First Lutheran Church, Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Guest Preacher: Rev. Ray Smith, Executive Assistant for Rural Ministry, Iowa District West; Pastor, First Lutheran Church, Missouri Valley, Iowa;
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. CHRIST IS RISEN > > >
The text for our meditation this evening is St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. To begin, let me read from 1:3-6 where St. Paul writes: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this; that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
So far the text, let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You grant us, Your bride, the Church, so many good gifts. Enable us by Your Spirit to recognize every opportunity You give to live anew, in worthiness of Your Holy Gospel. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ, what a great joy it is to be with you all tonight; to share in your joy for this new beginning that is truly a partnership in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for asking me to come and thank you for this chance to share God’s Word with you.
Let me begin by asking a question; What does it mean to be in partnership for the Gospel?
For St. Paul and the Philippians it meant a relationship that had been built over time, and for a specific purpose.
Time & Purpose:
Philippi was where Paul went when God sent him to Macedonia. Philippi is where St. Paul and his brothers met Lydia, and established the congregation when she and her household were baptized.
And Philippi was the city where Paul suffered arrest and public beating for expelling a demon from a slave woman who had been practicing divination for the profit of her owners; owners who dragged Paul before the Philippi magistrates to be punished for ruining their livelihood.
Philippi had an astounding history. About a generation before Christ, Philippi was established as a Roman colony by Emperor Octavian. Her status was equal to that of Rome, and that was a big deal for a colony on the crossroads of the Roman Empire and Asia.
Generally speaking, at that time the people worshipped a number of false gods, especially the god of agriculture, Silvanus.
We first find Paul on the Philippian scene in Acts chapter 16 when he had his vision to go to Macedonia. He and his brothers Silas, Timothy and Luke among others left Troas and went to Philippi.
For years after that first encounter the Christians in Philippi supported Paul’s missionary efforts and his Epistle to the Philippians is a kind of “Thank You” message, written while imprisoned in Rome after his 3rd missionary journey to encourage them to live out their faith in a way worthy of the Gospel, specifically increasing in love for God and neighbor.
I chose this letter for our focus tonight, because it elaborates how we as Christian have ample motive to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
First of all, Paul speaks of fellowship in the Gospel.
The Gospel is perfect. Believers in the Gospel are not perfect. In fact, if believers were perfect there would be no need for the Gospel because it would be redundant.
I know that the folks of Trinity, Creston and the folks of First, Mt. Ayr have worked hard to form a new relationship under the banner of Jesus Christ.
But I also know, even though I’m not privy to your discussions, that as that relationship was taking shape, there were differences of opinion on certain issues.
Just to be clear, Pastor Watt hasn’t shared anything with me about the process, or talked with me about anything other than your wonderful results.
But still, my own experience suggests that not everyone started out on the same page.
If we were in Oklahoma someone might have blurted out an “AMEN” at that last statement.
There may still be some skeptics here tonight. But St. Paul offers some good advice.
Chapter 2: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Dear friends, no matter what differences of opinion there may be, no matter what skepticism about the future may exist, there is one thing that is absolutely true and that each and every one of you believe and trust. Jesus Christ died for all. Of that, you are all “in full accord and of one mind.”
Humility in Christ:
Now, out there in the world, not everyone agrees with you. As Christ’s Body, the Church, we have opponents; people who think we are stupid to believe that “no one comes to the Father except through [Jesus Christ].” And there are those out there who think we are wrong to “force our belief system on them.”
I’ve never really understood that way of thinking because it is impossible to do that. At least it’s impossible for us to do that, because faith comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit; another point of our confession where we have concord.
So, Paul encourages us to live our faith by seeing Christ as our example. In that light, Paul speaks of servanthood.
“Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, becoming born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:5-8).
Being a servant requires humility. There are different rolls in service. Leadership, coordination, teaching, learning, and following are just a few. But each one requires that we must first look to the needs of others.
Here in the Church, we must recognize the need to build each other up in Christ, so that out there in the world, we can provide the witness that our opponents need to see and hear.
Let me say that another way: If we build each other up in the love of Christ, then we can live in the world according to that love, or as Jesus Himself put it, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment, and a second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).
The early Christians suffered greatly for the faith. Many were persecuted and even killed.
Some might say that we are fortunate to live in a more civilized culture, but when unbelief is rampant, abortions are on demand, Christian prayer is under assault, and it’s unacceptable to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” in public, I don’t think much has changed.
We are called to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, whether that suffering is minimal or abundant.
Now that doesn’t mean we have to go out and look for ways to suffer, because the Lord knows that there is plenty to go around.
But, it does mean that if we suffer for the sake of the Gospel, we shouldn’t avoid it by compromise or denial.
Lights in the World:
Again, St. Paul gives us sound advice.
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (2:14-15).
The world we live in is a twisted and crooked place, and it is darkened by the existence of sin and evil. It needs to see your light shine, because without the light of Christ that each of you reflect, our opponents, those who want to silence our witness and make God fit into their own reason, will end up suffering in eternity a much worse fate than we will ever suffer in this life.
Living a life worthy of the Gospel means that the gift of faith comes with a responsibility. God works through us in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Will there be rejection, persecution and even suffering? Yes, there will be.
But the paradox that we live as believers in Christ, is that we rejoice in suffering because our confidence and hope is beyond this crooked and twisted generation.
We live lives worthy of the Gospel because even though we are not perfect, we are counted righteous before God by faith in Jesus Christ.
This and this alone is why we can press on toward the goal, because Christ Jesus has made us His own. Because we belong to Christ, we can live our faith through witness and deed, worthy of the Gospel, building each other up so we can meet the task.
In conclusion I want to once again thank you for letting me share in your celebration this evening.
I leave you with these thoughts from Philippians. St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:4-6)
Dear friends and partners in Christ, by faith you are living as people worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In His name. Amen.