The Measure of True Fellowship (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 4:1   |   Sunday, January 12, 2014   |   Code: 2014-01-12-MR

Well this morning we find ourselves only about a week and a half in to a brand new year. And even amidst our post-holiday busy schedules, and amidst returning to our daily and weekly routines—I trust that the freshness and the novelty and the anticipation of a burgeoning New Year is not lost on you just yet.


I also hope that over these past few weeks you’ve taken some time to reflect and meditate, on your knees and with an open Bible, on how you will order your life in 2014 such that you might be pleasing to the Lord in all things. Pastor John gave us that wonderful exhortation last Sunday night from 2 Corinthians chapter 5, where Paul tells us that the true Christian always has as his ambition to be pleasing to God. And whether or not this noble ambition finds expression through a series of resolutions, I pray that you all have been thinking seriously and practically about how you will order your lives in 2014 in order to do all things to the glory of God.


This time of reflection and reorientation has not been lost on me, as I examine myself and my calendar, consider my priorities biblically, and set goals for the coming year. And I’ve even done that as I’ve considered GraceLife, and where we are as a fellowship group within Grace Church. In fact, people have even asked me about my goals for the group and what direction I’d like to see the group moving in. And as I’ve thought about that there has been much occasion for thanksgiving and joy before the Lord on your behalf—not unlike Paul has expressed for the Philippians, on account of their partnership with him in the Gospel and of their growth in grace.


I thank God for the privilege of serving such a well-taught group, so hungry for the Scriptures and the truth of God’s Word. I think GraceLife has been particularly blessed over the years with exceptional teaching, from men like Lance Quinn, Stuart Scott, Don Green, and of course Phil Johnson and John MacArthur. The fruit of their labor in the Word has been a great deal of spiritual maturity in you as a people. And I think if you asked around Grace Church about what distinguishes GraceLife as a fellowship group, you’d have a lot of people speak about our focus on in-depth biblical teaching. And I can testify from experience, this group is very evidently marked by a high-esteem for your pastors and shepherds, as Phil and I and the rest of our leadership team at GraceLife do experience your genuine love and appreciation. And it has been a joy for me to get to know so many of you, as I’ve served the Lord alongside of you in the last year and a half. And in that time—especially through our Bible studies—I have seen a group of saints that cares for one another, where the rich fellowship that we have in Christ is truly lived out in practice.


 But as is the case with any congregation—even as it was with the Philippians—there is always room for growth; there’s always the possibility for us to “excel still more.” And as I thought about goals for GraceLife in 2014—things that I am asking the Lord for on our behalf—my heart continues to rest on our “excelling still more” in our fellowship and care for one another. Just as much as I delight to hear of GraceLife’s reputation as a well-taught group who loves the Word of God, I’m jealous that we would also be known—not instead, but also—as a fellowship group full of brothers and sisters who really and truly care about one another; who know by practice and by experience the thriving, vital, living fellowship that exists between fellow members of the body of Christ; that this would be a place where people are involved in each other’s lives, where they delight to spend time with one another, where they are sacrificially committed to fighting for holiness alongside one another, where practical and physical needs are made known in humility and are met in love and self-sacrifice.


And so at this time of biblical reflection and reorientation, I count it to be a blessed providence of God that our study of the Book of Philippians has taken us to the first verse of chapter 4 at the outset of this New Year. Because it is in this verse that we are presented with yet another window into the love, and fellowship, and tender affection that was shared between Paul and his precious friends in the Church of Philippi. And that picture of warm affection—of endearing delight, of living and loving communion between believers—serves as such a wonderful example to us, as we press on to greater Christlikeness in our relationships with one another in the body of Christ.


And at the outset of Philippians chapter 4 verse 1, we’re immediately confronted with the word Therefore, and are thereby instructed to consider the context in which this verse comes. And if you have been with us in our studies through the Book of Philippians, you’ll remember that in the second half of chapter 3, Paul is exhorting his friends to follow his example of expending maximum effort in the race of Christian holiness. He tells them, in chapter 3 verse 14, that his singular preoccupation is pressing on in the pursuit of practical righteousness so that he might reach the finish line and lay hold of the prize that is face-to-face, sin-free fellowship with Christ Jesus Himself.


But in verses 18 and 19, he acknowledges that there are those who would call themselves Christians who don’t follow Paul’s example of holiness, but who give themselves over to the gratification of their sensual desires—who, by continuing in unbroken patterns of sin in their lives, demonstrate by their conduct that they are not true followers of Jesus at all. Paul warns the Philippians not to follow the example of the sensualists, because that lifestyle ends not in satisfaction, but in destruction, and renders one an enemy of the cross of Christ.


And then after that negative exhortation, he goes on in verses 20 and 21 to give two positive reasons for pressing on in the fight against sin. The first has to do with our present position as citizens of heaven. Paul tells us that we are already enrolled as citizens on the register of heaven—that we are merely pilgrims, sojourning in a foreign land. But no matter what kinds of pressures there are to conform to the worldliness and sensuality that surrounds us, our lives must be ruled and governed by the laws of the land of our citizenship. And of course that land is distinguished in every way by holiness and purity.


And then, secondly, not only are we to be motivated toward holiness because we are presently citizens of heaven, but also because of our glorious future hope—namely, the coming of Christ to save us from sin, and the marvelous destiny of a resurrected, glorified body! And so the argument is: if our body is destined to be purged from all sin and transformed into conformity with the body of Christ’s glory, then we ought not to surrender our bodies as the willing instruments of unrighteousness. Instead, we ought to stand firm, chapter 4 verse 1, against all temptations to slacken in our pursuit of holiness, and make every effort to press on in the race of the Christian life.


But before Paul arrives at the crescendo of this ringing exhortation to stand firm in our battle against sin—to hold our ground, as good soldiers of Christ Jesus—he couches that exhortation in a flood of the most warmly affectionate and tenderly endearing language found in any of his letters. And so in Philippians chapter 4 verse 1, he writes, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (literal translation).


With the tears with which he mourned the apostasy of the sensualists still moist in his eyes, he can barely handle the thought that his dear Philippians might ever go out from Christ and so demonstrate that they were never truly of Christ (cf. 1 John 2:19). And so his exhortation for them to stand firm comes with a profusion of affectionate designations that so clearly manifests the unique bond of genuine love and friendship that Paul shared with these fellow believers.


And so my aim this morning is to meditate on each of these five terms of endearment, so that we might more fully understand the nature of our true relationship to one another as fellow believers. I want us to be stirred up to cultivate this same kind of loving and affectionate fellowship with one another, so that we might truly live life together with one another as the body of Christ in this place, and in that way conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel.


I. Brethren


That first term of endearment that Paul uses to designate his relationship with the Philippians is, number one, brethren. And the New American Standard inverts the word order of the Greek to make the sentence flow more smoothly in English. But in the original, the term brethren is presented first and anchors the rest of the descriptions. “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for…” And so most fundamentally, Christians relate to one another as brothers and sisters. At the most basic level of our relationships with one another, we are marked by a unique, familial bond.


And this designation dominates Paul’s thinking throughout his letters, and even this present letter to the Philippians. He addresses them as brethren six other times: the first in chapter 1 verse 12, and then three times in chapter 3—in verses 1, 13, and 17, and then in chapter verses 8 and 21. And this is not just some sort of filler-word for the Apostle Paul, here. I fear sometimes that we’ve begun to treat the term “brother” or “sister” as a sort of throw-away word that has been evacuated of all of its meaning. “Hey brother.” “What’s going on brother?” It wasn’t like that for Paul. He used the term purposefully—knowing that it would engender tenderness and affection from his readers because it would remind them of their spiritual union in belonging to the family of God. On the basis of the atoning work of Christ on behalf of His people, all those who are united to the Son by faith have been adopted into the family of our Heavenly Father.


And what a wonderful picture of the fellowship that believers in Jesus have with one another: to be brothers and sisters of the same family! Our relationship to one another is not based upon common interests or shared hobbies. We’re not merely a social club or a political organization linked by superficial, subjective commonalities. We are objectively united to one another, by virtue of the electing work of the Father, the redemptive work of the Son, and the regenerating work of the Spirit. The same way it is with a human family! A family is not merely a group of people with some shared interests and a subjective appreciation for one another. No, brothers and sisters are bound together by something much deeper than that: by the objective union that exists as a result of the love shared by their parents. And that objective reality that binds us together means that we will always be there for one another. There may be tensions and arguments that exist between myself and my two younger brothers. But no matter what happens in our lives, we will never stop being brothers. That objective bond is unbreakable.


And the same is true within the family of God. There may be tensions and disagreements that exist between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. But just as nothing can separate us from the loving union that we share with Christ individually, neither can anything separate us from the union that we share with one another, corporately. And so whatever subjective disunity exists between us, we can fight for unity, and reconciliation, and oneness with one another, standing on the solid foundation of our objective unity as children of God.


One of the greater blessings in my life during my time in seminary came at a time when there was a potential conflict in my life. I actually don’t remember much at all about what that particular threat was, but I do remember speaking to our children’s pastor, Matt White, about it. Neither of us were on staff at the time; we had just gotten to know each other through seminary and because we lived in the same apartment complex. And as I spoke with him about whatever it was that was troubling me, he assured me that if I needed his help at all that I could come running, day or night. And then he looked up at me and said, “You’ve got family.” And that really struck me. And it really stuck with me. Maybe it was especially because Janna and I don’t have any blood-family out here on the West Coast. But the sense of belonging and security and strength in numbers was just so comforting and reassuring to me that I praised God for giving such a loving, familial bond to His children.


And friends, that kind of brotherly and sisterly bond needs to mark our relationship with one another. We need to be able to look at one another in the eye—from the darkest of trials to the smallest of conflicts—and reassure one another that, “You’ve got family,” that “You belong with me, and I’m here for you whenever you need me.”


And it doesn’t matter what diversity of circumstances and backgrounds we’ve come from. There’s no room in the family of God for an attitude that exalts natural, superficial distinctions over and against the supernatural, spiritual unity that belongs to every brother and sister in Christ. Like: “Oh, I prefer not to hang out with those people because they don’t understand my cultural heritage;” or: “…they’re so much younger or older than me;” or: “…they don’t have young children and I’m at the stage of life where I need people who are sharing my experiences.” The Gospel trumps all of that!


Remember where Paul was coming from! He was circumcised on the eighth day! Of the stock of Israel! Of the tribe of Benjamin! A Hebrew of Hebrews and a Pharisee of Pharisees! As Paul penned these words he could remember a time all too clearly when the only thing he would have called these Gentile pagans was uncircumcised dogs! He even would have looked down on Jewish proselytes—and even fellow Israelites who didn’t belong to that strictest sect of the Pharisees! But because of the marvelous work accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross—because of the sovereign work of God in snatching Paul from the blindness of his Judaism and snatching the Philippians from the blindness of their paganism—and opening all of their eyes to the ugliness of their sin and the unspeakable glory of Jesus, granting to them a common faith in this crucified and risen Lord—they are now brethren; they are now brothers and sisters in Christ.


And friends, no matter what distinctions might exist between you—whether ethnic and cultural backgrounds, levels of education, age and circumstances of life, shared interests and hobbies, and even degrees of spiritual maturity—the reality of our common adoption into the family of God puts us all on a level, and the things which we now have in common with one another as we share in Christ far outweigh any differences between us. We are sinners, born under God’s just wrath and condemnation. We are undeserving recipients of the Father’s gracious, electing love. We are rebels for whom the sinless son of God has gone to the cross and rose from the dead in order to pay for our sins and provide our righteousness. We are hostile enemies overcome by the effectual and irresistible work of the Spirit to grant life and faith in our hearts. And having been justified by that faith that was given to us as a free gift, we have been adopted into the family of God. And those shared realities far outweigh any worldly differences that exist between us. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free man, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus!” Oh, may we grasp the implications of what it means that we are brethren.


II. Beloved


As glorious as that is, we are not just brethren. It’s true—that familial bond is objective; you don’t have a choice who your brothers and sisters are. And sometimes you don’t always like them, do you? And almost as if he’s thinking about that, Paul adds a second term of endearment describe his relationship with the Philippians. And that is, number two, they are beloved.  Look again at verse 1: “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for….” And then after he gives them the exhortation to “stand firm in the Lord,” again, at the end of the verse, Paul repeats this designation and calls them “my beloved” again. And so the relationship that he has with the Philippians is not one of feuding brothers and sisters; there’s no thought of, “Well, you’re my brother and so I guess I’m stuck with you.” No. He virtually brackets the verse—at the beginning and the end—by expressing his deep and heartfelt love for them.


This word that the NAS translates “beloved” is the adjective form of the Greek word agape, which Pastor John describes as “the richest, deepest, and strongest Greek word for love” (MacArthur, 268). Another commentator writes that this love is “deep-seated, self-sacrificing, thorough, intelligent, and purposeful—a love in which the entire personality takes part” (Hendriksen, 189).


And there are two components to this biblical love that exists between fellow believers in Jesus. The first component is affection, or you might also say delight. This love of affection or delight looks upon its object and, seeing the loveliness and worthiness of the object, finds great pleasure in it (cf. Martin). And surely this was true of Paul as he treasured his friendship with the Philippians. We learn from this epistle that their hearts had been uniquely knit together in the partnership of Gospel ministry. Chapter 1 verse 5 speaks of the Philippians’ “participation in the gospel from the first day until now.” And in verse 7 Paul says, “It is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” And then again in chapter 4 verse 15, he draws attention to the fact that after he left Macedonia, “no church shared with [him] in the matter of giving and receiving but [the Philippians’] alone.” And so Paul can look upon the Philippians, and take pleasure in them with that love of affection, because of their progress in grace. They are not lovely or worthy in and of themselves, but as they become increasingly conformed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul sees Christ in them—and He is the sum and substance of all beauty and delightfulness and loveliness.


But this love does not stay merely at the level of affection. When the heart is so full of delight in the beloved, that affection expresses itself in action. It is the kind of love that produces a sacrificial commitment to one another, that suffers great cost to oneself, if necessary, in order to benefit the beloved. And this was true of Paul as well—in ways that we see even in just this epistle. In chapter 2, verses 19 to 30, Paul speaks of sending his deeply cherished brothers, Timothy and Epaphroditus, back to the Philippians for their own sake. Remember how he spoke of Timothy: He was Paul’s kindred spirit in a way that was entirely unique; he had demonstrated his proven worth; he had served alongside Paul in Gospel ministry, and had done so just as if he were Paul’s own son. Surely Paul would have wanted his spiritual son by his side as he faced his imprisonment and his impending trial before Nero. But because he would be a benefit to the Philippians, Paul was willing to send him to them.


And the same with Epaphroditus—the one who Paul calls his brother, his fellow-worker, and fellow soldier. He explains to the Philippians that Epaphroditus had almost died from his journey, and says that, “In sparing him, the Lord also had mercy on me, because if he died I would have had sorrow upon sorrow” (2:27). And yet as much as he loved Epaphroditus and could have benefited from his personal ministry while in prison, he gladly sent him back to the Philippians, because he knew that seeing him would cause them to rejoice. And that is to say nothing of Paul’s suffering for Christ on behalf of them, which he describes in chapter 2 verse 17 as “being poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.” The fortune-telling slave-girl would have remembered the beating that Paul received at the hands of the magistrates (Ac 16:23). The jailer would have remembered the bruises on his wrists and ankles from being fastened in the stocks (Ac 16:24). And any one of them could have observed in his body the brand-marks of Christ (Gal 6:17).


And GraceLife, I ask you: Do you have any experimental knowledge of this kind of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Can you look upon them and in integrity call them, “My beloved brethren”?  Is there a delight, a bubbling up of true affection, as you identify evidences of grace in their life, and behold with the eyes of your heart the glory of Christ revealed in your brothers and sisters, as they becoming increasingly conformed into His image?


And does that love of affection and delight well up and overflow into action—into real, concrete deeds of service and self-sacrifice? Are you sacrificially committing yourselves to one another—pouring yourselves out as a drink offering, upon the sacrifice and service of the faith of your dear brothers and sisters? Are you being inconvenienced by meeting the needs of the saints, but counting the loss of that convenience as gain for the sake of the surpassing value of the communion with Christ (cf. Phil 3:8) that comes as a result of serving His people the way He did?


And perhaps the most important question: If you’re not, what kinds of provisions are you making to see that that changes in 2014? What kinds of adjustments need to be made? What priorities need to be re-evaluated? What idols need to be sacrificed? Oh friends, I tell you that it will be worth it in order to truly call your brethren, beloved.


III. Longed-For Ones


A third term of endearment that teaches us much about the nature of Christian fellowship is best translated as a longer phrase. Number three: those whom I long for.


And this word, epipóthetoi, is a very strong word that is found nowhere else in the New Testament in this precise form. It derives from the verb epipothéo, which speaks of intense longing or yearning, of sincere affection. The great Scottish commentator John Eadie wrote that the word “describes a strong desire, an intense craving of possession, a great affection for, a deep desire, an earnest yearning for something with implication of need. Here it describes the natural yearning of personal affection. Paul loved the saints at Philippi and had a longing for the joy of renewed fellowship with them face to face.”


And that this sort of intense affection and desire to be reunited existed between Paul and the Philippians is just so evident from this epistle. Back in chapter 1 verse 8, Paul says, “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” This great desire and delight in their company was so strong that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could describe it as the affection of Christ Jesus—nothing less than the visceral yearning of Christ’s own love expressing itself through Paul (O’Brien, 71).


And the same was true on their part, as we see in chapter 2 verse 26, on the part of Epaphroditus who was a member of that congregation. You see, as Epaphroditus was making the 700-mile journey from Macedonia to Rome to minister to Paul on behalf of the Philippians, somewhere along the way he became sick—so sick he nearly died. And apparently word had reached Philippi that he was gravely ill, but not that he had recovered. And now that he’s better and the Philippians don’t know it, he’s worried that they’ll be experiencing unnecessary grief over him. And Philippians 2:26 says, “he was longing for you all and was distressed because you heard that he was sick.”


This was an ache of the soul, borne out of tender affection and mutual delight, that longed to be reunited with one’s brothers and sisters—to once more see their faces, and bring a smile to their lips, and embrace them as members of the same family of God—like a soldier on the battlefield, wearied from the explosions and the fire of heavy artillery, climbs into his foxhole at night, and takes out a picture of his wife and young children, and pines after them in his heart, longing to be reunited with them. Peter uses this word to speak of how a newborn baby longs for the milk of nourishment from his mother’s breast. And in the same way that an infant child cries out from the pangs of hunger, Paul—this man’s man! this man who could endure one physical assault after another and would keep getting back up for more!; this brilliant theologian! with an intellectual capacity unequaled in the history of the church—longed for his dear friends at Philippi with all the affection of Christ.


Friends, can you see anything of yourself in these pictures—in these examples of Paul and Epaphroditus? Do you long for the fellowship of the people of God? One preacher put it helpfully; he said, “Where there is genuine love, there is genuine longing to be with the object of that love.” Is that your experience? Does the delight you profess to have in your brothers and sisters in Christ find expression in the desire for them when you aren’t together? I know that it does for some of you. It is such a joy for me to hear many of you speak about how you long to be in this place on the Lord’s Day, to gather with the Lord’s people and worship Him as your Savior and King. It’s a delight for me to hear you speak about how anxiously you anticipate Friday nights—to enjoy the fellowship of your brothers and sisters in your home Bible studies. And my prayer is that that number among you would continue to grow more and more, until every last one of us in GraceLife can read of Paul’s affection and longing for his brothers and sisters and proclaim from our hearts, “Yes! By God’s grace I know what it is to experience that among my fellow believers!”


And, just one other brief word of exhortation on this point: Labor, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to be the kind of people other believers can’t help but love and long for. One way to apply this portion of Scripture is to check our own hearts to see if we have the kind of magnanimity and large-heartedness that Paul has for his dear Philippians. But another is to strive, by God’s grace, to press so hard after holiness—and so hard against sin—that the glory of Christ is so clearly on display in your life, such that truly godly people can’t help but long to be in your presence; because to be in your presence, is to see their Savior so eminently displayed in your life.


IV. Joy and Crown


Well, there are two more terms of endearment that Paul uses as he addresses the Philippians. And we’re going to consider those final two terms together, because they really are a unit—two sides of the same coin. Look again with me at verse 1: “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown….”


He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout this letter—there being some reference to joy and rejoicing sixteen times in these four short chapters, it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: namely, chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.


And finally, it’s a striking statement to say that fellow believers are his joy, rather than saying that Christ Himself is his joy. But given what we just said about displaying the glory of Christ by virtue of our conformity to His image, we find the distinction between joy in Christ and joy in His people to be a false dichotomy. Because Paul can so clearly see the evidence of God’s grace at work in the lives of the Philippians, it is precisely because his joy is in Christ that the Philippians are a cause for his rejoicing. When he thinks back to the founding of that church in Philippi, and remembers how he had begotten them as his spiritual children through the preaching of the Gospel, and now considers their growth in grace and evident spiritual maturity, his heart overflows with joy. He expresses that same sentiment in 1 Thessalonians 3:9, when he says, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?”


But not only are the Philippians a source of present joy, their progress in grace is also a guarantee of Paul’s future rejoicing in the day of Christ. This is what he’s referring to when he calls them his joy and crown. Now this crown is not the diádema—the royal crown that a king or sovereign would wear. This is the stephanos—the laurel wreath awarded to the victor in the Greek athletic games. Paul speaks about this crown, this stephanos, in 1 Corinthians 9:25, when he uses the illustration of the games to stir us up to greater effort in the Christian life. He says there, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath….” They run to win! To stand on the highest platform and be crowned as victor!


But throughout the New Testament, the Apostles take that image of the wreath and use it as a metaphor for the believer’s final reward in the day of Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Tim 4:8; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10). And unlike that perishable wreath that would begin to wilt as soon as the laurels were picked from the tree, this wreath that the believer strives after and yearns for is an imperishable wreath (1 Cor 9:25); it is an unfading crown of glory, 1 Peter 5:4.


And so do you see what Paul is saying by calling the Philippians his crown? He’s saying what he said of the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and 20: “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” He is saying that the proof of the effectiveness of his ministry will be the spiritual maturity of the believers he’s invested in. They themselves, in the progress of their holiness, will be his crown. This is precisely what he says in chapter 2 verse 16, as he exhorts them to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, so that they might stand out as stars shining in the night sky, so that, verse 16, “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory”—to rejoice!—“because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”


Pastor Albert Martin paraphrases this beautifully. He says, speaking as Paul, “If you Philippians continue in the path of obedience, so that Christ is formed in you to the extent that you shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, when the Lord Jesus comes, I will not be found as one who ran but was not crowned—as one who has nothing to show for all my endeavors but sore muscles! Oh, if you Philippians continue to be monuments of the power of the Gospel in practical holiness, in the last day I’ll wear the victor’s crown as a minister who was used to realize the great end of the ministry!”


And my friends, we need to have this very same view of one another—that our fellow believers are our joy and crown of exultation on the day of Christ. Now sure, we are not each other’s pastors and spiritual leaders like Paul was to the Philippians. But we all need to be involved in each other’s lives—to be laboring diligently to aid in the sanctification of our brothers and sisters in Christ!


This progressive sanctification—this race of Christian holiness that we’re running—this is not an individual endeavor! It’s a team effort! Sanctification is a community project, my friends! You and I, and our brothers and sisters in GraceLife, and in your Bible studies, are given to one another by God so that we might encourage one another, and sharpen one another, and stir one another up to greater likeness to Christ—greater hatred of sin, and greater love for righteousness! This is what we’re here for! To build into the people of God—to invest our lives in each other’s spiritual maturity. We’re here to get into each other’s kitchen, to ask the hard questions, to give of our time and energy, to be devoted to one another in prayer, to model for one another how to put off sin and put on righteousness, and ten thousand other things!


Alexander MacLaren, that great Scottish preacher, said that “the crown of victory laid on the locks of a faithful teacher is the character of those whom he has taught.” And I would broaden that out to apply it to all of us: the crown of victory laid on the locks of a faithful believer is the character of those brothers and sisters whom the Lord brought into his life, whom he poured himself into, and labored to see them mature in holiness.


Are you investing your lives in the lives of your fellow believers, such that in the day of Christ you will have a number of brothers and sisters who will be your joy and crown of exultation? If not, then with the thought of that glorious day in the horizon of your mind, you need to ask yourself what you’re going to do here in 2014 to change that. What in your life will you sacrifice in order to invest in that crown? How can you more faithfully give yourself to spending and being spent for the souls of your brothers and sisters?


When will you finally get involved in a Bible study, so that you can surround yourself with these kinds of relationships in that small-group setting? When will you make time in your schedule to meet with that brother or sister in your life for personal discipleship? When will you open your home to your fellow believers and forge true friendships and relationships in a true, life-on-life context. Oh friends, don’t forfeit your own joy! Don’t forfeit your crown of exultation!




What a wonderful picture this verse gives us of the nature of true, Christian fellowship. May it be that this warm affection, endearing delight, and loving communion that existed between the Apostle Paul and the Philippians come to mark us, GraceLife, in the weeks and months to come. May it be at the end of 2014, that each one of us would be able to look upon our fellow believers in this place, call them, “My brothers and sisters, those whom I love and long for, my joy and crown!”