Prepare For The Day Of Christ
1. Today is the second Lord's Day in Advent. I read you from chapter one verse three of the letter to the disciples at Philippi. In fact, a sermon was given from this same passage only just last year. On top of that, it was the same second Lord's Day in Advent. The same words of scripture are read once again in this worship service after experiencing another year. I wonder if this has any special meaning in and of itself? We will focus on the year that is passing on as the Lord shines light on his word which the Lord himself is re-speaking to us anew and afresh. Although this passage is one we are already well familiarized with, I would like us to incline our ears to the Lord's address today with fresh hearts.
I Give Thanks!
2. What was read here is from the beginning section of the letter Paul addressed to the church at Philippi. Let's start with the main body of the letter at verse three. The original text starts with the words "I give thanks." This is an impressive opening line. As we consider the circumstances he was put under, we understand that these words "I give thanks" were not merely a formal opening sentence. As you know, the letter to the Philippian disciples is called a prison epistle. He wrote this while still in prison awaiting trial. Furthermore, while Paul was in prison, those who were striving against him were promoting the work to expand their influence We hear his words written in the following manner in verse fifteen on. "Although they are proclaiming Christ, there are persons who are speaking with a mood of jealousy and rivalry as well as those speaking from good will. On one side, they know I have been arrested for the purpose of explaining the gospel, so they preach from the motive of love, but on the other side, while seeking personal profit they are making Christ known from dishonest motives that all the more seek to inflict pain on me while imprisoned," (vv. 15-17). The reason he was offering up thanks to God was not because the things he was doing were going so well or he was under such desirable circumstances. Where one would not normally consider a word of thanks to appear, there he was offering up thanksgiving to God as he thought about the church at Philippi. "I thank my God when I remember you and I always pray with joy when I pray for all of you," (vv. 3-4).
3. So, was the reason Paul had been offering up thanksgiving because the Philippian church had kept peace and harmony as an ideal church? Was Paul giving thanks to God because only the Philippian church had no problems even though it was located among several churches ridden with problems? No, because as we read this letter it doesn't seem likely that this supposed scenario was correct. For example, Paul wrote the following in chapter two verse two: Where he says "Please fulfill my joy by becoming like-minded, embracing the same love and joining your hearts," that's not how they were really acting. So, when he actually raises the names of two specific women in chapter four he writes the following words: "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to please embrace the same mind in the Lord." In short, there was discord between them. Furthermore, this church was exposed to danger from mistaken teachings just as other churches were. False teachers who laid churches waste had gotten in. Paul sent them a letter with strong words that said: "Be careful of those dogs. Beware of evil workers. Be warned of circumcised persons who have not cut enough off." Because of these words, we believe that the church at Philippi had many harmful elements and hurt the heart of Paul while in prison just as other churches did. So then, why did Paul thank God when he was remembering them and why was he able to say, "I am praying with joy when I pray for you all"? For this let's keep our eye on the words written in verse five. "That is because from the first day until today you are participating in the gospel." This was the biggest reason Paul had been offering up thanksgiving.
4. As Paul said "because you are participating in the gospel," we must be careful not to say, "because you are taking part in gospel preaching." The church at Philippi certainly took part in gospel preaching from the start and was a church which supported Paul as a missionary. The beginning of that church is recorded in Acts the sixteenth chapter. The first person to become a Christian in this town was a woman by the name Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. When she and her house were baptized, she immediately invited Paul and his entourage to her home, and turned it into a meeting place. Later, after Paul and his group moved to Thessalonica, it seems they economically supported Paul's missionary trips. Paul said the following in the text of the letter he wrote. "You people of Philippi, as you yourselves know, when I left Macedonia preaching the gospel the first time that no churches participated in my work by giving and receiving things with me besides you. Moreover, even when I was at Thessalonica you always sent me things to help me in my poverty," (4:15, 16). So, the word translated here as "to participate (sanka)" is the same [Greek] word translated as to participate in, to take part in (azukaru)" in chapter one and verse five.* However, in spite of the fact that the same word is used in the translations of the same word, what was said in chapter one and verse five is not the same as what is being said in chapter four. When Paul first remembered the joy over the church at Philippi and gave thanks to God, it was not because hey had physically participated in Paul's work.
5. If we read the next verse, verse six, we will understand the full range of meaning of "participation." Paul speaks in the following manner. "I am confident that the One who began the good works among you will accomplish those works until the day of Christ Jesus," (verse six). What is written here is not about human work. What is begun and accomplished is not the business of a human. It is the work of God. In the letter to the Roman disciples Paul was saying about God's work that "the gospel is the power of God bringing salvation first to Jews and also to Greeks, even to all persons who believe," (Romans 1:16); this is the bold work of the gospel itself. They themselves are taking part in that work. They keep on participating in that. Paul was happier over that than anything else and gave thanks to God for it. Their having participated in Paul's work and having furthered the work of missions was so to speak a harvest and the result of their having taken part of the gospel.
6. So, to take it a bit further, the word translated here as "to participate" can also be translated again as "association, relationship, fellowship, have in common." The disciples of Philippi and Paul took part together in the grace of God's salvation. We could say that there existed an immediate and personal fellowship. In verse seven are the words Paul said regarding the disciples at Philippi that they were "co-participants in grace." Just as I said earlier, in the human sense of the word in reciprocal relationships there are sometimes problems, and in the relationships between them and between them and Paul they were not always bound by pleasant relationships. However, even though there might be different problems, they [the church] would be all right as long as it was clear that they keep on partiipating in the same grace. The true fellowship [or relationship] would be among them for sure. From that basis they could head towards a direct union. Therefore, Paul was able to be joyous about that reality and when he would think of their relationship he became full to overflowing with thanksgiving to God.
To Keep On Participating In The Gospel
7. By the way, earlier I used the expression "they keep on participating in the gospel." I used a word here to express continuity because Paul was saying "from the first day up until today." Now, in a moment we will try to turn our hearts to the phrase "from the first day up until today." As we've already seen, nothing special is being spoken about here. In a word, it is about the continuous faith life, and it is about the continuous church life which forms the church as the body of Christ in a relationship together in the Lord. Paul was in prison. The disciples at Philippi also knew that there must be various trials in their Christian life, and in fact they had been experiencing them. But, even though they were under various hardships in the world, at battle for the faith and under persecution, they still gathered together, broke bread together, and participated in the body and blood of Christ, and were in line together as a co-operative body alive in that life. Thus, as they participate as one in God's grace, they will live by staying steadfast in that grace. That's precisely what's being said here. So, the important thing here is that fact that when Paul says the words "until today these words defnintely carry the same weight as the words "the first day." I think we should keep this point firmly in our hearts because we don't often see this as a matter of words with equal weight.
8. In the Church of Japan second and third generation Christians still do not comprise a large portion of the country. Setting aside whether infant baptism is right or wrong, it is a fact that the baptisms done in the Church of Japan, especially among Protestant churches, have an overwhelmingly greater number of adult baptisms than infant ones. The largest part of the persons entered the faith from pagan backgrounds and were so added to the church. For that reason many persons who have been baptized were distressed and worrisome until they were baptized and were compelled into a big decision and received baptism with fear and respect. I would say this was a pretty good thing. For some, they came to baptism through an experience of a heart change that involved a major life conversion, a unique spiritual experience, or an emotional transformation. This also wasn't too bad of a thing. But regretfully, the fact is we often forget that "the continuation" of that life of faith has equal weight with the event of the entrance into faith. Although it is truly an important factor that "we continue to participate or keep on participating" we plumb forget that. What arises out of the effect of such forgetting? What happens is later we repeat the Lord's Supper without having the awe that we had at the time of our baptism. We eventually lose our reflections at the Lord's Supper of that fear and trembling that we had experienced at the time of our baptism and just extend our hand for the bread and wine. After a while of having only that type of attitude, there comes a time when we disrespect the Lord's Supper by our lackadaisical cool feelings. We should not forget Paul's words "from the first day until today." We are participating in the Lord's Supper together today. As persons who have participated in the gospel from the first day until today, I would like us to participate in the Lord's Supper today as well.
The God Who Makes Us Complete
9. Well, that's the way Paul makes "until today" as important as "the first day" and it is because "until today" is in the future as "the day of Christ Jesus." Let's give verse six another look. "I am convinced that the One who began the good works among you will accomplish those deeds until the day of Christ Jesus." "The day of Christ Jesus" is the day of the second coming of Christ at the end-times. It is that day he is coming back whom we confess with "From hence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." It is that day when we must stand before that One whether we be alive or dead.
10. There is something that must be accomplished by that day. It is not our business that must be accomplished. As I said earlier, what is written here is not our business to do. We are not constructing God's kingdom until the day of the end. God's kingdom is coming just as we pray "Thy Kingdom come." Pretty soon the rule of God will be revealed in perfect form. So, what must be completed until that day is not our work, but us ourselves. [We ourselves are under construction.] We must be perfected and prepared for the kingdom of God. We must be outfitted until the day of the end.
11. How is that done? Paul express it definitively in that prayer. Please see the verses from nine on. "I pray the following. That you put on power to know and power to see through the situation and that your love may increase abundantly, and you truly recognize what is important. And, that you prepare for the day of Christ, be a pure person, be one who has nothing offensive, receive the overflowing of the fruit of righteousness which is given by Jesus Christ, and be able to give exaltations of God's glory and praise," (vv. 9-11). What kind of prayer is this? Did Paul really believe and pray these points in his prayer? If what was being prayed for has to do with preparing for the day of the end, can we really say we are heading for perfection and completion? When we think of our present condition, we really get into some deep down thinking.
12. But, again the words of verse six reverberates towards us who cannot avoid lowering our heads before this prayer. "I am confident that the One who began a good work among you will accomplish that work until the day of Christ Jesus." Paul prays like that because he is confident. This is not our business because it is God's business. If so, what is the important point then? The important point is to keep on participating in the gospel. It is to continue on as "co-participants in grace." Right now it is no more than a process. The coming of the conclusion is the day of Christ Jesus. We shouldn't despair over ourselves. If we continue to partake of the gospel, it is the responsibility of God to perfect the good works which have begun in us. So rest easy.
13. Last year we focused our attention on the same word of God and one year has passed. They were 365 days when the Lord was pointing us toward fulfillment and continuing his good work in us. Now I would like us to be persons who live in continual participation together in the gospel. "That you prepare for the day of Christ, be a pure person, be one who has nothing offensive, receive the overflowing of the fruit of righteousness which is given by Jesus Christ, and be able to give exaltations of God's glory and praise." Amen.
End Note: Pastor Takao Kiyohiro points out that the Greek word "koinoeo, koinoia" can be translated into Japanese either as "azukaru" or "sanka suru." "Azukaru" has a somewhat passive connotation like receiving the same thing or receiving a part from the same whole. "Sanka suru" has a more active connotation like "to do something together."