Generous Giving

July 26, 2015

Does it surprise you to learn that the least religious states give the least to charity? Those states with the most religious people give the most. Utah leads all the states. Here at Forest Park Baptist we have been so grateful at the generous giving of our people. Over the past ten years we have had two capital campaigns and numerous mission projects. Our people have been generous. As I have often mentioned, I don’t know what anyone gives. I don’t look at the giving records. So when I speak about giving I have no one in particular in mind.

In Phil.4:10-20 Paul is thanking the church in Philippi for the generous financial gift they sent to him in Rome. And he wants them to understand that he is not just out to get their money. This is why in v.11-13 he talks about how he has learned to be content through the strength that God gives to him. He has needs but he is content.

This morning we want to finish looking at how Paul says, “Thank you,” to these believers. And just as we learned something about contentment in v.10-13, so in v.14-20 we learn something about giving. Followers of Christ are characterized by generous giving.

I. GENEROUS GIVING PROMOTES CHRISTIAN MATURITY. 4:14-17

In v.14 P, again alludes to their gracious gift. He doesn’t actually call it a gift until v.17. In v.14 he calls it “sharing in my trouble.” Through their gift they became partners with Paul in his ministry. But since they themselves were experiencing persecution, they were also partners with Paul in his suffering for Christ.

I think it is interesting to notice that just as Paul borrows language from stoicism in v.11, so here in v.15-18 Paul borrows language that was used in commercial relationships involving debt and credit. But sometimes these words were used in a metaphorical way to describe the give and take of friendship.

A few weeks ago I just happened to be reading a blog about a new book that is coming out called “Paul and the Gift,” by John Barclay. In the book Barclay points out that, “gifts in the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds always entailed obligation and reciprocity. That is, “grace” or “gift” establishes social relations, community, and mutual benevolence/reciprocity of exchange and fellowship.”

We see this in v.15 in the phrase, “no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving.” Again in v.17 we find the phrase, “Increases to your credit.” And in v.18, “I have received full payment.” “I have been paid in full.”

This is not the only place where Paul uses this kind of language. In 1Cor.9:11 Paul writes, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” And in Phm, Paul appeals to Philemon to no longer treat Onesimus as a slave but to welcome him as a brother in Christ. After acknowledging that Onesimus was a runaway slave and may have incurred debt to Philemon, in v.19 Paul writes, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it–to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” Paul was referring to the fact that Philemon had become a believer through the preaching of Paul. In a sense Philemon was in Paul’s debt.

In v.15-16 Paul refers to the fact that of all the churches that he planted, only the church in Philippi had entered into this deep friendship in which they recognized their debt to Paul and the Lord for their salvation. In fact from the very beginning Paul and Silas benefitted from the hospitality of Lydia, who welcome them into her home. This was unusual for Paul. We know that Paul made it his practice to not accept gifts from any of the churches. He didn’t want to give even a hint that he was trying to profit from the Gospel, and so he supported himself by working as a tentmaker. But there was such a close relationship between Paul and these believers in Phliippi that they wanted to have a part in his ministry.

Now you know how it can be in a friendship. Let’s say your friend gives you a gift or takes you out for dinner. Well, you sort of feel obligated to return the favor. And of course, you don’t want your gift to be less in value than their gift to you. If one isn’t careful this can escalate until we feel so indebted that we can’t possibly reciprocate in like manner and our friend sort of holds the upper hand.

Paul brought the gospel to Philippi. The new believers were so grateful that on a number of occasions they sent Paul money to help in his ministry. But now it was Paul’s turn to reciprocate. But wait, Christian relationships are not about trying to outdo each other. So in a moment we will see how Paul reciprocates.

For now, note where Paul’s heart was at. In v.17 he says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Paul appreciated the money, but he was more thrilled about what their gift implied for them.

All of this to say that generous Christian giving is a sign of Christian maturity. Why is that? It is because they were not giving out of mere compulsion. They were freely giving out of love and concern for Paul. And the fact that the church in Philippi was not rolling in the dough tells us that they were giving sacrificially.

But here’s something else. Generally for us, “out of sight out of mind,” is how we roll. Unless I have a picture of a missionary on my bulletin board I don’t often think about the missionary. Paul was far away in Rome. Think about it, the believers in Philippi had their own problems to deal with. They were experiencing persecution, yet they were mindful of Paul. That tells us that they had the Lord’s work in their hearts. Those who are followers of Christ, have the Lord’s work in their heart.

When my father and mother in law were alive, every so often they would send a care package or money to relatives in Germany. Why did they do that? It’s because they had their loved ones in their heart. I’m sure they wished they could do more. Well, when you have the Lord in your heart, you have his church and his people in your heart as well.

We are living in a society that is becoming increasingly secular. The presence of the church in the world is imperative. The church is really the only true light of moral and spiritual life and sanity in the world. Does it matter to you? Is that reflected in your giving? The giving of the believers in Philippi was an expression of their spiritual health. It is no different for us today. Does your giving reflect a spiritually mature life in Christ?

II. GENEROUS GIVING YIELDS GOD’S GRACIOUS PROVISION. 4:18-20

In v.18 Paul finally spills out his deep gratitude for this gift. “I have received full payment and more...I am well supplied.” Again, Paul is using the language of commerce. But Paul does something very interesting here.

You note in v.18 that he refers to their gifts as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Paul uses these same words in Eph.5:2 to refer to Christ. He writes, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This language comes out of the Old Testament. For example in Num.15:2-3 we read, “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the LORD from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the LORD....”

By using this language Paul is saying to his friends in Philippi, “You are not just giving to me. Your gift is a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing to God. You are giving to the Lord.” When we give to the Lord’s work, to support his church and missionaries, etc, we are giving to the Lord. This principle is found elsewhere. In Mt.25 Jesus refers to himself and says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” But the righteous people say, “Lord when were you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison?” And Jesus responds by saying, “’Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” When we minister to others in the name of Jesus, we are ministering to Christ himself.

Let’s go back to this idea of reciprocity in friendship. Paul was instrumental in bringing the men and women at Philippi to Christ. Coming to saving faith in Christ is the single most important moment in a person’s life. In many ways those men and women were in Paul’s debt. How could they repay Paul? Of course Paul was only the messenger. It is God who saves through Christ. We are all in debt to Christ. But nevertheless, the believers in Philippi, expressed their gratitude to God and Paul by giving financially to help Paul.

But now Paul is, in a sense, in debt to them. They gave him a much needed gift. How could Paul pay them back? He was in prison. Paul could not pay them back. But since they were really giving to the Lord, Paul says, “The Lord will pay you back.” In v.19 he writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Think about what Paul has written. “Every need of yours?” What does that mean? It means exactly what it says. God has given us many ways in which we can provide for ourselves. Paul provided for himself by working as a tent maker. But there are times in all of our lives when we are in need. The need could be financial. It could be emotional, spiritual, or physical. Sometimes we need wisdom. Sometimes we need perseverance and patience. Sometimes we need to forgive or to apologize. In our endeavor to live for Christ, we will have many needs. Paul says, “Every need of yours,” not every want, but every need.

And consider the fact that God’s riches in Christ Jesus are endless. Our access to God’s riches comes through Jesus Christ. Do you remember what Paul writes in Rm.8:32? He writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” In giving Jesus Christ, God has spared no expense in our behalf. If God has already given us the very best gift in Jesus Christ, surely he will give whatever is needed through our relationship with Christ.

Now two thoughts: 1) When we have a need, some do not think to ask God to meet the need. What is more, some are too impatient to wait for God to meet the need. We sometimes take matters into our own hands because God is taking too long. And sometimes, we really don’t believe God will meet our need. I’m not saying there is never a time to act. I’m saying that we need to seek God’s guidance and leading before we act.

2) This verse appears in a context in which God’s people are freely giving to the Lord’s work. Their gift was intentional. They had to take an offering and then make arrangements, asking Epaphroditus to take the gift to Paul. Maybe they had to finance Epaphroditus’ trip. All of this was a significant sacrifice on their part. So what I’m saying is that we can’t just take v.9 and apply it willynilly. God promises to meet the needs of those who are generous to him and his work out of a loving, obedient heart.

 

If you were to draw a pie chart and draw in the various ways in which you use your money, what would the pie look like? Of course there would be a wedge for rent or mortgage payments. There would be a wedge for utility and grocery payments. But I wonder how big the wedge would be for your giving to the Lord’s work. Would it come to 10% of your income? I picked 10% because that is the starting place in the Old Testament law. We are not under law, but if God saw fit to ask for 10% in the past, I would imagine it would be just as pleasing to him now provided we give willingly. The Lord loves a cheerful giver. If you are a Christian, is your life characterized by generous Christian giving? Amen.

Christian Contentment

July 5, 2015

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Are you satisfied with life? In a 2003 survey, 57% of Americans said they were very satisfied with life. 34% said they were fairly satisfied with life, and 8% said they were not satisfied with life. In the United Kingdom only 32% said they were very satisfied with life, and in France only 14% said they were satisfied with life. We must have it pretty good in the United States.

I take this to mean that life is going fairly well for 57% of the population in the United States. But when life takes a turn for the worst and things are not going well, I wonder what the satisfaction level is then.

In Phil.4:10-12, Paul speaks about contentment. How can a person be content in all the circumstances of life? There is a way, and Paul talks about it in these verses. But let me ask you: Have you learned how to be content?

I. MANY ARE DISCONTENT IN LIFE. 4:10-11

As we have looked at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi we have noted a number of reasons for why he wrote this letter. For one thing, the church in Philippi was experiencing persecution perhaps because the believers refused to acknowledge and honor Caesar as lord and savior. Well Paul could speak to that. He understood what persecution is all about. A second reason for his letter is that he was concerned for the unity of the congregation. In Phil.4:1 we read about two women in the church who were committed to gospel ministry, but who could not get along. Paul wanted to address that situation. A third purpose for this letter was to thank the church in Philippi for a financial gift that they sent to Paul in Rome. So as he comes to the end of the letter he pours out his deep thankfulness to them.

But when we read v.10-11 it seems like an odd way to show gratitude. In v.10 it sounds as if Paul is saying, “Finally you guys got around to sending me some money.” And then in v.11 it sounds as if Paul is saying, “Thanks, but I’m doing just fine. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Of course this is not what Paul is saying at all. Paul was deeply grateful to this congregation. After all, he planted the church in Philippi. He came preaching the gospel and the new believers loved Paul. They cared for him deeply and on a number of occasions sent him money for his ministry. Notice that Paul emphasizes their concern for him. That meant more to Paul than the money. In 2Cor.8 we learn that the churches in Macedonia, where Philippi is located, had experienced a time of poverty. We don’t know the circumstances but things were tough and perhaps they couldn’t help. But by the time Paul was in prison they were better able to send something.

And when Paul says that he is not speaking of being in need, it doesn’t mean that Paul had no needs. He surely did. Instead Paul is saying, “I want you to know that I do not think about you in terms of money. My need is not driving my thanks. I’m not trying to get as much out of you as I can.” This is why Paul goes on to say that he has learned to be content.

Many people, including Christians, are discontent in life. Discontentment arises when we don’t have what we think we should have. In Lk.3:14, John the Baptist is preaching and some Roman soldiers asked, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Be satisfied with what you have. This is reiterated in Heb.13:5, where we read, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have."

Some of us are not content because we want more money, we want recognition, we want a nicer house or car, we want a better job or a promotion, we want to have our way, we want a better spouse, or we want to be married. It’s not that these things are wrong. But our discontentment is usually rooted in want, envy and jealousy. We covet what we don’t have. Discontentment is an expression of self-centeredness. This kind of discontentment will eat you up and breed resentment.

And then we often experience discontent when we are facing difficult situations. Maybe you are between jobs and money is tight and tempers are short. Maybe someone at work is making your life difficult. Maybe you feel unappreciated or unloved. Maybe you have not realized your career ambitions and you are just not satisfied in life. Maybe you are discontent with your employer or the government. Difficult circumstances breed discontent. And we are tempted to do something or say something about it which usually is not wise. So discontentment can get us into trouble.

Now there is a kind of discontentment that is acceptable. Holy discontentment! In Phil.3:12 Paul notes that when it comes to knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, that he has not yet obtained that. In other words, Paul was not content with his level of Christian maturity. He was still on the journey of becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than being like Christ in this world. So, yes, be discontent in your Christian progress. Be discontent over sinful habits, unkind words, laziness, etc. That’s the kind of stuff to be discontent about.

Are you discontent in your life? How have you been handling it? Paul was not discontent. In v.11 he says, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. And this leads me to say that...

II. THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT IS FOUND IN JESUS. 4:12-13

It is interesting to observe that the word for contentment found in this verse was borrowed from the ancient Stoic philosophers. Stoicism was developed in Athens in the 3rd century B.C. In Stoicism the word originally meant “self-sufficiency.” It expresses, “the contentment of the wise person with a ‘life in accord with nature’ which is achieved by long training and severing any dependence on human society or material goods.” Dr. Dennis Johnson writes, “The key to contentment, said the Stoics, was to become emotionally self-sufficient by insulating oneself from the variables of pain and pleasure.” New Testament scholar, Dr. G. Walter Hansen writes, “By the exercise of reason over emotions, the Stoic learns to be content. For the Stoics, emotional detachment is essential in order to be content.” We might say, “That person is so stoic.” Or, “Don’t be so stoic.” We mean, don’t be so aloof and disconnected. You need to get in touch with your feelings.” Well, Paul borrows this word from Stoicism, but he redefines what it means.

Paul had experienced many highs and lows in life. He describes it in v.12. He says, “I know how to be brought low, (to be humbled), and I know how to abound, (to have prosperity.) He says, I have learned the secret of facing plenty, (to be filled, satisfied), and hunger. I have faced abundance, (to have over and above), and need, (to be behind, to come up short). Paul was content in every situation, but his contentment was not that of the Stoics. His contentment did not rest in his ability to control his emotions and to keep himself aloof and insulated from life. Paul was fully engaged in life. And in v.13 we see where Paul’s contentment came from. It came from his being in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Men and women, our natural inclination is to live a self-directed life in which we are in control. That’s what the Stoics were doing. They were seeking to have control. We all want control. We all want to live life in whatever way we choose. But we do this at the expense of knowing God our Creator. When we live a self-directed life, we call the shots. And when we call the shots we ignore God. Not only that, we disobey God and his good rules for life. In disobeying God we are separated from him. The Prophet, Isaiah said, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

When Jesus was born into this world he came to reveal God. He came to make a way for us to have our sins forgiven so that we might enter into a living relationship with God, having the very life of Christ in us. It is eternal life. When Paul heard this good news, he repented, turned from his sins and surrendered his life to Christ. He began to trust in Christ for his life. He became a follower of Jesus Christ and Jesus came to live in Paul. For Paul, contentment is not found in self-sufficiency, but in Christ sufficiency. Paul is trusting in Jesus to strengthen him and provide for him in every circumstance.

But notice in v.11 that Paul says, “I have learned.” In v.12 he says, “I have learned the secret.” We learn to entrust ourselves into the careful hands of Christ as we exercise faith in him in every situation of life. It is a journey of faith, of putting our confidence in Christ.

Now think about this. In Phil.2:5-11, Paul describes the attitude of Jesus when he came to this earth. When God came to earth in the form of a man in Jesus Christ you would think there would have been a warm reception. Some did receive him, but most did not. Very quickly Jesus experienced the rejection and hostility of this world. Jesus did not reveal himself as a tyrant, rather he came in love, doing good. He taught the truth about God and man. But the reality is that people just do not want God interfering in their lives. They put Jesus to death. Jesus willingly died on the cross because it was the only way sin could be atoned for.

Anyone who would follow Jesus will eventually experience the same treatment in various ways. This is why Paul says in 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

So if we as followers of Christ are going to experience the same contentment that Paul speaks of here, it means we will turn to Christ in each and every circumstance of life. If we are wealthy, we surrender it all to Jesus and seek to know Jesus and use our wealth for Jesus. If we are poor, we surrender ourselves to Jesus and trust him to provide for our needs, crying out to him. If we are in a sad marital situation, it means that we seek to embody the love of Jesus in our marriage, extending our selves to our spouse day in and day out, through the strength that Jesus supplies. If we are in a lifeless job or a difficult work setting, it means we surrender ourselves to Jesus and ask him to strengthen us every day that we might do our work as unto him. And if we are being persecuted for righteousness sake, it means we cry out to Jesus trusting him to see us through to the very end.


In Gen.32 we read about Jacob. Jacob is preparing to meet his brother Esau. But Jacob is afraid because he deceitfully robbed Esau of his father’s blessing. The night before the brothers were to meet, we read of how Jacob wrestles with God who comes to him in the form of a man. They wrestle all night. After a night of wrestling together, the man simply touches Jacob’s hip socket, and Jacob limps for the rest of his life. But Jacob would not let go. At day break the man tells Jacob to let go, but Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me. God said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

What kind of God is it who will patiently wrestle with a person until that person comes to the end of themselves and just holds on to God for his blessing? It is a God who loves us and who is willing to go to the mat with us until we surrender to him in faith and trust.

In the circumstances of life we are often wrestling. We want our way. But that does not lead to contentment. It is only as we surrender our lives and circumstances to Jesus that we are given his strength and his blessing. That is the secret of contentment. Amen.

Embracing the Best of Both Worlds

June 28, 2015

How do you view the world? When you think about the world does it bring fear or wonder and amazement to your heart? Do you want to travel and see the world, or let the world pass you by? Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Do you have the world on a string? Is the world your oyster? Or does the world get you down? Are you trying to change the world? Are you out to conquer the world?

We all view the world in various ways. In Phil. 4:8-9 Paul talks about how Christians view the world. And in some ways what Paul has to say is surprising. You see, while some people shun the world, in Phil.4:8-9 Christians are encouraged to view the world with the eyes of Christ.

I. TAKE THE BEST THIS WORLD HAS TO OFFER .4:8

Two verses I often heard while growing up in the church were 1Jn.2:15-16. It says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world.” As Christians we were taught to not be worldly. And that is what the Bible says.

What is so interesting about this verse in Phil.4 is that Paul is telling the Philippian believers to embrace the very best that can be found in the world. This is the only place in Paul’s writings where he has this kind of list of virtues. New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee says that in this verse Paul draws from Hellenistic moralism and the Jewish wisdom that he grew up with. In other words, while believers are not to be worldly minded, we are to affirm and embrace the very best that is found in this world.

Paul is not just telling us to have nice thoughts about these things, but rather we are to give focused consideration to these things. And Paul has a list of what we are to focus on. Now Paul is not writing to philosophers. He is writing to average people like you and me. So, for example, Paul says that we should give consideration to whatever is true. Truth could take us into a very deep conversation. But basically truth is what corresponds to spiritual and material reality. Whatever we have come to understand to be true by learning and experience we are to embrace. And of course, since we believe there is a God who has revealed himself in Christ and his Word, we believe that truth has its ultimate foundation in God. We live our lives based upon truth. Because truth is practical, we are concerned about truth in our speech and living. In fact, Paul says in Rm.1 that unbelievers have suppressed the truth about God and in turn, the gospel as well.

Whatever is honorable refers to that which compels our respect. I remember watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. The gravity and discipline shown by those guards compels respect. Their intent to honor those who died for our freedoms compels our honor and respect.

Whatever is just or right is related to the word for righteousness. Of course, for us as believers that which is right and just must be in keeping with the character and ways of God. Throughout the days of our life, all of us are constantly making determinations about what is just. We seek to do our best based on the Word of God, the facts as we understand them and our cultural norms regarding justice. Sometimes what a culture determines to be just conflicts with the Word of God. At that point we hold true to the Word of God.

Next Paul says, “whatever is pure.” This refers to whatever is not marred or tainted by evil. We know that little children are not sinless, but they are innocent by virtue of their lack of knowledge and maturity. There is a purity about children because their hearts are easily revealed. They do not understand the depths of evil and they have not learned how to hide themselves like adults. We appreciate someone who seems to operate with pure motives. There is no guile or deceit in them.

Then Paul writes, “whatever is lovely.” This refers to anything that is good, beautiful, and delightful. A sunset, a symphony, a painting, a flower, Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Oskar Schindler, are all examples are that which is lovely and good. And finally Paul says, “whatever is commendable.” Any conduct on the part of a person that is good and virtuous ought to be given consideration by believers. Whenever we see something that speaks of excellence and is praiseworthy, that is what we want to dwell in.

Augustine pointed out that all truth is God’s truth, whether it comes from the science laboratory or the writer’s pen. That which is in keeping with God’s love and goodness is praiseworthy, whether it comes from a Christian, a Buddhist, or an Atheist. As followers of Christ, not only do we desire to do good to others, but we want to encourage goodness in this world. So we give consideration to these matters. We seek to be a force of goodness in the world. We take delight in all that is lovely and beautiful.

II. BRING IT ALL UNDER THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST. 4:9

There is much in this world that is good. But we must never forget that this world is under the powerful influence of the evil one. What is more, every person enters into this world with a self centered heart that quickly reveals itself. The more I have observed humankind, the more I am convinced that people are not essentially good in their hearts. I agree with Jeremiah when he says that, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

So while Paul encourages believers to enjoy and promote that which is excellent in the world, he also calls believers to bring every good thing in the world under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. You may be asking, “Where do you see that in v.9?” Well, I see it in Paul’s admonition to practice what we have learned and received and heard and seen in his life.

Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he commanded his disciples to go into the world making disciples, teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded. Disciples are followers of Jesus. Well, here is Paul. Paul is a follower of Jesus. Paul is holding himself up as a worthy example of what it means to follow Jesus. In other words, we look to the life of Jesus and we learn from the life of Paul about how to follow Jesus.

Specifically in this letter we are pointed to the humble sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus took the roll of a servant in dying on the cross for our sins. He took no thought for his status as God, but gave himself up to death for our deliverance and salvation. And Paul tells us to have this mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. Not only that, but Paul urges us to adopt as our main goal in life to get to know Jesus as we live life in and with Christ. This is why Paul writes in Phil.3:8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Along with this, Paul encourages us to rejoice in our life with Christ.

As we live in the world and seek to affirm and embrace all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, what we bring to these things as Christians is very important. The tendency of the world is to take these good things and use them for self promotion and self-fulfillment. This eventuates in various forms of idolatry. If we are not careful, we will also be like the world, pursuing self-fulfillment. So while we find great joy and delight in much that is found in the world, it is not our primary love. We do not love the world or the things in the world. Our primary love is God and his Son, Jesus. And we do not live to gratify our bodily desires, and our goals and ambitions. We live for Jesus Christ. I believe Paul is telling us that the way to enjoy the best that this world has to offer, is to enjoy it through the eyes and priorities of Jesus. When the character and virtues of Christ are embraced by our heart, mind, and body, then what the world has to offer is kept in its proper perspective. We don’t count on this world to secure our lives.

Is there an optimal volume for listening to music? You know, for some people the louder the better. But too much volume distorts the music. Normal conversation takes place at 60 decibels. Prolonged listening to music at higher than 85 decibels will eventually ruin your hearing. Many MP3 players crank out the music at 105 decibels, which is 100 times more intense than 85 decibels. So there is a volume control. This volume control allows you to optimize your listening pleasure.

There is much in the world that is wonderful and beautiful. But apart from Jesus Christ, it won’t be long before these wonderful things take over our lives and become idolatrous. Idolatry always leads us away from God. But when we bring everything under the rule of Christ by surrendering ourselves to the Holy Spirit and allowing the word of God to dwell in us richly, we can enjoy the wonderful and beautiful things of this world in a healthy, joyful way.

Now obviously doing this requires both thought and action on our part. For one thing, we must set God and his word foremost in our minds as we direct our steps in the way of Christ. The more we are centered in Christ, the better able we will be to discern what is good in this world. Not only that, but you see that Paul ends v.9 by saying, “and the God of peace will be with you. There is a quote attributed to Charles Spurgeon. It says, “I looked at Christ and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove and it flew away.” Even the best things of this world will distract us from Christ and rob us of his peace. We must keep our eyes on Jesus.

 

Catherine Marshall tells of her friend, Marge who had an experience aboard a plane bound for Cleveland while waiting for takeoff. As she settled into her seat, Marge noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset suffused the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, all Marge could see was a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.

As the plane’s engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her. “You have noticed the windows,” he murmured beneath the roar and thrust of takeoff. “Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows. Here’s a lesson I want to teach you to save you much heartache and allow you to ’abide in Me’ with continual peace and joy.”

“You see, it doesn’t matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. The final destination is not influenced by what you see and hear along the way.” “Learn this, act on it and you will be released, able to experience the ’peace that passes understanding.’”

Well, how do you view the world? If you view the world through the eyes of Christ you will find much joy in the world and promote much goodness in the world as you reveal Christ in you to the world. Amen.

The Nearness of You

June 21, 2015

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In 1938 Hoagy Carmichael wrote the lovely ballad, “The Nearness of You.” “It’s not the pale moon that excites me;That thrills and delights me, oh no; It’s just the nearness of you. It isn’t your sweet conversation; That brings this sensation, oh no; It’s just the nearness of you”

Well, we like to be near the ones we love. And when someone we love is far away we call them on the phone so we can hear their voice. Or we look at their picture and read their letters so that we might somehow feel their nearness. But in fact, they are not near. They are gone. O we might skype with them and see them in real time, but they are far away.

The Christian life is a life lived in relationship with God through faith in his Son, Jesus. And the truth of the matter is that we cannot see God. In fact we cannot see Jesus. But the amazing truth is that since Jesus is fully God, he is always present.

In his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul is seeking to encourage them as they experience persecution. And in Phil.4:5, Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand.” The Lord is near. Men and women this morning let us take great encouragement in these words: The Lord is near!

I. BE JOYFUL Phil.4:4

In this brief letter the noun, “joy” or the verb, “rejoice,” occurs 14 times. And here in 4:4 Paul tells the believers in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord.” But what is there to rejoice about? These believers were experiencing persecution.

Throughout the New Testament we find an emphasis on joy. If you want an interesting Bible study, look up the verses having to do with joy. For example In Luke’s gospel when Jesus was born, the angel said to the shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The gospels also reveal that the miracles of Jesus brought joy. In Lk.10:20 there is joy over the fact that our names are written in heaven. In Lk.15 there is joy over one sinner who repents. In Jn.15 Jesus was teaching his disciples and he said, ‘I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus was the most joyful person to ever walk this earth. And think about it, Christians are those who have received the eternal life of Christ in them. We have been given Jesus’ joy. What is more this life is a righteous life. Paul says in Phil.3:9 that we have received a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Christ. This is a reason for joy. Our sins are forgiven. To rejoice in the Lord is to rejoice because we are in a relationship with the Lord. We know the Lord. He lives in us. Not only does he live in us, but God is transforming our lives into the image or character of Christ by using every circumstance we experience to help us know Christ better. This is why in 1:18 Paul could rejoice while in prison because his imprisonment encouraged others to proclaim the gospel. And even though some were preaching from sinful motives, Paul was rejoicing that Christ was being proclaimed. Because the Lord is near, dwelling in us and because his coming is soon, believers rejoice even in suffering.

Last Monday when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, there was much rejoicing in Chicago Land. People poured out into the streets till four in the morning. People were lighting firecrackers and honking horns. Is this what Paul is talking about when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord?” Obviously not! What is joy and how does it differ from happiness?

One of the things that Dallas Willard was very good at is writing definitions of significant words. Listen to how he defines joy. “Joy is a deep-seated sense of well-being, of safety in God’s universe. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, growing as a natural product of the transformation of one’s inner self to be like that of Christ.” Willard points out that joy is not triggered by external events or by one’s own power. He says, “Joy is the normal byproduct of a life lived in love.” And so, since the world does not give joy, the world cannot take joy away. Since outward circumstances do not produce joy, outward circumstances do not crush our joy either. When we think of joy as a deep-seated sense of well-being and safety in God’s universe, it is much different from happiness. This is why Nehemiah could write, “...the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This joy comes from God and dwells deep within.

In his book, Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, Bob Reccord writes, “As I write this book, I’m having to exercise the faith of dealing with the prison of pain. Unexpectedly, I suffered a severe cervical spinal injury. The pain was so excruciating and surgery was needed.

Because of the swelling of injured nerve bundles, the only way I could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. Sleep, what little there was, came only by sitting in a reclining chair.

Having lost about 80 percent of the strength in my left arm, as well as the feeling in three fingers on my left hand, even the slightest movements would send pain waves hurtling down my left side and shoulder. The doctors said I had to stop work, and begin to wear a neck brace...24 hours a day for five weeks.

About halfway through that experience, I found myself sitting on the screened-in porch behind our home. The day was cold and blustery, but I was committed to being outside, just for a change of scenery. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. On that cold, rainy day, I couldn’t believe any creature had a reason to sing. I wanted to shoot that bird! But he continued to warble, and I had no choice but to listen.

The next day found me on the porch again, but this time the atmosphere was bright, sunny, and warm. As I sat, being tempted to feel sorry for myself, suddenly the bird returned. And he was singing again! Where was that shotgun?

Then an amazing truth hit me head on: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not altered by outward circumstances, but it was held constant by an internal condition. It was as though God quietly said to me, “You’ve got the same choice, Bob. You will either let external circumstances mold your attitude, or your attitude will rise above the external circumstances. You choose!” The joy of the Lord is an internal joy.

Now do you have the joy of the Lord? Not, do you always feel happy? But do you have joy? The underlying question is: have you turned to Christ in faith to be saved from your sins and receive his life? Are you trusting your life and eternity into the Lord’s hands? Be Joyful

II. BE GENTLE. Phil.4:5

In v.5 Paul says, “let your reasonableness be known to everyone. This word is not so easily translated. Some say, “let your forbearing spirit,” or “let your graciousness,” or “let your moderation, or “let your gentleness be known to everyone. I prefer “gentleness” because Paul is talking about more than our ability to reason. We are talking about the way we handle ourselves in all sorts of situations.

Dennis Johnson, in his commentary, writes, “The term refers to the calm and kind disposition that enables a person to offer a nonviolent, even generous, response to others’ aggression.” He goes on to write, “Aristotle explained “gentleness” as a willingness to forgo one’s own rights according to the letter of the law.”

What does this look like? Well, in 1Pt.2:22-23 Peter is urging his readers to follow in the steps of Christ and he says, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus is an example of someone who let his gentleness be known to everyone.

Now to me this sounds weak. It’s as if Paul is saying, “Just let people walk all over you and take advantage of you.” Is that what the Christian life calls us to do? I don’t think so. There are times when Jesus spoke with great strength and when he acted in a very firm way. Zeal for his Father’s house motivated Jesus to drive out the money changers and the merchants from the temple. When speaking to the Pharisees Jesus used very strong language. He didn’t fight, but nor did he let people just walk all over him. There is a time for being strong and forceful.

But when suffering for righteousness sake, it was a different story. Jesus walked right into his betrayal. He gave himself to be sacrificed on the cross. And he told his followers that they are blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Gentleness is not weakness. When we are mistreated and respond in a gentle way, we are following the words of Paul in Rm.12:21. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Gentleness is powerful in overcoming evil. In fact when we confront volatile situations with gentleness, grace, and reasonableness, we often deescalate the situation. James writes in Jms.1:19-20, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath."

Don’t misunderstand. Being gentle in the face of opposition, mistreatment, and persecution will not necessarily save your life. Paul doesn’t say, “Be gentle” so we can save our skin. He says, “Be gentle, because he Lord is near or at hand. We are trusting in the Lord to have our back and to secure our life. We are trusting that when the Lord comes he will right all of the wrongs. Vengeance belongs to him not to us. I believe it is best when our default attitude in life is one of gentleness and grace.

All of us, need to be treated with gentleness and grace because all of us have been on the receiving end of anger and criticism far too often. It is difficult to die to oneself when we have learned early in life to always be defending ourselves. Some of us have learned to be passive aggressive while others of us have learned to be just plain aggressive and cutting in our responses. All of us could benefit from thoughtful quietness in our conversations. Be gentle; the lord is near. He will help you as you look to him and trust in him.

III. BE PRAYERFUL. Phil.4:6-7

I have often thought it odd that we trust the Lord for our eternal salvation, but find it very difficult to trust the Lord for our lives on earth. Why is that? I think it is because what we can see and feel is more real to us than the presence of God whom we cannot see and do not often feel.

In v.6 Paul is quoting from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life...Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Caring about a matter is a good thing. We care about what we say and do. We care about others and their needs. And being careless is not such a good thing. When we are careless we make mistakes and even cause injury to ourselves and others. But even when we are being careful, we make mistakes because we are human and we cannot control every variable of our lives or our bodies.

Of course we want to avoid pain and heartache. Jesus told us to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” But the reality is that many of us live in fear and anxiety over what might happen to us and our loved ones. We worry, turning these fears over and over in our minds. Worry and anxiety accomplishes absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change anything and it consumes and controls us. Worry and anxiety is based upon what we think about. When we worry we nourish anxiety in our minds and bodies. For many of us, worry is a habitual way of living and being-in-the-world.

So let’s look at Paul’s prescription for dealing with worry and anxiety. Because the Lord is near to us, Paul tells us to pray. Bring every matter to the Lord in prayer. God cares about you and me. God is careful and never careless. He does not worry about anything because in everything he is overseeing the lives of his children who know Christ.

In Mk.4 the disciples were in a boat with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat on a cushion. A furious squall came up to the point that the waves were breaking over the boat, and the concern was that the boat would sink. They were frightened and they woke Jesus up. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus stood up, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” What? How do you have faith in those circumstances? How do you have faith when there is a serious accident or illness or natural disaster?

Paul urges us to pray. Prayer is an act of dependence and trust. When we pray we set our minds and hearts upon God, his love, his goodness, and power. And notice that Paul teaches us to pray with thanksgiving. Praying with thanksgiving doesn’t mean that we must say, “Lord, we thank you in advance for what you are going to do.” Rather praying with thanksgiving means that we pray with thankful hearts. We come at prayer with an attitude that says, “Lord, we are so grateful for your ongoing care in our lives.” Thankful people do not take things for granted. They recognize that every good thing comes from God.

The disciples were afraid, clearly Jesus was not afraid. He was sleeping in peace. He was confident in God and because he is God he has full knowledge over things we do not have knowledge about. The storm didn’t throw him for a loop. He knew how to handle it. Men and women, God and his Son, Jesus know how to handle our problems. This is why we pray to God.

Again this is not so easy. I am reminded of Paul in 2Cor.1:8. He recounts his hardships while in Asia. He says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” Then he says, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."

We all must learn to trust in God. And we learn in the crucible of hardship as we turn to God in prayer. As we learn to trust we receive God’s peace that goes beyond what we can reason or figure out. After Jesus rebuked the storm, the sea grew calm. It says, that the disciples were terrified. Here was a peace beyond their understanding. They had never seen that before. They asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” This kind of Peace comes to us only from God. We can trust God to bring us through. Be prayerful.


In Dt.31:8 we read, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” The Lord is near. And because he is near, we can rejoice in every circumstance, we can be gentle even when mistreated, and we can be prayerful, knowing that he will deliver us. Amen.

The Church Under Siege

June 14, 2015

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It has never been particularly easy for the church in the world. When the church first began, it wasn’t long before the believers in Jerusalem were being persecuted and many fled, taking their faith in Christ to other parts of the world, especially Europe.

As Christianity spread, persecution continued until about 313 A.D. when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. The Catholic Church became powerful and with power came corruption. The Reformation brought a much needed correction. But for the most part the Christian Church in Europe enjoyed great power. Over the years that power has diminished. Today, Europe is Christian in name only and the church has little real influence for Christ.

In Paul’s day persecution was a reality. Spreading the gospel was challenging. Today I want to point out that these are challenging days for the church of Jesus Christ.

I. STAND FIRM. 4:1

This letter to the Philippian believers is designed to be an encouragement to stand firm in the face of persecution. Why is this so important? It’s important because the church of Jesus Christ holds the only real hope for the world through the Gospel. Through the Holy Spirit, the church is the visible presence of Christ in and to the world. And so Paul urges the believers in Philippi to stand firm in Christ, showing the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.

This admonition is first seen in Phil.1:27. Paul himself was under house arrest in Rome for the gospel. And Paul uses himself as an example of one who stands firm in the face of persecution. In Phil.1 we see that what brought Paul joy is that his imprisonment only served to promote the furtherance of the gospel. In Phil.2:15 Paul says that we must do all things without grumbling and complaining so that we will shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation. We stand firm for the sake of the gospel.

Later in Phil.2 Paul points to the example of Epaphroditus who stood firm in the work of Christ even though he suffered and almost died because of a serious illness.

Then in Phil.3 Paul presents the wonderful blessings received through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who embrace Christ by faith receive a righteousness from God which enables us to stand before God cleansed of our sin. By faith we inter into a living, eternal relationship with God and we begin living in the kingdom of God.

As disciples of Jesus, we follow him in all circumstances of life. Just as Jesus suffered on the cross, so as we suffer for Christ we are getting to know him in his suffering. Through suffering we can draw closer to Christ, exalting Christ in our bodies. On the basis of Paul’s personal example and because of the blessings found in knowing Christ, Paul urges the believers in Philippi to stand firm in the face of opposition.

Today in the United States the church experiences some persecution. Christians are not particularly liked in some circles and we are often criticized and even ostracized. For awhile in the United States Christianity enjoyed a place of power and influence. But now our influence is waning. In fact many point out that we are a Post-Christendom society.

Perhaps you have heard about the rise of the Nones. The Nones are those who select “none” when asked their religious affiliation. They feel they are better off outside of organized religion. Lately we have heard of the rise of the Dones. Who are the Dones? According to Josh Packard’s book, “Church Refugees: Sociologists Reveal Why People are Done with Church but not with Their Faith,” the Dones are some of, “the most committed church attenders, those who have consistently given, prayed longest, served for years, and have been in the most important meetings.” They still believe in Christ but they are leaving the church to keep their faith. They are leaving “because of the judgmental posture of church people,...because they are tired of trying to serve Jesus through the bureaucratic methods of church organizations,...because they wanted to come to their own answers about God through dialogue and struggle, not through prepackaged lectures and the predetermined conclusions of their church leaders,...because their church only understood ‘morality’ in terms of ‘substance abuse’ and ‘sexual activity’ with a common disregard to systemic issues of equality, poverty, and unjust economics.”

As these realities continue to develop, I fear that the church will continue to be pushed out onto the fringes of our culture. It may be that a day of more active persecution will come to the church.

So Paul calls us to the priority of the Gospel. In every circumstance we face we must stand firm in Jesus Christ. We must stand firm rooted in the truth of God’s Word. We must stand firm proclaiming the good news of life in Christ. We must stand firm at home, at work, at school, at church. And as Paul emphasizes in this letter, we must stand firm in the joy of the Lord. Again and again Paul says, “rejoice.” We rejoice in Christ. To not stand firm is to lose our voice and perhaps our faith.

Now if we are going to stand firm in the Lord, it means we must also...stand together

II. STAND TOGETHER. 4:2-3

When Epaphroditus arrived in Philippi and delivered Paul’s letter, the letter would have been read out loud to the congregation. Imagine you are in the congregation. The reader is reading and comes to these two verses: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

How do you feel when you hear the reader read the names of these two women? How do you feel if you are one of those women? Generally we prefer to be corrected or to correct someone in private. But here, Paul publically calls these women out. Some scholars point out that the fact that Paul mentions their names is a mark of friendship. If Paul was at odds with these women he would not have named them at all.

We don’t know much about these women. Eudoia means, “success” and Syntyche means, “lucky,” but that doesn’t help us. What we do know is that these two women were co-workers in the gospel with Paul and others in the church at Philippi. They labored for the sake of the gospel.

Obviously there was a conflict between them and it was having some impact on the church. We don’t know the nature of the conflict. One scholar suggests that it may have had to do with how to live out the gospel in the face of persecution.

This conflict gives rise to the second reason for why Paul wrote his letter. The seeds of disunity were being sown in the church because of this conflict. Paul writes this letter to urge unity in the church. Stand together.

The phrase, “agree in the Lord,” literally means, “to have the same mindset in the Lord. This takes us back to Phil.2:2,5 where Paul refers to “being in full accord and of one mind,” and “having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” When there is conflict, the way we think, our overall mindset, will affect the way we deal with the conflict.

Paul says, “agree in the Lord.” I have been thinking about this phrase. Elsewhere in Philippians he refers to being confident in the Lord, hoping in the Lord, trusting in the Lord, and rejoicing in the Lord. What does that mean? Well, surely it refers to the personal presence of the Lord and our being in relationship with him.

What would happen if Jesus were physically present when we had a conflict with someone else? In the Gospels we read about some occasions in which Jesus was called upon to mediate a conflict. For example, in Lk.9:46 we learn that the disciples were arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest. Jesus did not resolve the conflict, but he did point out that the one who is least among them is the greatest. In Lk.10:38 Jesus is in the home of Martha and her sister Mary. It says that Martha was distracted with much serving, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching. Martha said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” How did Jesus respond? He said, “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” Jesus did not resolve the conflict but he did put his finger on Martha’s problem. She was anxious and troubled. In Lk.12:13, someone in a crowd calls out to Jesus and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Well, Jesus did not resolve the conflict, but he did warn against covetousness and greed.

Are you in conflict with someone? I wonder what Jesus would say to you? Would Jesus talk with you about your pride or your fear? Would Jesus put his finger on your critical, unkind words? Would Jesus say something about how self-centered you are or how demanding you are being? You see, in every conflict the unseen motives and attitudes are often the root of the problem.

The truth is that many of us are defensive and quick to think that we are being unjustly criticized or attacked. Out of our insecurity we often have a need to be right. And sometimes what we think is right is really nothing more than our personal preference. And if we are truly right then we need to cultivate humility more than ever.

In Phil.2 Paul gives a helpful description of the mindset of Jesus. In 2:6 we see that it is in the nature of God to not protect his godness. Jesus didn’t have to hold onto his status of being God at all costs. He never ceased being God, but he didn’t worry about it. He could lay that aside in utter humility to serve us in his life and death on the cross. There was no selfish ambition or conceit in Jesus. He was focused on the mission to seek and save the lost. In Phil.2 Paul also wrote about Timothy who was a co-worker who did not seek his own interests but was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Philippian believers. In Phil.3 Paul highlights the importance of seeking to know Christ and to become like Christ in any and every circumstance. You see, the more we are focused on knowing Christ and humbly living out the gospel, the better we will be in dealing with conflict.

It is not always easy to resolve conflict. You notice that Paul calls upon someone he refers to as “true companion” to help or assist these two women. It is not good for the gospel, or for the local church when we allow ourselves to hold onto resentments and conflicts with other believers. As Paul points out, our names are in the book of life. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. The underlying question is, do we view ourselves as being part of the local church and do we think that the unity of the church is significant enough to resolve our conflicts? And are we humble enough to allow someone in the church to help us? If we do not view ourselves as being part of the local church, if we are stand alone Christians, it will be difficult for us to stand together having the humble mind of Christ. But men and women our standing together brings power to the gospel witness of the church in the world.


So what does this mean for us today? Well, the strength of any local church is determined by how that congregation stands firm and stands together. Do we all buy into the truth and power of the gospel? Do we all believe that the good news of life in Christ is the most important issue of life? If so we will stand firm centered around Christ and the gospel. And then are we committed to working together to live and promote the gospel? Each of us has different gifts and abilities. If we are committed to living the gospel life and promoting the gospel together there will be any number of initiatives taking place in and through the church as we work together. What does it mean to you to be in Christ and to be a part of his church? Amen.

Captivated By Christ

June 7, 2015  

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Why is it that things captivate us for a relatively short time? Think about it. Sometimes we are captivated by something until we outgrow it. A child might be captivated by a small basketball hoop with a child sized basketball, but it won’t be long before they want a regulation sized basketball and hoop. They outgrew the child version.

Sometimes we are no longer captivated by something because we figure it out. Rubik’s cube will captivate for a good long while until you know how to do it. Then it sits on the shelf. As young adults we may find ourselves staring at the picture of our boyfriend or girlfriend, but once we marry the person the pictures are put away and eventually the captivating thrill gives way to a settled love that at times can seem a bit boring.

As Christians we are captivated by Jesus. Is that true or not true? Or perhaps what is more likely is that when we first understand the good news about Jesus and turn to Jesus to be saved from our sins, we are excited and captivated by Jesus. But as time goes on it is so easy to lose that first love for Christ. In Philippians it is clear that Paul’s life was captivated by Christ. Jesus Christ had taken hold of Paul and Paul never let go. Are we captivated by Christ? O that Christ would fully captivate our lives. 

I. REJOICE IN THE VALUE OF KNOWING CHRIST. 3:17

Over the 56 years that I have been a Christian, I have found that there are seasons in which the Christian Faith can look and feel more like a burden than a blessing. And while there may be any number of reasons for this, a basic reason for why the Christian life can feel like a burden is because we lose the value and joy of knowing Christ.

For example, it is very easy to get into a performance mentality when it comes to living the Christian life. If a congregation is legalistic, the Christian life is reduced to following a list of burdensome rules. After all, in 1Jn.2:5-6 we read, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he [Jesus] walked.” Who can do that? To be like Jesus means we must die to ourselves and this can seem like a burden.

And not only are we to become like Jesus in our character and conduct, but we are reminded that as we follow Jesus we may experience suffering. Jesus tells us that if the world hates us, we are to keep in mind that the world hated him. And in 1Pt.2:21, it says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” And in Philippians we see that the believers in Philippi were experiencing persecution for their faith in Christ. There’s no two ways about it, when we follow Christ we should expect to be treated as he was treated. Suffering for Christ is a burden.

But that is not the sum of our life in Christ. Paul tells us in Col.1:14 that in Christ we have the forgiveness of sins. And he tells us in Phil.3:9 that Christians are those who through faith in Christ have received a righteousness that is from God. Well, how cool is that! Being in a relationship with God in his kingdom is not based upon my performance. Yes I put forth every effort to walk as Jesus walked, but my standing in the kingdom of God is based upon trusting in Christ.

And in Phil.3:10 Paul tells us that we have received resurrection power through our faith in Christ. We are empowered to follow in the steps of Jesus, becoming like him in his life, and even in his death. So even though we are called to become like Jesus in life and death, through faith in Christ we have divine enablement as God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Or consider that the Christian life does not only promise eternal life in heaven when we die, but in Christ we are already living resurrection life. We are already in the kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus says us in Jn.11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” We are already living forever.

And then let me just add Rm.14:17, where we read, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” I don’t know of any other religion that offers this kind of life? Do you?

So in v.17 Paul says, “Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Because the Christian life is challenging and even burdensome, as we live our life in relationship with Jesus, it is helpful to learn from the example of other believers who, like Paul, are walking in the way of Christ. And in Philippians we know that the way of Christ is the way of faith, obedience, humility, love, and selfless service to others.

Nobody is perfect. Paul was not perfect, but Paul followed Christ. For Paul, to live was Christ.” Men and women, one of the purposes of the church is to encourage each other to follow Christ. In Heb.3:13 we read, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The word, “exhort” means to come along side, to encourage one another. We need to remind one another of the wonderful value and worth of knowing Christ so that we may all stand firm in the faith, walking worthy of the gospel of Christ, who captivates our lives.

II. REJECT THE TEMPTING ALLURE OF THIS WORLD. 3:18-19

In v.18-19 Paul refers to many people who do not walk according to the example seen in Paul. Rather they walk as enemies of the cross. We don’t know exactly who these people are. It is suggested that they may be traveling teachers who have made a profession of faith in Christ, but who, in their actual living do not walk in obedience to Christ. No matter how much a person may claim to be a follower of Christ, if they do not walk in the way of Christ, which is the way of faith, humility, obedience, love and self-denial, that person is an enemy of the cross whose end is destruction.

Notice how these people are described. “Their god is their belly.” They live to satisfy their desires and appetites. This is the way of selfish ambition and conceit. It is the way of sensuality, living for pleasure.

Paul says they glory in their shame. In other words, the things that should bring them shame are the things they boast about and find joy in.

Do not misunderstand what Paul is saying. Paul was not someone who was anti body. He did not think the body is evil. But when we live to gratify the body and indulge our desires we make the body into our god.

Do you remember the story of the rich man in Lk.12? The man was very rich and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ’I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The only problem was that this man laid up treasure only for himself. He thought nothing about God. There are professing believers who are Christians in name only. They do not follow the way of the cross of Christ that Paul describes in Phil.2.

Paul also says that these folks have their minds set on earthly things. That is a good summary of the kind of person he is talking about. In 1Jn.2:15-16 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world.”

Paul is describing a worldly mindset. It is an approach to living life. We live life in view of all that this world has to offer. It is essentially living life apart from God.

If the world and all that if offers were unattractive there would be no problem. But the world is very attractive. For one thing it is tangible and we live in it. We can see it, taste it, feel it, and own it. Until we come to know Christ, the world and the people in it are our primary conscious source of life. We are born as citizens of the world. However, it’s beauty and allure is only skin deep. Not only that. When our hearts and minds are captivated by the world, it is not long before desire spins out of control. We are never quite satisfied. Why? It is because we were not designed to be satisfied only by the things of the world. We were designed to be satisfied in knowing and loving God. It is only when we know God and seek first his kingdom that the world can take its proper place in our lives.

When I was young and we attended a somewhat legalistic church, it seemed that we were pretty good at pointing out worldliness in the lives of others. Women who wore pants to church or too much make-up were worldly. Men who flashed their wealth around were worldly. Anyone who went to movies or who danced were worldly. Things have changed. We don’t judge each other by those kinds of standards anymore. So how does a person know if he or she is worldly minded?

Well, it involves self-evaluation. What is it that has a grip on your heart and mind? What is it that opens an easy pathway into temptation and sin? Is there anything that is more important to you than knowing Christ and being faithful to him? These questions must be answered prayerfully and carefully. And if you find that there is a worldly way in you then you must forsake it, and let your heart be captivated by Christ.

III. SET YOUR HEART ON THE COMING OF CHRIST. 3:20-21

In v.20 Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we first began these messages out of Philippians it was pointed out that Philippi became a Roman colony. As a colony of Rome, everyone who lived in Philippi became citizens of Rome with all of the privileges of citizenship. As citizens it was expected that at public events, incense was burned in honor of Caesar and Caesar would be worshiped as Lord and Savior. Of course Christians could not do this because we worship the only true Savior, Jesus Christ. This may be the reason believers in Philippi were being persecuted.

In this verse Paul makes it clear that Christians hold their primary citizenship in heaven, in the kingdom of God.

Go into any city and you will find ethnic neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods are predominantly Polish or Mexican or Chinese or other ethnicities. Those neighborhoods have the flavor of that particular ethnic group. The language that is spoken is different and the restaurants that line the streets have ethnic foods. Different holidays might be observed and common holidays like Christmas or Easter might be observed differently. These neighborhoods are like little colonies of these various countries.

Well, one might say that the church represents a little colony of heaven on earth. Just as citizens of Poland or Greece have their own ways of looking at things, so those of us who are citizens of heaven have godly ways of looking at things. Our primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ our Savior and King and this shapes how we live in this world.

As citizens of heaven living on earth, our goal is to live in such a way that others see how wonderful it is to live life in the kingdom of God. We want others to see that life with Christ is the best possible life one could ever live. So we seek to be like Jesus and do good, and speak about Jesus and sometimes it will involve the humiliation of suffering for Jesus.

Of course we have always lived in this world. This world is our first home. But since coming to know Christ, our citizenship has been transferred into the kingdom of God. Now the kingdom of God has become our home of choice. Now we are living as aliens and strangers in this world, and we are eagerly waiting for Jesus Christ to return. He is our Savior who will take us to be with himself. And not only will we be with him, but he is going to transform our bodies so that they are like his resurrection body.

Paul was completely captivated by Christ. Once he met Christ he was never the same. He longed to be with the Lord. Do you long to be with the Lord? Are you eagerly waiting for the coming of the Lord? Few of us will ever have a vision of Jesus like Paul had. But as we fill our heart and mind with Jesus by reading the New Testament and as we call upon God in prayer, our hearts and minds will be more and more filled with Jesus.


This morning we will be observing the Lord’s Supper in small groups around the sanctuary. The number on the back of your bulletin will tell you which group you are in. When you get into your group here is what I would like us to do. First as a group introduce yourselves to each other. And then, whoever is comfortable speaking, share how long you have known Christ and a reason why you value knowing Christ. After a few minutes pass the tray around and someone in the group can give thanks for the bread and the cup. Whoever takes this upon themselves remind the group that the bread represents the body of Christ and the cup represents the blood of Christ and then invite everyone to eat the bread and drink the cup. Let us rejoice in the Lord together as we share in the Lord’s Table. Amen.

The Most Amazing Race

May 31, 2015

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What is the best reality-competition program on T.V. today? Over the past 12 years, The Amazing Race has won an Emmy for the best reality-competition program 10 times. Why is it so amazing? According to the Popmatters website, “...every minute of every episode is literally a mad dash to the finish line....[nothing]...can quite match the sheer exhilaration of watching the foot races and high-speed narrow-street car chases that have come to define The Amazing Race.”

So why do people compete in the amazing race? Well, you get to see amazing parts of the world. You get to match your wits and strength against others, and you might win a million dollars

The Christian life is also an adventure. It’s an adventure because in the Christian life we are brought into a relationship with the God of the universe through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God to us and through faith in him we can know God. To know Christ is to know God.

Paul writes about this adventure in Phil.3. We might think that Paul writes from the perspective of having already reached the finish line. But, no! Paul writes as a fellow runner, as one who is with us in the adventure of learning to know Christ. He knows the challenge. And in v.12 and 13 he puts out a disclaimer telling us that he himself has not yet reached the goal. To know Christ is to participate in the race of a lifetime.

I. FORGET WHAT IS BEHIND. 3:12-13

Every good runner knows that in a race you don’t pay attention to those who are behind you because those runners will distract you. By looking around you lose precious seconds, and in a race, every second counts. Now in the race to know Jesus Christ it is very easy to become distracted by the past. This is why in v.13 Paul tells us that in running this race, he forgets what lies behind. And in the context of this chapter Paul is referring to his Jewish heritage in v.2-6.

One of the great lies is that we can earn God’s approval and eternal life through religious observance. Every religion claims to offer something of great value, whether it is called paradise, nirvana, or heaven. But the idea behind religion is personal merit. On the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to Paul and asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” and Paul realized that salvation, life with God comes through the unearned grace of God. In that moment God in the person of his Son, Jesus came to Paul and graciously took hold of Paul’s life. So Paul let go of trying to earn God’s approval. That only leads to spiritual pride, and spiritual pride leads to spiritual death. At the end of the day, all of us must repent of our spiritual pride and receive the grace and mercy of God freely given in Jesus. Why would anyone want to go back to thinking that he or she can earn God’s grace? You can’t. It’s grace.

But there are other ways we can be distracted in our race to know Christ. Past sin can hold us back. No one here today looks like a sinner. You all look beautiful. But we all know better. Everyone of us has had thoughts that we would not want others to know about. We have all participated in activities that we would be ashamed of if it were known. Some of us carry this guilt around with us on a daily basis. We can’t seem to let it go.

And then we are all well aware of the sins that so easily entangle us even now. Whether it is losing our temper, being judgmental, making sarcastic, cutting remarks, reading things or looking at pictures that lead us into the world of immoral fantasy, or giving into the craving of destructive habits that seem to have a grip on our lives, or yielding to the desire for more and more money and things, we all know what it is to fall short of God’s goodness and glory.

And then many are held back in their desire to know Christ because of the ongoing effects of being deeply hurt or rejected by those closest to us. I mean, as nice as people can be, that is how brutal we can be to others. Worry, anxiety, and low self esteem hinder us in knowing Christ. If you have been hurt, it can be difficult to accept the fact that God really loves you, that God would actually take hold of your life to bring you into his life. Bring your anxiety and low self esteem to Jesus. Embrace his love for you.

Men and women, Christ died for our sins. If we are trusting in him, our sins are all forgiven, even the sins we still struggle with. When we sin, of course we feel bad because we know we have grieved the Lord and we have disappointed ourselves. So we confess it and move on. To wallow in guilt will only hinder us in our desire to know Christ.

II. PRESS TO THE FINISH LINE. 3:13

Long distance runner, Scott Jurek, has 7 tips for long distance runners. For example he says, “Break your race goal into small, manageable bites.” In long races focus on specific sections. He says, “Have a nutrition and hydration plan during the race.” “Be adaptable by planning for extremes in the weather.” His last tip is, “Focus on the adventure.” “Running 100 miles is about adaptability, mental strength and the ability to get over hurdles.”

As Paul continues the running metaphor, he says, “I strain forward to what lies ahead.” In the greatest race of knowing Christ, there is a finish line. It is when we are finally with the Lord either through death or when Jesus comes. But until we are with the Lord, we press on towards the goal of knowing Christ.

The race course is experienced as we navigate the circumstances life presents to us. And there are so many variables. Our emotional wiring, our physical strengths and weaknesses, our mental capacity effects the way we live our lives. Our past experiences, our present circumstances and future longings impact the way we live our lives. Our cultural and social context, our exposure to past and current events, impacts how we live. And then there are deep and compelling ideas and causes that grab our minds and hearts, shaping how we live. And in all of this, as followers of Christ, our primary goal is to know him in the complexity of our lives. No wonder Paul talks about straining forward. The race is challenging and if we are not careful we can be swallowed up by the press of our culture and the circumstances of our lives. This past Wednesday I sat in the church parking lot at 7:00 AM listening to the world news roundup on WBBM. Those few minutes were so disheartening. All I could say was, “O Lord, Jesus.”

Now how do we press to the finish line? Well, I would say with Scott Jurek, focus on specific sections of the race. In other words, take it a day at a time. Each day has enough trouble of its own. It is good to cultivate throughout your day an awareness that God is with you through the Holy Spirit. You are living out the resurrection life of Christ in you. “God is working in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We cannot be reminded enough of these truths. There is no way around it, we walk by faith and not by sight. Brother Lawrence would cultivate his awareness of God throughout the whole day. At many times during the day stop and acknowledge the presence of God with you where you are.

Jurek says that long distance runners need to have a nutrition and hydration plan during the race. How important is this? What is your nutrition and hydration plan for our race to know Christ? You say, “I don’t have a plan.” Well, are in the race or not? No one runs a race by accident and no one gets to know Christ by accident. I recognize that we are all wired different. Some of us are very disciplined while others of us are not. The thing about our great race is that the goal is not to be the first over the finish line. The goal is to finish well.

In 1Cor.2:16 Paul tells us that believers have the mind of Christ. Now this is a wonderful truth. But be aware that the mind of Christ is dwelling in bodies and brains that are synchronized with sinful habits and thoughts. So we need to develop a spiritual nutrition and hydration plan. It will involve the Bible and prayer. The Bible is God’s word and it will accomplish in our lives all that God wants it to accomplish if we will prayerfully read it. You say, ‘I’ve tried that. I get lost in the details and just don’t understand it.” Well, then, don’t worry too much about the details. Take it slowly. Focus on the New Testament and the Psalms and ask the Lord to cultivate the mind of Christ in you as you read it.

Jurek says that runners must be adaptable by planning for extremes in weather. How do Christians plan for extremes in the race to know Christ? Let me offer a few suggestions. Practice key spiritual disciplines. The disciplines of worship, giving, fasting, silence and solitude are all disciplines embraced by followers of Jesus over the many years of church history. The reason athletes practice specific plays and strategies over and over again is so that in game time they will know what to do in any given situation. Spiritual disciplines help us to learn to die to ourselves and to have our hearts and minds open to the Lord at all times. The race is grueling at times and will throw us many curves. We must be ready.

And this leads me to point out that we can learn to be adaptable by being part of a congregation of Christians in a local church. In a local church we can encourage and be encouraged. We see that we are not running alone. If you are here, there is a reason why God has brought you here. It is because he wants to use you and encourage you in the race to know Christ. You are needed.

Jurek says, “Focus on the adventure.” Every day we begin. “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. I don’t know what challenges you are facing in your life right now. What I can tell you is that God is working in every challenge you face to help you know Christ better.

III. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE. 3:14

In a recent study published in the journal, Motivation and Emotion, it says, “These findings indicate that narrowly focusing visual attention on a specific target, like a building a few blocks ahead, rather than looking around [at] your surroundings, makes that distance appear shorter, helps you walk faster, and also makes exercising seem easier,” said New York University psychology professor Emily Balcetis.” In v.14 Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Back in Genesis 29 we read about Jacob and his love for Rachel. Jacob asked Rachel’s father, Laban, if he could marry Rachel. Well the deal was that Jacob would work for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel as his wife. It says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Jacob had his heart set on Rachel and the time flew by. The principle is the same as the exercise study just cited. When your eye or your heart is fixed on a specific target or person, it helps you preserver and be diligent.

Christians are those who have come to see that Jesus Christ is the only one who can give eternal, abundant living, in the kingdom of God. He is the only one who can cleanse our hearts from sin. He is the only one who can enable us to know God in a personal way. And so we have turned to Christ by faith, taking him at his word. Jesus Christ has now become our Savior, Lord and King. His life is in us and our goal is to be like him in every circumstance of life. So our focus must be on Christ. If knowing Christ and being with Christ is the goal of our lives, we will persevere in all of life until we are with the Lord.

Men and women, as our culture presses in on the church today, it is more and more challenging to run in the race of knowing Christ. In the Amazing Race on T.V. there are many challenges and puzzles to figure out. Contestants have to follow the clues step by step. Sometimes they want to give up, but most don’t. Why don’t they give up? It’s because their minds are focused on the prize of a million dollars. And so, with a million dollars in mind, they keep going. They persevere even though it is not easy and often frustrating.

In 1Cor.9:24-25 Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

Those people in the amazing race are competing for perishable prize. We are running for a prize that cannot perish, spoil or fade. We are running to be with Christ forever.


Soon after the publication of John Stott’s 1971 revised edition of Basic Christianity, he received a letter that read: Dear John, Thank you for writing Basic Christianity. It led me to make a new commitment of my life to Christ. I am old now-nearly 78-but not too old to make a new beginning. I rejoice in all the grand work you are doing. Yours sincerely, Leslie Weatherhead

Leslie Weatherhead was one of the most respected and influential Christian leaders in the United Kingdom. Thousands heard him preach at City Temple, his books were read widely, he pioneered in the field of pastoral counseling, and he was president of the Methodist Conference. Yet at 78-years-old he was not too proud or too worn out to make a fresh commitment of his life.

What about you? Are you in the race to know Christ and be found in him? Does Jesus Christ captivate your heart and mind?

Do You Know Christ?

May 24, 2015

It can be a wonderful experience to get to know someone new. A new relationship is filled with potential. There is the potential for a lasting friendship. There is the potential for learning new things and having new experiences.

But getting to know someone takes time and effort, and is not without its challenges. In Phil.3:1-11 Paul talks about getting to know Jesus Christ. I wonder, do you understand what it means to know Jesus Christ?

I. WE ABANDON SPIRITUAL PRIDE. 3:1-8

Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is 50 days after Easter. That is when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers. Many view Pentecost Sunday as the beginning of the church. At first the church was made up of Jews who had come to faith in Christ. These Jewish Christians continued to live as Jews. They obeyed the laws of Moses and continued to celebrate Jewish holidays.

But then Gentiles started coming to Christ. They also received the Holy Spirit and the question was raised, “Should Gentile believers have to obey the Jewish law and be circumcised.”

In Acts 15 we read about what is called “The Jerusalem Council.” church leaders came together to discuss this question. They decided that since the Gentiles had come to Christ and received the Holy Spirit without becoming Jews, it would not be in keeping with the gospel to require them to keep the law or be circumcised. Well, not everyone was happy with this decision. Some felt that Christianity was basically an extension of Judaism.

As Paul travelled in the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, he planted many churches. But it wasn’t long before some Jewish Christians were entering into those churches preaching that Gentile believers needed to obey the Jewish law in order to fully know Christ. They taught that the men should be circumcised because circumcision was the historical sign of being part of the people of God. This brought confusion about the gospel. This is the context of Phil.3

Paul was concerned that this teaching would come to the church in Phillipi and warned the believers about it. Here in chapter 3 he repeats his warning. In v.3 he writes, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” And then he goes on to say that believers in Jesus Christ are the true circumcision, the true people of God. Christians are the ones who serve God by the Holy Spirit. Our boasting, our confidence is in Christ Jesus. And then he makes a very important point. He says that those who teach that Christians must obey the Jewish law are really seeking to gain God’s approval by their own efforts. Instead of putting confidence in Jesus Christ, they are putting their confidence in themselves. when you put your confidence in yourself that is spiritual pride.

So notice what Paul does in v.4. He uses himself as an example of one who would have every reason to put confidence in himself. When it came to being a Jew few could surpass Paul. He was born in the tribe of Benjamin and had been circumcised according to the Jewish law on the eighth day. His Jewish pedigree was stellar. What is more Paul achieved a high standing as a Jew. He was a Pharisee, who studied under a very famous rabbi. And when the Christian church first started Paul himself persecuted Christians. What is more, no one could fault Paul in regard to the Jewish law because he was blameless. His record was clean. Paul was Jewish through and through. If anyone had reason to believe that he had a good standing before God, it was Paul.

But notice what Paul says in v.7. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying to the Christians in Philippi, “Look, these people want you to come under obedience to the Jewish law. But I’ve been there and done that and I am telling you it is of no value when it comes to knowing Christ.

Now men and women, every one of us has a proclivity to put confidence in our own merits and achievements when it comes to our standing with God. Just ask people why they think they will go to heaven and you will hear answers that are based upon human merit. “Well, I think I have lived a good life. I try to do right. I’m a good person. I’ve been baptized and I go to church. I try to help people.” Deep in our hearts there is an idea that gaining God’s love and approval is something we must do. Somehow I have to do enough and hope that I measure up before God.

But no one can gain God’s approval on his or her own merit. Because we are sinful people, even our best efforts are tainted with pride. We may not feel proud, but if we are counting on our own merit to gain God’s approval and blessing then we are saying that God actually owes us his approval. “I earned it.” Paul came to the realization that his achievements, his status, weren’t enough. And when he realized this, he abandoned all spiritual pride.

Now how good do you think you are? Let’s put ourselves up against the best person to ever walk this earth. Let’s put ourselves up against Jesus. Would you say your life is as good as that of Jesus? I mean Jesus sets the standard. Do we measure up? I don’t. If you want to know Christ, then you must let go of anything and everything you might be counting on to gain God’s approval. Paul said that all of his merit and achievement was little more than rubbish.

Have you achieved some good in this world? Have you done some good in this world? Are there things that you are proud of that you have accomplished? Paul is not saying there is no value in these things. He is saying that these things have no effect in gaining God’s approval and so we must not in any way rely upon them. And if we have any thought that our goodness and good deeds bring us into the place of God’s approval, we must renounce our goodness because our goodness is keeping us from God. Have you ever come to this realization? Have you abandoned your spiritual pride?

II. WE EMBRACE CHRIST ALONE. 3:8-9

Why does Paul count everything as loss? It is because of the worth, the value of knowing Christ. Jesus Christ came to earth to show us exactly what God is like. He showed us what God is like by living a godly life, by dying for our sins, rising from the dead, and offering to give new eternal living in the kingdom of God for all who will embrace him by faith, becoming his disciple.

Notice in v.7 Paul says, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. In v.8 he says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of know Christ.” In other words when Paul turned to Christ he left behind anything and everything that he had been depending on for God’s approval. But that was not just a onetime event. In his life with Christ he continued to count everything as loss in order that he may gain Christ. What I want us to see is that there is a past, present and future framework to our knowing Christ. We enter into a saving relationship with Christ at conversion, but that relationship is ongoing as we daily seek to know Christ and look to the future when we shall see Christ face to face in glory. Knowing Christ is not a onetime event.

Being in a relationship with Jesus enables us to enter into the Kingdom of God. If you want to go into the White House you will be out of luck. Entrance into the White House is by invitation only. But suppose you are in an ongoing friendship with the President’s wife. If she brings you into the White House you will be welcome.

But even more significant is the fact that those who embrace Christ by faith receive a righteousness that is not of their own doing. Paul had plenty of self-righteousness. He thought he was in good standing with God because of his effort. But when he came face to face with the love, grace and mercy of Jesus, he abandoned his self-righteousness so that he could receive the righteousness that comes as a gift from God and is received through faith in Christ. Men and women, for those who embrace Jesus as Savior, Lord and King, they receive God’s approval. They enter into a right standing with God through Jesus. The goodness of Jesus becomes their goodness because Jesus takes them for his own and he and God the Father come to live in them through the Holy Spirit. The one who embraces Jesus by faith receives the life of Jesus to live. So here we are at the White House. You can’t enter on your own merit, but by being in a relationship with the president’s wife, you can enter on her merits. No one enters into the eternal kingdom of God on their own merits, but if you know Jesus and are in a relationship with him, you are welcome. It’s as if God says, “Oh you know my Son, Jesus? You are trusting in him? Well, you are welcome here.”

Let me ask: When did you stop trusting in your own goodness and begin trusting in Jesus for God’s approval? Don’t answer by saying, “Oh I have always trusted in Jesus.” That won’t do as an answer because all of us enter into this world with a sinful heart that quickly displays itself in sinful behaviors and rebellion and disobedience to God. When did you turn to Christ? Having a date is not so important, but knowing that there was a time when you left your own self-righteousness and began trusting in Jesus is critical. And the emphasis here is on began trusting. Don’t say that you came to Christ back when you were five or eight as if you’ve been there, done that, so you must be okay. No. Coming to Christ is entering into his life. We continue to trust in him. The Christian life is a life of ongoing faith and trust in Jesus.

Charles Wesley wrote, “And can it be that I should gain, An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain, For me, who Him to death pursued?, Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th’eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Is Christ your Savior, Lord, and King?

III. WE LIVE IN THE WAY OF JESUS. 3:10-11

The people we know best are the people we live with. We may have good conversations with people at church or work. We might do some things together outside of church or work, but we don’t really know those people as well as we know our family. What enables us to know our family members so well? It’s doing life together. In families where there is a committed bond of love everything is experienced together.

Think about this. In a strong family everyone is encouraged or empowered to grow, mature, and pursue their dreams. We strengthen each other because we are committed to each other. We learn how to let go of our wants and desires for the good of everyone in the family. We learn how to express ourselves in appropriate ways.

But we also get to know one another as we experience hardship and need together. We struggle along side of each other. We grieve and sorrow together when tragedy comes. In a strong family, family members get to know each other in joy and difficulty. This might help us better understand what Paul is saying in v.10-11.

In this letter Paul paints a very compelling picture of Jesus Christ. In Phil.2 we see that even though Jesus is God, he does not see his godness as something that must be protected and held onto at all costs. He never ceases being God, but he does pour himself out for our sakes. He comes to the earth in the form of a man, and not just any kind of man, but as a humble servant. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Not only did Jesus humbly serve people, he allowed himself to be humiliated by suffering and dying on the cross for you and me.

Well, if we want to know God, our Creator and Jesus, our Savior, then what has to happen? We must do life with Jesus. And do not forget that when we embrace Jesus we receive his very life as our own. We are given a new life to live. It is his life.

So it’s not surprising that Paul writes, “that I may know him, both the power of his resurrection, and may share in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul isn’t giving two different ways to know Jesus Christ. Receiving his resurrection power and sharing in his sufferings work together. Knowing Christ in an intimate way has a very practical application in our daily living.

Just as being in a strong family promotes life, joy, and the opportunity to mature for every family member, so embracing Jesus by faith brings to us his resurrection power and joy in our lives, which enables us to become more and more like Jesus. I am getting to know Jesus in me as I live like Jesus. What does that look like?

Well, the life of Jesus is seen when we seek to show love and do good to everyone. The life of Jesus is seen as we humbly serve others and let go of our need to protect and secure our lives. The life of Jesus is seen when we exercise active compassion on those who are suffering. In being like Jesus we are coming to know him in our daily life. But his resurrection power is what enables us to do this. Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

But Paul also talks about knowing Christ by sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. After all it was in his many sufferings, culminating in his death on the cross that the love, grace, and mercy of God was revealed to the world. If we are going to know Christ, we will also experience suffering.

Throughout the world, there are believers who are gaining an intimate knowledge of Jesus as they are persecuted because of their life with Christ. Through their suffering the life and power of Jesus is being displayed to the world. Paul and Silas were wrongly imprisoned in Philippi. Before being imprisoned they were beaten. What were they doing in prison? They were singing hymns of praise to God. Who does that? Christians who know Jesus and who are willing to share in his suffering to show the grace and mercy of God to the world.

We know very little of that here. What about us? How do we come to know Christ in his suffering? We learn to die to ourselves. Paul says in Gal.2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. 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.” We come to know Christ as we die to ourselves. And as we die to ourselves we display his life in us. Does your family see Christ in you? Do the people you work with see Christ in you? Do your friends see Christ in you as you learn to die to yourself and live out the life of Christ in you? Or do they see you alone?

Again, it is only by having the resurrection life of Christ in us that we can share in his sufferings. And just as Jesus died and rose from the dead, so after living our life with him on earth, we too shall rise with him. In fact, according to Jesus, his life in us means that we never really die. We are already living forever.

 

Wesley writes, “He left His Father’s throne above, So free, so infinite His grace. Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me! Have you entered into a life giving relationship with Jesus? Are you getting to know Jesus as you live your life with him? This is what it means to know Christ. Amen.