Preaching Philippians 1:1-11
Approach I: Connections
Most people want to get along with others. Yes, we all know a few stonehearts who think that squabbling is the national pass time. For the most part, though, most people like having friends and being on good terms with others. That fact is good to remember during this time of the year. Already by this time nerves are strained and patience has been stretched to the near breaking point.
Advent is a time for seeking community. We need it. We want it. Many of the secular songs of the season will tug at nostalgia and make people want to go "home" for the holidays. Today's text speaks to the desire to be in community and to have important relationships. The earliest Christians were not superhumans with no need for connections. They were men, women, and children with the same needs as we have.
Most of us can relate to this story: Joe, Ruth, and their children moved into a new town and within days regretted the move. They felt lonely and isolated. The few people they met seemed cool and distant. Their neighbors were preoccupied with their own concerns. Joe's co-workers were cordial but not overly friendly. Their family wondered how long they must endure this feeling of isolation before beginning to feel at home.
Bill and Ellen moved to the same town about the same time. They immediately felt welcomed and wanted. They joined a church within a month. New friendships began to develop, and their entire family was soon in the swing of new relationships and activities.
What is the difference between the two families? One of the major differences is the sense of acceptance and belonging the second family felt because of their accepting the friendship of the community. They became connected.
Everyone needs fellowship of some kind and everyone will find it one way or another. Some people find fellowship in positive ways and some in negative ways. It may come in the form of befriending people at work, getting to know others at the local bar, or joining a church and becoming part of its work. One way or another, most people will find fellowship.
A sermon could take Philippians 1:1-11 as whole and use the context to speak about the fact that all people are potentially related through the grace of God. The sermon could address the loneliness many people feel and help them realize they need not be alone.
Approach II: A Personal Word
The book of Philippians begins with Paul's greetings to the saints in Philippi. The word "saints" is Paul's usual term for Christians. It signifies being set apart by God for God's purposes. The term applies to all Christians, not to a select few of special spirituality or moral excellence. Saints are covenant people (see Dt 7:6).
In verse 2 Paul blessed the Philippians with "grace and peace." This was a common greeting for Paul. The words show his great respect for the church in Philippi even though he had been treated harshly there (see 1 Thess 2:2 and Acts 16). Paul opens Philippians with a personal word to friends from himself and Timothy. A preacher might use this personal opening as a way to approach the text. People want a personal word and not a "Dear Occupant" or "To Whom It May Concern" greeting. The good news of advent is God sent a personal Word--God's Son. Verse 2 speaks of grace, peace, God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. All of that is part of God's message to humankind. A needed and appreciated sermon could deal with this aspect of advent and the gospel.
Approach III: Our Other Address
Notice that Paul tells of two addresses-- "in Christ" and "at Philippi." All Christians have two addresses like that. One is our place of residence like Memphis or New York or Beaver Dam or Abbyville. The other is the address of our eternal relationship--in--Christ. Believers are related to each other because we all share that same eternal address.
Advent is a great time, and this text is a great occasion, to teach people that we have another address and that our real estate number is not all there is to life.
Approach IV: Gratitude
Everybody needs people around them who have "shinny faces." We need people whose faces beam as they look on us because they love and value us. In verse 3 Paul turned his attention to his affection for the Philippians and let them know of his care. Their relationship was such that every remembrance brought joy to Paul's heart. What a testimony!
Gratitude is based on past graces. We are grateful today for what we perceive as a kind act done in the past. The church exists today because of the gracious act of God in redeeming people from their sins. Are there people like that in your circle of friends and in the church? Why not express your gratitude to those people who make your heart glad? An Advent sermon could pick up the theme of gratitude and run with it.
Approach V: Interceding for Others
The theme of intercessory prayer is usually not associated with advent, but it could certainly be appropriate. Paul mentioned in verse 3 his prayer for the Philippians. In verses 9 through 11 he tells them what his prayer is. He prayed that the believers would develop a mature love. Mature love enables people to live godly lives to the very end and so glorify God. Mature love that exists between believers is more than emotion. It is a commitment to seek the best in Christ. The growth of love, according to verse 9, is related to moral insights--"knowledge and depth of insight." This knowledge and depth of insight will enable the Christian to "discern what is best" (v. 10). It also helps the believer to be "pure and blameless until the day of Christ."
Halford Luccock took this passage to mean that love is not enough. That is, we need more than love to get by. We need knowledge and discernment. That would be a great theme for advent.
Christians will intercede to God on behalf of others. They will pray that God's work will be evident in their lives. Such lives will be "filled with the fruit of righteousness" (v. 11).
These five approaches to this text can offer some possibilities that are true to the context and can open up Advent in a new way.
Don Aycock Memphis, TN