Welcome to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The church at Philippi was a thriving and healthy church. Just from this opening paragraph we get a sense of how deeply Paul feels for them. It’s almost as if they are his favourite church. Philippians is a lovely letter, because the Philippian church had no major problems. Sure, there are a few things for them to work on, and there are a few things for them to watch out for. But overall, this is a church that’s getting things right, that is in good health, and has been a tremendous strength and blessing to Paul. In fact, we could go so far as to say that if we wanted to model ourselves on any of the New Testament churches, the one at Philippi would be a good one to pick.
Paul starts his letter by telling the Philippian Christians how he prays for them. Paul gets slightly carried away in his enthusiasm, because he so enjoys praying for them. Paul tells them how he prays for them every day, thanking God for them and asking for things from God for them.
Why did Paul spend so much space telling these Christians how he prayed for them? After all, papyrus was expensive. Why spend the space by talking about his prayers? I think it is because it would encourage them. If they know what he thanks God for, that will encourage them that they are on track.
Which means that this opening paragraph of Paul’s letter can encourage us this morning. Insofar as we are like the Philippian church, we can be encouraged that we are on track.
We all need encouragement from time to time, and the start of Philippians chapter 1 was written to encourage us. That’s not the kind of encouragement that contestants sometimes get on the X-Factor or on Strictly Come Dancing. You know the thing: They look a bit discouraged; let’s say something nice to cheer them up. No – this is real encouragement. This church really is on the right track.
So, we’ve got encouragements in this passage. Two of them, in fact.
Be encouraged by the partnerships the gospel brings us
Here’s the first thing that we can be encouraged by. Be encouraged by the partnerships the gospel brings us. Be encouraged by the partnerships the gospel brings us.
Did you notice in verse 5 that Paul thanks God because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now? Paul and the Philippian Christians are partners. They have worked together. They pray together. Only recently, they’ve sent Paul a very generous gift to help him in prison. What is it that’s drawn them together? It’s the gospel. It is their partnership in the gospel that delights Paul. It is not just their friendship, but the fact that they are one in wanting the gospel, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, to spread. This is why they prayed. This is why they laboured together. This is why they gave their money. Because of their partnership in the gospel.
And the Philippians have been wonderfully faithful in this partnership. Paul is in prison, but they didn’t abandon him or forget him. As verse 3 says, they remembered him, alluding to their donation. And as verse 7 says, even though Paul is in prison, having to defend the gospel there, they are willing to be known as his partners.
Since the dreadful floods in Cumbria, everyone has joined forces to help. The army are building a new footbridge over the river. Network Rail are building a new station. Local people have offered accommodation and spare furniture. The staff of the local newspapers are putting in extra hours to help information to flow. It’s quite a community spirit. Here’s what Jill Stannard, leader of Cumbria County Council said: “A lot of people have suffered a lot of losses but the community has really pulled together at this difficult time. People will remember Cumbria for that, for the way the community has rallied round and how all the authorities and agencies have worked very well together.”
Well we don’t have a flood clean-up to unite us; we have the message of how Jesus came to save us from our sin. We have the task of spreading that good news as widely as we can. And insofar as we find ourselves in partnership with others in this enterprise, we can be greatly encouraged by it.
So, let me give some examples. We can be encouraged by Hopefest. 18 churches across the Sevenoaks area have organised Hopefest. What brought them together? It was the desire to spread the good news of Jesus. We can be encouraged by our part in it.
We can be encouraged by our partnership with those who have gone oversees with the gospel. In the old days, we used to call these people missionaries; now we quite rightly call them mission partners. We can be encouraged that we support and pray for Dick and Caroline Seed.
We can be encouraged by the fact that, like the Philippians we haven’t forgotten those who are suffering for their faith. They are in hot water, but we still remember them and count them our partners. That’s why we give to the Palestinian school today.
And we can be encouraged by our partnership with each other. Here we are today, Kemsing and Woodlands together, encouraging each other as part of our partnership in the gospel.
So that’s one way we can be encouraged this morning. We can be encouraged by the partnerships the gospel brings us.
Be encouraged by the perfection God will bring us to.
The second encouragement for us it that we can be encouraged by the perfection God will bring us to. Be encouraged by the perfection God will bring us to.
This is the other reason why Paul can give thanks for the Philippians. Verse 6: Being sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
As the Philippians heard Paul tell them the gospel, they responded in trust and obedience. That’s how it felt to them, but Paul knows that this was God’s work. God was at work in them so that they could respond to Jesus in this way; God was doing his good work. And the other thing Paul knows is that God never starts a project that he doesn’t finish. So God will perfect these Christians. That will come to completion when Jesus comes back.
That is why Paul thanks God for these Christians. He thanks God because it is God’s work. It’s God’s work through and through, and he’ll finish his work.
We are now into that season when Christmas shopping needs to be done. Doubtless many of us will go into Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, or Bluewater on a shopping spree between now and Christmas. It’s tiring; the crowds are too busy; the queues are too long; even the traffic is busier at this time of year. Having fought through all of that, you are not going to pay for your shopping, only to leave it all in the store. If you go to the trouble of buying what you want, you will make sure your purchases get home with you.
God has sent his Son, Jesus, to be born as a baby; Jesus died on the cross for our sins; God sent Paul to preach to these Christians, and gave them the grace to respond to what they heard. He’s not going to do all of that and then not get the shopping home
And so the Philippians could be encouraged that they were God’s doing, and God would finish. And we can be encouraged this morning that we are here because God has brought us here. We would not be Christians without God. And God will finish his work in us. When we are frustrated by our sin, or frustrated by the sins and failings of others, or frustrated by the imperfections of our church, or of the other church, God will iron all this out in time. By the time Jesus comes back, all those flaws will be gone.
So rather than despairing, we can give thanks to God. We can give thanks that he has brought us into being as Christians, that he has brought our churches into being, and we can give thanks that he’ll finish the job. There’s much to give thanks for in each other, and much to be encouraged by.
Turn to prayer
Those, then, are the great encouragements for us in this passage. Paul turns from giving thanks to praying. Even a healthy church, like the one at Philippi, has scope to grow.
I guess it’s a bit like children. A child can be extremely fit and healthy, but they are not a grown-up and they still have growing to do.
So let’s draw encouragements from Philippians chapter 1, but let’s not be complacent and think that we don’t need to grow to the same extent that we are healthy. Being healthy changes the growing we need to do. The great thing about this chapter is that we see what Paul prays for a healthy church. Insofar as we are healthy, what are our priorities?
The answer is: Have a look at the prayer at the end of this Bible reading. We’re not going to look at that this morning; we’ll save that for our next combined service in January. But if you pray that prayer often for Christians and churches that you know, you will find that your prayers are in line with Paul’s, and your priorities are in line with God’s.
For now, Paul told the Philippians how much he gave thanks for them; he did that because he wanted to encourage them that they were healthy, and on the right track.
So insofar as we are like the Philippian church, we can be really encouraged this morning. Let’s be encouraged by the partnerships that the gospel brings us, and let’s be encouraged that we are God’s workmanship, and he will bring us to perfection when Jesus returns.