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Good morning everyone! Have a seat. Please pick up a Bible and turn to page 982. We're looking at the reading from the book of Philippians that we heard read to us earlier and we want the truth from it to sink deeper in to our hearts and minds and to make time to respond to and then act on what God says to us through it. If you've been coming over the last few months, you'll know that we've been getting to know this book well - each week looking at a small part of it. This week is our last week as we've come to the final few paragraphs of the letter.

For those just joining us, the book of Philippians is a letter, written by a man named Paul who lived around the same time as Jesus. Paul was one of the leaders God used to spread the church from Jerusalem where it first started to the whole world. Paul had visited Philippi, a city in Greece, on his travels and while he was there he helped start a new church. After he left, the continued to send him gifts to help him start new church and tell others about Jesus. However, eventually telling other about Jesus got Paul locked in a prison in Rome and that is when Paul wrote this letter to that church about 10 years after he had first met them.

One of the reasons he wrote the letter was to say thank you for gifts that that the church had sent him. A man called Epaphroditus had come from Philippi - he almost died on the journey - to bring him food and money - supplies for his time in prison. In ancient Rome, and this is also true in some countries today - prisoners were imprisoned by the government, but the government did not look after them. So food and clothes and so on needed by the prisoner had to be provided by those outside the prison. One of the ways the Philippian church had helped Paul was by sending food and money for food while he was in prison, as well as Epaphroditus himself who was sent to help look after him.

Look back to Philippians 2.25-30:

"I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me."

So the Philippians send Epaphroditus with a gift to Paul and now Paul was sending Epaphroditus back with a thank you letter - which is what we know today as the book of Philippians in the Bible. And here, at the end of the letter, he comes back to the topic of the gift they had sent him and he ends the letter by saying thank you. Paul is grateful that they gave. That is the first thing to notice here.

Look at chapter 4 verse 10:

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity."

and in verse 14:

'it was kind of you to share my trouble.'

and in verse 18:

"I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."

Paul is grateful that they gave. It follows that the Philippians are a great example for us to follow. They saw someone trying to tell others about Jesus and they gave generously to help make that possible. we should do the same.

God is generous, giving God. Earlier in the book - in Philippians 2 we were reminded about God's gift of his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up the riches of his glory in heaven to come to earth as a man and die on a cross. Why did he become so poor by suffering so much? In order to make it possible for us to be forgiven and made right with God. In one stroke he became poor and we gained the possibility to become rich in spiritual blessings. Those who accept his gift no longer face punishment for their guilt and receive a new heart and a new status as accepted daughters, forgiven sons. It's a gift that is available completely free of charge to every one of us, but it was not without cost.

Jesus gave so much for us and we to should give. So look for those in need and help them. Look for those wanting to tell others about Jesus and support them.

1) There are plenty of ways you can give your time and energy to serve in an area of the church to help us get the good news of Jesus out to the whole world. Come and speak to us.

2) It's not all about church programs though. It's great for Christians to get together like this each Sunday. But for many of us, during the rest of the week we're pretty much on our own - there are not many other Christians in our school, or at work or family. So how can we help one another to live and speak for Jesus? How can we share each other's troubles? Maybe in the coffee break afterwards you could ask someone how you can pray for them this week and then send them a text during the week.

3) We can give money to support those who have stopped earning a living so they can devote more time to leading and organising the church to tell others about Jesus. Some are in this country – like the church staff. Some are in other countries – like some of our mission partners. There's information about how you help the church staff in the yellow weekly notice sheet and at the back of this building. But it is not just about money. The Philippians showed their love for Paul by writing and sending someone to visit. They also prayed for him. There are lots of ways you can support church workers and missionaries in other countries.

However we do it, it's good to remember that when we give to others - like the Philippians gave to Paul - we are giving to God.
Verse 18:

"I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."

That means it is also true that that when we receive help from others they are the way that God is looking after us and meeting our needs. Paul is grateful that they gave. We too should be generous like the Philippians were. One of the things I've learned by meeting people from all over the world is that there are lots of differences in the ways gifts are given and received.

In some countries, it's polite to open the gift immediately in front of the person giving it to you. In others, the polite way to do it is to open it later on, once they have left. In some countries it is polite to refuse a gift several times before accepting it. If a gift is accepted right away, it can be seen as being greedy. These difference can sometime cause confusion! For example, traditionally in Mexico you would not give yellow, purple or red flowers as a gift. White flowers however are good. In Hong Kong however, white flowers are not good! Red very good. In Poland both red and white flowers are bad! Whatever the differences we might find in giving and receiving gifts, I'm sure everyone agrees that the right thing to do - the polite response is to say thank you and tell everyone how much you like the gift. 

A few years ago when we came to move house I found a box full of thank you cards that we had written to say thank you to those who gave us presents at our wedding. This was 3 years after the wedding and I suddenly realised I had forget to post them. It's polite to say thank you! So why does Paul write a letter and say 'I don't actually need your gift'!!!

Did you spot that in chapter 4, verse 11?

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

In other words - thanks for your gift but I was just as happy before I received it as I am now. I don't need your gift and your gift does not make me content. Can you imagine someone saying that when you get them a gift? I don't actually need your gift. When my brother was a teenager and just before he left home I bought him a little coffee machine. He liked coffee but I later found it in the bin - I think decided who needs a coffee machine when you can have instant coffee. I don't need your gift is what he was saying. My mum fished it out and he later learned to appreciate real coffee! My point though is this: why does Paul say this? He's just said thank you. Why spoil it by saying something like that!

Paul is doing two things here. He is saying thank you for their gifts, but he also wants to teach them the lesson that they should depend on the Lord rather than human help.Their gifts were a joy and an encouragement to him. But he was not relying on them. He loved their gifts, but he was also happy without the gifts. In fact, he had learned to be happy when he had nothing.

Vers 13:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Verse 19:

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

He knew that God would provide him with everything he needed and would give him strength to face every situation. Sometimes we are not happy with what God had given us. There might be several reasons for that. Paul however, had taught himself to find his contentment in the Lord and in all the things he had because he was in relationship with the Lord, rather than in his circumstances. He knew that wherever else happened he had blessings to count which were always true. We've seen some of those already in Philippians haven't we?

So Philippians 3.9:

"I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith."

Paul knows that whatever is happening to him God is not against him. Jesus came, lived a perfect life and then died on the cross instead of him. The punishment for his sin has been paid for and he received instead the status of a Son - adopted into God's family, loved, forgiven. His future with God in heaven is secure. The Lord is in control of everything and he is near. The God of peace is with him. Even situations that looked bad were under God's control and we have proof that he is for us. Paul has experienced good times and he has gone through hard times. Through it all, Paul taught himself to trust in God, to remind himself that God was still caring for him even if it did not look like it from the circumstances around him.

It's amazing to think isn't it that when Paul was sat in that prison in Rome almost 2,000 years ago writing his thank you letter to the Philippians God knew that on 17th July 2016 Jesmond Parish Church would be reading these words and that God arranged it so that those words were not just Paul's words but his God's message for his people at all times but specifically for us today.

So I don't know what is going on in your life right now. On the day I sat down to write this talk, it just so happened that I was really, really struggling with this issue of contentment. And I's so grateful that God arranged for me to speak on this passage today because I've really needed it. What about you?
It's easy to ask 'Why God? Why are you making me go through this particular situation? Why can't I have what I've been praying for?' Verse 11 I have had to learn that "whatever situation I am to be content."

And I have prayed that whatever you are going through, God would speak to you through this part of his word this morning too. In verse 11, Paul says: "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." I don't know exactly how Paul taught himself to be content, but I know that the Bible - God's word - corrects our vision so that we look at our life from God's perspective.

Turn with me to page 453, which will bring you to Psalm 16 which was also read for us earlier. I have read this psalm many times this past week - it's one of my favourites that I come back to when I'm struggling with this issue of contentment and it's why I asked for it to be read in this service.

Psalm 16:

"Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you."

'You are my Lord' – in other words: 'You're the boss'
'I have no good apart from you' – in other words: 'You're all I need'
We see here devotion to God and delight in Him.

Philippians 3.8:

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because off the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

"The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure."

God is in control and that he is a good God.
We are where we are because that's exactly where God planned for us to be;
What we are going through is good for us and for God's purposes (even if we currently don't see how);
What we don't have is either not necessary for us or not good for us.

Have you heard of Andrew Murray? Not Wimbledon champion but a South African pastor from a long time ago! Andrew Murray was visiting England in 1895, he was in a lot of pain, suffering from back pain. While he was resting, he was told about a woman who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Murray said:

'Give her this paper which I have been writing for my own [encouragement]. It may be that she will find it helpful.'

This is what Murray wrote:

'In times of trouble, let me say, "I am here."

1. God has brought me here.
It is by His will that I am in this place.
In that fact I will rest.

2. He will keep me here in his love,
and give me grace to behave as His child.

3. He will make this trial a blessing,
teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn,
and working in me the grace He needs to bestow.

4. In His good time,
He can bring me out again
- how and when He knows.

Let me say, "I am here."

1. By God's Appointment
2. In His Keeping
3. Under His Training
4. For His Time'

"…call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Psalm 50:15

In case you'd find it helpful I've put copies of that on the welcome desk for you to take from the back of the church. I want to correct two potential misunderstandings here. The first is to think that suffering and poverty is somehow more spiritual. That is not true. The other situation is to say that God wants you to remain in a situation that will cause harm to you or to others. An example of that is in a situation like domestic abuse. God is not staying you must remain there, but he is saying trust me.

I found this quote a real help this week too. 'How unspeakably wonderful to know that all our concerns are held in hands that bled for us'. John Newton.

So as we end this series in Philippians can I ask you: have you learned with Paul to say (4 verse11) "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content"? Maybe there is a specific issue you're struggling with right now? Can you say with Paul (3 verse 8) "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ?"

If so, I'm going to suggest you express that in a short prayer.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that because you gave yourself fully for us on the cross, I can give my life fully to you. You have a right to everything and anything I am and have I trust that you have my best interests at heart and I don't need to be afraid to lose, because I have you. Take my life, my loves, my ambitions, my future, my family and my finances and use me for your glory. For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Amen

It may be that you have never yet made the step of trusting in Jesus to forgive your sins. You may not be ready yet: you may still be thinking about what you have learned, you may have lots of unanswered questions. Keep coming, keep thinking about what you're reading in the Bible and keep asking God to show you that he is real. But it may be that as we've read Philippians, you've understood more clearly what Jesus has done for you and you're ready to.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that because you gave yourself fully for us on the cross, I can now be forgiven and become part of your family. I trust that your sacrifice on the cross is enough to make me clean before God and accepted by Him. Forgive me for not loving you, and not honouring you in my life before now. But now I want to follow Jesus. Fill me with your Holy Spirit now and help me live as a follower of Jesus from this day forward. Amen

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