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

Attitude of Gratitude, 20 November 2016

Attitude of Gratitude
Colossians 3:15-17

Big Idea

Thanksgiving should be celebrated every day of the year, cultivating an attitude of gratitude.


What is your favorite holiday?

Growing up as a kid Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It may still be my favorite holiday. My friend, Scott, describes Thanksgiving this way:

Thanksgiving is all about friends, family and friendship.
It's about putting aside our difference and reconciling our hearts to one another and God.
It's about remembering and praising God for the blessings in our lives.
It's about focusing on the most important things in life.
It's about turkey, cheesy potatoes, and apple pie.
It's about inviting and accepting people as they are. No obligations to buy gifts for people simply because it's required. Your presence is the present (See what I did there?)
It hasn't been hijacked by American consumerism.
And last, but not least...Football!
These and many other reasons are why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

My name is Kirk and today we’re going to talk about the heart behind this Thursday’s holiday…and why it should be celebrated every day.

Thanksgiving. A day to eat, watch football, be with “framily”…and give thanks. But thanksgiving is more than an annual event. It should be a daily practice. I love the words of our passage today.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

This is not a suggestion. It’s a command.

But let’s back up a moment. Twice Paul uses the word “peace” in the first sentence. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Our world struggles with peace. It has always struggled with peace. We have an enemy who wants to steal, kill and destroy. Where’s the peace in that? It should come as no surprise the contrast between the world and Jesus. One of the most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus states

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called 
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (
Isaiah 9:6)

Jesus is the Prince of “shalom,” a word which means not only peace but also welfare and completeness. Honestly, the English word “peace” hardly does it justice. Jesus is the Prince of that which is whole, complete, and peaceful.

Jesus is what our world needs.
Jesus is what our nation needs.
Jesus is what Toledo needs.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Paul says we are called to peace. We are called to be ambassadors of shalom. And we are to be thankful.

I discovered the Greek word for thankful is “eucharistos.” It means grateful, pleasing, mindful of benefits, thankful. Perhaps you’ve heard the word “Eucharist.” We often call Eucharist “communion,” a time when Jesus gave thanks while breaking bread at Passover during the Last Supper.

You didn’t know you would get a Hebrew and Greek lesson today! Aren’t you thankful?!

The Scientific Benefits of Gratitude

I know, it’s almost cliché’ to say “be thankful” four days before Thanksgiving, but there’s a reason the Bible tells us to be thankful. In fact, science has confirmed the benefits.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.


The Bible was so far ahead of its time! I mean that sincerely. It seems like every week I read another report which supports the ancient wisdom of our faith and teachings.

Gratitude is an Attitude

You can’t always change your circumstances, but we all choose our attitudes. We’ve all heard about the glass behind half full or half empty. What do you see?

No matter who you are, you can choose to be thankful. Gratitude is an attitude.

Right now, think of three things for which you are grateful. Tell someone.

The author of Colossians, Paul, also wrote a letter to a church in the city of Philippi. In it, he said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (
Philippians 4:8)

Focus on the positive. This doesn’t mean ignore reality. It doesn’t mean if you think happy thoughts, everything will be rainbows and lollipops. It does mean cultivating an attitude of gratitude will change you. It will change your perspective. It will enhance your prayer life. It will make you a more attractive person. It will improve your health.

This isn’t self-help psychotherapy. It’s biblical truth! Be thankful.

Paul continues in Colossians…

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)

There’s that word “gratitude.” We could do an entire sermon on this one verse! It says to sing to God with gratitude. We have done that today.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

By the way, that’s scripture! It’s an exact quote from 1 Chronicles 16:34…and Psalm 106:1…and Psalm 107:1…and Psalm 118:1 and 29…and Psalm 136:1!

The passage concludes…

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

We are to give thanks to God the Father…whatever we do!

This doesn’t mean we are necessarily thankful
for everything, but rather thankful in our circumstances. No matter where you are on your life journey,

God is in control.
God is faithful.
God is good.

I know, it doesn’t always feel like it, but I promise you it’s true.

We are blessed with freedom in this nation.
We are blessed with prosperity most of this world can only imagine.
We are blessed with health to be here this morning.
We are blessed with education to be able to read.

The greatest blessing of all is Jesus. He came. He lived. He died. He rose again. He’s coming back. Hallelujah!

Let’s review…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Give thanks…every day. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. How? Here are some practical ideas:

  1. 1. Write a thank-you note. You can text or e-mail, but receiving an actual piece of paper is so rare these days, unless it’s a bill! Tell someone how thankful you are for what they’ve done or simply for who they are. Not only will they feel great, you’ll feel great!
  2. 2. Keep a journal. This can be a prayer journal listing prayer requests and answers to prayer, or even a running list of those things for which you are thankful.
  3. 3. Give thanks with a friend or family member. Play a game to see who can come up with the most things for which to be thankful!
  4. 4. Pray. God deserves our greatest thanks. Often people think prayer is simply telling God what they want. My favorite prayer method is ACTS:
A Adoration
C Confession
T Thanksgiving
S Supplication (requests)

Let me challenge you to never ask God for something before you’ve given thanks for something. Many of you give thanks before you eat a meal—which is great—but any time you talk with God (and you can be as honest and real as you want, including doubts and anger and questions), begin with praise, confession, and thanks. Thank Him for listening, for the weather, for life, for clothes, for whatever you desire.

Don’t you appreciate it when someone is thankful for a gift, a favor, a kind word, or just for being you? God does, too. He deserves our worship for who He is and our thanks for what He does.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Did you catch that? Present your requests to God…with thanksgiving. If we could all apply this one verse daily in our lives, we would experience so much more peace and joy. I must admit though I love this verse, I struggle to avoid anxiety. I worry about money. I worry about the health of my family. And then I sometimes remember to tell God about my concerns!


Thanksgiving should be more than an annual holiday. It should be a way of life. No matter who you are or where you find yourself, you have much for which to be thankful.

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