Unity, 9 October 2022

Series—JOY: The Book of Philippians
Philippians 1:27-2:4

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul echoes Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church.
For the past seven years—well, actually it will be seven years on Wednesday—I’ve been
praying four prayers for First Alliance Church: direction, protection, passion, and unity.
I pray for direction because this is God’s church. It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s not ours. It’s His church and where He leads, we must follow.
I pray for protection, knowing there is a real enemy that wants to steal, kill, destroy, and lie. He can’t create anything, but if we’re not fitted with the armor of God (Ephesians 6) and on our knees, we will be destroyed…but our God is greater!
I pray for passion for the things that God cares about…the lost, the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the poor…along with justice, righteousness, and peace.
I pray for unity because it is fragile, it’s what Jesus prayed for us, and it’s our theme today.
We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Philippians, a letter from imprisoned Paul to the church in Philippi in Greece which he started. This is a letter from a pastor to a congregation. We begin in Philippians chapter one, verse 27.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Philippians 1:27, NLT)
Above all. This is the most important thing Paul wants this church to know. First, he tells them to live as citizens of heaven. He was writing to Roman citizens, but he’s saying they have a higher citizenship. Most of us are citizens of the United States, but that will only be useful for a hundred years or so. For citizens of heaven,
conduct matters.
First Alliance, your conduct matters. People are watching you. They’re watching us. They want to know if we just talk about Jesus or walk like Jesus. We all know actions speak louder than words. Paul’s not sure if he will even see these people again, but he knows conduct matters. They—and we—may be the only Bible people read. Hypocrisy can hurt the spread of the gospel. So can division, racism, hate, idolatry, and the countless other sins that are giving the movement of Jesus a bad reputation in our day.
The gospel simply means “good news,” and one unknown writer wrote,

You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do
And the words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithful or true:
Just what is the gospel
According to you?

Paul described it this way in his letter to the church in Corinth:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. (2 Corinthians 3:2, NIV)
Unfortunately, the gospel many people are reading from so-called Christians is not good news. It’s not attractive. Young people especially are leaving the Church, perhaps because they can’t find Jesus there!
Can I tell you about something exciting, though, that gives me some hope? The largest Christian media campaign in history is underway. It’s called
He Gets Us. Have you seen it? Here’s an example of one of the ads.
Video: He Gets Us
Our church is one of thousands around the country receiving prayer requests from people responding to this
campaign which is right now all over social media, television, and billboards. There will be Super Bowl ads, race car sponsorships, and more. I think it’s exciting and I pray it stimulates a revival in our nation, especially among young people, the target audience. As hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested, tremendous research has been done and the majority of people in our nation are open to learning more about Jesus. The issue isn’t Christ, but Christians who don’t conduct themselves well, who don’t act like the one they claim to follow. This is nothing new. Notice what Paul says about them.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. (Philippians 1:27, NLT)
One spirit. One purpose. Fighting together. That’s unity! Paul wants this church to fight together for the gospel, the good news. He wants them to be like that group in the video, a gang of love, following Jesus together. Conduct matters. It doesn’t save us—only Jesus can do that—but it’s the evidence that we’re saved. Not perfect, but growing in Christ-likeness.
Paul continues.
Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. (Philippians 1:28, NLT)
Have you ever been intimidated? How does that feel? I’ve spoken with many people who seem intimidated by enemies of Jesus, whether they are politicians or people of other religions or even people from other countries. In case you forgot, our God is greater!
…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4b, NIV)
Family, we are to fight…on our knees. We are to be warriors…of love. We are to unite together…at the foot of the cross. We are to encourage one another…especially when we are afraid. Following Jesus isn’t easy. It’s a battle. That’s why one of my four prayers is protection. Ephesians 6 talks about the armor of God. We have to put it on.
You don’t wage war in your pajamas!
For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. (Philippians 1:29, NLT)
Have you ever thought of suffering as a privilege? Paul did. Remember, he’s writing from prison…for his faith. Suffering is remarkable. It breeds empathy. Military veterans—especially those wounded—have a unique bond with one another. In a similar way, those who suffer for Jesus can identify in a small way with the tremendous suffering Jesus endured for us. We can reach out to God for comfort and strength. Most of us don’t like to ask for help, but we can do far more with God’s help than we can on our own. Most of us have never experienced true persecution, but many of our brothers and sisters around the world experience it every day. We need to pray for them…and prepare for persecution which may be in our future. If it comes, it will reveal the true believers from the fakers…the Sunday morning Christians from the fully devoted.
Paul told Timothy,
Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12, NLT)
How many of you memorized this verse?! This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was persecuted and his followers will be, too. He lived a radical, counter-cultural life and the world always hates those who refuse to follow the status quo and the politically-correct. We must remember Jesus identifies with those who suffer, and though he promised us trouble, he also promised to be with us and said he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Suffering for Christ always has a purpose…for our good and God’s glory, even though we may avoid it.
Paul reminds them…
We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. (Philippians 1:30, NLT)
Unity. They are in it together. Family,
we need to follow Jesus together. We need to love one another well, believe the best in one another, extend grace to one another, be quick to forgive one another, refuse to gossip about one another, serve one another, pray for one another, and you know what else? Get to know one another!
In a growing church like ours, I don’t even know everyone, but I want to personally invite you to
Bruce’s Bonfire on October 22 and our all-church potluck on October 30. These two events were created especially for you to get to know one another. Mark your calendars. Make it a priority.
Perhaps the best way to really get to know one another is by joining a
Life Group, doing life together with others. It’s not always easy. People can be messy. We can all be challenging, at times, but that’s why we need one another.
One of the reasons the early church grew so quickly was because messy ragamuffins were welcomed by followers of Jesus. It wasn’t a country club for the rich and famous, but a tribe of broken people seeking faith, hope, and love.
I said a few weeks ago there’s only one Church in Toledo. We need one another. We were created to need one another. There will always be things we disagree about, but followers of Jesus are called to come together, to present one message to the world: Jesus is LORD!
Paul’s not done with his unity remarks.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2, NLT)
What’s Paul’s message? Unity! Agree. Love, Work together. One mind and purpose. This is what the Church is supposed to be. What a vision! As one of your pastors, let me say First Alliance, “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose!”
Amen! You know that’s hard, right? That’s why there are more than 41,000 Christian denominations in our world! Yet Jesus prayed for us—for us—that we would be one.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:20-21, NLT)
Jesus also said neither a divided kingdom nor a divided house can stand (Mark 3:24-25). Our real enemy wants to divide and conquer. He doesn’t want us to be one, but 41,000+!!! One writer said, “Unity is the hallmark of the gospel.” This isn’t about uniformity, about us all looking and acting exactly the same. Unity is being coming together to follow Jesus. There’s an African proverb which says, “Threads united can tie even a lion.” There’s power when we unite, when we come together, when we avoid the temptation to cancel one another and, instead, extend grace, listen to one another, seek understanding, and love well.
Why do we struggle with unity? Two words: selfishness and pride.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4, NLT)
Don’t be selfish. Is that clear? I like the
New International Version’s translation.
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. (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)
nothing out of selfish ambition.
What is the sin that causes us to try to impress others, vain conceit? Pride. It’s the root of all sin, the original sin. It plagues all of us in a variety of destructive ways, from arrogance to false humility to hating ourselves and calling God’s masterpiece junk, as if you know better than the Creator! The opposite of pride is…humility.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. It’s thinking of Jesus and others more. It’s having the posture of a servant. We all like the idea of being a servant until we’re treated like one! Jesus’ example for us was characterized by humility and obedience. If anyone deserved to act like he was God…!!!
One obvious expression of humility Paul states is looking out for others. It’s having concern for our city and caring for the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. This is especially hard in our individualistic, materialistic, me-first culture. Humility was not valued in the ancient world, and it seems uncommon among the celebrities of our day, yet it is the way of Jesus.
Family, this is a struggle for me. I am selfish. I am proud. I want my own way. I don’t like to wait for others. I think of myself far too often. Even listening can be challenging for me. But would you agree this is a beautiful vision? If we could just get this right, how incredible would that be?
I think it begins with a careful look at Jesus. Imagine he walked in the room. Instant humility! The more time I spent with the LORD, the more I realize how sinful and weak I am. It’s not a popular thing in our culture to admit, but it’s not about me! It’s all about Jesus.
His desire for all of us is simple: follow him. Love him. Love others. This is not done by trying harder. The goal isn’t to merely avoid doing bad things. It begins with surrender, with letting go, with giving Jesus your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Like the five people baptized last week, it’s dying to yourself so you can be made new in Christ.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Thanks, 25 September 2022

Series—JOY: The Book of Philippians

Series Big Idea:
Paul’s letter from prison to the church in Philippi is filled with joy.
Big Idea: Paul greets the people of Philippi with blessings, prayers, and thanks.
Thanks! There are few words more powerful to say. There are few words more encouraging to hear. In a hurried culture filled with self-obsessed, materialistic individuals, it’s refreshing to experience a “thank you.” I must admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people that thank me when I usher at the Stranahan Theater. You might say it has restored my faith in humanity a bit!
We’re still two months away from
Thanksgiving, but thanks is our theme this morning. Today we begin a new series on the book of Philippians. It’s called an epistle, a short letter written by Paul and Timothy to the church in Philippi, a town in modern-day Greece which you can visit to this day.
One thing I love about the Bible and our faith is it’s based upon real events in real places throughout history. Several years ago Heather and I were able to
travel to Philippi where Paul founded the first European Christian church around AD 50.
If you look closely at the
logo of our series, it shows a person in handcuffs. The book of Philippians was written in prison!
Have you ever been to a
prison? Some of you have been as residents, others as visitors. Regardless, it’s not the most uplifting of environments! Our modern-day prisons can’t even begin to compare to those in the first century Roman Empire.
Paul was in prison for preaching the good news of Jesus. It still amazes me how people then—and now—can be persecuted for peacefully speaking the truth. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are precious gifts we enjoy in the United States.
If you were in prison—for honoring God—what would your message be to your friends? I can think of three words:
get me out! I would surely be tempted to whine, complain, describe the horrors of sharing my dwelling with other creatures, great and small. The smell, the food, the sounds, the sights…a multi-sensory nightmare, to be sure. But those ideas cannot be found in Philippians. In fact, quite the opposite. If there’s one word to describe the book, it’s joy!
Thanks is our theme today, but the theme of this book is joy. Our nation talks a lot about the pursuit of happiness, but joy is not dependent upon circumstances. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s a deeper contentment, found in knowing Jesus. Joy is something I desire for myself and for you and I believe this series will help us experience God’s joy to a greater degree.
Philippians begins with a clear announcement of its authors.
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:1a, NLT)
Paul and Timothy describe themselves as slaves of Christ Jesus. They don’t identify as prisoners here. There’s no description of their surroundings. They don’t even use titles such as pastor or apostle or even “mister.” They are slaves…of Christ Jesus.
Are you a slave of Christ Jesus? Obviously the word “slave” has terrible connotations, especially given both our nation’s history and the current trafficking in our society (a UN Report this month shows modern slavery is at an all-time high, tragically). But the original Greek word, doulos, can also be translated “servant,” someone devoted to another, one pledged or bound to serve. These men were not kidnapped. They chose to follow Jesus, and their identification as slaves makes clear their commitment to following Jesus.
Again I ask, are you a slave of Christ Jesus? That’s the invitation. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he’s not looking for part-time lovers. It’s not enough to give him an hour on Sunday morning and a quick prayer at mealtime. Praying a sinner’s prayer isn’t the end. Jesus is looking for men, women, and children to give up everything to follow him…and many have done so (including Paul and Timothy).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was arrested, imprisoned, sent to a concentration camp, and eventually hanged in for his refusal to follow Hitler, said, “Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.”
Who wants to follow Jesus?
Before you turn away, let me remind you of something Jesus himself said.
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39, NIV)
We live in a world where people are trying desperately to find life, to find meaning, to discover purpose, to define their identity, to experience satisfaction, to achieve peace. Not surprisingly, their pursuit of money, sex, power, and pleasure leaves them anxious, frustrated, and discontent.
You were made for a relationship to God, and any other quest will fail you. It might make you happy for a while, but any idol—anything you give your attention to other than God—will ultimately leave you seeking more.
Today we’ll witness several people entering a
water grave, symbolically dying to their own selfish desires before being resurrected as a new creation in Jesus Christ. It’s a public declaration that they are now slaves of Christ Jesus, committed to following him and not the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Christianity is not primarily a set of beliefs or a religion, but a way of living a life filled with the Holy Spirit shaped around the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I often compare following Jesus to
marriage. My wedding day was the beginning, not the end of the journey. I’m not married only when we’re on a date, but marriage is a 24/7/365 adventure (and what an adventure it has been!). I am committed to my wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…until death! That’s what it means to follow Jesus. Baptism doesn’t make you “saved” any more than a wedding ring makes you married. It’s an outward declaration of an inward commitment.
This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:1a, NLT)
Are you a slave of Christ Jesus? Are you committed to following Jesus, 24/7/365? Paul and Timothy made such a statement. It’s bold, brash, and radical. Jesus isn’t seeking fans. He’s not about getting “likes” on social media. He is inviting men, women, and children to take up their crosses—daily—to surrender everything so they can be fully devoted to him.
I must confess this is a struggle for me. Every day is filled with countless opportunities to live for myself or Jesus. My calendar, checkbook, and credit card bill reflect what truly matters to me. What about you?
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons. (Philippians 1:1b, NLT)
Paul’s writing to the people, the holy people, the set-apart people in this church he started, specifically mentioning the leaders.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. (Philippians 1:2, NLT)
Grace and peace was a common greeting and one rich in meaning.
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. (Philippians 1:3, NLT)
There it is: thanks.
Paul is thankful for this church, for these people. First Alliance, I thank God for you…and I’m not even in prison! You have become family…you are family. I love you.
Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. (Philippians 1:4-5, NLT)
Joy. We’ll see that word throughout the letter. The original Greek work is chara (khar-ah), cheerfulness, gladness, calm delight, joy. The church in Philippi has been supporting Paul with love, prayers, finances, and perhaps even letters.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)
I love this verse. He is certain that God will finish what He started with them, and I believe the same is true for you. God’s not done with you yet!
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:7-8, NLT)
This is a love letter from Pastor Paul to the people in Philippi.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. (Philippians 1:9, NLT)
This is my prayer for you, too, First Alliance. I identify so much with this letter! No matter if you’re a new Christian or you’ve been a saint for decades, I long for you to keep on growing!
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)
What really matters? What matters to our world? Money, sex, and power?
What really matters to you? It’s obvious what matters to Paul…Jesus Christ. In next week’s text, Paul will say,
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. (Philippians 1:21, NLT).
Jesus was everything to Paul, regardless of whether he died in prison or lived for decades longer. Jesus was the center, the purpose, the foundation, the direction, and power, and the meaning of his life. Does that sound radical? Does it describe you?
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)
What really mattered to Paul was Jesus, and he wanted Jesus to be so real in the lives of his readers and listeners that they would live pure and blameless lives until Christ returned. Pure and blameless. Does that sound old fashioned to you? Does anyone live pure and blameless? I hope so! That’s what it means to follow Jesus. I believe obedience is God’s love language. More than that, it’s what’s best for us. I don’t mean boring, dull lives. I mean a wild, exciting relationship with God filled with challenges and adventures beyond your wildest dreams.
Earlier this month I was in
New Orleans and I took a walk with two friends through Bourbon Street on a Friday night. I knew it would be terrible, and it was! In addition to the noise, the smell, the crowds, and the witchcraft, there were even live snakes, which made me literally feel like I was walking through hell. There was nothing appealing to me at all, yet for thousands of people this was the purpose of their travels from around the world. This was what really mattered to them…getting drunk, high, and whatever else they would probably regret doing hours later.
In care you’re curious, the purpose of our trip was to watch our alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, play the University of Louisiana in
football (which was a great, wholesome experience besides a brutal defeat of EMU!).
What really matters to you? Paul concludes today’s text:
May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:11, NLT)
It’s not about trying harder. It’s not about being perfect and saying no to fun. It’s about being filled with the Holy Spirit, abiding with Jesus, growing in your relationship with Christ, and becoming like him. Why? For God’s glory. That’s the bottom line of First Alliance’s
mission statement…God’s glory. That’s why we’re here. It’s not about me, my sermons, singing your favorite songs, or even obtaining Bible knowledge. It’s about loving God, loving others, and making disciples…for God’s glory.
God is good. God is great. He is everything to me. He was everything to Paul. Over the next several weeks, we’ll read the rest of this letter from a pastor to a church. He begins by giving thanks to God for them and encouraging them to make Jesus what really matters. I feel the same way!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library