Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb

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