This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Philippians 1:1-14
Text: Philippians 1:9-11
Sermon Prepared by Rev. Gerrit J. Bomhof, Red Deer, Alberta
On the door frames of many homes you will find all sorts of markings with names and dates written beside them. These were put there by the kids of the house who take pride and satisfaction in having grown a significant amount over a specific period of time. "Look how much you have grown over this past year", we say to our kids. Their eyes sparkle when we tell them that soon they will be taller than mom or dad. Children want to grow!
They want to grow not only in stature, but also in learning. Recently, upon picking up the telephone a voice excitedly said, "Gramma, I can spell 'frog'"; it was a pre-school grandson just learning to put sounds to letters which in turn spell out words which in turn can form sentences. What a world is opening up to our children. Soon they will have a growing proficiency in all sorts of subjects.
Hopefully they will develop skills in other areas also. At first we may cringe at them hitting another wrong note as they practice a simple piece of music on the piano. But, what a joy it is to sit and listen to their Grade 9 piano recital just a few years down the road. What amazing growth has taken place!
How about us as Christians – do we really want to grow? Some years ago a minister wrote an article about visiting a congregation he had served 25 years earlier which was now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Things had changed – more grey hair, many walking canes and wheel chairs. Students that he remembered who were the trouble-makers in Catechism classes were now the elders and deacons in the church, and the kids he had baptized were now having children of their own.
Yet he was also taken aback by the things that had not changed. People were still sitting in the same pews, members who were on the fringes were still on the fringes, those who had difficulty talking about their faith, still had those same difficulties, those who couldn’t pray in public, still could not. As he dug a little deeper he discovered that people who had a fiery temper 25 years ago still had one today and those who gave grudgingly had not yet been transformed into joyful givers.
Sometimes it seems that when it comes to Christianity we adopt a certain set of beliefs, hopefully we hold onto them, and for the most part our Christian lives hit a plateau. Where are the marks that indicate that we have grown in boldness as more often we share our faith? Is it truly a desire of our hearts that we have a growing and deepening relationship with the Lord? If we would take a Bible quiz, would we have many more right answers today than 5 or 10 years ago? Can we honestly say that we have grown in our prayer life? As we visit a person in need have we become more comfortable in asking, “How can I pray for you?” and then proceeding to do just that? And what about my love for others? Do I show a greater love and concern for those around me?
Yes, it is sad that often we have to admit that we have not grown much in our relationship with the Lord or with others. Not only is it sad for the individual, but also for the church. Churches which have hit this plateau are often no longer growing, as a matter of fact they are in danger of becoming stale and some members, looking for a more vibrant Christianity, begin looking to other churches where they hope they will grow.
Yet, it is never too late and you are never too old to grow. This is the first day of the rest of our lives! Where ought we to begin? With Prayer! A marvelous guide would be Philippians 1:9-11. I challenge us to pray this prayer regularly from now on. Place it as the desktop background on your computer, place a copy of it on your fridge and experience the impact the Lord has upon us as individuals and as a community as he answers that prayer.
Paul writes this letter from a Roman prison. From what we can surmise, he does not receive too many visitors. Then one day he gets a visit from Epaphroditus a leader in the church at Philippi, who carries with him a gift. Philippi and Rome were about 800 miles apart so it was no small undertaking for this church to show its tangible love to their beloved church planter. Paul would have loved to thank the congregation at Philippi in person, but he was bound and not free to leave; thus he writes this letter of thanksgiving.
He very much appreciates the "partnership in the gospel". Like Paul, the Philippians desired the gospel to penetrate the lives of as many people as possible. That is the work in which they were engaged and they were confident that God would bring that work to completion! But how does he do that? Do the people of God sit back passively as God does all the work of evangelism? Or, do they go out with all the bravado they can muster to accomplish this task on their own? Neither of those options is the biblical answer. Rather, Paul teaches us here to be in fervent prayer and then, at his disposal and in answering that prayer God completes the work he has begun in us and in the world. Let’s take a closer look at this powerful prayer.
C. Prayer’s Opening
Paul begins, "that your love may abound more and more". This is agape love– where we desire the other person to be blessed and will do what we can to make that happen. So often our love is calculated – the shape and depth of our love is determined by the other person or by the situation. If my spouse, for example, no longer makes me happy then I feel no need to be loving to him or her. But, that is not the love with which we have been loved by God through his Son Jesus Christ. "Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us", says Paul in Romans 5:8. We are thus making a big request of God – that my love may grow more and more irrespective of the other person’s personality or action. God even calls us to love our enemies!
You could be a person driven to success, or a person wrapped up in yourself and your happiness. I hope that your eyes may be opened to see the needs of others. We can make ourselves so busy pursuing our goals, dreams and profits that our own families, never mind our neighbours or fellow church members, are neglected. I hope that a month, a year, two years from now you will be able to say that by the grace of God your agape love for God and neighbour has grown and deepened
But notice that Paul is not talking about simply a sentimental, syrupy type of love. It is a love that abounds more and more "in knowledge and depth of insight". Often we flip love and knowledge around – we may get to know a person and on that basis determine whether we like or do not like him or her – maybe he or she is gay or may have a personality we do not like. Sometimes we stereotype people – Catholic/Protestant, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim, black/white. That, as we have seen far too often in history, gives people the license to dislike even hate the person in the other camp. Thus, on the basis of our perceived knowledge and insight of the other person we will love or like and be kind and nice to that person or dislike, even hate and feel free to bully, or gossip about or ignore the other person. Sadly that is often the way it is in our society, and sometimes, even within our churches.
But, notice the order here: love and then knowledge and insight. Once you know people, their backgrounds, and factors in their upbringing you learn to appreciate and understand them better. Allow me to give you an illustration. There are volunteers who visit people in jail. Some of them have perpetrated heinous crimes. If ever there was a group of people who, on the basis of our knowledge of what they have done, deserve our wrath and dislike, it would be them. Yet, when you hear some of their stories, the abuse they have suffered, the neglect they experienced and the bad influences that came into their lives as they sought some sort of acceptance, you at least feel compassion for them. This in no way means that we excuse their behaviour – they are obligated to pay their penalty to society. But at least we can stand alongside them. Beginning with love which is fed by “knowledge and depth of insight” we may be in a position to render Christ’s love to them. And to offer them the promise that God will bring his work to completion in them.
This is how our love for God ought to grow also. Not simply "I will love him one year from now." No, I grow in knowledge and depth of insight today as I take advantage of Bible studies. I read and the more I know about God, and the more insight I have into his ways and his will, the better I am able to express my love to him and others.
You have a growing knowledge and insight into God’s desires and you know the needs and desires of your spouse and children and more and more you desire to answer those needs and be there for them.
Regarding your children, one of them may need a firm hand while the other, may only need a frown. The more I learn about God, the more insight I have into his intimate knowledge of me and my children as unique persons. Then, as a parent, I can pray for that kind of knowledge and insight so that I may be the best parent I can be!
And what is the result of this prayer? First, “that you may be able to discern what is best”. During our lifetimes countless decisions are to be made. We tend to be people who like rules who like things black and white.. For example, in 1924 our denomination’s Synod stated that its members were not to engage in card playing, attend movies or dance. Case closed. We have come a long way since then! But have we really? Not all movies promote growth or understanding, not all dances promote healthy relationships, card playing has proven to be the downfall of many. In other words, we need constantly to discern what is best in order for God to complete his work in us!
Young people, many of you spend significant amounts of time on-line and on Facebook. It is not a matter of whether this is right or wrong – but we need to be aware of the dangers of chatting and sharing information with “friends” who we really do not know. However, I hope that you too are praying regularly for your love to grow in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may discern what is best! Because the more you know God through his Son, Jesus Christ, the better you will be able to discern what is best for you personally and for your friends.
But there is more. There is a second purpose: “that I may be pure and blameless on the day of Christ.” The word “pure” is also translated sincere. That word comes from the Latin sine cera which means “without wax” and comes from the world of pottery. It seems that the most expensive pottery was very thin and liable to hair line cracks. But instead of foregoing a substantial profit some potters would fill those cracks with a special wax that the ordinary eye would not see. Reputable potters, on the other hand, would place the sign sine cera, “without wax” in front of their offerings.
God does not want us to hide cracks. Paul refers to himself as a “cracked pot”( II Corinthians 4:7). We need to be open with our struggles. But, also realize that God is refining us, so that will be blameless on the day of the Lord; blameless, not because we have waxed over our faults, but because we have been remade in Jesus Christ.
Am I in Jesus? Are you? A good test is to ask yourself whether you are seeking to be filled with the fruit of righteousness – love, joy peace, kindness, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There are many more fruits of righteousness: compassion, forgiveness, generosity. These are things that we should be able to “mark out” to determine whether we are growing in these areas. Ask a fellow believer, maybe even someone you hold yourself accountable to, “Can you notice a growing love for the Lord and others resulting in ripening fruit of righteousness?”
Surely, an affirmative answer would be to the glory and praise of God!
Usually when children are small they ask for things, and you can usually tell whether they REALLY want it. Every time an opportunity arises they may mention the need for a cat, or a bike or a pair of expensive running shoes, or whatever request they make. If they mention something only once and never mentioned it again, it is not really a priority.
I wonder how God looks at our lives. We desire good health, safety, steady jobs. I am sure that he hears these requests often and certainly these are all important. But are we asking too for growing love? And can God tell that we are really sincere about it?
One day, as we enter heaven, would you not love to be told that after (give the date on which this message is used) there were many more of these sincere prayers raised: “Lord, may my love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that I may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”?
And God might ask us, “And did you notice a positive difference? I hope all of us may say, “Yes, Lord, it made all the difference in the world!”
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Colossians 1:9-14
God’s Greeting: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen."
Opening Songs of Praise: "O Come, My Soul, Sing Praise to God" PsH #297
"My Jesus, I Love Thee" PsH 557
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
God’s Will for our Lives: Romans 13: 8-14
Prayer of Confession (Include a time of silent and personal confession)
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 8:1-4
Songs of Thanksgiving: "In You is Gladness" PsH 566
"Jesu, Jesu" PsH 601
SERVICE OF THE WORD
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Philippians 1: 1-14; Text vss 9-11
Sermon: "A Model Prayer"
Prayer of Application: Lord, may our love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. Amen.
Song of Response: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" PsH 568
SERVICE OF RESPONSE
Song of Dedication: “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” PsH 550
Benediction: May the grace of Christ, which daily renews us,
and the love of God, which enables us to love all,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, which unites us in one body,
make us eager to obey the will of God until we meet again,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Doxology: "Unto God Our Savior" PsH 175