Sermon for Trinity 22, October 23, 2016 (Philippians 1:3-11; Matthew 18:21-35; Psalm 130)


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. (Philippians 1:3-6)

Paul was an incredibly frustrating enemy to have.  They put him in prison to shut him up from preaching the Gospel and then he preaches the Gospel to the prisoners and the prison guards.  There, in prison, he makes prayers – with joy!  They put him on trial to shame and mock him and he rejoices for the opportunity to preach Christ in such a public setting.  They threaten him with death and he says death is gain, for it is far better to be with Christ (Phil. 1:21).  They say, “fine, we’ll let you live,” and he says, “Great!  To live is Christ (Phil. 1:21)!”  They take away everything he has and he says, I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11).  Satan harasses Paul and Paul rejoices in his suffering and says, “This helps me boast in my weakness.  Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).”  They separate him from a beloved congregation in Philippi in hope of leading him to despair of their salvation.  After all, if you can’t find weakness in personal attacks, then attack their family.  But Paul prays to God for them and he says 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. 

Paul’s enemies cannot seem to take away his joy, thanksgiving, and assurance and certainty.  This is for your example and encouragement.  As our joy, thanksgiving and assurance seem to be taken away; we are reminded that we placed them in the wrong place.

God has begun a good work in you.  His work of faith in you clings to Him, connects you to Him in full communion, in sorrow and happiness, in want and in much.  The work God begins, He continues today, and will bring it to completion.  You are saved by works, just not your works.  God’s works.

The most common enemy to God’s works is at the root of the lack of mercy shown to the man who couldn’t forgive a fellow servant a meager amount right after he was forgiven an enormous amount.  This enemy is the antipathy, the exact opposite, of the answer to the question, With what shall I come before the Lord? (Micah 6:6-8) and is at the root to the question If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  Have you guessed this enemy to God’s work, yet?  Your final hint is that it is broken in pieces with the first words of Paul today, I thank my God….The enemy is ingratitude, lack of thankfulness, an entitled will.  Without constantly making this enemy your enemy, you will not be frustrating to God’s enemies.  You will be playing directly into the hands of your sinful flesh, the world, and the devil.

A story to help us meditate on our lack of thanksgiving:  A Christian was walking to church one day and met a man who begged him for money.  The Christian gave him $100.  The next week, the same man begged him for money and the Christian gave him $200.  The next week, the same thing happened and the Christian gave him $300.  The next week, the man saw the Christian coming and the Christian smiled at him, gave him some food and water, and started walking away.

“Hey, man!  Where are you going?  Where’s my $400 this week?  Give it to me,” the beggar yelled.

What have you received this week, this year, and throughout your life in which you received with with a heart of “give it to me, God.”  What was taken away and what didn’t you receive in which you had the heart of “Where’s it at, God?”  Money, health, family are just a start.  All that you have and all that you are, our Lord calls you to receive in thanksgiving.  Thank, praise, serve, and obey, the catechism says.  And do it with all that you have and all that you are.

Your sins are forgiven.  Debt cancelled.  If you receive that truth in thanksgiving, how are you to treat your fellow servants who owe you much less than you owe God?  You have God’s Word in which He fills you, reveals His own heart of love toward you.  If you receive it in thanksgiving, your prayer will be that you will abound more and more in love, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent (Philippians 1:9-10).  God’s Word sizes things up for you, what is good or bad, right and wrong, holy and evil.  You have a fantastic gift.  God speaks to you clearly, with words.  Receive it in thanksgiving by hearing Him.

Paul was an incredibly frustrating enemy to have.  We receive the love and peace and grace and kindness of Christ only when we confess that while we yet enemies, He died for us.  No one can seem to take Paul’s joy away from him and our Lord Jesus endured this cross for the joy that was set before Him.  That joy was forgiveness won for you, holiness declared for you.  He reveals His heart again today as He preaches to you.  “My work saved you.  My work keeps you.  My work will bring you to me on My Day.  My Word and my body and my blood begins a good work in you today.  It is a work that is incredibly frustrating to your enemies, the devil and the world, but it can also be frustrating to us in our sinful flesh, too.”

But it is a work that roots in us thanksgiving, joy, and assurance that cannot be taken away.

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