12/01/13, Sharon OPC
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
Today we begin a new series on Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
Philippians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It’s one of the most warm and encouraging books in all of Scripture.
Philippians is one of Paul’s “prison epistles.” When you’re stuck in prison,
you have a lot of free time to write letters, so Paul took advantage of this opportunity that God, in His providence, had provided. Paul wrote the letters
of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, all while imprisoned in Rome. As he writes Philippians, Paul’s trial appears to be a looming crisis. He seems to indicate that before long, he’ll probably either be executed or set free. He doesn’t know which.
We know from later Scriptures that he was, indeed, set free, and was even
able to visit Philippi, or at least Macedonia, after his release. But for right now, as he writes, he doesn’t know what will happen at his trial.
Paul writes, on behalf of himself and his apprentice, Timothy, to the church in Philippi. This was a church that he had planted in Macedonia in response to the vision he had in a dream, where someone was pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul and Silas had also been thrown in prison during their visit to Philippi, and that’s where the Philippian jailer was converted.
There was probably more than one congregation in the church at Philippi because Paul addresses his letter “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at
Philippi, together with the overseers [plural] and deacons.”
According to John Calvin, every time the word, “overseer,” or, “bishop,” is used in the NT, it refers to the teaching elder or minister, not to ruling elders. In Calvin’s commentary on Philippians 1:1, he writes, “The titles…of bishop and pastor, are synonymous” (p. 23).
So if there was more than one minister in Philippi, there was probably also more than one congregation.
The Philippian church had sent Paul a gift through a man named Epaphroditus, and Paul had accepted the gift. Paul was very careful about accepting gifts from churches because he didn’t want to compromise his integrity by having people think that he was preaching the Gospel just for money. But in the case of Philippi, he made an exception because these were people he knew were giving with the right motives and who wouldn’t get the wrong idea about him if he accepted their gift.
Paul was writing this letter for several reasons, all of which are spelled out for us in Dr. J. Gresham Machen’s Introduction to the NT (on pp. 173-179): 1) To thank the Philippians for their generous gift. 2) To let the Philippians know that Epaphroditus was OK. He’d become very ill in the line of duty as he served Paul’s needs, so Paul probably sent this letter back to Philippi through Epaphroditus in person. 3) To find out how the Philippian church was
progressing in spiritual growth and to encourage and strengthen them.
It was always a great burden on Paul’s heart to know how the churches he
had visited were doing. 4) To let the Philippians know how things were going for him. The Philippians had received word that Paul was in prison and they were worried about him. So Paul explained how God was actually using this imprisonment for good and for the further spread of the Gospel. And 5) To deal with some apparent disharmony that had arisen in the Philippian
church, specifically in the case of two former coworkers, Euodia and
Our text for this morning, Philippians 1:1-11, is one of those passages that summarize for us our duties. This passage also helps us to see the church in
You see, sometimes people who go through church membership classes get a
couple of wrong impressions. They sometimes get the idea that the church is a place for people who’ve “arrived” in their knowledge of doctrine. In other words, they figure that once they “graduate” from the membership class,
then they can join the church. Once they pass the final examination by the session, then they can be full-fledged members of the church. Once they can swallow Reformed doctrine and answer a few questions about what we’re supposed to believe, then they’re “in.” And once they’re in, then they can relax. They’ve “graduated,” so to speak. So…their Bibles and other Christian
study books go back on the shelf. Their Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms go back in the drawer. And they no longer spend time studying the Bible or books about Bible teaching.
Well, if we do that, we’re just like those students who tear up their
notebooks and throw away all their textbooks on graduation day, singing, “No more pencils, no more books! No more teacher’s dirty looks!”
They forget that the primary purpose of their training in school was to
teach them how to continue to learn!
The other wrong impression people who’ve gone through the church
membership class sometimes have is that the doctrine they’re taught is
important only so that they can “pass the course” and be able to repeat
back what they’ve learned. That’s like studying books in school
for the primary purpose of passing the exams and graduating. All too
often, students in school study for one reason and one reason only: to pass
the exams. They could care less about whether or not they’re
learning something that might be useful to their lives for many years to
come. They just want to pass the course and move on to the next
course. They just want to get through the grade and move on to the
next grade. They just want to finish that school and move on to
the next school, get their degree, and then get out.
Such students never seem to realize that what’s taught in school has a
higher purpose than simply to enable them to pass exams or to graduate.
What’s taught in school is supposed to prepare them for life. It’s supposed to enable them to live and to work in the right way, successfully, in the real world.
Our text for today, along with a similar text in I Thessalonians 4:1-12, refutes these wrong impressions when it comes to our training in the church. And these principles apply just as much to our education in the Christian
school or home school as they do to our education in the church. But we’re talking about the church today.
First of all, the church is not the place where membership class graduates go to live happily ever after and no longer have to learn any more about the Bible or Christian doctrine. As a matter of fact the church is the school
itself. The membership class is only the entrance exam before being
enrolled in the school of Christ. And Christians are enrolled in the school of Christ for life. We should never throw away our Bibles and Christian books and stop learning.
Paul is addressing the members of the church here in these verses. These are
people who’ve been through the membership class already. Paul says to them in Philippians 1:9-11, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love
may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and
blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
So when you join the church, you haven’t graduated from the school of
Christ! You’ve only just enrolled in that school! So don’t be so quick to flip your tassel over. You have some more to learn. And not just more, but “more and more,” says Paul.
Paul says very much the same thing in I Thessalonians 4:1, “1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
You remember Jesus’ command to the apostles in Matthew 28:18-20? Let’s look at it again. “18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching
them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
Note the order there. First, He says, “Go and make disciples.”
In other words, “Go and make students!” “Enroll them in My school by
He didn’t say, “Go and make graduates!”
Well how do you make a student?
You get him enrolled in school!
And how do you make a disciple of Christ?
You get him enrolled in the school of Christ, the church. That’s what baptism and church membership are all about! When you’re baptized as an adult, or when you’re baptized as an infant and then later make public profession of your faith when you become an adult, you’re enrolling in the school of Christ. When a person is baptized into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he’s being joined to the body of Christ, the church. He’s being enrolled in the school of obedience to Jesus Christ.
All the membership class is, is an “admissions exam.” It’s an attempt, first of all, to convince the person to enroll in Christ’s school, and it’s an attempt, second, to make sure that he has the proper understanding of what this school is all about before he enrolls.
I found that out too late when I enrolled in Rosemead Graduate School of
Psychology in Los Angeles, CA. I wanted to learn to become a counselor, so I enrolled in a five year doctoral program in clinical psychology at Rosemead. In addition to student aid, I had to borrow $6,000 for the first semester alone, along with working two jobs, in order to go there. But after one
semester, I decided that this school was not for me after all. I had thought that it was a Christian graduate school, but the only thing Christian about it was that all the professors claimed to be Christians. The psychology was
just baptized secularisim. We had a “Christian” Behaviorist, a “Christian” Rogerian, and even a “Christian” Freudian on staff. Basically what they did was to take these godless, secular theories of psychology and try to sprinkle in a few Scripture texts to make them sound Biblical.
After one semester, I called and talked to Dr. Jay Adams, a Christian
counselor and professor at Westminster Seminary, and he convinced me that if I wanted to counsel people on how to handle life’s problems, I should
enroll in a seminary where I could learn what the Bible has to say about
man and his problems.
Well, the membership course of the church is designed to make sure that you
know what you’re doing when you join Christ’s school, the church. This class will help to determine whether or not you have true faith in Jesus Christ and whether or not you’re willing to submit, under His authority, to the government and discipline of this church.
So getting people into church membership is basically doing what Jesus was
commanding in Matthew 28:19, “19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
But Christ goes on to command, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
So there you have it – there’s the rest of the process. First you make
disciples or students out of them and enroll them through baptism into
Christ’s school, and then you continue to teach them to obey everything
The church, like many schools today, is basically, “on the job training.” It’s training that you receive as you live and work in this world. So don’t throw away your pens and notebooks once you’ve completed the membership class and you’ve been enrolled. Don’t throw away your Bibles and Bible study books. Classes have only just begun once you’ve enrolled in Christ’s church, and those classes will continue until you go home to be with the Lord. And even then, we’ll never cease learning more and more about the wonder and majesty of our Lord and Savior!
No matter how old you get, you should never say, “I’m finished learning. I’ve learned all I care to know. Now I’m ready to graduate.” No matter how old you get, you’re never too old to continue to learn as a student of Christ.
Our text also refutes that other wrong impression, that is, that the main
purpose in learning doctrine is simply to be able to answer all the questions
right. Paul shows us that doctrine is unto life!
Philippians 1:3-11 says, “3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5
because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until
now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work
in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the
gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my
prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
Doctrine is “unto life.” Doctrine is not something you learn just to be able to
answer a question the right way when somebody asks you. Doctrine helps
you to live life better!
In I Thessalonians 4:1, Paul says, “We instructed you [we taught you, we indoctrinated you] how to live in order to please God.” And then in v.
2, he says, “2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
And then Paul goes on, in I Thessalonians 4:3-12, to summarize some of that instruction. Notice that the doctrinal instruction that Paul and the apostles taught was designed to lead them to live godly lives.
He says, “3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have
already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this
instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy
Spirit. 9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. 11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on
So you see, the doctrines and knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ are to
be learned by us, “more and more,” in order that we may live godly lives,
“more and more.”
In Titus 1:1, Paul puts it even more clearly and obviously. He writes, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.”
All truth, all knowledge, all true doctrine, all teaching of the school of Christ, is designed to result in more love and more obedience to Christ in our lives. Each one of us should be growing “more and more” holy as time goes by.
So Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “You’re doing well; you’re waging war
against your sinful lusts and the sins of your lives, but you need to go on
and do so, more and more.” That’s the essence of the Christian life!
Just as this was one of Paul’s primary concerns for the church in Thessalonica as well as the church in Philippi and other churches, so also this should be one of the primary concerns of the worship services of the church today.
When we gather here to worship and praise God, we also gather to hear
Christ speak to us and to hear Christ teach us about how to live our lives.
You should be asking yourself questions like this all the time: “What kind
of student am I? Am I still learning, or have I virtually thrown away my books and notebooks as though I’ve graduated? Am I learning only to be able to answer doctrinal questions or to out-argue people in debates? Or am I like a sponge, eagerly soaking up God’s Word and its teaching and putting it to work in my life? Am I learning, day by day, through my ‘on the job training’ in the school of Christ, how to be a better Christian? Am I taking the doctrines of Scripture and applying them to my everyday life in the way that I worship, and in the way that I live my life before my family and in the
Remember, you never graduate from the school of Christ. Once you’re enrolled in His school, your joyful duty is to go on learning the wonderful things that He has to teach you for the rest of your life. Go to church and
take notes. Read and study your Bible and the Confessions of the church.
Read good, Christian books. If you’re not reading good books regularly, chances are, you’re not growing as a Christian.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But I don’t like school. I never liked school.”
Well Christ’s school is different. Here, you’re not just learning for head
knowledge. Here, you’re not just learning to pass an exam. Learning in Christ’s school is designed to help you to find joy and happiness and meaning and purpose in this life, right now. It’s designed to help you to learn to cope with the problems of life that come along and to teach you how to handle them in the best way possible. And best of all, learning in Christ’s school is designed to prepare you for eternal life with Jesus Christ, where you’ll enjoy His pleasures forevermore!
In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find
rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”