Sermon – December 6, 2015

Philippians 1:2-11 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 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. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Approve what is excellent”—one phrase out of this opening of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Paul wants the people in the church back then—and now—to think carefully about what is excellent, about what matters most in the long run. What matters on that day Jesus comes. At the end of this letter, Paul writes that we are to think about what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. If there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise, we are to think about those things. Both at the beginning and the end of the letter, then, he says
We Are to Approve What Is Excellent—
That Is, What Matters Most,
What Counts in the Long Run.

So what is that? What is excellent? What counts as excellence in the long run? On the day Jesus comes.

This text is built on three foundation stones. The first stone is “Thanksgiving.” Giving thanks for people in the church is excellent. Paul starts the letter by saying, “I thank my God in all remembrance of you.” He is telling the Philippians how thankful he is for them. He loved the people in this church. They supported him whether he was starting churches or in jail. They sent him gifts of money when he needed it. They held fast to Jesus and the truth when threatened because of their faith. This congregation partnered with him in the Gospel, the good news of the salvation Jesus brought to the world. Paul could count on them and their love for him and one another.
So Paul gave thanks for the people there when he prayed. He thanked God for the Church in Philippi because they were God’s gift to him.
Did you ever stop to think that we are God’s gifts to one another? The church isn’t like a bowling league or some political organization where we get together because we like the same things. No, God has brought us together around Jesus. Everyone in the congregation, everyone here this morning, every visitor that walks through those doors. He has given us to one another to support and encourage. He has made us a family. He has chosen who our brothers and sisters are. Now, just like in any family of humans, not everyone gets along with each other all the time. But just as you don’t get to choose who your brother or sister or mother or father is, so it is in the church. It’s not our choice and we don’t get to pick who we want to be our brother or sister in Christ. The fact is, they are God gifts to you, every one of them. Even the ones you don’t get along with are his gifts without whom you would not receive the blessings God has in store for you. Thank God for one another every day.
So, what is excellent? What matters most in the long run? What really counts? For one, giving thanks for one another in the church because we are God’s gifts for the others and they are God’s gifts to you.
Give thanks for their partnership in the Gospel. As you walk around the church on Sunday morning you see people getting ready for service. You see ushers turning on the lights and unlocking the doors. You see others have set up the communion. You see some praying in the pews, others greeting people as they come in the door. Yes, thank God for your partnership in the Gospel as everyone works together. Thank him for giving us as gifts to one another.
II.
A second foundation stone is the word “Confidence.” Paul says, “I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He was confident the Philippians would be there at the end. The end of time. When Jesus comes back again. Paul was confident that Jesus would keep them in the faith, in the church, until that great day of resurrection. He says that Jesus began this good work in them and Jesus will finish it as well. Even though we see our defects, even though we struggle to get alone with one another, we know that we are not fully perfect. We know that our brothers and sisters in Christ are not completed yet. But just as Paul was confident that Jesus would bring to completion the work that he has started in me and in you, so are we confident that on the day of Christ’s return you and I will both stand sides by side perfected, completed. Did you notice why Paul was so confident? It’s all because of Jesus.
Paul was confident back then. Today, we wonder. Each week, churches close because of lack of members. Attendance figures are down across much of the country. In some surveys, the fastest growing group for religious affiliation is “None.” Islam is growing, while Christian churches have more and more empty pews. Many congregations are missing entire age groups like those in their twenties and thirties. Going to sporting events has become more important than worship. But still, Paul calls for us to be confident that Jesus will bring us to completion on the Last Day. Jesus will do it. Jesus. He is our confidence. How so? Because of how he began the good work in us.
Music is one of the few activities that involves the whole brain. When we listen to music, both sides of the brain, its many lobes, go into action. Listen to the precious sounds of the church. Water splashing in the baptismal font. It’s music to our ears in the church. Listen to these wonderful words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And what happens? We welcome a new member into God’s family, a child of the heavenly Father. Jesus began that. On a cross, where forgiveness was won. Leaving behind an empty tomb, Jesus lives again to live in our lives. In Baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death and raised to new life in his resurrection. What a wonderful good work he began in our lives. Listen to those precious word, “Your sins are forgiven.” These are the words of salvation. Or the words, “This is my body, this is my blood given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Here is forgiveness, here is Jesus in flesh and blood present with us.
At the end, Jesus will bring you to completion. He will hold on to you. He will keep you in the faith. He will come back for you and bring your bodies out of their tombs to live forever in his glorious presence. Paul is confident because Jesus is behind it all.
What a confidence booster! With our brains fully engaged, we were affirming what was excellent. What mattered most? What would count at the end? We are buried with Christ, forgiven, and the Holy Spirit is living on the inside of us. Yes, Jesus will bring this good work to completion on the Last Day!
III.
The third foundation stone for what is excellent is “Love.” The apostle Paul prays “…that your love may abound more and more.” It’s not that they aren’t loving. They are. Paul just prays that their love will abound more and more. Now remember, love is not just some feeling you have inside. Love, as the Bible sees it, as a Christian loves, is active. It’s doing things. Love is a verb. And what does it do? Love does what benefits someone else. Love does what God wants done. Love seeks what is excellent, pure, honorable, just, commendable, lovely.
So just what would love look like for us? Think about the Last Day when Jesus comes back. It’s a time of no more tears, no more hunger, no more pain, no more sickness and death, no more loneliness, no more fear. What does God want? What is excellent? When we begin to make those very things happen now that will be brought to completion on the Last Day, that’s love.
No more tears. Love wipes away tears with an embrace, a comforting word, a prayer spoken out loud, a safe place for someone to talk and rest.
No more hunger. Love gives food to those who don’t have meals to eat or money to buy what’s healthy for their family.
No more pain. Love bandages a wound, whether that’s with a bandage or words or simply being there for the person.
No more sickness and death. Love supports research that seeks to heal diseases, and then, when death comes, provides support and meals and whatever to the grieving family.
No more loneliness. Love visits, sends a card, makes a phone call.
No more fear. Love protects even when it may put you in danger.
The Philippians put their love into action for Paul. Lydia was one of the first members of the church there. She offered her home to Paul and those who were with him to stay in. Her love blossomed in hospitality. When Paul and Silas were in Philippi, they were thrown into jail. That night they sang hymns and prayed. An earthquake came, and the doors were opened. The jailer was ready to commit suicide because he thought all the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out, “Don’t hurt yourself, for we are all here.” That very night the jailer became a believer, as did everyone in his household. Then the jailer’s love flowed as he washed Paul’s wounds. And this church gave money, over and over again. They gave more than they could afford to give to support Paul and his work or when he ended up in prison.
This stone is love. Love matters. Love is excellent. Love counts at the end.
Paul calls for us to approve what is excellent. He wants us to fill our lives with the big stones of thanking God for the gifts we are to one another in the church as partners in the Gospel, of confidence because Jesus is alive and will bring us to the end with him, and of love for others who have so many needs. Yes, approve what is excellent every day of your lives. Amen.

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