God is Always at Work in Each Person’s Life

This morning we are going to be starting a brand new series based on the book of Philippians, which is this tiny little letter – only four chapters – a total of 104 verses from beginning to end. And yet it is absolutely packed with great and memorable lines.

There are more ‘life verse’ type of verses packed into this little book than any other. We find sayings such as “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” And “Do not be anxious about anything” or how about “My God will meet all of your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ”. We have chosen Chapter 1:21 to sum up the entire series – which says, “To Live is Christ, to die is gain.” We’re running with “to live is Christ.” as our theme for this series.

And we’re running with that one because we here at Journey truly feel that the best life we can live is a life fully and completely abandoned to God. When Jesus came to earth he preached one unified message. He preached the immediate availability of the Kingdom of Heaven to anyone who would simply turn and walk into it. Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven is available upon request.

Jesus preached that the greatest opportunity any human being will ever have is the opportunity to follow Him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength; to abandon our will for his – our kingdom for His kingdom – our ways for His.

The greatest opportunity any human will ever have is to trust Jesus to wisely govern their day-to-day living. And so maybe this is your first day in church in a long time – I am telling you that you have an opportunity – it’s an invitation – to become a different kind of human being. And that only happens as we walk in a relationship with Jesus.

Now this morning we are going to come across another famous verse from the book of Philippians – and it’s 1:6, which says, 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

God finishes what He starts. Which is good news. Because, let’s face it, not everyone does. Ever get started on a house project only to stall out at some point? I recently came across a picture that said, “Ladies, if your husband says he will finish that house project, then he will finish that house project. There is no need to remind him every six months.”

1. I mean – he said he would fix the kids bike, right? It’s even better – You can put two kids on there so long as you only make left turns.
2. This might not quite be Original Equipment parts, but hey – he wasn’t the one who hit the kid on the bike with that mirror, now was he?
3. He might not quite be finished but to tell you the truth, he got the hard part out of the way.
4. Listen – if you have a bad back, but enjoy the feel of a sofa, then this project is finished.
5. Listen, just because the oven is broken doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little bacon.

Thankfully, God finishes what he starts. And that’s good news because the deal is that God is working on you. You are a work in progress. God is at work in you. Because God is always at work in every one we meet.

And we are going to see God at work in the lives of the first three believers in the city of Philippi this morning. And just as God was at work in them, God is up to something inside of you.

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.

That sounds demeaning to liken yourself to a slave. But it’s worth noting that Jesus never uses the slave/master imagery. He says he prefers to call us his friends.

But Paul and Silas are expressing their mindset here. They desire to do everything Jesus asks them to do – regardless of the cost. They trust Jesus with their very lives.

I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.

Here’s a map of Europe and in the bottom right corner you see Greece. And that little purple star is where you’ll find Philippi. And if we zoom in a little more we can see the strategic importance of this location. It is on the road very near the heart of where Asia and Europe come together. It was a major trade route.

2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Now Paul is writing this letter about 61ad. And he is writing to the church in Philippi that he himself started just ten years earlier.

So let’s read about how this church in Philippi got started – and we are going to turn to the book of Acts, chapter 16. See, Paul knows these people personally – he was there when God began the good work in them.

And we are going to read about the good work that God was doing in the lives of three people in particular. A wealthy woman named Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl, and a jailer.

And as we read about these three people – I want us to keep this one truth in our mind – God is always at work, in every one we see. God is always working in the lives of people. He wants us to discover him. To Know him. To follow Him. To grow in our faith. He is always working in everyone we see.

Let’s look Acts 16. Acts is in the New Testament and it is the story of the birth and explosive growth of the church. And in Acts 16, we read…

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 

Paul and Silas were on a missionary journey – in every city where they travelled they would preach to whoever would listen, lead people to faith in Jesus, and start churches. Well they had a desire to go east into Asia – but the Holy Spirit said no. There was something inside them where they both felt that God was closing that door to go east.

But when God closes a door, it often means there is another door opening. 9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 

So why would they go to the riverbank? Well normally Paul would go to the synagogue and preach about Jesus first to the Jewish people in the synagogue. But in order for there to be a synagogue there needed to be at least ten Jewish men. There were so few Jews in the city that there was no synagogue. (This explains, by the way, why the book of Philippi has no references to the Old Testament. He is preaching to a non Jewish audience.)

Apparently though, Paul heard about a meeting by the river – a women’s bible study of some kind, if you will. And here we find Lydia.

14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

What do we learn about Lydia? For one thing, it appears that she was wealthy. And she was generous. She dealt in expensive purple cloth. She lived in a large home – large enough to host Paul and his team. And later – it was large enough to become the meeting site of the church – she hosted a house church from her home.

But above all else, we can see that Lydia was a seeker. She was searching for God. She was hungry and ready to hear the good news about Jesus.

She was one of those kinds of people who heard about the invitation from Jesus to walk into the Kingdom that he governs, and she immediately received and accepted that invitation. It took her virtually no time at all to decide to step across the line and follow Jesus.

Why did Lydia receive and believe the message of Jesus so quickly? Well, we don’t know it was quickly at all. All we know is that God had begun a good work in her, readying her heart, so that when she heard that Jesus was a good shepherd – worth trusting with all the days of our life… Her heart had already been prepared. And it was indeed good news.

And you know, you might be here and you are hearing about this Jesus and you are like Lydia – you have been searching and it might not take you long at all to respond. Well, good news, there is no mandatory waiting periods – you can turn to him this very moment and begin to walk with him.

Others might not be there yet – you need time to process. On Easter we heard from Steve Elgan who shared his story about coming to a decision to follow Jesus. His was a little longer – he sat in here a good six months or so before he and Malissa were ready to follow Him. And if you want to hear his story you can go to our website and listen to the last ten minutes of the sermon on Easter – and you will be encouraged.

But see, this is what is important to note. Paul had no idea where she was in her spiritual Journey. He just started to share about this incredible invitation to become a different kind of human being, and she was already there. She was ready. God was preparing her for that moment. She was searching for him, and she was ready.

We see people come into church on Sunday’s and every week we see new people walk through the door. And we don’t have any idea about what God is doing in their life. We talk about crossing this line of faith – of casting a vote for Jesus – but the truth is that you might be miles from that decision, or you might be minutes from it.

Only God sees a heart. And He knows. And we get to play a role in what God is doing in the hearts and lives of everyone we see.

Jesus says we are the salt and light of the world. God has placed us there for a reason. To love and influence and yes, in some ways to push and prod a bit when it comes to spiritual matters. You know – I think everyone deserves at least one person in their life who is willing to talk about faith and spirituality. Maybe you are the only one in your world like that. Think about how God is using you!

You know, Steve mentioned at Easter that they were invited to church by their friends, the Paladino’s. What a great thing! At the time the Paladino’s had no idea that God was using them. And they their invitation would forever change the trajectory of the Elgan’s families life. They reached out, and God had made Malissa ready. And eventually, he trusted his wife enough to believe that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing to come to church once.

All that to say, God is at work in everyone we see. He is beginning a good work in the lives of our friends and families who deserve the opportunity to know peace and love in ways the never dreamed possible.

God was at work in Lydia. She was seeking God and was ready when she heard the message about Jesus. You, or your friends, might be the same way. Only God knows.

The second individual that God began a good work in was a girl trapped in a terrible spiritual mess. She was a slave girl, being taken advantage of by her owners, because she was being tormented by demons – and they were using her as a fortune teller and making much money off of her.

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

in 1991 the Psychic friends Network was launched. For merely $3.99 a minute you could call anytime to speak with a “real psychic”. By 1998 the company had reportedly made more than 100 million dollars.

Why? Because people intuitively understand there is more to life then what we can see. And sometimes it leads people to reach out to try to get in touch with the spirit world.

Well, here’s the deal. There is a world out there filled with spirits that are not of God. And if you go looking to tap into the power of the spirit world – there’s a very good chance you will find one. And this poor girl got in touch with the world of demons who took it as an opportunity to abuse her, as her owners had.

These demons were enjoying being in charge of this girl, until one day they came in touch with the Spirit of the One true God. And in the presence of the Holy Spirit, these demons could do nothing others than bow their demonic knee and proclaim through this girl, that Paul and Silas were servants of the one true God.

Paul eventually heard enough of this. And, it says in Acts 16, that Paul, turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

Now this whole deal sounds freaky, right? That’s because it totally is! Sounds like the exorcists or something! It’s not something, thankfully, that we see every day, right?

In our culture, it is not as common for us to come across a person manifesting signs of having a demon. Quite honestly, in our scientific culture, it does not serve the efforts of the enemy to draw attention to the spiritual world in any way. Our enemy is quite content to have us believe that there is no other world than the material world that we can examine under a microscope or through a telescope.

But isn’t it interesting that a popular phrase in our culture is the idea that people gotta “deal with their demons.” Now in our culture that refers often to addictions, or painful things inside of us that seem to control us from time to time. Things inside of us that we want to change but changing the inside of a soul is incredibly difficult journey. And so it feels like we are doing battle against the forces of hell itself.

Well, it is possible to win those battles, you know. Listen to the testimony of the demons. Jesus is able to help you deal with your demons. Yes he is. He came to promise a life that is abundant, joyful, confident, and free.

Now Paul frees this woman from her demons with one word. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened to us the same way? Sometimes it does. But usually, transformation on the inside of a person takes more time than that. And one thing that I am very encouraged about Journey is that you all understand that – and demonstrate grace to people who are battling their demons.

There is grace in this place – there is no need to pretend to have your act together in order to be loved and accepted here.

And so – this young woman, she is starting from a very different place than Lydia. But it is God who is doing the work. He started the work of transformation in both Lydia and this girl battling her demons.

They both received the same invitation – an invitation to walk into the Kingdom of Heaven – the right now kingdom where Jesus rules and reigns – where Jesus lovingly guides and supports and shepherds whosoever will come.

Now if you were starting a church – you might find these two people to be an odd choice for your launch team. A Rich Seeker and a Poor Slave girl. But it’s about to get even odder.

See, the owners of this girl are not pleased one bit that she has been healed. They were exploiting her pain for their gain. And when she is healed, the only future they can see now is their own – and they know they are going to go broke!

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials.21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

Yay! Who wants to be a missionary!?

Want to know why Paul can write with such assurance that God who began a good work in you will be faithful to continue that work? Because he has lived through enough of these kinds of scenes we are reading about to know that even when God leads you through the valley of the shadow of death, or suffering, He knows what he is doing.

You might think that Paul and Silas would be discouraged. They receive this vision to come to Philippi. And now they are beaten and whipped and sitting in a prison because they freed a young woman from her demons. Talk about unfair! You might think they would be seething with disappointment in God.

But they are not. Because they know that God is up to something. And that he is at work in the lives of every person they come in contact with. Even that Jailer who is in charge of them.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. God at work in every heart in that place – prisoner and guard alike.

 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

Not much is ever made of this, but can we just give a silent shout out to the other prisoners – they being ministered to by Paul and Silas – although their shackles fall off – don’t make a break for it. See, if they had escaped the jailer was going to fall on his sword. See that was the price of being a jailer – if you failed you paid the price with your own life. But the other prisoners – they sit still – their escape would have cost this jailer his life. And they aren’t willing to take it.

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 

40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. 

A church is born. The first church in Europe begins with a wealthy business woman, A poor slave girl dealing with her demons. A blue collar Joe. A guy who had not been thinking about God at all until literally an earthquake shook him from his spiritual slumber.

And that same God who began a good work in those people has begun a good work in YOU! God is at work in your life, as well as the life of the person right next to you – and even in the life of that one person you think even God couldn’t straighten out.

Yes he can because he is always at work in everyone we see.

The first church in Europe was started a seeker, a slave, and a security guard. Someone seeking God, someone who was anti-god, and someone who was indifferent to God. These three and their families all meeting together in Lydia’s house church. Praising God, learning together from Paul and Silas about what it means to live life as followers of Jesus.

What a Motley crew! Well you know – come to think of it – Reminds me a lot of another Motley Crew I know! I mean seriously – look around this joint! We’ve got some really interesting people in this joint.

And I’d simply end today with an invitation to any present day Seekers – any present day people dealing with their demons. Anyone who was perhaps indifferent to God until an earthquake – a personal earthquake shook you up –

What unites us in this room is a shared joy of trusting Jesus to effectively, wisely, lovingly direct our lives. The invitation is open to you today. And maybe you aren’t ready yet to take that kind of step – you are welcome here – take your time – but when you are ready, then make the call and say Yes to Jesus.
He who began that good work in getting your heart ready to follow him, will be faithful to continue that good work in you.

Post a comment