Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
People, Preaching, and Prayer: Those were early priorities of my ministry which have remained a significant focus for my service as pastor over the past nearly 42 years. I look forward to sharing some stories about how that played out during my ministry at St. John as well as other places I have served. Underneath it all lies the Word of God, and we’ll be looking at specific Bible passages that sustain those priorities.
But when it comes to people, this passage raises the issue in a most edifying manner. Paul thanks God for the people in Philippi who have been partners in the gospel. This first church on European soil proved to be a launching pad for further spread of the gospel and support of Paul in his missionary effort. The people there received an extraordinary amount of attention and appreciation. More than any other church, Paul was thankful for the Philippian Christians.
In each of the four places I’ve served, I’ve received one blessing or another. My experiences in Vernal and Roosevelt, Utah involved much grace on their part and lots of learning on my part. Arkansas was a place where we were blessed so deeply by individuals of the congregation. When we visited there last year, we were reminded of how precious those folks were to us and our young and growing family. Arlington, Texas was a place of incredible grace and personal, emotional, and spiritual growth and healing. And St. John has been a true partner in the mission of God for these 16 years.
From mission starts, to mission trips, to staff growth, to prayer priority, the people of God at St. John have been incredibly supportive of God’s mission at home and around the world. We’ve traveled from Cypress to Kenya, Tanzania, Guatemala, the Philippines (Diane with PLI), Baton Rouge, and downtown Houston for the sake of God’s mission to seek and to save the lost. Others have traveled from St. John to Haiti, New Orleans, Colorado, and Mexico to share the message of Jesus.
I thank God for you who have partnered with me in those efforts. This is one facet of my thankfulness. But there is more. We have also discovered deep friendships along the way. From Utah, to Arkansas, to Arlington, and now Cypress, we know people we can call friends. This is a great blessing! We thank God for our friends!
We all join in thanking God for his work in, through, and sometimes, in spite of us. It’s clear that God works through us to bless others. We may offer a prayer, a listening ear, a clarification of the Gospel, or an introduction to Jesus. And God works through us in those moments. But as he is working through us, he is also working on us. He is gaining a stronger disciple when we do his calling. We are brought closer to him when we serve the goals and purposes of his reign and rule.
But sometimes God must work in spite of us. That is all too often true. Luther’s Sacristy Prayer comes to mind:
“Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago.”
But that’s what God does. He works through and sometimes in spite of us sinners. That’s grace. Glorious grace. And I thank God for your partnership in that grace as well!