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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:I Will Rejoice In the Church!
Text:Philippians 1:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-05-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Acts 16

Text: Philippians 1:1-5

 

I WILL REJOICE IN THE CHURCH!

  1. I will Rejoice in its Diversity

  2. I will Rejoice in its Spiritual Identity

  3. I will rejoice in its Purpose

 

  1. Psalm 81:1-3

  2. Psalm 106: 1, 2, 22

  3. Psalm 16: 1, 3, 4

  4. Hymn 64:1, 2

  5. Hymn 76:1-4

 

Words to Listen For: fit, small, cross, rather, prevented

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Explain the gospel through the one word: bondservant

  2. What are the two themes of the book of Philippians?

  3. What was missing in the town of Philippi?

  4. How are saints both “holy” and “common” ?

  5. What is Paul joyful about...ultimately?

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

Have you heard of the lifestyle guru Marie Kondo?

A few years ago, she wrote a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

You don’t have to read the book...here is the secret: All you have to do to declutter like the Japanese do, is to ask a very simple question: “Does this spark joy?”

Marie Kondo says that if an item doesn’t immediately spark joy when it is touched, then the item is bound for either the donation bin or the trash bin.  Joy is the way to declutter.

This morning, we are beginning a short sermon series on Joy in the book of Philippians.

And I want to ask you the very simple question...does this spark joy?

          Does THE CHURCH spark joy?

          Does THE GOSPEL spark joy?

          Does UNITY spark joy?

And finally...are you constantly experiencing sparks of joy?  Do you find joy in all circumstances?

This is SUCH an important topic, and we will learn that there is a lot more to it than simply an immediate and natural feeling of joy when thinking about something.

The feeling of comfort, of encouragement, joy and hope…

These are all qualities that we would love to have in our lives.  These are qualities we would love to cultivate in ourselves, especially now when we are facing a serious threat to the church.  Let me explain.

We are always facing a serious threat to the church...Satan does not cease to attack us.  In the not too recent past, we were facing the threat of fear and disease.  A pandemic was declared, and we didn’t know what to think.  It seemed back then, that death was lurking around each and every corner.

At that time, the anthem of the church looked a lot like Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

But it's a different sort of threat now.  Frustration, hopelessness, and anger.  And these things bring with them a lack of joy.

But this challenge, I remind myself often, and I remind you now, is something that we must overcome in much the same way as our previous challenge: God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.

  • It is in depending on God when you wake up at 6am

  • It is in depending on God when you pour yourself a coffee at 6:05

  • It is in reminding yourself to depend on God when your blood-pressure begins to rise at 6:06 when you open the newspaper.

 

Each and every one of us needs to find our joy, our hope, our trust, and our comfort, ultimately, in God.  And it is only through God as our source that we can, like the Apostle, find joy in His gift: the church.  Only through Him can we proclaim with the Apostle:

I WILL REJOICE IN THE CHURCH!

  1. I will Rejoice in its Diversity

  2. I will Rejoice in its Spiritual identity

  3. I will rejoice in its Purpose

 

Let’s dive right into this wonderful letter!

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.

And already, we have to stop here.  This first phrase is both foundational and key to Paul’s joy.

 

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.

Or, as other translations have it, slaves, or even bondservants.

 

Ironically, Paul’s lowly status as a bondservant is a vital aspect of his joy.  Let me explain.

I grew up with the language of SLAVE - from the NIV - and so, until this week, that was my preferred understanding of this word.  And then, through study, my mind was changed, and it is a particularly beautiful change.

Servant seems to present a softened view of the word, as “slave” has all sorts of horrible connotations, and brings up images of the terrible slavery in the United States.

But slaves in Paul’s day, although some were treated horribly as well, could be very wealthy and even respected members of the household, serving as tutors for the children, or running the business affairs of the master of the house.  And this, in my mind, fit well with who Paul was.

Paul, along with each and every one of us, was purchased, not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  And though we belong, body and soul to Jesus Christ, we have an active role to play in His Kingdom.

But even though all of that is true...this week I discovered why the term bondservant fits even better.  You may wonder why I am making so much of this word, but when you understand it the way that I do...you will see how the gospel is found in this one word.

Being a bondservant.  What does this mean?

Though in the Greek in which Paul is writing, this word, doulos, can just simply mean servant or slave...with the Hebrew background, the Jewish understanding that Paul brings to this word, is so much richer.

This word comes from the Mosaic tradition of Exodus 21.  Please turn there with me.  Exodus 21, the verses 5 and 6.

After explaining that normally, all slaves are to go free in the 7th year of their service, Moses explains this alternate option

BUT IF THE SLAVE PLAINLY SAYS, “I LOVE MY MASTER, MY WIFE AND MY CHILDREN; I WILL NOT GO OUT FREED, THEN HIS MASTER SHALL BRING HIM TO GOD, AND HE SHALL BRING HIM TO THE DOOR OR THE DOORPOST.  AND HIS MASTER SHALL BORE HIS EAR THROUGH WITH AN AWL, AND HE SHALL BE HIS SLAVE FOREVER.

THIS is the picture of a bondservant.

Do you see?  Paul is not saying that he is ONLY a slave...he is a slave that serves because he LOVES His master.

He is a slave, no doubt about it.  He was purchased by Jesus Christ.  He belongs, body and soul to His Lord.

But Paul is not a slave that grumbles.  Paul is not a slave that cherishes hatred in his heart against his master and wants to go free.  But instead, Paul is the slave that has found his life in his Master.  Paul found his meaning and his identity, and his everything in his Lord.  And he never wants to go free.  He will be a life-long servant of Christ Jesus.

And like Paul, you and I are called to be bondservants of Jesus Christ.  This is the gospel message, isn’t it?

You were bought at the highest cost.

Now, you are to love.

Our gospel identity is that of BONDSERVANT.

 

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi

Let’s go through this in reverse.  First Philippi, then the saints who are there.

If there is one thing that the book of Philippians is about, it is JOY.  That is clear.  16 times in four chapters, we find the word joy, or rejoice.

If there is one thing that the book of Philppians is about, it is joy.

If there are 2 things Philippians is about, it is joy and citizenship.  And why?

It is because of the town of Philippi.

Philippi was a highly favored provincial municipality.  The area of Philippi, though it is over 1000km from Rome, was highly favored as a center of administration and a military outpost.  For history buffs, this was the location where the forces of Cassius and Brutus, the assassins of Julius Caesar, were finally defeated.  Veterans retired there, and the area became like another Rome.  It was like Rome in its government, in its dress, and in its citizenship.  Roman citizenship opened so many doors in Paul’s day (we heard in our reading,

how the magistrates had to personally apologize for throwing Paul in jail with no trial), and if you were born in Philippi, you would automatically be a Roman citizen.  And so, many of those who lived in Philippi had moved there to gain the rights of citizenship for their children.

But Paul explains that JESUS, and not CAESAR is Lord.

Paul explains that citizenship in HEAVEN is far more important than citizenship in ROME.

Being a bondservant to Jesus Christ is true freedom.  Being a servant is being a citizen in His Kingdom.

And now on to the saints.  The saints in Philippi.

Let’s firstly examine WHO these saints are, and later, we will examine WHAT a saint actually is.

The saints

The CHURCH at Philippi.

And we heard just who some of these church members were in our reading, didn’t we?

And what diversity there was among these members!

Lydia.

A wealthy woman, a dealer in purple cloth.  Some of the rarest and most expensive of all goods at that time.  She was gathered by the river for prayer.  She was, what we could call a “God-fearer.”  Whether or not she was biologically Jewish, we don’t know.  But there is something interesting in the fact that Lydia and the other women were gathering by the river for prayer.  What is interesting here?  What is MISSING in their meeting that was present in Jerusalem, Thessalonica, Pisidian Antioch, and so many of the other places where the Apostles and evangelists went out, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What was it?  What was missing?

A SYNAGOGUE.  There was no synagogue in Philippi.  Instead, women met by the river.

And, while it is possible that this was because of the laws of the area, my own personal opinion here, and feel free to disagree...as Paul will sometimes say in his letters, “this is from me, not from the Lord.”  But my own personal opinion is that this points to the lack of male believers in the city.  For it takes 10 male believers to constitute a synagogue.  The fact that the women were meeting by the river for prayer seems to point us to the conclusion that there were not enough faithful men.  Not even 10 righteous men in the whole city.  Make of that what you will.

But there was Lydia.  Already a believer in God, but, seemingly, ignorant of Jesus Christ, and salvation through Him.

And when Paul preached the gospel to her, her heart was opened, and she believed.  She believed and was baptized.

And then, who else was part of this Philippian church?  Who was the other new covert in our reading?

The jailer, his wife, and his children!

Paul and Silas were thrown in prison for casting a demon out of a fortune-telling slave girl.  A riot rose up, and to keep the peace, Paul and Silas as instigators, were thrown in prison, with their feet bound in the stocks.

At midnight, when they were praying and singing to God, and the other prisoners were listening, learning about God and the gospel...there was an earthquake.  The prison doors were opened, and the shackles fell off the prisoners’ hands and feet.

The jailer, fearing that he would be disgraced, and put to death for the loss of the prisoners, was about to kill himself, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there!

And why?  Why were they still there?  We can understand Paul and Silas, out of care for the jailer’s life...but the other prisoners?  Perhaps hardened criminals?  Why were they there?

Again, this is just a theory, as Scripture is not clear on this, but isn’t it likely that they stayed because they had the gospel preached to them?  Because they saw the joyful example of Paul and Silas, the only crime they were guilty of was showing mercy to a slave girl...innocent but punished as though they were guilty...and demonstrating the peace in their hearts, their willingness to endure disgrace for the sake of Christ...their joy found in their citizenship in heaven...this the prisoners saw, and perhaps some of them believed.

We know that the example of Paul and Silas touched the heart of the jailer, and he wanted to know the gospel of salvation.  So he heard the preaching of the Word and believed.

These were the first members of the church in Philippi, beloved.  A rag-tag group...a wealthy merchant, a jailer, and very likely, some criminals.  A small congregation, but one that loved the Lord.

And we know, from the book of Philippians that there were some disagreements and difficulties in the church...Euodia and Syntche had to be publicly encouraged to work together...but even in this...Paul looked upon them with joy and thanksgiving in his heart.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you

How wonderful it is when remembrance and gratitude are bound up together, isn’t it?

Being remembered, and being remembered for good.  Remembered with fondness and love.  Perhaps Paul, currently in prison, was reminded of that night in Philippi.  Perhaps he was remembering the face of the jailer, lit by a torch, first frightened, then confused, and then rejoicing in the gospel.  Perhaps he remembered Lydia, and the moment when God opened her heart and the gospel seed was planted there.  Paul was a man who loved this rag-tag, ramshackle congregation.

Even though he loved them for who they were before the gospel came into their lives...he rejoiced at what they had become.  He loved them for their earthly identity, but so much more for their spiritual identity.  Our second point.

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons

 

Saints.  This is an interesting term, and it’s one that is particularly interesting for my catechism students.

We have been talking a lot about the differences between the Reformed Church and the Roman Catholic Church.  We talked about Christ’s descent into hell, we talked about exclusive worship of Jesus as Lord, and we talked about Christ’s role as advocate at the right hand of God.

And so sometimes I will ask the students: What is the difference between us and the Roman church?

And the answers may vary.

  • We don’t have a Pope

  • We don’t believe in transubstantiation

  • We don’t believe that baptism itself cleanses the child from original sin

And sometimes, often, they will add in

  • We don’t believe in saints.

And yet, here it is, in black and white in your Bibles: To the saints in Christ Jesus.

How should we understand this?

Well, it’s actually quite simple.  This word, apart from the Roman Catholic misuse of it, simply means “those who are holy.”  The holy ones.

It is not those who, through miracles, have officially become canonized in the Roman Catholic Church.  A Roman Catholic Saint must have evidence of having done two or more miracles during their lifetimes, whether a miraculous healing, or light coming out of their tomb, or the weather miraculously clearing up on the day of their funeral.

This has nothing to do with how Scripture refers to saints.

Saints are, at the same time, holy, and common.  Let me explain.

Saints are holy.  This is literally what the word means.  Saints are those who are holy to God.  Those who are set apart.  Those who have been set apart FROM sin, and set apart FOR God.

The saints are holy, and yet they are sinful.  We in the church are sinful, but we are saints nonetheless.  The church is made up of sinful struggling saints.

And how are we sinful and yet holy?

          We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we would ever dare to believe...

           And yet, at the same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we would ever dare hope.

And that’s what it is.  What sets us apart as saints is not our holy lifestyle, or the miracles we do...but the miracle that Jesus Christ did.  In coming to this earth.  In the humility of humanity.  In the weakness of death that turned into His strongest victory.

We are saints because Jesus Christ declares us to be so.  And as saints, we are being made internally holy (holy on the inside) by the Spirit, even though we have been made extrinsically holy (holy on the outside) by the Son.

We read of this wonderful already-but-not-yet of our sainthood in Hebrews 10 - by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

We were PERFECTED - made holy - by the Saviour , and yet, we are BEING PERFECTED - sanctified - by the Spirit.

This is how saints are holy.  And yet, they are also common.

Saints are common, because each and every person who puts their faith in Jesus Christ, each and every one who runs to His cross and embraces it, having fellowship with the sacrifice...each and every one of us are saints.  Being a saint is not only a designation for the best and the brightest.  But for every believer.

Whether the believer is a business woman, dealing in rare and expensive cloth

Or a jailer

Or a prisoner

Or you, here today…

Whatever your earthly identity WAS...it has been overwhelmingly replaced, it has been swept away by your spiritual identity as a saint in Christ Jesus.  Is this not reason for rejoicing?  Is this not reason for ecstatic celebration?

No matter how good your earthly identity was, your heavenly, spiritual identity is far better.  Being called holy by THE HOLY ONE?  Being taken in as His son, as His daughter...as heir to life everlasting!

No matter how bad your earthly identity was...as a criminal, as a persecutor like Paul used to be, as an idolator, an adulterer, a blasphemer...none of these have the power to prevent you from being received in grace in Christ.  Whatever you were...you are no longer.  You have been given a new identity!  YOU ARE HOLY! 

And as those who are made holy by Christ, and are still being made holy, we have a responsibility.  We have a responsibility as citizens of the Kingdom.  We have, not only a new spiritual identity, but a new spiritual purpose.  Our final point.

Finally, in our last point, we get to the part of our text where Paul specifically writes about his joy.  I hope you’ve seen the joy inherent in the other aspects already.  But here it is clearly.

Verse 3 - I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy - and here’s why - because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

It is clear that the saints at Philippi have truly been living the Christian life.  In this letter, unlike the letters to the Corinthians, the letter to the Galatians, and to the Colossians, there is not any rebuke from the Apostle.  There is not any particular heresy present in this congregation, but rather, we learn that he has felt the strong support of their prayers (1:19), that they have sent him a helper in the person of Epaphroditus (2:25), and at the end of the letter, he thanks them for the financial support that they sent him (4:15).

But we learn throughout the letter that Paul’s ultimate joy is not found in the strength he has received from their prayers, not through Epaphroditus, whom he sends back to them, and not even though the financial support, saying “not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”

And this verse from chapter 4 is key to understanding what Paul means in our text.

I thank my God

    In all my remembrance of you

        Always

            In every prayer of mine for you all

                Making my prayer with joy

                    Because of your partnership in the gospel

Paul is giving thanks that the seed he planted, in the few days with Lydia, and in the few hours with the jailer...that the seed of the gospel was growing and producing fruit.

Paul is one of the most selfless people we meet in all of Scripture.  While he is in jail, prevented from doing his missionary work in the way that he would want, he still rejoices.

He is the one encouraging the congregation of Philippi to rejoice.  Any worry he has, any concern, is not for himself, his trial before Caesar, his upcoming death sentence as a result of the trial...but for his beloved congregation.  They are his joy and his crown.

What a wonderful thing it is when remembrance and gratitude are bound up together.  Paul did not just remember them with fondness as one does a childhood best friend.  Remembering the particular way that Lydia folded her hands for prayer, or the gentleness of a man so big as the jailer...but he remembered them with joy.  And joy upon joy as he heard of how they had grown in Jesus Christ.  How they had grown in their knowledge of Him.  How they had grown in their love.  They were his beloved congregation and they truly sparked joy whenever he lifted them up in prayer.

Beloved congregation, in this time of difficulty...where joy might be the furthest thing from your mind.  When intrusions of anxiety and frustration seek to claim stake in your mind and heart…

Do the work of a Christian.  Do the work of a Christian, show that the seed planted in you by the gospel is bearing fruit.

Let it bear fruit in your love, in your kindness, in your care for those around you.  And let it bear fruit in your joy.  Finding as your foundation the fact that you belong to Christ.  You are His bondservant.  You have been made a saint by His sacrifice, and now, He makes you willing with dedication, in hope, His yoke to bear.

AMEN.




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

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