Anniversaries are curious things. They can be an occasion for joy like Sept 9th when my oldest son will turn 10. They can be an occasion for sorrow like March 18th when I remember the sudden death of my 1-year-old niece. They can be filled with gratitude for the blessing of 50 years of marriage. They can be filled with regret for the years that have gone by without seeing your prodigal child. In a word, they’re complicated.
Church anniversaries are often no different. For those of you who didn’t know, this Sunday is our 30th anniversary as a congregation. My heart is filled with awe at the amazing work God has done in and through our church, with sadness for the people I wish were still with us, with anticipation for the work God is yet to do, and with gratitude, that the Great Shepherd himself saw fit to call a young man like me to shepherd the flock for which he died. Like I said, anniversaries are complicated.
My sermon this morning will be somewhat different than normal. For a number of reasons, we typically preach through a whole book of the Bible from start to finish. We just finished studying God’s word to us in Genesis. I hope to preach through 1 Thessalonians this summer and begin a series from the Gospel of John later this fall. This morning, however, I direct your attention to the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi because I believe the Lord helps us in these verses to think biblically about the past, present, and future of our church.
I believe the story of God’s work in the church in Philippi is no different than the story of God’s work in KingsWay. From beginning to end, the story of our church is a story of grace. Now when I use the word “grace” I’m referring to something very specific. I’m talking about God’s unmerited favor through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It is “unmerited” in the sense that we don’t deserve it. What makes Christianity different than every other religion in the world is that it doesn’t lay out a path to earn God’s love and acceptance. Christianity says we can never earn God’s love and acceptance because we’re all sinners. We’ve all broken God’s law in countless ways.
So what does God do? He sends his son, Jesus Christ, to earn God’s love and acceptance for us. Jesus – through his life, death, and resurrection – makes a way for our relationship with God to be restored. And if you’re willing to turn away from sin and follow Jesus, the Lord will grant you the gift of Christ’s perfect righteousness and you will be the object of his eternal favor and blessing as a result.
So when I say, “From beginning to end, the story of our church is a story of grace,” I mean that from start to finish, the defining reality, the banner over all that has happened, is happening, and will happen to us as a people, is rooted in and governed by the unmerited favor God has lavished on us in Christ. In Philippians 1:1-11, I believe the Lord draws our attention, through the Apostle Paul, to at least three expressions of his unmerited favor in our life as a church, helping us to see why the story of our church is a story of grace.
1) OUR IDENTITY IS FOUND IN CHRIST (verses 1-2)
If I asked you to identify our church, what would you say? Would you say we’re a reformed church that believes in the sovereignty of God in salvation? Would you say we’re a charismatic church that believes all the spiritual gifts in the New Testament are still available to God’s people today? Would you say we’re the church that went through a painful split in 2011? Or the church where the former senior pastor made the local news in 2016? Maybe you’d say we’re the church with the big, beautiful building across from Midlothian High School. Or the church where people have cared for you spiritually in countless ways.
There’s truth in all of those statements, friends. But here’s the key question. Is the way you identify our church, the first thing that comes into your mind when you think about our church, match what comes into God’s mind when He thinks about our church? Paul’s words of address in verses 1-2 reveal the essential identity of the local church.
Verse 1, “Paul and Timothy, servants [or slaves] of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” Paul isn’t writing to an unorganized mass of Christian who happen in to live in Philippi. He’s writing to an organized local church. We know that because he specifically includes those who hold the two biblical offices in the church – overseers (or pastors) and deacons (or servants) – in his greeting.
Yet before singling out two groups of leaders for special mention, notice how Paul speaks of the whole. What’s the core identity of the church? They are “saints” or “holy ones” in Christ Jesus. There’s a rich wealth of Old Testament history behind that phrase, starting in Exodus 19:6 where the Lord told the people of Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and culminating in the New Testament where the Apostle Peter declares in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…”
Friend, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ and know you are a follower of Christ because the body of Christ, the church, has affirmed your profession through water baptism and is presently overseeing your profession through covenant membership, then you share something in common with every other member of your local church – You’re a saint! As a local church, we are a community of saints.
This is not in the sense that we are some sort of super-Christians capable of bestowing special blessings on other Christians. You won’t find that anywhere in the Bible. Rather, we are saints in the sense that God, as an expression of his unmerited favor, has set us apart from the world in Christ to pursue his priorities and purposes in our life together.
So what is KingsWay? The most true, most accurate thing you can say is that we are God’s holy people, a community of men and women whom have been redeemed by God from sin and death and set apart to help one another enjoy a growing relationship with him. If, when you think about our church, that’s not what comes into your mind, then you are not thinking about our church the way God thinks about our church.
Our identity isn’t found in our Statement of Faith, our Church Covenant, our denominational partnership, or the circumstances of our history – good, bad, and ugly. Our identity is found in Christ Jesus. And as saints in Christ Jesus, two things are gloriously true of us. Verse 2, God has given us “grace” and God has given us “peace.” As a result of his unmerited favor in Jesus, we have peace in our relationship with God and peace in our relationships with one another.
Be honest, friend. How do YOU think about the local church? Is it a product you evaluate? Is it an event you attend? Is it a building you visit once a week? According to the Bible, the local church, KingsWay included, isn’t a building. It’s a community of saints in Christ Jesus who have received grace and peace “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you don’t identify the church the way God identifies the church, then you’ll never love the church the way God loves the church or persevere in serving the church the way the Lord serves the church, laying down his life for her. On the occasion of our 30th anniversary, we do well to remember that our identity as a congregation is found in Christ. That’s the first expression of God’s unmerited favor.
2) OUR FUTURE IS SECURE IN CHRIST (verses 3-8)
Slow down and follow the logic of what Paul says next in verse 3. Whenever he remembers, whenever he thinks of or prays for the church in Philippi, something happens. He gives thanks to God! Some of the time? When things are going really well? No. V. 4. He gives thanks always, “making my prayer with joy.” How could Paul say that? What enabled him, whenever the church came into his mind, to overflow in joyful thanksgiving to God? In v. 5 he gives the reason, the big WHY behind his incessantly joyful thanksgiving. “…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
The Philippians were partners in the gospel with Paul in at least two ways. First, we learn in Philippians 4:14-16 that they had financially supported Paul’s ministry of planting and building local churches for some time. In fact, the entire letter of Philippians seems to have been prompted by the reception of their most recent gift through a Christian named Epaphroditus.
But there’s a second reason Paul considered them partners in the gospel that’s even more foundational. Like Paul, they had turned away from sin and chosen to follow Jesus. All the eternal and temporal benefits of salvation in Christ that Paul enjoyed the church in Philippi also enjoyed. When Paul steps back and thinks of all that God has done for them – the grace and peace he has lavished upon them – as “saints in Christ Jesus” he recognizes the Philippians as partners in the gospel and gives thanks to God for them with great joy!
Friend, if you are a member of our local church, you too are a partner in the gospel. You’re a partner in the salvation that is ours, you’re a partner in the community that is ours, you’re a partner in the mission that is ours. You stand next to your brothers and sisters in Christ in this church under the mighty, ever-flowing waterfall of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
And notice that little phrase in the middle of v. 4! Paul overflows in thanksgiving to God for “you all” – for EVERY member of their church. Not just the ones who were easy to lead. Not just the ones who were easy to talk with. The ones in his season of life. Or the ones who were his close friends. All of them.
Our attitude should be exactly the same, brothers and sisters. If in your heart you can’t give joyful thanks to God for every member of our church for the simple reason that they are partners with you in the gospel, then you’re not seeing the members of your church for who they really are – partners in the gospel, fellow heirs of our spiritual inheritance in Christ.
Now here’s the critical question. As partners in the gospel, what’s true about our church? What’s the one thing about our little group of partners in the gospel that we need to keep in mind more than anything else? Verse 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.”
What the Lord says through Paul here is absolutely stunning. If any human being had a right to take credit for beginning the good work in Philippi, it was Paul. After all, is was because of his ministry that the church in Philippi got started in the first place! But Paul doesn’t point to himself. He points to the Lord! “Listen, Philippians, let’s be clear about something. This isn’t my work. This isn’t your work. This church is God’s work.
KingsWay, hear that this morning! The good spiritual work that has taken place in this church for 30 years is not our work. It wasn’t Gene’s work and it’s not my work. It’s GOD’S WORK. We are HIS workmanship. Our church is here because God is here. And that has serious implications for our future! What does God do when he starts a good work in a local church? He brings his work to completion, even if we have to wait for the day Christ returns to see how everything that happened to us worked together for our good. What God begins, God completes. What God starts, God finishes. That’s not just true for us individually. That’s also true for us corporately.
I’m not saying Philippians 1:6 is some sort of guarantee that there will be a church meeting in this place in 100 years. I hope so! Though more of me hopes the Lord returns long before then. I am saying Philippians 1:6 is a powerful assurance that we don’t have to be anxious, worried, or troubled about the future of our church because God knows what he’s doing in us and through us and will not fail to bring the work HE wants to accomplish to completion.
That’s true not just when things seem to be going well, when people keep coming and staying and coming and staying. It’s still true when people stay for only a short time or leave after staying a long time. Paul says something profound in v. 7 in this regard. He says it is “right” for him to have such confidence in the Philippeans’ future because they are all “partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”
Isn’t that strange? Experiencing God’s unmerited favor includes the “grace” of imprisonment. It’s not strange if you remember who we’re following – a suffering Savior. It is grace, friends, not only for us as members of the church, but also for the world around us, when we endure through sorrow and tribulation. Why? Because it is then more than any other time that the world sees the power of God in our weakness.
Are we held together by nothing more than easy sailing? Or are we gloriously sustained and preserved by a Savior who never stops refining and sanctifying his people both through the suffering others inflict upon them and the trouble we inflict upon ourselves? Praise God the latter is true. And in so doing, we incarnate through the cruciform pattern of our corporate life the very truth of the gospel God has charged us to proclaim.
There are times we get to see God complete his good and perfect work in and through our church because the men or women we help to enjoy a growing relationship with God remain. There are other times we invest and pour ourselves into someone only to watch them depart. When that happens, and especially when that happens, we cling to the promise in Philippians 1:6 that God always completes the good work he begins. Sometimes we see it. Sometimes we have to wait.
Friends, the fact that God promises to complete in our church the good work he began in our church should leave us humble, grateful, and confident in the future. In his hands, the future of our church could not be more secure. And so we invest, we sacrifice, we love, we serve, we lay down our life to help one another follow Jesus not with our eyes on the pastor, or our eyes on our fellow members, but with our eyes on the Savior who builds his church and against whom the very gates of hell will not prevail.
From beginning to end, the story of our church is a story of grace. Why? First, because our identity is found in Christ. Second, because our future is secure in Christ. Third, because our mission is fulfilled through Christ.
3) OUR MISSION IS FULFILLED THROUGH CHRIST (verses 9-11)
In verses 9-11, Paul shifts from a prayer of thanksgiving to a prayer of intercession, a prayer that reflects the God’s priorities – not just for the church in Philippi, but for the local church in every age and in every culture. Listen one more time to Paul’s words and for the spiritual priorities God calls us to pursue as we look to the next 30 years as a congregation: “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.”
I have no doubt that if I polled all the members of our church, I would hear all sorts of biblical burdens for what you want to see our church be and do over the next 30 years. I’m eager for us to keep growing numerically because we are faithful to share Christ with men and women in our community. I’m eager for us to pay off this building so we can give even more to the work of international missions. We shouldn’t shy away from praying numerical or financial prayers.
We must also remember that our mission as a local church don’t start with numbers and dollar signs. It starts in the heart. It starts with who we are on the inside, brothers and sisters, not just individually but corporately. For the spiritual condition of your heart will determine the spiritual fruitfulness of our church. We make take care that God’s priorities, the ways God calls us to become more and more like Christ in vv. 9-11, remain our highest priorities.
First, God calls us to pursue love – both love for him and love for our neighbor. Not the kind of sappy whatever-makes-you-feel-accepted nonsense our culture espouses. A true love, a strong love, a sacrificial God-fearing love that marshals our every word and deed to do spiritual good to the people around us.
Second, God calls us to pursue wisdom – the knowledge of what God’s Word says is true and the skill in applying what God says is true to the myriad of decisions and situations we face in daily life. That’s called discernment, knowing what is worthy of approval in God’s eyes and directing our affections and will accordingly.
Third, God calls us to pursue holiness. Being “pure and blameless for the day of Christ” doesn’t mean achieving moral perfection in this life. It means the pattern of our life is a pattern of submission to God’s authority in every area – no exceptions tolerated or allowed. For when the world sees in us, KingsWay, a faithful echo of the love, wisdom, and holiness of God, they will see Jesus, they will be drawn to Jesus, and they will come to share in the righteousness that is only found through Jesus.
That’s the essence of our mission, brothers and sisters – love, wisdom, and holiness. Now for the million dollar question – how in the world will that happen? Look at verse 11. The “fruit of righteousness” – thinking what God thinks, feeling what God feels, doing what pleases the Lord – is only possible “through Jesus Christ.” If we’re going to be “pure and blameless” we are completely dependent on the power Jesus pours out on us through the gift of the Holy Spirit. John 14:15–16, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever…”
If we are willing to trust Jesus, willing to depend on Jesus, willing to cry out and keep crying out for his help to become in our life what we have already been declared to be in the courtroom of heaven, the Spirit will help us, friends. Because Jesus was tempted in every way, the Spirit he sends is able to help us in the midst of every temptation, which means “Help, Lord,” is the most effective prayer you will ever pray.
Hebrews 4:15–16, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Our mission – to walk in love, wisdom, and holiness as the people of God – can only be fulfilled through Christ because Jesus is the one who gives us the power we need to become more like him. Where you know you’re struggling to walk in righteousness right now, ask the Lord to help you. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, friends. The Lord delights to show us his unmerited favor by empowering us to fulfill our mission to become more like him.
Becoming more like Christ isn’t about showing off how great we are. It’s about showing the world how great Jesus is. For when we continue to walk in righteousness as a church, in times of plenty and in times of want, when church life is easy and when church life is hard, God will be glorified in our church and God will be praised as a result of our church.
Remember that, friends. Take care that your highest ambition for KingsWay is not that we would be comfortable, not that our life would easy, not that we would have smooth sailing onward and upward to glory, but rather that God would be glorified as we grow in love, wisdom, and holiness through times that are easy and times that are hard.
Why is the story of our church, from beginning to end, a story of grace? It’s a story of grace because in his unmerited favor, God has given us an identity that is found in Christ, a future that is secure in Christ, and a mission become more like Christ that will be fulfilled through the power of Christ.
Jesus is the theme of our story and will forever be so. So be clear on our identity. Be confident in our future. And be committed to fighting for godliness in every area of life. If we do that together, friends, and help our children and neighbors to join us in doing the same, God will be glorified through our church for generations to come.