The Gospel for Y'all
The Texan Translation
I’m proud to be a Texan, especially when it comes to our slang. When we’re about to do something, we’ll say we’re “fixin’ to.” When we have pity on someone, we’ll say, “Bless your heart.” And when we mention something nearby, we’ll say it’s “over yonder.” But I’m especially proud of the word “y’all.” It solves a problem for the English language. Other languages, including Biblical Greek, have a word to address the second person (“you”) in the plural (“you all”). Standard English doesn’t have a word for that category. But that’s where Texans step in with our greatest linguistic invention: “y’all.”
This is important, because all of Paul’s letters (except for 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon) are addressed to congregations, not individuals. So when Paul says in Philippians, “I thank my God in all of my remembrance of you,” (1:3) he is not talking to an individual, and more importantly, he is not talking to you individually. He is talking to the Philippian church, even the universal church, as a whole. Therefore, as Texans, we can read Philippians 1:3-8 like this:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of y’all, always in every prayer of mine for y’all making my prayer with joy, because of y’all’s partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in y’all will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about y’all, because I hold y’all in my heart, for y’all are partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for y’all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Texan Translation, adapted from the ESV)
When read this way, one theme becomes clear: the gospel is for y’all. We see this in a progression of three steps.
1. The Gospel is for Y’all (v. 3-5)
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the Philippians. He was cut off from physical fellowship with the church. But he didn’t use his alone time for “me time.” Of course, Paul still had a personal relationship with God. He calls God “my God,” and practiced spiritual disciplines, such as personal prayer. But notice the emphasis of Paul’s personal prayer: he emphasized his thankfulness to God for “y’all.” His prayers were full of gratitude for the church. The apostle used his alone time as an opportunity to pray and long for the church. He understood the importance of the church being whole, unified, and in partnership with each other.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once created a political cartoon that illustrated this need for unity and partnership. Titled, “Join, or Die,” Franklin’s cartoon was a simple illustration of a snake cut into eighths, with each severed section labeled with one of the initials of the American colonies. The message was clear: the American colonies must partner with each other or perish apart from each other. Though Franklin intended his message for the French and Indian War, the cartoon was later adopted for the American Revolutiony War, which transformed the individual colonies of America into the United States of America. The success of the colonies all depended on their united partnership.
Paul was thankful for the Philippian church’s “partnership in the gospel,” because they understood the call of the gospel. The gospel is a call to personal salvation in Jesus Christ. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ…And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, emphasis added). But the gospel is also a call to join a people, as Peter says: “But y’all are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…Once y’all were not a people, but now y’all are God’s people” (1 Pet. 2:9, 10, Texan Translation).
Even when we cannot be physically present with the wider church community, whether due to prisons, pandemics, or snowstorms, we are called to partnership together in the gospel. Paul prayed for the church, yearned for the church, encouraged the church, and communicated with the church, because he was called to personal salvation and to join a people. Jesus died for you, but he also died for the church. In Christ you will rise to new life, but in Christ you will rise to new life as part of the Bride of Christ. You are not the Bride of Christ. Y’all are. Until you see yourself as part of all the church, and start acting like it, you won’t find much success and growth in the Christian life. The Gospel is for you, but it is also for y’all.
2. Sanctification is for Y’all (v. 6)
Paul’s statement in verse six is a great comfort to those who are struggling with the assurance of their salvation: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The present salvation you experienced at the moment of your conversion will continue to grow until you experience final redemption in your resurrected body in the New Heaven and New Earth at the end of time. It should bring you great joy to know that God is working in your life so that you will continue to grow in holiness (sanctification) until you reach heaven’s shore. But, apart from the context, we can start to believe that Paul is merely describing personal sanctification. He certainly has personal sanctification in mind, but he is ultimately describing the sanctification of the church as a whole. We cannot have one without the other.
In his work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a fleet of ships on a successful journey to illustrate this type of personal and communal sanctification. Three criteria must be met in order for the journey to be successful. First, the ships cannot run into each other. There must be order among the fleet itself. Second, the individual ships must have order among itself. A poorly managed ship will quickly run into trouble. And finally, the fleet must have a unified goal and purpose for their journey. If some ships accidentally end up in Boston while the rest end up in New York, the fleet failed in its unified purpose. All three of these criteria must be met in order for a successful journey.
In the same way, the church is called to “completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We are all on the same journey together. So in order to successfully grow in holiness, we must keep these three things in mind: First, we should strive for holiness in our relationships with each other. The New Testament constantly reminds us to have right relationships with everyone. Paul tells the church in Rome, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). Inside and outside the church, our sanctification is made visible in our relationships with others. Second, we should strive for holiness within ourselves. Pretending at holiness in public while your private sins go unconfronted by the gospel is no holiness at all, but hypocrisy. And finally, we should strive together for the ultimate goal: completion at the day of Jesus Christ. When we see others start to drift toward different goals, we should gently, yet firmly remind them and redirect them towards the goal of Christ.
In the end, it is God who begins our salvation and brings our sanctification to completion in ultimate redemption. But we are also called to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in y’all, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13, Texan Translation). The church as a whole is called to grow in holiness as much as you are called individually. And God works in you and in the church, “so that he (Christ) might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Sanctification is for you, but it is also for y’all.
3. Grace is for Y’all (v. 7-8)
The problem with growing in holiness now is that we are currently not people of pure holiness, but we are people of sin. We sin in our personal lives and we sin against each other in our public lives, even within the church. Unlike finding Waldo in a Where’s Waldo? book, it doesn’t take much work to find a sinner in a church. They’re everywhere, because every single person is a sinner, including the pastor! “For there is no distinction,” Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22, 23). It is inescapable.
It reminds me of the time I met a pastor whose last name was Sin. Yes, this church was actually led by Pastor Sin. When I met him, he jokingly said, “My church is pastored by Sin, my wife is married to Sin, my children were born in Sin and raised by Sin, and I cannot escape Sin!” Even though he was making a pun off his name, the truth remains the same: in this life none of us cannot escape sin, even within the church. But as Paul reminds us, we are all partakers of grace if we are in Christ Jesus (v. 7). To finish the passage from Romans, Paul says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified (made righteous) by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23, 24). For those who are in Christ Jesus, we may still be sinners in this life, but we are also shown grace by God, and made holy in his sight.
Everyone who is a part of the church is in the church not because they earned it. No one has earned membership into God’s people. We’ve all failed the entrance exam into the Kingdom of God. So if you belong to Christ, remember that you didn’t earn yourself a place at the table, but you were shown grace by God through Jesus Christ. And not only were you shown grace, but y’all were shown grace. “Y’all are partakers with me of grace” (v. 7), Paul says. Grace is for you, but it is also for y’all.
The Christians who sit next to you in church, who sing the same worship songs as you do, who go to your Sunday School class, who make you laugh and cry, were all shown immeasurable grace. Every single true believer. Our membership into the church is defined by grace, therefore our lives in the church should be lived out in grace. The author of Hebrews says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” (12:15). We are called to join a people, but those people are sinners saved by grace. They won’t always be perfect. But you also know that you’re not always perfect. Yet you were shown grace, so you can share grace with others.
Overwhelmed by Grace
Since this is part of our series Overwhelmed, what does this have to do with anxiety and depression in the Christian life?
· The Gospel is for Y’all: Many Christians fall prey to anxiety and depression because they think they are alone in their struggles. It is overwhelming to face the world alone. When you realize, though, that through the gospel you belong to the community of faith, you can know that you’re not alone. Just reminding yourself of that fact, especially by being involved in the community of faith, can work tremendous wonders in your emotional life. Be involved!
· Sanctification is for Y’all: For you to grow and to mature out of anxiety and depression requires teamwork. You may not become 100% free of anxiety and depression in this life, but it helps to be encouraged by the church to grow. We are all on this journey together. So connect with others at church and meet to encourage each other to grow in holiness.
· Grace is for Y’all: When you feel completely overwhelmed by the world around you, and you feel like you’ve failed one-too-many times to recover, know that there is ever-abounding grace in Christ Jesus. And when someone you know is struggling with anxiety and depression, don’t get angry at them. Don’t say: “Just get over it!” But show them grace and encourage them. Let them know that they are loved and not alone. You are loved and not alone.
Do you feel alone? Do feel overwhelmed by sin and shame? Turn to Christ and find the growth and grace that you are looking for. You will not find it anywhere else but in him. And once you do, know that you’ve joined God’s people and are sharing the road with others just like yourself: sinners overwhelmed by grace.