There was once a pre-school age boy named Jimmy who told his mom, “I will never, ever be a pastor.” He is now thirty-seven years old and a pastor.
One Sentence for One Year
It is New Year’s Eve. And it is not unlike any other New Year’s Eve. It is the last day of the year and the only day of the year to stay up really late, like maybe ten o’clock. But just about the only part of the end of the year that I really look forward to is the last Sunday of the year. Since 2012, we have set aside the last Sunday of the year to reflect in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation.
In 2012, I remember being content for the first time in a really long time until a Wednesday morning in July. I had been serving as an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Strongsville. My main responsibility at that time was Christian education which included areas like Sunday School, children and youth ministries and even small groups. I remember that it was in the morning. Lisa and I were both getting ready for the day and subtly an email disrupted everything. It was simply a question. “What are your future plans for ministry?”
I was content for the first time in a really long time until that email with that question. As I look back on it, it was the beginning of something, a something that came together on Sunday, December 2, 2012. It was that Sunday when everything got better. It is strange because until that Wednesday in July I had no imagining that things could or needed to get better. But on that particular Sunday I could stand before Calvary Community Church and for the very first time say, “we.” It was the last sentence of the sermon from Luke 1. We hold fast to this: “For no word, sentence, or phrase that comes from the mouth of God will be impossible with Him.” I was your pastor.
Since 2012, we spend the last Sunday of the year in thanksgiving and wonder and in anticipation. And we do this by looking at the coming year through God’s Word. We call it our verse of the year or our verse for the year. This year is different though. This year our verse for the year is Philippians 1:3-5. If you notice, that is more than one verse. It is three verses. So, I guess we could say that we have three verses for the year. But I want us to notice that Philippians 1:3-5, the reason that we have three verses for the year, is actually just one sentence.
And so, what we have before us on this last Sunday of the year is one sentence for one year. I have been wondering, though, how throughout the coming year we might be reminded of this one sentence, the sentence for our year together. Starting January 7, it will be on the front cover of the worship guide. And starting today, we could be encouraged to memorize it, to put it to memory. And maybe then throughout the coming weeks we could spontaneously ask one another, “What is our one sentence for this year?”
So, how will we throughout 2018 be reminded of our verse for the year? It will be on the front cover of the worship guide. We will be, starting today, encouraged to put this one sentence – it is just one sentence – to memory. And starting today, each of us will be encouraged to take it upon ourselves to surprise one another in the coming weeks, and at any time in the coming weeks, with a question. “What is our one sentence for this year?”
But there is more.
From the First Day Until Now
Maybe my favorite part of this sentence comes in the last few words of verse five. “…from the first day until now.” It has been 1,855 days since the first day. It has been five years and four weeks since December 2, 2012. And do you know what continues to be true? I am your pastor. And being your pastor gets better and better and better. For what reason?
Paul writes something at the end of this letter that complements this one sentence for our year. Keep in mind that Paul writes this letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and the deacons” (Philippians 1:1b). Keep in mind that Paul writes to the local church in Philippi and makes a special note to include the overseers (elders and pastors) and the deacons.
But toward the end of this letter Paul writes, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1). Just listen to how Paul feels about these people! You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my beloved. And now verse three. “Yes, I ask you also, my true companion.” Just pause there. Notice the word true. This word, true, is only used four times in the New Testament. Paul writes of Timothy, “my true child” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul also writes of Titus, “my true child” (Titus 1:4). It is a word of affection like when we say, “my true love.”
And most interesting is that Paul calls the Philippians, “my true companion.” This word companion (partner, yokefellow) is only ever used here in the New Testament. It is from a word that means to be joined together (cf. Matthew 19:6). It carries with it the idea to be joined together for one purpose.
I wanted us to see the ending of this letter that we not miss the affection that this man had for this church. And it does complement our one sentence for this year. The affection this man had for this church is in this one sentence.
R. C. Sproul made this observation about Philippians 1:3-5. “His love for this congregation was exemplified in his regular prayers for them.” I just find it so intriguing that out of all the letters Paul wrote, this is the only letter which at the beginning he singles out the elders and the deacons.
How might we be reminded of our one sentence for this year? I believe it is more for our pastor than anyone. It has been saying to me all week, after 1,855 days and in the thanksgiving and wonder that it gets better and better and better; and in the anticipation that it will continue to get better and better and better; do not lose your affection for them.
How might our pastor not lose his affection for you? It starts with his regular prayers for you.
Every Prayer of Mine for You All
Philippians 1:3-5 is made up of four parts. The first is Philippians 1:3. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” The word remembrance is a personal remembrance, recalling and thinking about a particular aspect of a person. It is like thinking back or remembering the day when things got better, especially when you never thought about things getting better! And notice what Paul says what happens when you think over the last 1,855 days or from the first day until now – gratitude. Gratitude happens. So, it seems that the first step in a pastor not losing his affection for you is gratitude.
And when does he give thanks? This is Philippians 1:4, the second part of the sentence. “Always in every prayer of mine for you all.” There is gratitude in remembering and it is a gratitude in remembering always in every prayer of mine. Notice that it is every prayer of mine for you all.
How often then is our pastor to pray for us? It is always, or in other words, regularly. We are getting insight into what the regular prayers of our pastor for us looks like. There is gratitude. There is remembrance. A pastor is to remember; remember that first day and remember it until now. Remember the last 1,855 days. Tomorrow it will be to remember the last 1,856 days and in so doing, give thanks. Imagine, every prayer of mine for you all rooted in gratitude.
And a pastor, our pastor, is to pray regularly for us. What is he praying for us? The word prayer here is the word supplication (see Philippians 4:6). It is a felt-need. It is to pray so that we not be lacking. But what I love is that it is a heart-felt petition. Our pastor is to pray for us out of his affection for us. So, again, what is he praying for us?
He prays that there will be no divisions among us. There may be and can be disagreements; this is healthy. But what is not healthy is when disagreements turn into division. He prays too that there will be no regrets. And having no regrets is similar to division. May there be no point at any point when all is said and done, we are no longer speaking to each other. He is praying that there will be unity among us and that we would be striving for this unity. This unity is not that we are always in agreement. This unity is unity when it comes to what really matters; unity that we are in this together; unity to not celebrate lesser things. It is Psalm 86:11. “Teach me Your way, Yahweh, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.” It is united to be in awe of God. He is praying that we continually hunger for God’s truth. He is praying that we would see God’s glory and do all things for His glory. He is praying for revival; God’s revival. He is praying for growth. He is praying for God’s will to be done at Calvary Community Church as it is in heaven. Out of his affection for us our pastor prays like this for us.
Because of Your Partnership in the Gospel
Notice the third part of this one sentence. “…making my prayer with joy.” For a pastor to pray like this, just like this with gratitude in remembering all 1,855 days, is to be making prayer with joy. But it is the fourth part of the sentence that I really want to draw our attention. “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
You are my joy. You are my crown. You are my true companion. And why? Why does an email mean so much to me after five years? Why does December 2, 2012 mean so much to me after 1,855 days? It is because of our partnership in the gospel together.
What is the gospel? We should be able to articulate the gospel and rehearse the gospel continually with one another. It is something that began in Genesis 3:15. It is something then that the army of heaven proclaimed on Christmas night. It is good news of a great joy. It is Jesus the Christ who is Lord. He put on flesh to get near us. And he died. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he rose again according to the Scriptures. And because of him and in him and through him we live now and forevermore. This is our partnership. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy God. And in that partnership, is together to enjoy one another. And in that partnership, is a mission to see more and more people be filled with this joy.
What will this partnership look like in 2018?
1. It will begin with a youth event this Friday at 7 p.m.
2. It will continue next Sunday morning as we pick up again with Genesis.
3. It will be our first members meeting of the year next Sunday evening at 5 p.m.
4. It will be our Fundamentals of the Faith study beginning Sunday, January 14 at 5 p.m. through April 22.
5. It will be expanding our elders and deacons. And having our elders and deacons loving this congregation exemplified by their regular prayers for us.
6. It will be meeting together to pray each Wednesday at 7 p.m. and each Sunday at 9:30 a.m.