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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Thanking God for His grace to the saints
Text:Philippians 1:3-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2012-08-19
Added:2013-03-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Thanking God for His grace                              

Ps. 95: 2, 3

Ps. 103: 4, 7

Ps. 89: 1 (Baptism)

Ps. 92: 1, 6

Hymn 52: 1 – 3

Ps. 138: 4

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 1 – 30

Text:                              Phil. 1: 3 – 7

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ,

 

There is a lot of background information available on the church of Philippi.   We even know exactly how its first members came to faith in Christ.   You know how the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, a seller of purple.   She and her household were the first ones in Philippi to be baptised; and then the prison keeper and his household.   Soon there was a congregation that gathered in the house of Lydia.  

When we gather all the information in the book of Acts and in the letters of the apostle we learn that this church was very poor and much afflicted, but that they supported the apostle Paul more than any other church in Macedonia.  

 

And now the apostle Paul is giving thanks.   No, he does not start by thanking and praising this church for their excellent performance in the faith and for the abundant fruit of their faith.    Instead, he gives thanks and glory to God.   He acknowledges that their faith as well as the fruit of their faith is God’s work of grace in them – His grace only.

 

And thus, every time when he remembers the saints in Philippi in his prayers, he thank and praise God.   For it is He who called them, it is He who opened their hearts to receive the gospel, it is He also who will complete their faith until the day of Christ’s coming.

 

And so we may summarise our text with the theme…

Thanking God for His grace to the saints

 

We will note:

 

1.      The reason for the apostle’s thanksgiving

2.      The perseverance of the saints

3.      How the congregation helped the apostle to preach the gospel

In the first place we note….

The reason for the apostle’s thanksgiving

 

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now…”

He thanks God for their fellowship in the gospel.  

Their “fellowship in the gospel” means that they became partakers of the gospel.  

Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ these saints in Philippi are united with Christ and share in all His riches.

They share in all the treasures and gifts of Christ – the forgiveness of sins, the adoption as children and heirs of God, and a new life in communion with God.  

In short: through faith they share in all the riches of the gospel.

 

And the apostle gives thanks to God for this.

For it is all His work of grace.   Their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now”, verse 5, is a good work which God begun in them and which He will complete until the day of Jesus Christ, verse 6.

 

You see then how the apostle ascribes their fellowship in the gospel, from beginning to end, to God alone.

From the very start God was powerfully at work in this congregation.

 

First of all it was God who sent the apostle Paul to them.   You still remember how that happened.  

The apostle Paul was on his second mission journey.  Silas, who was a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15: 22), went with Paul, as well as the young man, Timothy.

But as they travelled the Holy Spirit forbid them to go to Asia, so they tried to go to another place, Bithynia, but again the Spirit did not permit them.    Then the apostle received a vision: a man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”   And thus they took a boat to Macedonia.

And the first city of Macedonia where they stopped was Philippi (Acts 16: 6 – 12).

Not by coincidence, not by chance!   The Holy Spirit purposefully led them to this specific city, while He passed by others.

 

And thus we confess:

 

“So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of this most joyful message to whom He will and when He wills.   By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified.   For how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard?   And how are they to hear without a preacher?   And how can men preach unless they are sent?” – Canons of Dort, chapter 1, art. 5.

 

Yes, God mercifully sent His apostle to them.

From the very first day their fellowship in the gospel was His work of mercy.

And you know how it went.

It was a Sabbath day.   The apostle Paul was speaking to a group of woman who were gathered for prayer.   And one of them, Lydia, a seller of purple, was listening.   And then the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

It was the Lord.   The other women did not heed the things spoken by Paul, only Lydia, for the Lord opened her heart.

From the first day her fellowship in the gospel was His work, and therefore the apostle is giving thanks to God.

 

The apostle also remembers in his prayers how it went with the others.   He was preaching the gospel in Philippi for many days – Acts 16: 17, 18.

But, as always, Satan was also at work, and soon the people of Philippi grabbed the apostle Paul and Silas, tore off their clothes and beat them with rods until they were full of bleeding wounds, and threw them into prison.  

But also this did not happen by accident.   The Lord wanted him there in prison that night, for that night there was a prison keeper on duty who had to hear the gospel; and with him his whole household.

And thus, when Paul and Silas left Philippi the next morning, there was a small church in Philippi, gathered in the house of Lydia – Acts 16: 40.

 

God, in His sovereign grace, gathered them in the fellowship of the gospel, and preserved them until this day.   That is the reason for the apostle’s thanksgiving and joy.   That is why he does not start this letter by praising the saints in Philippi, but bend his knees before God to thank and praise Him.  

  

Yes, they were not a mighty gathering, they were poor and common people suffering under persecution, as we learn from various passages.    But they continued in the fellowship of the gospel, for God who has begun a good work in them also preserved their faith.

 

These are the memories of the apostle when he remembers the saints in Philippi.   But there was also more.   He remembers, and he also mentions in this epistle, how they have supported him from the first day until now.   Their fellowship in the gospel was not in vain, but bore much fruit.   And thus he remembers and mentions in this epistle many instances of their support, and how they shared in his sufferings for the gospel, and how they ministered to his needs.   And he rejoices over this fruit of their faith.

And also for this, he bends his knees in prayer to thank God.

It is His work of grace in the church of Philippi.

 

He called the apostle and directed him to this city.  

He opened Lidia’s heart.  

He gathered this small little church in her house and preserved their faith through all the trials that followed. 

All praise and honour and thanksgiving belong to Him.

 

But the apostle does not only thank God for mercies past; he also has full confidence that God will complete the good work which He started in them.  

Verse 6:

 

“…being confident of this very thing, that He who begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…”

 

We note that in the second place…

The perseverance of the saints

 

God, who called them into fellowship with His Son, will also preserve them to the very end.

The apostle says he is confident of this.

The Greek word which is here translated confident means that the apostle is assured and certain of this.   He believes this with certainty.

 

But how can he be so confident of this?

Is it just his optimistic nature to be so confident?   Or has the church in Philippi made such a good impression on Paul that he simply bargains on their ability to endure?!

No, brothers and sisters, this confidence, this assurance of the apostle, is based on God’s sure promises.  It is even based on the faithfulness of God Himself.

 

It is not based on the strength or the success of the saints in Philippi, but on the steadfast mercy of God.  

 

Here, in this passage, the apostle does not expand on the reason for his assurance that God will preserve them to the end, but he does mention the reason in some of his other epistles.  

 

To the Thessalonians he says:

 

“…may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.   He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” – 1 Thess. 5: 23, 24.

 

God who is faithful will preserve you to the end.

There he bases his assurance on God’s faithfulness.

 

Or, we think of his letter to the Corinthians, where he says that our Lord Jesus Christ will…

 

“…confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.   God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son…” –  1 Cor. 1: 8, 9

 

God is the One who called you into fellowship with His Son, and He will confirm you to the end, for He is faithful.

 

Or, think of the words of our Lord Jesus, where He said:

 

“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.   And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6: 39, 40

 

He will not lose one of all those who believe in Him.

He keeps them, and no one is able to snatch them from His hand (John 10: 27, 28).

 

It is in these promises of God that the apostle trusts.

He spoke about the same confidence and assurance when he wrote to the church in Rome, saying: I am persuaded that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 8.    And when he says in that passage, “I am persuaded”, he uses the same Greek word as here in our text: I am confident of this; I am certain of this.  

 

Brothers and sisters, this is also our comfort and assurance; not that we belong to our Saviour for a little while, but that we belong to Him in life and in death and forever.

Our fellowship in the gospel, yes, our participation in the grace once received will continue and grow and be completed – not because of us, but because of God’s faithfulness.

Those whom He has called into communion with His Son, those whom He has joined to Christ by a true faith, He will also preserve to the very end.

Yes, this is also our assurance and comfort.

And thus our confidence is in the Lord, also for the future.

We do not trust our own ability to endure, for…

 

“…In ourselves we are so weak, that we cannot stand even for one moment...” – as we confess in the Heidelberg Catechism, LD 52.

 

Even after we are born anew we still have to confess with the apostle Paul:

 

            “…I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…” (Rom. 7: 18)

 

No thanks to us, but to God only.

It was He who begun the good work in the Philippians, and He is the One who will complete it.

 

And when the apostle speaks about the completion of the good work, he looks towards “the day of Jesus Christ”.    It is the day of His coming.   It is on that day that our salvation will be complete.

On that day all God’s promises will finally be fulfilled in glory.  

It will be a great and awesome day; a day of judgment and of salvation.   He will appear in great glory and power.   The dead will rise, and all men will stand before His judgment seat.   

 

That is the one great event on the horizon of the believer, the one great expectation which regulates our daily life: the day of our Lord’s coming.   That will be the day of our complete salvation.  

But our joy and thanksgiving start now already.   Trusting God’s promises we may now already rejoice and give thanks to God, for He, in His faithfulness and steadfast mercy, will complete His work of grace in each of us whom He called into the fellowship with His Son. 

 

In the last place we note…

How the congregation helped the apostle to preach the gospel

 

He says in verse 7:

 

“…just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me with me of grace.” 

 

His chains refer to his imprisonment.   He has been in prison quite a few times, and now, while writing this letter, he is imprisoned in Rome.  

He also suffered many other things for the sake of the gospel, but now he refers to his chains as a symbol of all his sufferings for Christ sake.

And when he speaks of his defence and confirmation of the gospel, he refers to his preaching.  

 

On the one hand he had to defend the gospel: that is: defend the truth of the gospel against false doctrine.   On the other hand he had to confirm the gospel by giving positive instruction from the Scriptures, edifying the believers and building them up in the truth.

 

Now, he says that in both his chains – that is: in his sufferings for Christ – and in his defence and confirmation of the gospel – that is: his preaching of the gospel – the Philippians became partakers with him of grace.

 

How then did they partake in his chains, and how did they share with him in his defence and confirmation of the gospel?

 

The apostle speaks about it several times in this epistle.   Just recently the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to minister to the apostle’s need.   We read about this in chapter 2; and then at the end of this epistle, in chapter 4, where the apostle says:

 

“…you have done well that you shared in my distress.   Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only.   For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.   Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.   Indeed I have all and abound.   I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” – chapter 4: 14 – 18.

 

They sent him gifts and financial support.   And they did not do this only once.   He speaks of several times.   And in this regard the Philippians was an exception.   In the beginning they were the only church of Macedonia that helped to pay his costs.  

The apostle also mentions this 2 Cor. 11.

And in 2 Cor. 8 we learn that these Macedonians, who contributed, were very poor and greatly afflicted.   In spite of their deep poverty and in spite of much persecution they still contributed financially, giving even beyond their ability.

 

And now the apostle thank God for this fruit of their faith, recalling many other instances, in which they supported him in this way.   And now again, through their messenger, Epaphroditus, they have sent him gifts and ministered to his needs.   They were not ashamed of his chains in prison, but shared with him in his sufferings for Christ’s sake.   And by ministering to his needs, they became his co-helpers in preaching the gospel, for by their help and support to him they served the gospel.

 

Yes, by supporting him in this way they became partakers with him in his chains and in his defence of the gospel.  

 

He puts their support in the right perspective.   Your support and your gifts are not just helping a poor and afflicted man.   No, by means of this support he was able to preach the gospel to others, and thus the Philippians became his co-workers, sharing in the same grace of suffering for Christ and defending the gospel.

 

He calls it grace.  He often referred to his calling to preach the gospel as a gift of grace that has been given to him – Ephesians 3, Romans 12, and other passages.   When he spoke about his calling to preach the gospel, he spoke about it as “this grace” that has been given to him.

And now, he says, the Philippians share in this grace.

 

Brothers and sisters, when you support a preacher of God’s Word, and when you support a missionary on the mission field, you become a partaker in that work.   By your support and prayers and gifts you share in the grace of defending and confirming the gospel.   And inasmuch as you support God’s ministers in bringing the gospel, you yourself become a co-worker sharing in the same grace.

 

Also in this case the words of our Lord Jesus apply, where He said to His disciples:

 

“…whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” – Mark 9: 41

 

We are not all called to preach the gospel, but you share in the same grace and in the same reward inasmuch as you support God’s ministers.   And thus the whole congregation share together in this task.

 

Yes, the saints in Philippi were poor and sorely afflicted, and yet they abound in this grace.

Therefore the apostle rejoices, thanking God also for this grace, yes, for this evidence and fruit of their faith.

 

Dear congregation, this instruction puts our support for mission work in the right perspective.   It gives a wonderful perspective on all our prayers and support and financial gifts: you become a partaker of the same grace, and a co-worker of those ministers whom you support.

But note how the apostle also describes this fruit of their faith as grace.  

Yes, he thanks God.

He gives thanks for their fellowship in the gospel.

And for their perseverance in faith to the very end, He trusts God.

And their labour in service of God, he calls grace.

 

So then, if there is any fellowship in the gospel, if there is any confidence that God will preserve the saints in Kelmscott, if there is any support for the preaching of God’s word, let us all unite in prayer and thanksgiving, for it is the grace and the steadfast mercy of God alone.  

He will complete it until the day of Christ’s coming.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Mendel Retief

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