May 10, 2015
What kind of life are you living? Are you living the high life? According to the Cambridge Dictionary online, the high life is, “an exciting way of living in which rich and successful people enjoy themselves by spending a lot of time and money in fashionable places."
Are you living a low life? According to Wikipedia, a low-life “is a term for a person who is considered morally unacceptable by their community.” Or maybe you are living the good life. According to anthropologist, Ted Fischer, the good life is a journey that “entails having realistic aspirations to direct that journey, sufficient opportunity to realize those aspirations, a sense of dignity and being able to pursue a life with purpose.”
Well, this is all well and good, but this morning as we continue in Philippians, I want to ask, “Are you living the Christian life?”
I. CHRISTIANS WORK OUT THEIR SALVATION. 2:12-13
In Phil.1:27-28 Paul says that when Christians stand firm in the face of opposition, it is a sign of their salvation that comes from God. Salvation comes from God, through Jesus Christ. Many people today see no need for salvation. “Why do I need to be saved?” When we think about salvation we think about deliverance. A drowning person needs to be delivered or saved. The long and short of the good news of salvation is that every person is created by God and deeply loved by God and yet every person is alienated from God. Why is that? It’s because in our heart of hearts we want to direct our own lives and we disregard God and his good rules for living life. Because God is the source of life, He alone can give life at its best. We, on the other hand, regularly disobey God’s rules and rebel against God. A person who rejects God is separated from God and his life. To be separated from God is to ultimately choose eternal death. But God sent his son, Jesus in the form of a man to die in our place. He sent Jesus to bear the guilt of our disobedience and rebellion. The one who embraces Jesus as Savior, Lord and King receives forgiveness of sins, enters into the kingdom of God and receives a new eternal kind of living from God.
Do not assume that you are a Christian because you were baptized or because you attend church or because you are a good person. A Christian is someone who intentionally turns away from living a self directed life in rebellion against God, and by faith, embraces Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. A self directed life is not a God directed life. Christians have embraced a God directed life through Jesus Christ.
But what happens after we receive this eternal life given to us by Jesus? In v.12 Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The sentence literally reads, “With fear and trembling, your own salvation work out.” You notice that Paul does not say, “Work for your salvation.” Salvation is not something that can be earned. Many people think that after they die their entrance into heaven will be determined by how well they lived. If the good outweighs the bad you’re in. Nothing else matters. But this is not the case.
Two thoughts: First, salvation cannot be earned because it is a gift from God. If it could be earned, Jesus would not have had to come. Second, Jesus did not come just so we could go to heaven. Jesus came so that we might know God and receive his eternal, resurrection life. Jesus came so that we can begin living in God’s kingdom now.
So what does Paul mean when he says work out your own salvation? He is saying, “Carry out, live out your salvation.” In other words, since it is the life of Jesus that is given to us, in our living we are to become like Jesus in character, conduct and speech. This is why Christians are called “followers,” “disciples,” “students” of Jesus. And in v.12 we see that the pathway to becoming like Jesus is obedience, obedience to all that Jesus commanded.
Sean is teaching a class called, “What did Jesus do?” If we want to know what Jesus would do, we need to know what Jesus did do. And the only way to know what Jesus did is to read the New Testament, especially the Gospels. As we read the Gospels we reflect on Jesus’ life. We seek to be like Jesus. There is no better model of godly living than Jesus. Jesus is God.
But why would Paul say we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Well, salvation is not our own doing. It is God’s doing. What is more, our salvation cost Jesus his life. And now, Jesus, who died for us, has the name above every name, and one day everyone will bow before him. So as we are living out our salvation we realize God is not someone to trifle with. This is not a casual endeavor. The Christian life is not something about which we can say, “O I’ve got this. No problem.” Rather, the Christian life is life with the God Of the universe. It is a challenging life. We are often tempted and tried. We often fail. Living the Christian life calls for humble surrender to God, depending upon the Holy Spirit to help us. When we disobey the Lord we are grieved because we have sinned against his love and saving grace.
Now the good thing is that we are not alone in this effort. In v.13 we learn that God, who dwells in us, works in us. Through the Holy Spirit God is empowering us to live lives of obedience to Christ. God is for us, not against us. He wants the best for us, and isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want what God wants for us?
And let me also add that, this is not just an individual matter. This working out of our salvation is both individual and corporate. We are working out our salvation as we worship, serve, pray, and study together in the local church.
Every so often we meet someone who is really enthusiastic about cooking or sports, or cars or photography and we say, “O wow! You are really into that.” It’s what seems to occupy their lives. We might think they are going a little overboard. Well, there are Christians who think that being intentional about living a life of obedience to Christ is a little overboard. “Aren’t you taking this Christian thing a little too far? I mean, it’s good to want to be like Jesus, but really? In Eccl.7:16, it says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” Few of us will ever be too righteous. Living a Christian life is about being like Jesus. If you came into 50 million dollars, would that change your life in a significant way? I imagine it would. Well, receiving the eternal, abundant life of Jesus is far more life transforming than receiving 50 million dollars, isn’t it? When we receive Jesus we are saved from our sins and we are reconciled to God forever and we receive an eternal life of joy and peace now.
II. CHRISTIANS SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE WORLD. 2:14-18
Our desire is to be like Jesus in all that we do. This is what occupies our heart and mind. Our goal is to put into practice the ways of Jesus. But in v.14-18 Paul talks about shining like stars in the world. The church exists to show the world how wonderful it is to know God through Jesus Christ. Ever since Jesus ascended to the Father, the church is the light of the world.
In v.15 Paul refers to a crooked and twisted generation. He was referring to the unbelievers living in Philippi. And let me remind us that the believers in Philippi were experiencing persecution perhaps because they would not recognize Caesar as lord and savior. Some might say that their unwillingness to honor Caesar was a social and political mistake. Whenever Christians are unable to comply with society or government because of their faith in Christ, persecution is not far away.
The reality is that, from a biblical perspective, every generation is crooked and twisted. We live in a day when wrong is called right and right is called wrong. One can hardly express a biblical perspective about the sanctity of life or marriage or sexuality without being ostracized. Ours is a crooked and twisted generation in need of Jesus Christ.
So notice what Paul says in v.14-15. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” This is what Paul means in 1:27 when he says, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Now brothers and sisters, because the world rejects life in Christ, it is going to hell. By rejecting the God who gives life, the world chooses death. But as believers we have the very life that the people of this world need. It would seem that in the church at Philippi some of the believers were arguing and disputing about things. They were not in agreement and their disagreement, their disunity, their selfish ambition and conceit was hindering the gospel. If the church is like the world why would we expect the world to be drawn to Christ?
Every congregation deals with issues in which we express different opinions and have disagreements. When we add the fact that we are redeemed sinners into our differences, the environment is ripe for grumbling, disputing, selfish ambition and conceit. The problem is not the disagreements. The problem is the way we handle the disagreements. When we malign each other, or talk unkindly about someone behind their back, when we criticize and harbor resentment, we are acting like people who do not know Christ.
When Christians come to the table of disagreement they must come as men and women who are learning to die to themselves and learning to honor one another above themselves. When Christians disagree they must be quick to apologize for any unkindness or manipulative use of power.
We are all broken people. We all sin. Somehow we must learn to be and choose to be a congregation that, on the one hand, seeks to be blameless and innocent before God and one another, while on the other hand seeks to be merciful and forgiving towards each other in our brokenness. We don’t promote gossip, drunkenness, pornography, adultery and homosexuality in our Christian lives and church, but when Christians struggle to leave these behaviors and experience failure, should we not be merciful and forgiving? In the church at Corinth, a man was sleeping with his stepmother, and everyone in the church was well aware of this. The man was flaunting it and the church wasn’t even grieved by it. It had to be dealt with. But that is completely different from the Christian who is seeking to be like Jesus and experiences failure.
How do we do this? In v.16 Paul says, “holding fast to the word of life.” This is the only place where Paul refers to the gospel as the “word of life.” Essentially he is saying we must hold on to the gospel. But the phrase, “word of life,” reminds us that the gospel is about receiving a new life to live. It is the very life of Christ himself. When we hold fast to the word of life, we begin to prioritize love for God and each other. When we hold fast to the word of life, we are anxious to forgive others as God in Christ has forgiven us. When we hold fast to the word of life, we are learning to be slow to anger and longsuffering with each other. When we hold fast to the word of life we are quick to seek forgiveness and confess our sins. The beauty of a Christ-like life must frame our witness to the world.
As secularism, pluralism and tolerance become the principles upon which our society functions, the church will be pushed out onto the fringe. Already the church has lost most of its influence in the world. Many believe we are a post-Christian society. While society promotes tolerance, there will be less tolerance for Christians. This should not surprise us. The question is, how will the church attract people to Jesus. The answer is that we must live like Christians. We must hold fast to the word of life. The reality of the life and love of God in Christ must be evident in our lives. And so I ask, “Are you a Christian?” And if so, “Are you living the Christian life? Amen.