirit, you too, are to keep on pouring out…for the promise is that it is this same “pouring out God who….” “IS AT WORK IN YOU” – –
…enabling you to will and to work for God’s good pleasure (2:13).
Generosity upon generosity…grace upon grace…God at work in us.
**** I want us to meet 1 more companion of Paul and Jesus…Becky!
[Becky shares here]
Strong, generous Christians. On a stewardship Sunday like today, I don’t want us to get caught up in thinking it’s all about money and proving our devotion and worth by being awesome financial-giving, superstar, Christians.
But it is true, that just like in the early church, the ministry of proclaiming the good news and being the good news of Christ takes money, resources, energy, gifts…[our volunteerism!] pouring forth from generous hearts.
And it appears that for 2000 years, it’s been pretty ordinary people who keep God’s church afloat. And FBC Edmonton, we are being called to continue the good work of giving generously to the ministry of this church. It’s not coming from the government, it’s not coming from matching grants…most of our money to keep this ministry, this staff team, this building going, comes from ordinary people like you, me, Becky, Steve…just like it was kept going by ordinary, prone to get sick & weary while out on the mission field servants like Epaphroditus.
So day to day, it really is a miracle isn’t it? This humble work that we do together. Believing that our generosity, the giving of our tithes, our offering, our finances is doing a work of restoration…a work of healing…a work that seeks peace and well-being in this city…and brings God’s heart and the dream of God to earth [Edmonton!] as it is in heaven.
We can look back and give thanks to the ordinary saints who have gone before us for the past 126 years and we can look AROUND [here & now!] and give thanks for one another …ordinary saints who are here a vital part of this community of faith, giving to the continuing good news story of First Baptist Church Edmonton.
May the miracle continue…as we make Jesus attractive to all…through our generosity – –
generous Christians being conformed to the pattern/posture of our Risen Lord….
being formed in our hearts, bodies, souls, minds…[wallets, purses, manbags, and bank accounts?] – – reflecting the generosity of Jesus.
EVERYONE INVOLVED…in the glory and praise of God.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:3-6)