3rd Sunday of Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, Maybe it’s what the father feels when he holds his newborn child for the first time. Or maybe it’s the daughter waiting anxiously in the waiting room and hears the doctor say her mom’s surgery was successful. Or maybe it’s the athlete that watches his team score the winning point with only seconds left. Good news is a good thing, right? When we hear good news it can’t help but give us a certain joy. We celebrate. We’re glad. It lifts our spirits. It makes us excited. It makes us want to tell others and share our good news. In fact, it’s something that we just can’t help but do. Good news, really good news, can’t help but gladden our hearts and give us joy.
Finally, every Christian has joy, right? Why? Because every Christian has good news- in fact, the best news ever! Every Christian knows God, His love, His forgiveness, His grace and salvation in His Son Jesus, and that can’t help but give joy. And it’s this good news, this gospel that gives a pastor joy in his ministry. To hear a child sing Jesus’ loves me, to be the human vessel to pour the life-giving and life-changing waters of baptism on a child’s head, to explain God’s Word to someone who’s never really understood it, to teach blood-bought souls God’s Word and watch as their eyes light up as the Holy Spirit works in their hearts- all of it gives a pastor incredible joy (and to think that you pay me to do these things!). But finally, what gives a pastor the greatest joy is watching the work of the gospel in and among the lives of His members. And it’s for this reason that a pastor is always joyfully thankful for his members.
The apostle Paul had this same joy for the members of the congregation that he started in Philippi. Recall that the Apostle Paul hadn’t always been a Christian. But God literally stopped him in his tracks and brought him to faith. God convinced him that his salvation was won totally by Jesus and God gave it to him as a free gift. That’s good news! It was Paul’s ambition to share this good news with everyone. So he set out on missionary trips to do this. But when Paul was on his 2nd missionary trip in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) we’re told that the Holy Spirit prevented him from sharing the Gospel there, he tried to enter a place called Bithynia, but couldn’t, but then he had a vision of a man saying, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” So Paul and his companions went across the Aegean Sea and ended up in the city of Philippi (located in modern day Greece). It was a bustling city located on a major Roman highway, it was also a Roman colony so the citizens of the city enjoyed the perks of being a Roman citizen, and the people who lived there were mostly Gentiles, and many were retired Roman military men. When Paul got to the city there doesn’t seem to be a synagogue for him to start preaching the Gospel in, so he began preaching by a river. There he met a lady named Lydia who was brought to faith in the Gospel and opened his home to him. It was also in Philippi where Paul drove out an evil spirit and was thrown in prison. But even that didn’t quell Paul’s joy. While he was in prison he prayed and sang hymns of praise to God. Then there was an earthquake, the doors opened, and their shackles came off. The guard thought everyone of his prisoners had escaped so was about to kill himself when Paul told him that they were all still there. Then the guard fell to his knees before Paul and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And it was Paul’s joy to respond, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved- you and your household.” No doubt that jailer joined the Philippian congregation too. So we know of at least 2 families that were part of the Philippian congregation: Lydia’s and this guard’s.
Well, now it’s about 10 years later. The congregation seemed to continue to grow not just physically in numbers, but spiritually in faith as well. They apparently sent 3 different gifts to Paul in his ministry and seem to be theologically solid- the letter doesn’t contain much rebuke for false teaching. So, from house arrest in Rome Paul wrote this letter to them to thank them for their support and to encourage them in their Christian lives.
After his normal greeting Paul began the body of his letter: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” As a pastor Paul is thankful for his members. It was a regular habit for him to thank God for his members and he remembered them in his prayers. Notice that it wasn’t just a select few of the members, but all of them, each was important, each had a place, each was a blood bought soul of the Lord Jesus. Well, why is a pastor so thankful for the members of his congregation?
The ministry is a collective work of the entire congregation- it’s not just the work of a select few. But it can be all too easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m not important. I’m not good at anything. I’m not really a part of this congregation. I’ll let others have all the fun of ministry. I’ll be a Christian on Sunday, but the rest of the week I’ll try my best to fit in and not let others see my faith.” Or, it’s easy for us to fall into the other trap of looking at others and thinking, “Why are they here? They aren’t all that important. They can’t contribute. They don’t help out. They don’t really matter.” How sinful of us to think those things! To think things like, “I’m not important” or “I have no real part in the ministry” or “He/She isn’t important” would be to deny the power of the gospel. It would be denying that God works through the Gospel to transform our hearts and the hearts of those partnered with us in the gospel.
That’s why we desperately need hear again and again the antidote to that kind of thinking. It’s the power of God that allowed Paul to speak so confidently about the Philippians. The antidote is the gospel itself. What is the gospel? Literally the word gospel means “good news.” What is that good news? It is the assurance and forgiveness of sins given in baptism, the assurance and forgiveness of sins given in the Lord’s Supper, the assurance and forgiveness of sins given through God’s Word, which reminds us again and again of God’s love for wretched sinners like you and me. His love to come and wash away our sins, to remove them as far as the east is from the west, to cast our sins in the depths of the sea. God changed my life- he made me what I was not and gave me what I didn’t deserve. That’s the gospel! And that Gospel IS powerful- it transforms lives! It’s transformed the lives of the members of the Philippian congregation and it’s transformed your life and mine too! Perhaps it’s most clear when you know someone who didn’t know the gospel and then God brought them to faith. What are they like? They’re excited, they’re on fire, they want others to know to the truth, they want others to experience the same joy and peace that is theirs through the gospel.
The Philippian Christians understood the power of the gospel- it brought them to faith and they were on fire for the ministry. But it’s the same for us too, isn’t it?
Paul had the Philippians in his heart because he understood that they were all sharers in the same grace and in the same ministry as him. The same is true for us. As fellow sharers of God’s grace, God has given to each of us a gospel ministry. It begins in our own hearts as we read God’s Word, receive the Lord’s Supper, and recall our baptisms. You have a ministry in your own family as you care for them, love them, and point them to the gospel. You have a ministry in your everyday life as you live as a redeemed child of Christ by your attitudes and actions, your conduct and words. You have a ministry as you share your faith in informal and nonchalant ways talking with a neighbor or a friend. You have a ministry as part of this congregation as you support it, pray for it, and assist in any way. If the ministry of this congregation was all up to the pastor, it could never survive.
That’s why a pastor is thankful for his members: each is a missionary. Each person who knows what God has done for him can’t help but be a missionary. Can’t help live the gospel and share it with others. A pastor is thankful because each member in his or her own way has a part in the work of sharing the gospel so that more may come to a saving faith in Jesus. Probably the greatest amount of ministry that is done and can be done in our congregation is outside of these walls as you walk out of those doors with the gospel ringing in your ears and enter the mission field of your life.
And just like the apostle Paul, this pastor further knows that the good work of gospel ministry that every member has a place in was begun by God and God will continue to use His gospel in the lives of his people until the last soul is brought into God’s kingdom and the Last Day comes. For this a pastor is thankful. A pastor and his congregation- no one is more important, no one is worth more, no one is more valuable, each are the same, each one of you has a place and a purpose in the gospel ministry.
And because of this pastors also pray for their members and their ministry. Paul concludes our text with a prayer: “that you love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” In other words that they may continue to learn about God and the gospel and what He’s done for them that they might be strengthened in their faith and therefore strengthened in their love for others. “So that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” As you grow in your faith, as you hear and learn more about God you begin to develop a certain 6th sense. Everyday situations and circumstances confront a Christian and he or she must decide how to act and respond. It can be easy to blurt things out that later you regret, or to say things in a way that has no tact, or to let your anger flare up and do something you know is wrong, we face those things every day. But it’s the pastor’s prayer that his members may continue to hear God’s word and continue to develop a 6th sense that continually asks, “Would my God approve of this?” Then after continually seeking to do God’s will the Christian begins to act in loving ways, to do the right thing, the best thing, without even really having to think about it. Paul concludes that they may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – the glory and praise of God.” A pastor’s prayer that the lives of his members may overflow both inwardly and outwardly with fruits of righteousness, that they reflect the love of their God in all they do and say and think. Why? All to the praise and glory of God. As you live your life as someone transformed by the gospel, as you share the gospel with others, you give praise and glory to God. What could be more important in all of life than that?
A pastor’s ministry is always joyful. He has been given grace upon grace to know the gospel and share it. A pastor is always thankful for his members- each of them – because each of you has an important part in the gospel ministry of this congregation and in the gospel ministry of your personal life. And it is a pastor’s prayer, it is this pastor’s prayer, that God may continue to bring his gospel deeper into your heart that knowing it more and more it may continue to transform your life and keep you blameless and pure, clothed with Christ’s blood, until the day when Jesus returns to take you home.