The Lord's Day Evening
April 15, 2012
“A Faithful Partner in the Gospel”
The Reverend Mr. Michael A. Campbell
Good evening everyone. It is so good to be here tonight and to have the privilege of opening God's Word with you. It's always a special honor and privilege for me to preach in this pulpit, and tonight is especially so because of what you are celebrating and what you are focusing on, 175 years. And so I want to thank Dr. Duncan, I want to thank the session of First Pres. for considering me and for inviting me to be a part of your anniversary and your celebration.
If you have your Bibles with you tonight I'd ask that you please turn in them with me to Philippians chapter 1. Philippians chapter 1. And we are going to look at just a short passage from Philippians chapter 1 verse 3 through verse 6 and I encourage you to turn to it. I'm reading from the English Standard Version of God's Word. Philippians chapter 1 verse 3 through verse 6. The apostle Paul here writes, and this is the introduction really of this letter:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. 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.”
Let's pray together.
Father, as we now have read and are preparing our hearts to hear the Word of God preached, we want to thank You for Your Word. We thank You, Lord, that it is true in all that it proclaims. We thank You that it is good. We thank You that it is helpful. We thank You, Lord, that it is the rule of faith for all of our lives and certainly for Your church. We pray that You would bless tonight as the Word of God is opened before Your people. I pray that You would use this servant that's standing here. I pray that You would bless me and enable me to faithfully proclaim the Word of truth. And I pray that You would give to all of us, Lord, hearts that are open to hear, to receive, and to apply Your Word. Thank You for Jesus, our dear Savior. Thank You for what He has done for our salvation. Thank You, Lord, for the Spirit of God who is at work even now in our lives. Lord, help us to know You better. In Jesus' name, amen.
Several years ago I was invited to preach at one of our sister congregations, the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. And so I flew over to Augusta and one of the young men in that congregation picked me up at the airport, he was a ministry intern at the church, and as we were driving to my hotel we got into a conversation, just kind of getting to know each other a little bit better, and he told me that he had just gotten back from celebrating his grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Seventy-five years. Now I will tell you, up to that point, and I haven't heard anything since, I have never heard of anybody being married that long. I've never met anybody who's ever been married that long. And so if there just happens to be someone in this congregation who has been married for seventy-five years, would you please come at the end of the service up to me so that I can meet you because I would love to meet you!
I've never heard of anybody being married that long, and so because of that, I inquired a little bit about his grandparents because I would want to know — I mean, man, how in the world do you stay married that long and have a marriage that long? And I was utterly stunned by what he said to me because he replied to my inquiry about his grandparents by saying, “Pastor, they absolutely hate each other. And it wasn't that they just started to hate each other,” he said, “for most of the seventy-five years they were married they hated each other, couldn't stand each other for almost seventy-five years.” So I had to find out more. I mean, what in the world is going on here? And he went on to tell me that they had done their responsibilities toward one another. The man of the home, he provided for her and the woman of the home, she took care of the home and they had a couple of children together but they never treated each other with any love, they never cared for each other. They never liked each other; they said awful things to each other all the time. And so I had to know, “Why did they stay together?” He said, “Because they were of that generation when you make a word or you commit yourself to something or you pledge yourself to something, when you make a vow, you stay together.” Which, by the way, is very different than a lot of people today. And they just lived long enough to be married for seventy-five years.
Now as I thought about that story, one of the things that I thought is the amount of time that they were married was impressive. That time was impressive. You just have to give it to them. I mean, seventy-five years is an impressive amount of time to be married, but what they did with that time wasn't. The time was impressive but what they did with it most certainly wasn't. They didn't honor God in their marriage. So here we are, 175 years. Brothers and sisters, that's just incredible. And from a pastor who is at a church that's now been in existence for a little over seven, that's pretty amazing! 175 years — Wow! Congratulations! I almost don't know what to say to something like that. And praise God, though, that you've used the time well. You've used the time well.
Now in saying that, I do want you to understand something. My purpose with you tonight is certainly not to stand up in front of you and flatter you. That's not what I think ministers of the Gospel are ever called to do. And I fully well recognize that as you look back on the history, 175 years, that your history isn't perfect and no church's is. There are certainly, along the way in this journey, a lot of mistakes that I know you've made. I don't know all of them. I don't know all of the history of First Pres. I'm sure Ligon knows a lot and I look forward to reading the history of First Pres., that Sean Lucas is writing. And so I understand that. I understand it's not a perfect history. Our confession, it speaks to this in a way that I think is very helpful and very practical and very realistic. When our confession says that “the purest churches under heaven are subject to both mixture and error,” that's true, that we are not yet in the church triumphant, that none of us yet are in glory. And so no matter what, no matter how good a church may be, I mean, you’re always going to have mixture and error and faults and all of those things. But you have been faithful and you have been an incredibly important congregation to our denomination and you are an incredibly important congregation in our city. God has been at work here and that's why you have every reason tonight to be thankful to God, to be responsive to God, and to be confident in God. And those are the three points that I want to make this evening with you from this passage. I want to draw them out of this passage and show you what Paul is doing here and then specifically apply these things to what you are dealing with right now as you are thinking about and celebrating 175 years as a congregation.
A MINDSET OF THANKFULNESS
And so firstly I surely hope your mindset right now is through and through that of thanksgiving to God, but the fact is, it's at times not easy to be thankful. And I think that's part of the reason why you see in the Scriptures so often this encouragement, this nudging towards thanksgiving because it is very easy for us to not be. It's very easy for us to not just stop and be thankful for all that God has done and is doing because other things get in the way, because other things become sort of priorities in our hearts and our minds and our thinking. And I know that when a church has been in existence for this long, I mean a thing that can happen to you, easily happen, I hope that it hasn't, but one of the things that can happen to you when you've been going for a while is you can become somewhat jaded in the way that you’re thinking about things.
I can give you a couple of ways that that happens, things that sort of get in your heart and get in the way you’re thinking so that you’re not in any way nearly as thankful for what has happened here and what is happening here as maybe you should be. One of the things that can happen is you can spend your time grumbling and complaining a little bit too much. And that can happen after a long history in the church. You can grumble and complain and here's what you can do. You can do one of two things. There's two sides of this coin. On the one hand you can grumble and complain because, “Well, we've been here this long and we're still not doing…” Whatever. You fill in the blank. Or then you could flip the coin over on the other side and you could go, “Well, we've been here this long and why are we doing…” And so some of us are grumbling who are here because we're not doing enough and some of us are grumbling who are here because, “Well, we're doing way too much. I wish we weren't doing all of those things.” And as a result of that, your mind is being sort of consumed with the complaints, “It's not quite where it should be” kind of thinking that prevents you in this moment to be as thankful as you should be right now.
Another thing that I think can happen that can prevent you from being as thankful as you should be is you can find yourself at times more in a defensive posture as you think about your church than you are in a thankful posture. And here's how that can happen. I mean, you are a large and influential congregation and that is true in so many different kinds of ways. You are. And when you are a large and influential congregation and you stand for something, which First Pres. does, and you have a senior minister who stands for something, which Dr. Duncan does, then as a result of that what can happen is you can end up being hit by all kinds of things. You’ll kind of become a lightening rod, if you will. And so you end up being hit by, you know, this person and that person and this particular camp and that particular camp and as a result of that, because all the things, everybody's firing at you because you have influence and everybody's firing at you because you stand for something. And as a result of that you find yourself spending most of your time defending yourself or you find yourself spending most of your time guarding yourself and protecting yourself and you become consumed with that so that you are not able to do that which is most important. And I think that is being thankful to God for what He's done here and thankful to God for what He's doing.
And to be honest with you, this is part of the reason why I chose this particular letter and why I chose this particular section of this letter. It's because of what Paul does here. Paul, here, he emphasizes some things that are pretty extraordinary when you consider the setting. Remember, Paul is writing from prison when he writes this letter and Paul is writing this letter to a struggling congregation, to a congregation that's facing persecution, a congregation that is facing all kinds of suffering, and yet Paul, who writes from prison to a suffering congregation, he writes a letter that overflows with thanksgiving and joy. And you see that if you notice again with me verse 3 and 4 where he says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you, all making my prayer with joy.” Notice he begins it, “I thank my God for you with joy,” and so what you’re seeing here is that Paul, he's writing a letter and he starts it out this way where he's thankful with joy for the Philippians. And to consider that a man could actually write that, that he's thankful and write that with joy from prison, he writes that in the introduction to a congregation that is struggling and suffering and that sets up the introduction of Philippians, it sets up the theme that Paul's going to come back to over and over and over again because what Paul is doing is he's modeling for them. He wants them to understand this is the Christians life. This is how we are to be. This is how we are to think — that “I'm in prison and I'm thankful for you. I'm in prison; I'm rejoicing over you. Now this is to be your life. It is to be a life of thanksgiving and joy.” You see that here so clearly.
Now Paul goes on and he fleshes out the specific reason for that which we are going to come to in just a moment, but to express thanksgiving, I want you to consider this, to express thanksgiving with joy from prison and model that for a persecuted church, that has to mean that the reasons for being thankful must go way beyond the things that we may be experiencing in the moment. It has to. Whatever those things may be, good or whatever, it has to go beyond that. It's deeper than that. 175 years is an amazing milestone, it is. And I am certain that over 175 years you have had many ups and many downs. Because I am the pastor of a sister congregation here in this city I know that your last year has been incredibly difficult. You've had to deal with some hard stuff over the last year. I know that. But there is an ultimate reason why you should be thankful even beyond those identifiable things that you could look at and go, “I'm thankful for that” or “I'm thankful for that” or “I'm thankful for that.” You know, those sayings we often look at. And then we may not be thankful because if you look at too many bad things, the bad things outweigh the good things, you see? See how that works? That's not it. That's not what it's ever to be based on. There is a reason why you are to be thankful tonight, there is a reason why I stand before you as a pastor of a sister congregation, and I can say, “I'm thankful to God for you!” Why? Because for 175 years God has been at work here. For 175 years God has had a people here. For 175 years God's Word has been faithfully preached and taught and shared and lived here. Now when you consider that, how could you be anything but thankful? And so that's the first thing, thankful to God.
RESPONSIVE TO GOD
The second is responsive to God. And this is something that Paul is clear about the Philippians, that they were responding to the grace of God that was at work in this particular church. And so Paul, then, he moves on in verse 5, if you notice the text, and he gives them reason why he — this is the specific reason why he, Paul, is thankful for this church. In verse 5 it says, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.” And you notice that word, “partnership,” that he uses here. That word is a Greek word. There are a few Greek words that are so often used in Bible-believing churches that we kind of know these words even if we've never studied the language. You know, agape, would be one of them, but the one that's used here is one of those words and it's the word, koinonia. Koinonia, normally when you hear that, you’ll think koinonia is fellowship, right? It's translated “partnership.” And there's a reason this is translated “partnership” because I think Paul is getting at more than what we normally or typically think about when we think about fellowship, especially within our culture today. Often times when we think about fellowship it's become so watered down that fellowship is basically when Christians socialize and have food. And so I could give you a math equation for fellowship. It's Christians + socializing + food = fellowship. Okay? That's kind of the way that most of us will think about what fellowship is, but it's obviously so much more here in this particular passage to the apostle Paul.
The New Testament scholar, D. A. Carson, when he writes about fellowship he says this, that “the heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision.” In other words, it's a commitment to something — when you sacrifice yourself to a shared vision. He goes on and says, “Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the Gospel, that there may be overtones of warmth and intimacy.” In other words, it can include all our socializing and relationships and so forth, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. In other words, there is something of transcendent importance and we are together in that. We have bound ourselves together. We are committed in that together to the point where we are willing to sacrifice to that.
When the Philippians here experienced the grace of God, it wasn't something they experienced lightly. It wasn't something they treated flippantly. They experienced the grace of God and they responded to it. And so what Paul is saying is that part of that response is that they went deep in the Gospel but they did more than that. They bound themselves with others in this thing of transcendent importance. So what did they do? They became Paul's partner. That's what he's saying. The Philippians were his partner. And that partnership, according to verse 5, was Gospel-centered, it was practical, and it was on-going. Notice Paul again. He says, “Your partnership in the Gospel.” That's it. That's where it rests. That's what's most important. It is the Gospel. It is about our Savior. It is about One who came and took on flesh and lived obediently to the Law and died a sacrificial death on the cross and rose again. It is about One who is righteous and His righteousness was imputed or counted to us and our sin was imputed or counted to Him and He died paying the penalty for that sin. It's about justification by faith alone that salvation is through grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone to the glory of God alone. It is the Gospel that we hold. It's dear to us. It's been dear to you.
That the Gospel has been what has been preached and taught and lived here. It's the Gospel in which we battle over. If there is a hill that we would die on, the hill that we would die on is the hill of the Gospel! If there is a line that we would draw and say, “We will not cross that line!” it is the line of the Gospel! And that has been you. And I can stand here and I can say something to you that I cannot tell you how much of a privilege it is for me to say this because I have never been able to say this ever in my whole life and it is this. For almost two centuries, this congregation has been faithful to the Gospel. Now you talk about something moving! You cannot say that very often. For almost two hundred years you have been faithful to the Gospel. Praise God for that. And you have partnered with others that have defended the Gospel and taught the Gospel and proclaimed the Gospel and spread the Gospel.
You know in Philippians, this partnership that the Philippian church had with Paul, I mean it was a partnership in the Gospel and it was a partnership that was real and tangible and practical. In other words, when they partner with Paul in the Gospel they didn't say, “Well, go and do well.” This was a partnership of commitment. It was a partnership of prayer. It was a partnership of care. It was a partnership of concern. And it was a partnership that even gave them to open up their wallets and give to him. That's part of the reason Paul writes this letter, to say thanks to them for their financial gift to them. They gave in all kind of ways to the Gospel and it was on-going, he says, “from the first day until now.” Now has that been you? Well think about it. I don't even know all the details. I just know these things are true that I'm about to say to you.
Think about the missionaries that have come up out of this congregation and have gone all over the world to spread the Gospel. Think about the mission agencies and organizations that actually exist because of members of this congregation that have been involved in starting them and support that you have put around them. Think about the critical and key role that this church played in the establishment of Reformed Seminary and of the Presbyterian Church in America.
And let's bring this closer to home. Let's talk about Jackson a little bit. Let's talk about the demographics that make up the city of Jackson and some of the things that you have done, and I know this history, that you have done in relationship to this city - the significant role that some of your members and that you as a church had in the founding of Mission Mississippi, an organization that has had a profoundly important role in changing race relationships in this city and state through the Gospel. And you were there. Think about the role that you had in the planting of Redeemer Church, the church that I pastor. I say this to our people all the time that the reason Redeemer Church exists is because God established Redeemer Church, but there are people, there were churches that were a part of that work and I can honestly say to you, I believe this with all my heart, that part of the reason Redeemer Church exists today is because of the partnership of First Presbyterian Church. It was because your minister and some of your elders stood for a church like this. It is because of the resources that you put behind this, it was because some of your elders that were actually on the commission at the very beginning. And what about the first RUF on a historic black college campus, Jackson State, and the role that First Pres. had and has in that ministry?
You know, the other day we just completed our new building. The other day we had a little small opening, it was real small, but the mayor was there. And I took the mayor through our facility. And we have a Sunday School class that we have for Jackson State, RUF Jackson State ladies. About fifty ladies come and participate in this Sunday School class. And as we were walking through the building he saw the sign on the door, “JSU RUF Sunday School Class,” and he was really taken by that. And he was like, “Wow, you guys have this.” And then as we talked about it a little more he said this — this is amazing! He said, because he knows about RUF because everybody knows about RUF at Jackson State because that thing is huge and massive and incredible. He said, “Is RUF Presbyterian? Is it PCA?” And I got to say —“Yes! It is part of the Presbyterian Church in America!” And now our mayor knows that! These are ways that you have responded to the grace of God and partnered in the Gospel with others who embrace that Gospel. We praise Him for it.
CONFIDENT IN GOD
Thankful to God, responsive to God, and then the last thing, confident in God. Confident in God. And I know that you have been and I hope that you continually are confident in God. In verse 6 Paul says, “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.” The Philippians had every reason to be confident, didn't they? They had every reason to be confident because God had been at work. They had every reason to be confident because God had established this church, and the same God who established this church is the God who is going to finish this work. That's what he's saying. This was not about him, it's not about you, it's not about you, it never is. It's not about Ligon. It's not about your ministers. It's not about your elders. I know we all have responsibility, we all have a calling — things we are to do, gifts that we have been given, we are to be faithful. But at the same time, what a joyous thing it is to know, to kind of step back for a moment and be able to actually say, “This belongs to God! God's done this! God started it and because God started it I can have confidence to know that the God who began this good work is the God who can bring it to and will bring it to completion.”
And that was the Philippians’ story. You remember that story. I mean, it was one of these great stories about God working and God sent Paul there. You remember how the Philippian church was planted. It was planted on a riverbank by a woman who sold purple goods and her name was Lydia. And Paul was led to that riverbank, Paul was given the Gospel by God, and it actually says in Acts chapter 16 verse 14 that “God opened Lydia's heart.” Now you know what you’re seeing all the way there, it's tracking all the way through? God did this, God did this, God did this, God did this. It's all about Him, right? And when we know that from the beginning that it's all about Him, that's one of those things that gives us great confidence. There is no question that the reason why this church is here is because of God. That's why you’re here.
Now earlier in the week when I was trying to think through what to say to you guys I went on your website and I looked at your brief history. And I came across something at the very beginning of your brief history; it was just really moving to me. I love to read it because it made me just think about God and how incredibly wonderful He is. But here's what the beginning — if you haven't read it in a while — here's what it says. This is the beginning of your brief history, right on your website. “There were no elders for two years, no deacons for six years, nor a Presbyterian house of worship for nearly nine years. In the first two years of existence, the church had but three new members.” Can you imagine that's how you started? Now what a great thing to put! I'm so glad you put it. Whoever wrote that history, I'm so glad you put that on your history right at the top because it says so much about our God and how He works. He takes something that can be so small and at first struggle for even existence, and turn it into something so wonderful. That's our God.
But here's the thing. We don't just live in the past, that's not it. I mean, Paul goes on to say, the One who's done this, God, our great God, “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And so we don't live in the past. It's not just, “God has done something He's going to complete at the day of Jesus Christ.” God is going to do something; God will do something. But it's more than “God has done something; God will do something.” It's “God is doing something,” that He is at work in the midst of all of this leading to the day of Jesus Christ. As one commentator in looking at verse 6 says that “Paul's confidence is that their lifelong participation in the Gospel from the beginning until now will continue until the day of Christ, but this confidence has very little to do with them and everything to do with God who both began a good work in them and will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.”
Paul's point is that God is at work. He's been at work; He will be at work; He's at work in your life now. I mean, I can say this to you with absolutely truthfulness not knowing what your days ahead, immediately ahead are going to be. I don't know what they are. I mean, all of us run through times of great difficulty. Paul was writing to a church that was suffering and yet I believe this is what he's saying. He's saying, “Your brighter days are not behind you. That's not your brightest days. Your brightest days are always ahead of you.” Now how do I know that's true? Because I know that the eschaton is before me, I know that glory is before me, I know that the church triumphant is before me. That's why I know! It doesn't matter the bumps in the road, it doesn't matter the knocks that you’re going to have, it doesn't matter what hardships you may face, it doesn't matter when people mess up! Ultimately your brightest days are in front of you! Why? Because your God, who has brought you this far, He's not going to let you go. He's not going to let you go. He's going to keep you and hold you and protect you and love you. That's what's yours.
You have been blessed, First Pres., with so much. And so I hope, and I’ll wrap up with this, that what you’re doing right now is that you are considering all that God has done and will do and is doing, that you’re looking around and you’re looking outside of your doors and you’re looking at your Jerusalem and your Samaria and to the ends of the earth and here's the question you are asking — “Lord, until we're finished, until You complete this work, what do You want us to do now, and what do You want us to do next, to His glory?” And may the Lord God continue to bless you as you carry on, on this incredible journey. First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, congratulations on 175 years. May it continue on until Jesus comes. Let's pray.
Our Father and our God, we are so thankful for this time in Your Word, so thankful for what You've done in this congregation and I do pray, Lord, that this time in the Word has been encouraging to Your people and that Lord, they would leave even tonight praising You, thanking You, and seeking ways to live more faithfully to Your glory. It's in Jesus' name we pray, amen.
Would you please stand as you hear God's good word as I pronounce the benediction?
The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.
©2013 First Presbyterian Church.
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