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Sullivan: “I thank my God for every remembrance of you”

By Barbara Denman

December 5, 2013

JACKSONVILLE—As he approached his 25th anniversary as executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, John Sullivan in his annual sermon during the Florida Baptist State Convention shared a gospel message from his favorite book of the Bible, recalling “I thank my God for every remembrance of you.”

The message from Paul found in Philippians 1:1-6 must not be applied to only good times, he said, but in all times.

Philippians, a book often referred to as the “Epistle of Joy,” was characterized by Sullivan as a “little informal letter that exists to enable us to experience joy, encouragement and hope in the gospel we share.”

Paul was writing to the church at Philippi from his prison cell to express his joy for them, to defend and confirm the gospel, to thank them for sending someone to take care of his needs while he was sick and “to assure them that his joy in Christ would overcome his circumstances,” Sullivan explained.

“Paul’s joy is a direct outgrowth of his love for this church and this church in particular,” Sullivan explained.

“There are great truths in scripture but only two of supremely objective importance—Jesus and the church.” Sullivan said, adding that “The church is the reality of the completed work of Christ.”

The church is family, Sullivan said, dependent on each other as lives are merged, and order to life is given.

Joy is found in remembering, those in the Church and within the Christian faith, Sullivan explained. For Paul, that joy is found in remembering people—Lydia, the slave girl and the prison guard.

By grouping together the three who represented all walks of life, Sullivan said, Paul was remembering all who had a part in his ministry, “no matter who that person is. We should never marginalized someone who was saved by Jesus Christ.”

Now as Paul is writing the letter, beaten by stripes, placed in stocks and put in prison, he sang at midnight, Sullivan recalled.

Such is joy, he added. “Joy is a choice; a Christian without joy is a contradiction of terms. You cannot choose the numbers of your days but you can choose the color of your day.”

Joy is found in confidence that God’s grace is sufficient, Sullivan noted. “His pure generosity at the cross is sufficient.” Joy produces peace and overcomes circumstances.

He grows weary with preachers who talk about their legacy, he said, “If you take care of your character your legacy will take care of itself.”

On his tombstone, the state exec said he only wants the words, “’He was a Baptist preacher.’ That’s all I need.”

Referring to the past two years as he and his wife battled health issues, Sullivan said he has learned anew the significance of patience. “I have been in a tough time, in the midst of tough times. I have learned Jesus Christ never leaves me or deserts me.

“I remember my joy in Jesus Christ, more and more. Thank you for that day you came down from glory to gory on earth.”

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