Sun, Jul 30, 2017
Teacher: Mark Hull
Duration:23 mins 51 secs

Message text


Philippians 1 : 1 – 11

This evening I would like for us to go back nearly 2,000 years to the city of Rome. It is an exciting time to be in Rome, a metropolis of gladiators, chariots, & palaces. But we’re not going to stop at the coliseum or the emperor’s palace.
Instead, we’re going to look into a drab little room. Inside we see a man seated on the floor. He’s an older fellow, shoulders stooped & his head balding. Chains are on his hands & feet that are also attached by a longer chain to a Roman guard.
It is the apostle Paul. The apostle who has traveled all over the world of his day. The apostle whose message has liberated people in almost every port. The apostle who was bound only by the will of God is now bound by chains, restricted by walls, accused by enemies, & scheduled for trial in the court of the cruelest of emperors, Nero.
Paul is writing a letter. No doubt it is a complaint letter to God, a list of grievances. No doubt he is writing the New Testament version of the book of Lamentations. You see, he has every reason to be bitter, to complain.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he is writing a letter that now, 2,000 years later, is known as the “letter of joy.” And that is the letter we are going to be looking at this morning.
Bobby Jones, champion golfer, once said, "Have you ever noticed how much golfers practice? Smart businessmen have been quick to take advantage of that, developing public driving ranges where we can practice driving the ball, & putting greens where we can practice our putting."
"But why hasn’t someone developed public sand traps? Sand traps are an inevitable part of the game of golf, & every golfer ought to practice ahead of time how to get out of trouble."
I think that’s good advice for all of us. For even as we talk about being thankful for the blessings that come our way, we must admit that problems & troubles also come our way.
It was Norman Vincent Peale who said, "Problems are a part of life. All of us are going to have problems right up to the moment we die. And some of you are going to have problems after you die."
So it only makes sense, if we’re going to find ourselves in sand traps, that we learn how to get out of them. And the letter to the Philippians, written by the apostle Paul, can help us do just that.
He writes this letter while imprisoned in Rome under what we would call "house arrest." Today, courts enforce "house arrest" by attaching electronic monitors on the wrist or ankle of prisoners. But back then, they simply chained the prisoner to Roman soldiers 24 hours a day.
Now that was usually better than being in a dungeon, but Roman soldiers could be cruel, & "house arrest" was not something to desire. Yet, Paul’s letter is filled with thanksgiving. And in it, Paul writes, “I always pray with joy..." (Philpppians 1:3)
So let’s look at the first 11 verses of Philippians 1, & see what they teach us about praying with joy.
Paul begins by saying that prayer should be a first response rather than a last resort. Listen to vs. 3, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy..."
Then, in chapter 4, vs. 6, he says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
What is Paul saying? He is saying that whenever anything happens to him, whether positive or negative, he prays. That’s his first response. He prays, "God, thank you for the blessings that you give me. God, I even thank you for the troubles that come my way. Now teach me the lessons that I need to learn from them." Paul always started with prayer.
But for many of us, we wait until we’re knee deep in the sand traps of life, & there seems to be no way out of our problems. Then we call upon God & cry, "Help me. I’m in trouble." We turn to prayer almost as a last resort.
Years ago a US AIR airplane crashed near Pittsburgh. The cause of that crash was a mystery, because the plane just seemed to fall from the sky. So it was with great interest that the investigators listened to the information recorded in the plane’s black box.
CNN played a portion of that recording on the air, revealing that there were just a few seconds from the time the pilot detected trouble until the plane crashed.
The black box revealed these sounds from the cockpit: First, there was an "Oh!" followed by a profanity & a string of curse words, then came the crash, & silence.
If you suddenly discovered that you had just a few seconds left to live how would you react? Would you curse or would you pray? I’ll tell you what you would do. You would respond instinctively. You wouldn’t have time to think about it. You would just respond in the way that is most natural for you to respond.
Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It is a habit." So what kind of habits have you developed in your life?
Richard Dehaan told of a soldier who was doing sentry duty on the front line in WW1. After being relieved of duty, as a Christian, he wanted to pray, to thank God for protecting him, & to ask for His continued protection.
But the enemy lines were very close, & he couldn’t go far, so he just walked a little ways away from where he had been standing guard, knelt & began to pray aloud.
The sentry who replaced him heard his voice & thought he was speaking to someone in the enemy lines. So he reported him. The officer in charge said, "You’ve been accused of revealing secrets to the enemy. How do you respond?"
The soldier said, "It’s not true. I wasn’t doing that." The officer replied, "Then what were you doing when you were out there facing the enemy & talking?"
He said, "I was praying."
"You were praying out loud?"
"Yes, I was."
The officer said, "Show me. Pray right now."
So the young man knelt & prayed. And when he finished the officer dismissed the charges. "Because," he said, "nobody can pray like that unless he has been practicing."
So what do you do naturally when troubles come your way? Paul says that prayer should be a first response & not a last resort.
Secondly, prayer should be offered in an attitude of gratitude rather than as a complaint. Now listen, because this is important. Nothing inhibits prayer more than a grumbling, complaining spirit.
Notice vs. 3. Paul writes, "I thank my God every time I remember you."
Now that’s an amazing statement because if you go back & read in the Book of Acts about Paul’s first visit to Philippi you’ll find that some very bad things happened to him while he was there.
He could have said, "I remember Philippi & that demon possessed slave girl who followed us around & harassed us. I remember how they arrested us, & beat us, & put us into chains, & then tossed us deep into that dark & dirty dungeon. Oh yes, I remember the terrible experiences we had in Philippi."
"But no," he said, "I remember Lydia & how she & all her household became Christians. I remember casting a demon out of a slave girl & seeing her set free. I remember the Philippian jailer & his family, & all those other people who are now followers of Jesus. And when I remember, I thank my God for you."
Like Paul, we have a choice. Positive & negative things happen every day. You can focus on the negative & become an unhappy grumbler if you want. But if you’ll focus on gratitude, wonderful things can happen in your life.
The 2nd thing we see is that Paul was confident they would allow God to continue working through them. Listen to vs. 6, "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
God has a plan for your life, & for mine. There’s a task that He has called us to do, a place that He wants us to fill. And He’s not finished with us yet.
There is a story told about a 300 lb. man who went to his preacher & said, "Preacher, I’m so depressed. I’ve tried to lose weight & I can’t. I can’t even get a date. I feel like an outcast in society. Can you help me?"
The preacher said, "Well, I think I can. Go home & be ready at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning."
So at exactly 8:00 the next morning his doorbell rang & the man opened the door expecting the preacher to be there.
But instead, there stood a beautiful girl dressed in a jogging outfit who said, "The preacher says that if you can catch me I’m yours." Then she took off running. Well, this guy took off after her, huffing & puffing. Of course, he couldn’t catch her.
Well, this went on for 6 months. Every morning she was there. He chased her for 6 months & lost 120 pounds, & the next to last morning, he almost caught her.
Well, he could hardly wait for the next day to come because he knew that he would catch her that morning for sure.
The next morning the doorbell rang. He opened it eagerly, & there stood a 300 lb. woman. She said, "The preacher said that if I can catch you, you’re mine."
Now, that isn’t quite the way that I would handle the situation. But I suppose that is one way of utilizing the potential in people.
Paul looks at the people in Philippi & says, "I see great potential there. I see God working in you, & He is ready to complete his work."
Thirdly, Paul had developed some deep relationships with the people in Philippi. When you read his letter you sense that Paul really loves them. In vs. 5 he thanks them for their "partnership in the gospel from the first day until now."
And in vs’s 7 & 8 he says, "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." In other words, "I love you as Jesus loves you."
Now listen, when you’re in trouble it is important to have friends who will stand beside you, friends who will be there through thick & thin, that you can always count upon. You know they’ll never leave you nor forsake you.
But if you’re always grumbling, self-centered & discontented, you may get attention, but it won’t last. People soon get tired of listening to complaints.
Cleve McClary is an ex marine who fought in Vietnam where he was badly wounded. He lost one eye & all of his teeth. He lost one arm & most of the fingers on his other hand. He lost hearing in one of his ears.
When you look at him he’ll look back at you with that one eye & you know you have his undivided attention. He has a personality that just draws people to him. And he’ll reach out with what’s left of his one good hand, & grip your hand tightly as he exchanges greetings with you.
Cleve McClary has an optimistic spirit, even though life has been tough for him. He has a special license plate on his car with the word "FIDO" on it F I D O. When asked what that means he says it means, "Forget it & drive on." "Forget it & drive on."
There are times when we need to let go of our burdens & just drive on in life. So we need to pray with an attitude of gratitude rather than complaining.
The third lesson that Paul teaches us here is that we should pray for God’s glory rather than for our own.
Listen to vs’s 9 11. He says, "This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God."
ILL. teacher who felt that someday, when she had the time, she would like to devote herself to painting & writing poetry.
When she was 28, however, she began to get severe headaches. Her doctors discovered that she had an enormous brain tumor. They told her that her chances of surviving an operation were about 2%. Therefore, rather than operate immediately, they decided to wait for at least 6 months.
She was convinced that her talent had been given for a reason. So during those 6 months she wrote & painted feverishly. All of her poetry, except her last poem, were published in magazines. All of her paintings, except for her last one, were shown & sold at some of the leading art galleries.
At the end of 6 months, they scheduled the operation. The night before the operation, she decided literally to give herself away. In case of her death, she wrote a will in which she donated all of her usable body parts to those who needed them.

Unfortunately, Linda’s operation was not successful, & her will was carried out. Her eyes went to an eye bank in Bethesda, MD, & from there to a recipient in So. Carolina. As a result, a young man, age 28, went from darkness to sight.
That young man was so profoundly grateful that he wrote to the eye bank thanking them for existing. It was only the second "thank you" letter that the eye bank had ever received after giving out more than 30,000 eyes!
Furthermore, he said he wanted to thank the parents of the donor. They must indeed be magnificent folks to have a child who would give away her eyes.
He was given the name of the Birtish family, & decided to fly up to see them. He arrived unannounced & rang the doorbell.
After hearing who he was, Mrs. Birtish reached out & embraced him. After visiting with him for awhile she said, "Young man, if it’s possible, my husband & I would love for you to spend the weekend with us."
He stayed, & as he was looking around Linda’s room, he saw that she’d read Plato. He’d read Plato in Braille. She’d read Hegel. He’d read Hegel in Braille.
The next morning Mrs. Birtish said, "You know, I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before, but I don’t know where." All of a sudden she remembered. She ran upstairs & pulled out the last picture Linda had ever painted. It was a portrait of her ideal man.
The picture was virtually identical in appearance to this young man who had received Linda’s eyes. Then her mother read the last poem Linda had written.
It said: "Two hearts passing in the night, falling in love,
never able to gain each other’s sight."
We sing an old hymn that says,
"What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry everything to Him in prayer.
Have you trials & temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
You should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer."
CONCL. Is prayer a first response to you? Or is it a last resort? Do you pray in an attitude of gratitude? Or are you always grumbling? When you pray, do you make sure that God receives the glory, & not you?
If you’re here this evening outside of Jesus Christ, you can change that. You can be baptized this evening to wash away your sins and to walk in newness of life. That’s why we extend an invitation. We give you the opportunity to come forward & either be baptized or to rededicate your life to the Lord. If you have either need ....
Will you come as we stand & sing?

Contributing Sermon
Melvin Newland


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