April 7, 2016
"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
One thing is certain about the Apostle Paul: he was always about his Master’s work. Even in the opening of this letter to the believers in Philippi, he can’t help but repeatedly mention his savior who died for him (Philippians 2:8). In doing this, he gives us a glimpse of not only what drives this specific message to his friends in Macedonia, but what drives his entire life.
Paul was completely in love with Jesus because he knew Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Not the kind of knowing you experience after reading a fact in a book. He knew and embraced the reality of Jesus Christ as his treasure, and the beauty of his savior transformed his entire worldview. For Paul, Jesus was everything: his love, his purpose, and his mission.
"I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
That “first day” was likely sometime during the years AD 48-51, when Paul encountered a businesswoman named Lydia on the shores of a river just outside of Philippi. God opened her heart to embrace the Gospel and the Philippian church suddenly exploded into existence (Acts 16:11-15). Imprisoned in Rome about ten years later, Paul tells them that he is thankful to God whenever he remembers them. Even just the thought of Philippi fills him with joy—so much so that his prayer for them is not primarily driven by their needs, but by his gratitude for God’s very evident work in their lives.
Paul absolutely loved this bunch of people and he was convinced that God would bring to completion all that he had initiated in that first transformative encounter on the shores of the river, even to the very end of history, the day when Jesus Christ returns for his people. What was the good work that God had begun in Philippi? It started with reckless love...
"It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus."
Paul doesn’t call God as his witness very often; so when we see this we know that he really means it. The love he has for the Philippians is the same love and affection he has received from Christ. He holds them in his heart. He yearns for them. These aren’t the words of a dispassionate teacher, the depth of his conviction is unquestionable. And Paul’s love here didn’t begin with his own heart, as we discovered in a series last year (Acts 9:1-2), it began with the reckless love of Jesus.
That’s what grace is: reckless love where it isn’t due and where it cannot be earned. So when Paul says that the Philippians “are all partakers with [him] of grace,” he means that the same tidal wave of love which collided with his own sinful heart, has also collided with their hearts as well. They too have been swept up in the love of Jesus and this fact makes him fully certain that God will finish what He started.
"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
So with the love of Jesus coursing through his veins for them, Paul holds out this prayer: that their love would abound. “More and more,” he says. And since this isn’t fickle and selfish man-made love, but love that comes directly from the heart of Jesus, it’s a love that loves rightly. It’s not random or vague, it’s focused like a laser on the things Jesus loves. It transforms them from the inside out into people who look and sound just like their Savior.
This radical and reckless love found Paul broken and sinful, but it didn’t leave him like that. It found the Philippians in the same shape, but refused to look the other way. This kind of love shatters our addiction to sin and brokenness and leads us into purity and righteousness. Wounds are healed, sins are forgiven, and invincible joy is born (John 15:10-11). Since all of this happens through the powerful love of Jesus Christ, God ultimately gets the glory and we get the unmatched joy of being the recipients of a reckless, purifying love and a Savior who will never ever abandon us.
At this point, you might say: This sounds amazing, but it’s not my experience. Are you willing to consider the possibility that the encounters you’ve had with Jesus have been more like knowing facts than experiencing love from a person? Is it possible you’ve known about him, but never truly known him himself?
If those questions resonate in you, take heart — the difference between you right now and actually knowing Jesus as your treasure (like Paul) or being the recipient of abounding love (like the church at Philippi) is an all-powerful and merciful God. You’re not reading this by accident. God wants you to know this because he is hungry to show you his reckless love that changes everything.
So what should I do? First, ask God to meet you where you are. Thank him for what he’s done already to bring you to this point and ask him to remove every single barrier in your heart that’s keeping you from truly experiencing the beauty of Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). Then open up a Bible and pursue Christ in the book he’s written for you. Not as a duty or an obligation, but to know him and to love him, just like Paul (Philippians 4:9). Make this your life’s goal, to know Jesus Christ, and don’t stop. Not ever. It’s what we were made for and in it is a joy that will never die.
Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in group: