Dec. 6, 2015 Text: Philippians 1:2-11
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. C.F.W. Walther lived from 1811 to 1887. He was the 1st President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Because of his faithfulness to the Word of God he has been known as the “American Luther.” Back in 1987 Glen Reichwald wrote an essay titled, “If Walther Were Alive Today” . . . listen to a portion:
“Were Walther alive today, he would find himself addressing the same issues that he faced one hundred years ago. The scholarly Saxon would be debating theologians who desire to be called Lutherans, although they refuse to submit to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions…He dealt with the Holy Scriptures, notably the doctrine of inerrancy; he agonized over the doctrine of Church and Ministry; he addressed the topic of Altar and Pulpit Fellowship and the liturgical life of the church.”
We are over 125 years removed from this time in the church’s life but the challenges remain the same. They were the same during the time of Luther and they are the same as when Paul wrote to the Philippians. Paul warned this Roman colony about people who spread the Gospel from bad motives and those who were enemies of the cross. He encouraged them to defend and confirm the gospel and through knowledge and discernment to . . .
“APPROVE WHAT IS EXCELLENT”
What is excellent? What counts as excellence in the long run? Paul starts his letter by telling the Philippians how thankful he is for them. They supported him and partnered with him in the Gospel. They were God’s gift to him.
Did you ever stop to think that we are God’s gifts to one another? The church isn’t like a bowling league or political organization where we get together because we like the same things. No, God brought us together around Jesus. He has given us to one another to support and encourage.
And we do need that, don’t we? In our time, the devil is breaking in, bursting through the door, dropping in from the roof and doing his best to put out the gospel light. He has made everything in our lives important except doctrine and the study of God’s Word. He has created within our flesh a desire to make the church just like the world. The devil works to replace the means of grace and the presence of Christ by filling us up with ourselves.
Thank God for giving us this church and the members you see around you today. We gather in the name of Christ and are strengthened for the devil’s challenges by the inerrant Word of God. We work together to share the gospel and we come together at the Lord’s altar to share a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven. In my prayers I thank you for your partnership in the Gospel.
Another point of excellence is the confidence that comes in knowing Jesus. It’s easy to lose confidence when churches close, people tell pollsters more and more that they have no religious affiliation and going to sporting events is more important than going to worship. But still, Paul calls us to be confident that Jesus will bring it to completion on the Last Day. Jesus will do it. Jesus is our confidence. How so? Because of how he began the good work in us.
Music is one of the few activities that involve the whole brain. When we listen to music, both sides of the brain, its many lobes, go into action. Listen to this music in our ears – “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And what happens? We welcome a new member into God’s family, a child of the heavenly Father. Jesus began that. On a cross, where forgiveness was won. Leaving behind an empty tomb, Jesus lives again to live in our lives. In Baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death and raised to new life in his resurrection. What a wonderful good work he began in our lives.
At the end, Jesus will bring it to completion. He will hold on to us. He will keep us in the faith. He will come back for us and bring our bodies out of their tombs to live forever in his glorious presence. Paul is confident because Jesus is behind it all.
Another point of excellence is love. Love is a verb. Love does what benefits someone else. Love does what God wants done. Love seeks what is excellent, pure, honorable, just. What does love look like for us? Our love wipes away a tear with an embrace, a comforting word, a prayer. Love bandages a wound with a bandage or simply being there for a person. Love visits, sends a card, or makes a phone call to the lonely. Love protects when it may put you in danger. Love flows from Christ.
Paul calls for us to be faithful and to approve what is excellent. As we give thanks for partnering in the gospel at this congregation, we can continue because of the confidence given us by a Savior who lives. He loves us into eternal life that he will complete in his time and place. Until then, we shine this gospel love to combat the forces of Satan. Approve what is excellent every day of your lives.