From the Pastor’s Desk: Rev. Simon Lee
Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,
It is so heartening to witness, that despite the lockdown from the pandemic, many many of our members are serving the Lord with tremendous joy and energy. Just a small example I see as I am advisor to two Cantonese Fellowships, Jacob and Elijah. It is so delightful to see the Fellowships are not discouraged by all the inconvenience of not being able to gather together, but have produced incredible programs every time they meet, using Zoom and other means. Now the Sunday noon and Mandarin services have started also to use Zoom to gather the congregations in worship and it is so encouraging to see so many people have responded by joining. To God be the glory!
Yes, it is important at this time for all of us to be joyful in our lives and our service to God. This is the reason why we have switched gear in our sermon series as we “Launch out into the Deep” and turn our attention to Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi to learn the secret of keeping joyful amidst difficulties and challenges. It is important to note that Paul mention joy and rejoicing at least 11 times throughout the letter, found throughout the four chapters. The theme of joy in the sermon series is as follows:
- Thanksgiving with joy (1:1-11)
- Serving with joy (1:12-30)
- “Complete my joys… have the mind of Christ” (2:1-11)
- 4. Joy of service in Christ (2:12-30)
- Joy in the midst of opposition (3:1-11)
- “My joy and crown… stand firm in the Lord” (3:12-4:1)
- “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4:2-9)
- Rejoice in the Lord’s provision (4:10-23)
Before we move on, let’s recap the story of the planting of the Church in Philippi, the background of the relationship with Paul (Acts 16:6-40). The Philippian Church was the first church Paul planted in Europe. It was the result of Paul answering the Macedonian Call. Paul was first prevented by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus to go to his original destination and then directed in a vision of a man from Macedonia urging him to “come over… and help us.”(Acts 16:6-9) The author Luke (who apparently accompanied the team) tells us: “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately WE sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called US to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:10) What a beautiful picture of God’s mission: clear direction and call, responding to the need for the gospel, and team spirit.
On the Sabbath day, the day of worship for the Jews, Paul and the mission team sought out Lydia and the women at a place of prayer on the riverside outside the city gate. Lydia, was a “worshiper of God” (probably a devote Jew) and a seller of purple goods (expensive purple clothing fit for people in high society and the royalty, as Lydia was from Thyatira, a city of the province of Asia in the district of Lydia that was famous for its expensive dyes). (Acts 16:13-14) After Paul had shared the gospel with Lydia, “the Lord opened her heart” and she paid attention to his words. She was baptized together with her household (which probably included the servants as well). Then she opened her home and heartily invited Paul and the team to stay at her house, which eventually became the worship center for the Christians in the city(Acts 16:14b-15; 40). What a beautiful story of the beginning of the Church in Philippi, which explains why the Church has a special place in the heart of Paul.
Now years after (AD 62, in Rome. 1:13; 4:22), Paul writes to encourage the Christians at the Church in Philippi to remain joyful, as he remained joyful even as he was imprisoned. The church had a special place in his heart (1:7a) because he was there from the beginning (1:5) and he wanted the Christians there to be sure “that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (1: 6) Paul reminded the Philippians that they were in “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” with him. He said to the Christians that they were “all partakers (co-partners) with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense of the gospel.” (1:7b) Paul was thanking God for the Philippians and was praying for them with joy in his heart (1:4). He was able to do this because he had within him “the affection of Christ Jesus.”
One key theme found in these beginning verses and throughout the book of Philippians (the reason for joy) is the concept of “partnership” (Gk: koinonia) translated in different ways in different contexts:
- “partnership in the gospel: (1:5)
- “all partakers with me of grace…” (1:7)
- “participation (fellowship) in the Spirit” (2:1)
- “share his (Christ’s) sufferings…” (3:10)
- “…entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving” (4:15)
Let us pause and summarize the partnership relationship that Paul as the pastor had with the Christians at Philippi, as revealed in the first 8 verses of this chapter:
- Paul (together with his spiritual son, Timothy) regarded themselves as “servants of Christ Jesus.”
- Paul recognized all the Christians in Philippi, especially the leaders (overseers and deacons).
- Paul blessed each and every one of them, first and foremost.
- Paul prayed for the Church regularly and was filled with joy, even though he was imprisoned.
- Paul looked at the relationship as a long-term “partnership” (Koinonia) in the gospel.
- Paul recognized that the ministry was the work of Christ the Savior and the Coming King.
- Paul was joyful because he was filled with the love and affection of Christ.
What a beautiful picture we see. How I wish every church of Christ is like that. If we apply that to our Church, these are the questions we would be asking:
- Do our pastors humbly consider ourselves as “servants of Christ Jesus”?
- Do we regard our Church leaders (elders and deacons/deaconesses) with the respect they deserve?
- Do we bless and support each other (instead of looking for the faults in each other)?
- Do we take seriously the prayer ministry of the Church and pray for each other?
- Are we “partners in the gospel” or are we all looking at our own interest and perspective?
- Do we regard the ministry as Christ’s ministry, and not as our own baby?
- Are we joyful because we have “the affection of Christ” or are we critical and bitter?
As we delve into the book, my prayer is like Paul, “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (1:9-11) Amen.
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Simon Lee,