“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 (ESV)
Our passage for today comes from the letter sent to members of the body of Christ, believers in Philippi. In the way that all letters from all apostles in the first century, this letter would be shared with churches near to Philippi. Eventually copied and shared to the whole world by being included in the New Testament. At the time Christians who first received this letter lived under Roman government and have very little religious freedoms. Paul’s letter intended to be an encouragement for us. When we experience times of doubt, we might wonder if it is worth it all. So much conflict, aggression, hate, and lies exist in our world. As Christians we too pray for each other just as Paul prayed for the Philippians. What he had heard about them brought Paul much joy. It was a delight for Paul to intercede for fellow believers. Paul had a confidence which is our promise too. It is God who began the work of salvation in our lives and it is God who will complete that job one day, the day of Jesus Christ, which looks to our final salvation, reward, and glorification.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9 (NASB)
Peter, the disciple of Jesus, became one of the foremost apostles who helped spread the news of the early Christian Church. He also was used by the Holy Spirit to write some of the books in the New Testament. Peter walked with Jesus and heard him teach and watched him do miracles and heal all who came to Him with physical or spiritual need. Many times Peter ate meals with Jesus and talked with him face to face while breaking bread together. Peter wrote these words in his first letter to believers in the new Church. In the same way we have never seen Jesus as Peter did but we love him and we believe in him. These words are also given to us and can be applied to us personally. We can experience the “inexpressible joy and be filled with glory” because we have believed in Jesus the Christ – even though we have never seen him. Our faith has opened the eyes of our hearts and minds to believe in Him as our Savior and Lord. It is hard to express sometimes but in our hearts we know He is true. It’s a joy to have that assurance.
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” – Psalm 126:5-6 (ESV)
Before we leap to the conclusion that our verse is saying the sowing of seeds is a trial or a difficult thing to do, let’s reckon what is being said here. This is a truth that every farmer and gardener know well. To get a harvest, seed must be sown. Seed must be planted for a garden to grow. Sowing, plowing, digging, are all things that must be done even in times when we are crying about other things. Crops will not wait while we process through our grief or solve our dilemmas. If we want to eat next winter, we must sow this spring. When there are necessary straightforward jobs to be done, and we are full of sadness, with tears flowing easily, we must go ahead and do the jobs with tears. The tears may make us want to quit life for a bit. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed). If we do that, the promise of the psalm is that we will “reap with shouts of joy.” Not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but because the sowing produces the reaping.
“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:6 (ESV)
After seventy years as captives, the Children of Israel were allowed to return to their homes in Jerusalem and the country surrounding what was, and is called Mount Zion by many. This psalm is a song of Ascents. It is a song of praise to God by the Hebrew people who had come back from their captivity. We can understand how those who had been away from their homes as exiles were thrilled to be back ascending the mountain to Jerusalem. Their mouths were full of happiness, joy, and praise to God. We may not have been exiled from our earthly homes but we can praise God for the great things he has done for us by bringing us into His family. We were strangers to His family but He has made us His children. Has not He shown us so often how much He loves us and how He will take care of us? We may have been weeping as we tended to the tasks God has given to us. He promises that the result will be wonderful. Like those who sow seed with tears of sorrow, God promises we will return with joy at harvest time.
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:10-11 (ESV)
We are fruit bearers for the Spirit of God. He bears the fruit through our obedient service to Him. The first three mentioned in Galatians 5 are love, joy, peace. In his last Passover meal Jesus emphasized these three with His Apostles. Our promise in our passage today is that keeping the commandments of Jesus as by his own example he kept the Father’s commandments, our lives will bear out joy. The very reason Jesus expounded on so much during this last supper was to produce joy within the hearts of his closest friends. Except for Judas, these were going to bring the Good News to the whole world. Jesus knew the road would be rough for them yet He promises joy as they journey on it. We are promised joy in any and all circumstances of our lives. If our joy is not rooted in our circumstances but in our obedience to God, it will produce more joy. It promises to be a full joy even when situations are dark. Let’s not fear what might be or is and so lose our joy, instead do what He has called us to do. Love one another and our neighbor too.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
It is common that these verses are misread and mistaught on a pretty regular basis. The error comes in the word ‘fruit’ which is read as ‘fruits.’ These nine qualities of character are a bundled package. Together they are the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of an obedient follower of Jesus. As listed there, this fruit is the evident mark one may expect from a life in which the Spirit of God is living and reigning and Jesus is Lord. Jesus also implied that one’s character of life can be determined. In Matthew 7, the test for false prophets is, among other things, the kind of life they live. Consequently, even though Jesus did prohibit disapproving criticism of others by his followers (Matthew 7:1), He encouraged fruit inspection. The secret to exhibiting spiritual fruit in abundance is described in John 12:24. Using as an illustration a grain of wheat sown in the ground, Jesus encourages death to self and to the desires of the old nature and resurrection to the new life of “much fruit.” Our promise is this fruit produced in our lives if we live according to the Spirit of God.
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” Luke 1:13b-15a (ESV)
We focus this time of the year mostly on the miraculous birth of Jesus the Messiah. He was the fulfillment of a promise made when only two humans lived on this earth. If we study the whole story, especially as Luke recounted it, we know of another miraculous birth⸺one of another kind that was also a fulfillment of a promise. The promise of one who would proceed Jesus and prepare the way for him. Zechariah and Elizabeth loved and served the Lord God but had no children. This grieved them both and they prayed earnestly for a child. Elizabeth had been unable to become pregnant and bear a child. Unable that is until God sent His angel messenger to tell Zechariah that his prayer would be answered. And it was. Difficult for Zechariah to believe. Like us, we might pray and then fail to expect to see the prayer answered⸺even in ways greater than we imagine. But God fulfills his promises and this promise had been made through the prophet Malachi some 430 years before its fulfillment. Malachi 4:5-6. It was not long before Elizabeth conceived the baby to be John the Baptizer.