To prevent A slump in church attendance next summer, begin now to make ready for sermons from Philippians. Keynote, “In Christ.” Commentaries: J. B. Lightfoot; H. C. G. Moule. Read the letter through every day. Study it by paragraphs. On file keep careful notes. Good housekeeping!
The opening sermon may show the lay reader what to look for at home: The joys of an elderly believer (ch. 1); of church people (2); of Christian progress (3); of Christlike living (4). What a letter for devotions and family prayers!
“Being a Gentleman toward God” (1:3). Christlike joy comes through praying for others. Or else, “The Christian Secret of Perseverance” (1:6). Joy comes through relying on God when things look black (12–18), and through living in hope (19–30). To be happy, keep looking up, “in Christ.”
Church people should rejoice because of Christian habits, ideals, and leaders (ch. 2). “What It Means to be Christians” (2:5). A difficult paragraph about the Incarnation, but clear ideals for believers: humility, service, sacrifice. “O Joy that seekest me through pain!” “Christian Joy through Work” (2:12–13c). As in oldtime bread making, work out only what is first worked in. For a believer all labor should be joyous, “in Christ.”
Chapter 3 speaks to the young in heart. Christian progress here appeals to imagination. Business: “The Inventory of One’s Soul” (3:7–8). Long distance running: “The Gospel of the Forward Look” (3:13–4). A locomotive needs a powerful headlight, only a little light in the rear. Another topic, borrowed, “The Christian’s Point of No Return.” Government: “The Ideal Church for This Community” (3:20a). “We are a colony of heaven” (Moffatt). To Philippi, a colony, Rome sent a band of soldiers to “Romanize” the city. On a similar basis Paul established churches all around the Mediterranean. What an ideal for missions today, and for a church!
In pastoral work and preaching some of us use Chapter 4 repeatedly. In counseling from the pulpit, or at a bedside, the meaning of Christian joy in personal relations, through Christ. “Women as Church Workers” (4:3). What a text for Mothers’ Day! “Christ’s Cure for Anxiety,” formerly known as worry (4:6–7). “Troubled about nothing, prayerful about everything, thankful about anything.” A wise churchman says: “My Lord taught me long ago to live without worry, work without hurry, and look forward without fear.”
“The Christian Secret of Contentment” (4:11b). Paul here uses three Greek verbs, in this order: “I have learned as a lesson”; “I have seen in others”; “I have been initiated into the secret.” Who can wonder that while in prison, elderly, penniless, and facing death, he had heavenly joy? “The Christian Source of Power” (4:13). Writing from Rome, where people worshiped power, he testifies to power that God releases to faith. By learning the will of God for his life work, and by doing that will gladly, he could accomplish all that God desired. In history, who else has done so much, with so little, and for so many? Like other golden texts, this one calls for two main stresses: the Fulness of spiritual power; and the Source. If you believe, God releases power.
“The Basis of Christian Security” (4:19). The promises of our God—the riches of his bounty—the grace of the Living Christ. What a testimony from a saint who had suffered second only to his Lord, and was living on money from the friends to whom he sent the letter of joy! For examples, turn to the life of Mary Slessor in Calabar, or David Livingstone in Central Africa, but first to Paul in the Acts of the Holy Spirit. So the epistle ends with “The Simplest of Benedictions” (4:23). What a text!
Minister of Christ’s joy, live with this letter until you know it as a whole and in every part. Linger with the difficult paragraph until you enter into its secret of joy. Then with words as simple and beautiful as those of John Bunyan lead many a lay hearer to “have this mind” that was in the Christ of Calvary.
Lay reader, you wish the pastor to be a happy preacher of the Good News, which he himself most enjoys. So pray for him without ceasing. Then do all in your power to set him free from countless details that the Lord intends other servants to handle (Ex. 18:13–26).
Thus by the grace of God may the pastor give himself to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4), all “in Christ,” and with apostolic power.
In later years, through his Expositions (17 volumes), this man became known as “The Prince of Expositors.” Earlier volumes also excelled, notably The Secret of Power (1882), from which the present sermon is abridged.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27a).
Philippi was a “colony.” The connection between a colony and Rome was a great deal closer than that between an English colony and London. A colony was a bit of Rome on foreign soil. The colonists were Roman citizens. To Paul those Philippians were citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. In that outlying colony of earth he would stimulate their loyalty to heaven.
I. Keep Fresh the Sense of Belonging to the Mother City. Paul was writing from Rome. The idea of being a Roman gave dignity to a man, and became almost a religion.
A. This is a great part of Christian discipline. We speak of the future life, and forget that it is also the present life, “ready to be revealed.” It is so close, so real, so solemn that it is worthwhile to feel its nearness.
B. There is a present connection between all Christian men and that heavenly city. As Philippi was to Rome, so is earth to heaven, the colony on the outskirts of the empire, ringed about by barbarians, and separated by sounding seas, but keeping open its communications, and one in citizenship.
C. So let us set our thoughts and affections on things above.
D. Nor need the feeling of detachment from the present sadden our spirit, or weaken our interest in the things around us here.
II. Live by the Laws of That City.
A. The Good News of God is to be believed, and obeyed.
B. That law is all-sufficient. In Christ we have all the helps that our weakness needs.
C. So “live worthy of the Gospel.” All duties are capable of reduction to this one. Nor is such an all-comprehensive precept a toothless generality. The combination of great principles and small duties is the secret of all noble and calm life.
D. It is also an exclusive commandment. Let us take the Gospel for our Supreme law, and so labor that we may be “well pleasing to Him.”
III. Fight for the Advance of the City’s Dominions.
A. Christian men are set down in some Philippi to be citizen-soldiers, who hold their homesteads on a military tenure, and are to “strive together for the faith of the Gospel.”
B. Stand fast! Defend the faith, and like the frontier guard, push the conquests of the empire, to win more ground for the King.
C. Such warfare against evil has never been more needed than now. When material comfort and worldly prosperity are dazzlingly attractive to many, win hearts to the love of Him whom to imitate is perfection, and whom to serve is freedom.
IV. Be Sure of Final Victory for God.
A. We have no reason to fear our adversaries. No reason to fear for the ark of God, or the growth of Christianity in the world. Why preach in words that sound more like an apology than a creed?
B. Such Christian courage is based on a sure hope, and is a prophecy of victory. “Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Lord Jesus as Saviour.”
The little outlying colony in this far-off edge of the Empire is ringed about with foes. The watchers from the ramparts might well be dismayed if they had to depend only on their own resources. But they know that in His progress the Emperor will come to this sorely beset outpost, and their eyes are fixed on the pass in the hills where they expect to see the coming of their King. When he comes he will raise the siege and scatter all his enemies as the chaff of the threshing floor. Then the colonists who have held their posts will go with him into the land which they have never seen, but which is to be their home. There with the Victor they will sweep “through the gates into the city.”
Never be anxious, but always make your requests to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving; so shall God’s peace, that surpasses all our dreams, keep guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6–7, Moffatt).
The first part of the message deals with anxiety, with a number of cases from life. When Paul says, “Never be anxious,” is he mocking? Not when he brings God into the scene, with prayers of supplication. (A case—Allan Gardiner—a missionary in Patagonia.) Release from anxiety comes along three lines:
I. Prayer Sets Things in True Perspective. Like an artist at work on a canvas, stand back and look at your life in the healing silence that is the presence of God. Prayer steadies the jaded nerves, lifts the fevered spirit into a purer air, and brings a blessed silence into the din of life’s conflict. Thus prayer makes firm the staggering soul.
II. Prayer Brings Our Will into Line with God’s Will. At a time of civil war within, we say what Jesus said in Gethsemane: “Not what I will, but what Thou wilt!” To do that may call for some kind of Gethsemane, but after such prayers we shall always find release, with serenity that the world can not destroy.
III. Prayer Liberates within Us New Sources of Power to handle the difficult business of living. In true prayer you connect yourself with the source of creative power. From the unseen world flow into your life boundless energies so that you can confront the hardest task, the most difficult situation, with grateful knowledge of God’s adequacy.
The latter part of the message has to do with God’s mysterious peace, which “stands sentry” over your soul. This peace of God is to be recaptured every day, by a new surrender of self to God.
“Paul closes with the words, ‘in Christ Jesus.’ There is the ultimate secret … the transforming influence of a friendship with the noblest, strongest, most understanding Friend in all the world. If only we would start each day with Jesus, reaching out from the dust and darkness of this low earth to clasp the hand of our Friend, the ever-old, ever-new miracle would happen once again, and our restless hearts would find rest and healing in the invincible peace of God.”—Abridged from The Strong Name, pp. 169–176, by pennission of Chas. Scribner’s Sons.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Every believer in Christ wants to become more like his Lord. In writing to a sports-minded city Paul shares his own secret of spiritual growth, “in Christ.” By faith put your trust in Christ. This refers to the Holy Spirit—Christ’s Spirit. Through his Spirit have him ever in your heart. What here follows has to do with time, and with running a long-distance race. In terms of athletics, being a Christian has to do with far more than making a right start.
I. A Christian View of the Past. Get right with God. Then largely forget yesterday’s shortcomings, failures, and sins. Also, at times, the successes. To think much about past mistakes tends to make a person morbid. About past failures, despondent. Let the dead past bury its dead. How otherwise can a person expect to have the sort of joy that the apostle shows in this letter?
Most of all, forget your sins. If God forgives what a person has done his best to make right, why should he keep on asking forgiveness for the same old sins?
As for past successes, much thinking makes a man proud, and pride is the worst of the seven deadly sins. If ever a man had need to learn the Gospel of the forward look, that man was Saul of Tarsus, for much the same reason that a runner ought seldom to look back. If the apostle had not learned to voice his faith in other than past tenses, he could not have written this letter of joy “in Christ.”
II. A Christian View of the Future. Christianity makes much of the future. The goal of the Christian life is perfection. The prize is the favor of God. The pathway is chosen of him: “every man’s life a plan of God.” “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” For a living example of what this means in the noblest of men, see in Paul a practical person who looked ahead. But remember that he never let thoughts of coming glory interfere with what he was doing for God at the moment. Where in history can you find such a noble example of a Christian idealist? Thank God for such an elderly optimist!
III. A Christian View of the Present. “One thing I do”: resolve to be daily more like the Lord. With the apostle keep straining forward, eager to be still more useful. And be sure to have his kind of apostolic optimism. Like Grenfell in Labrador, when someone pitied him because of his hardships, smile and say: “Don’t pity me; I am having the time of my life!” But remember that with Grenfell as with Paul, abounding joy came by engaging in Christian service, all because he was ever “in the Lord.”
The secret of Christian progress is to be “in Christ.” In his service the past is secure; the future, glorious; the present, full of glorious opportunity. But first be sure of a personal experience of Christ and his transforming Cross. If so, rest assured that the One who started the good work in you will bring it to completion by the Day of Christ Jesus. (By permission of Pulpit Digest, December, 1953.)
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5; read 2:1–11).
These words introduce one of the most difficult paragraphs in the New Testament, and one of the most sublime. They represent the Gospel in terms of mystery and wonder. In the Bible a mystery has to do with a truth that we mortals can never discover for ourselves, a truth that we accept by faith, because revealed in God’s Book.
I. The Christ Before Christmas. All through eternity before New Testament times our Lord lived in glory as one with the Father. To the Son the saints and angels bowed down to adore, and stood up to sing his praises. Then as now, the wisest and best of all created beings worshiped no one but “very God of very God.” To this hour believers in Christ render him homage because of his Deity, which is a mystery, a “mystery of light.”
II. The Christ of the Cross. At God’s appointed time the Lord Jesus “emptied” himself of his divine glory, and was born in lowly Bethlehem. As a babe and a boy, a man and a carpenter, he did the will of God, perfectly and gladly; also later as Healer, Teacher and Preacher. But all the while he had come to earth to die as our Redeemer. Thus the mystery and the wonder deepen. Today with saints and angels we can only bow down and adore the Redeemer who once died for us men and our salvation.
III. The Christ of the Crown. The drama of our redemption leads us to look beyond the Cross to the Crown. After our Lord had completed his mission on earth he returned to heaven, and there resumed his place at the right hand of his Father. There he rules, and receives the adoration of all the redeemed, both on earth and in heaven.
In the face of this threefold mystery we redeemed sinners can only give thanks to God, while we gladly accept these saving truths that we can not begin to comprehend. In trying to make clear and luminous these mighty truths of redemption we can not turn to human experience for examples about the Incarnation as a mystery.
How then can we of today “have this mind” that was in the Christ of the Gospel? First of all, let every unsaved hearer accept him as Redeemer and Lord. Then the believer will trust the Lord Jesus to reveal by his Spirit how to make the mystery of the Incarnation the ideal and the pattern of everyday living for the Redeemer of men.
SERMONS ABRIDGED BY DR. ANDREW W. BLACKWOOD
ALEXANDER MACLAREN’SCitizens of Heaven
JAMES S. STEWART’SWhen God’s Peace Guards the Door
Outlines of Dr. Blackwood’s Own Sermons:
The Christian Secret of Progress and
The Mystery of the Incarnation
The experiences of life move in varied patterns of joy and sorrow, hope and fear, love and loneliness. The ingredients that combine to make our lives significant or meaningful are often unrecognized or at least unacknowledged.
I have just returned from eight weeks of travel throughout Asia. During my trip I served on the staff of the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches and therefore had the unique experience of listening in on the heart of the Christian world as it contemplated the next epoch in Christian history.
From the conference rooms in New Delhi to villages for untouchables in South India, a school in Punjab, and redevelopment centers in Hong Kong, a variety of impressions stamped themselves on my heart and mind. One impression particularly emblazoned itself so deeply upon me that I am compelled to do nothing less than invite you to join me in a march of death.
That is right. I invite you to walk with me to death. Everything, even death, we are told, has its appointed time. Perhaps now is the time, then, for the Christian Church to face realistically the challenge of the present world situation. Are we willing to sacrifice all we have to make the Gospel known throughout the world? How much are we willing to sacrifice to bring healing to minds and bodies in India, Hong Kong, or Africa?
The impression which overwhelmed me at the Assembly and during my trip was the urgent need for Christians to purify their witness. The time has come either to stand with the Cross or forever to retreat into the background. The day of playing church has passed. We must put away our little systems and idiosyncrasies and grasp the depth of the reconciliation which Christ brought to the world, and seek to share this reconciliation with all men everywhere.
The urgency of our times is vividly illustrated by the rapid changes occurring in Asia, Africa, and even in North America. Old patterns of life are crumbling under the emergence of new nations, new ideas, and new modes of thought. Everywhere we see society strained to the limit by the dynamic forces that impinge upon mankind. My purpose is neither to comment on these social forces nor even to describe them. One need only read current articles and books on Asia and Africa to grasp the upheavals that are in process.
My purpose, rather, is to focus for you and for me the greatest challenge that the Church is facing today. This challenge is summarized by the word “integrity.” This is what the world is looking for as it seeks to find a sense of direction. Who speaks for the truth? Can we believe what Christians say? Is there an authentic witness to the Christian message? Where can we turn for an illustration and example thereof?
We in America must squarely face a fundamental decision at this point. We are caught up in a building boom in our own country which threatens to throw our sense of values out of balance. We spend $100,000 to $250,000 for educational buildings which are used one or two hours, at best but several days, a week. Our philanthropic giving is perhaps 20 to 30 per cent of our budgets. Yet the Gospel tells us we must be willing to give all we have in order to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. All is not just 20 to 30 per cent, or some other amount that satisfies our conscience. All would seem to imply an amount sufficiently large to threaten our economic survival! We borrow a great deal of money to build our fine buildings here at home, but I have yet to hear of a church that has borrowed $250,000 to build a school in India, or a hospital in Punjab, or a recreation center in Hong Kong.
In fact, it appears that right now the Church is more concerned about its physical accommodations than about the spiritual situation in the world. Christ has called us to give all we have. The world with its hand outstretched, a world desperately in need of the healing only Christ can bring, is crying and pleading for help. Unfortunately, we do not have 15 or 20 years to meet the needs that are before us today. The world cannot wait for us to finish our building program before we can launch a new missionary outreach. In the next several years the world will make some basic and strategic choices. God help us if we fail to give the people the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.
Undoubtedly many will stand and proudly say, “Here is our fine $750,000 church with all of the latest in Christian education facilities.” But, I ask you, what good will be that fine facility if in the next ten years we are unable to meet the challenge of education, technical help, and medical assistance so desperately needed around the world? Should the Church boast over its buildings of so many new churches, or should it instead repent for its failure to sacrifice for the far-flung cause of Christ?
I know not a single church that has ever given all it could for the work of Christ in Asia or Africa. In fact, most of the time we give as little as we can and yet appear respectable, and give as much as we can without curtailing our current program.
If only the world could wait for us to mature spiritually! But the force of the population explosion will not let us remain static. Either we will catch a new vision of the cross of Christ and with joyous abandon give ourselves and all we have to insure that the world hears the glorious news of Christ, the darkness-dispelling Light, or men will turn to those who deny God and speak for materialism.
I invite you to join me in a march to death. Let us give ourselves without and beyond limit to extol Jesus Christ above the turbulent tensions of our world as the Light and Saviour of all mankind.—JAMES R. HIPKINS, Pastor, Church of the Saviour (Methodist), Cincinnati, Ohio.
MISSION TO THE WORLD—Two months ago an American touring company, sponsored by the State Department and paid for by your tax dollars, presented one of Tennessee Williams’ more depraved offerings to an audience in Rio de Janeiro. The audience hooted in disgust and walked out. And where did it walk to? Right across the street where a Russian ballet company was putting on a beautiful performance for the glory of Russia! How dumb can we get?—JENKIN LLOYD JONES, Editor, The Tulsa Tribune, in an address, “Who Is Tampering With the Soul of America?”
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