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Learning to Love Christians
Paul’s thanksgiving and affection for the Philippians in 1:3 to 8
part 2, verses 5 to 6
The slaughter of chickens is not comparable to the Holocaust, right? Unless you talk to Karen Davis. She’s dedicated her life to rescuing chickens. In a Washington Post interview, Davis describes poultry farms as “prison camps”, where chickens are humiliated, tortured and murdered. In a strange, feather-brained sort of way, Davis keeps more than a hundred chickens at home–many of whom she rescued after they fell off poultry trucks.
She devotes hours eggs-actly every day caring for them, and spends the rest of her time fighting political battles on their behalf. Her cause hasn’t been without sacrifices. Davis’s husband, tired of her single-minded, yoked devotion to chickens, left her. Her home is almost entirely bereft of furniture (totally scrambled) so the chickens could roam freely. Her home smells fowl. Davis was so committed to her feathered friends, she even missed her father’s funeral to care for her clucks.
Now Christians should be stewards of animals, but our world has an ever-increasing, unhealthy devotion to animals. There’re people here at FBC who even have cats as pets! Apart from the evolutionary error that we’re all animals and those animals have the same rights as humans, the practical reason why affection for pets is on the rise is because pets don’t hurt us nor leave us for other animals.
They don’t walk around in a bad moods for days, nor argue with us, nor say cruel things to us. Pets actually love our attention, affection, devotion and we like their wags, greetings–and dare I say it, “purring”. Our pets love any attention we give them. We love animals because relationships with them are really easy.
Relationships with people, on the other hand, take a lot of work and usually result in a lot of hurt. This is part of the reason the Bible is so down to earth about human relationships. I believe the Lord wants believers to enjoy the relationships we have with people more than we can ever enjoy a relationship with a pet. I believe the Lord wants us to learn to love Christians.
Are you loving the Christians in your life right now? Are you rejoicing or regretting your spouse? Are you delighted or disappointed with your kids? Are you blessed or bummed with your friends? Are you affectionate or afflicted with your flock?
Even though Paul had great difficulty with some Christians, he had a very tender love relationship with the Philippians. Turn to Philippians 1 and take your outline as we hear Paul talk lovingly about the Philippians. As he does, Paul’s example helps us learn how to love Christians in verses 3 to 8. Ten years ago, Paul founded the church at Philippi.
Now around AD 60, under house arrest chained to a Roman soldier, he writes this letter to his beloved Philippians. Epaphroditus took the letter you now have in your lap back to Philippi and it begins in verse 1 with “Paul”. Paul’s not the authoritative apostle to them, but their slave. Paul calls them saints, set apart to serve Christ together, having received grace and mercy from God who is their Father, and Jesus Christ who is their Lord.
Then beginning in verse 3, Paul pours out his heart. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
These verses are one paragraph in the Greek, and in them Paul models a love for Christians. Are there believers you’re struggling with right now? Can you think of one or two? Last Sunday, we discovered the main verb which makes up the key point of Paul’s thinking, verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”
#1 Thank God for CHRIST in them
To grow in our love for Christians, Paul gave thanks to God for them faithfully. The key is to thank God for Christ in believers. Be grateful for the character of Christ in Christians. Paul didn’t have an easy time in Philippi, but he chose “to remember the best, and forget the rest.” And how do we do this? Two ways–we learn to love by giving thanks.
First PRAYING for them with Joy Verse 4
“Always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” To learn to love believers, practice positive praying. The fastest way to change a relationship from bad to good is to start thanking God for that relationship in prayer. The vehicle for giving thanks is prayer with joy, but the topic you and I can thank God for in Christians is unique. Still under the main verb “to thank” in verse 3, verse 5 now tells us what Paul is thankful for in the Philippians and helps us learn to love Christians by . . .
Second Rejoicing over their LOYALTY to Christ and His cause
Read verses 3 through 5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, [how?] 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you [and why is Paul thankful?], 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul thanks God because these Christians were loyal. Not to him only, or not to him first, but they were loyal to Christ and His cause–to the work of the Gospel.
They stuck with their commitment to Christ. They’re devoted to the mission of every true Christian. Much of their loyalty to Christ found its expression in a solid commitment to Paul’s work in spreading the Gospel. After all, Paul is now under arrest. Yet the Philippians are still sending him gifts and personal help–that’s loyalty.
Even though others were suggesting that Paul’s ministry was over, the Philippians didn’t buy it. There’s a touch of personal loyalty being expressed here. The Philippians were loyal to Paul and stuck with him, even when things turned sour, as he’s under arrest. Maybe the Philippians weren’t rich and powerful. They didn’t get their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone, but they stuck with Paul through thick and thin.
Just like when you were difficult, distracted or depressed for a year, and your spouse stuck with you. Or when you went through a season of disobedience, and your parents endured you. Or when those kids hung in there when you parents were struggling. There is much to thank God for when Christians are loyal.
In verse 5, Paul is thanking the Philippians for staying loyal to Christ and His cause for over ten years. As he does, Paul highlights two different aspects in verse 5. Learning to love Christians involves thanking God for their . . .
1 Partnership with the Gospel
Paul says in verse 5a, “in view of your participation in the gospel.” The NASB says “participation”, the NIV says “partnership”, and the KJV says “fellowship”, and all of them highlight a truth found in the word koinonia—fellowship. Fellowship, the term, is so watered down today–we miss the full meaning of what Paul is trying to say. We think fellowship is red punch and stale cookies, or at FBC, coffee and donut holes. At best, we think about fellowship as merely sharing.
The partnership the Philippians had with Paul went far deeper than sharing. They were sharing in Christ–participation in the Gospel. His person and His work summarized by the term Gospel. The good news of salvation found only in Christ—dead and then alive. Their participation and partnership, called fellowship here, was being in Christ together and sharing Christ in us with each other. It’s a sharing what we have in common, which is Christ and a sharing of His mission, which is the Gospel.
Listen, the same divine magnet that draws us to Christ also draws us to one another. Our fellowship makes us part of the same magnetic field which is Christ. And this results in magnetic waves of giving, sharing, praying, talking, helping all working toward the same purpose–the Gospel of Christ. That’s fellowship! Paul was thankful for the Philippians–for their fellowship in the common goal of all true Christians, getting the Gospel out.
You can be thankful for a genuine Christian, for when they’re in the Spirit and walking in obedience to the Word, they will also be loyal to the cause of Christ. The only reason why this sounds foreign is because believers have drifted away from the true Gospel. The reason many so-called Christians don’t have a heart for the Gospel is because many in the Church are not saved. But when anyone is in true fellowship with Christ, the Philippians show us it’ll be obvious in two ways.
A True fellowship is material and PERSONAL
True fellowship always shares. True fellowship shares Christ in me with Christ in you. It also shares all that I am and all that I have with all who are in Christ. The Philippians gave Paul a sacrificial and personal gift to help him in his Gospel ministry, even while he is under arrest in Rome. Philippians 4:14 tells us, “You have done well to share with me in my affliction.”
Not only did they give a material gift to this jailbird, they also sent a precious person, Epaphroditus, to care for Paul personally. The cost was high, in that Epaphroditus almost died. Yet true fellowship is sacrificial and personal. Fellowship is a gift and a person–it is all of Christ in you given to another who is in Christ. Fellowship is not coffee and donuts, but sharing Christ in us and through us with one another in any possible way, so Christ can be seen and His message is made clear.
After the service today, as you’re talking with coffee in hand and donut hole ready–if you talk about sports, you’re not fellowshipping. As you share about Christ, His Word, His heart, His Gospel and His work, you’re truly fellowshipping. Now if you talk about what God is doing at the football game–that’s fellowship. When the referee makes a bad call, you drop to your knees in an attitude of prayer, that’s fellowship.
As you give gifts, meet needs, give to others, come alongside to pray, bear a believer’s burden or exhort a Christian with truth, then you’re fellowshipping personally and materially, which is true fellowship. I know you’re thankful for the Christians at community groups who you fellowship with. And I know you’re thankful for a church family where you can share God’s Word and share in God’s work. Paul was super thankful for true fellowship. Paul was thankful for material and personal fellowship with the loyal Philippians, because . . .
B True fellowship is GOSPEL-centered
Their fellowship was not merely a gift of money that came from a church, through a person. But Paul thanked God for the Philippians, because verse 27 says they were contending for the Gospel to the point where they viewed suffering for the Gospel as a privilege. They were one heart with Paul over the Gospel, which knit their hearts together since the Gospel was the singular passion of Paul’s life.
And the Gospel is not merely the body of New Testament teaching, or merely proclaiming the message of Christ. The Gospel is the person and work of Christ. It’s the good news about what God did through Christ. The Gospel is how God alone can save you. And their fellowship in the Gospel was seen in general by spreading the Gospel in every possible way. In particular, their fellowship in the Gospel was seen in sending Paul a gift while he was imprisoned for the defense of the Gospel.
Like the Philippians, we must fellowship in the Gospel. How? Like the Philippians, make certain the ministries and missionaries you support are proclaiming an accurate, sovereign Gospel of transforming grace. Like the Philippians, support only those who establish sound local churches who teach the lordship of Christ. Like the Philippians, only function in a church where the Word is accurately taught, so the true Gospel is clear. What made Paul so thankful for the Philippians was not only their partnership with the Gospel, but also their . . .
2 ENDURANCE with the Gospel
Look at the second half of verse 5. Paul says he is thankful, “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul is thankful for every word spoken and every deed done on behalf of the Gospel, from the moment of their conversion to this present day. They endured with the Gospel. Don’t miss what Paul is saying here.
“From the first day until now” includes the day the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the Gospel–and that wonderful woman opened her home for the Gospel workers and made it a headquarters for the missionaries, ultimately becoming the meeting place for the new church in Philippi.
This partnership in the Gospel was seen early when the jailer washed the missionaries’ wounds and placed food before them the night he was saved. This fellowship with the Philippians endured as Paul moved on to Thessalonica, to the very next place on his missionary journey after Philippi. While there, the Philippians sent him a gift. Philippians 4:16 says, “For even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.”
On the very same journey, while Paul was in Corinth, he didn’t have to be a burden to the difficult Corinthians because his needs were (once more) supplied by the brothers in Macedonia, which included the Philippians. Paul said to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:9, “When I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia, they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.”
Whenever a need was known, and often when it wasn’t known, the Philippian church shared in Paul’s work. Even the recent heroic mission of Epaphroditus, when he risked his very life in the interest of the Gospel, points to the Philippians’ endurance with the Gospel. The Philippians were not merely loyal to Paul, but to the Gospel. Second Corinthians 8 and 9 proves it. The Philippians (literally the Macedonians) gave sacrificially, spontaneously and joyously to the poor Christians in Jerusalem for the sake of the Gospel.
The Philippians wanted the message which had transformed them to be shared with others. They were beggars who had found bread, but didn’t want to hog it all for themselves—they were willing to share it with other starving beggars. And Paul’s point in verse 5 is that this enduring giving–this partnership/participation/fellowship has been going on faithfully for ten years now, from the first day until now.
They persevered in spite of the obstacles. For ten years they had not lost their first love. Never did their giving wane, cut back or slow down–it was regular, sacrificial and joyful for over ten years. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Paul gives thanks in verse 3. The Philippians gave and kept giving. They prayed and kept praying. They were faithful to God’s work over the long haul. They were loyal to Christ.
How do you learn to love Christians? You don’t focus on their weaknesses, quirks or weird habits–you focus on their enduring participation in the work of the Gospel. But if they never had a passion for the Gospel, or they fade from their loyalty to the Gospel and God Himself, that will begin to erode their assurance of salvation. Paul now makes that dramatic statement in verse 6, which is shocking when you see it in context. Another key to learning to love Christians in your life is found in verse 6.
#2 Never forget God is not FINISHED with them yet
Read verse 6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” To really learn to love people, you have to allow for growth in their lives. You have to accept the fact they’re not finished yet. You must recall–if they’re a genuine born again believer, they’re no longer what they once were, and they’ve not yet become what they’re going to be. Friends, I’m not what I used to be, and I’m not what I’m gonna be.
Forget saying, “Please be patient with me, Jesus is not finished with me yet,” and start saying, “I’m not what I used to be, and not what I’m gonna be. If you don’t like me today, just hang on, I’m getting better.”
Paul tells the Philippians, God is going to complete what He started in their lives, modeling a way to love others. Look at others as in process–they’ve not arrived. If we demand perfection from our Christian friends, spouse or children, we’re going to make them and us miserable.
Look at the context now. The immediate reason for Paul’s thanksgiving in verse 3 is verse 5–their participation with the Gospel. But now Paul adds an ultimate reason–look at verses 5 and 6. Because of their faithfulness to the true Gospel for ten years in verse 5, Paul is confident in verse 6, they’re truly God’s, proving it is God who will preserve them all the way to Heaven. Paul links human perseverance in verse 5 to their fellowship in the Gospel since the first day. Then he links perseverance with divine preservation in verse 6, asserting the truth that God will complete what He started in their lives.
Faithful fruit-bearing and God’s preservation of the Christian are linked. Do you see the word “for” that starts verse 6? That is what that “for” is there for! Listen–faithful service over time gives evidence God is preserving you all the way to Heaven. And God’s preserving you all the way to Heaven allows you to give faithful service over time. In the life of the true born again Christian, both will be true.
Although it’s true God brings His work to completion, it is equally true once God has begun His work in people, those people will work spiritually and not remain passive instruments. True Christians don’t let go and let God, they step out in obedience and manifest faithfulness. And it is human perseverance in verse 5, “from the first day until now,” that Paul says proves the divine preservation of verse 6. I’m confident God will complete what He started.
Paul is not saying you’re guaranteed a spot in Heaven because you prayed a prayer or served in the church. Paul is saying, the demonstration you are one heart with the person and work of Christ over a ten-year period gives me confidence you’re God’s true child. Paul says, “I’m confident you Philippians are the real thing. You’re the saved, not the self-deceived. You are true believers, not make-believers.”
Paul says your perseverance in the work of the Gospel of verse 5 has convinced me you are the objects of divine preservation of verse 6. For all this I thank God, verse 3, making my prayers with joy, verse 4. If you’re truly saved, verse 6 teaches us God will keep us saved. You can’t lose your salvation.
It is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This doctrine says no one whom God has brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will ever be lost. People start things, but don’t finish them. But God never starts anything He doesn’t finish. So Paul’s confidence in verse 6 is not in the Philippians, but in God Himself. God is the one who saves us and keeps us.
John 10:27 to 28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” Romans 8:38 to 39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
No one can thwart our God–God’s children will persevere. They cannot lose their salvation. Many don’t like the doctrine of perseverance, because they want to be responsible for their own salvation. They think they can make their own decision to follow Christ. They think it’s up to them to remain with Christ. But the truth is, people don’t hold on to Christ, Christ holds onto His children. “And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.”
The Bible says people don’t seek Christ nor hold onto Christ–it is Christ who seeks you out and holds onto you. We’re kept safe to Heaven not by our own efforts or our own devices, but by the faithfulness of God. Salvation is a life that will never end, John 3:16. A gift that will never be lost, John 6:37. A love from which we shall never be separated, Romans 8:39. A calling that will never be revoked, Romans 11:29. And a place where we can never be snatched from, John 10:28.
So what you have here at the end of verse 5 and verse 6 are two key doctrines. Verse 5, “in view of your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now.” Verse 6, “For I am confident of this very thing [that’s assurance of salvation], that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus [that’s the perseverance of the saints].”
The doctrine of assurance of salvation is seen in their sacrificial partnership in the Gospel for over ten years, “from the first day until now.” Paul says in verse 6, their fruitfulness and faithfulness verifies God is at work in their lives. You have confidence in the salvation of others not because they prayed a prayer, go to church or attend a Bible study. But when the fruit of Christ’s character and faithful service to Christ’s work are manifested through their lives over time, it provides evidence they’re the real thing.
It’s their faithfulness to the Gospel that gives Paul the confidence to say they will be those who persevere. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, that God who started this good work of grace will finish it reminds us–God’s sovereign grace is irrevocable. You’re stuck.
Look closely at verse 6 and let’s pick it apart. Notice, Paul is confident–literally persuaded. The tense tells us Paul was sure in the past and is currently certain now. God began this good work when he opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the Gospel by the riverside. And when God literally rattled the cage of the jailer, or as some have said, “When the jailhouse rocked.”
This good work is salvation, the work of transforming grace. God does it, but don’t be fooled. When God does it, it doesn’t mean we fold our hands and wait for the next bus to Heaven. We are involved. Never get the idea we are secure in Christ in order to sin–or God preserves us so we can be lazy . . . no. Paul says our good works demonstrate God’s good work, and God’s good work allows us to do good works.
Verse 6 says it’s our good works of service that prove God’s good work of salvation, and God’s good work of salvation that enables us to do good works of service. Paul will put it this way later in Philippians 2. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (verse 12). Show that your salvation is true by good works. ”For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure [God does it all]” (verse 13).
Back to Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you.” This salvation, God does this in you. The “you” is plural, you independent types—think. A plural “you” means God is doing His work in us. God does His work to a body, not merely a believer. One brick is not enough to build a building, and one organ is not enough to have a body. All of us are needed for this task to be finished by God. God completes all of us together.
God saves you to function as a part of His Church. First Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Ephesians 4:16, “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” God will grow us to completion together.
And the key verb in verse 6, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it.” Depending on what version you have, Paul says God will perfect, perform, or carry this work in us on to completion. God will reach His final goal. God is not finished with you. And if you’re going to learn to love people, you must view them as in process.
God will finish what He started, and you can celebrate God is not done with you yet. Just like a steak on the grill, you’re not cooked through. Or a pizza in the oven, your cheese hasn’t melted yet. God is not like us–men do experiments, but God carries out a plan. Men don’t finish, God always does.
The main verb, “perfect”–to carry on to completion, can literally mean final touches. Like a great artist making a masterpiece, God is putting the final touches on each one of His children. That is what God is doing in your life. I love that picture–except with me, it feels like He is still putting on the base coat of flat white.
From our point of view, we may have a long way to go–but from another point of view, the major part of God’s work is done. The Philippians, you, and all true Christians are already Christ’s–but now God is completing the task by putting on a few final touches. When are we done? God will bring you to completion, verse 6, “until the day of Christ Jesus.” We look at our death as the end, but God looks at the return of Christ, called the Day of Christ, as the day when every true Christian will be made like Christ, with a new glorified body.
When we die, our spirits go immediately to Heaven to be with Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:8b, “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” But when Christ returns, our salvation will be finished as we receive a new glorified body. First Corinthians 15:42, “the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body.” The Day of Christ is the finish of the race–it’s the day we are all hoping for, that future day.
It seems the Philippians had lost their hope of Heaven–they’d forgotten about a better life to come. Later in Philippians, Paul says to them in 1:23, “having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” And then in 3:13, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,” and 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
God will complete what He started, but it will not always be easy here. So keep your focus on the future. When the Christians in your life are difficult, impractical to live with or minister to, remember this–God will finish what He started in you, and God will finish what He started in them. And one day all of you, every single born again Christian will be perfected. God will complete what He started in our lives and their lives. We’re not finished yet. We are not what we were, and not what we will be–we’re in process.
To learn to love Christians, do what Paul does toward his beloved Philippians. Choose to thank God for them, pray for them with joy, give thanks for their loyalty to Christ and the Gospel, and remember God is not through with them yet. They have not arrived yet, but someday they will. Bow your heads with me in prayer. And before you run out to the patio to get set up and serve, let me ask you to please stay through prayer.
#1 TEST YOUR COMMITMENT–are you genuinely saved?
Do you know what the true Gospel is? Are you overwhelmed by God’s love in choosing to save you? Do you have a passion for getting the Gospel out? Does your passion show in your giving to Gospel purposes and sharing the Gospel with others? Are you loyal to the Gospel? If not, turn to Christ today. Cry out to Christ to open your heart and transform you from the inside out with the Gospel.
#2 TEST YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Are you thanking God for the Christians in your life through prayer, and because of their loyalty to the truth? Are you rejoicing over the truth they are not what they were, and they are not yet what they will be?
#3 TEST YOUR HEART
Is your faithful service enough to convince someone watching–you certainly must be a Christian? Is your growth in Christ evidence God is at work in you, and will complete what He started? Would Paul say your service to Christ gives Him confidence you’re secure in Christ? If Christ were to look at your checkbook, calendar and service to others, would He be convinced? If not, confess your sin, then take one step this week to demonstrate you’re sincere and not a pretender. Make sure you are here next week, as we tackle verses 7 to 8 with Paul’s example of loving others.