Series on Philippians, I Thanksgiving and Prayer, A Thanksgiving, Text 1:3-8, Title: Grace


Possibly the best known Christian hymn of all time is “Amazing Grace,” sung in innumerable venues and greatly loved. Now, that is curious because the first verse says “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” It’s curious because most people don’t think they are wretches, don’t think they are lost, and don’t think they are blind. But if you do, you know that you need grace, unmerited favor. Paul knew. And so he wrote about sin and grace. He said to Timothy, This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst - but the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Paul’s thinking is a far cry from our post-modern culture where people protect themselves endlessly from anything negative or traumatic. Christina Hoff Summers of the American Enterprise Institute has a new book out entitled “One Nation Under Therapy.” Examples of this insulation from reality in her book include, 1) No more red ink on test papers. Use purple, it’s less stressful. 2) No more Dodgeball, it’s too violent. Give us a game where nobody is ever out. 3) No more references to Birthday parties in textbooks. It might distress those who didn’t have one. 4) In Boston a flood damaged many books at a library. Grief counselors were sent in to help the librarians recover. This national enfeeblement creates a situation in which grace is irrelevant, because nobody is ever supposed to feel bad about themselves. Now this passage of Scripture is really about grace and its effects.

I Prayer

The first indication that grace was active in the life of the Philippian Christians is found in Paul’s prayers, verses 3-5, I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, He always prays with joy for all of them and with a definite conviction that they had truly trusted in Christ. Note that he says in verses 7 and 8, 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. It is right for him to feel this way since he has them in his heart and he knows that in all of his trials, they share in God’s grace with him. Now the word translated “feel” in verse 7  in the original Greek does not mean what we mean today by “feel.” We use the word to describe something other than rational thought. For example, if a man says to a girl that he feels that he loves her; that is not the same as saying I know that I love you, or simply I love you. To us, feel is an emotional thing that may come and go without explanation. It lacks commitment. The Greek word here means think critically. In other words it means that Paul has made a judgment based on reality. He has a reasonable basis for his conclusion that these Philippians are genuine believers. This is why he is filled with joy. He is totally convinced that they are true believers. Obviously this started with their original response to his preaching, but he has seen them follow on and demonstrate that they are authentic.

II Partnership

Of course Paul’s conviction rests on the fact that the Philipians have been great helpers. In II Corinthians 8:1-7 Paul refers to the Macedonian Christians and that included Thessalonica, Berea, and Phillipi. He says, And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But just as you excel in everything-in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us-see that you also excel in this grace of giving. He also refers to the Philippians’ partnership in this letter. Listen my friends, the only point I want to make here is that love acts. That means that Paul’s confidence does not rest upon some hollow or superficial commitment. It is based on reality. The Bible says that words are hollow (James 2:1-4) Recently, I re-read “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. On His journey Christian meets many difficult people. One of them is named Talkative. Talkative has all the right answers, but Bunyan writes that the man is for any company and any talk. He says, “He talketh of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new birth; but he knows but only to talk of them. I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad-his house is as empty of religion, as the white of an egg is of savour-thus say the common people that know him, A saint abroad and a devil at home.” Paul’s confidence arises from the perception that the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power which he wrote to the Corinthians who everybody knows were great talkers.

III Promise

But the ultimate ground of Paul's confidence is in Jesus Christ. Paul says in verse 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. Being persuaded of the Philippians' faith is not enough. It makes him believe that they were truly called, but their preservation and perseverance depend on Jesus and not on them. Many people have begun well and ended poorly. The most instrumental person in my conversion and early Christian growth turned out to be an eventual pagan. If I were to put myself in Paul’s place I would have said that he was surely a Christian. However his Christianity was a thing of the past born out of his family and training, and it did not last. I can accept this because I know that when a person is genuinely converted the truth of Romans 8 is operative. There Paul says, For whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified. The point here is at the heart of Paul’s faith. Once predestinated, always called, once called always justified, once justified, always glorified. The reason for this is not Paul’s confidence in his own ministry, or in the Philippian Christians. It is the character of the grace of God that Paul preached. E. Stanley Jones wrote about 50 years ago, “Grace binds you with far stronger cords than then cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the giver and bound to catch the spirit of the giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give” The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 illustrates this the best. The elder son did not understand grace. He was angry when his Father welcomed back the wanderer. The younger son had wasted all his inheritance and came crawling back. The younger son is a repentant sinner. The Father is God waiting to forgive, but the elder son is important because he represents the scribes and the Pharisees. Their religion was graceless and joyless because they believed that salvation was earned by keeping the law. Grace obligates, but it is free. The Philippians showed that they understood that obligation. Where are you today? Can others be assured of your salvation because you believe in grace and you show the fruit of it in your life?