"Theology of Church Announcements" - Sermon by Joe Ellis on Philippians 2:19-30 — October 17, 2021
One of the questions that you need to wrestle with when planning a worship service is, “Where should we include announcements?” This one we grappled within the first few weeks we started preaching in Telkwa. Our interim pastors who were here right before us, Neil and Virginia, said to us in an email: “It's funny how very different congregations are in this sort of thing. One of your neighbouring congregations only has people share at a designated time, and if that time is accidentally left off the order of worship, there is no mention of the item even if a senior member is in the hospital, the GEMS were going to sing, or people should be invited to a lunch after the service. At Telkwa CRC people seemed quick to want to share and explain -- and seemed ready to do so at any opportune moment. We tended to structure in a moment of "Family Life" in the middle of the service to keep that from being awkward for us. That avoided complications with people who arrived late or needed to leave early… Philosophically, we like the reminder that our every-day lives are part of our worship.” Michelle and I have more or less stuck to this approach — and given that Paul has placed his announcements right in the middle of this letter, this proves that we’re on the right track. Our preaching and worship helps remind us of why we are doing what we are doing in our life together as a church. In other words, our preaching and worship fuel the announcements we make during the church service.
The section we just read in Philippians really sounds like church announcements and that’s different than almost everything else in the letter. Paul saying “I hope to send Timothy to you” is a different sort of thing than the beautiful poem that begins Philippians 2 — “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.” The verses we read this morning very much feel like announcements. Paul is hoping to send Timothy soon, but first will send Epaphroditus. Paul hopes to visit them, too. These announcements have some theology woven into them, as all good announcements do — but they’re mostly announcements. Yet, they’re no less important because of that — in fact, a chief purpose of our preaching is to fuel church announcements. The other chief reason we preach is to glorify the Triune God and exalt His name. But we also listen to sermons and worship together to fuel church announcements. This sounds lame, but it is really important. What we do in response to our faith demonstrates the reality of our faith. In another New Testament letter, James said: “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I, by my works, will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” We can have the best preaching in the world, we can have the most beautifully articulated faith — but if none of that leads to some inspiring announcements during the service — what good is it?
In other words, our theology should give shape and purpose to our life together. Our preaching and worship reminds us of why we are doing what we are doing in our life together. Our life together, our good work together, are demonstrations of our faith as life. That’s what is going on in the section of Philippians we heard this morning.
In verses 19-22 Paul makes the point this way: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Note the connection that Paul explicitly makes: Being genuinely concerned for an other's welfare is the same as seeking the interests of Jesus Christ! That’s the topic of the whole letter. Remember at the beginning of chapter 2 when Paul said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” In this section of the letter Paul is announcing, “this is what Timothy is doing.” In being genuinely concerned for an other’s welfare, Timothy is seeking the interests of Jesus Christ! Through his actions, Timothy is demonstrating the mind of Christ. Timothy’s understanding of God is concretely shaping the way he lives — which is the reason Paul gets to makes this beautiful announcement about Timothy coming to serve the church in Philippi with the mind of Christ.
The whole reason Paul is writing this letter is to try and get through to the church in Philippi that seeking the welfare of one another is the same as serving Jesus Christ. That is Paul’s basic message throughout this letter. That’s why throughout this letter Paul encourages them “to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ… to work side by side with each other, to be of the same mind, having the same love, and regard each other as their superior.” For this church in Phillip, there is some threat to the church’s unity, and this need for unity is the driving reason behind Paul’s teaching on the servanthood of Christ. The need for humility and sacrificial living in the church is the reason why Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8: “This is how you should think among yourselves—with the mind that you have because you belong to the Messiah, Jesus: Who though in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he ought to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself, and received the form of a slave, Being born in the likeness of humans. And then, having human appearance, he humbled himself, and became obedient even to death, Yes, even the death of the cross.” That is one of the most theologically rich and deep passages in the New Testament. Yet when Paul does theology, it is not just because he likes thinking about deep stuff — though no doubt he does. When he writes theology, it is purpose driven. Paul writes theology to help shape a community to be more like Christ. When we worship together, when we hear the word of God preached, the hope is that this activity will shape the type of church announcements we’ll give. Theology fuels our life together. Our mostly deeply cherished beliefs about who God is and what he’s done must shape how we respond.
Timothy is an example of this working itself out. Timothy hears the Word, is shaped by the vision of the humble servanthood of Christ. Timothy responds to this doctrine by living in the same way. As a result, Paul can announce: “I hope to send Timothy to you soon. There is no one else that has Timothy’s quality: he will care quite genuinely about how you are. Everybody else, you see, looks after their own interests, not those of Jesus the Messiah.” Timothy is shaped by his vision of Jesus, who despite having equality with God, took the form of a servant. Timothy is willing to travel the 800 miles from Rome to Philippi not only so that he can serve and encouragement the church in Philippi. Timothy also wants to serve Paul. Paul is worried about how the church is doing, and Timothy is going so he can report back good news and cheer Paul up. “Good news! This church is getting along again!”
Epaphroditus is also an example of how theology shapes church announcements. This is the back story. The Church in Philippi had heard Paul was in prison. Back in that day, the Roman guards didn’t give their prisoners food or water. I think jails in Italy have now started feeding their prisoners. But they didn’t back then, so the church in Philippi put together a massive care package and sent Epaphroditus with it to care for Paul. It wasn’t that Epaphroditus had nothing better to do so he decided to go on this incredibly dangerous journey. Epaphroditus almost died because of this journey, he got deathly sick. Paul says that the reason Epaphroditus went on this journey, and risked his life, was for the work of Christ.
The same thing that happened to Timothy happened to Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus hears the Word, is shaped by the vision of the humble servanthood of Christ and responds. Epaphroditus risks his life to bring Paul food so that he can survive in prison. Epaphroditus is shaped by the Gospel, and his life takes on a different shape because of the Gospel. The result is that Paul is able to announce, “25 I think it’s necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.”
Paul makes the announcement that Epaphroditus is healthy, safe and sound through God’s mercy! Paul announces that Epaphroditus deserves great honour, because he came close to death for the work of Christ. Paul announces that Epaphroditus cared for him in his hour of need. Paul announces the good news that Epaphroditus is returning home and should be welcomed as a hero. All this is an example of Epaphroditus living out his faith. Epaphroditus hears the Word, is shaped by the vision of the humble servanthood of Christ. Epaphroditus responds to this doctrine by living the same sort of life as Christ.
Our preaching and our worship services shape the type of lives we live. Our preaching and our worship services shape the sort of announcements we make in church. Our lives must look different. As our vision for who Christ is grows throughout our life, our life together takes a different shape. And it is true — the announcements we give at Telkwa Community Church do reflect the servanthood of Jesus. Let’s review some of the announcements we’ve made in our recent history: We’ve announced that we are hosting a refugee family and join the team if you want to help. We’ve announced that Leah and Athena are joining Marissa and Emily in the Hope House. Andreas and Nadia have announced that they would like to start a small group for the purpose of growing in Discipleship. As deacon, Justin and Cindy announce the opportunities we have to invest our money in the Kingdom of God. I’ve announced the opportunity to grow deeper in prayer through the practice of contemplating the Scriptures. Remember the Hunters announcing that they would spend six months serving an orphanage in Mexico? Remember the Quilters from the Heart announcing the opportunity to quilt quilts for people who need a hug in the name of Jesus? Remember Cindy announcing the opportunity to participate in something called Hearts Exchanged, where we can learn to engage with Indigenous people as neighbours and fellow image bearers on the the sacred journey of reconciliation? Remember Joanne announcing last week the opportunity to join with one another for Thanksgiving by the lake? I’m proud of us.
Of course not all responsive living gets a formal church announcement. Most of our living out our faith is behind the scenes, hidden. Most of the announcements we make in response to the Gospel, we announce only to ourselves. Personal announcements that might sound like this: “I am not going to respond anxiously right now.” “I’m going to give my friend a call and ask how he’s doing.” “I am going to spend the first part of my morning in prayer.” “I am going to ask questions to understand this person better.” “I’m going to make her a meal.” “I’m going to talk to that kid who sits alone at lunch.” Most of our announcements are only to ourselves, and the only one who notices is me, myself and Jesus. Yet the point is no less . Our faith, our belief, our theology shapes the lives we lead. Some of those announcements are made in church, but most of our announcement go unspoken. Yet Christ is no less glorified when we serve others as we would serve Christ.