Philippians 1:1-11

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    The church in Philippi is assembled on the first day of the week. They have come together to worship and fellowship. They meet in a home, perhaps it is the home of a woman named Lydia. The church in this town started with Lydia and her household. They met with a missionary named Paul for a riverside prayer meeting. She and her family heard the good message that Paul was sharing and they were baptized. From that point forward she wanted to offer her resources to provide hospitality. She wanted others to share in her joy. Her life was changed and that’s why she’s here.

    All the church gathers in Lydia’s house surrounded by the tools of her trade – dye and fabric – and they have spread a table. Some have brought bread. Some have brought wine. They will eat together and remember Christ.

    Around the table are some of the Christians in Philippi: One brother is a jailer. He was charged with holding Paul and Silas when they were arrested in Philippi. He almost ended his life that night, but Paul and Silas stopped him. They shared the good news of Jesus with him. He and his family began new life that night. It changed his life and that’s why he’s here.

    I imagine that sitting near the jailer at the table is a girl who was a slave. She’s the reason Paul ended up in prison. She was once possessed by a spirit that enabled her to predict the future. Her owners used her gift to get rich. The first time she ever met Paul and Silas she recognized that they were servants of the Most High God. She knew that they had a message that would save people. Paul cast the the spirit out of this slave girl. That was good for her, but bad for her owners. They lost their income and that’s why they had Paul imprisoned. But the girl was set free. Her life was changed and that’s why she’s here.

    Also at the table is Clement, one of the leaders of the church and over on one side of the room is a woman named Eudodia. On the other side of the room is a woman named Syntyche. It’s a little tense when both of them are there. You see they have been at odds with each other and whatever is going on between them is starting to spill over to everyone else.

    But that’s pushed aside just a bit today because an old member who has been gone for a time has returned. Epaphroditus is here this Sunday. He has returned from his trip to deliver the congregation’s support for Paul, the missionary. He brings with him a letter from Paul. A message – handwritten.

    Everyone is listening intently. What will Paul say? What is his message? How is he doing? They believe in his mission to preach and teach the good news of Christ, but they had heard that he was imprisoned. Has he done something foolish? Why would he risk himself so? Will the mission continue? They have so much invested in it and they are anxious.

    Read Philippians 1:1-11.

    Paul was imprisoned and even though he had every reason to be anxious and doubtful, he was confident. He was confident that God was going to finish what he started. With or without Paul, God was going to complete the good work he had started in this Philippian congregation. The jailer, the slave girl, Lydia, Clement, Epaphroditus – even Euodia and Syntyche on opposite sides of the room – Paul was confident that God was going to do good works through them.

    Paul’s confidence is in the message of good news he preaches: news about God’s grace and his work in Christ to bring peace. Paul is in chains, but it is the gospel that’s on trial; and Paul has now doubt that the gospel will prevail. After all, the church in Philippi is living proof of the gospel’s power to change lives.

    Through his letter, Paul joins the Philippians in worship. He gives thanks for them. They have supported Paul so that he can tell more and more people about God’s good news. Paul prays for them. He wants the power of the gospel to continue to work in them so that they will grow and mature in love for one another. He wants them to be pure and blameless, ready for the day when Christ completes the work he started.

    All of this is just the opening of the letter ...

    Philippians is a letter from Paul to a church that was close to his heart. When we read it, we are reading someone else’s mail. But long ago the church realized that the letter is a word to us too. As your preacher, it is my task to preach that word ...

    First, I am confident that God is able to complete the good work he has started in us. God has plans for this congregation and I want to see those plans bear fruit. I think you do too. We may be very different and we may even disagree about a few things. We can get anxious about that or we can see ourselves as partners in God’s mission. Think about it, God can and will work his purposes through us. That’s huge! We can turn away from God, but he will not abandon us no matter how difficult our situation may be. He will complete the good works he started.

    Second, let us all be confident in the power of the gospel. We often think of the gospel as something that can change the lives of others. Do we ever stop and think about how it changes us? Do we think about how it has changed us? Two months ago, Phil Slate was here for Mission Sunday. He asked to consider what our lives would be like if we didn’t know Christ. That’s a sobering reflection. Let us also reflect on how the gospel continues to change our lives and our life together.

    Third, I am thankful for this church. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve Christ with you. I am thankful for the kindness you have shown me and my family. My hope is that we will grow in the year ahead and in the years ahead.

    Please join me in this hope. Please join me in the confidence that God will finish what he started in us. We belong to Christ. He loves us and can do so much in us. How much do we love Christ?

    Chris Benjamin

    West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
    Morning Sermon, 6 January 2008

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