The Church has Issues: Philippians 1: 27-30 and 2: 12-18

Pastor Carrie Baylis
30 September 2020
Wednesday AM worship
Hold fast, Stand Firm 

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace, peace, and mercy to you from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

Philippians is probably one of my favorite books in the bible.  I love Paul’s writing and truth telling that we need to live into the cruciform Christ Jesus.  In the final verses of the first chapter he tells us to “live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.”   

Whoa. 

Did anyone watch the presidential debate debacle last night? 

Does anyone have someone that they love dearly, but can’t see eye to eye with? 

Do you sometimes wonder if the troubles of today, and there are many, so take your pick, are too insurmountable for us to overcome so we will just live in defeat, in fear, and in doubt? 

The church has issues.  The world has issues. 

What does it take for us to “stand firm and united?”  Paul has us understand that unity is a derivative of faithfully embodying the truth that Jesus is Lord, even in the face of opposition. 

What might it look like if we were able to stand back sometimes and reflect on what separates us from one another?  So often these days I wonder how all of us, people of faith, can look at the world with such radically different perspectives and all claim Christ as Lord.   

I think that is part of what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Philippians.  Paul’s overriding concern in is the unity and integrity of the community in the face of opposition.  He and the Philippians turn to the story of Christ’s life, his incarnation and death, and the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord to also be the story of their lives as citizens in a society that doesn’t always see eye to eye.   

The Philippian community was founded in and continued to live in a climate of suffering for the gospel, yet Philippian believers were both generous and joyful in their affliction. The shared experience between Paul and the Philippians is at the heart of their gospel fellowship, they are united in Christ by their common suffering for him and their common joy in him. 

Paul’s suffering was imprisonment. He composed a letter that relates the story of Christ to the ongoing story of the Philippian community.  Paul wants the story of Christ to shape people who will live out their citizenship in ways that are worthy of the gospel story of Christ.   

What does that mean?  It means we live as Christ lived.  Self-humbling, self-emptying. Obedience to God. 

Paul proclaims love for others that is self-sacrificial, power that is self-emptying rather than self-serving, hope that suffering for God is always followed by divine vindication and exaltation.   

As a community the church has both internal and external responsibilities. Internally we are to love one another, learn with one another, bear one another’s burdens. If one suffers, all suffer, and if one rejoices, all rejoice.  Externally we are to bear witness to our neighbors and to love all, even our enemies.  And if persecuted, like Paul, would be expected neither to be surprised and not to retaliate. We are to share faith, express love, and remain secure in hope as we interact with the world around us. 

In reading on this text, many refer to it as being Paul’s most ego-centric letter.  I think that might also make it one that we most clearly identify with.  And it certainly shouldn’t be discounted as within this letter are many passages of great power and truth.  That itself is due to the grace of which Paul is not yet truly aware. Maybe that’s where our ego lies too, in not yet truly being aware of grace given to and for us.  Sheesh.  Not yet truly aware.   

From the end of the first chapter through the beginning of the second Paul had been encouraging the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. He had been teaching on unity, harmony and humility. And he had highlighted Christ’s example of perfect obedience and self-sacrifice. With all this in mind, therefore, Paul urges the Philippians to obediently put this teaching into practice. From verse 2:12, Paul explains to the Philippian church how to apply what he had been teaching them. 

Paul speaks of integrity and commends the Philippians for being people of integrity. What they have done in Paul’s presence as people of faith they continued to do in his absence.  We need to have a faith that is more than just an outward show of Christian values which are displayed in the presence of certain people.  We should expect the same of others. A genuine faith in Jesus Christ should be the driving force in our life, a force that shapes our inner attitudes and our outward behavior. 

Paul persistently taught that salvation is through faith and grace alone, and is in no way dependent on performing deeds or rituals associated with the Jewish laws; but here he tells the Philippians to work out, or work at, their salvation. Which might have us asking just who is doing the work in verse 13? God is the one working within every believer and working within the church. While God is the one working our response is to work alongside of him, to live in righteousness not to earn our salvation but to respond to it through good works.  I like the Greek word for “work” used in verse 13, it is a strengthened form of the word for “work”; it is the word we get “energy” from. God is the one who is energetically at work within each believer and within the church, actively transforming us, individually and corporately, according to his will, according to his purpose. We’re reminded in Romans 8:28 that, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Paul didn’t just want to tell folks about Jesus, he wanted people to come reach Spiritual maturity and perfection, that Christ would be formed within us. God is the one who is working in us, and it is up to us to respond obediently to the promptings of the Spirit. Paul wanted the Philippian church to work together and cooperate with God’s work to produce a mature, united community of believers. Individual and corporate spiritual maturity is the product of “working out” our salvation. 

We are not only told to work out our own salvation, but to do it with “fear and trembling.” Isn’t there an expression about a healthy dose of fear?  When it comes to God I think Martin Luther likes to begin his understandings of God remember that we are to “fear and love God so that…” So today, it seems that one of the most lamentable characteristics of our modern Christianity is the lack of fear, awe, reverence and wonder that God’s transcendent and awesome nature warrants. The Bible has so many examples of people who were met with God and by God and were terrified by his brilliance and power. Yet many modern Christians treat God with flippant familiarity. 

While it might seem impossible, at this present time, in this state of our world, to have a truly accurate understanding and appreciation of our holy, majestic God, we need to be wary about being too casual and complacent in our relationship and conversation with him.  

God abides with us in a close spiritual union, he guides us, and graciously and generously assists us. But God is much more than that. God is also gloriously powerful, transcendent, and holy. 

The Creator of the universe is at work within us, using his tremendous power and benevolence to recreate us in the image of Christ. Our part is to cooperate with God in his transforming work and just as Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:1) to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God”.  You cannot have holiness without reverence. 

Paul continues his letter with some practical advice: “Do all things without complaining or arguing”. There is something awry about a Christian who always seems to have a pessimistic outlook on life, or a contentious, never satisfied demeanour. Paul doesn’t want the Philippians to be whiners and complainers; he wants them to be joyful. By refraining from grumbling, complaining, and dissension, the Philippians would prove themselves to be blameless and innocent, in contrast with the surrounding pagan society. 

Back in Moses’ time, the Israelites had been guilty of murmuring and complaining. Not only had they grumbled and complained about Moses, they also grumbled and complained about God. God took these sins very seriously. While we need to honestly face problems and difficulties, and not dismiss them with blind optimism and loyalties, we need to be wary about becoming pessimistic complainers, whiny gossips, or promoters of dissension. 

And finally after all of that, which is a tall order, Paul speaks of having joy in the face of sacrifice and death.  The Bible actually encourages us to be joyful and happy as a church. 

In his letter to the Philippians Paul not only says in 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” he says the opposite, positive command just 4 verses later, “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” Paul doesn’t just not want churches full of complainers. He wants churches full of happy, joyful, laughing people. 

So one of the ways we obey God is by being joyful. Remember back at the end of the first chapter Paul says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  

Somehow Paul manages to find joy despite his circumstances. 

Paul is being poured out by suffering under house arrest for the gospel. The amazing thing is Paul says, “This sacrifice makes me happy and it should make you happy too.” What could possibly make Paul willing to pour himself out as an offering? He’s willing to do it for their faith.  The faith that ultimately centers on Jesus who was first poured out as an offering. Just as we’ll share in the sacrament here in a moment we remember that offering in our gospels where “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” 

Jesus’s body and blood became the bread and wine of our offering. He poured himself out so that we can have life, and laughter, and joy. Why would Jesus do this? Because saving his people is his joy. Anyone who puts their faith in him. At the cross, Jesus loaded up all the sin and grumbling and complaining of any who trust him upon himself, and then he died. But that means our sin and grumbling and complaining are put to death too. And when he rose from the grave, he left it behind, banishing it forever. Now Jesus offers us joy where we once only knew grumbling.  

Find your joy in Jesus. When we understand Jesus offers us his eternal joy, we realize Jesus is worth our joy. Amen. 

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