God at Work: Sermon Summary Notes, Sept 8th
When people face circumstances that would crush others, and you see them responding with love, joy and generosity, you've got to sit up and take notice. As we start our new series in Philippians we see just that happening in the lives of Paul, and the people he's writing to.
Or read them below:
God at Work
We’re starting our new series in Philippians, written by Paul to Christians living in Philippi, which was a crossroads between Europe and Asia. The population was descended from Roman soldiers, who took emperor worship seriously.
Paul's visit there resulted in him being arrested, flogged and imprisoned. Following his release and departure, the opposition continued for the Christians he left behind. They faced serious financial hardship. They were also a church that was very mixed socially, in a society where social class mattered. That would have been a test of their unity.
By the time of writing this letter, Paul is once more in prison, in Rome, awaiting trial, and possible execution. The Philippians have heard that Paul’s in trouble, and they have sent him a gift of money through the hands of a man called Epaphroditus, who also updated Paul on the state of the church. Whilst things were generally ok, they were struggling with personal conflicts and growing hostility from outside.
Because of the circumstances Paul and the Philippians face, that would crush many, it is an inspirational letter, as we see joy, love and generosity abounding.
Identity in Christ
Paul calls himself a ‘servant’ and them ‘saints’. They weren’t especially holy, but as Christians they were ‘in Christ Jesus’ – united to Him and counted as holy in him. We try and gain acceptance by God (and others) by making the grade. But the gospel tells us that God accepts us as we are, because of Jesus. And knowing that God accepts you does two things: 1. It affects the way you see yourself: you are happy to be a servant, because you know who is king (and it’s not you!) 2. It affects the way you see others: you can honour others whilst humbling yourself. Paul addresses them by their titles of overseers and deacons, but doesn’t use his own as apostle.
Joy in adversity
Despite the circumstances he faces, Paul is filled with gratitude and joy. How come? Two reasons: he knows that they are partners with him in the gospel – that the gospel is doings its work in their lives; and that what God has started he will finish. When you know that God always finishes what he starts you know that the difficulties in life you face are not because he has abandoned you.
Growth in love
Of all the things Paul could have prayed for, he prays that their love would grow. But that love is based on knowledge – knowledge of who God is and what he has done for us. But also discernment, to know practically how to show love to one another. And that love will help us distinguish between what really matters and what doesn’t – and that is crucial in a church. His aim in praying is that they would be pure and blameless on the last day: that their inner and outer lives would be pleasing to God. How can we get there? Only by allowing God, and his grace, to transform us.
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