“I Thank My God upon Every Remembrance of You”

(Philippians 1:1-6 – Farewell Sermon – September 4, 2022)

Philippians 1:1-6 – 1Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Dear saints of God, through faith in Christ Jesus:

As you know, I have been called by the Lord of the Church to serve as pastor in a new place. On this last Sunday among you, as I think of the times we have spent together, I can say to you what the apostle Paul told the congregation of believers at Philippi: “I Thank My God upon Every Remembrance of You” (vs. 3). I give thanks 1) Because God has given you fellowship in His Gospel, and 2) Because God will faithfully continue His good work in you.

 1) Because God has given you fellowship in His Gospel

The apostle Paul could testify that it is by grace alone that God calls sinners by faith into His Church, and into His blessed fellowship of believers. This is true for both spiritual leaders and laypeople alike.

Paul could personally testify to the grace of God. Once, when he was still named Saul, he had been an enemy of Christ and His Church. He had breathed threats and murder against the Lord’s disciples, seeking to imprison and put them to death, in his frantic effort to silence Christ and His truth (Acts 9:1-2). But Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus and converted him into the man we know as Paul. The Lord chose this formerly violent opponent of the Gospel to be a chief proponent of the Gospel, saying: “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

As the Lord had sent His apostle along on his second missionary journey, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to come over to the Greek province of Macedonia, and then specifically to the city of Philippi (Acts 16:7-12). There, as Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior of sinners, God’s Spirit worked through the power of the Word to convert stony hearts of unbelief into fertile soil of faith. The powerful seed of God’s Word took root and grew in the hearts of formerly lost and condemned souls, who had been “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But through His Gospel, God graciously converted them to faith and brought them into His blessed fellowship, as those whom Paul now addressed this way: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (vs. 1).

Very much the same things can be said of you and me. Like the apostle Paul, and like the congregation at Philippi – both spiritual leaders and lay people alike – it is by the grace of God alone that you and I have been called out of our formerly lost condition as sinners, into His blessed fellowship in Christ. For once we too were alienated from God and enemies in our minds, living apart from Him in our sin (Colossians 1:21). We were dwelling in the darkness of unbelief in spiritual death. But God graciously planted the seed of His Gospel; and His Holy Spirit created saving faith in our hearts, converting us into what we now are in His eyes – “saints in Christ Jesus” – for God is counting us as His “holy ones” through faith in the saving work of His Son. It is true, as we sing in the hymn:

All that I was, my sin, my guilt,

My death, was all mine own;

All that I am I owe to Thee,

My gracious God alone.

On that note, Paul continues his address with the words we often use to begin our sermons: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 2). Those were words which the congregation of believers delighted to hear, then as now. For we also rejoice to know that “Grace” of God – His undeserved love for us sinners that led Him to sacrifice His own Son on the cross, as the Lamb who was slain to take away all our sins. Again, we rejoice to know that “Peace” of God – His blessed assurance that, because He has cleansed our hearts by the blood of His Son, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1); instead, we are reconciled to God in Christ, and at peace as we live in His good favor. Again, we rejoice to know the God of all grace and peace as “God our Father” – because He has united us with His Son in baptism and faith, making us His children and heirs of eternal life.

Therefore, in view of God’s Gospel at work, graciously calling sinners into His blessed fellowship through faith in Christ, Paul writes: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (vs. 3-5).

That word “fellowship” may also be translated “communion” (Koinonia). It describes the close relationship God has given us with Himself, having redeemed us as His children. It also describes the close relationship God has given us with one another as His family in Christ. He has brought us into His blessed fellowship, the Communion of Saints, by the power of His Gospel and faith in Christ.

We express our God-given “fellowship in the gospel” like the early believers, as “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is what we do as we gather together in worship, as baptized believers: We express our fellowship in the Gospel by continuing together steadfastly in the Word of God, given through His apostles and prophets; and as we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, we are here to encourage one another by it (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:25). We express our fellowship by continuing in the breaking of bread together, in the Holy Communion of Jesus’ Body and Blood, which He gives to us for our forgiveness. Through our God-given fellowship in His Word and Sacraments, His Spirit continues to strengthen the faith He has begun in us. We also express our fellowship as we lift our hearts together in prayer, bringing our needs before His throne of grace in the name of Jesus. And we express our fellowship in the Gospel, by working together to reach out and share God’s Good News of salvation for all in Christ.

Ever since God had brought the believers at Philippi into His blessed fellowship, they had expressed their joy and thankfulness to God by their generous support and service in the work of His Gospel (Philippians 4:10-20). In many places in this Epistle, Paul expresses his joy and thankfulness to God for all the ways he had received their support in prayer, encouragement, and generosity.

Likewise, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (vs. 3). As I have prayed for each of you through the years, I thank God that He has given you fellowship in His Gospel – and that you know of nothing to trust for your salvation except Jesus Christ, our crucified and living Savior. I have also asked God to protect you in this true faith from all evil and falsehood. For we are not unaware of the spiritual battle at hand as Satan, the evil world, and our own sinful flesh seek to draw us away from Christ and His truth. I have prayed that He will continue to strengthen each of you in the faith He has begun in you, by His pure Gospel.

As God continues to do this, I thank Him for the ways He has led you to express your fellowship in His Gospel – through your attendance in worship, and your generous support and service in the work of the Gospel. Like Paul, I thank God for the ways you have been kind and generous to my family and me, and for your prayers and personal encouragement. It is your way of honoring Him who sends servants of His Word to you. It is an expression of your thankfulness to the Lord of the Church, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

2) Because God will faithfully continue His good work in you

Therefore with Paul, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (vs. 3), first because He has given you fellowship in His gospel; and also, because He will faithfully continue His good work in you. As Paul writes: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (vs. 6).

Over the years, certain things may change in a congregation. Especially those of you who have been here for many years have seen faces change among the members, and you have seen a number of different pastors come and go.

But the Lord of the Church will never change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the true “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). It is He who baptized us, washed our sins away, and poured out His Spirit and faith into our hearts; so we can be sure that He will faithfully continue to strengthen and keep us in the true faith through His Word and Sacrament ministry. It is He who loved us so much that He gave His life for us; so we can be sure that He will faithfully continue to love us and give us all that we need for life. Without fail, He who began His good work in us will bring to completion His eternal purpose for us.

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). Therefore, we can truly thank God as we remember one another in prayer. We thank God who has given us His blessed fellowship that reaches beyond time and place – in His eternal Communion of Saints, in His beloved family, whom He will gather at last to Himself on “the day of Jesus Christ our Lord” (vs. 6) in heaven’s never-ending joys.

Therefore: “to all the saints in Christ Jesus…” here at Christ Lutheran Church, here in Klamath Falls: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14).