The church in Philippi began quietly, turned into a roller coaster, and then proceeded into a slow plod of active waiting. Paul and his missionary team arrived in Philippi and just kind of hung out for a few days. On the Sabbath, they went to the river bank - a common place of prayer for Jews when the city didn’t have synagogues.
That’s when the action started to pick up. A rich business woman, named Lydia became a Christian right there on the spot. They baptized her right there right then in that river. Then, being a woman used to getting her way, she insisted that they come and stay in her home.
Things went on fairly normally for a while. It seems that Paul continued his normal missionary pattern of preaching at gatherings of Jews and interested gentiles. But then Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who told fortunes. Without her demonic connection to the spirit world, the slave girl lost her fortune telling powers. Her owners were furious, so they stirred up a riot and got Paul and Silas arrested.
Then, God rocked the jailhouse with an earthquake and set Paul and Silas free. Except they didn’t leave. They stayed to convert the jailer and his whole household. But the next day, the city officials begged them to leave so they’d stop causing trouble. After a mob riot, a beating with rods, and a night in jail, Paul and Silas understandably decided it was time to move on to another city.
But that left a group of brand new Christians in Philippi. They came from all walks of life. There was Lydia, the elite fashionista ... the unnamed slave girl ... and the jailer who was so limited in job options that he worked in a dungeon babysitting criminals. This motley crew of baby Christians not only survives but thrives.
Of course, they are waiting eagerly for Paul to return to mentor them in this faith journey he got them started on. But Paul reminds them that - as much as he loves them and as much as they love him - they are all together waiting on someone else’s return even more. Let’s read the opening of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi now. I’ll give a little commentary as we go.
1 This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
[Paul often calls himself a “slave of Christ,” indicating his total commitment to Jesus. But here, in Philippians, it almost sounds like a shout out to the slave girl. It’s like Paul’s saying, “Don’t feel bad about being a slave. We’re all slaves to Christ anyway.”]
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.
[This word “partners” is that famous Greek word koinonia - which means fellowship, partnership, sharing, or community. We’ll come back to this.]
6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
[Paul is reminding them that he didn’t start the good work in them. He was just the messenger. God did the work. God transformed Lydia at the riverside. God set the slave girl free from her demons. God shook the earthquake and saved the jailer and his family. God began the good work in the church, and God will continue it, and God will finish it. God will stay faithful clear up until the end - when Christ Jesus returns. Jesus is the One focus of all our desires and hopes. This is an important word for our church right now! ]
7 So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.
[Here’s that koinonia word again. The Philippians share with Paul in God’s grace. How? They share his suffering and his ministry, his imprisonment and his preaching the truth.]
8 God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.
[Paul says literally that he loves them “with the bowels of Christ.” He loves them from his guts, from deep down inside, from the depths of his heart, where Christ is.]
9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
[There is is again. They are waiting for Christ’s return.]
11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ —for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
[They are waiting for Christ’s return, but Christ is with them, present in their “bowels” - enabling their deep love. And Christ is in the Philippians, too, cultivating the fruit of their salvation. Christ is the coming King, but he is also the present Gardener, working the soil of their hearts. For this will bring glory and praise to God!]
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting for the Christ. Usually, we think of Advent as the time when Israel waited for the first coming of the Christ, the Messiah, at Christmas. However, the Advent season is also a time of waiting for the second coming of Christ. Yes, we remember Christ’s first coming at Christmas, but we also look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of this Age.
This year, we are focusing on this second, less familiar part of Advent - waiting on the second coming of the Christ. Throughout Advent and Christmas, we’ll be studying the book of Philippians. Specifically, we’ll look at how Paul describes Christian community in the light of Christ’s second coming. If Christ really is coming again, then, what does that mean for our community?
This theme is particularly important for our church at this time in our lives. I’m leaving, but KNU International English Church will continue. What kind of community is God calling you to be as we anticipate Christ’s coming again? What does it mean for you to be the Church here in this place at this time?
Paul gives us three important descriptions of a healthy Christian community here in Philippians 1: love, wisdom, and koinonia. (Sorry for using the Greek, but there’s just no good English word for this.) Let’s look at each of these one by one.
First, love. This is basic, right? Love God, and love your neighbor. Love is the essence of Christian community. But Paul says two things that are a little surprising.
Paul says he loves the Philippians “with the bowels of Christ.” He loves them from the very guts or heart of Christ. Paul’s love for them is superhuman. Christ has so possessed him that Paul’s love for them and Paul’s love for Christ and Christ’s love for them are all wrapped up together. He longs for them just as he longs for Christ and just as Christ longs for them. Christ’s love has taken possession of Paul’s heart.
Also, after Paul finishes talking about how much he loves them and they love him, he says, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more.” There’s already a whole lot of love going on here. And yet, Paul says they need more. His first and greatest prayer for them is that their love will increase until it overflows onto those around them and then just go on increasing more and more and more.
We can never get enough love. We can never give enough love. I pray that your love will overflow more and more.
But Paul is not talking about chick-flick,Titanic, infatuation, romantic love. He’s not even talking about those high emotion, tear-filled moments of overwhelming friendship. Real love may include some of that. But Paul is talking about the nitty gritty daily love. Listen to how Paul describes love:
- “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
- “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. ... Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. ... When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. ... Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other” (Romans 12).
- “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us” (Ephesians 5:2).
This kind of love is serious, thick, meaty love. This is not the cotton candy fluffy love of pop songs. This kind of love requires all of us, and this kind of love will change our world!
Next, healthy Christian community is wise. But it’s not just that. Healthy love is wise. Love may be blind, but it’s not stupid. True love is smart. Paul prays: “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.” He prays that their love will have more knowledge, insight, and discernment. Basically, Paul is praying that they will have a deeply wise love.
Don’t be intellectual pansies. Read, study, learn, grow. Learn about who God is. Learn about what’s going on in our world and how our world works. Dig into the depths of your own heart and mind. Know yourself. Know God. Know your world. Half of the problems in the church come from people who just don’t care enough to do the right things. The other half of the problems come from people who have good hearts but are just ignorant. Don’t be fools. Be wise.
Love with wisdom and strength. If you open your heart to God, he will fill it with love. Your job is also to fill your brain with the wisdom and information to know how to love well. Do your job. Be a loving learner. Love with wisdom.
Last, we have that Greek word: koinonia. I mentioned earlier that there is no English word that fairly translates koinonia, but I think the Korean word 정 - jeong - might be close. Naturally, jeong is also difficult to translate into English. Some Korean-American psychotherapists define jeong as: “feeling love, sentiment, passion, human nature, sympathy, heart ... as well as more basic feelings such as attachment, bond, affection, or even bondage.”
Koinonia is sharing, partnership, mutuality, community, and deep fellowship. Koinonia is the essence of Christian community. We are together - one body in Christ.
Here’s the thing that we often miss. Love, wisdom, and koinonia work in a circular relationship. They feed off each other. True love leads to more wisdom and more community. True wisdom leads to more community and more love. True community leads to more love and more wisdom.
Love, wisdom, and community - these are the marks of a healthy Christian church. These are the marks of a healthy Christian. But how do we get them? How can we make these happen more in our lives?
We can’t. They are fruit, and you can’t make fruit. Paul prayed: “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation” In his letter to the Galatians, he said something similar: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:27-28).
You can’t make fruit in a factory or a laboratory. You can’t produce fruit in your own life. You can’t work hard enough to get more fruit. There is no formula or three step process to guarantee more fruit in your life. It is out of our control. The fruit of our salvation - this love, wisdom, and koinonia - this is “the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ.”
We are waiting on Jesus to come again, but he is making fruit grow in our lives right now. The best we can do is stay open to Jesus. We can tend the garden of our hearts. We can put ourselves in position to receive the rains of God’s Spirit and the sun of God’s Word. We can do the things that grow the spiritual life: silence, prayer, Bible reading, playing, singing, sharing, Sabbath, and service. But God makes the fruit grow. God gives the love and the wisdom and the koinonia. More and more and more until the day of Christ’s return.
So cultivate your lives together. In this time of transition, invest in each other. As you wait together, share your life stories with each other. Grow closer together, and you will find that you are also growing closer to God. As you invest in each other, you will be amazed to see how God is growing your love, your wisdom, and your koinonia - your jeong. You will become more and more - a loving community that changes our world.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.