The Christian's Progress

April 19, 2015

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Let me make a confession. It is true that I play Candy Crush Soda Saga. I know I’m not alone in this. Some of you also play the game. I’m am currently on level 133. I don’t know how many levels there are, but I’m sure I will never get to the end. Nevertheless I am making progress, even though it is meaningless progress.

I really don’t care if I get to the end of the game. But I do care about my progress in the Christian faith. What about you? Do you care about your progress in the Christian faith?

This morning we begin a series of messages from the letter of Philippians. I don’t want to say the church in Philippi was Paul’s favorite church but it was surely one of his favorite congregations, and it shows in the way he writes.

In that day most letters began with a greeting which included a wish or prayer for the well being of the recipients. And that’s what we have here. But Paul’s prayer is profound and it speaks about one’s progress in the Christian faith. So let me ask you: Are you making progress in the Christian faith?

I. EMBRACE CHRIST. 1:3-6

Philippi was an important urban political center in eastern Greece. It was a Roman colony populated by Romans and Greeks. The church in Philippi was started by Paul in 49 AD, during his second missionary journey. I cannot stress enough how much Paul loved the believers in Philippi. Notice v.7, “I hold you in my heart.” See v.8, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote this letter in the early 60s AD. He himself was in Rome, under house arrest, constantly chained to a Roman soldier. When the believers in Philippi heard that Paul was in prison, they sent a monetary gift by way of Epaphroditus, who was from Philippi. Epaphroditus told Paul how things were going back in Philippi and that prompted the writing of this letter. On the whole, things were good, but there were some concerns as we will soon see.

For the moment let’s focus on the phrase, “your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” As always, for Paul, the Gospel, the good news about Jesus is the priority in all of life. The Gospel is “the word of life,” according to Phil.2:16. Paul was grateful for these people because they had embraced Jesus Christ with heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the beginning. As a person hears about Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead, as a person hears about the life Jesus has come to give, they must respond in one way or another. Either they turn from their self-directed life of sin and idolatry to embrace Christ, or they turn away from Christ.

But notice something else. Their life with Christ was ongoing. Paul says, “from the first day until now.” “Now,” was ten years later. Their embracing of Jesus Christ was not just a onetime event. This is very important.

Some years ago my son signed me up for a Twitter account. If you don’t know what Twitter is that’s totally fine. At first I made a few tweets. But now, while I may look at his tweets, I have not tweeted for a number of years. For me, signing up with Twitter was a onetime event that holds little relevance to my life. On the other hand, when I married Angie it was not just a onetime event. From the first day until now, I have been a participant, a partner in life with Angie.

There are people who have made a profession of faith in Christ. Maybe they raised their hand at the end of a service, or they went forward during an altar call. They prayed to receive Christ, but basically it was a onetime event. O they may attend church every so often, but beyond that there is little in the way of being a participant, a partner in the gospel. They don’t give Christ too much attention in their day to day life. There is little in the way of life change resulting from their Christian profession. In many ways their Christian life is like a book that sits on the shelf untouched. What about your Christian life. Is it an ongoing, day by day experience of living life with Christ?

In v.6 we find a wonderful promise. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Some people have the idea that if you are a Christian, it doesn’t really matter how you live on earth because after you die you will automatically become like Jesus.

But the Christian life is a life in which God is constantly working in us to transform our lives to be like Christ’s life. Think about a flowering plant. At some point a bud begins to appear. Let’s call that bud conversion to Christ. When the bud appears it doesn’t remain the same until the day the flower pops out. Slowly as the bud grows, the flower begins to emerge. It is a process.

Being a Christian is similar. When a person embraces Christ and receives his life, God begins to transform that person’s life. We are becoming more and more like Jesus and this obviously calls for our full cooperation. God does not transform our life against our will. Well, if there is no Christ-like transformation taking place in your life that is a red flag. Maybe you have not embraced Christ. This is where life with Christ begins. Embrace Christ as your Savior, Lord and King. Paul was thankful because the Philippian believers understood that being a Christian is living with Christ in one’s life day after day.

II. SHARE CHRIST. 1:7

Most of us are aware that after Paul embraced Christ as Savior, Lord, and king, God called him to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Evangelism and church planting was his work. Paul was not paid to do it. He supported himself by working as a tent maker. But making tents was secondary to sharing the gospel and planting churches. What is interesting is that the believers in Philippi became partners with Paul in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. What is that all about? How did they become partners with Paul?

Well, one way in which they became partners with Paul is seen in the monetary gift they sent him in Rome. We see this in 4:18. These folks cared about Paul. They had helped financially in the past and they helped him again. By giving money they were partnering with him in the Gospel. One of the reasons Paul wrote this letter was to thank them. Through our finances and prayer we can also be partners in the gospel by helping to support those who are giving their lives to share the gospel. We support missionaries here at home and around the world. That is being a partner in the gospel

But there is more to it than giving money. These Christians were involved in the defense and confirmation of the gospel in their own community. Paul addresses this letter to the saints, the people of God, in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi. How would God reach unbelievers in Philippi? Well, through the believers who lived in Philippi. Paul was doing this in Rome and they were doing it in Philippi.

God is continually calling out of the world a people for himself. He uses his people to call other people to Christ. Wherever we live, that is where we are to be involved in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

Now Paul was in prison waiting to go on to trial to give his defense. It is the word, “apology” which refers to a speech in defense of a person’s actions or beliefs. In 1Pt.3:15 Peter writes, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The word translated, “confirmation” has the idea of bringing confidence. Here it means that we present Christ in a way that encourages confidence in Christ. Most of us will never be on trial for the Gospel of Christ, but all of us are called to be prepared to explain what we believe about the good news of the Gospel and why we believe it.

Apologetics is the study of how to defend the Christian faith. Maybe you have read a book on apologetics, and have read various arguments for the existence of God. Apologetics can get pretty philosophical. You, however, may not be the philosophical type. I do believe it is helpful to have a basic understanding of why we believe what we believe, but arguments defending the Christian faith only go so far. Sharing the good news of Christ is not based on how well one can argue and defend the faith. Sharing the good news of Jesus is about helping others see that only Jesus can cleanse us of sin and give us the same abundant life that he himself has as we live with Jesus who comes to live in us. We are inviting people into the wonderful life that Christ offers to give us, a life of eternal joy and peace in God’s kingdom.

The best apologetic is not an unassailable argument. The best apologetic is described in Paul’s prayer in v.8-11. Those who embrace Christ, share Christ as they...

III. LIVE CHRIST. 1:8-11

The best apologetic for the gospel, the thing that will bring confirmation to the gospel is when people see the reality of Christ in us. And this is what Paul prays for the believers in Philippi.

First he prays that their love may abound more and more. Our love for each other and for others is a telltale sign of our life with Christ. Jesus said that it is our love for one another that will show the world that we are his disciples. What kind of love is this? It is the kind of love that is extended even to our enemies. It is the kind of love that highly values others and seeks the best for others. It is a love that serves others. In short it is the love of God poured into our lives and expressed in our relationships. This love is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ and his followers.

And then Paul prays that they would have knowledge and all discernment. In my understanding what Paul is praying for is that as the believers in Philippi made progress in their relationship with God in Christ, they would learn by personal experience what pleases God. They would gain moral understanding for living. This is not knowledge for knowledge’s sake; this is knowledge for living life with Christ, learning to discern what is and is not in keeping with Christ. And Paul says as much in v.10. He prays these things so that the believers can approve what is excellent, what is best, what is most important in our life with Christ. It is important that we learn to discern the things, the activities that will contribute to our Christian life from those things and activities that detract from our Christian life. This knowledge is found in God’s word. Are you learning this?

In v.10 Paul prays that as we abound in love, knowledge and discernment, we will become increasingly pure and blameless. To be pure is to be sincere and honest in our motives and intentions. We seek to walk in truth in our relationship with others. To be blameless is to not cause others to stumble, to not give offense by our conduct and conversation. And the over all aim in v.11 is righteous living that brings glory to God.

This is what it means to live Christ. The more living Christ out in our lives becomes the priority, the more we will share Christ because Christ will shape everything we say and do.

As we live Christ out in our lives we may come into conflict with the world just as Paul and the Philippian believers did. In Paul’s day, it was politically correct to refer to Caesar as “Lord and Savior.” Since Philippi was a Roman colony, at every public event people offered incense and honored Caesar as Lord and Savior. And while Christians were taught to give proper honor and respect to Caesar, they could not bow to him as Lord and Savior. And so they suffered, just as Paul was suffering at the hands of Rome.

In Paul’s day, Christianity was not a state approved religion. Today we enjoy freedom of religion, so in some ways it is easier to defend and confirm the gospel. But we also have issues of political and cultural correctness that make it difficult for us. Our goal as Christians is not to win the culture wars swirling all around us. Our goal is not to be known for being good republicans and democrats. Our goal is to be known for showing the love of Christ and sharing the life of Christ with others. And since this world is not a friend of grace, or moral purity, we must be prepared to suffer for Christ, not because we are against certain groups and people but because many people just do not want the life that God and his Son, Jesus, are offering.

We can’t control how people will respond to Christ. But we do have control over the way we live. And so let me ask you. Are you living Christ out in your life? Has Christ been outed in your life? Is it evident to others that Christ is the Savior, Lord and King of your life?

Everyone who receives Jesus and his life, receives everything necessary for making great progress in the Christian faith through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. And so I say to you, “Live Christ”

 

In your work, there are probably some benchmarks that define your salary and position in the company. Longevity is one benchmark. How many sales you have made might be another benchmark. Degrees earned is often a bench mark. Years of experience is sometimes a benchmark. We know that it is important to make progress if we want to advance at work.

Well, in the Christian faith there are some benchmarks. Paul lists some here. Christians are those who embrace Christ, who share Christ, and who live Christ. Are you making progress in the Christian faith? Amen.