Paul is profoundly lonely. In jail, all by himself. Separated from his friends. Writing them a letter speaking about how much he misses them, how much he has enjoyed them, and how he may never see them again because the likelihood is he faces being put to death in prison. Loneliness in our day, is epidemic. People are disconnected, isolated, lonely.
1. The root of loneliness
Philippians 1 is about how to respond to loneliness. Why do we get lonely? God, by definition is Trinitarian in nature: Father, Son, Spirit. The Bible says that within the very character of God, there is love, community, respect, relationship. The Bible says that, "God had sufficient relationship in and of his own essence and nature." The Bible does say, however, that God made us in his image and likeness. We’re built for relationship, for communication, for contact, for knowing others and being known by others. We desire that. That is a good thing.
The Bible says that everything is very good that God makes in Genesis 1 and 2, with the exception of one thing. God says, "It’s not good for us to be alone", because we’re made for relationship. And so, God takes the first man, creates for him the first woman. Loneliness is cured through not only relationship with God, but within one another. There is no loneliness until Genesis 3. They sin. Sin separates them from God and they hide from God. Sin separates them from one another. They hide from one another. The dual effect of sin is it disconnects us from God and one another. It leads to distrust with God and one another. That’s why we experience loneliness.
2. Jesus experienced loneliness
Unlike every other religion and their false demon god, who knows nothing of life on this earth, Jesus can say, "I’ve been there. I totally understand. I relate. Not only that, I can help you and I will because I’m good."
1. Matthew 4 and Luke 4: "He was led by God, the Holy Spirit, into 40 days of loneliness." Sometimes, the Holy Spirit just leads you into a season of loneliness to get you alone. To work on your character. To mature you. To grow you. To change you. That happened to Jesus.
2. Jesus experienced voluntary loneliness. The Bible says that, "He often withdrew to lonely places to be alone with the Father."
3. Jesus also experienced involuntary and very painful and grievous loneliness. His family sort of denied him. Judas, his friend and disciple betrayed him. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before he was crucified, Jesus’ own friends failed him. They went to sleep when he had asked them to pray. Some of you know this.
4. Jesus, on his way to the cross, saw all of his friends abandon him, some of them even deny him, and Jesus went absolutely alone to the cross. There, on the cross, he was actually abandoned by God, the Father. He says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And in that moment, God the Father, turned his back on God the Son, and Jesus felt the full weight of the consequence of sin. His unbroken, perfect, eternal relationship with God the Father was momentarily severed. And in that moment, Jesus tasted a loneliness that none of us can or will ever experience. He tasted physical death as a consequence of sin. He tasted spiritual death as a consequence of sin. He tasted relational death as a consequence of sin.
The cure for loneliness
The cure is that Jesus becomes the centre of the relationship between you and someone else.
1. Joy because of the grace of God.
Paul’s sitting in prison, facing death, lonely, hurting. He is hungry. He is broke. He is beaten. He is probably sick, and he writes a letter to his friends. He opens with this. "Grace to you." Grace. This is, perhaps, the best word to summarize what we believe about God as Christians. That we are sinners, but that God is gracious. God is a God who gives grace. We are to receive God’s grace humbly and we are to share it gladly.
2. Joy because of the peace of God
God is not against us; but in repentance, receiving grace, we’re at peace with God. God is for us. God loves us. God cares for us. And that peace changes everything. And we experience this, as well, in our human relationships, which are to be patterned after a relationship with God. When we repent, and grace is given, there’s peace. Some of you don’t have peace in your relationships. It’s because there has been sin without repentance and grace. But, when there is sin with repentance and grace, there’s peace. You don’t feel that knot in your stomach when they call, send an email, or you see them. You don’t try to ignore and avoid them..
3. Joy because of good memories
Grace, peace, then leads to memories. Verse 3, "I thank God in my remembrance of you." If you don’t have a Gospel based partnership that has grace and peace that’s centred in Jesus, many of your memories are going to be painful and bitter. Good memories are not just of sin, but forgiveness. Not just memories of pain, but of redemption. Not just memories of disappointed, but life change so that people stop doing that and they start living in a humble and servant way.
4. Joy is seeing the Kingdom grow
Joy is a lifestyle that celebrates the kingdom of God being established. Paul is saying:
I’m suffering, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m hurting, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m lonely, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m dying, but the Gospel’s going forward and my joy is in the forward progress of the Gospel. It’s not all meaningless and vanity, that it’s meaningful and people are seeing the difference that Jesus is making in my life and it’s encouraging them to investigate Jesus, and people are becoming Christians and their lives are getting changed, and sin is being forgiven, and relationships are being reconciled. And people are receiving hope and new life. And I rejoice in the forward progress of the Gospel.
Everything is an opportunity for the forward progress of the Gospel. So, nothing, even the most dark, hard and painful situations in life, is without merit or purpose and in that, there’s joy because it’s all for the Gospel. It is grace centred, peace giving, memory making, joy inducing.
5. Joy in assurance of salvation
Martin Luther, the reformer, called this the great exchange. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him" – that is Jesus – "who knew no sin, perfectly righteous to become sin" – that would be my sin – "so that in him, I might become – we might become – the righteousness of God." So, here’s what that means. On the cross, my sin was imputed or reckoned to Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness was imputed or reckoned to me. That’s the great exchange.
You receive a new heart, a new centre, a new nature. God changes you from the inside out. You’re a new person. That’s why we use words like born again. You start over. Everything’s different. Not only that, you have a new power through the Holy Spirit that enables you to act on your new desires out of your new heart. You’re not doing this alone. You have a new community in the church.
Hebrews 12 says,
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses" – Gospel partners – "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us keep looking to Jesus. To be author and the perfecter of our faith. The one who begins the good work and sees it through to completion."
The answer to loneliness is, "Keep looking to Jesus, who, for the joy set before him endured the cross."