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sermon 2018-11-11 Geoff Follas

Philippians 1:1-11                   


I have entitled my message “A Letter of Joy” because the word Joy and Rejoice appears in this letter so many times. It was a joy for Paul to write this letter, where some of his others letters were difficult to write because of the situations he was writing to. But the condition of the Philippian church brought Joy to Paul’s heart.


“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.”

When Paul wrote this letter he was imprisoned in Rome, probably under house arrest. A number of Roman soldiers would be rostered to guard Paul, and he would be chained to the soldier while he was on duty.

Paul had to provide his own food and he was allowed to have others with him. Obviously, Timothy was his companion and attendant during this period.

Notice that Paul calls himself and Timothy servants of Christ Jesus. The word here is bondslave.

In the ancient world, they had slaves who had been forced into slavery and they had bond slaves who chose to be slaves. These were slaves who had served a master and had been offered their freedom but had chosen instead to serve their masters indefinitely because they loved their master.

That is what it means to make Jesus our Lord and Master. He has freed us from slavery to sin and death, but we have freely chosen to commit ourselves to serve Him forever. We are not forced to be slaves of Jesus and we don’t serve Him out of fear of punishment, we serve Him because we love Him and we choose to serve Him. In fact, it is our greatest joy to do so.

2 Cor 5:14 Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains me.” The Greek can read, “Christ’s love for me and my love for Christ confines me, holds me in its grip, enslaves me.” I am a slave to Christ because of my love for Christ and His love for me.


Paul calls them the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi. N.B. he didn’t write from Saint Paul to the servants of Christ at Philippi, but servant Paul to the saints at Philippi. The New Testament refers to the believers as saints over 300 times but as Christians only 3 times. The word saint means a holy one, one who is set apart from all that is sinful and ungodly and devoted to Christ. That means that everyone in this room who has been accepted by God, set apart by God through faith in Jesus is a saint.

Just think, Lois, you are married to a saint. Before we got married Lois put me on a pedestal. For some reason, she thought I was perfect and could do no wrong. A week after we were married I fell off the pedestal and haven’t got back up there since.

Let’s look at the city of Philippi.

In Northern Greece, there was a place where the main road ran from East to West. In 360 B.C. Philip, the father of Alexander the Great established a town that he had named after himself, Philippi.

When Rome came to power, the Emperor Octavian sent over 300 veteran soldiers to settle in Philippi and Philippi became a colony of Rome, with its own government. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas had been conducting their missionary work in what is now Turkey and they came to the Aegean Sea that crosses over to Greece. During the night Paul had a vision in which a man from Greece called him to come over. He, Silas, Timothy and Luke crossed the Aegean Sea and made straight for Philippi.

Now it was Paul’s custom that whenever they entered a new town they would go to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath and share the Gospel there, but Philippi did not have a synagogue, which shows there were hardly any Jews in the city. You have to have 10 Jewish men to start a synagogue. So they went down beside the river because it had been the custom of the Jews since they had left Israel to assemble at the riverside if there was no synagogue. [By the rivers of Babylon].

There beside the river, they found a few Jewish women, and so Paul shared the Gospel of Jesus with these women and God opened the heart of one of them to believe: Lydia, a businesswoman. After she and her household had been baptised, the first church in Europe began in her home.

Paul remained in Philippi for some time, building up the church and then revisited it a few years later. Of all the churches, Paul seemed to have a special bond with Philippi. They were very supportive of his ministry and were always sending him monetary gifts. In fact, they not only sent money to Paul, but they had also sent one of their Pastors, Epaphroditus, to be with Paul in prison.


Paul was going through some very difficult and trying times because of his faith in Jesus, He had been arrested and was permanently chained to a Roman soldier and unable to continue the work he had been doing.

And then out of the blue came Epaphroditus, one of the Pastors from Philippi with a very generous gift from the church, and with the news that he had been chosen to stay with Paul and give him all the support he could during his imprisonment. Paul was so deeply touched by this expression of love and kindness. It was so typical of the church at Philippi that he wrote this letter from prison in Rome.

In verses 3-8 we see how Paul’s deep bond with this church was:

Etched in his memory v3-4

Evidenced by their support. v5-6.

Embedded in his heart. v7-8.

Expressed in His prayer. v9-11



Isn’t it true that whenever we remember people we love dearly and have been a blessing to us, our first thought is one of thankfulness? We are so thankful for the privilege of sharing in their lives.

I went to visit a man who had just lost his wife from cancer. I had gone there to express my sympathy and sorrow because of his sad loss. I expected to find him in the depths of despair because they were a very loving close couple. As we talked, instead of expressing self-pity, instead of dwelling on what he had lost, he was full of thankfulness. He was so thankful to God for the privilege of sharing those years with such a wonderful lady. It was uplifting.

And that was Paul. Whenever I remember you, I can’t stop thanking God for you. The thought, the memory of the Philippian believers filled Paul’s heart with gratitude and joy. Why? Because they had been such a blessing to Him from the day he first met them until now.


In his book “Restoring your spiritual passion’, Gordon MacDonald talks about 5 kinds of people that can affect our spiritual passion.

  1. The draining people. [They sap our passion] Those who are demanding of our time and energy because of their personal or emotional needs. They can sap our passion through their demands or through conflict.
  1. The nice people. [They enjoy our passion] Those who affirm us and enjoy our company but may not allow it to affect them too deeply. Jesus and the crowd in John 6.
  1. The teachable people. [They catch our passion] Those who are eager to learn and grow in relationship with us. Timothy to Paul.
  1. The valued people. [They share our passion] The teammates who share our dreams and are one with us in the work. Aquila and Priscilla. Philippians
  2. The resourceful people. [They ignite our passion] Those who lovingly motivate us to change and growth in God. Paul to Timothy.

The Philippians were valued by Paul because they had partnered with him in his ministry from the day they met Him. Do we want to be remembered like that? To make such an impression for Jesus, that people turn to God and give Him thanks.

As Paul reflected on the spiritual growth he saw in these believers he said, “ I am confident that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally completed on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

This verse is such an encouragement. First of all, Paul says that it is God who is doing the work in us. It is not all our doing. If our spiritual growth and development was all our work, then we could take all the credit. Proud of our achievements [C.f. I did it my way].

It is only what God does in us and with us and through us, that is of any value and will remain when Jesus returns.

Major Ian Thomas, the founder of Capernwray, started out as a Christian wanting to live for Christ and serve Him. Ian worked tirelessly seeking to be the best Christian he could and to do as much as could for the Lord. By 19 Ian burnt out and told God he could go on anymore.

“Then, one night in November, that year, just at midnight, I got down on my knees before God, and I just wept in sheer despair. I said, ‘With all my heart I have wanted to serve You. I have tried to my uttermost and I am a hopeless failure.’ That night things happened. The Lord seemed to make plain to me that night, through my tears of bitterness: ‘You see, for seven years, with utmost sincerity, you have been trying to live for Me, on My behalf, the life that I have been waiting for seven years to live through you.'” Ian discovered the truth that it is not what we do for Christ that counts, it’s what He does in us and with us and through us as we surrender to Him.

Secondly, Paul says that God will keep working in us until He has completed what He began.

I have conducted a number of funerals for godly Christians who died in their early or middle years and fellow believers have asked, “Why did God take them so young when there was so much more they could have done.” You may think they still had a lot of work to do, but God had obviously finished his work in them.   

A woman was visiting a silversmith and watched him as he worked. He held the silver ore in a small crucible over a very hot flame waiting for all the impurities to be burnt out of it. She asked him if he usually sat in front of the fire the entire time. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘not only do I have to hold it, but I must also watch it. If I leave it there too long it will be destroyed.’ After thinking about that for a while she asked, ‘How do you know when the process is complete?’ Smiling, he replied, ‘That’s easy; I see my face reflected in it.’

God won’t give until He has completed the work in us that He began.

Years ago, Billy Graham’s, Ruth, came upon some road works and when she came to the end of the roadworks she saw a sign that read: “End of Construction—Thank you for your patience.” She said to Billy, “I want those words on my gravestone.” After her death in June 2007, her desire was carried out.

Thank you to God for His patience and to those patiently bore with me as God worked in me and on me.


Now Paul just pours out this great passionate love he has for the Philippian believers. I carry you in my heart because you have been there for me at every turn and I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Jesus said that what identifies us as his disciples is that we love one another. In fact, it is His command to us.

This love of Christians for one another had such an impact on the unbelievers in Paul’s day that it was the main reason so many came to Christ. The church was made up of people from every possible background, rich, poor, slaves and free, Jews and Greeks, and yet they loved one another deeply and selflessly.

Tertullian, who lived in the first century AD was raised in a pagan home and later became a Christian. He made this statement, “Look how these Christians love one another and how they are even ready to die for one another.”

I came from a non-Christian home where there was cruelty, resentment, drunkenness, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. At school, kids were cruel, sadistic and mean to one another. As a new Christian of 17, I attended a church youth camp. When I returned home from the weekend I went into my bedroom and lay on my bed and cried and cried, because I had never experienced love like that before.

This is the love of Christ expressed through the lives of true believers. This is the love that the Philippians expressed in word, attitudes and actions towards Paul and this is the love that Paul felt for the Philippians. “I long for you all with the affection of Christ.” Affection = bowels.

Do we really love each other like this? If not lets really work at it because it means more to Christ than most of the other things we think are important.

Eugene Peterson writes, “Every day I face the challenge to love. There’s nothing I am less good at. I am far better in competition than in love; far better at responding to my instincts to get ahead, than at figuring out how to love others. I’m schooled and trained in getting my own way. And yet I decide every day to set aside what I do best and attempt to do what I do very clumsily – open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride. “


When you really love someone what do you want for them more than anything else? Most Kiwis would answer, “I want them to be happy.” Most Kiwi parents would say, “I don’t mind what our kids are doing, whether it’s morally acceptable or not as long as they are happy.”

Paul did not pray that the Philippian believers would be happy, do you know why? Because God is not concerned about our happiness, He is concerned about our holiness. That means that we become more and more like Jesus.

He doesn’t pray that they will escape persecution. He doesn’t pray that they will succeed in life. He doesn’t pray that their church will grow. He doesn’t pray that they will be able to exercise their gifts and ministries. He prays that they will grow in love, in moral purity and in Christ-likeness. It’s all about Christian character.

I know I bring this up time and again, but I’ve been involved in church life for 52 years and I’ve seen so-called Christians who know their Bibles back to front, who exercise spiritual gifts and ministries, who are deeply involved in the organisation of the church, but their behaviour and attitudes do not reflect the character of Jesus and that has been a major grief to me over the years.

I can understand why John the Apostle only had one message for the church after serving Christ for 70 odd years, “Little children love one another.”

The burning desire in Paul’s heart for believers was that they would grow up spiritually and become mature believers expressing through their lives the very character of Jesus. Abounding more and more in love, in the knowledge and discernment of what is good, right and true. Upholding the moral values Jesus taught and modelled and filled with the righteousness that comes through trusting Jesus.

When our behaviour and attitudes express the character of Jesus the result is that glory and praise go to God. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven

Dr. John Maxwell prayed the following prayer with his friends present at a recent birthday party: ‘Lord, as I grow older I want to be known as…thoughtful rather than gifted, loving rather than intelligent, gentle rather than powerful, a good listener instead of a great communicator, available rather than a hard worker, sacrificial rather than successful, reliable not famous, content more than driven, self-controlled rather than exciting, generous instead of rich, compassionate more than competent.’