Date: 10/31/04
Text: Philippians 4:15-23
Title: One Community Under God
Theme: Since the Christian church is a community called by God, therefore it is to manifest its unique attributes.

Time magazine called this year’s election a “venomous campaign”. The country is deeply divided in the future direction, the war in Iraq and social values. It is more like a fight between the traditional and the secular. In the process, many have lost trust in our leaders and in each other. On Wednesday, Nov.3, 50% of the nation will be angry with the other 50%.
The 21st century is a very tumultuous time in our society, including the Christian churches. With the erosion of the authority of the Bible in our personal and corporate life, personal opinions have now become the reference point for our conduct. Unresolved conflicts, disunity, disharmony and church splits are seldom caused by doctrinal issues, but more because of our differences in opinions and preferences. We, too, may have lost trust in the church leaders and in each other.
So, what do we do about it? When we turn to the scriptures, we’ll see that our arch enemy, Satan, is known for creating disunity. In the Garden of Eden, his purpose is to drive a wedge between God and Adam and Eve. This is followed by disharmony and disunity between man and woman, man and the environment. Throughout the human history, disunity and disharmony have become the rule rather than the exception. With the coming of Christ, God's redemptive purpose is to restore harmony between him and his creatures, harmony among his children. In Jesus' last prayer, he prayed for unity among his followers. We see this theme repeated in the book of Acts and the epistles. It is clear that God's intention for the redeemed community, the church, is unity and harmony. There is trust not only in God, but also in each other. In the epistles, on the one hand we see the reality of humanity: disunity and disharmony even among the believers. However, on the other hand, there are many instructions and illustrations of unity and harmony among the followers of Jesus Christ.
This morning, we come to the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I want to thank you for your patience in following through this series of sermons. Next time I’ll share with you an over view of what we have learned in this book. In today’s passage, instead of teaching and instructing, Paul is demonstrating to us the true essence of a Christian community; what one community under God is like. In this passage, we see a simple truth that since the Christian church is a community called by God, it must not be content with distrust, disharmony, instead to manifest its unique attributes.
I. The Christian community is one of partnership. 15-20
Vs.15, “15And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.腓立比的弟兄們,你們也知道,在我傳福音的初期,離開馬其頓的時候,除了你們以外,我沒有收過任何教會的供給。 ” The Philippian believers were partners with Paul during his early days of the gospel ministry. They were Paul’s coworkers, when he founded a church at Philippi. When Paul was traveling and ministering in Thessalonica, they provided for his physical needs. You see, the Philippians saw beyond the 4 walls of their own ministry and reached out to Paul. They prayed for him and sent him monetary gifts. Paul described such gifts as, vs.18, “….the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.收到你們所送的,好像馨香之氣,是 神所接納所喜悅的祭物.” These gifts are pleasing to God. They were in partnership with Paul.
What does this mean to us today? I think of a missionary couple who had been supported by my former church in STL for over 40 years. This is partnership. I can also think of the many missionaries HCC is supporting. When we give towards the Mission Fund, when we pray for the missionaries, we are partners with them. When we take short term mission trips to visit the missionaries and work with them, we are their partners. They know they are not alone. They know back home, they have partners.
We are partners with the missionaries. But we are also in a partnership here in Houston. When I see many of you involve in different kinds of ministry: teaching SS, assisting in the youth ministry, helping the children to know Christ and grow in him, serving as co-workers, small group leaders and advisors in different fellowship groups, serving in the worship teams. We are partners with each other in this gospel ministry. We want to encourage you to continue to come and be partners with us. We don’t want to leave anyone out. As we come into this community, the redeemed community, we are partners with each other, we labor together so this church will grow into maturity.
II. The Christian community is one of equal care.
Vs. 21-22, “21Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.問候在基督耶穌裡的各位聖徒。同我在一起的弟兄們問候你們。 22眾聖徒,特別是凱撒家裡的人,都問候你們。” The word greet conveys a sense of warmth and connectedness. Paul starts and ends everyone of his letter with words of greeting. His teaching is not just knowledge and information, but the content is communicated through warm and intimate relationships. Recently I received an email with these words, “professor so and so wants to make sure I send you his greetings. He mentioned it 3 times.” This makes me feel good. He remembered and cared for me.
We also want to pay attention to the following. Vs.21, “Greet every saint…...問候在基督耶穌裡的各位聖徒。……” vs.22, “All the saints greet you…….…眾聖徒……都問候你們。”. This is an important theme in this letter. He wanted to communicate a simple truth, that is, in God's community, God's household, everyone is important and is to be cared for equally. You see, the Philippian church has some problems with unity and harmony. So Paul wants to make sure that he treats everyone the same. In God's church, no one is insignificant. Everyone is important. Therefore, no one is to be left out in his greeting. We see this repeated in the Roman church. Paul greeted each one of them by name. When a nation, a community is divided, we see each other as we vs. them. But in the Christian community, there is no us vs. them mentality. It is all we. We are partners with each others. We care for each other equally. Everyone is important.
We are equally important because each one of us is made in God's image. In God's sight, every one of us is precious. Young and old, male and female, we are all equal before God and therefore we are to treat each other with love and equality.
III. The Christian community is one that permeates into our society.
There is a very intriguing phrase in this passage. Vs. 22, “22All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.眾聖徒,特別是凱撒家裡的人,都問候你們.” Especially the saints in Caesar’s family. As we know, Philippi is a Roman colony. They certainly received the benefits of being a Roman citizen, but they were still under foreign rule. No one likes to live under a foreign government. Their relationships with the Roman rulers was one of love and hate.
Caesar’s household could be the slaves or servants working for Caesar (Nero), or it could be one of Nero’s family members. So we can imagine the response of the Philippian church when they read this part of the letter. They might have said, wait, hold it, repeat that sentence you just read. Saints from Caesar’s (Nero) family sending us greetings? It is like reading a letter from a believer in Beijing. In the letter he would say, the believers in my house church greet you. The believers in Da Ma Jian church say hi to you. All the Christians in Shanghai’s Mou En church and the International Church greet you. The Christians in Quanzhou’s Don Shan Baptist church greet you. The Christians in Chun Nan Hai greet you. Wait, say that again. From Chun Nan Hai, are you sure? You see, Chun Nan Hai is the government center of the Chinese government. This is the place where the leaders work and live and some are under house arrest there. Yes, believers from Chun Nan Hai.
This Philippian passage reminds us that the Christian community is everywhere. Some of them are large, others small. Some more visible than others. But it is everywhere. Throughout the last 2000 years of church history, we see how the Christians can be found in some of the most remote areas. They are in villages, in cities and in palaces.
Hollywood is branded as the bastion of the secular culture. Yet, do we know there is group called Master Media whose sole objectives is to share the gospel message with the decision makers in Hollywood? Throughout the years they have made in roads into that Hollywood community. Some CEOs of the movie industry would come together for Bible study and prayers. In the center of the nation’s capital, politicians from both parties would come together regularly for prayer and the study of God's word. What do they tell us? The gospel message is like mercury. When you spilt it, it will go anywhere. Wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ advances, individuals are converted, and become a part of the Christian community. The community of God's people permeates the entire society.
I think of the medical center in our neighborhood. There are many Christians working there. Wouldn’t it be nice that one day, the Christians that work there can come together maybe once a week, during the lunch hour to pray and study the word. When they come together, they will also attract their friends to come to hear the gospel message. Or how about at your work place? Are there other Christians that you can meet for prayers and bs on a regular basis?
IV. The Christian community is the recipient of God's grace.
Paul concludes this letter with his signature ending: vs. 23, “23The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.願主耶穌基督的恩惠與你們同在。” Again, the focus is with you, with your spirit, every one of you. Paul is saying that each one of you is a recipient of God's grace.
Grace means receiving something that we don’t deserve. It is good to remember that we are all sinners before God. As sinners, we don’t deserve anything except God's wrath. But on that cross, God's wrath was on Christ and he died in my place. I am considered as God's child, I am God's adopted child, and this is grace. Since I don’t deserve anything, therefore whatever I receive from God is grace. Before God, I have no merit to offer except Christ's death. Before God, we are all sinners saved by grace and sustained by God's grace.
I think of the time when I was involved in the Prison Ministry. At the end of our weekly visit, about 80 of us, 40 inmates and 40 volunteers all held hands in a big circle and sang Amazing Grace. In those moments I realized that I am no better than the inmate standing next to me. Before God, we are all sinners; recipients of God's grace.
This is what HCC is about. It is not just about programs, buildings and facilities. It is a community of sinners receiving unconditional grace from God. If we understand and believe that you and I are all sinners, recipients of God's grace, it will definitely affect the way we treat each other. When husbands and wives, pastors and congregations, elders and deacons, all understand this truth that we are recipients of God's grace, with no exception, we’ll begin to treat each other with love, gentleness, humility, respect and dignity. As we trust God, we’ll also learn to trust the church leaders and each other. Yes, there will be times that we may not agree with each other, like Syntche and Euodia in Philippi, but we can still live in harmony and peace. Being recipients of God's grace on a daily and moment by moment basis, we are to ask God to help us to be gracious to people around us. We are to be humble and gentle, kind and understanding, merciful and generous to one another. Not because we deserve it; no we don’t, but because we are all recipients of God's grace.
These few days I have been thinking that the presidential election have brought out our dark side. When we hear the non-stop attack leveled at each other, sometimes we wonder what happened to our civility. Everyone seems to know what is the best way to run the country and solve our social ills. By listening to what is reported via the news media, it is really hard to see One Nation, Under God.
On the other hand, don’t we sometimes feel the same about the Christian churches? The Christian church is a group of people called and selected by God. We are here because God has first chosen and called us. It is a very special place. It is a community under God. However, isn’t it also true that whether it is in the 21st century Houston or Philippi of 2000 year ago, we all face similar challenges? We have our opinions on how things should be done. We each think our ideas are the best and expect others to listen and submit to us. Our differences in personalities can lead to unresolved conflicts. You see, it is for this reason that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians. For this reason, this letter is so practical and applicable to us 2000 years later.
In this letter, the Holy Spirit through Paul reminds us of our need to be humble and to see each other as better than ourselves. We are reminded that as we gather in this church, in this Christian community, we are equal partners with each other in the gospel ministry. We are to treat each other with equality and with dignity. Above all, whenever we come together we remind each other that we are recipients of God's grace. We only deserve God's wrath, but instead, on behalf of Jesus Christ, he adopted us into his family and called us his children. Everything I have today from God is grace.
As God has been so gracious towards me, I also learn to be gracious to those that God brings into this community. I learn to be gracious to those with whom I disagree, those I dislike, because God has been indeed gracious towards me.