David Jeremiah - The Joy of Community
When Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, running backs for the Chicago Bears, began rooming together in the late '60s, it was a first for both of them. Gale Sayers had never had a close relationship with a white person, and Piccolo had never had a close relationship with a black person. In fact, he had never known a black person. During the 1968 season, Gale Sayers suffered a career-threatening knee injury. Most pundits thought he'd never play again. But one year later, after the close of the 1969 season, and having made a full recovery, Gale Sayers stood at the banquet of the New York Chapter of Professional Football Writers to accept the George S. Halas Award as the Most Courageous Player in Pro Football.
Sayers and Piccolo had planned with their wives to sit together at the banquet, but instead, Brian Piccolo was confined to his bed at home. He wasn't fighting with a football injury. He was battling cancer. And that night, Gale Sayers accepted the George S. Halas Award, but he accepted it for Brian Piccolo. As he stood to receive his trophy, here's what he said: "You flatter me by giving me this award, but I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George S. Halas Award. It is mine tonight. It is Brian Piccolo's tomorrow. I love Brian Piccolo, and like all of you to love him, too. Tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love Brian Piccolo".
I remember that speech, and I remember it did to me then what it's about to do to me right now. "I love Brian Piccolo". For some reason, those reasons sound strange coming from a professional athlete. In our culture, grown men do not usually express their affection so openly. But before us now is a letter that is filled with expressions of love. As we read this brief letter from Paul to his friends in Philippi, we are immediately struck by the eloquent words he used to describe the deep feelings of attachment he had for all of them.
Dr. John Townsend explains in modern terms the pain that Paul was feeling. He said, "The reason is found in the law of entropy, or the second law of thermodynamics. This law of physics states that things that are isolated move toward deterioration. Entropy operates in the spiritual world as well," said Townsend. "Whatever is cut off tends toward deterioration. That's why the ultimate punishment, hell, is not defined by loss of consciousness or annihilation, but by its utter and complete separation from the love of God. Jesus's sacrifice for us involved his separation from the Father when he cried on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? In that moment, the infinite Son of God felt the awful separation of hell for each and every one of us.
God created us for fellowship. He created us for relationship. And Paul's relationship with these intimate friends had been interrupted because of his imprisonment. But his love for them had not gone away. In fact, his opening remarks in this letter are devoted to a detailed expression of his love for them and the prayer that their love for him would grow, and that they would continue to grow in their love for each other. As Paul communicates his feelings for the Philippians, he touches on many of the prerequisites for loving relationships in a local church. And as he concluded his opening remarks, he launched into a prayer for the growth and maturity of these associates for whom he cared so deeply.
So, in these next few moments, let me take you through these 11 verses. Let's begin, first of all, with humility, the attitude of love. Philippians 1:1 begins like this: "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ". The letters of the New Testament usually begin sort of like this. There's usually three parts to the opening of a letter in the New Testament: there's the sender, and then there's the subject who gets the letter, and then there's some sort of a salutation. And so it is in the book of Philippians. The sender of the letter to the Philippian church is Paul and Timothy. He called himself, "The least of all the saints".
Paul had an adequate and proper attitude about himself. Outwardly he wrote as a slave of Caesar, but inwardly he knew he was a bondservant to Jesus Christ. He had come to Rome bound in chains, but later on, in the first chapter of this little book, he refers to those chains as, "chains in Christ". To Paul, the term "servant" was a title of dignity and humility. There was no greater position than to be a servant of Jehovah God. We can all do well to remember that God did not save us to become sensations. God saved us to be servants.
So, as you read this letter, you're going to discover that humble service is a dominant theme. Besides Paul and Timothy, there's Epaphroditus. All of them are held up as examples of what it means to live your life in serving others. And it is Jesus Christ in the 2nd chapter of this book who is given to us as the ultimate example of what a servant is: "He humbled himself and became obedient unto death". That's what the Scripture says. Humility is the attitude of love. "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ". Unity, however, is the atmosphere of love. Interesting, in the 1st and 2nd verses: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and the deacons: Grace to you and peace from our God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ".
Whenever you see the word "saints" in the Bible, it will almost always be in the plural. It hardly ever appears in the singular. In fact, I cannot cite one place that I have found where it does appear in the singular in reference to the body of Christ. This is a gentle reminder to us that saints are not meant for isolation. They are meant for community. And where there is community, the leaders are always the servants and the followers are the saints. Have you noticed how Paul addresses them? He says to them, "Grace and peace".
Did you know that in the Bible, those two words are never reversed? You will never read in any of the letters in the New Testament, "Peace and grace to you". One reason: grace always precedes peace. You can't have peace if you don't have grace. You become men and women of peace when you become men and women of grace. So, even in that little salutation, "Grace and peace," we learn so much. Now, we've looked at the attitude of love and the atmosphere of love.
Let me take you a little bit further into this text, and let's talk about diversity, the assignment of love. And most people that I know of when they come to church kinda gravitate to the people that they feel comfortable with. We have an affinity for some people. Let's face it. We get along with some people better than we do with others, even in the body of Christ. That's pretty normal. But when the assignment is to love someone who is different, that can be a challenge. Have you ever known anybody and you know you're supposed to love 'em, and you keep prayin' that God'll help you figure out how to love 'em?
There's an old little phrase that goes like this: "To love the whole world for me is no chore. My only real problem is the guy next door". You know, we can love in general, can't we? We all know how to do that. Do you love our church? Oh, we love our church. But you probably could tell me a couple of people in our church that you love 'em because you know God tells you to, but you don't like 'em. In the church in Philippi, there was an incredible diversity.
There was a woman in this church named Lydia. She was a businesswoman who sold purple cloth and made so much money, she was able to help in the establishment of the church. And many scholars believe the church in Philippi actually met in her home for a long period of time. In that church, there was a jailer. He would've committed suicide if it had not been for Paul. In that church was a slave girl who had been delivered from a demon. And you can go on and read the letter. And if we knew everything that was going on in that church, we would know that church was filled with a whole lot of people who were so different from each other, but they had unity in their diversity. And the unity we have in diversity is because, as Christians, we all have the same spiritual DNA, don't we? We have the DNA of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
I know that some of you have a hard time with that. I read this: "If everybody were just like me, the world would sure be a better place to be. There'd be no murder, for I'm not violent. No stealing, for I'm not a thief. No adultery, I'm happily wed. No atheism, I believe in God. No ignorance, I've been to school. If only the world was more like me, surely it would be a better place to be. Or would it? For if everybody was just like me, there would be no merry-go-rounds. I get dizzy. There'd be no clowns. I'm self-conscious. No doctors, I hate blood. No painters, I'm color blind". I really am. "No mechanics, I can't fix anything". This is written about me. "No elevator operators, I'm claustrophobic. No home-run kings, I can't hit a curveball. No balloon riders, I'm afraid of heights. Come to think of it, if the world was just like me, it would be an awfully boring place to be".
Isn't it true that in the church of Jesus Christ we have this beautiful thing that happens? We come from all these different backgrounds, even from different religious backgrounds. When church members join the church, they join the church not their church. We are all part of the body of Christ, and our unity is not about our diversity. Our unity is in Jesus Christ, and it encompasses the diversity of all of us. Like snowflakes that God creates, we are all different. And yet, it is a beautiful thing to see the people of God in unity. And then, intimacy is the action of love.
Look at verses 3 and 4, and 7 and 8. Here is Paul speaking to his beloved Philippians: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy". And then Paul says, "Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are fellowshippers with me in grace. For God is my witness," Paul wrote, "how greatly I long after you all in the fellowship or affection of Jesus Christ".
Now, it's one thing for us to love someone. It is quite another to express that love. We were surprised to learn that Gale Sayers loved Brian Piccolo enough to say it out loud in front of a public meeting. And if we are honest, we have to admit that unexpressed love is useless to us because the only kind of love we can use is the love that we feel. And if we never tell anybody that we love them, we run the risk of them never knowing that it's true. There's a commercial on television for a hearing aid, and this son tells his dad, "I love you". And his dad doesn't hear it. And you can tell by the look on his father's face that he's not getting the message.
And then he goes to this miracle hearing place and he gets these little implants in his ear, and the next time his son says, "I love you, Dad," and he doesn't respond. And the son says again, "I love you, Dad". He said, "I heard you the first time, but I just wanted to hear it twice". And don't we all feel that way? If somebody loves you, they need to tell you. And Paul does not mince any words as he talks to the Philippians. He talks to them about his love for them. And one of the greatest loves that Paul has for all of the churches to which he wrote was his gratitude for them. He just has this spirit of gratitude in his heart.
I wanna run you through these verses real quickly so you get the impact I got when I read them, but watch the screen and listen. To the Corinthians he wrote: "I thank my God always concerning you". To the Ephesians he wrote: "I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers". To the Colossians he wrote: "We give thanks to God, praying always for you". To the Thessalonians he wrote: "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers". To his friend Timothy he wrote: "I thank God as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers". And to Philemon he wrote: "I thank my God, making mention of you in my prayers".
Somebody once told me, "If you're full of gratitude, you can't be angry at anybody". And then we come to security, the affirmation of love. In verse 3 and in verses 5 through 7 we read: "I thank my God for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of the very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace".
As Paul expressed his love for the believers in Philippi, he remembered the long and consistent care they had provided for him. He described that care as, "fellowship in the gospel". And then he uses three points of time to sorta set all this in context. He said, "From the first day". The first day was the day Paul walked in to that little village, met the woman at the water, and the little church began. He said, "From the first day until now".
Now he's talking about this church that had grown to maturity and had actually even flourished while Paul was in prison. And then he adds the third reference to time. "From the first day until now". And in the next verse he says, "Until the day of Jesus Christ". Paul said that the church in Philippi had started right, it had continued right, and by the grace of God it was going to finish right. If Jesus Christ should tarry in his coming for, let's say, another 50 years or 100 years, if we put 100 in that equation, none of us'll be here. But wouldn't it be something to see this church growing and flourishing and reaching its generation in even a greater way than it is now? Because it started right, it continued right, and it's goal is to finish right.
How many of you know that is a rare thing in our world today? I wanna tell you that the affirmation of love from Paul to this church is an example for all of us. Let me finish with what we'll call the maturity of love, the ambition of love. Paul prays this prayer. He says, "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in kindness and knowledge and in all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that may be sincere and without reproach till the day of Christ". When Paul used the word to, "abound in love," he uses a word that is a beautiful picture. It's a picture of a little bucket sitting under a powerful waterfall, and the water is going in the bucket, but most of it's just flowing all around the bucket 'cause the bucket's too small to contain the flow from the waterfall.
Paul uses that expression and he says, "I want your love for one another to be like the waterfall that abounds, that the love is everywhere. Don't be happy with where you are in your current relationships. I want your relationship of love to grow more and more". And then he uses some defining words to describe how this is to happen. This growth and spiritual devotion is the love, the agape love that we have for God that is translated into the love we have for each other. "Agape" love is a, "love which loves without any desire or recognition of love being returned". It's a selfless love. It's a love that doesn't love because of what it returns to you. It's a love that is from God.
And then he talks about growth and spiritual discernment. He said, "That you may approve the things that are excellent". Most scholars translate that little phrase, "Things that are different". Paul says, "I want your love to be the focus of your life in such a way that you will know how to make difficult decisions". Growth in spiritual devotion, growth in spiritual discernment, and growth in spiritual development. He said, "That you may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ".
Sincerity speaks of an absence of hypocrisy. Sincerity is bein' who you are all the time, wherever you are, no matter who you're with. It means you don't have two selves. You just have one. And then the Scripture says we're to be, "Sincere and without offense". That refers to the ever-present danger of offending somebody who is a follower of Christ. The word here in the Greek language is the word "skandalon". It's from the word which we get "scandal" in the English language. And Paul's passion was that these believers would live so that no one would ever stumble because of their behavior. He wanted them to grow in spiritual development. And the final part of his prayer as we end this early section of Philippians is for their growth in spiritual deportment. It reads like this in verse 11: "Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God".
Now, some of you who are as old as I am will remember this. But when I was going to school as a young man, we had two little sections on our report card. One section of the report card was for your grades, but there was another section that was called "deportment," your deportment grade. And I learned early on, I could get straight A's, but if I messed up on the deportment grade, I was in big trouble when I got home. What is deportment? Well, it's how you deport yourself. It's how you handle yourself. It's how you live. It's what you do.
And so, in those early grade cards, anybody those early grade cards? You got a grade for your academic doings, and you got a grade for your deportment. My parents were usually more concerned about deportment than they were about academics because the grade on deportment told them if I was behaving myself in class. And Paul wanted the believes in Philippi to get high marks in deportment. In fact, he prayed that their hearts and their lives would produce a rich spiritual harvest. If their roots were in Christ Jesus, then the harvest would be the fruit of righteousness. If "godly love" is defined as, "seeking the best interest of the one loved," then Paul's love for the Philippians certainly qualifies.
How blessed they were to be among his disciples and to receive this incredible letter we know as Philippians. As wonderful as the introduction is, it's only the beginning. Paul said that the love he had for the Philippians and the love they had for him had totally transformed everything so that even in prison, he could write a letter of joy. And that kind of joy that survives the worst that life can throw at us is the goal of the Christian life. Jesus said he wants us to have his joy, and that joy is at our grasp if we will walk in the Spirit and in faith.