Prayer as Thanksgiving, Part 2
Phil 1:5–6: Prayer as Thanksgiving, Part 2
This morning we continue our study of Paul’s example and understanding of prayer in Phil 1. Last week we began to unpack this notion of “Prayer as Thanksgiving.” This morning we will continue to explore that theme in Phil 1:5–6. If you have your Bibles, which I hope you do, please turn with me to Phil 1:5.
To begin this morning’s study, let me start with a little story. When I was in college, my major was Christian leadership (I really enjoyed the “Christian” part, not so much the “leadership” part). In one class for my major, there was a comment that a specific student made during the class that I remember to this day. I don’t remember the context of his comment or the question that prompted it. This is what I remember him saying.
He began talking about his mother’s cooking—specifically her spaghetti. This student loved his mother’s spaghetti. Because he was a loving son and because he loved the spaghetti, this student thanked his mom for making the meal. “Thanks, mom. Your spaghetti is the best.” Something like that. This was his mother’s response: “Don’t thank me, son. Thank God.”
Hm. When I heard that, my mind went into theological mode. I began asking these questions: Did God make the spaghetti? Surely if he did, the spaghetti would have been much better. No, he didn’t. The mother did. If the mother made the spaghetti, why wouldn’t she accept the compliment? Isn’t it right to thank her? If she made it and it was good, shouldn’t her son thank her?
I’ve reflected upon this mother’s comment for some time. Almost for the period of 10 years now. A long time. Where I believe this woman went wrong is in rejecting her son’s thanksgiving. Her motive was right in attributing the work to God—to God alone be the glory—but her lack of recognition in being used by God to make the spaghetti was wrong. This son should have given thanks for her mother’s spaghetti and for God’s work in his mother’s life. Because of God’s blessings, his mother made delicious spaghetti. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.
That is the type of situation we find ourselves in in Phil 1:5–6. Paul is continuing the theme of thanksgiving. In vv. 5 and 6, he tells us what he’s thankful for. He’s thankfulness arises from two realities. He is thankful for two realities. These two realities will be the two point of my sermon this morning. Rather than have the application at the end, like I usually do, I will have application at the end of each point.
The Human Reality of Paul’s Thankfulness
For our first point, write this, “The human reality of Paul’s thankfulness.” Paul thanksgiving in v. 5 centers upon what it is that the church in Philippi has done. Let’s go ahead and read this verse. To get some context, let’s start in v. 3.
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.
Here in v. 5, Paul specifies why he is making his prayer with joy, why he is thanking his God. What we have featured in v. 5 is this human element of his thanks. The Philippians have acted in a way that Paul is thankful for. Well, pastor, how have the Philippians acted?
Partnership in the Gospel
The first action that has characterized the church in Philippi of which Paul is thankful for is mentioned at the beginning of v. 5. Paul says that he is thankful “for your partnership in the gospel,” their partnership in the gospel. There are two words here that I would like to break to explain this idea.
The first is “partnership.” The Greek word behind this English word is κοινωνία. This is a theological weighty word. It occurs in several important passages. It’s meaning is this:
close association involving mutual interests and sharing
It can also be translated as, “association, communion, fellowship, close relationship.” The idea that this word expresses is one of intimacy. This church partnered with Paul in a deep, intimate, meaningful way. Well, how did they partner with Paul? What was the basis of this partnership?
That meaningful way was established upon the gospel—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul continues explaining their partnership. It is “in the gospel.” See that prepositional phrase after “partnership.” That phrase is telling us what type of partnership was shared between Paul and the Philippians. The εὐαγγέλιον, the gospel is what they fellowshipped in.
There are numerous examples of this fellowship in the gospel that Paul speaks of in Philippians. Paul and the Philippians shared in many gospel-endeavors together. As we go through the book, we will detail all of these. I just want to focus upon one example of this fellowship in the gospel that Paul talks about. Turn to Phil 2:15–16. This is what the passage states,
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
What I want you to see here is two principles of the Philippians fellowship in the gospel—holiness and doctrinal purity.
The place in these two verses where we get holiness from is from the statement, “among whom you shine as lights in the world.” This notion of shining as lights in the world is contrasted by what Paul says right before this statement. They shine in a “crooked and twisted generation.” This contrast indicates that Paul is talking about ethics, morality. The Philippians live in a world of moral filth, of unrighteousness. Their fellowship in the gospel extends to the way they live. They live lives of moral purity, and as a result, the “shine as lights in the world.” Moral purity. Holiness.
Sometimes people object to the notion of holiness in the local church because they believe that this entails some type of “holier than thou” mindset. They think that to affirm that the church is a holy gathering then that means that the people in the church will be snooty or elitist. Such a notion is wrong. To affirm holiness is not to affirm a “holier than thou” mindset. To affirm holiness in the local church, in Philippi, means that the church lived a different type of lifestyle. They were set apart. Their lives demonstrated the gospel. This does not mean they were spiritually prideful, but the exact opposite. Holy churches don’t exhibit a “holier than thou” mindset.
The final element of their participation in the gospel can be seen in the phrase in v. 16, “holding fast to the word of life.” Their lives shine forth as lights in the world and they “hold fast to the word of life.” This is the second element of their fellowship in the gospel. This is referencing a body of teaching. The word of life is the doctrinal content of the gospel. They maintain doctrinal purity. Doctrine matters. It matters what we believe and say about Jesus Christ. You cannot have fellowship in the gospel without healthy doctrine.
So, taking these points from 2:15–16, one example of the Philippians “fellowship” in the gospel is their holiness and doctrinal purity. They believe the correct doctrine and their lives have been transformed. Paul is thankful because of this.
From the First Day until Now
Holiness, evangelism, and doctrinal purity. Those are three examples of how this church shared with Paul in a fellowship in the gospel. But Paul has one more point to add to the Philippians fellowship in the gospel. It occurs at the end of v. 5. Their holiness, their evangelism, and their doctrinal purity—their fellowship in the gospel—had extended for some time. This fellowship in the gospel that Paul was thankful for in the Philippians was not something that just occurred. There’s a history here. Look at the end of v. 5. It states,
from the first day until now.
Now Paul does not state when this “first day” was. The “now” refers to Paul’s point of writing. We’re not sure about when this first day was.
Nevertheless, we don’t necessarily have to understand Paul’s point here. Integral to the gospel, to fellowship in it, is the notion of steadfastness. As with any race, it’s not how you start, how you are in the middle, but how you finish. There is an essential element of perseverance entailed in fellowship in the gospel. Long-term faithfulness. Keep going, and going, and going. You just got to keep going in the Christian life. This church had that. They had been faithful in the gospel. And Paul wants them to keep going. They had a track-record of faithfulness. Paul was thankful for this.
Bringing this first point to a close. Paul is thankful to God for this churches fellowship in the gospel—their steadfast (from the first day until now) fellowship in the gospel—their holiness and their doctrinal purity.
For us, there is a great lesson here to learn from Paul’s thanks for this church. What Paul is thankful for in the Philippians, we ought to strive for as a church. As a church, we ought to strive for this notion of fellowship. This fellowship involves one another. It involves unity. We are a group of people who gather. This is key. Fellowship is key. Unity is key. It is key that this place, this church, be a body of fellowship, a unified fellowship.
Now what do we fellowship together in? Is it sentimentality? Good vibes? Positivity? World peace? Social justice? Who we like? The personality of the pastor? Personal preference? Felt needs? Self-esteem? No. It’s none of these.
Rather, we fellowship in the gospel. The gospel ought to be preeminent here. The story of the person and work of Christ in his first and second coming should be preeminent. As that gospel changes us, we uphold holiness, outreach, and doctrinal purity above all else. We seek to honor steadfastness and model it.
This church has had its divisions and still has its divisions. The way we proceed is by modeling the Philippians. We seek fellowship (not in personal preference) but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We faithfully uphold holiness, evangelism, and doctrine. That’s how we move forward as a church. We follow the Philippians example. We make much of Christ and his mission, and we make little of ourselves.
The Divine Reality of Paul’s Thankfulness
Now we transition to the second point of this sermon. It is this, if you write notes, “The divine reality of Paul’s thankfulness.” In the previous point we explored the human reason why Paul gives thanks in vv. 3 and 4. Verse 5 specified that Paul gives thanks for the Philippians steadfast fellowship in the gospel. Now Paul moves to the divine reason for his thanks in v. 6. Why does Paul give God thanks for the Philippians? Because God is the one who produces and will produce in the Philippians their fellowship in the gospel. This is the divine reality of Paul’s thankfulness. I get this all from v. 6. It reads,
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.
At first glance, you can see that in the ESV v. 6 does not begin like v. 5. That is, v. 5 begins with a “because” and v. 6 begins with an “And.” Verse 6 begins with a participle that is difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, several scholars interpret the participle as a participle of cause. That means that scholars see v. 6 as giving the reason for why Paul give thanks in v. 3. So, go back to v. 3. See that “I thank my God.” Well scholars see Paul provide two reasons for his thanks. Verse 5 specifies one, and v. 6 specifies another. Paul, why do you give thanks? We’ve already covered v. 5. Verse 6 gives us the theological reasons for his thanks.
That theological reason is this: Paul is convinced that God will complete the saving work that he has begun in the Philippians. To explain this, we’re going to break it down into three parts. First, we’ll look at “good work,” then the verb “began,” then the phrase “completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’
The meaning of “good work” in v. 6 is found in v. 5. This “good work” that God has begun and will complete is “their fellowship in the gospel,” the point mentioned in v. 5. This fellowship in the gospel entailed holiness, evangelism, and doctrinal purity. We were specific in v. 5. For this point, I want to be less specific. Not that what I said was not true in v. 5, but that we need to take a more general outlook. Moral purity, evangelism, and doctrinal purity are nothing more than salvation. Salvation leads to a fellowship in the gospel. They are parts of a bigger idea. That bigger idea is salvation. The good work in v. 6 is the work of salvation. And that salvation manifested itself in v. 5 as fellowship in the gospel. Paul is talking about the same ideas but using different terms to characterize them. The good work that God has begun in the Philippians is fellowship in the gospel, which is salvation.
God was the one who started this good work. He was the one who began salvation in the Philippians. Paul does not attribute the beginning of this work to the Philippians themselves. While the Philippians do believe in the gospel, do have fellowship in the gospel, Paul does not attribute the start of this belief to the Philippians. Nowhere in this passage does Paul say that the work of salvation is because of the Philippians. Take a quick look at 1:29. It reads,
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake
Paul specifies that two gifts have been given to the Philippians. The first is the gift of suffering for Christ’s sake. The second gift, which I want you to notice, is belief is a gift. When Paul says that “it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ” he is saying that belief in Christ had been given to them. It was a gift. It’s granted. Their initial belief in Christ was a gift from God. God started this process. He is solely responsible for it.
As a faithful God, God does not abandon the work that he begins in the Philippians. Paul is convinced that God will continue this salvation work among the Philippians to the point of completion. God won’t start this work of salvation and then forsake it. No. God is faithful. He is a faithful God. Go back to 1:6. The God who began salvation in the Philippians will complete it. When will he complete it? He will bring it to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ.” We don’t have time to explore this phrase. I plan on doing that in next week’s “From Pulpit and Paper.” What I want to argue for is that this is the completion of our salvation—when Jesus returns. God the Father will complete the work of salvation—as fulfilled in the Philippians receiving a
resurrection body when Jesus returns. God and God alone will complete it.
Paul specifies that God was the one who began the work of salvation in the Philippians—he gave them faith as specified in 1:29—and he says that God will complete it—he will resurrect their bodies. God started it and he will complete it. There’s a beginning point and an end point. There is also a middle point, though. To get to the end from the beginning, there is an ongoing process in the middle. Paul specifies three points of time in vv. 5 and 6. Go back to 1:5. Paul mentions “from the first day until now.” There’s two points of time: the first day and now. Verse 1:6 specifies the beginning and the end: God began it (past point in time) and will complete it (future point in time). Bringing v. 5 and 6 together, we get a past point of salvation (the first day,
the day God began it), we get a now (God currently is working in the Philippians), and we get a future (the day of Jesus Christ). Past, present, and future.
This is what I have argued in one of my previous sermons. There is a past, present, and future element of salvation. Salvation is a good work which God produces in us. This good work occurs in three stages. There is a past element. You have been justified. You have been redeemed. There is an ongoing element. You are being saved. You are being sanctified. And there is a final element. You will be resurrected. You will be justified. You will be glorified.
And all along the way, every step in salvation is of God. God is the one who starts the process, God is the one who continues the process, and God is the one who will accomplish the process. God, God, God. Grace, grace, grace.
The last point, the Philippian’s fellowship in the gospel, I applied in a general manner, to our whole church. I’d like to apply this point in an individual manner. Specifically, I’d like to apply this to the Christian who struggles with assurance, who struggles believing that God will complete the work he began in their lives.
In doing this, I must be careful because I don’t want to provide assurance to those persons who are not Christians. I don’t want to offer false assurance. The last conclusion I want a nonChristian from drawing from this sermon is that they are OK with God. No. I want you to be fearful, to run to Christ.
Nevertheless, there are some Christians who genuinely struggle with assurance, and who need encouragement in this manner. Some Christians repeatedly struggle with a guilty conscience, even though they have saving faith and their lives model forth the love of Christ. These Christians struggle to believe that God is a Father towards them, that he will care for them. All they see is their sin; they do not see the grace of God.
If you do believe you are a Christian, yet you struggle with assurance, I want you to see two realities. First, salvation is all of grace. From beginning to end, God is the one who saves you. Salvation doesn’t depend upon you. It’s all about the blood of Christ. You add nothing to salvation. God started it, he is establishing it, and he will complete it. It is all of grace. Two, God the Father does not forsake the ones who he has begun a good work in. You can’t fall away from the Father’s grip. For those who he has begun this work in, these will never be lost. God will never forsake his children. His grip upon you is tighter than your control of your life. You cannot lose your salvation because you never earned it. God will keep you, he will strengthen you, he
will produce in you the work of grace. And at the end of time, when you see Christ with resurrection eyes, you will say to him, “Thank you, Christ, for your work of redemption in my life.”