The Lord's Day Morning

April 29, 2007

Philippians 1:1-2

“Greetings from Paul”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to the book of Philippians, chapter one. Philippians 1…four chapters…104 verses…about two and a half pages in 12 pt Times Roman type on 8 Ѕ x 11 typing paper. Only 2,381 words in English, the New American Standard Version. Chock full of glory!

Have you ever paused to think how many great themes Paul covers just in this little letter of Philippians? There's the sovereignty of God (he can't get six verses into the letter without mentioning the sovereignty of God); there's the humility and the humiliation of Jesus Christ in the great Christ hymn, recorded in chapter two, verses 9-11. There's Paul's meditation on the precious privilege of the believer's union with Jesus Christ verse 9, just the first words of that verse he talks about everything else being lost but it doesn't matter because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ..

He talks about justification by faith alone. That's what the end of verse 9 is about, surely. What is chapter two, verses 1-4, but an exhortation to and a meditation on what the communion of saints ought to be like, what it ought to be like to live with one another, to minister with and to one another as the people of God in a local congregation of saints?

And then of course Philippians 3:8 gives us that glorious meditation on the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Christ is all. All in one little letter! Two and one half pages. Have you ever paused to think how many of the Apostle Paul's memorable sentences come from this little letter–sentences that even those of us who aren't great at memorization have had emblazoned on our hearts as they've been read to us over the years, and we reach for them in our darkest hours. Let me just rehearse some of them to you.

This is the book where the Apostle Paul says,

“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

This is the book that that sentence is found in.

This is the book where he says,

“To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

This is the book where he says,

“For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

This is the book where he says,

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

This is the book where the Apostle Paul says,

“I count all things to be loss, in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

This is the book where Paul says,

“I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is the letter where we find the phrase, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

This is the letter where Paul exhorts you and me,

“Be anxious for nothing; do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

This is the letter where Paul says,

“The peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is the letter where Paul says,

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence or anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

This is the letter where Paul says,

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am.”

This is the letter where he says,

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

This is the letter where he says,

“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Two and a half pages, and he says all that! You tell me you don't believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture? And I didn't even mention the Christ-hymn!) Chock full of glory.

Let's read God's word, Philippians 1:1-2:

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi,
including the overseers and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

I've been thinking for some time about where we would go next. Ever since I finished Ephesians, I've been thinking about where we would go next. After we meditated on the questions of membership together; after we meditated on what it was to be a church, a local congregation of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, or of the universal church…what qualities ought we to manifest. I've been thinking for a long time, and for a long time I've been thinking…I Samuel! (Great book. We may get there yet.) But I thought, “No, I'm preaching through Numbers to these dear people on Wednesday nights, I can't do I Samuel to them!” So starting a little more than six weeks ago, my heart just kept coming back to Philippians. The longer I thought on it, the more I have come to believe that this is the time that we need Philippians as a church. There are four particular reasons why I think we need Philippians, as a church.

First, Philippians shows us a vibrant Christian in difficult circumstances, radiating a contagious joy. And I know some of the circumstances that some of you are in. I know them! I don't know them like you know them, but I know enough to know that I couldn't bear it if I knew them like you know them. And I thought, “This is a book which we need now.”

And where is he? He's in the slammer! He's trapped. If ever there was a place for that man to be depressed, it would be where he couldn't get out and tell somebody about Jesus Christ. And yet the whole letter radiates with joy. What is going on here? This man understood the secret of joy in every circumstance, and so I want to tell you this letter beckons us to join with him in the fight for joy.

There's a second reason why I think it's time for Philippians for us. Philippians displays to us a saint on whom the world has lost its grip. The world no longer has anything to offer Paul. There's nothing that it could give him. It didn't have anything that he wanted. His old righteousness had nothing to offer Paul. His old pedigrees had nothing to offer Paul. His old traditions had nothing to offer Paul. He had found something better. He is ablaze with thoughts of Christ. He is ablaze with delight in Christ. He's singing

“Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also.

The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still.

His kingdom is forever!”

He's singing

“Fading is the worldling's pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show…” but

“Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion's children know.”

For him, Christ is all. He's above all, He's best of all, and everything else is lost on Paul because of that. And, my friends…Boy! Do we need to understand that!

We've been given so much by God that we are tempted to delight in the gifts rather than, or more than, the Giver. We’re tempted to think that deep delight and full joy and true satisfaction can be found somewhere in the temporal terrestrial gifts that are given to us, and we need, like Paul, to take true joy so that we will accept no substitutes.

You understand that the Christian life is a fight for joy. It is not the rejection of joy: it is the rejection of cheap joy. It is not the rejection of satisfaction: it's the rejection of superficial satisfaction. It's not the rejection of delight: it's the rejection of delight…of shallow delight…in pursuit of cheap delight. The Apostle Paul has tasted of the everlasting bottomless fountain of delight in Jesus Christ, and the world is lost on him! Boy! Do we need that! And this letter is calling us to long to know Christ.

And there's a third reason why we need this letter. This letter is commending to us a sovereign Savior's holy humility displayed in an unparalleled humiliation, as He comes from heaven's high throne, as He dwells with us in low estate, and goes down, down, down the steps of humiliation and dereliction on the cross, and to burial and to the tomb. And He does that not only as the means of our redemption, but He does that as an example for our walking. You want to go the way of glory? It's the way of the cross. And the Lord Jesus is showing you that way, and so in this passage in this great letter we see the Apostle Paul urging us on in the fight for joy, and calling us to grow in humility so that we are joyful in our humility and we're humble in our joy, and we're longing to know Christ.

There's a fourth reason why this book is for us, and that's because Philippians tells us that believers, under the crushing load of life in the darkest moments of your experience, even in the valley of the shadow of death, can comprehend an incomprehensible peace -that's not a typo. I'm not misspeaking. That's what Paul says. He wants you to be able to know a peace that is beyond knowing. He wants you to understand a peace that is beyond understanding. He wants you to comprehend a peace that is beyond comprehension, and, oh, dear friends, do I want that for you! Wherever it is that you are right now, oh, do I want you to be steadfast and immovable in that peace! So that you say in your trial, “What did you do to me? I have a joy that can't be taken away. I have a delight that can't be quenched. I have a peace that you can't even understand! What are you going to do to me?” Oh, do I want you to have that! Oh, do I want that joy, that humility, and that delight! This book is about a fight for joy. It's about growing in humility. It's about knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It's about a peace that only He can give, and no one else, nothing else in this world can take away. In any circumstance

For all those reasons and a hundred more, it's time for Philippians at First Presbyterian Church.

Now before we get to our passage this morning, I just want to say three more things about this letter.
This is a letter full of love and joy and truth. I just want to think with you about that for a second, because the letter full of love and joy and truth, is a letter full of love. You see Paul's heart on the very surface of it; it's a heart of love to this congregation. This is the first congregation in Europe, you understand. These are our Christian forebears. Paul has gone out of Asia into Europe. This is Philippi, and predominantly Gentile; and Paul loves this congregation, and you can tell it from the way he writes to them. He loves them!

You need to go back and listen to Derek's sermons on Acts 16 and see how the gospel came to this church. You know who part of the core group was in this church? Lydia. Lydia and her family. The Lord opened her heart to believe. Watch…Paul loves them, and it comes through. You know when you read Corinthians–actually, II Corinthians–you know that Paul loves the Corinthians, but his grief and his indignation of their sin…it comes through, doesn't it? And when you read Galatians and Romans, you love them, they’re pastoral, but the ferocity against false teaching in Galatians and his concern to establish the Romans in the truth comes through. His love is here, yes, but here it's almost undiluted, isn't it? It's a letter full of love.

It's a letter full of joy. Bengel, one of the great German critical scholars on this book got at least this right about Philippians: he says you can sum up the letter of Philippians in two Latin words… OK, Latin scholars, here we go!…gaudeo, gaudete. I rejoice; you rejoice. I rejoice, so you rejoice, too! He's got it right! You can sum the whole letter up that way.

Here's Paul. He's tired, he's beaten up, he's old…he's in prison, for crying out loud! And twenty times in the course of two and a half pages he uses words like joy and rejoice and peace and content and thanksgiving. This letter is full of love and joy!

Do you ever think you can't rejoice where you are today? May I respectfully–only on the authority of God–beg to differ. Paul could rejoice where he was; you can rejoice where you are.

Third, this is a letter of truth: truth about God…theology. You don't have to be scared of that! It's truth about God. It's truth about the Lover of your soul. It's truth about the Savior of your life. It's truth about the One who made you, and gave His Son for you! It's full of truth.

You know, it's absolutely stunning…it's one of the great paradoxes that in this, one of the simplest letters of the Apostle Paul, he gives the profoundest exposition of the humiliation and exaltation, the meaning and the accomplishment and the purposes of the death of Christ, that he ever gave! This is his final word on the substance of the meaning of the death of Christ. Here it is in this simple little letter, two and a half pages long. The greatest theologians in the history of the church for 2000 years have meditated on this work and opened up its truth, and we still haven't seen to the bottom of it! And in six verses, in two and a half pages, the Apostle Paul lays it out. This is a book full of truth.

I want you to see very quickly three things in the passage we just read: the sender (or senders); the recipients; and, the greeting…the sender, the recipients, and the greeting.

I. The senders.

The senders are Paul and Timothy, and I want you to notice what they call themselves: permanent servants…bond-slaves, douloi of the Messiah, who is Jesus. And, boy, does that little description–servants of the Messiah, who is Jesus–does that not tell us a boat load?

The highest title…the highest title a believer can hold is that of “servant of Jesus Christ.” Have you been a servant of sin? Have you been a servant of self? To be liberated, to be able to serve the Savior…there's no greater honor than to bear that title: I'm a servant of Jesus Christ. Here's the Apostle Paul saying ‘That's what I am.’ And it puts him in his proper place, doesn't it? Because the emphasis is ‘I'm a servant of Jesus Christ! That's who I want you to be thinking about. I'm not important; He is. He must increase; I must decrease.’ And the very acknowledgment that he is a servant of Jesus Christ is a reminder that though he may look like a prisoner of Caesar, though he may look like a victim of Caesar, though he may look like a servant of Caesar, he's not! He's the servant of the Messiah, and if he's in prison, that's where the Messiah wants him. And if the Messiah doesn't want him there, even Caesar can't hold him there! He’ll be wherever Messiah wants him to be, and Caesar has nothing to say about it! So the fact that he's in Caesar's custody is only the reflection of the fact that the Lord God of the universe, the real one who is Lord, has decided that that's where he's supposed to be.

You understand that that kind of thinking is dangerous. It can change your life. You start thinking about your life that way, things are going to change. ‘Lord, I've never been in a more miserable place in my experience, but You’re Lord. This must be Your plan for me. This must be Your plan to exalt Yourself before my eyes and in my heart, and in my life. You’re going to be glorified in this. You’re going to protect me in this. You are going to magnify Your grace in this, because I am not a victim of this world. I'm a servant of the Messiah, Jesus.’ You be careful about believing this, friends. Be very careful.

II. The recipients.

Secondly, notice the recipients: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus, who are in Philippi….” So the Apostle Paul is not writing to the whole church, right? He's mostly writing to the super-spiritual ones…the ones that do Bible studies four times a week! No! No, no, no! He is not writing to the uniquely, extraordinarily, holy people within the congregation. He's writing to the whole congregation. What's the point? If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has called you to Himself to be set apart to Him, to be holy to Him, to be His uniquely treasured people, His saints, His holy ones. All of you! That's what He chose you for! That's what He saved you for! For Himself…for relationship with Him…for fellowship with Him…for communion with Him! How did we put it? “To glorify and enjoy Him forever.” All of us! That's what you’re for. If you’re enjoying something else more than Him, then you have not yet understood what He made you for. He made you for delight in Him! He did not make you so that anything else could delight you like Him.

III. The greeting.

And the greeting, “Grace and peace”…God's unmerited, undeserved favor even despite your sin, through Jesus Christ; and, “peace”…total well-being which flows from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for you.

What a letter! What a way to start! I invite you, join me in Philippians.

Let's pray.

Lord God, we do want to fight for joy and grow in humility, to know Christ and the peace that passes understanding. Give us this, and hear our prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.