Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Prepared for His Coming Part Two

Philippians 1:3-11

Last Sunday we introduced the season of Advent. Advent means “coming.” It is a season of preparation for Christ’s return, his second coming.

Now the world treats the time from Thanksgiving to December 24 as “preparation for Christmas,” meaning a time to shop, bake, wrap, decorate, and so on. But that’s not what Advent is. Advent is preparation for Christ’s return.

Last Sunday we looked at 1 Thessalonians 3. I said that we see four things in those verses that we should do to prepare for Christ’s coming. First, we live a life full of joy. Joy is confidence in how the story will end, even if our present circumstances are difficult. Second and third, we love each other and pray for each other. This is the most important thing Jesus told us to do, to love each other. He told that us that’s how others will know that we are his followers. And fourth, we live a holy life. We live lives that are different from the world around us. We live by different values. We have a different way of seeing other people and seeing the world. We act differently. We don’t participate in the greed or sensationalism of the world.

Today, we are looking at the “exordium” to Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church. The exordium was the opening words of praise and thanksgiving at the start of a letter. Paul is thanking and praising God for the Philippian Church, for all that they are to Paul personally and to the Kingdom of God.

Notice how the four themes we talked about last week all show up again in these verses: “I always pray for you with a heart full of joy… I pray your love for each other will overflow more and more… so you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns.”

But Paul also mentions some other things in here that we can and should be doing to prepare for the coming of Christ:

First, “Keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding.” For “God who began a good work in you will continue it until it is finished on the day when Christ returns.”

God’s work in us begins when we receive Christ, when we yield our lives to him as Lord and accept him as our Savior. But that’s just the beginning. His work should continue in us until the day we die or Christ returns. Otherwise we remain “spiritual infants” who are “blown this way and that by every wind of teaching.” And unfortunately, I think that’s true of some people who claim the name of Jesus. They never really pursue discipleship as they should.

We are to grow in knowledge. Knowledge is information. God wants us to know the truth. He wants us to understand who he is, what he has done for us, and what he wants us to do as his people. And we are to grow in understanding. Understanding is information applied. Wisdom, we call it. Information is incomplete without formation, without it forming and shaping us.

How do we grow?

The first and most obvious thing is to read God’s word. We live in a day and age where God’s word is more accessible now than it ever has been before. For the first 1500 years of Christian history, writing could only be passed on through handwritten copies. In Jesus’ day, the synagogues had copies of the Scriptures, but the average person didn’t. Most rabbis in Jesus’ day had the entire Old Testament memorized. That’s an impressive feat, for sure, but it was also a necessity. If you don’t have a copy of it, then you can only have it with you if it’s memorized! And that continued up until the 15th century; only the churches had copies of the Scriptures.

With the invention of the printing press, it began to change. But books were still expensive. Only the wealthy could afford them, at first. Fast forward to today, and you can buy a copy of the Bible for five dollars. Many organizations give them away for free. And you don’t even have to buy a copy or carry one with you to have access to them. There are websites and smartphone apps that give you free access to the Bible. And not just one version either; the Bible app I have on my phone has 60 English translations, and hundreds of translations in other languages.

So, obviously, we are all biblically literate now, right? Not really. Many self-professed Christians don’t read the Bible. Less than one-third of people who say they are Christians read the Bible regularly. Even among those who describe themselves as “born again Christians,” less than half read the Bible daily or almost daily. We have access to the Scriptures that prior generations never did, but we don’t avail ourselves of them as we should.

If you’re not already reading the Bible daily, I hope this season of preparation will be a time when you will start.

We should also be active in settings where spiritual growth can happen in our lives. That should certainly include worship, but I think it should be more than that. I think every Christian should be involved in some type of Bible study, Sunday School class, small group, or some kind of setting where you get together with other believers to learn together, pray for each other, and help to keep each other accountable.

A fellow pastor taught me something that has stuck with me, which is to think in terms of your spiritual growth daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Daily, you should read the Scriptures and pray. Weekly, you should worship and be involved in a place for spiritual growth. Monthly, you should put your faith into practice by serving in a Christian setting: Teaching a class or study, volunteering in a Christian organization, or something along those lines. And yearly, you should come apart from your regular life for more than one day to do something that nourishes you spirit: Go on a retreat, volunteer at church camp, serve on a mission trip, or something along those lines. And I think that’s good advice!

Second, we should “always be filled with the fruit of righteousness, the good things produced in your life by Jesus.” In Galatians, Paul calls these the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I think this preparation really goes along with growth and holiness of life. The point is, are you growing to be more like Jesus? When he returns, will he find that you are like him? That is the meaning of sanctification, to grow in holiness and the likeness of Christ.

As human beings, we were made in the image and likeness of God. Of course, we failed. We rebelled and sinned. Christ came to restore our understanding of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God.

Finally, we should “defend the truth and tell others the good news.”

Simply put, we have forgotten how to do this. Or at least we’ve forgotten that we should. Fifteen hundred years of “Christendom,” a cultural situation where Christianity was the dominant religion and going to church was “normal” has destroyed the church’s understanding of the mission of evangelism and the importance of making new disciples of Christ. When was the last time you talked about your faith with someone who doesn’t already share it? When was the last time you talked with someone who is not a Christian about what God is doing in your life? When was the last time you invited someone to come with you to church to worship?

Christmas remains the time of the year when unchurched people are most likely to attend a worship service. That is changing. Even in my 16 years of pastoring, I’ve seen Christmas worship attendance nosedive. But it remains one of the times when people are most likely to think about God and worship.

Perhaps this is the most important aspect of preparation for us to hear: We should prepare for Christ’s coming by inviting others to know him, love him, worship and serve him, too.

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