I decided to go off-Gospel today. St John the Baptist is a small church in North Slough with a wonderfully diverse congregation, 2 decrepit buildings, a Vicar off on long-term sick leave and a massive building project coming up that doesn’t have quite the money that it needs. I wanted to use Philippians to remind and encourage this congregation of God’s promise to complete the good works He starts and stand firm in their faith. It starts with a history lesson on the beginnings of the Philippians church in Acts 16 before moving into the actual letter.
St John the Baptist – 10:00
I have decided to go in a slightly different direction this morning. You may have noticed over the last few weeks that the NT readings have all been from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We haven’t given them much attention other than in their reading. I thought it might be a good idea to have a closer look at the Letter to the Philippians and what it might be saying to St John the Baptist and its fine people this morning.
Philippi was a city in North Eastern Greece – (it was then part of Macedonia and now a ruin) that was a Roman colony and a leading city because it was rich in gold and silver mines and had good soil. It was named after the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon around 356 BC.
Paul along with Silas founded the church in Philippi around 52 AD and it was the very first European church plant. Paul felt called there after he dreamed of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come and help them. The story of Paul’s first journey to Philippi is in Acts 16.
Philippi had a small Jewish population – we know it was small because there wasn’t a synagogue – but Paul found women praying by the river. One of the woman that he met was Lydia – the dealer in purple cloth who listened to what Paul had to say and believed. She had her entire family baptism and Paul stayed with them.
Paul then gets into trouble when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl that was following him and Silas around. They wind up getting severely flogged and sent to prison. Then the great story of them singing and praying when an earthquake struck which opened the prison doors and their shackles fell off. I wonder how many prisoners know this story and have tried to escape from jail using this tactic?!
The poor prison guard is about to kill himself as he thought all his charges had escaped. But they hadn’t! Paul tells the man not to hurt himself. The man asks what he needs to do to be saved – so Paul shares the Good News with him and he is saved and his family is baptized without delay we are told.
This in a nutshell is the beginnings of the church of Philippi. We see a diverse church!
St John the Baptist – you are in a strategic location in Manor Park, you have a vision for your new building and you have people. Like Philippi – you have resources. It may not feel like you have much but you do. The building project ahead of you may seem daunting – but there is help around you!
There are people out there who need you – maybe some Lydia’s that need something more in their lives beyond the material. Maybe some like the slave-girl that are possessed by the wrong things and needs to be set free. Maybe some like the prison guard who are overwhelmed by their jobs with families to support. People who need a church family that you are in the right location to provide.
Paul writes the letter to the Philippians about 10-11 years after his first visit. He likely made 2 or 3 more visits to Philippi during his travels. But now Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison – probably in Rome as he writes that his death may be imminent. Think about that for a moment – he could be writing some of the last words his church would ever receive from him.
I’m not sure if you have ever received a last word or letter from someone who is dying. My Dad wrote to my Mom and sisters and I before his death. We have hung on to those words and those pages! They are so precious.
These words would have been so precious to the Philippians. Paul clearly loves them – no other church gave Paul as much joy as Philippi did; he held them in a special place. This is a letter of thanksgiving and confident love. No other letter of Paul’s reads like this one does.
This is the letter that gave us:
‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ (1:6)
‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21)
‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility values others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:4)
‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purposes.’ (2:12-13)
‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’. (3:7-8)
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (3:12)
‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’. (3:14)
These are some last words! But they are words to live and die by as Paul shows. Paul wants them to live a life worth living – a life that reflects the Gospel of Jesus.
The church at Philippi were facing three issues at the time Paul wrote to them.
Attacks on the Church – it appears that there was some pressure from the outside – maybe persecution or harassment from the neighbours. The Philippians will have to suffer for the Gospel Paul tells them. He also encourages them to stand firm and not be afraid of those who oppose them.
St John the Baptist – stand firm! Your pressure may come from planning permission, the neighbours who don’t want the construction noise/hassle, things running behind, money. But stand firm! God is with you in this!
Secondly – Paul was aware of tensions within the church. At the beginning of Ch 4 he names two women (Euodia & Syntyche) directly and pleads with them to get along. Something has happened between these two.
Paul does not take sides – which suggests it was not a theological dispute – rather he urges them both to take the initiative to reach an agreement and encourages those around them to help as well. He does not criticize but concentrates on their good points – they had helped him and their names were written in the Book of Life. Personality clashes happen – but they can cause damage and we need to be careful. I don’t know you well enough to know the different personalities here – so this is not directed at anyone. Just a friendly reminder!
Thirdly – Paul warns them about rival versions of the Gospel – ch 3. These ‘dog and evil workers’ are thought to be Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus as Messiah but insisted that proper Christians were circumcised and followed Jewish law.
This is what Paul had to loss to follow Jesus. All the old stuff that he had prided himself on doing and being was now the rubbish. Paul’s very self – he was the most Jewish of Jews! He had to lose it all to find Christ and gain the prize.
Keep your eyes on Jesus! He is the author and perfecter of our faith. The good work will be completed in you and in this church.
Stand firm on the word of God. Stand firm next to one another – bearing with each other, forgiving, loving each other. Stand firm in the knowledge and love of God. Finish the race well.