When Paul wrote to the churches, he usually wrote to address some problem in the church. Paul always seems to have a spirit of gratefulness and thanksgiving in his heart when he wrote to them. The only letter where that feeling was absent was in the letter to the Galatians. With them, he skipped the normal introduction and went straight to the heart of the matter.
When we write a letter today, we start with some sort of salutation, then we write what we want to write about, and then we sign or name. But when Paul wrote, he always starts with who the sender is, then he gets to the subject at hand, and then he gives the salutation at the very end.
When you read the letter to the Philippians, you have to get to the end of the letter to discover that there was any problem at all in Philippi.
This was a military colony. It would be like you or I starting a church at Fort Hood. There were no Jewish synagogues there, so when Paul arrived at Philippi, he went to the riverside where some folks were having a prayer meeting. As we discovered last week, his first converts were a jailor, a traveling sales lady and a girl that they cast a demon out of. It was not a real promising group to start a church with, but it ended up being a wonderful church.
Paul founded this church on his second missionary journey. Now he’s on his third journey. He’s received a love gift from this church, and this letter is a response of his love for them. He’s in a Roman prison in Caesar’s household and there are Praetorian guards chained to him who change shifts every six hours.
Right in the middle of his hardships Paul is thinking of some other “ships” he has. The theme of this Philipian letter is joy. We need joy in our heats, in our homes, in our churches, and in our country. But how do we have joy?
Are you missing joy today? I’m not talking about when your happenstance happens to be happy; I’m talking about genuine joy. Right in the middle of Paul’s prison hardships, he tells us about four other ships in his life.
He tells them that the reason he has joy is because of the lordship of Christ, because of their fellowship, because of the workmanship of God in his life, and because of the companionship that he feels for this church.
This church sent through Epaphroditus a love gift to Paul, and he’s giving thanks for that gift and telling the church at Philippi that he loves them. He says, “You’ve blessed me, you have a sweet fellowship that I want to remain, and I want joy to be at the center of your fellowship.”
Joy is one of those fleeting things that comes into a fellowship and you don’t even know it’s gone until it is gone. If you’re here without joy and fellowship in your heart, you may be a cancer that will spread into the Bible study, into the fellowship, into your neighborhood, or into the church.
I want you to know how to have joy in the midst of your circumstances…in the midst of your hardships. You may have lost a job, or gone through a divorce, or you’re dealing with rebellious kids, or whatever. You’re saying, “Pastor, I wish I could get hold of that joy you’re talking about.” Well, Paul was able to do it, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.
Look at Philippians 1:1-8. “Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you making request with joy. For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hat begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
Paul is saying, “I’m grateful for you and I love you. Don’t worry about me, because when I have you in my mind, I always think about it with joy.”
What would you be writing from a prison cell? Would you be writing about how hard the bed was, or how bad the food was? Would you be asking for someone to come see you?
Four times in verses 3-8 Paul uses the phrase “you all.” Paul must have been from Texas! But he says, “I am a person filled with joy.”
Paul knew how to spell joy. There’s a book about Brian Piccolo called, I’m Third. He said, “You spell joy this way: Jesus, Others, You.”
Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo were running backs for the Chicago Bears in the late 60’s. When they roomed together, it was a first for both of them. Sayers had never had a close relationship with a white person, and Piccolo had never known a black person.
During the 1968 season, Sayers suffered a career-threatening knee injury. It was Piccolo who encouraged him. The same Piccolo whom Sayers had beat out at the fullback position. He kept saying, “You can do it, Gale. You can do it!”
In 1969, Gale Sayers came back. At the end of the season, after a full recovery, he stood in a banquet hall in New York to accept the George S. Halas Award for courage.
Sayers and Piccolo had been planning to sit together for this event, but Brian wasn’t there. He was facing something much more serious than a knee injury. He had cancer. Sayers accepted the Hallas Award that night, but he accepted it for Brian Piccolo.
As he stood to receive the reward he said, “You flatter me in giving me this award, but I’m telling you here and now that I accept if for Brian Piccolo. He’s the man of courage who should receive this award. It’s mine tonight; its Brian’s tomorrow. I love Brian Piccolo, and I’d like for all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you’re down on your knees, would you ask God to love Brian Piccolo? I love Brian Piccolo.”
That’s a rare exchange between Christian men…to say, “I love you.” But Paul is saying, “I love you, and I’m writing you a thank you note. You’ve been there with me and thrown your hat into the ring with me.”
First, he talks about lordship. Verse 2 says, “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace is a Gentile salutation: peace is a Jewish salutation. So in one sentence Paul closes the gap between Jews and Gentiles. You can be together whether you’re black or white, or Jew or Gentile. But you can’t have peace without grace. You can’t have joy without peace.
Some of you may be trying to have joy in your heart without having the peace of Jesus Christ. But you’ll never have His joy until you first experience His grace. You’ll never have joy until you understand that He is Lord and you are His servant. That’s where Paul’s joy starts.
He said, “When I have you in my mind I give thanks for you.” But he goes on to say, “I have you in my prayers and in my heart. I love you and I have joy for you. But I first have joy because Jesus is our Lord.”
One of the first evidences that Jesus is Lord of your life is that you’re going to be a servant. Did you notice the first verse? “Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ.”
You say, “Pastor, how do I know if I’m a servant?” You’ll know when people start treating you like a servant. How do you react when people treat you like a servant?
Notice that these “servants” are writing to the saints. When you become a servant, you become a saint. You don’t become a Baptist, or a Catholic, or a Presbyterian; you become a saint.
Paul says, “Do you want to know why I have joy? It’s because I know something about lordship. Grace and peace are from our Lord Jesus Christ.” And he mentions that they are servants of Christ.
Paul understands lordship, but he also understands fellowship. If you’re going to have fellowship in a church, you have to have a servant mentality and humility. The name “Paul” means little one. He is the servant who’s writing to the saints.
Anyone who assumes a place of leadership in this church is to always have a towel girded about their waist. True leaders are servants. If you want joy, you’re going to have to spell it: Jesus Others and You.
You may encounter criticism as a servant. Someone asked Charles Ryrie how he handled criticism. He said, “First, I consider the source. Second, I ask, “Is this person on the playing field with me, or is he just up in the press box where he can get a good view of everyone else’s mistakes?”
Some of you come here and call this your church. This is where you worship and this is where you are led and fed: but you’re hat’s not in the ring.
Some of you say, “Pastor, it’s such and embarrassing thing to walk down the aisle.” Listen Jesus would never ask you to do anything embarrassing. He might ask you to do something that is humbling. Being baptized might be a humbling thing and walking the aisle might be a humbling thing. But if you’re going to understand fellowship, you have to understand that fellowship comes through humility.
Paul is a servant because he understands humility. He says, “We need each other….mistakes and all.” This isn’t a perfect church. If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll screw it up!
There was a man who was about 80 years old who was a golfer. He would get so frustrated because when he hit the ball, after it would go out there about 20 yards, he couldn’t see it or find it. He said, “I’m giving up the game because I can’t see.”
He’d just spend his time hanging out in the pro shop with the other guys. Pretty soon, one of the other guys said, “What’s happened to you, Harry? I haven’t seen you on the course in quite a while.” He said, “It’s no use. My eyes are getting bad. I hit it down the middle, but after about 20 yards I can’t see it anymore.”
The other guys said, “We can fix that! Roy, come here!” He said, “Harry, Roy doesn’t like to play golf but he’s got eyes like an eagle. Why don’t you take Roy with you and he can see where your ball goes?”
That sounded good to Harry so they teamed up. Harry hits the ball about 200 yards. He said, “Roy did you see where the ball went?” He said, “I sure did.” They started walking down the fairway. After they had walked and walked, Harry said, “Where’s the ball, Roy?” Roy said, “I can’t remember!”
Folks, that just goes to show you that we all need each other!
We ask, “Paul, why do you have such joy in your heart in the midst of these terrible circumstances?” He says, “It’s because I understand something about the lordship of Jesus Christ. I understand what it means to be a servant, and I understand something about humility. I also understand something about unity.
I told you last week that the word fellowship in verse 5 is the Greek word koinonia. It means communion….sharing…..partaking. We get our word “coin” from that word, which means “likeness.” You and I have some similarities. It’s not a similarity in what we wear, or in where we live, or in what we drive: the gospel of Christ is our similarity.
Don’t judge a person on the outside! If someone comes through the church door who doesn’t look like you, or dress like you, or smell like you; you may have a tendency to write them off before you have fellowship with them. If you do that, you’re a church snob! Be careful about jumping to conclusions about people.
Is everybody welcome in this fellowship? If someone comes in here with a gem at every joint and a nugget at every knuckle, do you say, “Boy, that’s the person I want to be sittin’ next to!” Or, “That’s the person I want in my Sunday school class!” Don’t kid yourself. Inside, where God looks, that person may be dressed in filthy rags.
But then there may be someone who walks in and doesn’t look like much. They may not even own a tie. But God looks at their heart and says, “This person has the robes of righteousness on. They have the garment of praise inside of them. They are dressed with the full armor of God. I accept them.” But do you?
The district manager for Zippy Dog Food decided he was going to fire up the sales force about Zippy Dog Food. He got them all in a hotel ballroom and was asking some rhetorical questions to see what kind of response he would get. He said, “Whose go the best dog food?” They all said, “Zippy Dog Food!” And he thought, “Yeah, they’re fired up and ready.”
He said, “Let me ask you something. Why, out of 19 dog food companies are we number 17?” A hush fell over the room. Then, a first year salesman at the back of the room yelled out, “Cause the dogs don’t like it, that’s why!”
Sometimes we have this arrogant attitude where we say, “Who’s got the best evangelism strategy in the world?” And we say, “We do!” “Who has God’s infallible Word?” “We do!” Then why does it take so many of us to baptize so few of us? Could it be that the dogs don’t like it?
When Paul spoke to the church at Philippi, he said, “You understand something about being in common, about humility, about unity; and you understand diversity.”
Their commonality was the Gospel. We’re brought together supernaturally. We enjoy Bible study together, we enjoy prayer together, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We don’t have fellowship with the world. We can’t. We are light and they are darkness. The Bible says, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?”
There are some things I can’t do, there are some places I can’t go, and there are some people I can’t hang around with. I Corinthians 6:14 says that we aren’t to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. The prophet Amos said, “How shall two walk together except they be agreed?”
You need to understand that there’s a difference between fellowship and friendship. We can be friends with lost people in order to reach them for Jesus Christ, but we can’t have fellowship and go to the same places or do the same things that they do.
One is interested in sin; the other is interested in Jesus. One is interested in the world; the other is interested in the next world.
You can be sitting next to someone and not have fellowship with them. Physical proximity has nothing to do with spiritual intimacy. But when your heart and another person’s heart come together in fellowship, and where there’s humility of mind and a unity of spirit, that’s when things are as they should be.
You can allow people to be different. There can be diversity.
When people are like us, it’s not difficult to love them, is it? But what about people you don’t have anything in common with? Someone said, “To love the whole world for me is no chore. My only problem is the guy next door!”
This church didn’t have a lot in common except the Gospel.
Sadly, the most segregated hour in America is still 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Black, white, rich, poor, educated, uneducated….Paul says, “I have joy because of the Gospel of Christ, because of the lordship of Christ and because of the fellowship of Christ. I understand humility, and that in unity there will be diversity. That doesn’t mean that we’ll all be the same.”
Our diversity is a gift from God. Judson Edwards said, “If everybody was just like me, the world would surely be a better place to be. There would be no murder, for I am not violent. There would be no stealing, for I am not a thief. No adultery, for I am happily wed. No atheism, for I believe in God. No ignorance, for I have been to school. If only the world was more like me, surely it would be a better place to be. Or would it? For if everybody was just like me, there would be no merry-go-rounds, for I get dizzy. No clowns, for I am self-conscious. No doctors, for I hate blood. No painters, for I am colorblind. No mechanics, for I can’t fix anything. No elevator operators, for I am claustrophobic. No homerun kings, for I can’t hit a curve ball. No balloon riders, for I’m afraid of heights. Come to think of it, if the world was just like me, it would be an awfully boring place to be.”
Paul, tell me something. In the midst of all your adversity and hardships, why do you have such joy? He says, “Because hardships are not the only things that prevail in my life. There is the lordship of Christ: that’s why I have joy. I understand servanthood and sainthood. When there’s unity and fellowship, you throw your hat in the ring with me. You don’t just sit in a spectator box looking down on the playing field. There’s another ship that sails through the harbors of my sea, and that’s workmanship.”
Look at Philippians 1:6. “…being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…”
Did you notice that there were three days mentioned? In verse 5 there is the first day. Have you had a first day in your life? Under this workmanship there is the initiation of it. God is doing a work in our lives. He started the work….not you. It came the very first day of your spiritual life. Have you had a first day? I remember the first day of my spiritual life.
Then there is the now day. And there is coming a glorious day. Paul talks about the initiation of it and then he talks about the location of it. It began in you. God is doing a work in you. God put a hunger in your heart to know the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some people say, “I’d give my life to Christ if I thought I could live it.” That is so wrong! It’s not you working for Him: it’s Him working in you. He has initiated it and He has located it. God thought it, the Holy Spirit wrought it, Jesus bought it, and you and I caught it!
Paul says, “I have joy because I understand something about workmanship. It’s not my work. God’s doing the work. If I’m going through hardships, I know its God working in me both to will and to do His good pleasure.”
And he says, “He will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We are under construction and God doesn’t abandon His projects.
The last ship is companionship. In verse 7 Paul says, “I have you in my heart.” The whole verse says, “…even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”
Paul doesn’t want to give them a piece of his mind; he wants to give them a piece of his heart. He says, “I love you and I need you, and we’re in this thing together. We need to work together.”
Do we have a fellowship where we have a sense of family and a sense that we’re in this thing together? I told you about judging people wrongly. Stephen Colby said that he was on a train in New York. There were some kids on the train who were running up and down the aisle, knocking over people’s coffee. People had their laptops out and were working. These kids were driving them crazy! Colby said, “I wish someone would say something to these kids. They are so unruly!” Well, just before they arrived at their destination, Stephen Colby went up to their father and rebuked him. He said, “You should have a little more discipline over your children. We’re riding this train and trying to do our work.” The man said, “I know, but these boy’s mother just died an hour ago. I’m a little dazed and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.” Colby said, “I felt pretty small about then, because I judged wrongly.”
Do you understand what its like to have companionship? Surveys tell us that it doesn’t matter if you’re in a church of 600 or 6,000 you will have about 60 acquaintances. That’s it. Some people say they don’t like big churches. But one pastor of a big church said, “If you don’t like big churches, just sit on the fourth row and never look back!”
It seems that the strategy today is to build a boomer church, or a buster church, or a double income, no kid church. But I want to pastor a church made up of people. Not middle-upper or upper-middle people, just people who are saved by the blood of Christ and who have fellowship and companionship with each other.
Paul says, “I miss you when I’m not with you.” Folks, you won’t know how sweet a fellowship is until you miss it. You say, “I want a church that doesn’t make mistakes.” You’re not going to find one. You say, “I’m praying for a church that wants revival.” Well, this church wants revival.
Is your hat in the ring? Are you a part of a fellowship? Do you understand lordship? Do you understand workmanship? Do you understand companionship?
Preachers often receive too many accolades and too much criticism at the same time. But churches aren’t built around preachers. There are a lot of people making things happen while you and I are sitting here.
The linemen on a football team rarely get any recognition. Their hands get banged up, their fingers get dislocated: they’ve been in the pit. They’re bloody. But you never see their faces. You just see the running back’s face. You only see the posterior of those linemen the whole game. You don’t even see their faces in the huddle because they have their heads down. Right?
But suppose the linemen said, “We’re not showing up today.” Suppose those in the nursery didn’t show up for duty. Suppose they said, “We’re all going to go to worship.”
Suppose others came in and said, “I’m not going to do my job today.” Here are those linemen who have missing teeth and their noses have been broken four times. They’ve been knocked out about 20 times and they can’t do long division or spell very good, but they’re in the trenches!
They don’t have names like Romo, or Elway, or Tebow. They’ve got names like Darrel, and Leonard, and Burl, and Bubba. But they are the ones who open up the holes for those running backs.
This church is only successful in the eyes of the Lord when everybody understands lordship, fellowship, workmanship and companionship.
Why not throw your hat in the ring today?