Encouragement That Surpasses Circumstances

Dr. Rob Green January 3, 2021 Philippians 1:3-11
Outline

3 necessary actions as we start 2021

I. Thank the Lord For One Another (vv. 3-5)

Philippians 1:3-5 - I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

“The basis of the thanksgiving will be given [in v. 5]—their past and present partnership in the gospel. Paul, after all, rarely thanks God for ‘things’; his thanksgivings are for people, for those special ‘gifts’ whom God has brought into his life, who, despite whatever frustration or grief they may also cause him, are invariably a source of great joy and thanksgiving.” (Gordon D. Fee, Philippians NICNT. Pg 80)

A. With a heart of joy (v. 4)

Philippians 1:4 - …always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all…

B. Because of your faithful commitment to the gospel (v. 5)

Philippians 1:5 - …in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…

II. Express Confidence That God Will Continue to Work (vv. 6-8)

Philippians 2:6-8 - 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. 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. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

A. His work continues until the day of Christ (v. 6)

B. Resulting in a partnership that builds relationships

Philippians 1:7-8 - 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. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

III. Pray That Our Love Would Grow (vv. 9-11)

Philippians 1:9-11 - And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

A. Love characterized by knowledge and discernment

Philippians 1:9 - …real knowledge and all discernment…

B. Resulting in the ability to discern what is excellent

C. In order to be sincere and blameless

Philippians 1:10b - …in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…

“Paul prays (1) for their love to abound yet more and more; that (2) this be accompanied by full knowledge and moral insight, so that (3) they might approve those things that really matter, so that (4) they might be unsullied and blameless when Christ returns, as (5) they are now full of the fruit of righteousness, fruit that is (6) effected by Christ Jesus and (7) for the glory and praise of God.” (Gordon D. Fee, Philippians NICNT. Pg 96)

Good morning and welcome to 2021! I hope that you were able to spend some wonderful time with your family over the last two weeks.

  • We do not know all that the Lord has in store for us in the coming year, but many will attest to the challenge of 2020.
  • I even had the opportunity to end 2020 with the Rona.
  • It was certainly a year for the record books.

But here we are, with a new year in front of us. Praise the Lord. Next week Pastor Viars will explain our annual theme and talk about our upcoming plans.

  • That means today is a stand-alone message where I had the opportunity to prepare whatever I wanted.

How is that for flexibility?! As I was pondering what to do today, I knew that I wanted today’s message to be encouraging. Not every sermon is designed for encouragement. Some are designed primarily for instruction and others for confrontation.

  • Since I know that one of my personal tendencies is to take even encouraging passages of Scripture and turn them into confrontations, I continually asked whether this message has the tone of encouragement.
  • We all know that there will be plenty of time for confrontation in 2021.

The title of this message is Encouragement that Surpasses Circumstances. With that in mind, please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 1:3-11.

As you are getting there, I would like to make three brief comments about Philippians.

  1. It is known for its attitude of joy. The concept of joy appears with more frequency in this letter than in any other place in the Bible. It is truly an upbeat book. It should bring a smile to our face and our heart as we read it.
  2. It is a letter in response to a gift that, for Paul, represents a group of people focused on the same mission. This is not just a meal for a person who is sick, a book for a prisoner, or a coat for a person who is cold. This is a joint venture in gospel ministry.
  3. It is a letter written about 10 years after Paul started the church. These folks have a long relationship together and this is one of the churches that has kept that relationship strong and healthy.

I believe this passage explains how your pastors are viewing the start of 2021, and we hope you will join us.

Read Phil 1:3-11. This is the Word of the Lord. I would like us to consider 3 necessary actions as we start 2021.

I. Thank the Lord for one another (vv. 3-5)

Philippians 1:3-5 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.

When you reflect on our church, I hope that thanksgiving comes to your mind.

  • We, like every church, have people who are not living for Jesus.
  • We, like every church, will have some clean up to do as this pandemic ends.
  • But that is not the major story line of the last year.

God has allowed us to be put in the pressure cooker. Between COVID and all its implications, the election and all the fighting there, as well as the other social issues in our nation, we have had a tumultuous year. HOWEVER …

By and large, the story of 2020 is the faithfulness of God’s people because of God’s work in them.

When one is a part of a ministry like this one – especially during a time like this – it is always possible to take one another for granted or at least to not know what is happening.

  • About 50% of our church family is attending in person, but very few of us see any more than about 10% of our church family on any given Sunday.
  • It is part of being one church at three campuses.

However, and this is a big however, although we are not seeing one another we are still impacted by the actions of our entire church family. Let me provide several examples …

We saw faithful giving in 2020 including the successful conclusion of the capital campaign. That might not seem like much until you think about the implications of the opposite.

  • Even when people decided to individually tighten the purse strings, the commitments to the gospel ministry work continued.
  • Here is the thing … few of us would even notice that.

A second example were the serving opportunities at Christmas. Living Nativity could not happen without people serving. We put a mask mandatory policy on all servants during the LN.

  • Instead of whining about it and turning masks into a grand conspiracy theory, you simply said … people hearing the gospel is more important.
  • You donned a costume or a flashlight and off you went serving the King of Kings.
  • That exact same attitude happened with Christmas For Everyone and the Christmas Eve services.

A third example are those who continually work in Children’s and Youth ministries each week. I am not just talking about videos (as important as those are), I am also referring to those who week in and week out serve our children so we can go to ABF or to the service without our little ones.

  • Occasionally one of our workers comes out of the nursery with the little booties on.
  • Our nursery workers are loaded up. They look like COVID breaking storm troopers!

A fourth example is the way people are serving people without a lot of fuss or fanfare. I know of many who brought meals, without any formal organization, to families with COVID or other ailments. It was little more than the body caring for the body.

  • During my COVID quarantine, I had a few rough days --- barely got out of bed. But after that, it was more like house arrest without the ankle bracelet.
  • We were stocked with food. We have tried to do that since the beginning of the pandemic so as not to burden anyone.
  • Yet, I had vitamins dropped in my mailbox, cards, snacks, offers, and one dear soul brought ice cream with the mickey mouses in it.
  • I don’t know about you, but ice cream is pretty awesome, but ice cream with mickeys in it. Who needs medicine?
  • I think Mickey was putting the smack down on the Rona – what do you think? That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

I only picked 4 examples. I could have chosen 20. Each one is a small picture into the heart of our church family giving us reason to give thanks to the Lord for one another.

Please do not miss this … while there is a place for thanking one another (Paul writes the letter to thank them for their gift), the focus of this passage is thanking the Lord.

When Paul thought about the Philippians, he thanked God for them.

Fee explains, “The basis of the thanksgiving will be given [in v. 5]—their past and present partnership in the gospel. Paul, after all, rarely thanks God for “things”; his thanksgivings are for people, for those special “gifts” whom God has brought into his life, who, despite whatever frustration or grief they may also cause him, are invariably a source of great joy and thanksgiving.”—Gordon D. Fee, Philippians NICNT. Pg. 80.

Please also notice …

With a heart of joy (v. 4)

Philippians 1:4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all

Paul’s gave thanks to the Lord with joy. We can allow circumstances, both great and small to rob us of joy. Paul, being under house arrest and imprisoned for 4 years would know something about the challenge of circumstances. But they were not an excuse.

He was willing to look at his life and see the way this church partnered with him and cared about him. I think we can do exactly the same thing.

As we start in 2021, I want to encourage you to thank the Lord for one another … just as your pastors are thanking the Lord for all of you … and to do so with joy.

Yes, 2020 may have been hard. But 2020 was also latent with victories in our church family. I chose to talk about 4 ways that people served the Lord and each other.

  • Take a moment right now and reflect how the Lord used people in the church family to be an encouragement to you.

We hope that one item on your prayer list this year will be to thank the Lord for your faithful brothers and sisters with joy. The passage also emphasizes …

Because of your faithful commitment to the gospel (v. 5)

Philippians 1:5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now

Joy comes from something. Rather than being something I just have, it is something that is produced. In this case, joy comes from the faithful commitment to the gospel by your brothers and sisters.

  • When the Philippians sent a gift to Paul, Paul did not receive it as just a gift – but as a reflection of their partnership in the gospel ministry.

When you think about each act from that perspective, it produces joy that overflows in prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Let’s return to the examples:

  • The financial gifts to the ministry are a reflection of gospel partnership
  • The Children’s and Youth ministry workers are serving as part of gospel partnership
  • Our Christmas involvement was about gospel partnership
  • Our care for one another in meals, cards, encouragement, or gifts is gospel partnership

I say this sincerely when I say that we give thanks to the Lord with joy because of your gospel partnership with us.

  • We wanted to encourage you with those words and also encourage you to also give thanks to the Lord for the people who partner in the gospel with you.

Look around the room. These are people (and many more like them … another 90%) who have proven with their words and their actions that they are partners in the gospel with all of us.

II. Express confidence that God will continue to work (vv. 6-8)

Philippians 2:6-8 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.

As Paul continues his prayer of thanksgiving, he expresses confidence that the Lord will continue the work that he started. We are not relying on our own strength to continue this gospel partnership. We are counting on the Lord’s continued work in our lives.

  • I think this is another encouraging reminder as we enter 2021. I know that many are happy to lay aside the 2020 calendar and to forget, to the degree possible, some of the challenges it brought. We look with hope to a better 2021.

However, here is where our biblical balance fits in. We know that 2021 could be harder than 2020 collectively or possibly personally. What I mean that is the even if the collective society were in a much better place, we could still experience personal challenge.

That is why while we hope and believe that our circumstances in 2021 will improve (both personally and as a whole), our true confidence comes from a God who is going to continue to work in circumstances that are easy and in circumstances that are difficult.

  • It may be that the Lord changes conditions and circumstances and allows us to be full-steam ahead shortly.
  • It may be that the Lord uses hardship to move his people to their proper places of service and worship.

Either way, our hope is in the Lord. We have confidence that ….

His work continues until the day of Christ (v. 6)

Until the day of Christ… that is some reassurance for 2021. We know that God is going to continue his work in us until he takes us home or he returns. Either way, God’s work continues until the very end of our lives.

Peter wrote that trials test our faith and that the successful endurance of trails reveals that our faith is genuine.

  • At the end of all this, we may learn about a few people who did not believe in the Lord as much as they say they did.
  • But by and large, what we have seen in a God-empowered ability to withstand adversity and remain focused on gospel priorities.

I think that every one of us can look forward to 2021 with a bold confidence that the Lord is actively working to bring about his goals and his purposes.

I hope that the vaccine works

I hope that people stop dying from COVID

I hope that all the small businesses can thrive and hire folks who need a job

I hope our country can fully reopen

But I do not know if all that will occur. What I can state with full assurance is that our God is going to be alive, active, and working until the day of Christ.

Resulting in a partnership that builds relationships

Philippians 1:7 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.

In vv. 7-8 we also find that Paul returns to his personal relationship with the church that has partnered so well with him.

  • We should expect that the Lord’s work in our lives would result in a stronger overall partnership.
  • We should expect that as he completes his work our areas of common ground become more important than ever before and the areas of our disagreement become ever less important.

We have all heard the phrase a “band of brothers.” It occurs where a group of people (typically soldiers) endure something together. Where they come from and how they got there is not nearly as important as the shared experience.

  • Maybe 2020 is one of those years for us. Our unity was tested. Our willingness to sacrifice was tested. Our willingness to care was tested.
  • We have come out the other side experiencing 2020 together and we are stronger for it.

I think that Paul’s attitude toward this church is something that we can have for one another.

We start by giving thanks to God with joy because we watched each other place gospel priorities above other priorities in 2020.

  • We together express confidence that our God will work in 2021 and all the way until the day of Christ to accomplish his goals and purposes.
  • As God continues to work, we should expect that our partnership would continue to produce joy in and affection for one another.

Now that seems like a strong way to start 2021. Let’s look at just a couple more verses that describe one prayer request for one another …

III. Pray that our love would grow (vv. 9-11)

Philippians 1:9-11 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; 11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Prayer requests in our day and age often center around how a person feels (whether they are sick or not), or how a person’s circumstances are (whether they are easy or difficult). There is most certainly a place for these kinds of prayers in the Bible.

But when the biblical authors pray or ask for prayer, there is often a deeper spiritual connection to the request.

  • Paul rejoiced that the church participated in the gospel with him. He rejoiced as they shared physical provisions and compassionate love. He gives thanks to the Lord for them.

But as he turns to his request, he prays that their love might grow. What is so surprising is how important this love really is.

Love characterized by knowledge and discernment

Philippians 1:9 real knowledge and all discernment

Paul does not ask that any old type of love would grow. It would be possible to think of the various ways that self love masquerades as real love.

  • It is the “love” that gives only when the return on the investment is high enough.
  • It is the “love” that manipulates
  • It is the “love” that pretends everything is okay

Rather this love, the love Paul prays for, is controlled and constrained by the characteristics of knowledge and discernment.

The Scripture is God’s self revelation. It is the standard of truth. There are many claims of truth, but some of those claims fall woefully short. God wants to ensure that part of our focus is on the knowledge of the truth.

Loving based on a lie is not very loving. Sadly that is what some in our world have to offer. They have an appearance of love which is clouded by the real truth of selfishness behind it. Once the selfishness is exposed, the love falls apart.

Many of us have seen the Bible speak of what we might call “tough love.” It is the love that bases its response on the truth of Scripture.

  • Discipline might not seem loving until the person grows up and is crippled for life.
  • Confrontation might not seem loving until the person grows up manipulating everything in their life to get what they want.

The loving response is whatever response the Bible would say in a particular instance.

We should ask the Lord to help each one of us (ourselves, our family members, our friends at church) to be people who love characterized by knowledge of God’s Word.

Sometimes what is right and what is wrong is not crystal clear. It seems as if multiple options could be acceptable. If that is the case, then it is discernment that makes the difference. It is discernment that ensures our love occurs in the proper lane.

Again, one could think of many different ways discernment might come into play within a church family.

God wants us to grow in our love that is characterized by knowledge and discernment. I encourage you to make this one of your prayer requests for yourselves and for your church family.

  • We will praise God for the degree to which our love is properly controlled by knowledge and discernment, but we will also ask the Lord to continue to grow it.

Notice what happens when it does …

Resulting in the ability to discern what is excellent

There are some people who manage to live life accomplishing very little for Christ. They can be wealthy or not wealthy, and they can be popular or in the shadows. But everyone who accomplishes things for Christ is able to look across the horizon and discern whether there is value there.

Not everything is important to your Christian life. Not every interest, hobby, or commitment is something that God would consider excellent.

  • Not everything we are involved in is worthy of praise

Love characterized by knowledge and discernment sees that. It can look out at life and register those things that matter and those that do not.

There are other people who seem to have no end to the things accomplished for the Lord.

  • They seem to have an ability to look out and see things that are evil (and want no part of them because that is not consistent with knowledgeable love) and see things that are valueless (and want no part of them because that is not consistent with discerning love).

What is the difference? I suppose one might argue that there are many reasons, but one of them is right here. Making decisions that are excellent does not come naturally, it comes from a love characterized by knowledge and discernment.

The older I have grown, I have witnessed some people with off the charts abilities. It is as if there is no end to their talents. But they are not always the ones God uses to accomplish great things. It is ordinary people, doing ordinary things. It is those who look at the next 24 hours and rightly divide their time.

It is a knowledgeable and discerning love that allows the person to test what is in front of them and make the right choices.

I can speak for all your pastors when I say that we want to make excellent decisions in our lives and we want you to make excellent decisions in yours.

But even that is not an end to itself. It is certainly good to make excellent decisions, but notice what comes next …

In order to be sincere and blameless

Philippians 1:10b in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ

During stewardship month we teach that God can call us into account at any time. There is an expectancy present in that truth. But Phil 1:10 addresses a slightly different topic. When Jesus arrives, in what state or condition will he find his people?

Commentators have debated what sincere means and the idea is authentic. Years and years ago my dad worked as an engineer and he was responsible to travel to Far East on business. When dad went so far away, he would normally bring home a goodie back for my sister and I. This particular trip my dad brought home a Rolex watch for me.

  • Now, before you go off thinking that my dad made tons of money and he brought home a real Rolex, the truth is that he bought from a street dealer for $25 (who mind you only had Rolex’s available that day and he was the only human who could get that price!).
  • He thought it would be a real trip for me to have a fake Rolex watch.

I enjoyed that watch until some flemwad in college stole it thinking it was real.

Well, why tell the story … because the Lord wants us to be the real thing. He wants our life … our thoughts, our words, and our actions to fit together perfectly. He knows that if our love is abounding in real knowledge and discernment then we will approve the things that are excellent and therefore will be sincere and blameless at the coming of Jesus.

Gordon Fee explains this prayer as follows:

Paul prays (1) for their love to abound yet more and more;

that (2) this be accompanied by full knowledge and moral insight,

so that (3) they might approve those things that really matter,

so that (4) they might be unsullied and blameless when Christ returns,

as (5) they are now full of the fruit of righteousness,

fruit that is (6) effected by Christ Jesus

and (7) for the glory and praise of God.

—Gordon D. Fee, Philippians NICNT. Pg. 96

Paul reminds us as followers of Jesus that we have the fruit of righteousness due to the finished work of Jesus, and that all of is ultimately for the glory and praise of God.

We think this is a marvelous way to kick off 2021.

  • Thank God for one another with you knowing that 2020 has many illustrations of gospel partnership.
  • Express confidence that whether circumstances improve in 2021 or not, we have a God who is going to work until the day of Christ and his work will also lead to unity around the gospel.
  • As we are praying, let’s ask the Lord to help us all grow in knowledgeable and discerning love.

Authors

Dr. Rob Green

Roles

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Church

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

MABC Department Chair, Instructor - Faith Bible Seminary

Bio

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Dr. Rob Green joined the Faith Church staff in August, 2005. Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the Council Board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Pastor Green has authored, co-authored, and contributed to 9 books/booklets. Rob and his wife Stephanie have three children.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.