Sunday, July 26, 2020
Three Keys to Unity
Introduction: Walking around the peninsula during these last couple of years, it is obvious that we’ve had some pretty strong storm come through. Quite a few really big trees have been knocked down! I was interested to read this week that the huge redwood trees in California are considered the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are over 300 feet high and are estimated to be over 2,500 years old. One would think that trees so large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. However, the redwoods actually have a relatively shallow system of roots. So how do they get so big and stand so long? Apparently, though it’s a shallow root system; they all intertwine; they are locked in to each other. So, when the storms come and the winds blow, the redwoods stand, and they don’t stand alone, the trees support and protect each other. They hold each other up. The same is true for the church. How will we stay strong and be able to withstand the storms of life in this fallen world? God designed us to stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Alone we would be vulnerable. We are stronger together than any of us could be alone. Paul desired the Philippians to strive for unity, God desires the same for us (1:27b).
The Context: In 1:27-30, Paul encouraged the Philippians to let their manner of life as kingdom citizens show the worth of the Gospel, firmly rooted in love, bravely holding forth the message of grace. In 2:5 he’ll hold up Jesus as the example of humble service. Here, we’ll see that 1) Unity comes from grateful hearts; 2) Unity flows from a humble attitude; and 3) Unity springs from a generous spirit, putting others before ourselves.
The Maine* Idea: Gospel-centered thinking, characterized by thankfulness, humility, and generosity, will lead to Gospel-shaped living, which will be evident in the unity of the church.
I. Unity comes from grateful hearts: Since God has blessed us so abundantly in Christ we should strive for unity for His glory (1-2). Paul said that we are “…living letters, seen and read of men…” (2 Cor 3:2). Unity is a sign to the world that there is something real in this place. And so Paul returns to that subject in 2:1ff…
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
God has abundantly blessed us in Christ (v.1). Paul rhetorically asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you have not received? If you received it why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Here he is not doubting or questioning whether these blessing are part of the experience of true believers. He assumes the Philippians will agree that yes, these are some of the wonderful blessings of the Christian life. He is essentially saying that since we have been abundantly blessed in these ways, we should live differently! This is not intended as a logical argument based on these four points of theological truth. He is pleading with them from his heart, repeating these truths that every believer would recognize as blessings from God…
“…consolation in Christ…” “consolation”, paraklesis, is the same root word that is used of the Holy Spirit as our “comforter,” and of Jesus as our “advocate”: one called alongside to help. We have a new position “in Christ,” and it is here we can have true encouragement and comfort.
“…comfort of love…” “If there is any solace afforded by love…” Everyone wants to be loved – that is what we are made for, it’s something we long for. In Christ we have the truest, deepest form of love. When all else fails, when it seems as though the world is against us, there is solace in knowing we are known and loved by God.
“…fellowship of the Spirit…” “koinonia”, fellowship, or sharing. We are connected with God through the indwelling Spirit. Because that is true, God is with us always, to convict, to guide, to comfort. I Cor 3 – “You are a temple of God…”
“…affection and mercy…” Heartfelt compassion, we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, one who was tested in all points as we are, yet without sin. One outcome of suffering is that we can empathize with others who are going through struggles. In Christ we have one who understands and has compassion. In the church, though others may not understand fully, we do care for each other, and reach out to one another.
God’s abundant blessing toward us demands a response (v. 2). I've spoken before about how Paul especially structures the letters he wrote to the churches. He states the "indicative" that sets forth truth, doctrine, and then he brings "imperatives" that exhort us to live in the light of that truth. Romans, for example, sets forth theology in the first 12 chapters: this is who you are, this is what you have in Christ. 12:1 begins the practical application of that truth, “Therefore… I urge you brothers…” Following that transition we read in Romans 12:16-18 some specific application,
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Here in Philippians 2 Paul is bringing some application. He says,
“…fulfill my joy…” Paul is saying this one truth will complete his joy in the Lord. Being released from prison? The end of persecution? In a word, unity, unity in the church. God’s abundant blessings toward us should elicit a response… If we have all of this in Christ, how then must we live?
Because all of those things described in v.1 are true for those in Christ, help Paul, the apostle-prisoner, have full joy, “…by being like minded… having the same love… being of one accord, of one mind…” Notice the context: Paul started with a call to unity in v.27, and here repeats that idea. And the repetition of “like-minded” and “one-mind” here will be clarified in 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which has also in Christ Jesus…” As we follow Christ’s example of humility and service, we will experience unity that glorifies God. Gospel-centered thinking, characterized by thankfulness, humility, and generosity, will lead to Gospel-shaped living, which will be evident in the unity of the church. Unity comes from grateful hearts, and 2…
II. Unity flows from a humble attitude: You are never too high or too important to serve (2:3).
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
“Do nothing from rivalry… [or, selfishness]…” The simple truth is that too often we tend to live our lives cafeteria style: self-service only. It’s like the little boy who was riding a hobby horse together with his younger sister. The boy said: “If one of us would just get off there would be more room for me!” My professor Moises Silva said in his Philippians commentary, “The true obstacle to unity is not the presence of legitimate differences of opinion but self-centeredness. Shifting attention away from ourselves becomes the challenge…”
“…or empty conceit…” CH Spurgeon said: “Humility to make a right estimate of one’s self… The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own esteem…” My Uncle Charles, when he was bragging a little bit (or a lot!), would often say “No brag, just fact!” Or as my dad would quote the song, “It’s hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way!” The word used here, translated “empty conceit,” was used in the Greco-Roman world to denote a person who thought too highly of himself. It is a compound word that would translate literally, “empty glory”, baseless self-glory.
“…but with humility of mind regard one another as more important…” C. S. Lewis made this insightful comment about pride:
"We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about."
Pride afflicts all of us, not just the rich and famous. We compare ourselves to others, and so we find something to be prideful about, or envious. A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Pursuit of God, tells us how to not only find humility, but also gain greater unity…
"Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship…”
Pursuing intimacy with God. The more we know God, the more we’ll understand the truth about ourselves. It is pride that causes us to feel hurt when someone snubs us, ignores us, or takes credit for something we did. Pride is behind the envy we feel toward people who are more successful than we are. Christ's solution for pride is the only cure: consider others better than ourselves. That implies a reasoned decision to think of others first. Let me quote again the eloquent words of Andrew Murray…
“Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble… The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”
Gospel-centered thinking, characterized by thankfulness, humility, and generosity, will lead to Gospel-shaped living, which will be evident in the unity of the church. A grateful heart, a humble attitude, and finally…
III. Unity springs from a generous spirit: Look to the interests of others (2:4).
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Notice the wording in the NASB… “…do not merely look out for your own personal interests…” Have you ever been told, “Look out for number one!” No need to be told, that is what we all do naturally. Elizabeth Chevalier, author of the novel, “Driven Woman,” wrote this in a letter to Macmillan: “Have you heard the one about the novelist who met an old friend? After they had talked for two hours, the novelist said, “Now we’ve talked about me long enough-let’s talk about you! What did you think of my last novel?” I was interested to read that one of Theodore Roosevelt’s own children commented about his self-centeredness: “When he went to a wedding, he wanted to be the bride. When he went to a funeral, he was sorry he couldn’t be the corpse!” Paul here says “not only,” he is conceding we will think of our own interests, but don’t stop there, don’t stay there. Think…
“…also for the interests of others…” This is the church as it should be! Our love for one another testifies to the world that we are His disciples. We watch, we encourage, we comfort, we help, we bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. And it is not so we get the credit or the pat on the back, it is because the Lord expects us to extend love and mercy to those around us, and yes, especially to those of the household of faith. They are God’s children, and so we are actually showing Christ in us, working through us. It's not all about me - my needs, my interests, my wants, and my ambitions. But Paul teaches us to look out for others too. You might think, “I can take care of myself.” We want the best for each other, we watch out for each other, we’ve got each other’s backs. That’s humility in action. Thinking of others, first…
Years ago on Candid Camera, children were used in an experiment about generosity. The children were placed by themselves in a room with a plate of cookies. On the plate were at least two cookies, there may have been more, but one of the cookies was very large. The adult left the room and the kids were allowed to take a cookie. You know, they all took the big one.
One boy was challenged as to why he took the biggest cookie. Alan Funt, the host, told the boy, "All you left me to eat was the little cookie. I would have eaten the little cookie and given you the biggest one."
Without a blink the boy responded, "Then you got the one you wanted."
Generosity is a tough thing to learn. We should put others first.
Thankfulness, humility, generosity, all lead to unity, the way the church should be. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves" (NIV). Who has your back? Who is there to defend you - watching out for your spiritual welfare? God has given us the church. You need a community of people who are saying to you: "We'll be with you when you're going through the tough times. We're not going to let you be lost in discouragement or depression." Community is God's answer to defeat. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says, "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him" (NIV). That is not my plan, it is not something that church experts thought up. God has designed us to be a family, interdependent, bearing each other’s burdens. We all need other people - to walk with us, to work with us, and to watch out for us. Like a Coastal Redwood, we’re stronger together than we could be alone. So, we must stand together, for the good of each other, and for the glory of God. If we fix our eyes on Jesus, and follow His example of servanthood we’ll experience the unity that God intends for the church.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Gospel-centered thinking, characterized by thankfulness, humility, and generosity, will lead to Gospel-shaped living, which will be evident in the unity of the church.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Our church has entered a period of transition that is really a great opportunity. First of all, after meeting “virtually” for something like three months, we are back meeting together, yes, with some limitations, sometimes it’s hard to recognize who is behind the mask, but we’re here, or if not here yet, we’re sharing online with those who are. Rejoice in the Lord!
This “restart” is not a time to just pick up where we left off, but an opportunity to examine our priorities, to reconsider why we do the things that we do, and to make every effort to sharpen the focus of the church.
We’re also preparing for a pastoral transition, which is another great opportunity. What does the Bible tell us to look for in a pastor? That will be one of the first jobs of the search committee, thinking through those criteria. It is not a time for personal preferences, but for uniting around a Biblical portrait given by God himself. It is not something to rush into, but a time for the entire church to commit to prayer, if you haven’t started, start today, asking God for unity, and for clarity. A few things are clear:
1) You want to find a man of integrity, a good reputation in the church and in the community, someone who manifests the fruit of the Spirit (I Timothy 3; Titus 1);
2) I hope you’ll seek someone who is both teachable, and himself a teacher committed to studying and preaching the Bible; we need biblical preaching.
3) someone growing in his own spiritual life; and committed to equipping others.
It is not something to rush into, but it is also important to know that whoever God calls, he will not be perfect. He will have weaknesses. But if he loves God he will grow to love you. The best is yet to come for Boothbay Baptist Church! AMEN.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
“One Church, under Christ, with Unity and Courage for All”
Introduction: The primary election just passed, and we are going to have a contentious battle during the coming months for the general election. It is usually hard, but it seems right now, our country is more divided than ever, fed by the very partisan media. In the midst of all this division, the church should stand out as an example, as a beacon of hope to the world. Are we willing to let our commitment to Christ and the gospel take priority over our political persuasion? We may not agree about everything – we won’t agree about everything! But the most important questions of life have eternal significance, and I know we can agree on the greatest problem the world faces, and the only answer. The problem is sin, the answer is Jesus.
God’s plan for bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the world is the church, unified and focused on our mission. In three contexts Paul teaches about spiritual gifts (Rom 12; I Cor 12; Eph 4). I won’t take time to turn to those today – you can look them up. In all three, we see a pattern: The unity of the body –> The diversity of spiritual gifts –> work to equip the church, to bring it to maturity, so that the mission is carried out with greatest effect. In at least one of those churches, division was a significant issue. Paul said to the Corinthians “…there are divisions among you…” (I Cor ). Even the church in Philippi needed to be on guard against divisions or this admonitions in this context would not have been necessary [see 4:2,3].
One of the challenges the fathers of our country faced was convincing the colonies to stand together against England. The phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” was not original to them, but it was used to rally the colonies to stand together. One of the challenges that constantly arise in churches is that too often we allow little things to divide us – sometimes between individuals – sometimes factions in the church. We’ll see in this passage that unity in the church is a testimony to the world, it shows the worth of the Gospel.
The Maine* Idea: Let your manner of life as kingdom citizens show the worth of the Gospel, standing firm and striving fearlessly in unity.
I. Our Tribe: We should live as Kingdom citizens, showing by our life the worth of the Gospel of Christ! (a). “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (OK, I am stretching the alliteration with this one, but I needed another “T”).
Paul begins underscoring the importance of the admonition he is about to give, he begins with the word “only.” Only do this, this one thing, this will be the kind of faithful Christian living that will please God, magnify Jesus, and also bring joy to Paul’s heart: Conduct worthy of the Gospel: “Only worthily of the Gospel of Christ live your life as a citizen…” This idea of the conduct of a citizen would have resonated with the Philippians. Philippi was a Roman colony, so they had the rights of citizens. Paul used his rights as a Roman citizen on occasion as should we. But he had another Passport, another kind of citizenship in mind in this letter.
People have different ideas about citizenship. Many Americans, if you ask them their nationality, will look back and tell you where their ancestors came from (I’m Irish, Russian, etc…). Brazilians look at their birthplace, even if their parents where born in Tokyo and only speak Japanese, if they were born in Brazil, they are Brazilian. Yes, Philippi the privileges of being a Roman colony, its inhabitants enjoyed Roman citizenship. But Paul uses the verb here to anticipate what he will affirm in … believers in Christ have a dual citizenship. We look ahead to the place that has been prepared for us: Our real home is heaven, and ultimately, the New Heaven and the New Earth! Listen to what he says there…
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself… (Philippians 3:20-21).
We have two Passports! I am glad to be an American. We have a great history and in many ways are the envy of the world. Everyone wants to come here! I salute the flag and cherish our freedom, but first and foremost I am a Christian, a citizen of Heaven. That should make a difference in how we live. D. James Kennedy told a story about Alexander the Great meeting a young boy who had fled from a battle.
The boy was to be executed for deserting the battle line. Alexander the Great saw how young he was and he asked him what had happened during the battle. As he listened, he felt compassion and decided to give the boy a pardon. He then asked him his name. The boy replied “Alexander.” Alexander the Great became troubled and asked again - ” What is your name?” The boy replied “Alexander, sir.” Alexander reportedly became very angry and shouted at the boy “Change your conduct or change your name!”
By the grace of God we have been identified with the name of Jesus. Paul is calling his readers (and us!) to live worthy of that name. How? What is it that specifically sets us apart? Here he points to the unity of the body. Politics might divide, there might be social issues that we are struggling with, but we are one in Christ. That is the Maine* Idea: Let your manner of life as kingdom citizens show the worth of the Gospel, standing firm and striving fearlessly in unity.
II. Our Team: Our shared faith and common mission should motivate us to strive together for the Truth (27b-28a).
“…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”
Paul says to his brothers and sisters in Philippi, that He prays for them to live Gospel-centered lives that bring glory to Christ, “so that whether I come to see you or am absent…” – however his situation is resolved, by life or by death, by freedom or continued chains, whether he comes to them or remains absent, the news of their faithful living as Kingdom citizens would come to him. What would that look like?
“…one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Verse 27 started by saying, “Only do this one thing, let your life as citizens be worthy of the Gospel of Christ!” (my paraphrase). Now he gets to the “meat” of what that will look like, and maybe he gives us a clue as to an area in which the Philippians were struggling: UNITY. That is certainly how the church started, right? After Pentecost, thousands were coming to faith, and though those who had crucified Jesus were still a threat, we read in Acts 2:46-47,
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved…”
Soon they would face trials, but they were united. Did you know that Jesus prayed specifically for you in the Bible? He prayed for you and for all of us, for the church, in John 17:20-21…
20 "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus prayed for us to be “one” – and notice the end, or the result of that prayer: “…so that the world may believe that you have sent me…” I am going to get personal for a minute. We won’t always agree with each other about situations we face in life, in our public life or in the church. But because we’re brothers and sisters, because we carry the same family name, we must be gracious to each other, patient, guided by love. We’ve been under some pressure lately with what we have been facing as a nation, and even as a community and as a local church. Let’s not forget who we are. Let’s remember what Jesus prayed for us: “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The verb here in Philippians 1:27 translated “strive together” gives the image of a team, each one doing his part as we strive toward the goal. Team work is God’s design for the church. The Brazilian team is almost always very competitive in the World Cup of Soccer. They have some of the most talented players in the world. They have won five times I think, but their biggest struggle with a team full of stars is learning to play together! Look around… God has brought together this motley crew! And He loves us, every one of us, more than we can possibly imagine. How can we not love one another? Our love for one another is a testimony to the world – it is a “sign to them” of our salvation. Remember Psalm 133, though the images seem a little strange to us, this Psalm is a beautiful picture of the blessedness evidenced by unity in the community of faith). That is the Maine* Idea: Let your manner of life as a kingdom citizen show the worth of the Gospel, standing firm and striving fearlessly in unity.
III. Our Testimony: Our commitment to each other and to the Gospel is a “sign” to the world (28b).
“This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
What is Paul talking about here? He says “This is a clear sign to them…” He is talking about them living a gospel-centered life, in unity with the brethren, marked by love, and yet facing opposition from the world. The New Testament spends a lot of effort in warning believers that they will face persecution. Even as Jesus looked resolutely toward Jerusalem as he journeyed there for that final Passover (Luke 9:50) He began preparing his disciples for what would soon happen. He would be rejected and put to death. And in that upper room the final week He told them outright, “In the world you will have tribulation…” (Jn 16:33). The Gospel brings division, because fallen humans are in rebellion against God, they are in darkness, and men love darkness rather than light. How people respond to the Christian message exposes their heart. Standing together in faith, in the midst of persecution, without being paralyzed by fear. The opposition of the world, and even more so the persecution of Christians by unbelievers, is a “clear sign,” or “public evidence” that they are on the road to destruction.
The other half of that sentence is saying that the unity of believers of which Paul is speaking, their faithfulness even when things get hard, is a “clear sign,” a public testimony, a witness, that they, the believers, are on the narrow road that leads to life. What is the most obvious sign that we belong to Jesus? The Lord himself said, “By this men will know that we are His disciples, if we love one another.” Believers hear the Master’s voice and follow Him, whatever the cost. So far, there has been a relatively small cost for American Christians. That is not the case everywhere, right? Go to persecution.com, the website of “Voice of the Martyrs,” and read about what is happening in other parts of the world. You won’t hear those things in the media. We’ve had it pretty easy, but things seem to be changing. Let’s pray for those in authority, let’s use the right to vote, let’s be a voice for righteousness. Above all, remember that we are Citizens of Heaven – that is our most precious Passport! Let your manner of life as king-dom citizens show the worth of the Gospel, standing firm and striving fearlessly in unity.
IV. Our Triumph: As we serve Christ in this fallen world He grants us faith, and also that we might share in his suffering (29-30).
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul starts by talking of a gift, a Divine Grant. “It has been granted onto you not only to believe…” The first implication, the assumption of the main point about suffering that is coming, is that faith is a gift of God. It has been granted to you to believe. This is the normal sense that Paul uses the word. This isn’t the mere intellectual assent that James describes when he said “You believe that God is one, you do well. The devil also believes, and trembles.” The “believing” Paul describes here is a gift from God, it is the faith that saves, the belief that God’s Word is true and that Jesus is who he said he was, and trusting that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. It implies entrusting ourselves to him as the Savior and Lord or our lives… Jesus said in the Good Shepherd discourse in John 10, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” In that context to “hear” implies hearing with faith, believing what Jesus says, recognizing Him as the Shepherd of our souls. Eph 2:8 says “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Here Paul reminds the Philippians that it was granted to them to believe, that is, God opened their hearts to hear the word and receive it. We actually can read about that in the life of Lydia, in Acts 16:14, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” It was granted to her to believe. That is true for each of us who know Christ. “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And so, with the hymn writer we have to say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to His cross I cling!” But not only that. Not only is faith a gift of God, but so is suffering! What?!
A Divine Grant: Not only to believe, but also “…to suffer for His sake…”! We are here as witnesses – we are to tell the world that Jesus is the way, the only way to life and forgiveness. That means we also have to tell them the bad news, that they are sinners, by birth and by choice, separated from God, objects of wrath. If we do that, be assured, “in the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33a). Jesus said don’t be surprised if the world hates you, it hated Him first! How we respond to the trials of life in this world, is a testimony to the power of the Gospel. God can use it to grow our faith, and our longing for home. Recall the words of Cyprian written in a letter to his friend Donatus…
“It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. The have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians… and I am one of them.”
The church has survived through periods of persecution – and even thrived. Though we still have relative freedom to live and to proclaim the message, that is not true every-where. Even here the enemy is working against us, the battle is real – and if we don’t stand together we are susceptible to his attacks.
What is God saying to me in this passage? I hope the Maine* Idea has been clear enough: Let your manner of life as kingdom citizens show the worth of the Gospel, standing firm and striving fearlessly in unity. Remember what Jesus has done for us, not only what he endured, but the sure salvation that is ours through faith in Him! May our lives shout loud and clear on this peninsula and beyond: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! May we hold forth the word of life, to those in our sphere of influence. May our lives show the worth of the Gospel.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? We are a family. We are family of sinners saved by grace. The King of the Universe is our Father, and he has given us a mission in this world. Let’s faithfully hold forth the Truth to all who will hear. Amen.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Serve with Joy because… To live is Christ, to die is gain!
Introduction: Last week I referred to the famous story of the five missionaries who were killed when they sought to reach out to the Auca Indians of Ecuador in 1956. I came across this reference to that story again this week, in a sermon by Ray Pritchard…
In January 1956, the five men decided the time had come to make contact in person. After much prayer they established a base camp on a sandy beach of the Curaray River. On January 8, 1956—at about 3:30 PM, they were speared to death by the Indians who mistakenly thought they had come to hurt them. The news shocked the world. Many people wondered how young men with so much promise could waste their lives that way. When the journals of Jim Elliot were published several years later, they were found to contain this sentence: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
Why risk their lives to reach a remote and violent people? Because they knew those people needed Jesus, and those young missionaries knew the truth Paul will talk about in this passage. The philosophy of life that guided the apostle also guided those men: To live is Christ, and to die is gain. Paul was in a pretty serious situation. After a total of about 4 years imprisonment his case was about to be decided and his life hung in the balance. As he looks to the future, he has joy in the Lord – as he writes this letter, it is clear that Jesus is his life… I like the way Pritchard describes Paul’s attitude here, he asks and answers the question that you might be thinking…
How could Paul say such things? It’s because for Paul death didn’t put him in a cemetery; it ushered him into a sanctuary. He knew that he would enter the presence of Christ at the moment of his death. That would truly be “gain” for him.
Jesus was his life, so to live is Christ, to die is gain! Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma wrote: “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” Knowing God, trusting Him, entrusting yourself to Him, gives perspective!
The Scripture: Philippians 1:18-26 (ESV),
…Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored [“magnified”] in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
We can rejoice in the Lord because He is our life and His plan for our lives is perfect. As long as we serve Him, He will be glorified because our life will help others to experience real joy as they grow in their faith.
The Maine* Idea: Knowing our eternity is secure in Him, we can have joy that goes beyond circumstances. We rejoice because…
I. We have Confidence in God’s Plan: Christ will be honored, no matter what! (1:18b-20).
“…Yes, and I will rejoice…” We are starting in the last part of v.18 (remember the verse numbers aren’t part of the original text!). Here Paul continues the theme of “rejoicing,” but switches to the future tense. He has joy now as a prisoner, and he will rejoice however his story unfolds. He has confidence in God’s plan. Even though the outcome of his trial before Caesar is uncertain, he is full of joy in the certainty about one thing: Jesus will be magnified. But how will that happen? Notice first v.19,
”…for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance…”
The prayers of God’s people and the presence and power of his Spirit guarantee our victory in Jesus (1:19). “Deliverance” is the word elsewhere translated, “salvation” = Paul is talking about his vindication, one way or another, in his present crisis. (Job ). Paul was confident that he would be “delivered,” either released from prison, or set free by his death. God’s people were praying, and God himself was present, working. Could death be an answered prayer? Yes! Job said, "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. 26 "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God…” (Job 19:25-26). Paul too was confident that God would accomplish His purpose, and that the name of Jesus would be magnified, no matter what.
“…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death…”
Paul has one main passion in life. It seems clear from this text that in everything he does he is passionate about Jesus Christ being magnified. Now he has a very strange way of stressing this. Look at verse 20: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I might not be at all ashamed…” Paul is expressing his desire and confidence that as he goes before Caesar he would be emboldened to stand firm and speak the truth of Christ before his accusers and the authorities. Recall the prayer of the disciples in Acts 4, after being arrested and threatened, they come together and pray. They don’t pray for protection. They don’t ask for safety. They pray for courage to preach the gospel in the face of opposition! “…And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word…” (Acts 4:29). For Paul, the opposite of shame was not that he might be honored or even that he might live, but rather that Christ might be honored. “It is my eager expectation and hope that I might in nothing be put to shame but with all boldness Christ might be magnified in my body.” Paul loved Jesus more than life. Later in this letter he’ll say, “Whatever gain I had I counted as loss. I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord!” (Phil 3:8). Remember the response of John the Baptist when it was being reported that more people were going to Jesus: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
v.20c “…whether by life or by death…” Paul is a prisoner, his life could be forfeit. Someone might ask, “Where is the value of Christ now?” And so Paul adds in verse 20, “My confidence is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Death is a threat to the degree that it frustrates our goals. Death is frightening to the degree that it threatens to rob you of what you value most. But Paul valued Christ most! He looked at death and he saw it as an occasion for the fulfillment of his highest value, that Christ might be magnified. Life and death: they seem like such opposites but Paul was ready for either, so that whether by life or by death Christ would be magnified. The greatest longing he had would be fulfilled in both. So it almost didn’t matter to him which one the Lord would give him.
For us, the decision to follow Christ might not seem like a life or death decision! It clearly is for someone in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or China! But it should be for us as well! Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Another pioneer missionary, James Calvert, went out as a missionary to the indigenous people of the Fiji Islands. The Captain of the ship that carried him warned him, “You will lose your life, and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert’s reply expressed his commitment, “We died before we came here.” We can rejoice in the Lord because He is our life and His plan for our lives is perfect. Knowing our eternity is secure in Him, we can have joy that goes beyond circumstances. We rejoice because, we have confidence in God’s plan, and because…
II. We are Convinced of Christ’s Preeminence: Jesus really is my Life (-24)!
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account..
Let’s consider 1:21. Paul gives us a very packed summary statement of how it is that he can be so confident that Christ is going to be magnified whether he lives or whether he dies. He says “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“To live is Christ” He is saying, “Jesus is my life!” We don’t know how many years we have to live. How would you complete that statement, “For me to live is _________...”? How would the people who know you best fill that in in describing your life? We can put a lot of things in there that are good, or at least neutral. Our family, our work, those are good. Even our hobbies aren’t bad… But we can so easily make people or things into idols. We can start to love the world more than we love Jesus. We love the shadow more than the reality. I remember reading about a letter that C.S. Lewis got from a child that had been enthralled with the Chronicles of Narnia. The child wrote, "I am afraid that I might love Aslan more than I love Jesus!" Lewis wrote back and told the child, "All that you love about Aslan IS Jesus." The things that we love in the world most it seems to me are just glimpses through the veil, a hint of what God has for us in eternity! Don't love the shadow more than the reality, don't love the gifts more than the Giver!
Do we love Jesus more than life? I want to, but God forgive me, I am not sure that I always do. It depends on the day. Maybe in my best moments. Would to God that we could say with Paul, “To me to live is Christ.” How he looked to live that out is hinted at in verse 22: “If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” If God gave him life, if he was delivered from his chains, he would serve the Lord with gladness! He saw that his life purpose was to serve Him joyfully.
“For me to die is gain.” C.f. the last chapter of John, where Jesus predicted how Peter would die, John adds, “This he said to show by what death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19). Even how we die can bring God glory. It did for Stephen in Acts 7!
First, Paul says in , “I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Better? I remember when Mary Ann read “Deadline” a few years back, how excited she was by the prospect of eternity. To depart and be with Christ is far better! We had our grandkids with us for about 4 weeks total this spring, and they had a lot of questions about God and heaven! Should kids be thinking about such things? Some of us have gray hair (some of us have no hair) but no matter your age, the best is yet to come: To live, Christ, to die, gain!
We will magnify Christ in our dying precisely to the degree that we believe that fellowship with him in heaven is more to be preferred than any person or any thing in this earth. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy than me” (Matthew ). When we come to the hour when everything will be taken from us but Christ, we will magnify him by saying, “In Christ I have everything and more!”
“I am hard-pressed between the two…” Our life has purpose, He saved us on purpose for a purpose. We are here on assignment, and as we serve will bring Him glory. And He numbers our days. God will give us life until our work is done, and work until our life is over. C.S. Lewis said: “The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a Child of God, living each day as though it were your last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.” (from God in the Dock). Knowing our eternity is secure in Him, we can have joy that goes beyond circumstances. We rejoice because we have confidence in God’s plan, we are convinced of Christ’s preeminence, and…
III. We are Committed to God’s Program: Our life in Jesus has purpose: to bring Him glory, by encouraging others to grow in joy through faith in Him (, 26). “God will give us life until our work is over, and work until our life is done.”
25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Now we can see the steps in Paul’s thinking. First, v.21“For me to live is Christ.” That is, v.22 “For me to live is to be dedicated to fruitful labor.” Then he says, “For me to be dedicated to fruitful labor is for your sake.” (v.24). And now finally he defines the fruit that is to come about in their lives as the advancement and the joy of faith: “The increase of your faith and its overflow with joy.” (v.25).
“Faith” is the confidence or trust that we put in a person who has given us cause to believe that he is reliable and is able and willing to help us in our need. So, for Paul, “For me to live is Christ” and “For me to live is for your joy of faith” are the same thing. Notice what that definition implies about the person trusted. By the way, our faith is only as good as the object of our faith. If there is a line to get into the lobby of the bank and you hand the person in front of you an envelope of cash, and ask them to make the deposit for you, it might work out. It depends on the person! Jesus is faithful, trustworthy.
Faith in Christ means joy in Christ. So, to live for their faith and to live for Christ alone are the same thing. The only way we can live for Christ is to live by faith in Him. For me to live is Christ… That is Christ magnifying faith, you might say. But that’s not all. Look at the word joy in verse 25: “I will continue with you for your joy.” Now this little phrase in the ESV is “joy in faith” Literally it is “joy of faith.” For Paul that when we have faith, we will have joy. He says in Romans 15:13 as he prays for the church, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” In other words, believing is the means to joy.
Joy comes from a confident trust in Christ and his promises. He also said to the Corinthians, describing his ministry in 2 Cor 1:24, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” He replaces one word for the other because for Paul they are intimately connected. You can’t have the one without the other. Joy comes from a confident, hopeful trust in the promises of God which are “Yes” in Christ Jesus because of his death and resurrection. This is why Paul ends the text in verse 26 with a reference to “glorying in” or “boasting in Christ.” Paul has only one joy in mind here: joy in Christ, joy that comes from the abundance of Christ’s provision and his promises. If we delight in the Christ from who we receive every good thing, don’t we find joy in giving Him the glory? When you are happy about something, you magnify that thing. So, not only faith but the fruit of faith in joy magnifies Christ tremendously.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Is Jesus your life? If so, rejoice, because as long as we serve Him, He will be glorified as our life helps others to grow in their faith and so to experience real joy. Knowing our eternity is secure in Him, we can have joy that goes beyond circumstances. We rejoice because we have confidence in God’s plan, we are convinced of Christ’s preeminence, and we are committed to finding our place in God’s program.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?
1) Is Jesus your life? Will you aim to love Him with all of your heart, soul, and strength? That means committing yourself to know Him better, spending time in the word and in prayer. To know Him is to love Him!
2) Will we determine to use our gifts and to help others grow as His disciples? Paul could see the value of his ongoing ministry to the Philippians: and so he said, “I know that I shall remain… for your advancement and your JOY of faith.” We can get so distracted by the world! REJOICE in your salvation, find joy in helping others grow!
3) Since joy comes from faith, and faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God will we choose to be students of the Book? Jesus said, “My words I have spoken to you in order that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be full” (John ). Jesus is building HIS church. Let’s embrace the “one another” commands he has given: Love one another, encourage one another, bear each other’s burdens, provoke one another to love and good works! To God be the Glory. AMEN.