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Philippians: Living as if God IS In Control

Philippians: Summer 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  21:17
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Today, we begin a sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Over the next few weeks, we will explore a piece of each one of the chapters of the letter as we have it. We will discover several things about the church in Philippi as well as ourselves. A few notes to get us started…the Philippian church is truly a joyful community living together in times of testing. This will give us a glimpse of a community learning how to live together with one another—and in God’s presence—during difficult times. Finally, I am praying that each of us will see how Paul’s letter to the Philippians has brought comfort and direction to God’s people all over the world throughout the centuries since it was birthed.

Today’s World

And this is really a great place for us to start…we need to recognize that God’s people will always face times of trials and testing, whether it was the early church, which faced times of trial and testing during the Roman Empire, or whether it is the church today in places like China and Iran, where Christians are persecuted daily and die because of what they believe. It is important for us to understand and know that God’s people will always be confronted with difficulties. Now, you may think, “Those places are centuries or continents away. What does this have to do with me?” But times of trial and testing do not only happen on the large social scale. They also happen on the individual and personal scale, to people like you and me.
Make special note of this...near the end of his ministry the Apostle Paul said, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). In part, Paul learned this lesson during his time in Philippi and years later when the Philippians came to his aid while he was in prison. That’s what the Book of Philippians helps us understand.
So today, we will begin with a little about the church that Paul writes to in this letter...

The Beginnings of the Church of Philippi...

In the first decades of this new Philippian church, the people who gathered together experienced both success and difficulties. Now, some Christians might try convince you to think that the presence of difficulties means we are somehow living outside of the will of God. But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes we can be right where God puts us, doing exactly what God has asked us to do and we still face persecution, opposition, misunderstanding, and suspicion. This is true at all levels of society.
To understand how we got the church in Philippi, we need to turn to the Book of Acts, specifically chapter 16. It is here that Luke tells us about how God used Paul to start a brand-new work in this city that had never before heard the gospel...Acts 16 tells the story of how Paul and Silas found themselves in prison even as they shared the good news in the city of Philippi. Even though they were in chains and in prison, Paul and Silas sang, they worshipped the Lord in the middle of their trouble and pain. We should keep this story from Acts in mind as we look at the letter to the Philippians, because it reminds us that we will go through trials.

Trials They Faced...

Notice that I said, “go through” trials. Trials are made to be gone through: we will not remain in them. Trials are made to go through because our God is bigger than any trouble man can dream up. Many of us face trials on a daily basis, whether that be at work, or in a relationship, or have something to do with our finances, or illness, or you maybe even because we have suffered violence for the sake of the gospel. Part of the good news of God’s redeeming love is that even when we experience trials, we can have the confidence that we will pass through the trouble. God will not abandon us and leave us stuck in our difficulties. In fact, one sign of Christian maturity is our ability to rejoice even when things are not going our way. We can rejoice merely in the fact that we are in the center of God’s will, even when the trouble is of our own making because we’ve acted foolishly. The truth remains to be, trials were made to go through—not to remain in! God doesn’t abandon us as we travel through trouble.
So the church in Philippi which was born out of persecution, took root in the Roman town of Philippi, hundreds of miles away from where Jesus lived, ministered, and was resurrected. What this tells us is that the good news of the gospel can grow in any soil. The gospel is not a Jewish thing, or a Roman thing; it’s a God thing, offered to people all over the world!

Living as if God IS in Control...

Now, when we get to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, 10 years have transpired since the account in Acts 16. Some things have definitely changed. The church in Philippi is prospering and healthy. They are not only a thriving community in their home city, they are a community that looks after the welfare of others, people far away who may be in some kind of need. And Paul is one of those other people! The Philippian church has sent a gift of money and a member of their church to help him because prisoners had to provide for their own means even though they were in prison. And there, from his chains, Paul writes a letter to acknowledge their gift, to send back the brother they had sent to minister to his needs, and to teach them about the connection between Christian joy and suffering.
Paul writes this letter from inside prison and he is encouraging those outside of prison! This letter is a model for how to live during tough times...

The Letter...

As we delve into these four chapters of the letter, we will see how Paul comforts and encourages those in Philippi as well as us today…so,

1. Prayer and Persecution

Early on in chapter 1, Paul prays for his friends back in Philippi. I mean, think about it, here is someone far away from the church, who is in a difficult circumstance, there not many more challenging than being in prison, and he is still praying for them. Paul continues his effective ministry even though his body is held captive. He prays for the people in Philippi, and he instructs the church in Philippi.
So, what does he pray? It’s in verses 9-11...
Philippians 1:9–11 NLT
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
So here, he prays that the church in Philippi will be able to discern what is best for them, that they would be pure and blameless, and that they would be filled with the good fruit that comes from being in relationship with one another and with Christ.

2. God’s Priorities

In chapter 1, after praying for the well-being of the people in Philippi, Paul sets to the task of teaching. In verses 12 through 18, he wants us to learn how to live as if God is in control. He explains that we do this by taking God’s view of things and by taking on God’s priorities. Paul tells the Philippians that although there are people outside of prison who are trying to make life worse for Paul while inside prison, Paul is actually pleased with the way things are. It may seem crazy, but there were people who thought that by continuing to preach the gospel in public, and by making money from preaching the gospel, that the authorities would make life even more difficult for Paul. That means those people outside were preaching the gospel from false motives. You would think Paul would be upset, or at the very least critical. But he is not.
Paul says that his situation is turning out for the advancement of the gospel. We might say that Paul is “Gospel-Centric.” He rejoices that the good news is being preached whether from good motives for ill motives. The gospel is more important than his reputation or his personal comfort. He understands his imprisonment is for the sake of the gospel and does not ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead he understands that God is in control.

God IS in Control!

Now, it’s easy to agree with a simple religious statement like “God is in control.” But the result of saying God is in control is that I am NOT in control, which is the hardest thing we will ever admit in our lives. We like to control everything. However, it’s actually very liberating to realize that we are not in control. This does not give us the liberty to excuse all of our actions, it must be a joyful submission to the will of God, which is often not our will. The thing is though, God is in control even beyond the nasty motives other people. This is how Paul viewed his circumstances. The question is now, how do we view circumstances?
Sometimes we are surrounded by people who operate from ill motives or just plain ol’ meanness. I think our natural reaction would be to cry out to God and ask Him to intervene. “God,” we might pray. “Stop these people from trying to harm me or trying to profit from religion.”
Here’s the thing…if we are like Paul, we would simply rejoice that God’s priorities are being accomplished. How about that? Could we find joy in the middle of our difficulties or trials if we had the assurance that God’s priorities were happening? This is a call to a deeper maturity in Christ. It is a call to the kind of maturity that acknowledges the fact that our comfort and our safety are not the highest good in the earth. No. God’s kingdom is the highest priority, and Paul demonstrates that his priorities align with God’s priorities. When our priorities align with God’s priorities, the result is peace and joy. Whether we are in prison or free we can experience peace and joy. Whether relationships, or work, or finances are going well or are going poorly, we can find peace and joy when we align our priorities with God’s priorities. You see, Paul was not merely teaching the church in Philippi. He is also teaching us.

A Few Final Thoughts...

In verses 19 through 26, Paul says something very unusual and a little mysterious. He says that what has happened will turn out for his deliverance. In other words, Paul’s faith that God is in control is expressed in terms of outcomes, not events. The events did not look promising for Paul. But Paul looks beyond the events toward the outcome. And he concludes that the outcome will be glorious. Whether in his day or in ours, here are the verifiable facts: sorrow, sickness, and suffering are at large in the world. But God shows His glory by bringing outcomes that are greater than any sorrow, any sickness, or any suffering. For example, Tertullian, one of the early fathers of the church (who also lived during a time of persecution), said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” Like Paul, Tertullian was able to look beyond the immediate events. He was filled with confidence that God would use even difficult events like the death of Christians to do something wonderful. This is part of the glory of God: in the middle of people’s weakness and wickedness, God is in the world working his wisdom for our good, and for the good of generations to come. Do we believe this?
Let us pray…God, we want to live as if you are in control of all things. When we try to overcome and to control, remind us that you are the only one who can and then strengthen us to live out your will in our lives and not our own. Amen.
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