Standing Before the Mirror of God (Phil 1:1-8)

Updated: Aug 26


“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” That line of course comes from the Brother’s Grim fairy tale, Snow White, which was first published in 1812. It was made popular, at least to my generation, by the 1937 Disney production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney’s first full length animated film. It’s an enduring story that’s not soon to die out. If you want an updated modern Hollywood version rent the movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, which was released in 2012.


In the fairy tale the evil Queen, full of vanity, stands before her magic mirror and asks it her daily question. Day after day the mirror affirms her beauty and all is well. “You are the fairest of them all.” But horror grips the queen one day when the mirror informs her that Snow White will surpass her in beauty. And this, of course, is what sets the story in motion; the wicked and vain Queen becomes obsessed with destroying the beautiful and virtuous Snow White.


Such stories interact with the human struggle for identity. Who are we? What is it that gives us security? For the evil Queen it was her beauty. She could live with herself as long as she was the fairest in the land. The fairy tale highlights our perpetual folly for measuring our value by what we see in the mirror. Teenagers especially seem to have a propensity for spending inordinate amounts of time in front of the mirror. I remember an embarrassing moment when my Dad caught me staring at my teenage face in the mirror hoping to find that first whisker that would announce to the world that I was entering manhood. He assured me that staring in the mirror wouldn’t speed up the process. Thankfully we outgrow some of that obsession with measuring ourselves by what we see in the mirror as we grow older. Or do we??


My question for you today is, When you stare into your mirror what does it say to you? What does it say about you? And more to the point, how does it define how you live your life? The fairy tale intersects with reality at this point. What we see in the mirror, just like what the wicked Queen saw in her mirror, has a profound effect on how we walk out our lives. Some look in the mirror and see a person who can do no wrong; others look in the same mirror and see a pathetic person unworthy of life itself. Both are distorted perceptions. And both profoundly affect how we live our lives. We don’t, of course, all fall neatly into the extreme categories on either end of the spectrum – those who are infatuated with themselves or those who loath themselves – but we all see something when we look in the mirror; we all experience distortions of some magnitude, and those distortions directly affect how we live our lives.

 

The Bible is a window into the heart of God.

 

How do we go about correcting our perceptions of self? Where can one purchase a mirror that enables us to see ourselves as we truly are? I believe that when Scripture is used wisely it functions as that corrective mirror. When we stand before Scripture it has the potential to alter our self-perceptions. I say, “When we wisely used Scripture,” because I can hear somebody saying, “O great! I’m already struggling with low self-esteem, I don’t need a rule book like the bible to tell me how pathetic my life is!” That’s using Scripture unwisely, twisting it out of shape to conform to our distortions. It is we who are to be conformed to Scripture not the other way around. If we are wise we will peer into the ancient text with the willingness to allow it to alter our perceptions of ourselves; to see ourselves for who we truly are. The Bible is not some old rule book designed to make us feel guilty. The Bible is a window into the heart of God. Standing before the text of Scripture has the potential to usher us into God’s world and to see ourselves as he sees us. And that my friends is good news; it’s a glimpse into reality, for in Scripture we see ourselves from the perspective of the God who so loved us that he came to us in and as the person of Jesus Christ.


Our last two sermons were introductions to Paul’s wonderful little letter to the church in Philippi. Today we are going to step into the text itself. And when we open the letter and begin to read we discover that Paul does what he always does. He begins his letters by telling the people who they are. He tells them who he is and then he tells them who they are. Isn’t that odd? Don’t the people already know who they are?


Philippians 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi…


Paul identifies himself and Timothy as servants, or slaves, of Christ Jesus – that’s who they are. And then he immediately goes on to tell the Philippians who they are – God’s holy people in Christ Jesus. He goes on to paint a much fuller picture of who they are but this is how he begins. Central and foundational to everything about the Christian life is recognizing and embracing the truth of who we are. Paul always builds on this truth. Over and over and over again in his letters Paul is pounding on this same point. “Remember who you are! And remember whose you are!” And it’s the same in this letter. Paul is intimately concerned about the Philippians’ perception of themselves. Why? Because it is foundational to the Christian life. Our ability to walk out our calling in Christ is fundamentally rooted in how we see ourselves. And so, right here, in the first verse in this letter it is imperative that we plug into what Paul is saying. If we don’t let these words from Paul function as correctives in our perceptions of self, as a corrective mirror, all of the other wonderful things he has on offer in the rest of this letter are bound to stay just where they are – in the book instead of in our hearts.


There is so much to be gleaned from this wonderful letter, so much that we all wish was true in our lives. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!” Don’t you long for that truth to hit the ground in your life? “Rejoice, and again I say rejoice!” And Paul says those words from a prison awaiting a trial before the notorious Nero. Don’t you long to plug into some of that hope in the midst of your trials?

 

… to see ourselves as God sees us.

 

I am urging us to let Paul’s opening remarks lay the foundation for the transformation of our lives. Who we see staring back at us from the mirror has a direct correlation to how we live our lives. Paul’s opening remarks serve to redefine how we see ourselves. Staring at the mirror in the bathroom doesn’t get the job done; looking into our own eyes only perpetuates our misconceptions. Looking into the mirror of Scripture, however, is corrective; it equips us to see things as they truly are, to see past our own brokenness and into the realm of God; to see ourselves as God sees us.


Let Paul’s opening words in this letter serve as a corrective mirror in your life. Come and stand before these words and begin to see things as they truly are. This is the function of the whole of Scripture– it alters our perception of reality; it helps us to see beyond the fog of this life into the realm of God and to come back with a firmer grasp on reality. And one of the realities that is so very necessary for us to come to grips with is how we see ourselves.

Each one of us, every day, spends some time in front of a mirror. I’m urging you to spend some time every day in front of this mirror, the mirror of Scripture. The experience will transform your life. As we journey through Philippians over the next weeks and months insist on this. Come frequently to Paul’s introductory statements and let these words redefine who you are. Don’t wait until we get to your favorite Philippian text before you begin to plug into this letter. This is where you need to plug in. Paul is laying the foundation for a life of transformation early in this letter. Plug in now. Invest deeply now. Give yourself to the text here and now.


Today we’re going to look at the first 8 verses of the letter. My aim is to inspire you to spend your own time in front of this text this week, seeking to have your life redefined by it.

Philippians 1:1–8

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.


Right at the outset I want you to notice verse 6. It’s in the middle of this section and in the middle of a sentence and I think it carries the idea that is central ideas to this whole section. “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” This whole text is bursting with confidence and this one verse spells it out specifically. A dominate theme in this whole letter is one of joy and even this early in the text Paul is at it already; he’s celebrating. And what is he celebrating? Paul is celebrating them! It’s they who are moving him to sing in prison! Look at what he writes. Every time he thinks of them he can’t help it; he prays for them with joy. Now, put yourselves in the shoes of the Philippians for a moment. Imagine hearing this message from Paul. What would it do for you to have someone celebrate you, your faith? What would it be like to have a ‘Paul’ boasting about you before God? Do you have somebody who prays like this for you; somebody, who when they think of you, smiles before God, and says glorious things about you in celebration?


“No… no.. no one prays like that about me. No one celebrates me. There’s nothing about me that’s worth celebrating. My faith wouldn’t inspire Paul to sing in prison; it would depress him.” Really? That perception you have of yourself, is it accurate? If someone did tell you that your faith gave them reason to celebrate before God would you accuse them of lying? Such is the depth of the haze we frequently find ourselves in; our distorted perceptions of self. I know it’s true because I’ve wallowed in that ugly fog filled hollow myself, unable to see reality, my mirror so distorted and twisted that the lies block out any hope of seeing the truth.


If Paul was writing not to the Philippians but to us, to you and me, would he talk like this? Or is this only for them? Oh I know he’s writing to a specific context; I believe that to be true. But is what is true for these Christ followers in ancient Philippi also true for us modern Christ followers? Is it true that it’s not just them but that you and I are God’s holy people in Christ Jesus, that you and I have been chosen and set apart for something glorious in Jesus. This is what it means to be saints of God in Christ. This is what it means to be God’s holy people. Is that true for you and I or is it just true for them? YES it’s true for us!! It’s true for all who have been called by the gospel of Jesus Christ and have put him on in baptism, for all who by faith have embraced the saving message of Jesus. These things are true for us! And if we’re to live into this glorious good news of Jesus it’s imperative that we believe that these things are true for us.


Paul believes these things are true for the Philippians even if they have trouble believing it themselves. Is that possible? Is it possible that something can be true about you even when you have doubts about it yourself? Of course it’s possible! It happens every single day! Your music teacher in grade 4 believed that you were capable of playing the piano even when you were utterly frustrated and thought it impossible. Your mom and dad had no doubt whatsoever that you would learn to ride that new bike they bought you even when you threw it to the ground and kicked it in frustration. Your foreman at work believed that you would get through this rough spot in your apprenticeship even when you were convinced that the best thing would be to give up. Paul believes in these peoples profound potential, we hear it in his words. Was Paul deluded? Would he be deluded if he said these things about you?

Look at the text. It’s not just Paul who thinks this way is it? It’s not that Paul thinks these things merely because he’s a perpetual optimist. Paul is doing something more than expressing optimism here. There’s nothing wrong with optimism; I could do with a little more of it from time to time in my own life, but Paul is not just preaching the power of positive thinking. Paul is modelling before these believers the heart that Jesus Christ himself has for them! Paul’s profound confidence in the future of these believers in Philippi is an expression of Jesus’ heart for them. Paul says that explicitly. Have a look at verse 8. “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul insists that his heart beats with Jesus’ heart for these people. The word ‘affection’ in verse 8 relates to how we feel something deep within us. Paul is aiming to communicate to these saints that the same yearning and longing that Christ has for them is what wells up inside him. “God is my witness, I feel the same way for all of you!”


This is a truth that we need to see in operation throughout this introduction. This isn’t just about how Paul feels for these people, it’s about how Jesus feels for these people! You think you’re a loser? You think that you’ve nothing to offer Jesus in his service? Is your perception of self such that you can’t imagine that he would ever say wonderful things like these about you? Get over it! You’re living in a fog! Jesus loves you! And more than that he likes you! He looks at you and sees something glorious in you, something you may have difficulty seeing yourself and he holds you up before the Father and says, “Look at him! Look at her! Isn’t she grand? She’s one of mine!” Don’t try to tell me this isn’t true! If the cross says anything at all it insists on this! Listen, if the cross is a statement of the depth of God’s love for us when we were deliberately rebellious and running the other way[1] what do you suppose it says to us when we have our faces turned towards him! I know that we fail! I know that we flounder about and get frustrated! You think he doesn’t know that? Of course he does! But our mistakes don’t define us in his eyes. He looks at us in spite of all of that and says, “You are the ones!!” I’m thinking of that glorious little text in Luke where it’s the scene of the last supper and there they are – there we are – being stupid, forgetting everything we’ve been taught, all wrapped up in ourselves instead of paying attention to Jesus. Peter and John and the rest were all trying to figure out which one of them was the greatest. Yikes, talk about missing the point of everything!! And what does Jesus say? What does Jesus say in that very setting? Does he write them all off as beyond the pale? No! He says to them, after he corrects them once more, “You are those who have stood by me in all my trials.” These people?? Peter who rebuked and denied Jesus? James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven? These people who just minutes ago were floundering around obsessed with themselves? Yes, these people! Jesus saw all their sins with greater clarity than they ever did but that didn’t stop him from believing in them. Go read it yourself sometime. You’ll find it in Luke 22. Chew on it! If he could say it to them he could say it to us!


When Paul writes this introduction it’s not like he can’t remember any of the faults of the brothers and sisters in Philippi. He’s not blind to their inadequacies. They’re not the perfect congregation. It’s in this very letter that Paul tells a couple of the leading women to smarten up and get along! But the truth of their faults does not prohibit Paul from seeing God gloriously at work in them. The fact that they don’t get it right all the time does not cause Paul to question whether God is at work in their midst. No! Paul is confident that what God began in them he will bring to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.


And that’s the specific point I want you to take home with you today. Paul addresses these first century believers, these people who are just like you and I, these people who are living out their faith in the midst of a world that tells a radically different story than that which they have embraced in Jesus. And things have not been easy for them. They’re having a hard time; they’re facing opposition and their hero in the faith, Paul, has been captured by the enemy. Paul came to them proclaiming Lord Jesus, they embraced that truth but now he’s in prison, Caesar’s prison. “We thought Jesus was Lord!” Can you relate to their dilemma? Sure you can. We say such profound things about Jesus. We say them every week. We believe that Jesus is Lord over all, King of all kings, Ruler of the universe. And then some pathetic power comes along and throws your life into chaos, something like the Economy sends your life into a tailspin, or some disease takes hold in your body, or you lose a dear friend. I thought Jesus was Lord over all these things! If that’s true then why this??? And we, like they, struggle with that tension.


To those people and to us Paul says, “I have great confidence that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ!” Paul knows all about their circumstances when he says this. He knows what they’re hurting about and he still says it. He’s in prison himself and he still says it. You and I need to learn to say it as well.


Philippians 1:3–8

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.


Paul has seen the risen Christ and as a consequence he knows that a little thing like death cannot thwart the good work of God. And if death cannot do it is there any other trial that is capable of prohibiting God from getting his work done? No! God is at work in our lives and despite the circumstances he will get his work done!


As Paul begins this profoundly powerful letter he sits us down and says, “Don’t forget who you are!” You’re God’s holy people! Grace and peace to you! You’ve got nothing to fear! He places before us a mirror and as we look into it we can hardly believe what we see. That’s me??? All the confidence and promise relates to me? I’m a holy one of God? I’m a partner in the good news? Jesus loves me like that?


YES, YES, YES! Rise up O saints of God and embrace your destiny! This is who you are!

[1] Romans 5:6-8






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