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Home School Of Preaching The unchanging in times of change

The unchanging in times of change

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“The unchanging in times of change.” Philippians 1:1-30

The first sermon at Grace Evangelical Church - Newcastle's

new premises at the crossroads, Glendale, Newcastle, Australia  

We all know that handling change is difficult. And currently as a church family we are in, perhaps, the biggest change in my eleven years here.

Change makes us uncomfortable: it brings uncertainty; unfamiliar and unpredictable circumstances; it requires new routines and perhaps even a whole new way of thinking and doing things at points; it challenges us to leave behind some of the structures and props we have grown so accustomed to, and even dependent on.

But here’s the question I want to throw out to you this morning: How much time and energy have you put into thinking about the process of change in general?

Focus the question even more as we begin our life and ministry together in our new church family home. How much time have you spent thinking about this massive change: thinking about how to maximise the benefits and minimise the potential dangers associated with it.

Have you identified which things should never change, even in the middle of times of great change? What strategies have you identified and put in place to make sure that you handle well the things that need to change and have to change, while at the same time protecting and reinforcing those things which should never change?

Isn’t it strange that, even though change is such a challenge, so often we don’t actually think about how to handle it?

Isn’t it strange that we assume something so difficult and challenging just happens without careful thought and strategising?

Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians is written against a backdrop of massive change. Paul was now in prison in Rome and facing execution. In a very real sense this letter is Paul’s farewell to the brethren at Philippi he had grown to love over many years.

That meant a real sense of grief and loss for the believers at Philippi because they identified so closely with him. It was Paul who had been instrumental in founding the Church.

Now things looked very different: all that was familiar, normal and comfortable was changing. Perhaps they felt disheartened, and even insecure, at the loss of Paul. Perhaps they felt uncertain in their future direction and focus, not quite sure where to go from here.

It’s not too hard to imagine their unease as they looked into the future

But anticipating this very natural response, Paul reminds them of unchanging essentials to help them in times of change.

REMEMBER: Your future, as your past, is secure in the certainty of God’s grace.

Verse 3: Paul is thankful every time he thinks of the believers at Philippi. That note continues throughout the letter in spite of some specific issues. He rejoices and likewise urges them to rejoice in the Lord.

How can Paul be so thankful, confident and joyful? Because he knows the church in Philippi is not his, but Christ’s and exists by the grace of God. And this is Paul’s GPS reading, or positioning reference as he enters unfamiliar territory.

Verse 6: Look back, says Paul, and remember that it was God who began a work of grace in your lives. Now, continues Paul, look forward into the future that looks so uncertain, unpredictable and unnerving, and remember that God will finish what he has started.

That God’s grace is central and certain and unstoppable, permeates the whole letter. Look at 2:11. God is determined to be honoured as he deserves, and this will happen through Jesus who is king of the world, and saviour and Lord of his people, the church.

To that end, 2:12-13, God is currently working in and through us and with us to make us ready for heaven, to make us like Jesus.

And that’s why, verses 7-8, Paul has no trouble seeing the Christians in Philippi as partners in the gospel, who share equally in God’s grace. Not only is Paul genuinely thankful for his fellow Christians, but, verse 8, his affection or loving concern for them means he wants for them what Christ wants for them – maturity or God’s completed work in their lives.

So, in spite of the massive change Paul is facing: he remains unchanged in his thankfulness to the Lord; unchanged in his love for his brethren; unchanged in his desire to see them brought to maturity and brought home by the Lord

And he remains unchanged in his confidence that the Lord can, and will do just that regardless of what new circumstances they experience.

So, we do not need to fear change. We do not need to fight change as though it will mean the loss of ‘the good old days’. Rather change can be exciting as we anticipate how the Lord will use our new circumstances to bring his work in us to completion, individually and as a church family unit.

We cannot know at this stage whether the new building will work out or not in terms of what we hope it will be. But we can be absolutely certain that God will complete the work he has begun in each of us. We can be absolutely certain that people will be saved as God has determined they would be saved.

Now it may be that these buildings will be the base for new ministries which the Lord may use to save many in the future – and that would be great wouldn’t it? But it may also be that these buildings will be the means by which we are challenged and our own maturity is developed as we face the challenges and possible difficulties that come with them.

But either way, our eternal security and relationship with the Lord is secure because of grace, and not our performance in and through these buildings.

And in this time of change we must, like Paul, continue to be truly and deeply thankful for one another. We must see each other in Christ, and see each other as a work in progress. We must remember that we always have far more in common in Christ than we have at odds as we live together as a church family, and now, as we work out how to use, decorate, maintain, and develop this property.

Remember: Stay focussed on the ‘main game’.

Change often leaves us feeling that we have lost control, because our familiar routines are gone. In response to that we often latch onto, and become pre-occupied with small things that we can control and that we feel confident and comfortable with, making them big things.

A good example of this is that many churches have been destroyed by acquiring property. How so? Because their focus changed from the main game as a church to spending all their time and effort on paying off a loan, or arguing about how the building should be used, and what colour it should be painted, and what children should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, these things are all important, but they are not the main game and we must not allow such things to take our focus. But what is the main game?

1. Striving together for God’s glory, through authentic Christian living (9-11).

In the face of all the change and uncertainty in Paul’s circumstances, he only has one prayer for them. In a nutshell his chief concern is that they continue to strive for better understanding of God’s grace in the Lord Jesus and express that understanding in God-honouring Christian living.

Put bluntly, it is growing passion for Christ and more obedient Christian living that will bring God glory, not our new property, wonderful though it is.

So, the main game is: continuing to strive for a growing understanding of who we are in Christ and what we should be as a result; changing lives reflecting our understanding of what pleases the Lord; Christ-like characteristics in our relationships with one another in this church family and before our non-Christian friends, family and workmates.

If we ever think that we will attract people to Christ through the credibility of owning a building rather than the credibility of transparent Christian living in our marriage, in our work place, in our street, or on the sports field, then we are done for.

Again, don’t get me wrong. We hope and pray this building will be a wonderful tool in gospel work, but it will never be a substitute for transparent, authentic, genuine Christian living.

2. Striving to be gospel opportunists, proclaiming Christ to all (12-26).

It appears that the Christians in Rome and Philippi had allowed Paul’s circumstances to become their main focus. It was as if the future of gospel work was tied to Paul and his being released from prison.

Some, verse 12-14, apparently thought that Paul being in Prison was a big set back for the work of the gospel and a real discouragement to believers in general.

Others, verses 15, who saw Paul as a rival and who competed for recognition with him saw their chance to carve a name for themselves.

Still others saw Paul’s imprisonment as a chance to settle old scores, apparently preaching about Jesus in the hope that the authorities would take it out on Paul.

But look at verses 18, 21 & 26. Paul totally views his circumstances from the point of view of grace and opportunity to preach Christ.

Paul’s changed circumstance was no reason for panic or despair because, verses 12, it actually advanced the cause of Christ. Verse 13, it was an opportunity to proclaim Jesus to soldiers who will eventually be stationed all over the Roman Empire and who have access to the emperor himself. Verse 14, it actually encouraged others to speak more boldly.

Verse 19-26 Paul even thinks that the gospel being proclaimed is more important than the most appealing circumstance of his death and being with Jesus.

Do you see the point? If the criteria by which we judge circumstances is personal preference or ease or pleasure or maintaining the status quo then change will always be unwelcome and the source of resentment and loss of focus.

But when viewed through the window of Gospel grace, change becomes a new opportunity, under God, to proclaim the gospel.

So, how are you thinking about the massive change we are going through at present as we move into our new property? Will your focus shift onto the thousand and one issues that have to do with the building, allowing them to dominate your thinking and actions?

Or are you determined to make this move into our own property a great opportunity to do things that previously weren’t possible without a building, and thereby get the gospel of Jesus out to our community more effectively?

For many years people ministry has been our focus. What a shame it would be if we used this building, which we believe to be a gift from the Lord, as a place to settle down in comfort and in a risk free environment, fencing ourselves in and the world out – like a retirement home – rather than seeing it as a tool for the gospel and the pen to write the next chapter of mission endeavour for us as Christ’s servants and soldiers.

3. Striving to genuinely stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ in the trenches (27-30).

Paul is very up-front that proclaiming Christ will bring opposition, attack and ridicule. How do we respond to a hostile world? The answer using military language is being shoulder to shoulder in the trenches.

It is the team spirit I often talk about. And how could it be any other way given in this church family we are partners in the gospel, equally sharing in God’s grace?

Stand as one with the clear gospel message calling people to live under Christ’s rule.

Stand as one in the importance of daily obedience and service of Christ.

Stand as one in relationships - maintaining unity and harmony with others in the church

Real Christians don’t bayonet one another as they face times of uncertainty and change or as they wait for the enemy to attack. Rather they stand shoulder to shoulder and steady one another’s nerve, by reminding one another that we are in this together.

Friends this means that if there is disunity - and by disunity I don’t mean different opinions and views about some things - if there is disunity in the congregation it is a sin against who we are in Jesus. It is a sin against the purpose of God and the work and person of Jesus.

And it would also threaten the heart and life of our church family: it destroys the effectiveness of our individual and collective ministry; and in the worst case scenario it could prove fatal. That’s pretty strong language isn’t it?

But we need to hear it in respect of owning property. There will be many differences of opinions and different preferences on a host of issues. But we must keep focussed on the main game of demonstrating the unity that is already ours in Christ.

Differences of opinion are not disunity, but easily lead to disunity if you push your preference at the expense of relationship with the church family or if you get offended and withdraw because you did not get your own way.

We must always have an eye to gospel credibility. That’s always been a challenge for us, and one we have done well in might I say. But with the acquisition of the building, the challenge has ramped up a bit.

And again, might I say that I think the building has already been the opportunity for many to work together in a whole heap of ways. But might I also say that I don’t think everybody has their shoulder to the wheel as yet.

Gospel work is always hard work – that’s Paul’s point in verses 29-30. Having our own building will not make it any easier in most respects. But like Paul, we need to se the toughness or gospel work as part of God’s grace to us.

Changing circumstances will always mean struggle to keep focussed on the main game, but this too is part of God’s goodness to us and part of his means of completing his work in us.

And as we look forward to many years in this building and many people converted as a result of the ministry these buildings will afford, we need to see it in the same terms as the rest of our Christian life.

Just as our conversion was a gift from the lord, so is this building. And just as our conversion means we then have to struggle to be obedient and Christ-like, so the gift of this building means we will need to strive to utilise it in a way that commends and advances the cause of Christ, and thereby see it bring glory to the Lord who gifted it to us.

Amen

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 December 2010 19:31  

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