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Citizens of a Different Kingdom

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Philippians 1:1–11 (ESV)

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 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. 7 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. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Intro

It’s been said that Philippians has the highest density of well-known and loved verses in the Bible

  • “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…” (1:21)
  • “Forgetting what lies behind… I press on toward the goal.” (3:13)
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” (4:4)
  • “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13)
  • Many others…

It is a familiar book, perhaps it runs the risk of being too familiar for those of us who have been reading the Bible and around the church for any length of time. In fact, for those that set out to memorize whole books of the Bible, Philippians is a very popular starting point. This presents a challenge for me as a believer and as a preacher, how do I keep it from being too familiar? How do I help myself, and you, actually hear and connect with what is being said?

As I was praying about this, something occurred to me. Do you hear Paul in his intro to the letter? He is so encouraged, and so hope-filled, and so full of joy and emotion and affection toward the Philippians. “I thank my God…”, “…making my prayer with joy…”, “…I am SURE that God is going to finish what he started in you (that my work will bear fruit)…”, “…I hold you in my heart…”, “…you are partakers with me of grace…” (Paul felt that he was partaking in Grace!!), “I yearn for you…”

Have you ever wondered how was Paul able to feel this way, given his circumstances? When he wrote this, he was in chains, under arrest, under guard by soldiers. His apostleship is being undermined by false apostles, his teaching is being undermined by false teachers. There is disagreement and arguing among the leadership of the Philippian church.

How can Paul be so certain that God’s work is going to prevail? How can he consider himself a partaker of God’s grace?

Paul had been divinely appointed by God to carry out a mission to the known world, to get the church up and running, and here he is, in chains, confined to a prison. How is he so convinced that his ministry is bearing fruit and God’s work is being done?

How can he be so filled with joy, and so content in his circumstances? I mean sure, he’s the Apostle Paul, but the guy is in chains in a Roman prison, with the very real possibility of execution on the horizon!

I know some of you are experiencing a bit of despair in your circumstances. Hopelessness that God could ever work through you to accomplish anything significant in terms of ministry. I know some of you are having a hard time in the battle to have joy and peace in life. 

I’m very hopeful that this series is going to help you.

Paul has a frame of reference, an orientation toward reality, a disposition toward life, a vision for what we are here for, that informs his entire emotional and spiritual outlook. And this is what we’re going to be talking about for the next 8 weeks.

Philippians Overview

Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul in the early 60s AD, during his imprisonment in Rome. He is writing to the Christians in the Roman outpost of Philippi. The first church Paul ever planted in Europe, and a strong supporter of his ministry. They were a fairly healthy church, and Paul encourages them in this letter not to rest on their laurels but to keep going with their love for one another and partnership with him in the mission.

This letter is one of his so-called “prison epistles” which also include Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, and it shares many characteristics in terms of content and form with them.

Paul wrote the letter as a sort of missionary support letter & a thank you for the gift of support they sent to him with Epaphroditus. He is writing to encourage them, to update them on how he is doing, and to explain why he is sending Epaphroditus rather than Timothy back to them. It seems that they may have requested Timothy to come and help them settle some issues of unity in the church.

There are a few ways to slice the letter, but it seems pretty evident that there are between seven to nine sections in his train of thought, which we’re going to split into eight sermons.

I wanted to frame our approach to the book by emphasizing his point about our citizenship in the heavenly kingdom, which has a massive impact on the way we conduct our lives, interact with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors, and respond to what is happening around us.

Series Overview

  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom abound in love, knowledge, and discernment which we are talking about today.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom consider death as gain – We have this perspective: We do not fear death or any other earthly consequence of boldly living out our faith and proclaiming Christ, in fact, death would be gain, since then we get to be with Christ!
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom strive side-by-side (work hard, together) as a church in gospel ministry. We cultivate unity and active participation in Christ’s mission for us.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom shine like lights among the world – because of our distinctive way of life, goals we have, and unity we share, we are completely, weirdly, and remarkably different from the world.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom suffer the loss of worldly things to gain Christ – We willingly risk and give up our reputation, credentials, physical goods, freedoms, and sometimes our lives in our proclamation of the Gospel because we realize there is something vastly more valuable and important than any of those: The Lord Jesus himself.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom work toward only one prize: Christ – Because of the great value of knowing him and the reward we will have for obeying him, we have no other greater goal than to do His will. Every other goal we have is not only below this one but is actually in line with and toward the end of this greater goal.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom seek peace through prayer – It’s not that we suffer less stress and anxiety and hardship than anyone else, but we know where to go with it. We have a promise of peace from God that is to be found through prayer and faith in his promises.
  • Citizens of the heavenly kingdom are well supplied by God – because they understand their true need and the secret to contentment. Whether we have a lot of wealth or are chained to a wall in a Roman dungeon on death row, we have firm confidence in the goodness of what God provides for us.

Citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom

The series gets its title from Chapter 3, verse 20.

An important point for us in our day, one that is easy to forget, is that we are first-and-foremost citizens of God’s kingdom, expressed visibly through our fellowship together with the church. We are not, first, citizens of the United States, or any other earthy country, and our allegiance, therefore, is to God first.

Our life together as citizens of the heavenly kingdom ought to send a message to those around us, who see us at work, in class, in our neighborhood, and online, that we are pretty much from another planet altogether.

The way we talk, act, respond, interact ought to send clear and immediate signals that we are something different from the culture around us. It should send a message that tells of the goodness of what we have here in God’s kingdom; what peace, what contentment, what unity and love and care for one another.

And if our life does not send that message then there is repenting to be done.

Our secondary citizenship, as part of whatever earthly kingdom we find ourselves in, ought to serve as a prophetic voice to whoever is in charge. And, no matter who is in charge at the moment, what rhetoric they use about what they may or may not believe, they are not Jesus, and therefore need the church to remind them constantly of what righteousness is and to call them to repentance.

Every governing official needs this. I’m not speaking specifically of individual spiritual advisors because historically speaking, and in our present day, that almost always goes wrong. I haven’t seen a Daniel in my day who stood up to the ruler they served as an advisor to and refused to worship their idols. I’m praying for one right now.

We are to be this prophetic voice without fear of loss of life, liberty, happiness, property, prestige, position, or influence. This is what it means to be salt and light.

Again, historically speaking, when followers of Jesus are to remind rulers and governing officials, even religious ones, of God’s standards, they have typically gotten in trouble. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den. John the Baptist was beheaded. John Huss and many others were burnt at the stake, Martin Luther was excommunicated, Bonhoeffer was hung on the gallows.

We are citizens of a different kingdom. A heavenly one. God’s kingdom. We are not to get too comfortable here. We’ll address this more as the series goes on and Paul speaks of the ridicule and loss of his reputation and freedom as a result of his faithfulness to God’s call on his life.

Abound in love, with knowledge and discernment

Let’s go back to our introduction passage for today. We’ve already talked about the first part, Paul’s affection for the Philippian believers, I want to focus on his prayer in verses 9-11.

Every prison epistle has this charge, with this same wording. It was heavy on Paul’s heart for all the churches.
Our culture often pits love against knowledge and discernment. Because of a misunderstanding of a verse in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, we often downplay the importance of knowledge in our walk of faith. I have had people turn down what I felt to be a necessary course of doctrinal study in their life because they were “just going to focus on loving more”.

It is possible to make the error of not really striving to understand and obey and follow God’s word and commands and direction for our life because “all we need is love”. We can be complacent in our faith if we make the mistake of thinking that the bible has a sentimental “be nice and generally accepting and non-judgy” meaning of “love” in mind.

We must pursue knowledge of what is true and right, and discernment of what is false. Love WITH knowledge and discernment.

These are not separate, and we can see that here in Paul’s prayer. Follow his train of thought with me here.

Knowledge and Discernment:
Knowledge of what? The Gospel. Sound Doctrine Discerning what? True Gospel from false gospels. Paul is going to spend chapter 3 talking about false teaching and teachers and attitudes we are to have for them. He is concerned about this point in all his prison epistles, and most of his others. His prayer is that we be schooled in correct doctrine, and have insight into error so that we can tell when someone is peddling a false message that would lead us astray.

SO THAT

Approve what is excellent:

What is it we’re approving? What is it that is excellent? The True Gospel. Sound Doctrine.

AND SO

Be pure and blameless in the day of Christ

Not led astray by false gospels that would tell us that we must do things in order to be right with God. In Chapter 3 Paul speaks of those whose confidence is in the flesh. Those who think that God is happier with their performance, that they have more “heaven points” that they are “more righteous” because of their zeal for religious behavior. This is something we must watch out for.

This is the twin error to the complacency we talked about earlier. We can bend the language of devotion and faithfulness in the mission to set up tiers and hierarchies of better or worse Christians. Those who are “all in” versus those who are only “kind of in.” You have to be very careful with that language. We can do the same kind of thing that the “dogs and evildoers” from chapter 3 were up to when we subtlety start thinking that our fervor for bible study, prayer, fellowship, and mission somehow earns us righteousness with God.

Filled with the fruit Righteousness that comes through Jesus

Paul adds another modifier here to describe purity and blamelessness: “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Notice where this fruit comes from, and the whole phrase starts to make sense. The righteousness, the fruit that we are filled with, the reason we will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ is because of the gift Christ gives us through faith.

This is why knowledge and discernment of the true gospel are important. It is the true gospel of faith in Christ’s work that we must believe in order to be righteous. If we are taken captive by a gospel that says we have to work for it, or can earn it through our deeds, we will miss it.

Purity, the fruit of righteousness, right standing before God, comes THROUGH HIM AS A GIFT. NOT THROUGH OUR WORK. And that righteousness, Christ’s work for us, has an end result in mind. Our righteous standing before God on the day of Christ is not the end goal, it is a means to an end:

To the glory and praise of God.

This is the primary end that God is after. This is the primary mission of Christ. This is the primary end of Paul’s ministry. That people would know, glorify, and praise God.

Love, knowledge, and discernment have an evangelistic effect. When we understand the gospel and live in a manner worthy of it, (meaning a life of humble, grateful, joyful, peaceful, service and love toward one another and the world,) people will start to see God for who He is. And some will come to know Him, worship Him, and praise Him.

I’m looking forward to this series with you. We have a lot to unpack.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Do you typically think of yourself as a citizen of heaven over and above your earthly citizenship?
    • If so, how does it affect the way you view the culture, the world, and decision making?
    • If not, (and if so!) How can you cultivate the mindset of a citizen of heaven more and more in life?
  • What false gospels are you tempted to believe? (In what ways are you tempted to “put confidence in the flesh”?)
  • How can we grow in our knowledge and discernment/insight into the True Gospel such that we are able to recognize false ones when they come up in our thinking?