* no audio available *
GodStory, Act V: NPOG (New People of God)
Key Event #38 of 40
Reading: Phil. 1:1-18a
Title: “Letters of Change”
When we read the letters of the Bible, it becomes all important to remember the context. Because we who are prone to be “rule-keeping Pharisees”, need to keep our hearts soft and open to the heart’s cry of our “relationship-keeping Jesus.”
Around the world today, across churches and Christian cultures/bubbles…there are posters with 1-liners from the letters of the 2nd Testament…written like motivational taglines…wildly out of context with the story of God!
Ie: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Even in today’s passage, there is a classic:
“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.”
It’s a great verse…it’s put on beautiful posters with sunsets in the background and flowers in the foreground…and Steve Green crooning…
But lest we forget…Paul is not writing from a field of barley…or a sun-drenched, white-sanded beach – – Paul is writing from…a prison cell! Not a clean, north american cell, this is a Roman prison [chains chafing, hunger, neglect], in an empire headed up by a nasty emperor named Nero. A guy who hated Christians and made their life pretty horrible.
Paul has been planting churches all over modern-day Turkey & Greece…doing a turning-the-world-upsidedown work for the risen Lord for over 20 years. 10 years earlier he had witnessed the church in Philipi get started when he was in jail during a previous incarceration (Acts 16). The Philipi jailer put his faith in Christ and his whole family started believing in and following Jesus.
Now 10 years later (60’ish CE), it turns out that this planted-by-a-prisonguard church is actually the church that is best in taking care of Paul as he tries to stay sane in a grimy prison cell. They are gifting him with resources…food, clothing, money, moral and spiritual support. And most recently, one of the churches devoted servants, Epaphroditus, even though he is sick and ailing, makes the trip from Philipi to Rome and brings gifts to Paul. Paul is so grateful for these gifts and Epaphroditus’ devotion that he writes his 2nd last letter, he knows his days are numbered..and so he takes time to write to one of his favourite churches…a church that makes him overflow with joy…the church in Philippi.
So…that’s a bit of context for us…but let me ask again…how do we enter the “story” of this letter? How does this letter come to life for a us? (Is this a living word too?)
Well…I’d like to suggest a few ways of how we might “enter in” and resonate with the church of Philippi…
We’re not a big church. 200’ish people. The church in Phillipi might have been a church of 75-100 in a city of 2000. [bigger is not always better]
I’d like to think that we’re a generous church. We give…we give of our resources…we give of our time…we give of our talents…we do that corporately, and we do that individually (it’s our 120+ year reputation…FBC gives!). Even last week, we heard the stories that were the fruit of our giving to the Bolivian Baptist Union. We combined our money and prayer resources and sent a team of 8 to Bolivia to bless and visit our partner church in the region of Llallagua, Bolivia. That was about $30 000! And some people say: “Well, why don’t we just send down that $$ and have the Bolivians put them to use!” True. But at the same time, we heard from our CBM field staff who tell us that “showing up” matters. In fact, Suzannah Nacho told us that sending $ creates a culture of non-gratefulness and non-connection. I digress…
I also think we’re a church that experiences conflict…hate to spring that on us, but if it’s good enough for the church in Phillipi, I guess it’s good enough for us? Because as we work through this letter, right near the end, Paul brings to light one other significant reason for writing the letter…because 2 of the church members aren’t getting along! The fight has created such a disturbance, that the echoes of their squabble have travelled 100’s of miles all the way to Paul’s prison cell!
Thus in v. 4:2, Paul writes: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”
Who knows what the fight was about…but the reality is that wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, a fight could break out in the midst of them! And thus Paul spends ¾ of his letter writing to the church about how to build a foundation of love and “petty-purging”unity that might be able to withstand inevitable conflicts and fights that might break out both inside/outside our congregation.
How do you think we as FBC Edmonton might cross our congregational lives with the church of Philippi?
Now, as we continue to press into a few more phrases of the opening part of this letter…and in order to get our minds/hearts postured aright…I want you to remember to a time when…a letter changed your life.
Ie. It makes me think about note-passing back in Junior High.
Or one of the first cards that Sandy ever wrote to me (God is going to…).
Will we allow Paul’s letter to change our lives? I’d really like us to think more corporately here because I think we have a tendency to hear NT letters too individually…Maybe it’s because all of the “you’s” need to be written as “y’alls.”
Again, let me pose it as an exhortation:
“LET US allow Paul’s letter to change our lives.” We’ve got several weeks to do this. Maybe think of it as Spring/Early Summer renewal. What needs to be kept…and what needs to be let go of…Paul’s letter is informative here!
Let’s take on an easy verse first…v. 6:
“(Paul) is confident of this [and he echoes the heart of God in this confidence!]…that the one who began a good work among y’all will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
PAUSE: “Allow this sentence in Paul’s letter to change our lives.”
Q: “What is an issue among us that we are waning in confidence in…in God’s ability to complete it by the day of Jesus Christ?”
Think of our context…and how we overlap with the church in Philippi…
Maybe it’s a small church issue. Lord, how are we going to…? [joy in hardship]
Maybe it’s a partnership issue. Lord, how are we moving forward with ___ in seeking the peace and well-being of the city? [Commitment to partnership in sharing good news]
Maybe it’s a conflict issue. Lord, we’ve run out of energy is working on this conflict, this disagreement, this argument…give us strength and wisdom to see the good work that’s supposed to be emerging here! [working out conflict…diversity to unity]
WHERE do we need to be pushed/prodded by this letter?
PAUSE: Now I’d like us to look at the vv. 9-12 insert that you have in your bulletins today to hear more of Paul’s letter…and be open to how you might receive it as life-changing words…
This is Paul’s prayer for us…this is God’s heart desire for us…as FBC Edmonton, as we bring the story of this letter to life…
See Peterson’s translation – – vv. 9-12 – –
9-11 So this is my prayer:
that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well.
Learn to love appropriately.
You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.
Live a lover’s life [heart], circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of:
bountiful in fruits from the soul,
making Jesus Christ attractive to all, [fbc June vision statement!?!]
getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
* circumspect = well-considered
NOW…be careful here! I don’t want us to take this on as a “to-do” list.
We’re prone to do that with the Epistles…Paul says do it, and that’s the rules so I’m gonna do it…get out of my way!! No, no, no! This is a letter! A love letter…a letter that gushes from a heart of love not a “taskmaster’s owner-to-slave” list. This is not… “you better or I’ll”….this is I love you, God loves you…from the first words of the God story he has created us GOOD… so let us keep on doing the good work we were created (destined) to do!
So let’s sit in silent prayer…and in the spirit of Paul’s ongoing exhortation and love for us as a local church…as a messenger who echoes the heart of God for us, let’s sit and read this letter…and allow it to change us. Allow the Spirit of the Living Christ to breathe upon us anew, afresh…to breathe peace upon us…
And out of that place of peace and grace and power…
POUR OVER…the phrases of this letter excerpt…
Let these words change us, form us, heal us, propel us forth as a people…
Getting EVERYONE INVOLVED for the glory of God as we put the life of Jesus on display through our lives…as we “Make Jesus Attractive to ALL”…
[Spirit of the Living God…Fall afresh on us]
What the world longs for from the Christian religion is the witness of men and women daring enough to be different, humble enough to make mistakes,
wild enough to be burned in the fire of love, real enough to make others see how unreal they are.
Jesus, son of the living God, anoint us with fire this day.
Let your Word not shine in our hearts, but let it burn.
Let there be no division, compromise, or holding back.
Separate the mystics from the romantics and goad us to that daredevil leap into the abyss of your love.
– Brennan Manning