Sermon Ideas For Philippians 1:1-11 Part 4
Halford E. Luccock's sermon, In An Age of Substitutes,1 opens helpful lines of reflection for Christians living in an increasingly distracted world. Pointing to verse 9 Luccock says that more than common eyesight Paul craves for his readers uncommon insight. Certainly common eyesight is important in our daily lives. It is also foundational to science and medicine, literature and art. Our personal and cultural development depends, to a great extent, on the power of observation and the ability to test things that differ.
Unfortunately, common eyesight alone is not sufficient for seeing our way through "the hardness and immorality of contemporary life."2 Noting the struggles of the Philippian Christians, Luccock says that love alone was an inadequate guide, for "unless love abounded in knowledge and discernment which could detect with the accuracy of a magnetic needle the difference between the carnal and the spiritual, the spurious and the genuine, the great and the small, they would soon lose themselves."3
Christians today must also test differences, for the "art of substitution" is thriving on every front--in building construction, clothing, jewelry, food, beverages, even our bodies. As the art of substitution improves and spreads, many persons are knowingly and unknowingly exchanging truth for a lie. Christians are increasingly at risk and need uncommon insight to avoid making ludicrous, often devastating life choices.4
Suggesting the motto "Accept No Substitutes" as a guide for faith, Luccock highlights three areas where the gift of discernment is especially needed today. First, while acknowledging humor as a means of divine grace, much contemporary humor, he says, is superficial and irresponsible. Beware of substituting a sense of humor for a sense of honor.5 Secondly, Luccock warns of prioritizing science over conscience. While science is beneficial, "science without conscience makes chaos."6 Finally, Luccock calls for uncommon insight in the exercise of power. Today's popular power "gets the job done" regardless of impact upon others. Real power, on the other hand, is from the Lord and of the Lord, hence it is a creative, renewing force with unending resources. Those who draw strength and guidance from the Lord may not look powerful, just as the Mayflower would appear weak and insignificant beside a luxury cruise ship, but there is power enough in the Lord to overcome every obstacle and create something new in the midst of hostile, wilderness places.7
Robert W. Stackel invites his hearers to explore the glory, ground, and growth of Christian partnership in his Advent sermon Our Partnership in the Gospel.8 "The glory of Christian partnership," he says, "is the toughness of its bond."9 It is not broken by place, time, or circumstance. For instance, Paul's tie to the faithful in Philippi remained secure despite his distant, lengthy imprisonment. Indeed their partnership in the gospel was a source of comfort and joy to Paul. The same is true today. Citing the groundbreaking for a Lutheran church in New Guinea where "the entire congregation tugged on the rope that pulled the plow that broke the ground," Stackel recalls that "Grandparents and grandchildren strained together in the same direction. The first one on the rope and the last one united in a common effort. Every act of Christian service and witness is similar. One believer may be where the action is, but a hundred are in the background, praying and pulling. The one is fortified by the hundred."10
Christians are never alone. Like Paul, then, we may thank God in all our remembrances of the faithful, come what may, because the ground of Christian partnership is "the divine rescue which all the partners have experienced" in Jesus Christ.11 Citing the comment of a heart-transplant patient who, after receiving a new heart, said, "I have never found life so beautiful," Stackel says that Paul makes the same declaration throughout Philippians. God's redemptive act in Christ involves nothing short of receiving a new heart. This common root experience of God's grace binds Christians together. Nothing in the world can uproot it.12
Finally, there is room for growth. God is not finished with us yet. Certainly there are too many Euodias and Syntyches in the church who cannot get along, but the love of Christ creates opportunities for new partnerships. So what kind of partner are we? "Are Christians capable of the discipline of letting go of their own nature and desiring instead the Christ-likeness which God wants to give? Only so can Christian partnership grow."13
John A. Huffman, Jr.'s sermon What God Wants to Accomplish in You14 looks at this text from the heights of 1 Corinthians 13. Huffman sees one of God's principle aims as the increase of each person's capacity for loving responsibly. Our love is not perfect when we come to faith in Jesus. Rather our capacity to love must grow. Love's fluidity is recognizable in our own relations. For instance, after fifteen years of marriage one couple divorces and another finds their love expanding. The same applies in our relations with God. There are ups and downs, yet the capacity to love may steadily progress as we receive God's love through repentance and trust.15
Distinguishing between love as slushy sentimentality and genuine caring, Huffman asserts that Christian love is not indiscriminate. Two corrective qualities keep it on track: knowledge and depth of insight.16 Knowledge of God's word and will, love and grace help us grow in responsible loving. Depth of insight enables us to discern degrees of right and wrong. When love bears these qualities, certain consequences follow.The believer is better able to make moral choices in accordance with God's will. The believer's character and good works also grow.17 Christians cannot be complacent in their faith for God wants us to keep growing in trust and obedience, flinging ourselves forward in faith, if need be, that we may walk with God in ever closer communion.18
Robert A. Bryant Mebane, NC
1. Halford Luccock, In An Age of Substitutes, Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, eds. Clyde E. Fant, Jr. and William M. Pinson, Jr., vol. 10, Luccock to Niebuhr (Waco: Word Books, 1971), pp. 34-42. 2. Ibid., p. 35. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid., p. 36. 5. Ibid., pp. 37-38. 6. Ibid., pp. 39-40. 7. Ibid., pp. 40-41. 8. Robert W. Stackel, Our Partnership In The Gospel, Augsburg Sermons, Epistles--Series C (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1976), pp. 15-19. 9. Ibid., p. 15. 10. Ibid., p. 16. 11. Ibid., p. 17. 12. Ibid., p. 18. 13. Ibid., p. 19. 14. John A. Huffman, Jr., What God Wants to Accomplish in You (Preaching, May-June, 1993), pp. 9-15. 15. Ibid., p. 9. 16. Ibid., pp. 10-12. 17. Ibid., pp. 12-14. 18. Ibid., p. 15.