Exhortation - April 08



Readings: Philippians chs. 1 and 2

In the mercy of God we meet once again around the emblems upon the table to remember our absent Master. Basically we do this for three reasons. Firstly to obey our Master’s command “Do this until I come”; secondly to show our appreciation of his love towards us as manifest in the bread and the wine, and thirdly to examine ourselves. In order to cover all aspects of our walk to the Kingdom it is our practice to base the word of exhortation on the daily readings. Today we commence to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and we therefore feel we can do no better than to base our remarks on this portion of God’s Word. As we know, because of his work, Paul is known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” This is the reason why we feel we can more readily appreciate his words—we feel they were written to us.
Now in order to gain the maximum benefit from a study of this letter, we must first of all see how the ecclesia was formed. We must go back to A.D. 52 and try to imagine we are with Paul and Silas on the second missionary journey, having just arrived atTroas. We then read in Acts 16.9 how Paul had a vision in which a man of Macedonia prayed him “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” The next three verses record how Paul answered the call and arrived at Philippi, the chief city of that part of Macedonia. We then read how Paul immediately set about preaching the Gospel by going down to the riverside where the Jews gathered to worship, having no synagogue. This was followed by the healing of the damsel possessed with a spirit, which resulted in Paul and Silas being cast into prison by the authorities. Here they were beaten with many stripes, thrust into the darkness of the inner chamber, their feet fastened in the stocks. We might expect Paul and Silas to bemoan their fate, or fall asleep in despair—but no—they prayed and sang praises unto God so that the prisoners heard them. Paul and Silas were then miraculously freed by the hand of God, and we know it all ended with the jailor and his family accepting the Truth; and so we see the foundation of this ecclesia.
Why has this record been preserved for us to read? Is it not that we can gain many lessons from it, although we live 1900 years later? Let us start with Lydia—”whose heart the Lord opened.” In these days of small things we may often feel despondent at the lack of response to our preaching of the Truth. Here is the answer, here is the exhortation, We must sow—God will give the increase. If we labour diligently, God will direct our steps should there be any who are seeking in sincerity and truth. Again, we must preach the word wherever possible. We might well say “What is the use of preaching the Truth here?” Well, who would have thought that a jailor of a prison would be such a person, yet his heart was touched by the faithful examples of Paul and Silas. At midnight they had sung praises—yes, in effect they preached the Truth in the middle of the night, they did not wait until the morning. So it is with us, we must preach the word, we must be prepared to work in the service of the Truth at all times, not when we feel it is convenient.
The lctter we are now reading was written by Paul about ten years later when he was a prisoner in Rome awaiting his trial by Caesar, as shown by his reference to bonds, the palace and the coming trial. The brethren and sisters at Philippi had sent tokens of their love to Paul by one Epaphroditus, who was now taking this letter back, and in it we can see how Paul had a great affection for the members of this ecelesia at Philippi. The first important fact we notice is that there is no condemnation ,only praise and waning to hold fast. Would it not be wonderful if one such as Paul could say such things about your ecclesia or mine? Well, we must try—yes, each one of us must try—because ecclesias are made up of individuals, so that such praise of our individual ecclesias depend on each one of us. Let us imagine that the letter was written to our own ecclesia, and then the opening salutation will be the basis of immediate self-examination. “To the saints in Christ Jesus.” Saints—separate, called-out ones. The question then this morning is “Are we?” We do not intend to itemise the various aspects of our life where this applies, but let us generalise by asking the question “What is the motive of my life, where are my interests?” Can we truthfully answer “The Truth first and the mundane things of life in the background”; or is it “The things of this life and the Truth when I have time.” You may feel that this is a blunt, hard question, but it is asked in all sincerity and it must be answered, for our eternal wellbeing depends on it.
Now if you will read verses 3—8 of the 1st chapter you will see how high these brethren and sisters had risen in Paul’s estimation. Now let us ask ourselves, can this be said concerning ourselves, you or me? Can we honestly say that our company is sought by our brethren and sisters because they know that they will be spiritually helped—or do they seek our companionship for less honourable reasons? Let us consider for a few moments the question of example generated by a reading of these verses. Try and live with the record. Here was Paul in prison awaiting trial on which his very life might depend, and hundreds of miles away there was a band of faithful brethren and sisters. They had not forgotten their brother Paul in his distress and he had not forgotten them. The bond of the Truth united them and in his loneliness Paul was encouraged to such a degree that he could thank God. We want now to bring this up to date—to translate these sentiments into the days in which we live. As well as a time to exhort to good works, there is also a time for encouragement and in all sincerity we feel we can do this this morning. When in isolation or belonging to a small meeting, we may in moments of weakness feel that we are forgotten, or we may wonder if the struggle is worth while. Let the lonely be assured, you are not forgotten—in fact you are a great encouragement to brethren and sisters throughout the world. To those of us who belong to a larger meeting, those of small struggling ecclesias or who remain faithful in isolation are a source of encouragement and inspiration. The mention of the name of a small ecclesia immediately brings to mind faithful servants of Christ who year in and year out, although few in number, have continued to keep a lightstand burning in a part of God’s vineyard. Yes, a faithful servant in isolation or a few forming an ecclesia, can be a source of encouragement to all in fellowship, even those of a large meeting. So, to the lonely and few, do not think your walk goes unheeded. As those at Philippi were encouraged by the faithful walk of one miles away, so your faith can inspire others to walk in the narrow way.
Now the standard of any ecclesia is formed by the zeal or the apathy of its individual members, so let us now look at ourselves in the mirror of the Word, even the words of Paul in the same chapter verses 12—14. Here we are reminded of the fact that Paul was in prison, yet this had not deterred him from preaching the Truth by example and precept. It is evident that by his brave example others had been encouraged to follow suit. We know that our walk to the kingdom is personal, no-one can redeem his brother, but this shows us that by our walk, we can either help or hinder our brethren and sisters. We all must know by experience that this is true, how the spiritual health of a meeting depends on the individual. The spirit of a zealous, hardworking brother is infectious—others will be persuaded to help, and then you get an ecelesia which is alive and vigorous. On the other hand, the apathy of the member who is never at the meeeting, the one who seems to take no active part also has an effect. The weakness of human nature begins to succumb—a “why should I keep trying when the others don’t help’?” frame of mind takes over and the flame begins to flicker. You see therefore ,how important oar walk is, not only for our own salvation, but for all those with whom we come in contact. We must then answer the question “In which class am I? The zealous Truth first class, or the apathetic halfhearted?”
Having now seen how we can help or hinder our brethren and sisters by our example, a study of Paul’s words in verse 20 onwards will help us to search our hearts to see to what standard we have attained. In verse 20 Paul declares “that in nothing I shall be ashamed... Christ shall be magnified.” We know these were the characteristics of Paul—how about ourselves? Do we confess Christ in a godless world? Do we by our very actions magnify the name of Christ? In Paul’s life, Christ was everything, foras he said “For me to live is Christ.” In modem language we could ask “Is the Truth the overriding factor in my life or is it just a part?” In order to answer the question, if we study verses 23—24 for a few moments, we can see the standard Paul had reached, and we can then measure ourselves accordingly. Paul had witnessed faithfully for Christ and now he was suffering bonds in prison. In the mercy of God he could look forward to the glory of the Kingdom, and because of his faith he felt he could lay down his arms, which would end his suffering, his next conscious moment being the awakening at the retun of Christ. This would be a happy end for Paul, but he realised he still had a work to do for the benefit of his brethren and sisters. I wonder then, could we reiterate these sentiments? Could we honestly say, “I would be happy if my probation ended tonight”; or do we feel we want a little longer to do all those tasks we know we should have done yet have left undone? Again, do we compare with the standard set by Paul in respect of his love for his fellow pilgrims? How do we react to the question “Will you help?” Is it “Yes” although we know we are hard pushed already—or is it a half-hearted “Sorry” because we do not want to make the effort? Suffice it to say—Christ and Paul always put others before their own well-being.
In the next chapter we are forcibly reminded of the main characteristic of a true saint, even humility. Paul in chapter 1 called attention to his bonds as a mark of submission to the will of God. In verses 1—8 of the third chapter he shows his trust in God with its subsequent humility. We must remember Paul had a high education in which the mind of the flesh would normally put its trust, but he had cast it on one side, he counted it as dung—he was willing to forsake all in order to win Christ. Again a high standard, but we must compare ourselves with it otherwise this letter of Paul’s will mean nothing to us. In the days in which we live we need to examine ourselves in this respect more perhaps than ever before. With the affluent society and the high standard of education to which our generation has attained, man in general boasts of his powers—one of the main causes for the godlessness in the world. We must therefore look carefully at ourselves to see that this is not part of our character. We can only examine ourselves, but in so doing let us try and answer these two questions which are based on broad terms but should guide our thoughts. First—”Do I go to evening classes to study something which is not really necessary, when I could be using the time in the Truth’s service?” Secondly, “Do I go out of my way to work overtime to earn extra money and so have to forego the weeknight Bible Classes, forgetting that God will provide all that is necessary?” Were Paul here with us today he would answer “No” to all the implications of these two questions. This morning, however, we must honestly do likewise and heed the lesson.
To emphasise the lesson we want to draw, read chapter 2 v.8 where we are reminded of the humility of the one whom we have gathered together to remember, even our elder brother Christ, the one who showed humility to perfection. With God as his Father, he was a King by birth, yet he took no royal dignity: he even washed his disciples’ feet. In godly humility he humbled himself, looking forward to the glorious consummation of God’s purpose. This is the example Paul was exhorting those at Philippi to follow and he exhorts us to do likewise. In effect he tells us if we desire a place in the Kingdom with all the subsequent honour, we must show humility now. None of us has anything to be proud of, so no matter how menial the task, let us help each other to the Kingdom. There is danger in the world’s prosperity; we might find ourselves being arrogant, proud and trying to be better than our neighbours in respect of this world’s goods. This should not be our frame of mind. Ours should be “The Lord gave—the Lord can take away.”
Now we often remind ourselves that whilst our probation lasts we still have time to workout our salvation. Paul realised this but in verses 13 and 14 of chapter 3 he said he must “press on.” There is no standing still and, as in a race, the nearer we get to the winning post, the greater the effort that is needed. It is the last chapter of this letter that describes the effort we must make. The opening verse sounds the clarion Call—STAND FAST. Yes, we must close our ranks in order to fight the good fight of faith, and we are told in v.6 prayer must be the means by which we may gain the necessary strength. Inverse 8 we find a list of virtues that should be manifest in each one of us. Generally speaking they are unknown in the days in which we live, so how can we best achieve these difficult heights? Surely it must be by being in the company of the brethren and sisters and keeping as close as possible to the Word. If we do this we will be moved to follow the example of the Philippians whose generosity Paul refers to in v. 10—16. He thanks them for looking after his needs. He had not asked for their help but he was overjoyed by their spontaneous exhibition of love and in verses 18—19 he reminds them that God will reward. Does this not sum up the whole of our exhortation this morning? God does not compel us—we can offer as freely as we wish—but we do know that “God loves a cheerful giver”, whether it be in service or money, which in turn shows that we love God; and we cannot love God without loving our brethren and sisters. Are we happy in this state, or are we anxious that if we give too liberally our present life will suffer? The answer to this is “Never!” for as Paul reminds us “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” “The Lord is at hand,” so let us “press toward the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus.” Everything is crystallised in the word “press”—eagerness, determination, it allows no room for apathy or a “do not care” attitude. Having stood firm in the past, we exhort, Press on; and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen:—H. W, Irving

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