Unchained – A Particular Joy – Sermon – Pastor Dave Page

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Songs

Call to Worship

The Psalmist proclaims these words:

The Lord is our light and our salvation! Why should we be afraid? The Lord is the stronghold of our life! What have we to fear? Let us shout with joy to God! Let us sing and make music before our God.

GOOD MORNING FBK & WELCOME TO WORSHIP!

Songs

Prayer

Prayer of Confession & Assurance

We confess, O God, that we are attracted to false gods and easy answers in life. We are vulnerable to temptations that could damage us in ways that are not obvious. Forgive us that sin that draws us like moths to a flame. Restore us and fill us with a righteous resolve.  In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:

Hear the good news: Christ died for our sins and rose again that God may free us from the tyranny of judging others to live fully in the power of God’s grace. In the name of Jesus Christ, God forgives your sins and offers you a transformed future. Live fully into God’s grace. Amen.

Unchained A Particular Joy

Today's Message: Pastor Dave Page

This morning begins a new series we’ve title “UNCHAINED” – The reason for this title will become obvious soon enough, and the foundation for this series will be the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Phillipi – His letter to the Philippians.

This is admittedly subjective, but it seems to me that the four chapters of Philippians have provided more favorite quotes and sound bites than any other section of Scripture of similar length—certainly it has done that for me. Here are some of my favorites:

  • One of my life vs.  …he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
    “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (1:21)
  • “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” (2:3, 4)
  • “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (2:12, 13)
  • “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:13, 14)
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (4:4)
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6, 7)
  • “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable …” (4:8)

One thing you will come to understand over these next weeks together is that I love this book. But let me give you a warning – there is a danger in knowing these lines so well: they can take on a life of their own apart from the context Paul intends and become sentimentalized and emptied of their true meaning. For example, “Rejoice in the Lord always” has become for some a motto for merely willing a superficial happiness, that’s not what Paul had in mind when he penned those words…

As a matter of fact, Philippians is not (as is commonly thought) “The Epistle of Joy.” And, don’t miss this, joy is more of a device in Philippians, and Paul uses it as he does sixteen times, to set us up for the deeper themes of his letter. Philippians calls us to a particular joy, the joy experienced by Paul in Roman captivity facing a capital charge while his leadership was being contested by others trying to undermine him within the church. Paul writes this letter while under house arrest – waiting to be tried and sentenced – he was in Chains, most likely to a Roman Praetorian Guard. Yet as you’ll see, He was full of Joy in spite of his circumstance. So as we journey through Philippians it is my hope that these favourite verses and other familiar lines of this amazing letter will take on their first-century depth and power, in this twenty first-century time that seems to lack joy for so many….

That’s right – can’t you hear it in the conversations around you, on the television, on your Instagram and Facebook feeds? True Joy is a very rare commodity to be found today. Things are changing, culturally, environmentally, politically, financially. And we are desperately trying to understand what’s happening, to define it. We come with these theories and terms, perhaps you’ve heard of them. Some will say that we are in the ‘Grey Zone’. What’s a ‘Grey Zone’. Well a ‘Grey Zone’ is the space between an era – think pre pandemic 2019 – and a new normal. Except we’re not quite in the new normal yet.  Think back to the pre pandemic western world, I like the acronym N.I.C.E. – No Interest Constant Expansion. Times were booming, money was cheap, lots of jobs the western world was on a tear!! Then the pandemic comes and everything begins to change. I say begins to change because I don’t believe that the changes needed to get to the next era have remotely finished. And deep down we all know it, but we can’t quite seem to define it…

Have you heard of the Overton Window? The Overton window is an approach to identifying the ideas that define the spectrum of acceptability of governmental policies, social ideals, cultural acceptances. Governments and Politicians can act only within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones within the window, seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable.

Here’s a simple example:

Overton window.

The area above, outlined in red, is the Overton window and over time it moves from the bottom to the top. Now here’s the thing about the time we find ourselves in today – the Pandemic and its effect on the western world has sped up the velocity of movement of the Overton window in western culture. Change happens much faster. And then when you remove the subject of bicycles in the example above and insert things like racial justice, Women’s rights/abortion, LGBTQ rights, Immigration policy, monetary policy….you get incredible change happening at a lightning fast pace across a wide spectrum of society – what you actually get is a wide spectrum of fear, anxiety and even dread spreading across society. That’s the grey zone. We are leaving a time of the known and moving through a time of dynamic change into the unknown. And that’s what we’re chained to…we don’t like it and for so many people around you, there’s no Joy in that. Paul says however, you don’t have to live like that. In fact, look how he opens this letter:

Scripture Reading: Philippians 1:1-2

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In prison, Paul is speaking of grace and peace. Paul’s words in this letter are not just meant for the Philippian Church, they are meant for you and I, today.

The background of Philippians is this:

Paul had a plan to retrace the steps of his first missionary journey and encourage the churches he had planted. As they traveled west, the trio (Paul, Timothy and Silas) attempted to go back down to Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit stopped them. Then they tried to go north to Bithynia by the Black Sea, and again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow it (Acts 16:6, 7). So, Paul, Silas, and Timothy were effectively funneled west to Troas and the mouth of the Dardanelle Straits, the gateway to Europe. There Dr. Luke joined them, forming an awesome foursome.

It was there at the Dardanelles that Paul beheld standing before him in a night vision a man from Macedonia (a European from what today is northern Greece), urging him and saying, as Luke tells it, “ ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9, 10). In an instant came one of the great turning points in history as Paul and company made a two-day crossing to Neapolis and walked nine miles along the Egnatian Way to Philippi. Rome did not know it, but the flag of Christianity was unfurled deep in the Roman Empire that day.

Philippi was not a big city, no more than 10,000 at the most, and rested on a narrow shoulder of land, crowned by an acropolis guarding the Via Egnatia, the famous highway between Rome and her eastern empire. Philippi had been founded by Greeks in the fourth century b.c. Phillip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, had named it after himself.

But now it was a Roman colony because in 42 b.c. Philippi achieved note as the place where Mark Anthony and Octavian (Augustus) fought the forces of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, defeating Cassius. As a Roman town it was governed by Roman law. Roman expatriates made up the population. Latin became the official language, and the citizens lived like Romans. The public inscriptions in the forum and on all the buildings were exclusively Latin. So the leadership and aristocracy of Philippi were completely Roman and Latin. This naturally created a Greek-speaking underclass that made up the local populace. These were the construction workers and tradesmen and merchants. It is to this social group that Paul initially came.

Paul’s custom when entering a town was to go first to the Jews, to the synagogue. But there were so few Jews in the city that the necessary quorum to form a synagogue of ten men did not exist. However, after a few days Paul did discover a Sabbath congregation meeting alongside a river outside the city walls. It was a group of God-fearing Gentile women meeting in “a place of prayer” (Acts16:13). Today there is a general agreement that the exact site of that “place of prayer” was just outside the southern gate at the bank of the Gangites River, which still flows only fifty meters from the old city wall. That was likely where Paul and Silas made initial contact with Gentile women worshiping the God of Israel—women who would soon become the first Christians of Philippi.

It is important to understand at the outset here is that the church in Philippi would become Paul’s favourite church. Paul enjoyed a special closeness with the Philippians, which we see in exceptionally warm and friendly expressions in this letter. Paul makes this clear right after his greeting as he says,

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (vv. 3–5).

The word “partnership” is the Greek word koinonia, “fellowship”—Paul feels a warm “fellowship in the gospel” with the Philippians. What we must understand as we go through Philippians is that while there are various reasons for Paul’s writing, this letter comes from the depth of fellowship that Paul and the Philippians shared in the gospel. That’s why this letter has the feel that it does – we don’t often think of the Apostle Paul as a warm person. But, in this letter, we see a deep love for these people. This is why this book has the subtitle “The Fellowship of the Gospel”—it is an epic fellowship as suggested by Tolkien’s title The Fellowship of the Ring. But don’t misunderstand either, this is a very difficult time for everyone involved. This is the fellowship of compatriots bound together in a great cause. You will not understand the letter if you do not understand this.

Most Christian groups, churches, today understand that being a Christian involves more than simply understanding biblical doctrine. They understand that an increasing awareness of God’s will and a desire to do it should be the fruit of a life committed to Jesus. In classic theological terms, the process of becoming more and more obedient to God’s will after being saved is called sanctification. One very important aspect of sanctification that emerges from this opening passage and challenges the modern church is the principle of supporting other believers who are using their gifts for the advancement of the gospel. The modern church, like the Philippians in ancient times, should cultivate a type of support for other believers that is both sacrificial and consistent. Paul not only values the sacrificial nature of the Philippians’ support; he is also grateful for its consistency. The Philippians supported him both when he was in chains and when he was defending and confirming the gospel in a wide variety of settings. They sent gifts to Paul when he was in Thessalonica. They supported his collection of money for the needy believers in Jerusalem. And they sent Epaphroditus to Paul when they heard that he was in prison.

Think again about our renewal of S.T.E.P. again. Our support of those to whom God has given special gifts for service and ministry in Bolivia should, likewise, be consistent. Especially to those who are seemingly powerless. The church errs when it targets the powerful people in any community and nation on the theory that if they can be persuaded of the gospel’s truth, they will somehow advance God’s goals more effectively than others. Paul would have had little patience with such a strategy. Paul’s strategy as you will see demonstrated throughout this letter is Love for one another.

The occasion for Paul’s letter to the Philippians came years after the founding of the church and sprang from their financial support of him as a prisoner in Rome. Their monetary gift had been carried to him by a church member named Epaphroditus who had nearly died bringing it to him. And when Epaphroditus recovered and prepared to return, Paul asked him to carry the letter home. So the letter arrived late in Paul’s imprisonment, after a.d. 60 and probably after a.d. 62.

Paul’s letter had many, varied purposes: to express gratitude for their generosity, to explain why he sent Epaphroditus back so quickly, to catch them up, to inform them that he would shortly be sending Timothy, to warn them of Judaizers, to urge them to stand firm and be united. But under and around all these purposes was the reality of their fellowship in the gospel.

You see, Jesus Christ is the center of the letter. No other noun occurs more in Philippians than his name. This letter to the Philippians is about Jesus Christ. Philippians is about people in Christ Jesus. Philippians is about people who are in the fellowship of the gospel because they are in Christ.

Wow, Such grand themes and purposes! And understand this—the vehicle that fuels this fellowship is joy.

  • 1:4b: “making my prayer with joy.”
  • 1:18b: “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.”
  • 1:25b: “your … joy in the faith.”
  • 2:2: “complete my joy,”
  • 2:17, 18: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
  • 2:29: “so receive him in the Lord with all joy.”
  • 3:1: “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.”
  • 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

I said Philippians calls up a particular joy.  What bursts off the pages of this letter is the joy of  Jesus Christ and joy from Jesus Christ.  It is a joy that lights up in the dark places of life.

 Church you can live like Paul did – unchained from the circumstances of life and culture – not ignoring them but also not allowing them to define you. True joy, real joy is available for those “in Christ,” as Paul says over and over again. That Joy is available to all who stand together as they partner in the fellowship of the gospel.

Understanding this, applying this, how to live a life ‘unchained’ is what we can’t wait to explore with you in the coming weeks.

Prayer

Thank you, God, for the joy of today. It is still morning, and yet so many good things have come our way: the joy of shelter, the joy of clean water coming out of taps, the joy of food on the table. Thank you for friends who understand us, and the joy of meeting new friends. Thank you that we are here in church, body and spirit, thank you for the joy of worshipping you, our Creator. And in the midst of joys, in all honesty we admit that we come with fears. Some of us have fears about new beginnings; new schools, new relationships, new jobs. We don’t know how we’ll do or how we’ll feel— we are nervous and want things to go well. There are fears about health: aches and pains that won’t go away, symptoms that are unexplained, treatments that we hope will be effective. Some of us have financial fears: will we find work, or is our work secure, how will we pay these bills, have we saved enough for the future? And then there is the fear of loneliness that strikes us all at some points– we fear that we won’t find people to love, or that we’ll lose the people we do love. God of hope, thank you that you are with us in all our fears, and that you bring joy even in the midst of them. Thank you for your faithfulness through time, for the ways you have been there for us in the past, and that nothing can separate us from your love.  Help us this week to have compassion for those who fear: for those who are fleeing bombs and bullets, for those who face governments that are oppressive, for those who cannot worship openly, but must meet in secret. In our own community, there are people who live with the fear of violence. Help us to be people of refuge, who offer help and support, and who go the extra mile when we see people in need. Forgive us for the times we have been too wrapped up in our own fears and joys to truly see our neighbour. Help us this week to embrace joyful living, being mindful of the gift of each day, remembering our Saviour Jesus Christ who lives in us and through us.  Amen

Song

Benediction

Be people of joy. Let joy live in your heart and share the joy of Christ with all you meet.

Blessings and have a wonderful week.