Partnership and Provision
Bible Text: Philippians 4 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Philippians – The Cross-Shaped Life | Philippians 4:2 – 23
Partnership & Provision
When only a made up word will do!
I wonder if you’ve ever been in the situation, where you’ve discovered that English language just does not contain the word that suitably captures something that you’re trying to describe!
Isn’t it true, that some situations are so unique, or we feel we have to describe them, in such particular terms, that only a made up word will do!
This week I came across a number of words that ought to exist in the English language, but do not!
See if these fit a situation you’ve been in, and been unable to verbalise:
The state of being simultaneously confused and at the end of one’s wits.
To describe your job in such confusing terms, that nobody, including your boss, has any idea what you actually do!
To be both belligerent and ignorant at the same time. This condition is most commonly found in one’s boss or mother-in-law apparently!
The procedure of bending something, so that it fits properly where it’s supposed to fit.
Possessing the ability to turn the bathtub tap, on and off with your toes.
The act, when vacuuming, of running over a piece of string or fluff multiple times, picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum cleaner one more chance.
Last one: Gription
The purchase that is grasp, gained by friction. For example, “My car needs new tyres because the old ones have lost their gription.”
Sometimes only a made up word will do!
The Apostle Paul, was never one to let a little thing like what’s actually written in the dictionary, stop him from using the perfect word.
Twice in this letter to the Philippians, here in chapter 4 verse 3, and back in chapter 1 verse 27, he uses word that isn’t used anywhere else in the whole Bible, and it seems probably isn’t used in any classical Greek literature.
It’s the word translated in 4:3, contended at my side, and Paul pictures two athletes, team-mates, striving together to win a prize, and so he coins this word, “Co-athleticising”,
Co-athleticising”, to compete, together, with others.
And clearly in the 2 occasions we find this word, Paul understands that the work of sharing the good news of Jesus,
The struggle for the gospel,
The suffering for the gospel, is something that Christian people do, side by side.
It’s all about fellowship and participation,
And we need to understand that that’s how Paul sees the Christian life, and Christian ministry, as athletes playing on a team together, labouring towards a common goal, if we’re to make sense of Philippians 4, because this is a passage that’s intended to be an encouragement and exhortation, to people who are co-athleticising together.
So let’s have a look at it. Verse 1, Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Notice first of all, the therefore, that links back to the things Paul’s been speaking about in chapter 3;,
Citizenship in heaven,
Pressing on towards the goal.
Chapter 3 is, if you like, the reason the Philippians ought to stand firm,
But chapter 4 is about how the Philippians ought to stand firm, stand firm in the Lord in this way
And the other just really encouraging thing to notice, in verse 1, is the warmth and love that Paul obviously has for the Philippians.
Did you, did you feel the love?!,
My brothers and sisters,
Whom I love, literally my beloved,
Whom I long for,
My crown, it’s a picture of someone winning a prize,
If you stand firm, you’re my Olympic medal, that’s how fondly I think of you!,
That’s how hard I’ll work, in order for you to persevere in the faith.
And then my dear friends, at the end which is that “beloved” word again.
But if that’s how you feel about someone, how do you urge them to stand firm?
How do you encourage another Christian to stand firm in the Lord
I was part of a “panel” Friday last week, with our high school aged youth group, and this was one of the issues that we talked about there,
How do we help people stand firm in their faith?
And maybe you’ve got a Christian friend, facing the same kind of challenges to their faith, as we’ve seen the Philippians faced:
Opposition from outside the church,
Opposition even inside the church,
Hardship or trouble, things that would make them waver, or let go of their faith,
How do you get alongside that person and encourage them to stand firm the Lord?
Maybe you’ve struggled to know how to do that,
Well Philippians 4 shows us 4 areas in which Paul urges his dear friends, to stand firm.
Of course these aren’t the only expressions of standing firm,
These aren’t the only areas in which it’s important for us sa Christian people to work hard at persevering in our faith,
But we also face many of the same challenges as the Philippians,
Challenges from outside the church, as well as from those who call themselves Christians,
We also face the temptation and distraction, that would have us take our eyes off the prize, chapter 3 verse 14,
So let’s hear what God would say to us, and to those we know and love, our beloved, those with whom we co-athleticise, about standing firm.
Stand firm in like-mindedness
First of all, Paul demonstrates the practical need for unity in the church, by urging his fellow-workers in the gospel, to stand firm in like-mindedness.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life
I read these words and I feel a bit like I’m watching reality TV!
It’s like coming in half-way through an episode of Sylvania Waters or Big Brother or something, or so I’m told!
It’s unusual in the Scriptures for people to be singled-out by name in this way, and all the more surprising, because we’re not told what the disagreement was over.
We presume it wasn’t some difference in doctrine.
We saw just in chapter 3, for example, how there can be no diverging from the one true message of Jesus,
The content of the gospel is not something that Christian people are free to disagree over,
If that were the case, Paul would have told one of them to submit to the Lord, to submit to the church,
But here, maybe Eudodia sat in Syntyche’s seat one Sunday morning in church.
Actually, probably not! But many of us have seen, such insignificant disagreements between Christians escalate into full-scale arguments, with factions, and alliances, and “he-said”, “she-said”, such that the unity of the church is threatened.
Paul knows how destructive that kind of disagreement can be, and so he pleads with these 2 women, to be of the same mind in the Lord, literally, “to think the same in the Lord.”
Notice, that Paul doesn’t address the issue of who’s right, and who’s wrong?
He’s not just asking one of them, to agree with the other, but asking both of them, have a common mind, by virtue of, because of, their union with the Lord.
Now having the same mind in the Lord doesn’t mean agreeing on every single point, about every detail of church life! But from what we’ve seen already in this letter, the like-mindedness that Paul urges these women to pursue, is that mindset of Christ, who served others above himself,
Here, a mindset of putting the good of the church, above personal interest.
And so important is this like-mindedness, that Paul asks others to step in and help bring this like-mindedness.
We don’t know who the true companion is. Various people have speculated over the years,
It might actually be somebody’s name, it might be a way of referring to the whole church.
What we do know, is that the path to standing firm in like-mindedness isn’t one trodden by just these 2 women alone, other people have a responsibility to step in and help bring resolution, and like-mindedness.
Paul starts with a plea, directly to the women involved,
They have a responsibility to put on, to develop that mindset which is yours in Christ Jesus, chapter 2.
Presumably one of them was right and one of them was wrong,
Or, one of them was more offended than the other,
But each of them is obligated to seek like-mindedness
A church that is divided, is a church that has forgotten its nature as the church.
There is one gospel,
There is one mission, God’s work of reconciliation,
These people named here in Philippians 4, all have their names written in the book of life.
These are women who have laboured at Paul’s side for the gospel, co-athleticised with him
What a tragedy to see gospel workers, caught up in such a public and destructive dispute.
What do you think’s happened to the mission of the church while all this is going on?
Well, we know what Paul thinks will happen.
In chapter 1, he’s said the only way you can face the world,
Hold out the Word of life like stars shining the darkness,
The only way you can resist those who oppose the gospel,
is if you stand firm, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel, 1 verse 27, . it’s that same word, co-athleticising,
How can the Philippians face the world if they can’t even stand the sight of each other?
It’s called the great unwritten rule of war, “Never fight a war on two fronts”, and yet that’s exactly what’s been allowed to happen in Philippi.
And the result of disunity inside, can only be, defeat outside.
Do you ever stop to think, that the way you conduct yourself in your relationships,
The extent to which you might be of the same mind as brothers and sisters here,
The fact that you’re feeling resentful, offended, by someone’s behaviour towards you,
Do you ever consider that your conduct, and godliness and attitude, will shape the way we as church face the world?
The “success”, effectiveness, fruitfulness of our mission to the world, is influenced by the personal and interpersonal conduct of every single one of us.
That’s a scary thought, to run over my attitudes to other people, isn’t it?
I’ve told some of you before, about a church I know of in the US, that completely fell apart,
This faction turned against that faction,
These people refused to speak with those people,
It went through the courts, disputes over property, and assets, The name of Jesus was rubbished in the media.
It was the talk of the town:, The spectacular, drawn-out, public, implosion of the local church.
The destruction of that church started at a church dinner, when a church elder was served a smaller piece of meat, than was given to the child seated next to him.
And that church no longer exists.
If only they had thought it more valuable, to pursue the needs of others before their own.
If only they had considered the outward cost, of internal disagreement,
If only they had heard the warning, to stand firm, to be of the same mind in the Lord.
Stand firm – in joy
Secondly, Paul says to the Philippians, stand firm, in joy.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God
There are times, I’m sure, for many of us, when we’ve read these words, rejoice in the Lord always, and thought “Paul knows nothing of my situation,
I have nothing to rejoice in!”
But remember Paul’s situation, we saw it in chapter 1.
He’s in prison,
He’s falsely accused,
He doesn’t know whether he’s going to live or die, and yet he can say, Rejoice in the Lord, and let me repeat it for emphasis, rejoice.
Rachel Johnson from the Sunday Times newspaper in the UK has written a novel called “In a Good Place”, and the title is a play on the 2 meanings of that phrase.
Because the whole point of the novel, is that the main characters, Mimi and her husband Ralph, move to a “good place”, the English countryside, so that they can be “in a good place” personally.
And for so many people today, that’s what joy is dependent on.
When I’m “in a good place”,
When I’m happy with my circumstances,
When I’ve got everything arranged exactly as I like it,
That’s when I can be joyful,
But Paul says “don’t rejoice, because you’re in a good place,
Don’t rejoice when your circumstances are good”
Rejoice in what? Rejoice in the Lord.
And rejoice when? Always!
Rejoicing in the Lord means rejoicing independently of circumstances.
Rejoicing in the Lord means rejoicing even when I’m not in a good place.
It means, rejoicing isn’t dependent on my personality,
It’s not dependent on my mood.
See this is an appeal to faith in Christ.
Don’t seek your joy in created things, but seek your joy in the creator.
If we rejoice, only when we’re “in a good place”, when our circumstances are agreeable, we become dependent on those things, we’ll become determined to preserve those things, that circumstance, at all costs,
Paul says rejoice in the Lord, and you won’t lost heart in terrible circumstances, and you won’t be distracted by chasing circumstance.
Jesus is near
And part of the unchanging grounds for rejoicing in the Lord, is that Jesus is near.
Paul doesn’t clarify whether he means near in time,
ie “Morning tea is near!”
or near in proximity, morning tea will be served near to where you’re sitting!
You can tell what’s on my mind!
But no doubt he’s deliberately used language that covers both meanings.
The Lord is near
He is both present with his people, by his Holy Spirit,
And he is soon to return.
It’s a birthday in our family today! Not mine!
But when you’re approaching your 4th birthday, at least this has been the experience in our household, you see it coming a long way off.
We’ve had conversations about birthday cakes, and treasure hunts, for weeks and weeks!, because the soon to be 4 year old, knew that his birthday was near!
It’s an encouragement,
It’s an excitement,
It gives him reason for behaviour,
Well the nearness of the Lord, the fact that he’s coming soon, is exactly that kind of encouragement to the Philippians, and to Christians, throughout history.
Why can we known, above all else, for our gentleness, no matter how badly provoked or opposed we are?
Because the Lord is near!
Because Jesus is coming soon to vindicate our cause!
And equally, why can Paul realistically say to these Christians who were at risk of persecution and opposition, do not be anxious about anything?,
Because the Lord is near!
Present with you!
Just about the only thing I remember from psychology classes at university, is a definition: The definition of anxiety.
Anxiety is “fear without a present object.”
If you’re face to face with a bear, and it’s about to maul you, then fear in that situation is probably entirely natural! The bear is a present object, so you fear it!
But if you live in the Adelaide Hills, and yet you won’t leave your house, because you’re afraid of being mauled by a bear, that’s anxiety!
There is no bear, There’s no present object!
If you like, Paul’s got the opposite definition: Don’t be anxious because there is a present object!
Jesus is your present object, the Lord is near.
Do not be anxious has the meaning, “Don’t try and carry the burden of the unknown future yourself.
And so the alternative to anxiety, is prayer;, laying every cause for anxiety before God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
It’s a military metaphor, the peace of God will stand guard around your heart and mind, allowing you to stand firm in Christ Jesus.
Some years ago we went to the UK, to visit my sister who lives there, and we went to the Tower of London., that’s not where my sister lives!
But you might have seen the guards on sentry duty there, all decked out in their regalia.
I’d always thought they were mostly ceremonial, what are they going to do?, chase after you with that massive big fuzzy hat on their head?!
But when you get close and you see the assault rifle they’re carrying, And when you see them arriving for their duties, dressed in their regular soldier combat clothes, and they’re all built like, well, like boys from our church who are in the army!, about this wide kill you with their bare hands, kind of thing!
You see that and you think, “these are real guards, nothing gets in”
The peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds
Philippi was a Roman garrison town! They knew what it meant to have guards!
The peace with God that was won for us at the cross,
The peace of God that is the restored relationship with God that we enjoy because Jesus stood in our place, and took the death and separation from God that we deserved, for living as rebels against God in the world that God made!
That’s the peace, that guards our hearts and minds, as we present all our anxieties, and all our concerns to God,
As we constantly put the needs of others before our own, and trust God, that he will supply our needs.
Paul’s saying your circumstances might still be awful,
You might not be “in a good place”
But consistent, believing and expectant prayer, enables the peace that comes from God himself, to so invade your being, that it will stand on its duty at your heart and mind, and guard them from anything that will cause anxiety.
Stand firm – in excellent thoughts and conduct
Standing firm also requires excellent thoughts, and conduct. We’ll do this one really briefly.
Notice that verse 8 is about thinking, 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.
The things we dwell on,
The things that fill our minds,
Do you imagine, that your thoughts, play a role in the degree to which you stand firm in the Lord?, and therefore as we’ve seen, the degree to which we as a church stand firm together for the Lord, face to the world,
Co-athleticising, for the sake of the good news of Jesus.
The thoughts that you entertain, matter.
The thoughts you entertain when you’re on your own and no one else is around,
The thoughts that of course, no one else can ever really see or know.
Working hard in an area that no one really ever sees, we tend not to be hugely motivated to that, do we?
It’s why I never clean my study, because none of you ever see it!
But we need to work hard, at what we allow (HEAD) in here.
But isn’t just thinking, it’s also conduct. Verse 9, Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
received, is Paul’s technical language for passing on the gospel message to others.
He’s saying “live the gospel”!
Live out this whole package that you heard and saw and witnessed.
And because part of what you saw in me was me sharing the gospel with you, well put that bit into practice in your own lives too.
And, what a claim!
To be able to say, anything, you learned from me, put it into practice.
Who of us, would be so bold as to say that?!
Anything you’ve seen me do, is good for you too!
What model are you giving,
What example are you setting, for those who co-athleticise with you?
Stand firm – in contentment
And standing firm in the Lord, also means, standing firm in contentment.
Read with me from verse 10, I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need,, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.,
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation
Paul’s content, and he wants the Philippians to be content, also.
He doesn’t want the Philippians to think that he’s only saying “thanks”, in order get more out of them!
I’m sure you’ve had that experience of giving a donation to a charity, and they send you a thank you letter, and included in the thank you letter is an envelope, all ready for your next donation!
Well Paul doesn’t want even a hint of that.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
We might most naturally think, “Well, if I can learn to be content with little, with nothing, that would be good.
But Paul speaks about being content whatever the circumstances.,
of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want
In order to stand firm in the gospel, we who co-athleticise together need to learn the secret of being content with little, with nothing.
But we also have to learn to be content when we have plenty.
When you have nothing, it’s easier in some ways to depend on God, because you have literally nothing of your own you can depend on.
But for us, the vast majority of us, I’m sure, the bigger question is, “Will we be content, with plenty?,
When well fed?
When the experience of plenty, gives birth within us, to the desire for more?
Let me give you a trivial example from my life, and it’s a trivial example, probably only because I’d be ashamed of any more meaningful example!
But for most of my life, I didn’t own any bass guitars. But then I bought one. And then I wanted another one.
And then when I had two, well, two’s sort of like a collection of bass guitars, but it’s not really a collection, so I wanted a third one, even more than I had wanted a second one!
Isn’t that the trap with plenty?
We think we’ll be content, with just a little bit more.
And then, when a little bit more doesn’t make me content, I think, “Well, what I must need is, a little bit more.”
Learning contentment with plenty, is just as important as learning contentment with nothing.
And for us, who I imagine, are closer the (L) plenty end of the spectrum than the nothing end, it is especially important.
What actually is the secret of being content?
Well Paul wasn’t the only one seeking to answer that in the first century AD.
Contentment was the catch-cry of the Stoic philosophers.
Their idea of a contented person, was someone untouched by any external force, because they had found in themselves complete satisfaction. The stoic was the sole source of his or her own contentment.
And you think, OK, that was the Stoics, they’re dead and gone, but I read a book this week, called Career Contentment, not, I hasten to add, because I’m feeling discontented with my career!,
But here is a book says, repeatedly, it is the mantra of the book, contentment comes from within, it’s all about self-sufficiency.
Now, this book is published by the American Society for Training and Development, the world’s leading training and development organisation.
So that model of contentment, that way of finding contentment has significant influence and traction right around the world, not least of all in training institutions like schools and universities, where the minds of this and following generations are shaped.
Which means that when Paul contradicts, the Stoic model of contentment, which is what he does here,
When he says, “there is a better model of contentment”, he’s critiquing, not only ancient philosophers,
He’s also critiquing modern theory, and that which is considered best practice in the world that you and I inhabit.
Contentment, for the co-atheliciser, is not found inside,
Our goal is not self-sufficiency,
Contentment is found in Christ,
Paul’s sufficiency comes from God, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
See Paul doesn’t desire the Philippians’ gifts, verse 17, what he wants, is that which can be credited to their account, that is,, their ongoing spiritual progress.
How can he want that?
How can he choose to desire that, over desiring their gifts?
Only because of the work of God in him, making him sufficient,
Only because of the mindset that is his in Christ Jesus, chapter 2 verse 5,
Only because by virtue of his union with Christ, he can put the needs of others before his own,
Only because he’s learnt what it is to not be anxious,
Only because he knows the Lord is near,
He can be truly content, only because he is convinced, that my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory, in Christ Jesus.
The British author C S Lewis preached a sermon in Oxford in 1941, and in it he observed that he who has God and everything else, has no more, than he who has God only.
He who has God and everything else, has no more than he who has God only.
If you’re not a Christian, that’s a question we’d love to help you answer, could you be content to have Christ, and nothing else?
If you are a Christian,
Are you content with God,
Content with Christ?
If you are, I can promise you, well, the Apostle Paul promises you, that’s better, If you are content with Christ,
You will stand firm,
You will never give up.