Sunday 26th July 2020
CALL TO WORSHIP:
‘Let all who take refuge in the LORD be glad – let them ever sing for joy.’ Psalm 5:11
READING: Philippians 1:3-11
REFLECTION: Pastor Paul’s Pep Talk
Have you ever listened to or given a pep talk?
You know the kind of thing I mean…a talk given maybe to a group of people, maybe a team of some kind, to encourage them before a big game…or maybe something a parent or grandparent might give to a teenager who perhaps hadn’t been behaving as well as they should, or maybe a teenager to a parent! Throughout our lives, some us may have given or been on the receiving end of many pep talks! Today, we focus on a pep talk given by the Apostle Paul to the Church at Philippi….So, what did Paul say to this little, at times struggling, church? As we will see, Pastor Paul’s talk was: Positive – Encouraging – Prayerful…P-E-P-….it was laced with joy, filled with references to the importance of things like fellowship, sharing and partnership, and all the while constantly pointing to Jesus Christ.
The Church in Philippi was living through challenging days and Paul’s encouraging and uplifting talk was exactly what they needed to hear….And for us today, living through these unprecedented and challenging times, the Apostle Paul’s talk still has so much to say to us: encouraging us, reminding us, of the importance of things like joy even in difficult circumstances, fellowship, prayer and of keeping our focus always on Jesus Christ….and isn’t that also exactly what WE need to hear….Before we delve into Paul’s talk, let’s pause to pray:
Heavenly Father, thank you for this opportunity to gather around your Word. Open our ears now to all You would say to us and our hearts to respond to You in faith, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Paul, on his second great missionary journey, established this Church at Philippi – and in the decades that followed, he kept in touch with this and his other churches by letter. He wrote many letters to many churches but this is without doubt his most joy-filled letter and that’s all the more interesting when we consider Paul’s circumstances upon writing, for what were they? Paul had come through about twenty travel-filled years in which he had walked hundreds and hundreds of miles, faced persecution, dangers, floggings and beatings for the gospel, and he now, at this time of writing, finds himself in chains, under house-arrest and facing trial. So, what does Paul write? Despite his own difficult circumstances, he is upbeat, positive, and encouraging: He begins his letter by looking back – and just listen for his encouraging tone:
- I thank God every time I remember you…(v3)
- I always pray with joy…because of your partnership with me…(v4)
- Being confident of this…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…(v6)
He is thankful for this community of believers, so joyful just thinking of them, so grateful for their sense of partnership with him over a long period of time…Paul, under guard as he was, would most likely have dictated this letter to a scribe; it would then have probably been passed to a messenger who would have arranged for it to be taken to Philippi. Imagine how those believers in Philippi must have felt when they heard there was a letter from Paul and how their hearts must have soared as it was read out to them:
- Paul’s joy would be their joy,
- Paul’s pride in them showing they were on the right track,
- Paul’s prayerfulness I’m sure encouraging them to pray for Paul and for each other….
- Pastor Paul’s Pep Talk to the Church at Philippi –positive, encouraging, prayerful…
Let’s pause and think about our own situation and how it links in with Paul’s writing: In church, by the grace of God, some of us were able gather for the first time since 15th March. But during that time of being separated and apart, I know you have been prayerful, have continued on track by studying God’s Word day by day, week by week, and that you have been thoughtful and caring of others….there have been so many acts of kindness during these weeks and months….and isn’t that what Paul emphasises? The importance of things like partnership, sharing, looking out for and after each other, praying for each other….
So, Paul begins his pep talk by looking back thankfully and joyfully….And having looked back, he now switches his focus to the here and now and to the days ahead and he does so through the words of a prayer: ‘And this is my prayer…’(v9) So, what does Paul pray? His prayer focuses on growth – asking that by the power of Jesus Christ at work in the Church at Philippi – all might continue to grow and mature as God’s people. And he is very practical as he points to the importance of love, knowledge, discernment and the fruit of the Spirit….
‘And this is my prayer: That your love may abound more and more…’ Paul mentions love first because love is the absolute heartbeat of the Christian life – love for God and His Son Jesus Christ and love for others. And note Paul doesn’t just pray that they will be more loving, but that their love ‘may abound more and more’; that phrase pointing to a love that overflows, goes and continues to go the extra mile….And he links such a love to getting to know God better and better –not just knowing about God in our head – knowing God in our heart – His clear message is: ‘Spend quality time with God and that will show in the quality of your life for Christ….Spending time with a loving God will make us a more loving people…’
And what else does Paul say and pray? He prays for God’s people the gift of discernment: Paul is pointing to the importance of making good and Godly choices, day in and day out…so, he’s making a practical link again, as if saying, ‘Having God in your heart, inside you, will influence what you do on the outside….what you do, what you say, where you go, whom you trust and don’t trust’….the gift of Godly discernment….
And in closing this prayer he adds that they will be, ‘filled with the fruit of righteousness’….Paul would later flesh this out as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23)…..
The prayer that concludes Paul’s pep talk is a tall order – he prays for a lot – he asks a lot of them – and by extension – as God’s people today – Paul’s prayer also asks a lot of us:
That we too will be people who are loving, our love abounding more and more; people who are growing, steadily growing in our knowledge of God; that we will be wise and discerning in all we do; and that we too will show the fruit of the Spirit in our lives….It is a lot….but why do we take up such a challenge? Paul tells us that as well – verse 11 – ‘to the glory and praise of God’. For ultimately, this is not about us, it is about God and His Son Jesus Christ; the purpose of our lives is to point people to Christ, through living out what it means to belong to Christ, the One who died for you and me….And the good news is, we are not in this on our own – and that is very good news – for we have the promise of Christ’s Spirit at work in us and we have the love, the encouragement and the support of each other, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul points in this letter, again and again, to the importance of fellowship, partnership, sharing, togetherness…he points to it because it’s important…..And hasn’t that been one of the great lessons of these past months….the importance of togetherness and fellowship, of knowing someone cares, is one the end of the phone when you need them, will call with anything you need, help with the practical things, the list could go on and on….
Pastor Paul’s Pep Talk – what a gift and a challenge these verses are, but also what a joy and an encouragement to us, to be reminded of God’s love through Christ, of the power of prayer, of the importance of fellowship and togetherness, of the truth that what God has begun in our lives He will complete, see through, and all to God’s glory. Paul begins his letter, ‘I thank my God every time I remember you…’ So, let’s pray together now, and we’ll use the pointers from Pastor Paul’s Pep Talk to help us in our prayer:
We are so thankful for your love and the love and care of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we thank you too for the promise that the work you have begun in our lives, you will see through. May our love for you and for others abound more and more, may we grow in our knowledge of you day by day, may we be wise and discerning and always live lives that point others to you, and all to your praise and glory, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.