First, GREETINGS v1-2
Greetings, as some of you know, are important in Kenya and in the church there. When we visit our partners in the gospel at St Philip’s Community Centre, Mburi in rural Kenya, we bring greetings from JPC in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our e mail society in the UK we have perhaps lost even greetings from the start and end of letters. Now, of course, greetings can become just words rather than sincere expressions of love and encouragement in the Lord, but Paul’s greetings at the start and end of his letter to the Philippians are not just words. They are meant. Look at verses 1&2 of chapter 1:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints [in other words to all believers who, as believers, are set apart for God and called to live holy lives] in Christ Jesus at Philippi [and by extension to us – to all of us who are believers at Jesmond and at St Philip’s Mburi and who are therefore set apart for God and called to live holy lives in Christ Jesus], together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who needs to hear that greeting this morning? If you are a Christian believer here at JPC or in Mburi, if you are trusting in Jesus, in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, if Jesus Christ is your personal Saviour and Lord, you are a saint in Christ Jesus, i.e. you are set apart for God and called to live a holy life in Jesus Christ.
Be assured of who you are in Christ and live up to your calling in Christ. Believers both here and at Mburi can lack assurance and struggle to live up to their calling in Christ. The pressures and temptations here and in Mburi can be similar. Alcohol and casual sex don’t just abound in Newcastle at the weekends but also in the fields of Mburi where addiction to the local home made brew by unemployed youths and others is a problem and where AIDS is on the increase. I was reading the other day that there are now 1m AIDS orphans in Kenya. Notice Paul says, ‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus.’ We cannot live and love as we should apart from him. We cannot bear fruit that lasts apart from him. It means spending time with him and in his word each day. It means being filled with his Spirit each day. It means making sure you’re at Home Group or whichever fellowship group you belong to – to study and apply God’s Word, to pray for one another and to encourage one another in the Lord. Paul describes himself and Timothy as servants or slaves of Christ Jesus. And we are to be slaves of Christ, obeying him and subject to him in everything, and that includes serving one another. After our trip to Mburi last July, a group now meets there every week to study God’s Word together and encourage each other in the Lord. “Remain in me”, says Jesus in John 15.
Paul also encouragingly greets the Philippian saints and today you and me and those in Mburi with these words:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who needs to hear those words too this morning? It’s a reminder that all we need can be summed up in the gift of God’s grace. God came to us in free unprovoked love to give us the opposite of what we deserve. He came to me, who had laughed at God and said I never want anything to do with him, and brought me to himself through the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to the elderly lady in Mburi who had made and distributed the local alcoholic brew in Mburi for years and turned her life around. Yes, grace is undeserved favour that reconciles us to God through Christ. Grace also supplies all our needs and gives us the privilege of service. And as Paul himself learnt God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Have we learnt that? We are never left to walk the path of obedience alone.
In the absence of many material things some in Mburi have learnt very quickly that grace supplies all our needs and is sufficient as they walk 5 miles to school each day, cope with drought, ill health and a lack of resources.
And the first fruit of grace is peace, specifically peace with God through Christ. In the Bible peace is complete well being, involving reconciliation to God and to our fellows and the blessing of inner peace as prayer replaces worry. In that latter sense one person has said that peace is ‘the inner assurance and tranquillity that God ministers to the hearts of believers and that keeps them spiritually confident and content even in the midst of turmoil.’
Many of us will have experienced that peace which passes all understanding that only comes from God. As have some of the young widows in Mburi who lost their husbands at a young age and who struggle at times, some with little money, but who have a deep trust in the Lord and a joy revealed by their amazing smiles, another fruit of God’s grace.
Grace and peace to you [and to those in Mburi], from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
And what a joy it is to have a partnership with them in the gospel, which is my next heading.
Second, PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL v3-7
Paul knew that joy in his partnership in the gospel with the saints at Philippi. Indeed he thanks God for them every time he remembers them and prays for them with joy because of their partnership in the gospel. He remembers the time he and others first took the gospel to them, when Lydia opened her home to him and his colleagues. V3-7:
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, 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. 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.
And it always humbles me that Mwendwa and Joyce have that same thanksgiving to God and confidence in God about us because of our partnership in the gospel with Mburi. I spoke to Mwendwa very briefly on the phone this week. The reception on his mobile was very poor but when he did finally hear my voice he said ‘O Jonathan, how are you, we are praying for you and we are having partnership service at Mburi this Sunday. Send our greetings to all at Jesmond. We love you and thank God for you.’ Every time he remembers us and, as with Paul, that is all of you, not just those of us who have had the privilege of going there, he thanks God and prays with joy for us. Why? As I’ve already hinted - because of our partnership in the gospel from the very beginning of God’s vision for the community centre and outreach in Mburi. For the finance, recent Bible study material and people we’ve been able to send. Most recently we’ve been able to send a contribution for a new security fence for the centre, badly needed after a serious break in 2 years ago. For working with Francis, the evangelist and others at Mburi last year in taking the gospel out to many of the settlements around the centre. For the visits Mwendwa and Joyce have been able to make to JPC.
And we can thank God for them and pray with joy for them because of their partnership in the gospel. Last year their hospitality for 11 of us was tremendous and their guests always get the best food. On our first walk to spread the gospel a raging bull suddenly turned on us. Like lightning Francis saved us from being spiked. He literally took the bull by the horns and held on! We thank God for him daily! He risked his life for us. Yes their partnership in the gospel with us is genuine. Mwendwa and Joyce are committed to the gospel and the growth of the church. Their former evangelist, Simon Chomba, is completing his initial ordination training. Paul mentioned overseers and deacons in his greeting. Let’s be praying for God to raise up godly and visionary church leaders in Mburi and throughout Kenya. The clinic, the care for the elderly, the nursery school, the tailoring course are all ongoing as they reach out to the community with the love of Christ in practical ways. What a privilege and a joy it is to have such a partnership in the gospel. And we can learn from our partnership with Mburi as to how we are to be in partnership in the gospel with one another here at JPC as well as with our mission partners.
You see the word for partnership here is the usual New Testament word for fellowship, but such fellowship is not just the comfortable experience of Christians enjoying one another’s company. It is fellowship in the task of making the gospel known to others. One expression of that is in Christian giving as we learn in Philippians chapter 4 – yes for some of the desperate needs in Mburi – but also for the work here on Tyneside and not least for our partnership in the gospel with Cedars Trust and with one another to see the church established in St James’ Village, Gateshead. It’s a partnership which involves all of us to a greater or lesser extent, and it will involve sacrifice, hard work and tests of faith as Paul’s church planting did (v7) and we will all need to support one another as all the Philippians supported Paul (v7). Because of their genuine partnership in the gospel Paul had the Philippians in his heart. Do we have each other and those at Mburi in our hearts? And how do we express it practically?
This fellowship in the task of spreading the gospel will involve sharing in God’s grace as we defend and confirm the gospel (v7) but also much praise and prayer along with great joy as we see God begin his good work in people’s lives in Gateshead and know that he will bring it to completion. That was Paul’s confidence in v6 for the saints at Philippi. Not a confidence based on the Philippians’ own abilities or achievements, but on the power and love of God and because he can be relied upon to bring what he begins to completion. We can therefore pray with confidence in God that he, who began a good work in those in Mburi who received the gospel last July and in those before and since, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.
The Philippians’ active partnership in the gospel was a strong indication to Paul that their faith is genuine (v7). And part of our active partnership in the gospel with Mburi and with each other will involve prayer. So thirdly and finally
Third, PRAYING FOR OUR PARTNERS IN THE GOSPEL v8-11
Paul’s words are genuine and true. He emphasises this in v8. “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul truly longs for the Philippians to grow, for their partnership in the gospel to grow. Can God testify to how we long for all those at Mburi, for our other mission partners and for one another as a fellowship, not with our own affection which can be based on likes and dislikes, but with the affection of Christ? Well it’s great to see more and more members of this fellowship visiting our mission partners. One Home Group is visiting Charles Raven in Kidderminster this weekend. But we don’t have to be there all the time to be in partnership in the gospel. Paul can’t be with them in person here but he can pray for them and write to them. We can’t be with those in Mburi very often or with our other mission partners around the globe but we can pray for them and write to them. Most of the folks at Mburi have never been here but they do pray for us. And if you want to pray regularly with others for Mburi, a new prayer group is starting this afternoon at 5pm at 9 Kingsland in Jesmond. What does Paul pray for his partners in the gospel? What can we pray for all those in Mburi? What can we pray for our other mission partners? What can we pray for one another and for our fellowship as a whole? Look at v9-11:
And 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.
He prays that their love may abound more and more, not in blind enthusiasm, but in knowledge and depth of insight. With the gift of true discrimination is how one translation puts it, and so with a sensitivity to the truth of God and the needs of others. Why? So that they may be able to discern what is best, not what is second best, not what is a compromise but what is best based on God’s Word. You see the ideal and goal of our Christian living should be no lower standard than to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ’s return, a day Paul has in view throughout this letter and which we and our mission partners need to keep in view and live in the light of. How we need to pray this prayer for one another! And, v11, filled with fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God. We and our partners in the gospel are to be fruitful both in evangelism and in character. This fruit comes only through the living Lord Jesus and this is not for our glory but for the glory and praise of God.
It’s a prayer which is so relevant for those in Mburi but it’s also a prayer that we need to be praying for each other here and for our fellowship as a whole as we partner together in the gospel in Gateshead and for the future growth of JPC, not for our glory but for the glory and praise of God.