Contentment and Generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-03-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Before we think about God’s wordCome Holy Spirit, help us to hear the voice of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

When you think about Christianity, what does it give you? Is Christianity, or as we’ve called it in this series ‘the way of Jesus’, is the way of Jesus simply about good morals? Is it simply about being religious and doing religious activities? Does the way of Jesus simply give you more things to do, more rules to follow, more boxes to tick?

When I talk with young people who may have very little experience of Christianity I try to help them see beyond these narrow misconceptions.

As I prepared for today I came across a testimony which someone shared in light of being diagnosed with a serious illness. This individual said “The options open to me medically are minimal and at best do not promise renewed energy nor longevity. The other option is to turn this over to God in faith. This we have been directed to do by God after much prayer and spiritual surrender. What the future holds we do not know, but we know God holds it. These past few days have rolled over as like an avalanche leaving in their wake some central certainties which make up my thanksgiving prayer list. Out of the dark night of the soul has come the sunlight of God’s love. I am thankful for God who is real and personal, for a Christ who is present in power, and for the Holy Spirit who is by our side in every struggle. My gratitude overflows for a faith that is unwavering in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and for the personal practice of prayer that brings all God’s promises to bear in any situation. My thanksgiving list is made this year not from what I have but from who has me, a God who’s able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all I ask or think.”

What does Christianity give you?

Would your list have included contentment as this individual spoke of? Would it be, would there be peace and hope? Would it include a love which helps you to live well such that you’re not focused on yourself?

The individual who wrote those words was an older minister and he wrote them to his congregation. Here was a man who had a deep and mature faith. Someone who had learnt the way of Jesus and how I envy such a mature faith!

In our passage today, Paul follows on from the previous section where he said in verse 9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice.” Once more Paul calls them to grow in their faith, to grow in the way of Jesus, to grow in maturity. Towards that end he says they are to put into practice what they have seen in him whether before or now, and so he speaks of the maturity they are currently showing and how they might still grow in further maturity. We might summarize these two points as learning contentment and learning generosity.

Paul says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here is a man, as I’ve said in previous weeks, who is imprisoned, potentially facing execution and surrounded by hostile opponents, and yet Paul can still say that he is not in need and that he is content. In Paul’s example I see an elder brother who is much farther down the road than I, and he beckons, he calls me, he calls us all, to know more of the way of Jesus, to grow and mature, so that we can share this contentment no matter the storm or circumstance. But let’s notice that Paul said he had to learn it as well, it wasn’t automatic for him but it can be learnt.

Key to it all is to find our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus. In this way Paul is challenging the attitudes of his day for the stoic philosophers of the first century also prized contentment and saw it as a mark of being a truly wise person which they esteemed, yet they said you could find such contentment within yourself. Theirs was a contentment through self-sufficiency, but Paul points to another way, to contentment found through dependence on Jesus. We might say a ‘Christ sufficiency’.

I wonder friends, do you yearn like me for greater contentment? When people look at your , do they see someone who exudes a deep contentment even in the trials of life? Could it be that we’re seeking contentment in the wrong ways or places? Are we relying on ourselves? I wonder are you tired of that way of life? Would you not rather find an alternative which brings joy and radiates a measure of hope, even in the darkest of times? I know I would do.

Paul says this is available by finding our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus.

The word ‘strength’ in the Greek is ‘endunamo’ which comes from the word ‘dunamis’ meaning power. One commentator paraphrases Paul as saying ‘I can do all this through Jesus who gifts me with dynamite’ which I love. This got me thinking though, and I searched elsewhere in the scriptures in the new testament for where Paul talks about power in his other letters and I noticed these three things:

that with power we can know peace by receiving the love of God,
with power we can know purity by receiving self-control,
with power we can know perseverance and faith by receiving an endurance and patience amidst trials

Friends, where do you need contentment? Is it in the difficulties of life? Is it in the temptations of life? Is it in the frustrations and the bitterness that well up within us in the day to day of life?

Because God would want to help you learn contentment, to mature in faith by finding, in Jesus, the strength, the dynamite, the power to know a peace or a purity or a perseverance which is beyond your mere human ability and self-sufficiency.

Now hear me right please, we could say much more about contentment. It’s not wrong, for example, to pray for circumstances to change. Paul does. It’s not wrong for difficulties to weary us. Paul speaks of those hardships,

and also please, do not simply hear this as a challenge. Hear this as an invitation. An invitation to another way of life, to life in all its fullness. So, will you respond in faith today and seek to mature by learning contentment through Jesus?

Paul goes on, and he commends the Philippians for their generosity, something which many others had not shown.

ow it seems like Paul is a little cagey here; on the one hand he seems to say ‘thank-you, it was very much appreciated’, and then on the other he seems to say ‘well it wasn’t really needed and I wasn’t really looking for it.’

The reason for this is that Paul doesn’t want to appear like the contemporary charlatans of his day who would build a gathering of followers and then gain financial support from them. Paul doesn’t want to come across as being motivated by financial gain. Nevertheless he commends the Philippians, he commends them for their generosity, their sharing to meet the needs of others. Presumably, this they also learnt from Paul who from his writings was one who encouraged the churches to care for one another and to care for others.

I wonder friends, do we have a mature faith that shows itself in generosity? Do we realize that, as followers of Jesus, we are called into something greater than ourselves? Do we realize that the way of Jesus, which does bring freedom and contentment, is also the way of sacrifice? Because, as we receive His power, to know his love, we’re called to show that love and sacrifice to others. As we receive His power to be pure through self-control, we’re called to deny ourselves that others might benefit.

Brothers and Sisters, as I said earlier in our service, we face a difficult time ahead for the Braes Churches, not just in the next few months, but in the years to come. Whatever lies ahead, will our response be marked by generosity and contentment? Do we understand ourselves to be part of something bigger and that the way of Jesus is not, and has never been, about buildings? Are we willing to follow Jesus in the way of sacrifice and of denying self? What would that look like amongst us across the Braes?

Yet, let’s not leave this for application in a few months time, What about now, today?

Well, this coming week the Tuesday Evening Event online will feature input from Tearfund and they are asking churches to partner with them in their Lent Appeal, and for every one pound you give it will be doubled by outside funding. Will you get involved? Will you choose to sacrifice and be marked by generosity?

Friends, today we conclude Philippians. There have been many important lessons, many pointers to what it means to live as followers of Jesus and grow in maturity, to walk in the way of Jesus. I pray that we will be such a people, a people who respond, who say yes to God’s invitation, such that we too might be worthy of the Gospel and all to the glory of God may it be so, Amen

Forgiveness and Peace

Preached on: Sunday 28th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 4:2-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us join together in a moment’s prayer. Let us pray

Loving and faithful God as we quiet our minds and hearts before You we ask that You will come upon us by Your Holy Spirit. We praise You that You are the Living Word and we ask that You will make Your word live to us, and all to the glory of Your great name

Amen.

In our reading this morning Paul is preparing to bring his letter to the Philippians to a close and as he does so he gives to them in verses 4 to 9. Some short, pithy, but vitally important instructions to govern their future walk as followers of their Lord. We might say he was underlining to them that it wasn’t sufficient to talk the talk, it was vitally important that they put his advice into practice and walk the walk.

But before he gets there he deals with an ongoing situation in the church, a situation that sadly can be all too common in the church in any day, a situation that tarnishes our witness as children of God and robs us of blessing as individuals and potentially as a congregation.

There had been a serious falling out between two members of the congregation, two of the ladies there who had hitherto been front line workers for the Gospel. They weren’t on speaking terms and it seems that this was having a much more far-reaching effect than merely between the two of them but was impinging on the witness of the church.

in the previous chapters Paul has been hinting that there’s division in the ranks.

Chapter 1 verse 27 “whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”
Chapter 2 verse 2 “make my joy complete by being like-minded” verse 3 “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves”

It shows how seriously Paul was alarmed by the situation when in a general letter to the congregation he named the two ladies involved Eurodia and Syntyche.

I wonder how they felt when their names were read out? Did they cringe? Did they wish they could disappear through the floor? Or indeed did they take offense at Paul – how dare he?

But Paul is not seeking to humiliate them, he is seeking to help them get back to the place where they had formerly been, that place of spiritual vitality, the place of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, the place of effectiveness in Christ’s service.

In verse 3 we learn that these women were no slouches. Paul tells us that they’d contended at his side in the cause of the Gospel. Some translations render this. They had labored with him and he goes on to say that their names are in the book of life. That was a traditional title of honour often used for people of God who’d suffered persecution but remained faithful. But human nature being what it is they’d had a serious fallout and it would seem that the church was possibly in danger of taking sides and thus causing division.

It’s not just sad when that happens in the church, it is an inroad for Satan to so discard, eventually nullify, the witness not only of those directly concerned but of the congregation as a whole and leave a trail of hurt and discord that is very difficult to heal – and so often the cause of the initial problem is comparatively trivial. But someone’s feelings have been hurt and they seek to bolster their situation by appealing to others to agree with them that they’ve been hard done by and so the ball rolls on and on gathering momentum as it goes and Satan rubs his hands in glee.

Paul asks them to overcome their dispute with one another and put into practice the qualities he’s previously mentioned in chapter 2 verses 1 to 4. To be like-minded; to be one and spirit and purpose; do nothing out of selfishness or conceit; be humble; love each other – the attitude of Jesus Himself.

Paul is so concerned he doesn’t just leave it to the combatants to get themselves sorted out, we might say he appointed an arbitrator, an unnamed person, but obviously a mature Christian whom Paul trusted, to help sort out the situation for the good not just of Eurodia and Syntyche but the church as a whole.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what happened. Was Paul’s advice heeded? Did the two women have the grace to acknowledge their sin and be reconciled to each other, unto the Savior they loved, the savior for whom they’d previously been effective witnesses?

let’s not kid ourselves that we can carry on being effective witnesses for Christ if we’re harboring resentment against another in our hearts. The two are incompatible. Jesus was a well aware of that. In Matthew 5 he first tells us in verse 23 if we’re wanting to serve God but have a grievance against someone the first thing we’ve got to do is go to that person and make our peace with them, and then in verse 43 he goes even further and tells us to love our enemies. We cannot at one and the same time truly love someone and hold a grudge against them. Holding a grudge is the sure way to lose our peace of mind and heart and Paul tells us in verse 4 to rejoice in the Lord always.

Rejoice in the Lord when we’re harboring the acid of resentment and bitterness even of hate?

I read about one Christian man who had been terribly hurt by another. It was a really bad situation. Unfortunately, the first man found it impossible to forgive. Instead, the incident took over his whole life. He could neither think nor talk about anything else, Several people including his wife and even his doctor advised him to forgive the other person but he refused. He preferred to hold on to his hurt. He developed all sorts of physical problems, all caused by his attitude of mind and heart.

He died while still a comparatively young man and the doctor remarked to the widow that it was a pity the death certificate couldn’t show the real cause of death – death by unforgiveness.

Paul tells us to be anxious about nothing rather to be faithful in prayer, and assures us that when that’s the case we’ll enjoy the peace of God that passes understanding. The peace of God, but when our hearts are filled with self-pity, with anger, with spitefulness, I don’t think so! To be like Jesus.

We sing “all I ask to be like Him”. What was he like?

Well, he prayed for those who nailed Him to His cross and asked His Father to forgive them. That means only one thing – if someone has hurt us even and especially when they’ve hurt us badly, there’s only one thing that we as Christians can do to be obedient to the Savior we say we love, and that is in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, to love that person, really love them, pray for them, forgive them, no matter how hard that is and nobody least of all Jesus said it would be easy.

and every time after that when the familiar negative feelings resurface, as they will, stop forgive, all over again and pray for them and for yourself, hard.

When we live like that we will be able to follow Paul’s advice in these verses when he said in verse 8 “whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

I pray that all of us will know the reality of the peace of God within our hearts and lives as we live for Him and know His love and His grace filling us and flowing through us. Then we will indeed be faithful and effective servants of our Father God and His Son Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Focus- where is yours?

Preached on: Sunday 21st February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 3:12- 4:1

Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

This past week has been a significant one for the Braes Churches because the seven Kirk Sessions have all voted in favour of a draft Partnership Agreement which outlines the broad structure we would work within as a Hub across the Braes. This Partnership Agreement will now go to the Presbytery Planning Group and we hope it will be accepted. When the outcome is known, we’ll keep you updated and then, maybe, be in a position to share the Partnership Agreement more widely.
Hopefully we’re all aware of why we are talking about, and working hard towards, becoming a Hub: in essence, the Church of Scotland faces multiple difficult decisions simultaneously. Collectively, we need to address the issues of fewer ministers, dwindling finances, aging congregations and buildings, a lack of office bearers, and above all a dwindling impact and relevance within Scottish society such that few churches have young families worshipping within them and even fewer young people grow up to own the faith for themselves after they leave the church family.

This was brought home to me again recently, when the Chief Officer for the Church of Scotland wrote at the end of January to all Presbyteries and said:
‘…our future target number for all ministry posts in five years’ time would be in the region of 600. This is a reduction of around 20% on the advisory figures produced by the Ministries Council in 2018 for the number of ministers.’ (Dave Kendall)

So, more change is coming, and the proposed Hub will not be with us forever, though it can guide us through the immediate future and begin a process of drawing all the Braes Churches even closer together and enable us to support one another in these difficult days. Because, the Partnership Agreement is not the solution. Neither is the solution simply a matter of increasing finances, or recruiting more ministers, or shelving our old buildings, or even being a more attractive church to wider society. Our true problem is spiritual, rather than any of these other issues, and I partly believe this in light of what I read recently in two separate books, which shared a similar thought nonetheless:
‘Win [your community] with entertainment, and you have to keep them there by entertaining them.’ (Francis Chan) and separately: ‘In the end, what we won [young people] with is what we won them to.’ (Intergenerate)

I’m also mindful of what we read in the book of Acts:
‘…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:47)
So, our problem is spiritual because our solution is spiritual; our solution is tied to our spiritual maturity – of things we give ourselves to, the priorities that we have, the dependence on the Lord that we nurture, the vibrancy of our faith, the testimony we can share of God’s work among us, and how we nurture our common life together. All of this is spiritual and sadly these issues, these conversations, are foreign to many of us –
we don’t talk about it much, maybe we feel uncomfortable to do so. As such, we probably resonate with this old quote: ‘Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes) I wonder is some of us say “Yes! Amen!” to that – that is so true, I can think of people that are too heavenly minded. And this quote gives us a measure of comfort.

But what if the church today is so earthly minded that we are of no heavenly good? Have we imbibed that quote so much that we address the problems of our day with earthly solutions, rather than heavenly solutions?
CS Lewis once said:
‘If you read history you will find the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought most of the next…It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.’ (Mere Christianity)
So, how do we change? For we still need to press on with the Hub and addressing these things because finances are running out, ministers are being burnt out and the people of the church still need to be cared for. Yet, as I say, our problem is deeper, it’s spiritual not structural. So, how do we change? How do we ensure we pursue the right things and have a vibrant faith to share with the world?

Well, in our passage today, Paul calls us – and models to us – the importance of being a church which pursues maturity through a right focus and a right attitude. He says:
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (v12)

Firstly, let’s note that Paul is referencing what he wrote in the previous section – of knowing Jesus, of appreciating Jesus, of growing in relationship with Jesus and likeness to Jesus. Paul says he hasn’t yet obtained all this; even he, the Apostle Paul, who has been following Jesus for maybe 20 or 30 years, even he has not arrived at his goal, which in other translations is spoken about as ‘perfection’ or ‘maturity’. So, Paul himself is still seeking to mature and he wants the church to pursue this as well.

Towards that end, maturity comes about by having a right focus – a goal, a prize, a calling, he says, and as we previously mentioned last week, this is to have a relationship with Jesus, and grow in the likeness of Jesus. That’s why Paul goes on to compare a heavenly focus with an earthly focus.
When our attention is predominantly captured by the things of earth then we in effect become enemies of the cross – we shun the way of Jesus – and our God is our stomach – we pursue personal satisfaction above all else, we pander to self – and this then leads to a false glory, a glory that’s in shameful things, in fact we can end up valuing the wrong things, in fact, we can end up enjoying and celebrating things that offend God. Francis Chan, one of the authors I quoted earlier, in the same chapter goes on to say:
‘By catering our worship to the worshippers and not to the Object of our worship, I fear we have created human-centred churches.’ (pg. 53)

As a remedy to this, Paul reminds the Philippians that we can keep a right focus by remembering we are citizens of heaven. Philippi, where the group of Christians are based that Paul is writing to, Philippi was a Roman Colony and that meant they were citizens of Rome and they were to promote the interests…
of Rome and they would have sought even o make Philippi reflect the look, the feel, the customs of Rome, even though it was hundreds of miles away. Likewise, as citizens of heaven, God’s people are to point to the kingdom of God through their lives and through their values.

So, let me ask church, is this our focus, our goal? Do we prize our relationship with Jesus and seek for His kingdom to be known and grown within the Braes? Or is church about us? About what you and I can get from chruch? The most life-giving people I know, the most life-giving churches I know, are people who have a right focus, because then through them flows the love, power and values of God.

Yet, if we are to mature towards this goal, it doesn’t happen by accident, we must also adopt a right attitude.
Paul says: ‘…I press on… one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize…’ (v12-13)

What Paul forgets is not past mistakes, as we commonly assume, but rather his past accomplishments – he isn’t settling down, Paul’s not resting on his laurels or counting his chickens. He presses on, he runs the race to the very end, and likewise he calls the Philippians to this way of living out their faith: he concludes by saying for them to, ‘stand firm in the Lord in this way’. Stand firm even though they face persecution, make Jesus the highest priority of your life – is what he’s saying.

Friends, are we standing firm? Are we showing your allegiance to Jesus, first and foremost in our lives?

For example, I’ll give you a number of questions here:
Are you reading the Scriptures? Have you started the New Testament plan for this year? And are you putting your faith…
into practice? Are you serving? Are you giving to the life of your congregation in some way, however small, however behind the scenes? Also, are you giving financially? What we spend our money on shows what we value. Have you looked at that recently? Have you considered whether that needs to be adjusted in any way? And finally, are you nurturing the faith of others, of one another? Our reading plan took us into Hebrews this week and on Friday we were reminded of these words:
‘See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Are we encouraging the faith of one another? Is our faith of enough worth that we speak of it? Or do we only speak about work, family, the weather and the things that we complain about?
Brothers and sisters, we are called to maturity through a right focus and right attitude – and we all have a part to play in this. Fewer buildings, more ministers, an all-singing all-dancing Hub are not needed to make this happen; it simply takes you responding to the Word of God. And that’s a choice we can all make.

So as Paul says, and I say to you, My brothers and sisters, you whom I love and care for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends.

I pray it may be so, and want to take a moment to pray now, and give us space to respond.

So let us pray.

Our last hymn was that call for a closer walk with God, that call to shed the dearest idol, the dearest thing, that we might give our worship to above, and before God that we might then worship God alone

I wonder friends, I wonder where you need to seek a closer walk with God what is it you’re going to respond to today from today’s message.
Do you need to prioritize Jesus in some way?
Do you need to prize him more?
Do you need to give Him your time?
Do you need to serve in some way?
Do you need to sacrifice embarrassment and being uncomfortable, and have a conversation about faith and spirituality with someone?
Come Holy Spirit, come and speak to our hearts, show us where we are to respond today.
Lord, if there’s someone we’re to speak with today or the coming week about spiritual matters would you bring them to mind just now.
Come Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit reveal how we might grow closer to Jesus.
Is there a sin that we need to turn from? Convict us Holy Spirit.
Is there a choice we need to make to read Your word, to be in prayer, to serve, to give? Come Holy Spirit, reveal the way of Jesus to us.
Friends, whatever’s come to mind, why don’t you just take a moment in the silence and the stillness or even with the kids buzzing , just take a moment to speak it out to God either quietly or audibly – who’s that person, what’s that choice, what’s that sin you need to turn from?
Get real with the Lord, right now. Don’t wait till after, do it now. Come Holy Spirit.
Oh lord, how we adore You, we want to adore You even more, that You would be our goal and prize, You would be what we run towards day after day, and all our days. Lord, help us shed the sin that so easily entangles, the traditions or distractions or whatever it may be, Lord, that keep us from Your way.
Help us shed them and help us choose You and choose the things that are of You, and prioritize You, and show Your kingdom, and build Your church, Lord, come have Your, way fill us afresh today with Your Spirit.
Give us that power to choose Your way over the way we’d so easily take because of sin. Come Lord, fill us afresh that we would stand firm in You this way, this day, every day this week Lord,
for we ask You in Your name and for Your glory,
Amen

Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word:

Come Holy Spirit, come reveal Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,

Amen

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Growth

Preached on: Sunday 7th February 2021

The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-07 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 2:19-30
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

This past week, not only have we said farewell to some of our church family, but as a nation we said farewell to Captain Sir Tom Moore. I think we all can remember the valiant effort he put in to fundraising for the NHS and how the nation got behind him, helping to raise £33million to pay for every day small things – not protective clothing, actually – but small, important things nonetheless, things that made a big difference, in particular, to NHS staff amidst this pandemic.
For a brief period of time, Captain Tom’s life was an example and we rallied behind him, and for a brief period of time we also did Clap for Carers last year and we rallied behind that. Yet eventually, it seems, our enthusiasm does wane, we lose interest in each new initiative, and we go back to “normal”, huddling down and turning in. It’s good to have these individuals, these and campaigns, that help us turn out again but part of me wonders: how do we nurture long-term change? Not only within society, but within the church as well?

Last week, Jim gave such a powerful and encouraging sermon on “becoming”, on growing in the way of Jesus. So, how do we grow in the way of Jesus such that it becomes core to our identity and we walk in it all the days of our life? Because Jesus, as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Philippians, is the most powerful example of someone giving away their life for others, and yet,… after 5 weeks in Philippians, where can you say your life has changed, where have you grown in the way of Jesus? Or, what about our children? We tell them of the love and death of Jesus, which was for them as much as for us, and yet, how many walk away from the faith and have nothing to do with the way and the community of Jesus? I wonder, do you wonder about these things, in you, ever? Do you long for things to change? I hope you do. I hope there are many of us that wrestle and wonder and question these things; and, Yes, long for change, both in your own lives and in the lives of our world and community, that together we might pursue our core purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’.

So, what has all this got to do with our passage this morning? Well, in Philippians today we’re introduced to Timothy and Epaphroditus, two individuals who served alongside Paul, and he highly commends them both.

He says of Timothy:
‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’ (Philippians 2:20-22)

Timothy has grown in the way of Jesus; Timothy is not only looking to his own interests, but to the welfare of others and to the cause of Christ.

Epaphroditus also walks in the way of Jesus, and is described by Paul as:
‘…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died…he almost died for the work of Christ.’ (Philippians 2:25-30)

In Timothy and Epaphroditus, in the life of Paul as well,… we see individuals who have grown in the way of Jesus, and part of what grabs my attention here, is that in the pairing of Paul and Timothy we see growth across the generations; we see that the way of Jesus is relevant for all the generations and that the generations need one another. Equally, in the pairing of Paul and Epaphroditus we see something else: we see that no matter your background, the way of Jesus can change your life for the better and also bring great unity, even to two people who would have written one another off normally – Paul the strict Jew, Epaphroditus the Gentile – two completely different backgrounds, two completely different ways of life, and yet brought into unity because of Jesus.

In these three individuals, I see a deep and lasting change that led them to give away their lives for the sake of others…
and for the sake of Jesus, and it leads me to ask : how? How did this happen, Lord? And what can your church today learn that we might not simply turn up to church here in this sanctuary or at home, and never change, or simply share the faith with children and young people and yet never see them grow-up and own that faith themselves? How, Lord? How can this be?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a 2- or 3-point sermon to give us a nice easy solution by the end of this morning. Because these are huge seismic issues in our church, not just at Brightons, not just in the Braes not just the Church of Scotland, but the church across our land, Yet, I do want to highlight a few things, because for me they raise more questions than answers.

Firstly, we know that core to growth in the way of Jesus, is to know Jesus for yourself; to have met with Jesus and to keep meeting with Him. I think that’s why Huddle, that I talked about earlier, excites me, because the core question within Huddle each week is:
“what is God saying to you?” and then, “what are you going to do about it?” Imagine the growth we might see in ourselves, and in our young people, if we all could answer those questions and then go and help other people answer those questions for themselves as well. But how do we nurture that? How do we facilitate that kind of learning? Because clearly, what we were doing before the pandemic, even what we’ve been doing these past 12 months, isn’t fully nurturing this yet? How Lord? How can this be?

Secondly, it’s true that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus knew Jesus, but none of us learns within a vacuum and none of us thrives within in a vacuum as we’ve been finding these past 12 months; we all need community, we need one another, and much recent research suggests that for the generations to thrive need one another, both in the church and outside. Clearly, this is limited in our present circumstances, but it’s been great to see the church launch this intergenerational penpals idea ,…
and it’s been encouraging to hear of Pastoral Groupings being in touch with one another and maybe even meeting together, even by Zoom or for outdoor recreation within the restrictions. What else could we do just now? It’s only limited by our imagination and willingness. You don’t necessarily have to add more activity. What are you doing that you could just do with someone else? You’re going for a walk, could you invite someone else to join with you? And when that great day comes and we can at last all be together again, what can, or should, our life be like together then? Are we just going to return to “normal”? Because remember what the Moderator of the General Assembly said, returning to normal is returning to a church that is declining, and that’s true for Brightons as much as for anywhere, that our membership numbers are dropping and in five, ten years time we might end up going off a cliff and not being able to continue doing what we do just now, even in this lockdown. How might we create the means for all generations, and peoples of all backgrounds, to experience a degree of community, a degree of family, that truly nurtures them in the way of Jesus?
How, Lord? How can it be?

Friends, as I said in Tuesday night’s video, there is more change ahead, that we are called to tack, and if you don’t what I mean by that go and look at Tuesday’s video recording. I do realise that we probably want more messages of comfort and encouragement at this time and those will come. But the message of Philippians calls us to walk in the ways of Jesus, to grow in the ways of Jesus, maybe especially in difficult times both individually and as a community, sure we could leave these questions and the wrestling it produces till later in the year, till beyond pandemic, but that’s not the Lord’s call for just now, and I think that’s strategic so that when we come out of the pandemic we go forward. So, let us all lean in to this, I invite you to lean into this to where He is leading us just now, to engage with the questions, to engage with the process, that together we might chart a way forward so that one
and all, all generations, might grow, truly grow…
in the way of Jesus, in this place, and across the Braes, for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.

Becoming

Preached on: Sunday 31st January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
above).
Bible references: Philippians 2:12-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I’m sure, like me and many others, many of you will have had the experience of driving with your family through a spectacular awe-inspiring scenery only to have one of the kids call from the back of the car “Are we nearly there yet?” and sometimes I think that when it comes to the way we react with God, many of us can be like that; we can be so intent on reaching our destination that we miss out on the journey and the beauty of the journey.
And of course, sadly, our spiritual journeys often involve us listening to the culture around us, telling us how we should feel what we should think.
On our spiritual journeys, we’re often influenced by the world which is concerned about getting things done, about getting where we’re going, instead of making the most of the journey.

That’s why I think that we have such a big problem in the Church with people who say they want to be holy, be godly, be spiritual, be great husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers, be generous givers, be prudent spenders, be all these things, but,
at the same time, struggle to become what they say they want to be.
We’re a society that’s focused on “being” rather than on “becoming”.

There’s a good chance that some of you are sitting in your living rooms right now thinking to yourselves – I wish you’d get to the point! or Where are you going with this? because that’s what society has taught us to think. We have to focus on results, on outcomes.

I’m still pretty much at the beginning of my sermon but already some of you are wanting to know how it ends.
The problem is, life doesn’t work that way, life is not about that, it’s not only about being, it’s about becoming.

The difference between how you were when you were born, and how you are now, is not because someone told you that this is how you should be and you became, but rather, it’s a gradual process of becoming.

Who we are and, if we think of the Christian life when we refer to someone, converting to Christianity, we’re glad to say Oh so-and-so became a Christian yesterday which is a reason for celebration but,

we should also bear in mind that although he or she became a Christian yesterday they’re going to spend the rest of their lives becoming more Christlike,
continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you and to act according to His good purpose.

Christian life is not just about being it’s about becoming!

It’s quite a long time since I trained for the ministry – Scott might be able to tell us how things have changed since I trained back in the 1970s – but when we were taught about preaching, we were taught that sermons should last 20 minutes, they should have three points, and, if possible, you should use alliteration to illustrate your points because you’ll remember better. We were told that congregations couldn’t really concentrate for any longer than 20 minutes so, don’t go over the 20 minutes.

And there were all these rules about how to get from the start to the finish of your sermon in the right way.
And those rules, the three points, the preaching no longer than 20 minutes, alliteration, always accepted, I think we’re both told get to the point!

Those are the rules but, of course, life isn’t like that, and I’m sorry to say, today’s sermon’s not like that either
because we spend our lives out there in the world, in the world where TV and media define who you are.
That creates in each of us, even in Christians, it creates an impatience and a need for speed, and a need for instant results, and that moulds us into a position where we expect that kind of result in every area of life,

but the problem is, instant results might work in some areas, they might work in the office, they might work at Mcdonald’s but they don’t work in life.
Instant results don’t come in marriages, for example, don’t come in friendships, they don’t come in parenting. Instant results don’t come in building character, or in the spiritual life. Instant results don’t happen in any area of life that really matter.
In those areas, it’s going to take some time.

We all know what Jesus said in John 14 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
See, it turns out that Jesus is not only the truth, he’s not only the guy with the teachings that we need to know in order to get to God, Jesus is also the way.
The way is not simply a set of rules to be followed that we can learn and then sit back and relax because we’ve found the way,
the way is not a destination, by definition, the way is the life of Jesus

The way Jesus lived – that’s the way,
and what happens when people are so used to instant results try to embrace the way of Jesus, we find that it can’t be done overnight, because that’s not a place or a principle or a set of beliefs.

The way of Jesus – it’s a life to be lived – it’s a person who has to be embraced, and learned from, and understood, and grown into relationship with.
So, what happens is the only thing that can possibly happen in that scenario ……
we get burdened by guilt or discouragement or frustration, because we’re not getting it immediately.
It’s not enough that we realize that Jesus is the way, we have to pay attention – this is going to sound as if I’m playing my words here – but we’re going we have to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus is the way.
I’m not trying to be clever with words here – we say that Jesus is the way to Heaven, if we confess our belief in Him, He will forgive us our sins and set us right with God. That’s what we’re told in the scriptures,
and when we say that, when we tell people that, then we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way.
It’s true, of course, it’s true that if we confess our sins Jesus will forgive us our sins, but that’s the beginning of a process. Jesus will also transform us from the inside out if we are following in His way.
If we say, read the bible and learn about Jesus, again we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way
because it’s true that we need to learn about God by studying His word but, more than learning about Him, we need to learn to know Him, we need to learn to become more like Him,

because the way is not about learning, it’s not about knowledge, it’s not about information, it’s about becoming more like Him.

So, I’m afraid, although Jesus is the way, he doesn’t fit neatly into a concise three-point sermon, that’s no longer than 20 minutes, and makes a joke at the beginning to keep you interested, and another joke halfway through to maintain your interest, and all that stuff

what I’m trying to say is, Jesus is the way, but not in a concise three-point sermon kind of way, not in using great stories and appealing to people’s need for entertainment, kind of way
it turns out that Jesus is the way and I think I’m getting it a little better now, I think I’m learning to be a bit more patient with myself, because, after all, Jesus is patient with me and if I’m hard on myself and if I’m critical of myself, then I’m pursuing the way in the wrong way.
Does that make sense?

If Jesus is the way then we must pursue the way in the correct way.
How many of us get frustrated with ourselves over our failures, and many of us beat ourselves up and condemn ourselves because we feel incapable of doing this, the spiritual things that we would like to do, because we don’t pray enough, we don’t go to Church enough, we don’t evangelize enough, we don’t read the Bible enough, we don’t pray enough.

Listen, the way of Jesus is a way of gracious kindness, the Jesus way is full of patience and rest, it’s a way that will give us rest for our souls. If, and in our pursuit to follow the way of Jesus, we find that we don’t have peace or rest, we find that we are agitated and frustrated, then, maybe, we need to ask ourselves if we are actually following Jesus in the right way.
Maybe, instead, we’re following Jesus in the world’s way or in our own way?
Jesus said in Matthew 11 28-30 “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you a rest. Take my yoke upon, let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light.”
And that promised rest is not just for the end of the journey. Are we finding that rest in Christ here and now? Are we learning from Him in a way that lifts our spirits, a way that is gentle and encouraging? Are we experiencing Him, His infinite love that He has for us?

Because, if we’re not, and maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is –

Did Jesus mean that this peace and rest that He promised was only for at the end of the journey? Was Jesus saying come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden,
come to Me and live your life with Me, which will be a struggle, but after you die you’ll find rest that’s what Jesus said?
Of course not! Jesus said Let me teach you how to live.
In other words, Jesus is not only the way to Heaven, He’s the way to eternal life, right here and now. He says my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Folks! this can only mean that that we should be experiencing rest now, not just in the sweet by and by when we die,
but we should experience that rest that he offers, every day of our lives. If we are in harness with, if we are learning from Him to live in His way, which is easier. His burden is lighter. If we do that, we will find rest for our souls as we walk with Him and share His yoke. Side by side, learning the Jesus way.

So, what does that mean if we are not experiencing that kind of peace and rest in our spiritual life?

I think there’s only one thing we can conclude; that maybe we’re pursuing the way in the wrong way.

Is Jesus harsh? Is he a slave driver or a hard task master? Does he stand over us with a whip?

or Do we sometimes realize, when we look closely at the master with the whip,
that it’s our own face that we see and not the face of Jesus?

What I mean is, the way of guilt is not Jesus we have, is not Jesus, the way of endless self-doubt and self-blame and self-castigation and self-pity and self-condemnation.

They’re not the Jesus that should be self-evident when you see how many of those terms begin with self and explaining how humanity went wrong and got twisted up in sin.

Here’s what the apostle Paul writes he says, this is from The Message translation, he says “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them.”
See, when we experience constant condemnation and fear and guilt, is that coming from Jesus? Or is it coming from the image of God that we’ve created ourselves? Or that our society has created because we’re trying to follow the way using the tools of this world?

We impose on ourselves the need for instant results and instant success and instant growth in the way of Jesus, and then when they don’t materialize right away, we cast blame on ourselves, we get angry with ourselves, we grow disappointed and frustrated, which are the very things that Jesus promises we can escape if we walk with Him.

Now, please don’t sit there thinking or feeling terrible because you’re sure I’m talking about you.

I’ve often said from the pulpit that I’m preaching at me as much as anyone else, but that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m referring to. As soon as we understand that we have something to learn or that there’s something that we’ve been doing that’s not leading us on the way, we feel terrible, we sink into discouragement

But, the way of Jesus is gentle and humble, the way of Jesus is patient, the way of Jesus is about becoming more than about being.

We can follow Jesus in a hurried, frantic, rushed, schizophrenic kind of way,
but the problem is that’s not the way of Jesus, and if we try to follow the way in that way, we never find a way!

Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, and so we follow the way which leads to truth, which leads to life.

If you’ve not yet decided to follow the Jesus way, I hope you will make that decision. To become a follower of Jesus.

It begins with understanding that your way, my way, is not sufficient and is a dead-end,
and that the sin problem is a problem because it keeps us serving ourselves and keeps us alienated from God, and, as we realize this, we confess to Christ in prayer. We state our desire to Him that He forgive our sins and look kindly upon us,
and the great thing is that’s exactly what he wants to do, and then we turn and we leave our way, and we get on His way.

But, he will teach us a new way of living which will gradually change the way we think and the way we act in every area of our lives.

So, if you’ve never done that before I invite you today to become a disciple of Jesus and walk with Him, with us, as we learn together to leave our old ways behind.
Something specific to suggest that you might do this week, next time you feel guilty or discouragement or excessive hurry or panic or any other negative emotion, just ask yourself Is this what God’s voice sounds like?

Because, I believe you’ll quickly realize, that it’s not, and then ask yourself What is the way of the easy yoke? What way does Jesus, who loves us and accepts us completely, what way does he want us to live? What does he want us to know at this moment?

In other words, ask yourself, Where is God in all this?

Here’s a hint: God is the one who always loves you, who always has patience with you, who never guilt-trips you, or hurries, or manipulates you; He never uses fear to motivate.

God is the one who is steady and calm in the middle of your panic. God is the one who always says this to you “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet, my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed.”

This is God’s eternal, unchanging stance towards you and towards me, regardless of our failures, regardless of our shortcomings and our mistakes in the way, and I encourage you to allow yourself to hear God’s voice this week, and don’t worry,

we won’t get there overnight but, the great thing is, God wants you to enjoy the journey, to look out and see Him in action in the world around you, and know that He’s there and that H’s enough.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, in spite of all that we hear and read about our Saviour Jesus in Your Word, in spite of His love. His life, His humility, His service; in spite of all that we sometimes fall and fall for, the world’s lies that You’re a hard and cruel taskmaster; in Jesus we have seen and heard of Your love, and patience, and goodness, and kindness.

May we walk with You in the way of Jesus, the way that leads to eternal, abundant life, the way that begins right here where we are, and leads us ever closer to You, and may we know that, even if we get sidetracked or turned away, You are patient, and kind, and will lead us back, and back to whatever or wherever we are on the journey.

Help us to know that You are eager to walk with us, whether we’re just starting out in the way of faith, or whether we’re closer to the end of our journey, You are still the same Good Shepherd who wants the best for his sheep.

Amen.

The real Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 24th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 2:5-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Sunday 24th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us as followers of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Amen.

Today marks two years since I was inducted as your minister here in Brightons Parish Church, and from my perspective at least it’s been a good two years, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you and serving alongside you as we seek to fulfil our purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’. Who could have imagined these last two years? Who could have imagined what was on the horizon though?

I think it was the first Sunday I preached that I brought along this box – do you remember? On that day, we spoke about the labels we might use to describe Jesus – both His names as well as His character, and our boys and girls helped with that in the Young People’s message. But the key point of the box was that we all put Jesus in a box – we all think we know Jesus, we think we know what He’s like. But often our understanding of Jesus and so how we relate to Jesus, puts Him in a box – it confines Jesus, and maybe that box doesn’t even represent who He truly is or what He is like. More often than not, I think, we create a mental picture of Jesus, or we have certain expectations of Jesus, which are based upon popular ideas in our culture rather than on the truth. And in part, that’s another motivation to get into our 2021 reading plan, that we might all get to know a bit more of the real Jesus.
In our passage today, Paul wants to help the Philippians get to know more of the real Jesus. This portion follows on from what we covered last week, so there will be echoes of that. We saw last Sunday that Paul wrote: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ (1:27) and then he went on to explain that part of being worthy is having unity and trust, and he based his argument on what Christians have already received through Jesus and who they are in Jesus, as people who are in Christ.

Today, Paul continues his theme but with a different argument. He says, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…’ (2:5) Paul is about to get very personal, focusing in on the person of Jesus, helping these dear Christians to grasp… more of the real Jesus so that they might share, emulate, the mindset of Jesus in their relationships.

Now, Paul is writing to people in a time and culture where the popular understanding of the gods was that these beings held great privilege, great power and glory, and they exercised this for their own agendas and their own reputation. We see this in many of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology: the power and privilege they held could be used in whatever manner they wished, even to the detriment of humanity. That was the common assumption, the popular understanding of what it meant to be a god, what it meant to be divine.

Into that culture, into that popular understanding, Paul says:
‘…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ (2:5-6)

Notice that Paul is saying Jesus is God, that Jesus is much more than a prophet, a good man, a fine example or even simply an idea. We live in a time when many think that it’s OK to box in Jesus to one of these categories, to think that He is a mere man, or a cute, religious sage. But the testimony of the Church, the teaching of Scripture, is that Jesus is God, He alone is God and has always been God. Yet as God, He would not allow Himself to be boxed into the popular understanding of the time, for as God Jesus displayed His deity in ways that were completely opposite to everything that was expected. Paul says: ‘[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ – His rank, His privilege, His rights as God would have allowed, should have ensured, that He could dominate His creation, these creatures who had rejected Him and made a mess of His world. But Jesus chose not to exploit, not to keep hold, of what was truly and rightly His, and instead He made another choice, a choice to display His divinity in a truly unexpected and quite frankly – offensive – manner, for Paul goes on:
‘rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ (2:7-8)

Jesus made Himself nothing; He humbled Himself – Jesus chose, He willing chose a different path, He chose the way of unselfish giving, the way of humble service and obedience. He chose to show His deity, not in power and privilege, but with shame and weakness. Jesus did this by becoming a man, He took on human likeness, and then as a man, He obeyed His Father’s will such that Jesus chose to die, and to die the worst of deaths, death by crucifixion, the most vilified of ways to die.

Now, there are a few things I need to unpack for us here. In our translation today it says that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’, yet you’ll see in other translations that it speaks of Jesus emptying Himself. Technically, ‘emptying’ is a more literal translation of the Greek words, but it has led to wrong thinking about this passage –
people have misunderstood this literal phrase to mean that Jesus emptied Himself of divine power or other divine attributes. But, the Greek word is used throughout the New Testament in metaphorical ways, speaking figuratively about emptying, where something is deprived of its proper place or use. So, what the newer NIV translation does, is paraphrase it very slightly so that we don’t make that wrong assumption and can then get to the heart of the issue: Jesus is God, He remained God entirely, and as God He surrendered His rights and privileges; He did not empty Himself in any other way.

But let’s grasp what this means: the God of all creation chose, for the sake of the world, the way of sacrifice, the way of self-giving love. We take that for granted, I think, we almost expect that this should be the case –
but I wonder if you would sacrifice yourself in such a way? Would you give yourself for someone on death row, for example? Would you give up security, comfort, peace, and allow, say, a far-right fundamentalist group to govern our nation and so our lives? Because in coming a man, Jesus gave up security and comfort, and allowed humanity to put Him to death, a humanity who rightly should be judged by God, rather than judging God.

What is more, this very God, Jesus Christ, chose death – death had no power against Jesus, because God is immortal, and He alone is immortal. Yet, God, Jesus, subjected His immortality to death, holding nothing back and giving up everything, for love of you and love of me. Jesus said, ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down…’ (John 10:17-18)

And why did He do it? Again, Jesus says:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

In love for us, God gave Himself to die in our place. He didn’t have to, He might have conformed to the popular understanding of the gods – but for our sake, He did not consider His position, rights or privilege to be for His own agenda, or for His own benefit or safety, rather, He humbled Himself and loved us unto death. This is the mindset of Jesus, and Paul calls us to adopt, to grow in, this same mindset as people who claim to follow Jesus.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the recent news that there are churches and Christian organisations who are seeking in the courts to have the right to worship in our buildings amidst the pandemic. They are pushing back against the Scottish Government’s recent restrictions, and whilst I appreciate their argument that churches have not YET been a source of spreading the virus, I do have to question whether their undertaking, and appeal to their rights, is in line with the Saviour we are called to emulate: He gave up His rights for others. So, I doubt you’ll be finding my name added to such an appeal.

But let’s also get personal about this, and not simply critique the choices of others – what about us? We are called to love, to be humble, to be united, and to give ourselves for the other. Is this our, your, mindset?…
Do people see such humility and compassion in us? Is being part of church about what you can get, or have you yet found a way to give, and so love others?

Maybe it could be through your pastoral grouping; maybe it’s joining the Thursday live prayer time and praying for others; maybe it’s getting your family involved with the intergenerational penpals idea that our Sunday School and Pastoral Care teams are setting up; maybe it’s offering your abilities, your gifts, and getting involved – for example, we need more volunteers to help with our Boys Brigade sections, could you get involved there? For more information on any of these ideas, please get in touch because we’re all called to follow the example of Jesus and give our lives away for others.
Yet, not only are we to follow the example of Jesus, we are called to worship Jesus because of His example. Paul goes on to say:
‘Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (2:9-11)

One day every knee will rightly bow in worship to Jesus. We will all come to see that He is Lord, ‘the Lord’, and this is the name which Paul speaks of. ‘Jesus’ was the name given at His birth, yet the name, the title, of ‘Lord’, was given after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. That name, ‘Lord’, confirms Jesus as God of all creation but it was received by Jesus not by right or seizure, but by His humiliation and self-giving love.
I wonder friends, have you chosen yet to bow the knee in worship of Jesus? Can you see in His incarnation as a human being, and then in His death on the cross, can you see the depth of His love for you? Can you see the wonder of God? Can you see how worthy He is of worship and glory and adoration? Are you giving Him that yet, friends? Are you giving Him your worship? Have you bent the knee to Him in your own life? Now, I don’t mean are you just turning up to church and switching on the TV: our true worship is seen in how we live, in the choices we make, and in whether we are committed to Him, trusting of Him, come what may.

Please don’t let your hearts stay hard or distanced or cold towards God; let the box you have Him in be changed, let it be blown apart even, by how He has revealed… Himself in Jesus. This is no cute Sunday School story folks – this is the real Jesus and He really did love you to the point of death, and my question is: do you know Him? Are you following Him? Have you bent the knee to Jesus, and will you let Him reign in your life, such that His love, His self-giving love, will be seen in you and through you?

So, once more, like last week, let us have a moment to pray. I’m going to give an opportunity for anyone to bend the knee to Jesus, maybe for the first time, and welcome Him into your life. Then, there will be a prayer to invite the Spirit to fill us that we might show the love of Jesus to one another and in our community. So, let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we we see in Your life and in Your death such a powerful example such true love, and we are not worthy of it Lord and yet You still gave it for love of us because You thought we were worth it. You gave yourself and Lord, in light of that love, we want to bow the knee today. Maybe there’s some who want to bow the knee for the first time and welcome Jesus into your life, so pray along with me now. Pray out loud if you can.

Lord Jesus I don’t deserve Your love but thank you for loving me to death. Please forgive me. Forgive me for the wrong choices in my life. You might want to name a few things in the stillness just now.

Lord i turn from these and I open up my myself, my heart, my life to You.

Thank you for Your offer of forgiveness. I receive that forgiveness now and ask for Your Spirit to fill me. Please come into my life and lead me in Your ways.

Thank you lord Jesus.

Maybe for the rest of us, we need to choose afresh to bow the knee. You might even be so bold as maybe just to get down at home on your knee and welcome Him into your life, but if that’s not possible or not for you yet, maybe even just hold out your hands as a physical way of welcome.

Lord Jesus, come into our lives afresh. We bend the knee. Help us to give up our agenda, to pursue Your agenda, to love God and love neighbor, to make You known and to follow in Your ways.

Oh Lord, forgive us and show us how we should follow after You.

Lord, we want to be a shining beacon of light for You in our community and in our time. How unable we are to do that on our own strength. Lord, every day we’re faced with with temptations to go other ways and if it is for anything but Your Spirit we would choose those and we often do choose those. We turn a deaf ear to the Spirit. So, we ask for a fresh filling of Your Spirit now. Come and fill us afresh.

Come give us power to choose Your way over the ways we would normally choose. Lord, I pray too, by Your Spirit, You would give us a fresh understanding of Your love, that this would be more than words on a page, that Your Love would be poured out into our hearts by the Spirit, that Your love would be so real and tangible that it would overflow from us and to others, into the lives of others and into the life of our community.

Thank you Lord. for the gift of your Spirit

We offer ourselves in Your service and for Your glory, Amen

Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

Perspective: advancing the Gospel

Preached on: Sunday 10th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:12-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

In your opinion and from your perspective, how well does that describe our day and time? You could be forgiven for thinking that these words had been written fairly recently, yet they’re taken from the all-time best-selling book originally written in English Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. I would imagine most of us were glad to see the end of 2020 and despite the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel with approval now of two vaccines, the introduction earlier this week of a further lockdown does not give much encouragement as we enter 2021. A lot of how we view this new year has a lot to do with our perspective. I’m not sure we realize this but our perspective on life is incredibly important because it either can make us or break us.

That’s what this text that we just read in Philippians 1 is all about. In verses 12 to 18 we learn from Paul to have a positive perspective in the midst of tough times. Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi, a church he had planted about 10 years before. But he’s writing it while he’s in prison in Rome and it’s obvious that he’s restricted, limited and quite literally in chains. There’s no freedom, almost no privacy and I doubt that the food was what you’d get from Marks and Spencers or some decent restaurant. Moreover, if we know anything at all about Paul, we know that instead of being stuck in a small one-room house in Rome chained to a succession of Roman palace guards, he wanted to travel to Spain to preach the gospel or roam from city to city in Greece and Asia minor to visit all the churches he started, or minister the love and grace of Christ to all the people that he’s won to the faith. And not only is he imprisoned but it’s clear that he’s got some enemies in the Church who are trying to shame him because of his arrest and impending trial before the emperor.

We don’t know who these people were but as he notes, they’re trying to cause him more pain and anguish as he suffers through the difficulties of his imprisonment if there was ever a person whose life illustrated that to be a follower of Jesus means taking up a cross to follow Him, it was Paul. He shows us that sometimes life is just plain tough! Life can be tough even for God’s people as it was for Paul and yet he transforms this tough time by turning his prison into a pulpit. I don’t know why but God has used prisons in enormously powerful ways. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress from Bedfordshire jail; Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote letters to his students and friends from Osnaburg prison in Nazi Germany Martin Luther King junior wrote his famous letters from the jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama; and Paul wrote this great letter to the Philippians from his prison in Rome, to give them a fresh perspective.

For starters, he focuses on the mission of God from verse 12 and the Gospel is advancing. The Pretorian guard knows he’s in prison for his religious beliefs not because he was an enemy of Caesar and his friends and his enemies are being motivated to share Christ, and people are coming to faith. Christ’s kingdom is advancing. The Gospel is expanding and as a result he can rejoice.

Our perspective on life is incredibly important because it can make us or break us, and Paul knew that so he was going to do everything he could to look for the providential work of the Sovereign Savior in the midst of tough times. So, let me ask you this: Do you see any way that the Sovereign Savior might be providentially at work in the midst of your circumstances to advance the gospel? As we begin 2021, without diminishing your pain, how is your perspective?

Paul felt the pain of his imprisonment but what’s really interesting and important for us is that he takes the perspective that God is doing some great things and then applies it to himself.

Look at the rest of 18-20. Paul is telling the Philippians that, through their prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is providentially at work and so his imprisonment will work out for his best. If we go to Acts 25 Paul was on trial in Caesarea before the Roman Governor Felix and he leveraged his Roman citizenship and appealed to Caesar. So that’s what got him to this prison in Rome, but that meant that in the very near future he would go before Caesar and the emperor would decide his fate which would either be to release him or have him executed as an enemy of Rome. Caesar at that time was Nero. Nero was a compulsive, corrupt, wildly extravagant and violent man who ended up killing his own mother and one of his brothers. He was a genuinely dangerous and malevolent personality. So there’s a real chance that he could have given Paul a thumbs-down and sent him to the chopping block, and yet, in the face of that he’s rejoicing because he really believes that all this will work out for his best. Paul is not a naive optimist about life who’s in denial about the suffering that’s come his way, he’s not a pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by person who’s emotionally shut down in order to protect himself from more pain, he’s in prison under severe restrictions bothered by his enemies and there’s a very real possibility that he might be executed, and yet he’s thrilled excited and he is rejoicing. The reason he could do that was because his perspective on life and death had been Christianized.

“For me to live as Christ and to die is gain” – this is the key statement in this passage and Paul spells out in detail what he meant by this. let’s look at the first part in verse 22.

“If I go on living in the body this means fruitful labor for me.” Paul is arguing that since he centered his life in Christ the Sovereign Savior, if he’s allowed to live, that will mean fruitful labor for him.

It’s better to view life as a wheel with a series of spokes around the hub. To live as Christ means that we put Jesus at the center and let all the spokes of our lives be influenced by Him. That’s what Paul did. Christ was at the center of his life when he was making tents to pay bills, when he was traveling from place to place to preach the gospel, and when he was relating to both believers and unbelievers, and now here, when he was in prison and as a result of Christ, has transformed his perspective on life. If we place Jesus at the centre he will influence every part of our lives and like Paul, over time, will bear good fruit. We will see ourselves growing in grace and godliness and good character; we’ll have a positive impact on our family and friends and our co-workers; we’ll see the value of church and ministry; and we’ll reach out to our friends and neighbours in the love of Jesus.

Philippians 1 also impacts how we see death. Look at what Paul says into it verse 23 “I’m torn between the two a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Paul is teasing out his statement in this verse that to die is gain. He’s saying that when we die our souls go to be with the glorified Jesus and when we’re in His presence everything is peaceful and happy, as we wait for the day when Christ returns and we get our own resurrected bodies to live in the new heaven and the new earth. Death is an enemy but it’s an enemy that Christ has conquered and transformed for those who trust in Him and therefore it has become a means of gain for His people. Our perspective on life, especially when it goes south, is incredibly important because it can either make us or break us, and that’s why it’s so important that we develop a Philippians 1 perspective on life and death. This takes time. A Philippians 1 perspective where we look for the good in the midst of the bad takes time to develop because it’s not natural, it’s supernatural, and so we gain from this kind of perspective.

Let’s look again at verse 19 where Paul says I know that through your prayers and help given by the spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my best. He recognizes he needs God’s grace to maintain his perspective and that will come through their prayers and the Holy Spirit’s help. Paul is saying that through our prayers and God’s choreography on our lives, whatever happens will turn out for the best. We may not see it at this precise moment, we may not feel it in the middle of these tough times, but God will give grace to change our perspective so that, in due time, we can see the good things that have happened.

Finally, our perspective impacts other people. In the closing verses Paul has to go before the emperor for the legal decision on his case but he loves the Philippians and he wants what’s best for them and so, in faith, he makes a statement about remaining in the flesh so that he can be united with them again and minister to them again and everyone can be happy together. And, according to tradition, Paul was released by Nero and continued his ministry in the empire for another six or seven years and yet while he’s still there in prison Paul knew that how he saw his situation would impact everyone around him, the praetorian guards and anyone else he came into contact with. These verses go beyond Paul’s circumstances and his experience, they show us that our perspective on suffering life and death really influences those around us. if we have a Philippians 1 perspective, the perspective that Jesus our Sovereign Savior is actively at work in our lives and that he will more than take care of us in death, that will give us the energy, enthusiasm. A really Paul’s positive impact because a Philippians 1 perspective is really good for each of us and it’s good for all of those around us. Just imagine if every single person listening today by the grace of God developed a Philippians perspective, imagine the joy that we would all experience personally, and then imagine the happiness it would bring to our relationships, our families and our friends. Just imagine if we all prayed that God’s grace would descend on the political process and then the love of Christ we all stepped across the political wire and said we’re about something much, much bigger than perhaps elections or plans or things that need to be done. We are about spreading the Good News of the Gospel because it’s the hope of our nation and the hope of the world. I think that if, by the grace of God, we all did that, everyone around us would be amazed. The Good News of Jesus would expand much further than we can ever imagine or think of and we all would be much happier because Paul shows us that in our message today.

You: a Good Work

Preached on: Sunday 3rd January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I have a confession to make, I had never heard of Brightons before Scott came here. Falkirk yes, Brightons no, but it has been a privilege, a real privilege, to get, in a sense, to know you through Scott.

Scott and I have known each other for quite a number of years, quite a number of years! He was studying at the Bible College and we worked together in a church in Edinburgh. He was really like my youth worker and the thing I always remember about Scott, I don’t know if he’s listening in or not, was we almost had to put the reins on him such was his enthusiasm, his keenness, that he just had such a heart and passion for the Lord and I’m sure that is continuing with you to know just now. But now I do know Brightons, I can even find my way here, mind you I did use the sat nav!
So I’d never heard of the Church. I just thought I would go into Google for a couple of minutes and just try and find out some of the history. I couldn’t find very much. You might be able to enlighten me, and even if my few facts here are wrong you can enlighten me but I believe the Church was built in the mid 1800s. I’m getting the nod so that’s great. And it started from stone quarried in the village nearby. It was probably a lot smaller even then. It was quarried by a man called Alexander Laurie and the Church building now still stands here. There’s obviously been some additions from what I can see and gather, but, more important than this building, beautiful though it is, and established though it be, is that the people of God are still here. Now not the same ones certainly looking around I doubt any of you go back quite that far! That God’s people are still here over many years. Additions will have been made; people will have been taken home; others will have moved away from the area.

You’re going to be studying and looking at the book of Philippians. It’s actually one of my favorite books. I just love the book of Philippians! There’s such a love and a warmth that comes ringing through it but one of the things, one of the portions I love, is the portion that I’ve been given to start off with and I’ve used these verses many a time to friends and colleagues who I really thank God for. And Paul’s heart just reaches into my heart and into the hearts of people that you cannot help but just lift your heart and thank God every time you remember them and what they’ve meant to you. You have to read in Acts chapter 16 for the foundation of this church; every church has its foundation.

Now the church of course is not buildings. That’s part of us but this was on Paul’s second missionary journey round about AD 52, so it wasn’t too long after actually Jesus’s crucifixion and certainly it was a church of some traumatic beginnings, some lovely thoughts, as well of the woman Lydia praying down by the riverside, but then you get the traumatic appearance or calling of this young slave girl and that caused such an upset. When Paul rebuked the spirit and the spirit left her, the evil spirit left her, and she was no longer good for her master’s use of telling fortunes, and that led to trouble, to a riot that led to Paul being imprisoned and been beaten. It led to an earthquake!
It was quite traumatic and read it for yourself and you’ll find out the beginnings of this church and sometimes as you go through a book you need to constantly almost look back to remind yourselves as to the beginnings because the people here in the pews the people at home perhaps you’re starting to forget some of their faces. Not those that you know very well but I’m sure, like many churches, there are people that will come and go, people that just come in and listen to the word and sing and then leave, and you hardly get to know them. Others will be known, you’ll have known them for years but these have been very difficult years or a year, very difficult months, so you’re not just sitters in a pew, you’re not just people who sit at home, and I hope when this is all over you will return to the pews, there’s sometimes a fear that people think “Oh this is great I just have to get up last minute, get my cup of coffee and then I’ll join in the church service.” Do not deny yourself the fellowship of God’s people when we’re allowed to meet once again.

What I want to do is just look at some of the words in this passage. Words that stand out to me in just 11 short verses, and the first one is the word you, you, you. You know in 11 short verses it’s mentioned 11 times? Now that’s a lot for one little word and it’s in the plural. It’s not just so often we become very individualistic and we certainly live in a very individualistic society. “It’s me” “My” “Mine”. The church is not “me, my and mine”! The church is “you” collectively and there Paul writes every time I remember you who were the you. Now obviously from my point of view I know Scott and Gill, I don’t know any of you either here or in your homes, but you do! You, God’s holy people. That’s what Paul said right at the beginning “to all God’s holy people in Christ” and then he goes on every time “I remember you”, and we’ll look at some of the others in a moment. You just feel and you recognize and I’m sure, as you go through the book you will see it again and again, how Paul pours out his heart and thankfulness for “you” now, who, where – the ”You”.

Well of course we don’t really know, we can surmise, it may have been Lydia or she may have gone home to Thyatira to her business, it probably certainly was the jailer and his family. You know it may even have been some of the other people in the jail with Paul and Silas at the time. Paul and Timothy sorry at the time, it may have been a young slave girl and her owner, it may have been the soldiers? We just don’t know names. We do know, because they’re in the book itself, is Epaphroditus as Euodia and Syntyche and Clement, but for most of them we don’t know who they were. But when you have a phrase like this from his heart, he remembers you “I remember you from my heart” it’s amazing! Now I don’t know how long it’d been but it was about 10 years from the founding of this church to when Paul actually writes this letter, so things would have changed as things would change in your church.

What are you thinking about just now of the “you” that are not here? Perhaps it’s many weeks or months since you’ve seen some of them. Even close people that you know and perhaps you’ve even forgotten the faces or the names of the person you last spoke with who was new to the church. You think I don’t remember their names? They have been very difficult months but let’s remind ourselves, even when you’re a full church, we are not just people who sit in pews, we are people who are in partnership together with the Gospel and “all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

It’s great when we come together because we can build one another but it’s not just to have nice wee pally conversations, it is that and we need that, and we miss that, but we are in partnership together in the Gospel. “I remember you” so when you go through this book remember that you are a you together as Paul teaches, as he perhaps rebukes, so he doesn’t do an awful lot in this book as he does in some others, but just remember you are together. Even if you get right through this book, which is very possible, and we’re still not able to meet together in the way we would love to so, that’s one word “you”.

Another word that struck me was struck me was remember, remember. Do you remember the day when we didn’t have to wear masks? Do you remember the time when we could sing our hearts out? It will happen again and these masks will go. I can remember you know, not that long ago, of you watch people in countries which are terribly polluted by fumes car fumes etc. and a lot of the people go around with masks on. You think “Oh my goodness!” and now we are, but here is this word
Remember, remember. Because this pandemic has brought a lot of troubles into our midst, individually and collectively, There’s the fear of dying or of catching it. There’s the fear of those who have lost loved ones and have not even been able to go to their funerals. It just hurts. So remember, there’s a lot of people. and it may include you sitting here. and it will certainly include some at home. of the heart and the pain of being unable to say goodbye in a normal way.

There’s a pain in the heart of those who have lost their jobs and will yet lose their jobs, but you know, despite all that, and it is horrific, personally one of my biggest struggles is the loss of fellowship. We’re built for congregational, we’re a gregarious people, we are not individuals. You miss the hugs. you miss the lack of visiting people. I have a brother in Edinburgh who’s dying of prostate cancer and I can’t visit him. Well, I shouldn’t visit him! There’s times when I’ve had to go – he’s not a believer, he has prostate cancer his wife has Parkinson’s – and it’s hurt. We’ve never fallen out but we’ve never been that close but I’ve been able to read with them to pray with him and sometimes I confess and admit – and please don’t tell this to the authorities – I’ve broken the rules and crossed the bridge and gone into Edinburgh because I felt I had to and if he deteriorates and get worse I would do it again. I would do it again because sometimes there are laws that are greater than the laws of our government. Now that’s not to encourage you to break rules, and we know one of the big problems, and we need to remember this, that this epidemic has caused an epidemic of loneliness. People on their own. My wife at the moment is going through, well we don’t know what it is but she’s just not well at all and it’s got worse and worse. And how we miss friends that just can’t come and visit us. Our friends that we just can’t go and visit them. We have families that live abroad, well one lives in in southern Spain and another lives in Northern Ireland, and their children. We have one daughter at home. But it’s this sense of loneliness and how we need to remember, how you need to remember, the people that sat beside you, the people that sat around you, and Paul encourages “I remember you. I always pray with joy because of your partnership.”

Such is the heart and such should be our hearts for those you know. Memories are a wonderful thing and I know the older you get sometimes the memories fade a bit so you can’t remember! I’m getting to the stage where I can’t remember people’s names that I know, so, well I don’t know if there’s a problem going on, but here Paul says I have you in my heart. Are there people that are on your heart, in your heart, in your congregation that you haven’t seen for weeks and perhaps you felt you’ve not been able to contact. You may not be able to visit them but you can phone them. Now this is where we really thank God, which I’ve now never always done, is for the internet and for guys that can put these things out and pull together ways that we’ve been able to meet in some ways. But the memory of the people you miss dearly. It must have been a while since Paul had seen some of them but he longs for them. Long for the people of your congregation. Go on longing for them and for the day that you’ll be able to sit together once again. Let your mind even now, I don’t mind if it wanders the rest of this sermon and wanders to people that you remember so fondly.

And you can still contact them either through social media by phone or, my next word, through prayer. I do admit when it comes to this word and Paul’s prayer I would take a series of sermons in itself to go through the whole gambit of prayer for one another but Paul says, and I’ll just simply read this “and this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you 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. Tto the glory and praise of God.” You see Paul’s big heart in these verses and you see Paul’s big prayers.
Extend your prayers either to people or what you desire for people and as you go through this book. Many things will come to you and perhaps somebody that you are really feeling for. What you learn through the next few weeks, pray for someone in the congregation. They might be listening but you add to what they’re hearing because it is terrible not being in touch and even when we do have social media. I’ve heard, I’ve said that many, many times “You know, I am Zoomed out!” I never even heard of Zoom before! That’s the problem, most of us hadn’t! I’m sure their share price has rocketed – but you know there are times when you just get weary. We thank God for the whole setup but we long just for that hug, that handshake, and that warmth. But remember because Paul comes through with here, with that joy of who’s ever running through your mind just now, that you long to see, to remember those people with love and with feeling and to remember to pray fervently for one another.

The day will come when we will be back together and my last word is not actually one word but two words and Paul says this in verse six “Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
note the word “good work”. “He who began a good work in you.” Now he doesn’t say good works, it’s not plural, it’s our work that’s been done in you and me and many others. What is that “good work”. Now there’s been lots of good works being done during this pandemic, some of them are amazing, what people have done. I just even heard on the news this morning about a group a group of Sikhs that took food down to the lorry drivers and I think they traveled quite a distance and you just wonder who else was doing that? Were the Christian communities likewise doing that? They have been named. You think there’s people that have felt for these lorry drivers stuck away from home, stuck in something that was not of their making, and here were people with kindness, there were good works, You’ve got the young footballer Marcus Rashford that has taken him back to his childhood, a difficult childhood, and longs to see children properly fed. Lots of good works. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. There is a theory, well it’s a theory, there’s a belief that by good works people are saved. You know if I do good enough, enough good things, then God’s bound to let me into heaven. That is false good works. Never saved anyone. But His good work did. It’s the work of God, “He who began a good work in you.” I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home and still I don’t my family, my immediate older family are not Christians, but what was that good work? It was when the Lord took hold of my life and saved me and changed me. Just let me read a verse or two in the book before in Ephesians “As for you”, there’s that word again “you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, every single one of us. The same, not just here but same for people sitting at home. There was a time when we were not in Christ.

And for those of you who are listening who are not in Christ, you know there is a good work that God wants to do in your life now and it can only be done through Jesus. Doesn’t matter how many good works you do and keep doing them, but it will not save you. It will not get you to heaven. Here is a good work, the work of God, and again you could do a whole series on this the ministry of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, into our lives. An initial starting of a good work in you – perhaps this new year you will find Christ as your Savior and that good work will change your life but of course it’s more than just an initial thing because he says “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t end when we first get saved, that’s the starting point of the journey. If you’re a young Christian and have not long come to find faith let me quote Jeremiah 29 where Jesus our God says “I have plans for you.” “I have plans for you.” You have a tremendous journey ahead of you. See, I wasn’t born into a Christian home and as I look back over the many years since I’ve become a Christian it’s incredible what has happened in me through the teaching of the Word, through the way the Lord has led. It’s taken me to places that I thought I would never ever see. The Lord has been so gracious and He continues on in that work. So if you’re not long starting the journey then I thank God for it. Sometimes I wish I was starting again but I’m not, I’m coming nearer to the end of my journey, and certainly I am from the beginning His plans for us will be very different from the plans that He’s had for me. Plans about your jobs, plans about your home, plans about your family, plans about where He might take you, what he might do with you. So look back and remember the day when Christ saved you. He began a good work in you. He will continue a good work in you and if you’re of the age – I am and retired and I don’t particularly enjoy retirement, I’ve struggled a lot with it – He’s not finished because you’re still here. You can’t do the things you used to do but sometimes a stillness, sometimes just a heaviness, a weariness settles into our lives but you know it need not be, and I think I speak very personally, so wherever you are, if you’re not yet a Christian, may that good work begin in you, even this morning, this year, this month. If you’re a new Christian just look forward to an exciting journey ahead of you. If you’re a long-standing person in the faith and feeling stale, find a freshness and as you go through this book. Many other avenues will open up to you. We’re yet in another lockdown and even coming across I think it was the bridge or somewhere it says stay local and I think Well I’m not staying local. You’re now in tier four and I know I shouldn’t be.” but in one sense Scott assured me no you’re coming to a place of work not just a place of worship, so I’m quite legitimate in me coming here but in other areas we are in lockdown who could have imagined. We’re not in a dictatorship. Who could have imagined that our government could have legislated to lock us down? It was just unthinkable but physically we are, but sadly some people are getting spiritually locked down and that’s what we need to do, to remember, to remember, to pray, to grow and to have our spiritual lives refreshed and renewed no matter how young or no matter how old we be. And so my prayer, as we close, is to just simply say to you “the Lord bless you and keep you and the Lord use you, as a congregation of His holy people. May it be so for His namesake.