Saturday, October 28, 2017

“Why I Love the Church”

            This week we continue our reflections on “God’s Envision for the Future of the Church.”  However, this week marks a significant shift in our focus.  Over the past several weeks, we have looked at the statistical decline, experienced by the institutional Church in the U.S.  We have also discussed how the future Church must shift from an “attractional” model of ministry to a “missional” approach.

            This week, I want to shift focus to the present Church and why I love it so much.  My foundational scripture this week is Philippians 1: 3-11:

"I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God."

Biblical scholars[i] believe that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians for two reasons.  First, to update and reassure the Philippians about his own situation.  Secondly, to commend Epaphroditus to the Philippians, as he returned to them after helping Paul.

When we consider these 8 verses, I believe that they should be read as a love letter from the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church.  This passage reveals a special bond and relationship, which exists between Paul and the Philippians.  Paul begins his letter with gratitude, writing that he thanks God for the Philippians, whenever he prays for them.  Further, Paul’s prayers are always filled with joy because of the love and support, which the Philippian congregation has given to him.  This joy indicates the depth of Paul’s gratitude for the Philippian church.

Paul lifts up their “sharing in the gospel from the first day until now…”.  Biblical scholars debate what he means by “sharing in the gospel.”  Regardless of the various interpretations, it seems clear that at its core, “sharing in the gospel” refers to the Philippians helping Paul in his ministry. The Philippians have been strong co-workers or partners in the Gospel.  Paul may also be referring to financial support provided by the Philippians.  Professor Hooker notes that the Greek word which he uses, koinoneo, is used in other letters “with reference to financial contributions.” (See Romans 15:26 2 Corinthians 8:4, 9:13.  See also Romans 12:13 and Galatians 6:6.  Similarly, Paul uses a cognate of this word later in Philippians; see 4:15.)[ii]  

Further, Paul is confident that God, “who began a good work…will bring it to completion…”  That is to say, Paul believes that the Philippian Christians will continue growing in faith and love, until completed in “the day of Jesus Christ;” that is, the end of the age.

Paul claims that the Philippian Christians “share in God’s grace,” both while he was imprisoned for his faith and in the “defense and confirmation of the gospel.”  Notice that Paul does not claim that the Philippians have shared in his missionary work or in the sufferings he has endured because of that work.  Rather, Paul claims that they have shared in the grace from God, which has sustained and inspired him throughout his work and suffering.  Finally, Paul concludes this passage by remarking about how much he misses the Philippian church and how much he loves the Philippian Christians.

To summarize verses 3 - 8, Paul writes a love letter to the Philippian Church, in which he lifts up the following dimensions:

1.      Gratitude
2.      Joy
3.      Partnership in the Gospel; or partnership in discipleship
4.      Spiritual growth in faith and love, which is ongoing
5.      Sharing God’s grace
6.      Love

In the final verses of this love letter (vv. 9-11), Paul closes by offering up a prayer, or blessing, for the Philippian Christians.  Paul prays that the Philippians’ love may overflow more and more as they grow in their relationship with God.  Paul prays that their love may be informed by knowledge and insight, so that the Philippians may live lives that are “pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ...”. 

Paul understands that authentic Christian faith changes and shapes the lives of Christians—both individually and in community.  Our close relationship of love with the Divine transforms who we are and how we act.  For Paul, these transformed lives lead to glory and praise for God.  That is, Christians experience a transformation through the love and grace of God.  This transformation leads to new lives defined by love, moral purity, righteousness, and justice.

If you live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church this Sunday, October 29th.  This Sunday, I will use this Paul’s love letter to the Philippian Church as the framework and basis to share my deep love for the congregation, which I have been appointed to pastor.  Christ UMC is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday morning. 

        Come, join us.  Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] Morna D. Hooker commentary on “The Letter to the Philippians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 11 (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002), CD-ROM version.

[ii] Ibid.

1 comment: