We aren’t always as close to getting it as we would like to think we are. A woman said, “On my way home from my mother’s, I realized I’d left my cell phone at her house. So, I went back to get it. Upon retrieving it, I noticed I had a message from Mom. She’d texted, “You left your cell phone.”
A mom got a call from her son’s kindergarten teacher. When he’d gone in to check on her son in the bathroom, he noticed the boy was using a urinal. “That’s odd,” his mom said. “We never taught him how to use a urinal.” “I could tell,” said the teacher. “He was sitting in it.”
Close but no cigar.
How far away is Philippi? Philippi was in eastern Macedonia or Greece. The original city doesn’t exist any longer but in its time, it was important. In some ways we’re nothing alike Philippi or the church at Philippi. But in other ways, I believe we are.
Let’s go back to understand better.
In the mountains of that area of Greece, or Macedonia more correctly, there were gold and silver mines. In 356 BC, the colonists invited Philip II, the king of Macedonia, to help defend them from the Thracian tribes. Seeing the strategic importance of this city as well as the gold and silver mines, Philip II was more than happy to assist them. In the process of helping, he took over the city, enlarged and refortified its walls and renamed the city Philippi in his honor.
Paul visited Philippi on his second journey that occurred between approximately 49 and 51 AD. Philippi was the location of the first Christian community established in Europe. Biblical scholars are in general agreement that the letter was written by Paul of Tarsus. The estimated date of the letter is 62 A.D., about 10 years after Paul’s first visit to Philippi.
Let’s look at the picture of Paul’s second journey. Look at the size of the area he covered.
During this trip, Paul took the Via Egnatia. This major highway was built by the Romans. It spanned Greece and was eventually extended east beyond Philippi to Byzantium.
Even with sound roads, travelers did well to wear heavy shoes or sandals, to have capes and broad-brimmed hats, and to carry bedding, tents, and provisions. On such sturdy roads, soldiers could march four to five miles per hour. The average traveler walked three miles per hour for about seven
hours a day—or about 20 miles per day. For example, Peter’s trip from Joppa to Caesarea, 40 miles, took two days.
Paul walked and took boat trips, long and small ones. He did this for years and years. He ran into every kind of situation in his two and a half decades of travel. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, he tells what he experienced and overcome.
He knew all about having enemies. He also hoped to preach the gospel, establish churches, and make friends.
When it comes to Philippi, as was Paul’s custom, he sought out the Jewish people whenever he went into a new city, hoping they would turn to Christ Jesus. On Sabbath, he found a group of women praying by the riverside. Lydia’s mind and heart were touched and she and her household were baptized. She welcomed Paul, Silas and Luke into her home.
This was the beginning of the church in Philippi.
Some ten years later Paul writes this letter to these people. It is the warmest and most joyful of his letters. They were special to him, and it’s obvious.
They were his friends. He had given to them but they had given much to him. Sometimes, we’re the giver and other times we’re the receiver. Imagine all those miles Paul traveled, all the dire and dangerous situations he faced, all the enemies he had made, and to find a church that befriended him, supported and loved him.
Paul was forever grateful. He loved the Philippians. As he said, he was joyful when he prayed for them. Their love for him brought him a joy he never had with any other church. For Paul, this was the gospel in action, Christ’s life alive in the body of Christ.
We need people who care about us. We need people who enjoy us and love us. No matter how much you know or how successful you become or how much you believe in the truth or how hard you’ve worked, what you still need is someone who loves and enjoys you. We need to be affirmed. The church should be God’s living expression of openness and affirmation.
Paul wrote to the Philippians, “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul knew God was going to continue to bless people as good as they were.
The truth is, it doesn’t take much effort to start things. Diet, school, family…. Starting is easy. Finishing well takes more. Any woman can have a baby but mothering is harder. Any two people can get married but sticking it
out together takes commitment. Anyone can have a dream; it takes perseverance to see it come to pass. The question is not will you start, but will you finish?
People have setbacks. They get discouraged. God is called the author and finisher of our faith, which means the Lord hasn’t only given you the grace to start but also given you the grace to finish. Remind yourself I was not created to give up or quit – but to finish. This is true in simple things: Don’t quit after only five minutes of cleaning the house. Stay in the fight so you can come away blessed by the better result.
And it’s true of bigger things. Whatever it is, be in it to win it. Don’t be moved by opposition. Keep doing your best. God began a good work in you and the Lord will complete it.
This was one of Paul’s highest compliments since he was determined to finish the good thing, the preaching and teaching of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that God first gave him.
Paul maintained this Christ-centered faith during at least four years of suffering as a prisoner of the Roman government, first in Caesarea and then in Rome, possibly in other places as well. During his imprisonment, Paul wrote Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, plus other letters that unfortunately haven’t survived.
What’s amazing is that these letters are among the most hopeful and encouraging Paul wrote. The upbeat message in the prison letters contrasts markedly with Paul’s grim physical condition.
Now don’t get me wrong. Paul had his anxieties and worries. He doubted at times of surviving. He says he was crushed and despaired of life. But it was because of this that he let go of relying on himself and gave the reins of control over to God
We may face adversity, persecution, affliction, hardship or disaster but trust the Lord to help us finish the good we began. Push forward to reach the finish line. You’ve got more help on your side than you’re seeing. Quit telling yourself you won’t make it. God gave you the grace to start, and the Lord’s giving you the grace to finish.
We should think of a spiritually joyful Paul in prison because he has in mind and heart the good he has received. He is striding around some small room or dismal cell in Rome, perhaps in the presence of or even chained to a Roman soldier. He’s carefully dictating a profoundly positive letter to
encourage the church, to thank them, to bless them. Paul writes hopefully of his future despite the obvious hopelessness of his predicament.
This contrast between Paul’s rather hopeless physical situation and his hopeful reaction reverberates through the Philippians and it becomes a message of joy. The word joy occurs 16 times in its various forms in the letter. Spiritual joy, rejoicing in Christ, is a major theme.
What we read this morning focuses on a most important thing: The Philippians’ love for other believers would abound, run over as a cup or a river overflows. It was this love for Paul that brought him so much joy, even while in prison.
The love spoken of here is the love that God is, produced in the heart of those who are led by Holy Spirit in order to receive its fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This love is more than sentimental emotions. Christian love is not particularly a feeling, but a learned, intentional act of the will. Paul tells us it should be knowledgeable and discerning.
Love is to be shaped in knowledge. The word knowledge in the Greek means a full knowledge, a complete understanding. It’s also to be a discerning love, meaning insight, or good judgment.
That’s a different picture than that which we normally see portrayed when someone talks about love. We see love as something that’s an emotion that happens to you, and that’s all.
But love isn’t something that always felt. It mustn’t rule us only when we feel it. It’s a way of life and gives Christian purpose in life. It helps us distinguish between what’s right and what’s wrong. It forms in our mind what we should say and what we shouldn’t say. It teaches us to believe certain things and to dissociate from other beliefs. It is the ground for how we see the world. It establishes how we look at others. It is the basis for our commitments among all people.
It’s not just that love is to abound, it’s that love is to abound still more and more, to “overflow,” sufficient for all occasions.
What Paul experienced was a Philippian welcome and an openness to his message and to his person. We would like to believe that his gospel message changed these people’s hearts from coldness to kindness. It would show the power of the gospel and of Christ’s grace in their lives.
But it was Jesus himself who understood how this worked best and most often. When he told the parable of the sower who went out and cast seed from side to side and some fell on rocky soil and some fell on weedy soil and some fell on good soil, he tells it like it is.
You see, God’s grace must already be present. Goodness must already be enriching the soil for the gospel to take root. Those Philippians were good soil people already. They just needed Paul to throw some seed on their hearts’ fertile ground.
Good people under the power of the gospel become even better. They’re more welcoming, more inviting, more affirming, more compassionate. Their love is the source of joy to others, to strangers, to those who are rejected elsewhere, to their friends.
This happens not just in Philippi but everywhere the amazing combination of good people and gospel grace meet. This includes our church. We’re not as far from Philippi as we might first think. We are people who Paul would have loved because we would have welcomed Paul, opened our hearts to his gospel of Jesus Christ, and affirmed his ministry by supporting him in good days and in bad days.
Let us continue to grow in love until it abounds more and more, overflowing among us and others who need to know Christ’s love for them. May God continue to keep us a joyful church, a good people, filled with God’s grace.
Can the church say Amen?