Thursday, March 22, 2007

Essentials to Gospel Advancement: Focus (Approving the Vital)

Philippians 1:9-11

Scripture Introduction:

Before we begin looking at Philippians tonight I want to remind us of something very significant. Isaiah 40:6-8 says this, “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “what shall I cry?” All flesh is like grass and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

This passage of Scripture is reminding us of one thing: You’re but grass. You’re life is but a piece of grass and a flower in the field. Let that sink in for just a moment. Let it sink in for just a moment. I’m not doing this to be mean. God’s Word is not doing it to be mean. It is proclaiming the truth about us and the truth about God. Why is that necessary and what does this have to do with advancing the gospel?

It is necessary because many, many, many people waste their lives. They live for the fleeting pleasures of this world. They live for that which is finite. They live for that which is just like them…but a flower, but a blade of grass that is going to disappear. Listen to what God’s Word is saying to you. For one second please, get your mind and your heart off of yourself for just one moment. Our world is continuing to feed us the lie that it’s about us.

Guess what the tops stories are today on
Woody Harrelson’s dad dies (why is that more significant than anyone else’s dad?)
Abandoned polar bear cub too cute to kill
Baseball player auctions grill, free ball, on EBAY
House panel OK’s subpoenas in attorneys probe
Surprisingly nothing about Anna Nicole Smith

I ask what are your top stories today?
A boy didn’t talk to me today/A boy did talk to me today
People have been mean to me/People have not been mean to me
My parents are fighting/My parents are not fighting
I really enjoyed watching that girl drop a pencil then picking it up
I really enjoyed picking up that pencil in front of that boy
I’m going on a date/I’m getting ready for prom/I’m excited about American Idol
I wonder whose going to win the NCAA tournament
I’m glad I got a new video game
I sure hope we win our baseball game
My day was insignificant just like the rest of my life

Each and every day we go through we give our lives to that which is not essential. All the while the God is giving us the opportunity to live our lives for that which is eternal. Earlier we read about our blade of grass lives. But I want you to listen to that last statement of that verse…”But the word of our God will stand forever”.

Nobody will remember Woody Harrelson’s dad 50 years from now. Nobody is going to care about that baseball player’s auction, and that cute little polar bear will be dead and forgotten in 25 years. That boy that talked to you today will probably be talking to some other girl 2 weeks from now. Those people who were mean to you today might be best-friends tomorrow. That girl that you enjoyed watching pick up that pencil is going to get old, she’s going to expand, she’s going to be somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. Some day she will be somebody’s grandma. So the truth is you just checked out somebody’s grandma.
Even if you remember your boyfriends and girlfriends for all your life their memory will probably die when you do. Your baseball game is going to be over and gone. There will be new video games, another NCAA tournament next year, and another American Idol season. All of it is like grass. Here today mowed down tomorrow.

But over against all of this is the Gospel! It is God giving us not just some little silly relationship—but a vibrant life-giving, sustaining, eternal truly loving relationship that is going to last; something that will endure forever. God is saying to us throughout His Word—stop wasting your life on that which is not going to last and start expending your life for that which really matters. The call that God is giving us to Advance the Gospel is not merely a little invitation of something to do to add to our list of things to do. It is a call that is to take up our entire lives. It is an invitation to adventure, to meaning, to fulfillment, to heartache, to joy, to pain, to life, to death. But advancing the gospel of the glory of God is something that is going to last and it is the only—ONLY way that you will not just waste your life on all this little insignificant junk.

I want you to see that the call to advance the gospel in Philippians is vitally important. It is a matter of living a life that is wasted on insignificance and a life that is spent for that which matters: the glory of God. Listen now as Paul continues in his prayer for the Philippians. His prayer that they might not waste their lives but that they spend their lives in advancing the gospel

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Sermon Introduction:

Last week we looked at the essential element of love. Love is crucial to advancing the gospel. But we are not only talking about mushy gushy half-hearted love. We are talking about love that is grounded; grounded in Who God is and what God has done. This is the type of love that Paul is praying for and he is praying that we might be linked to the source of never-ending love—God Himself. His prayer is that our love might keep growing and growing and growing. And that it might grow deeper and deeper and deeper, so that we might grow in our knowledge and discernment. Our knowledge of who God is and His ways. And we learn from Paul’s prayer that this type of love leads to two other essential things. And we are going to look at one of these two essential elements of gospel advancement tonight.

II. Approving what is vital is essential to gospel advancement

I really hope the introduction stuck a knife in your heart. I really hope that the Lord has used it to prick your heart and that He is speaking to you—“Don’t waste your life”. This first point is essential to catching this vision because it is precisely what Paul is saying in verse 10. “…So that you may approve that which is excellent…”

The word that Paul uses for “approve” is the Greek word dokimazo (pronounced dok-im-ad’-zo). In Greek culture “dokimazo was used…to describe the [the testing] of precious metals (especially gold or silver coins), usually by fire, to prove whether they were authentic and whether they measured up to the stated worth. That which endures the test was called dokimos and that which fails is called adokimos.”

My dad could probably attest to the need for testing precious metals. One time at a coin auction he bought a coin that looked like it was in great shape. In Near Mint condition the coin would have been worth about 100 bucks. My dad got an amazing deal, he bought it for 20 bucks. My dad I think started feeling guilty, and also was fairly new to coin collecting. So he wanted to check its value. He went to another coin collector and asked how much it was worth. He told my dad he’d give him 5 bucks for it. 5 bucks?!?!? My dad was getting a little insulted, until the guy explained that the coin had been what is called “dipped”. Basically they take a piece of junk coin and dip it so that it looks like it’s in super good shape. Ruining the value of the coin and making that which looks priceless to be worth little or nothing.

How do you test those things? You put them through the fire. Whatever is “impure” will be stripped off and all that is left will be pure. What happened was that my dad gave his money to something he thought was important only to find out he had been ripped off.

Paul is not talking about coins here; he is talking about our life. He is talking about the every day decisions that we make. He is saying to the Philippians, “I pray that your love might be abounding and that it might be grounded. And I pray this because that type of love causes you to approve that which is excellent (or it could be translated that which is vital).” Whenever the Philippians come upon situations they do not understand, or whenever they have to chose things that seem to be much the same, Paul is saying “I pray that you might approve of (choose) that which is vital”.

Now, in applying this point I need to mention that what Paul is really talking about here is not choosing between “should I smoke a bag of weed or should I not”. Paul is not saying, I pray that whenever you come to that moment “do I have sex outside of marriage, do I not have sex outside of marriage that you will choose the good—don’t have sex outside of marriage”. Paul is actually saying that whenever you come to tough decisions between good and better—that you might consistently choose the better (that which is vital).

However, if I can be really honest I don’t think you are where the Philippians where. They were advancing the gospel. They were in the process of giving their lives to the cause of the gospel. They weren’t wrapped up in the world and in sin. Oh, they had struggles just like all of us—but their heart was where it should be. There passion is where it should be. So Paul could skip the “choose the good instead of bad”. That was a “duh”. They got that. But to be blunt—you don’t. Many of you are given decisions and you are choosing the bad. It’s not just that many of you are settling for the good—but some of you are choosing that which is bad. You’re making ridiculous decisions and going down paths that lead to destruction. You need to wise up and you too need to listen to what Paul is saying. STOP WASTING YOUR LIFE! Stop approving that which is bad. Approve that which is vital.

But I want to briefly mention that some of you are choosing the good over the bad. Good job. That’s great. But don’t think you’ve arrived. Don’t think you’re there yet. Don’t look down your noses at those among you who are making bad decisions. Because here is the truth—you can never touch a cigarette, never drink a beer, never have sex outside of marriage…Never do any of that “bad” stuff and even do good things. You can go to church all your life, you can read your Bible for 15 minutes a day, you can have prayer, you can do tons of good things and catch this, still WASTE YOUR LIFE. Why? Because you’re not going after that which is vital!

It is essential to gospel advancement that we know what really matters. There are two ways that we could take this. First of all we could look ask about that which is vital for every single person, this would be known as our primary calling. Os Guinness in his book, “The Call” defines our primary calling like this, “Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him. First and foremost we are called to Someone (God) not to something or somewhere.”

You could sum up your “primary calling” easily by saying our primary calling is to “know God and to make Him known”. That is what every single persons life is to look like and to be about. Do you want to know what is vital? Do you? Do you want to not waste your life but give it to that which is vital? Then this is it. This is how not to waste your life: to give every bit of everything that you have to knowing God. If you really believe the gospel, if you really believe it is the precious pearl, if you really believe it is the treasure in the field, then you are not just going to half-heartedly go after it. You’re going to do everything you possibly can to get to know this God and to know Him more and more and more. Oh, God sear us with a passion to truly want to know you! And when you truly know Him you don’t want to keep it a secret. You want to tell the world and make Him known.

This is the call on every life that is in here. The majesty of God demands it! Know God and make Him known, that is our primary calling. So, in this sense how do you approve that which is vital? Ask yourself the question. Does my having sex with this guy or girl cause me to know God and to make Him known? Does this pound of weed cause me to know God and make Him known? Does my little 15 minute “time alone with God” cause me to truly know God and make Him known? Do I know God more and more in my prayer life and is it about making Him known? Each decision you face does it fit your primary calling? If you really want to approve that which is vital then every moment you will be asking yourself the question “is this causing me to know God and make Him known”?

That is the primary call, but there is also a secondary calling. I turn to Os Guinness again. He defines secondary calling like this, “Considering who God is as sovereign (that means in control), is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should speak, live, and act entirely for him.” And this is where your calling is going to look different. Secondary calling says that no matter who you are, no matter where you are you should speak, live, and act entirely for him.

We might have a nurse in here tonight. How do you speak, live, and act in such a way as to glorify Him (to know Him and make Him known). How does that specifically look for you? Are you to be a missionary to Africa or are you supposed to give your life to helping people at Hannibal Regional? Furthermore, how is that whether you are in Africa or Hannibal that you will speak, live, and act so as to fulfill your primary calling? I can’t answer that. Each secondary calling is going to be different. I don’t know what you are called to be or to do. There might be a teacher, a factory worker, a stay at home mom, a college student, whatever here. How are you going to live in such a way as to fulfill that calling?

That’s in the future though. Let’s talk about now. What are you called to right now? You’re a junior high or high school student. You’re a son or daughter. You’re a friend. You might have a job somewhere. So, in this sense how do you approve that which is vital? Ask yourself this question, how is it that as a student at Mark Twain that I am going to speak, live, and act entirely for him? What will my speech look like? What will my attitude be like? How will I spread the glory of God to my fellow students? How will I live in such a way that not only my lips tell of the glory of God but my life does too? How will I do this with my parents or guardians? How will I do this with my friends?
Next week we will look at being pure and blameless before Him a little bit more fully. But I want to try to answer the question here tonight, “How will approving that which is vital lead to my being presented to Jesus Christ as pure and blameless when I stand before Him”?

This prayer in Philippians is a little bit difficult to translate. I had some difficulty in figuring out what modifies what. Let me explain that. I had a hard time figuring out of Paul was saying that he prayed for the Philippians that they “might have abounding grounded love and that this type of love would lead towards approving that which is vital, and then that he also prayed that they would be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Or is Paul saying, “I pray that you might have abounding grounded love and that this love might lead to your approving that which is vital—and this approving what is vital is going to lead to your being pure and blameless.” Let me sum up my dilemma in this text: Does this pure and blameless come from approving what is excellent or is it another part of the grounded abounding love? And I have come to the conclusion that it is kind of both. They both come from grounded abounding love I know that (because approving what is vital comes from that love). So, Paul is telling us that the type of love we talked about last week is going to lead to you approving what is excellent. And whether you take this type of love as directly influencing it or only through the approving what is excellent—you are going to end up being pure and blameless before Christ on that day!

So, hopefully you’re not so confused that you cannot stay with me to answer this last important question. How does this love, or approving what is vital, lead to me being pure and blameless?

In ancient times the finest pottery was thin. It had a clear color, and it brought a high price. Fine pottery was very fragile both before and after firing. And this pottery would often crack in the oven. Cracked pottery should have been thrown away. But dishonest pottery salesmen would fill in the cracks with a hard pearly wax that would blend in with the color of the pottery. This made the cracks practically undetectable on the shelf, especially when the piece was painted or glazed. This wax ruse however was immediately uncovered if the pottery was held up to bright light, especially sunlight, for the cracks would show up as darker lines. It was said that the artificial element was detected by “sun-testing.” Such a vase was known as "sun-judged". It is notable that the honest pottery dealers would mark their product with the words "sine cera" which means “without wax”. Our English "sincere" comes from the Latin words "sine cera"!

“Sun-judged” or “without wax” is precisely what the Greek word that is translated here “pure” is referring to (some translations use the word “sincere”). In essence what Paul is saying is that he prays that the Philippians love might abound more and more and that its abounding love might be grounded in knowledge and all discernment. This type of love then leads to approving that which is vital, which in turn leads to being made pure (without wax) and blameless in preparation for the day when we stand before Christ.

How can approving (choosing) that which is vital lead to our being found sincere and without hypocrisy? How does living our lives daily in conformity to that which vital create in us purity? Perhaps whenever we are spend our lives for that which is vital we no longer have lives focused on self (and therefore lives focused on sin). Our approving what is vital serves as a filter. It removes that which we should not be spending our lives on and creates in us a pure and single-minded heart that goes fully after God and the advance of His beautiful Kingdom.

If you ask yourself before these decisions, “Does this glorify God”, or you ask “will this cause me to know God and/or make Him known”, then you will inevitably lead lives that are more pure, “without-wax, sincere”.

What about being blameless? The word for “blameless” can either mean, “Not cause others to stumble” or perhaps “to not stumble ourselves”. How can approving (choosing) that which is vital lead to our “not stumbling” or “not causing others to stumble”. Certainly having a singled-minded focus on the advancement of the Gospel (or “knowing God and making Him known”) will create in us an others-oriented lifestyle. As we line up with God’s great purpose in our lives we are no longer concerned with building our own kingdom but instead we are focused on advancing His. This causes us to be focused on others. Also, having a God-centered life and purpose will allow us to persevere.

So approving that which is vital is going to dramatically affect our lives. Really it is the difference between a life that is wasted on that which is going to perish and living a life that is not wasted and will endure forever. In closing though, I want to mention that it’s not this easy. It is not as if we are always conscious of what we are doing. Sometimes we find ourselves in sin before we really know what happened. Sometimes we make bad decisions. Sometimes we go down paths of wasting our lives. Sometimes we just don’t “feel like giving our lives”. All of that is because this is not just some simple thing. In fact as we are going to learn next week there are only certain people who can even live this life—Forgiven Fruit-Filled Followers of Christ.

This type of passion must touch us deep to the core. The truth is that unless you treasure Christ and see Him as supremely valuable then all of this is going to mean little to you. You will never make yourself pure and you will never make yourself blameless. You will not be concerned without advancing the gospel until the gospel (Jesus Christ) has touched you personally. Until you have responded to God’s primary calling in your life then you’re secondary calling will never be about advancing the kingdom. God must first call you to Himself.

What is this gospel that we are advancing? What is this gospel that must advance into your own heart? Namely this, 1) We were everyone of us created by God! We we’re created by Him and for Him! It’s not about us! And because God is our creator we are responsible to Him. 2) God has told us what He expects of us. You can catch a glimpse of this in the 10 Commandments or you can even use Christ’s summary, “Love God, love people”. But the truth of the matter is found in point 3) We all have turned our backs on God. We have rejected God and we refuse to love Him and people. We are sinful and we will never seek after God. As the first part of the Book of Romans tells us that, “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” We began living for that which is not vital. We began living for that which is finite, temporary. We began living for ourselves. Each baby that is born is born alienated from God. And each person in here never would seek God on our own. We were His enemy—we hated Him, we rejected Him and we were totally guilty before a holy God. Earlier we mentioned that God is creator. God is also Judge. And God would not a good judge to just merely allow us to “get away with our sin”. But something else you need to know about God. God is also Love. He loves you and He loves me. Sin must be paid for, I’ve sinned and I can’t pay for it. Never. Not even in hell. People in hell haven’t “paid their debt”. They never can. You as a finite creature can never pay back an infinite God. 4) So, what did God do? He sent Jesus Christ who took our sin (those who would be in Christ) and He gave us His righteousness. So that we stand before God totally pure and blameless. But something else happens in this process. God causes us (those in Christ) to be new creatures. We are new creatures that can now respond to God. We can love God and we can love people. We are forgiven and we are in the process of being fruit-filled (we will learn more about this next week) 5) Earlier I mentioned that only “those in Christ” are saved. How do you be in Christ? You respond to what God has done. You respond to Jesus. You call upon the name of the Lord. You turn away from sin and you run to Jesus. The Bible calls that repenting and believing. You trust Christ. You throw yourself on the mercy of God.

I do not want you to respond tonight because you want a little bit of significance in your life. I don’t want you to respond to God as if you are something, and as if He is waiting and just dying for you to give your life for His great cause. I do not want you to think it’s about you and your need for significance; because that is not what it is about. Will you find meaning and significance in God? You bet, so long as you’re not looking for it. I want you to respond to God tonight because you see that He is more magnificent and that He is more awesome than anything else. I want you to forsake the fleeting pleasures of sin and of this world because you have found a far superior pleasure in Jesus Christ. I want you to respond to God tonight because you see Him as infinitely precious, because you see Him as being so valuable that you have nothing to give Him, yet you are so enthralled by Him you have want to give Him everything you have. I want you to respond to God tonight because you realize His magnificent love and grace. I want you to respond to Him tonight because you are seeing how much love God has to even include us in His great cause of advancing the gospel and declaring His glory. I want you to respond to God in worship, and not just in song but with your lifestyle. I want you to respond to God tonight because He’s really big and you’re really small, but He’s really loving and even though He does not need you He desires you! I want you to respond to God tonight because He’s God!

[2] Guinness, Os. The Call. p31.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Essentials to Gospel Advancement
The Essential Element of Love

Scripture Introduction:

In verse 3 and 4 Paul mentions that he prays for the Philippians. In verse 9-11, which we will be looking at tonight, Paul lets us know what he prays for the Philippians. To me it is a very cool thing to be able to see into the heart of a man like Paul. It is as if we are tonight listening to this man earnestly praying to God on behalf of the Philippians:

READ Philippians 1:9-11

Sermon Introduction:

Tonight we are going to be looking at Paul’s prayer and the three essentials for gospel advancement he gives. His ultimate hope and prayer is that God might be glorified, and that this gospel advancement might lead to the praise of Almighty God.

But I realize something that I have assumed. Perhaps you do not realize this one central aspect to gospel advancement: The gospel is to permeate every, EVERY, aspect of your life. We see throughout the gospels when Jesus calls a person to Himself and says, “Follow Me”, he does not mean merely that the person is to follow him on Sundays or Wednesdays or whenever we have church services. He means this gospel is to consume his entire life. All in the early church we read that the early Christians did not just “play church”, they took this gospel serious and it permeated all of their life.

You do not find in the Bible the idea that the church and the advancement of the gospel is something that is reserved for one day of the week. You do not find that people have their gospel “hats”, then they have their “dating/married/relationship hats”, then of course they have their “school/work hats”, and certainly they have time for “leisure and fun”. You will not find this of the gospel and gospel advancement in the Bible. Christ is so precious He demands all of us. He demands our every second, there is nothing that is not to be taken captive by the Lordship of Christ.

Abraham Kuyper lived in the mid 1800’s to the early 1900’s. During his 57 year public career his resume listed:
· Prime minister for 4 years
· Pastor for 10 years
· Member of Parliament for 10 years
· In the Upper House of Netherlands government for 7 years
· 20 years as professor at the Free University of Amsterdam
· 42 years as chair of his political party
· 47 years as editor of a daily and weekly newspaper.
At one time he actually held the roles of editor, party chairman, professor, and prime minister simultaneously. His bibliography includes 232 titles. What moved a man like Kuyper to give his life to so much? What type of calling is so high that it demanded every ounce of Kuyper’s being?
I think we can learn about what motivated Kuyper by the following quote from the man himself, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’”.[1]

Kuyper understood that his calling extended to every sphere of his life and to every moment of his day. Kuyper recognized that Jesus is not merely a “religious leader” but he is indeed the Lord of all of life. Centuries ago Peter was taught this very same lesson.

In the Gospel of Luke the story is told of Peter who had been fishing all day and he apparently did not have a very successful day. Jesus then borrows Peter’s boat to begin teaching. He instructs the fisherman Peter to “put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter the expert fisherman of course objects. It is as if Peter is saying to Jesus—You’re the teacher I’m the fisherman. I know about fish you know about religious stuff. Leave the fishing to me and I’ll listen to your preaching. Yet something miraculous happens. The nets begin to break and even John’s boat combined with Peter’s are barely enough to keep this massive catch of fish from sinking them. At this mighty revelation Peter falls at Jesus’ feet and says, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”[2] Apparently Peter realized that Jesus is more than just a teacher. He is Lord of every square inch of creation and every second of every moment of every day. There is nothing of which Jesus does not cry out “This is mine! This belongs to me!

With all of that being said I hope that you understand that this idea of advancing the gospel is one that is your duty, your privilege, your responsibility, your honor, and your task at Mark Twain High School. Evangelism is not an event—evangelism, gospel advancement is a lifestyle. Our life purpose is to glorify God. This is not accomplished only by spending a few hours a week at church. It is not accomplished in your daily quiet times. It is not accomplished when you do some church thing. Glorifying God is accomplished in every area of your life and there is not one fiber of your being or one moment of your vapor of life that is not to be taken by this awesome cause of spreading the glory of God to the nations. Wherever you are you are to be at that moment bringing God glory!

What will create in us this type of passion? How will we be those who are sold out to Christ and advancing the gospel? What are essentials that we must have if we are to be about this awesome joy and privilege to advance the gospel?

I. Abounding Love is essential to gospel advancement

The first thing that we notice from Paul’s prayer is that he prays that their love might abound more and more. His prayer is that their love might be “abounding more and more”. The first question I want to ask is, “Love for whom?” Is my love supposed to be abounding more and more for people? Is my love supposed to be abounding more and more for God? Or is it a combination of both? I believe that Paul leaves the object of this love vague for a reason. It is what the entire Bible teaches. You cannot say you love God and not love people. And at the same time you cannot truly love people unless you have a deep love for God. It is as if Scripture is teaching that the two are intimately eternally linked. You love God—you love people. You love people—if you truly love them—then that is because you love God. More than anything as John teaches all of this happens because God loves you.

So, now I ask what about the Philippians? Did they love God? Did they love people? If you know anything about the Philippians you know that they had a deep love for God and His gospel and especially for Paul. We learn in 2 Corinthians 8 that the Philippians were very poor yet they gave abundantly to the cause of the gospel. The Philippians loved. That is even implied in the way that Paul words his prayer. That your love…(which presupposes that they are loving). It is not as if Paul is saying he wishes the Philippians would start loving. He is saying, I pray that your love gets deeper and deeper and doesn’t stop.
But let me ask this question. What happens if you have a love for someone or something and it isn’t deep? It’s not this abounding deep love that Paul is talking about. It is half-hearted. If I have a half-hearted love for someone or something what is going to happen?

When I was young in my faith and in the ministry there was a young man who really needed me. I was very loving to him at first and did whatever I could to help him. In fact I was trying to get this young man out of his abusive home. I was doing everything I could to get him to get his drivers license, to get a solid job, and to even study to get him into a college. Yet I quickly realized something as I began trying to help him. It was really tough work. He suffered from depression. Sometimes late at night he needed to talk. Sometimes he needed a place to go. Things became very tough and he would often call at inconvenient times. And it pains me to say that I often would not answer the phone when he called. I began to slowly drift away from this young man.

Now let me give a little disclaimer. I was never meant to be his savior. There is a sense in which the most loving thing you can do for someone is not allow them to cling to you and that they might stand on their own feet. It is like the old adage, “give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. But the truth is in this case, my love for him was not very deep. I think I wanted to just give him a fish. That’s easy. That takes a day. I apparently did not love him enough to teach him to fish.

So what happens when you only love someone or something half-heartedly?
Quickly takes a back seat to other affections
Will only “sacrifice” when it benefits you
Only has a finite amount to give
tends to be transitory
tends to be shallow
tends to be temporary

How this stands in contrast to the biblical call of love. We look at Jesus who loved very deeply. We see him touching lepers, we see him forgiving sinners, we see him weeping for Jerusalem and their rejection of him, we see him being spit upon and mocked yet he cries out, “Father forgive them”. Jesus Christ loved deeply, and He loves deeply still today. Another biblical word that captures this idea is the Hebrew word hesed it means a “love that refuses not to love”. This is a word that was frequently used in Hosea. Hosea is a beautiful picture of the love we are supposed to have. And Romans 13:8 is clear, we never have our debt to love “paid off”. We never can say that we have loved enough. We must have this deep abounding love that Paul is talking about if we are to advance the gospel.

Why must we have this love? What does abounding love have to do with gospel advancement? Why is it essential?
1. Because gospel advancement is tough. The example of Jerry. It is time-consuming. It is heart-wrenching. Our affections must be deep and strong.
2. Temporary transitory shallow love will do no good. I did not serve that young man when I dropped him when it became very inconvenient for me. Gospel advancement requires deep love, because deep love follows after the love of Christ.
3. Lastly, a story is told of a poor young boy who had ripped up clothes and shoes that were more like sandals because of their holes. The young boy had walked 8 miles in the freezing cold, gusting winds, and inches of snow to get to a church in downtown Chicago. When asked by one of the people attending the church why he walked all this way when there were at least 5 other churches along his way. His response is not all that shocking, “Because you love a fellow over here”.
But it is essential that we understand, “just loving a fellow is not enough”. Part of loving people is telling them the truth of the gospel. You can “love someone” straight to hell. Love must be more grounded.

II. Grounded Love is essential to gospel advancement

In the mid-1700’s a man by the name of Jonathan Edwards found himself in the midst of what is known as the Great Awakening. People all throughout New England (this was much of the original 13 colonies) had grown cold in their love of God. But through the preaching of such mighty men of God like Edwards and a man named George Whitefield thousands became Christians. But something else marked these movements. There were times when some of these men of God would get ready to speak and those who were listening would begin crying or wailing loudly. There were many emotions at these meetings.
Now there are certain churches today that thrive on emotions. In many regards it is nothing more than emotional manipulation. I know of a man who has been tortured for years because he had an emotional experience at a church (that he attributes to his being converted) yet he was later found to produce no fruit. His salvation experience was nothing but emotion. And that is something that you will see in many of these church services. The preacher will not preach from the Word of God and there will be not much truth presented and people will get “converted”. I have seen even many youth events were they do not even preach the gospel and because of emotional manipulation many youth will go forward to get “saved”. Then later whenever I counsel them they know nothing of the gospel.
During the Great Awakening many people accused the ministries of Edwards and Whitefield to be much of this sort. The pastor of the First Church of Boston in that time criticized the movement because of their, “swooning away and falling to the ground…bitter shrieking and screaming; convulsion-like trembling and agitation, struggling and tumbling.”
Now Edwards believed the Bible. Edwards believed as the Scriptures clearly teach that religious feelings that do not come from a true understanding of God are not holy and not rooted in true love, no matter how intense. The only emotion (the only “love”) that honors God is that which is rooted in rock solid biblical truth.
I will let Edwards defend himself and the emotions which these men felt for God. In a sense Edwards is defining for us the essence of true love. And think of what Paul is praying for the Philippians in the background of what Edwards is saying here.
I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the emotions of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but the truth, and with affections not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

What Edwards is saying is this. Love is not real love unless it is married to knowledge. If you have these “feelings” but do not know from where they come, then they should in some regard be ignored or not listened to as highly as those feelings which are married to the truth. What Edwards is teaching us, what the apostle Paul is teaching, what the Holy Spirit has taught us through the generations is this: When we are hit with the truth of the gospel and hit with the Word it will bring about action. As Vincent Cheung says in his commentary on Philippians, “Theology makes love possible”.

If you look at Paul’s situation you can see why he is calling for knowledge and discernment. Imagine with me for a moment that I your leader and youth pastor have just been arrested and I could die. Imagine that I could leave you tomorrow. It is going to take knowledge and discernment not only for you to know what to do but in order to see God’s awesome plan. Often times when our hearts get broken we must have knowledge and discernment to see God’s great plan in all of this. And this is what Paul is praying for. He is praying that they might love each other and furthermore that they might understand that gospel advancement is tough and often it grows through imprisonment and persecution.
Why is grounded love essential for the gospel?

Again because gospel advancement is tough.
1. You will have difficult decisions to make. Do we witness here? Do we go on this mission trip? Where are we to follow God? What is God doing here? Where is God working? That takes knowledge and discernment.
2. Often times things will happen that you do not understand. It takes a deep intimate marriage to the truth of God and who God is to get you through those times.
3. Also the truth hurts. If your not in love with the truth and see the importance and value of the truth of God then you are going to share a watered-down lovey dovey gospel if you share one at all. The truth hurts, but if you really love people and if you really love God then you must have a deep abounding love for God, for people, and for the truth!

Also grounded love is essential because mere feelings do not last. A feeling will not help on your deathbed. A feeling will not create martyrs. Only deep grounded truth of the preciousness of the God and His gospel will carry you through. Only this type of passion for the truth and abounding love is going to give you the passion to advance the gospel.

We have two other points but we will deal with this next time. In closing I want to try to answer the question, “how does my love grow”?

There are probably numerous answers to this question but I want to give you four that I think will help us increase our love, so that it might abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment. And I will use the acronym D-E-A-R.

Digging Deeper

One commentator notes that the word for knowledge “always refers to intellectual knowledge about the things of God, a ‘mental grasp of spiritual truth’, ‘doctrinal knowledge’, and ‘theological knowledge’. Therefore studying Scripture, hearing sermons, reading books and engaging in theological discussions all have a direct relationship to your growth in love and obedience.”[3] That means that it is possible for you to grow in love by even listening to sermons. I know that from my own experience. I listen to a few sermons every week. Sermons by people like John Piper, Paul Washer, Arturo Azurdia, etc. These fill my soul with the knowledge of God and what happens is that the more I know God the more I love Him. The more I love God the more I begin to love others and think about them above myself.

This is why I am going through such pains to put daily devotionals on the internet. I want you to increase in the knowledge of God. This is why we have Bible studies before youth group. This is why I want to teach classes throughout the summer; classes about church history, classes where we study the word of God, classes where we study doctrine. I want you to go very deep. I want your roots to be so deep. So that you love God more and so that you love people more. I want these roots to run so deep that you have a passion for God and for the spreading his glory to the nations. You cannot and you will not spread that which you do not know! And you certainly will not do it if you do not treasure that which you do know! If you want to really love people, and you really want to love God then dig deep!

Experiencing Christ

To know Christ is to love Him. You cannot truly have an experience with Christ and not be changed. If you experience Christ and you really get to know Him then you will be changed. The more you grow in your experience of Christ the more you are going to grow in your love. This is why our hope every week is not that you might hear a few songs that you enjoy, or that you might hear a nice little sermon, our goal every week is that you might experience Christ. Every moment is ripe with opportunities to experience Christ. I love more now than I did when I first became a Christian. I have experienced Christ more than when I first became a Christian. Put yourself in places to experience Christ. You come to know God through experience. You can experience Him through Scripture, through prayer, through other believers, through circumstances, through worship services, through walking in the woods. There is no spot where God is not! Therefore, you can experience God anywhere. You just have to know Him and He has to reveal Himself to you.

An idea that we have for the future to help you grow in your experience is to form a student leadership group. That is a definite. I am in the process of forming that even now. However, the part that is only a “plan” is for the student leadership group to go through a study called Experiencing God.

Asking for It

Sometimes I think we have a wrong view of God. I think that often we have this idea that God gives us a list of commands then tells us to go out and do them in our own strength (which is impossible) and then He gets ticked off at us if we do not follow Him. That is not the case. The truth of the gospel is that no man can follow God’s commands. Our flesh is wicked to its core and we will not treasure the things of God. We will always follow our own way. But when Christ comes and redeems us we have a new nature. But nothing changes as far as our ability. We still must depend daily upon Christ. Christ’ words still stand, “Apart from me you can do nothing”. But it is also true that through abiding in Christ we produce fruit. We begin to be more loving. But this is not just something that happens. Abiding in Christ is active. It is a battle and it is war.

I think one of the main reasons that we do not grow spiritually is because we do not ask. As it says in James 4:2, “you have not because you ask not”. We must understand, even as Kevin spoke last Sunday that God is generous and quick to give. If you come to God asking Him to be saved, if you come to God asking Him for fruit, then God is not going to hold back. Let me be very open about something. I am what “theologians” might call a Calvinist. I hate that term but I will accept it if need be. I’d rather be called a Christian. I believe that God is sovereign and those who believe do so because God has elected them to salvation. Now I understand that there might be many questions about this, and I am willing to speak about that at a future time. I mention it now only to say that many would think that those who believe that God is in control of salvation tells people who are crying to get into heaven, “No, you’re not chosen”. That is a ridiculous theology and has nothing to do with Scripture. No, Scripture proclaims everyone who calls on the name of the Lord WILL be saved! If you call upon the name of the Lord, if you cry out to God for salvation, then God is mighty to save and He will do it. Christian if you cry out to God to produce fruit in you then He is doing it and is going to do it. So ask for it!!! Ask God that you might be more loving. Pray, pray hard, and pray until you receive this thing. God is not going to withhold “love” from you. If your passion is to love Him more and to love people more, and to be used to advance the gospel do you really think God is not going to answer that prayer?

Realizing the truth of the Gospel
In Luke 7 he tells a story of two men. One is in debt 500 days wages the other 50. One has my student loans the other has borrowed a couple hundred bucks from the bank to buy our Saturn for $175. Now let’s suppose that the lender decides to forgive the debt. Who do you think is going to be more thankful? Will it be the one who has been forgiven much or the one who has been forgiven little? Certainly if someone gave me a couple hundred bucks I would be thankful, but if someone paid off my student loans!!! Oh goodness! I’d REALLY love that person.

The point is this. When we realize what we have been forgiven from then we love much. If you think that you really weren’t all that bad of a person, but you just had a few flaws and God saved you from those. Or if you think that you messed up a few times and had some sins but God “gave you a second chance”, then you aren’t going to realize the extent of Christ’s forgiveness and you aren’t going to love as much. But if you really truly understand what Christ has done. That He has taken a dead to the gospel, sin-hardened God hating sinner who had NO chance of salvation on their own, and gave you a new heart. And He did this not because you are deserving but because of His own good pleasure! When you realize that God did not need to choose you for salvation, that God did not decide to save you because you made some sort of little decision—but that God purposed from all of eternity to save you from yourself and protect you from His wrath! When you understand these things…when you understand as Jonathan Edwards put it that we are all like spiders held by a thin string over the pits of hell and that the string could snap any second…or better yet that God could clip the string which you place all your hope in…yet God mercifully reaches out, puts his hand under us and saves us as He cuts that string! If you really understand the extent of what Christ did then you will love much.

[1] Guiness, Os. The Call. p155
[2] I am indebted to Os Guiness for this point, pg 158, “The Call”.
[3] [3] Cheung, Vincent. pg 28

Friday, March 9, 2007

Joyously Advance the Gospel--Despite the Circumstances Philippians 1:3-8

“Joyously Advance the Gospel”
Despite the Circumstances
Philippians 1:3-8

Scripture Introduction:

Today we will be looking at Philippians 1:3-8.

We want joy, but we do not always know how to get it. And it often seems that once we do have joy something comes along to rob it. So not only do we want to know how to have joy we also want to know how to keep it. While wrongfully accused and chained to a guard in a Roman prison for two years, Paul lets us know here in Philippians that Christians can be joyful always.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-8


Sermon Introduction:

(Visually wear shackles) We all have these shackles. We all have things that are holding us down, things that are potentially robbing our joy. I want you for a brief moment to visualize what your shackles are. Try to answer this question, “if only…would happen then it would help me to be joyful”. This is your shackle.

Now as we continue to visualize our shackle(s) I want us to notice something about Paul. He wrote this letter to the Philippians while still in his chains. But this letter is also know as the “Letter of Joy” not only because Paul uses the word joy or rejoice some 20 times but because the overall feeling of the letter is one of joy and victory. And this lets us know one really important truth; you do not need to get rid of your shackles to have joy. Paul did not. I do not, and you do not. And this is because Christians can have joy beyond our circumstances. Now of course, as we mentioned last week the main theme and purpose of Philippians is to encourage the Philippians to advance the Gospel. But certainly this comes with joy—joy no matter the circumstances.

That sounds great and wonderful doesn’t it? Or maybe does it sound discouraging? My guess is that your response to that truth is much like mine. That sounds great, I know that I should have joy at all times, and that my circumstances should not matter…but…they do! The truth is that joy is a constant struggle and it is a battle but it is one that must be fought.

Paul understands this. Scripture is not ignorant of our fight and struggle for joy. Paul himself is not unaffected by this battle for joy. There are numerous times in Scripture that Paul was even despairing of life. But the truth remains the same we must be growing in our level of joy and Paul is giving us some ammunition in our fight for joy. So here in these six verses we will discover that because 3 things are true we can have joy beyond our circumstances.


The first truth is quite simple and is kind of a “duh” but it is one that we must first understand before we can move on to the “how’s” of having joy beyond our circumstances and that is:

A. Because Joy is not circumstantial Christians can have joy beyond our circumstances.

We get this point from the general background of the text. From knowing that Paul is in a prison as he is writing this letter and also from knowing some of the things that Paul has went through. By reading 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 (you do not have to turn there) we can see that Paul was:

1. Beaten times without number
2. Often in danger of death
3. 5 times received 39 lashes
4. 3 times beaten with rods
5. Once stoned to the point they thought he was dead
6. 3 times shipwrecked
7. He spent a day and a night stranded without a boat in the middle of the sea
8. Always in danger of rivers, robbers, always traveling, danger from his own countrymen, dangers from foreign people, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, on the sea, from false Christians,
9. Worked really hard
10. Many sleepless nights
11. In hunger
12. In thirst
13. Often without food
14. In cold and exposure (that means naked and cold)
15. Apart from all of the above he has daily the mental anguish of caring for churches all over the world.

So this is a person who has been beaten half to death, probably has scars all over his body. He never can really settle into a home. He hasn’t lived in one place for more than a couple years at a time (and that being rare). He did not mention that he was never able to marry. Nor did he mention that because of his being pummeled with rocks he at some point became pretty much blind. He did mention that he was shipwrecked and that he was always in danger. He had to watch out for everyone. He was hated by his fellow country men, and often those who should have been his closest friends were just impostors. He was always working really hard. He was often hungry, thirsty, naked and cold. And to add on top of all that he had the spiritual and mental anguish of caring for all of the churches.

I know what that is like. Whenever, Satan gets a hold on some of you it causes Nikki and I much anguish. We know the joys of God doing awesome things in your life but we also go through heartbreak when we see God working in your life and then suddenly you leave the church for months at a time. That breaks our heart and causes us much anguish. Paul too I am certain knew this very anguish. We can sense some of Paul’s anguish in the third chapter of Philippians verse 18, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ”. Not only was Paul in prison but his shackles were a daily reminder that many people are enemies of the cross of Christ.

So we can learn from the example of Paul, who had been through most anything that you could imagine, that there must be something in Paul that makes his joy not circumstantial. Something was allowing Paul to have joy even in the midst of suffering. And I think it is because of these next two things that Paul had joy. If we embrace these two truths I believe we too can begin to have joy that moves beyond our circumstances.

If Paul was able to have joy beyond his circumstances, and I can have that joy too I want it. I want to know how I can have joy on cloudy days. I want to know that I can have joy when people wrong me. I want to know that I can have joy even whenever I have messed up. I want to know that I can have joy beyond my circumstances, and God lets us know that:

B. Because joy is found in the community of the gospel Christians can have joy beyond circumstances.

In verse 5, where it says, “in view of your participation” or if you are using the NIV where it says, “because of your partnership” the word translated “participation” or “partnership” is the Greek word KOINONIA. (Pronounced koy-no-knee-uh). I want you to say that out loud with me. This is a very important word in the Bible and Paul uses one that is really close to it in verse 7 when he says “you are all partakers”.
What the word means is simply “fellowship”. It is also used of a marriage relationship, it means an intimate bonding. You may have heard the church announce an event by saying something like “FOOD, FUN, and FELLOWSHIP”. Well we really are not conveying the proper meaning of the word. Biblical fellowship is more intimate. D.A. Carson helps us understand this quite well when he says;

In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invited a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

It moves outside the walls of the church. When you are in KOINONIA (fellowship) with someone whenever they hurt, you hurt. You are united by a common bond and a common goal. As a church our KOINONIA comes from the Holy Spirit inside of each of us. Carson defines KOINONIA well when he refers to it as, “self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision”.

Perhaps we can see it more clearly by using some paper clips and a magnet.

Here are three paper clips. We will call them Maude, Claude, and Chuck. Now Maude is a 74 year old grandmother of 16. She likes canning fruit, long walks on the beach, and knitting. Her biggest pet peeves are those young kids with their rock-n-roll and people who are wealthy. She goes to the Christian church down the street but has never really accepted Jesus. But then something happens, she gets drawn to Christ. He calls her to Himself and she comes. She is now in FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA) with God, meaning that she is in Fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So now the Holy Spirit actually lives in her.
Now what about Claude? Claude is 34 is un-happily married and has two children he abuses. He likes the St. Louis Cardinals, he works at a factory where he hates his job but it takes all of his time. When he does come home he typically gets drunk and passes out before the 10:00 news. His biggest pet peeves are old ladies, those “snot nosed punks”, and most of all anything to do with God. But then one day, after his wife threatens to leave him if he doesn’t get help, Claude finds himself getting counseling from a minister. Before you know it Jesus has drawn Claude to himself. He calls Claude to Himself and he comes. Now he too is in FELLOWSIP (KOINONIA) with God.
Now we come to Chuck. Chuck is 15, loves rock-n-roll music in fact he hopes to be a drummer. Chuck also likes hanging out with his friends and his girlfriend who he just can’t seem to take his hands off of. His biggest pet peeves are youth ministers who tell him to not hold his girlfriend so tight, people who like country music, and anyone above the age of 25. Unfortunately, Claude’s home life is not all that great so he spends most of his time outside the home, where you can find him doing some sort of foreign substance or doing inappropriate things with his girlfriend. After he “accidentally” gets his girlfriend pregnant he finds himself in a church not knowing what to do. He is considering talking his girlfriend into an abortion but is not sure what to do. He remembers going to this church when he was little so he decides to step in the doors and talk to God. The next thing you know he finds himself crying out for mercy. What had happened is that Jesus Christ drew Chuck to Himself and Chuck came. So now Chuck is in FELLOWSHIP (KOINONIA) with God.
So these 3 the granny who hates rock-n-roll, the ex-drunk who has a hard time relating to younger people, and the little drummer boy find themselves in FELLOWSHIP with God. But what happens when they are in Fellowship with God? They also end up being in FELLOWSHIP with each other.

What has happened is this:
God’s purpose has always been to bring glory to Himself one way that He does this is by loving sinners like myself. So once He draws me to Himself I become united with Him and slowly but surely His purpose becomes my purpose so that we both have the same purpose of Glorifying God by enjoying (catch the word joy) Him forever. Now what happens whenever all these other paper clips who are so much different than me a drawn into fellowship with God? We share a common bond. We too become united with one common purpose. So therefore, we too share an intimate oneness. Both with God and now with our fellow-Christians. This is why it says in 1 John that if we do not love our brothers and sisters in Christ then we must not be in fellowship with God; because fellowship with God means fellowship with other Christians. Granny can now see Jesus Christ in Chuck and Chuck can see past Granny’s distaste for rock-n-roll and love her as his own grandmother because both have the Holy Spirit inside of them.

So how does all of this relate to our joy? How does being united with Christ and other Christians bring about our joy? There are numerous reasons that we can give but I will just give the simplest one. Remember that we said that joy springs from an infinitely joyous God. And God’s purpose is that we might glorify Him by ENJOYING Him forever. Whenever we are connected to God we are connected to JOY itself. That is how our being united with Christ gives joy. The way that our being united with other Christians brings joy has to deal with being united with others for a greater cause. You can see that perhaps your suffering might help out another brother or sister in Christ. Or they can help you. As Christians we are to bear one another’s burdens, we are not to go at it alone. This increases our joy, because God has wired us for fellowship; fellowship with Him and fellowship with other Christians.

Here Paul is thanking the Philippians for the partnership in the Gospel. While being constantly chained to a guard in a place that is not his home Paul still can have joy because he is not only chained to a Roman guard but he is also intimately eternally linked to an infinitely joyous God. And he can also have joy because he realizes that even though he is in prison his fellow-workers the Philippians are also carrying on this shared vision of spreading the Gospel of the Joyful God who gives of Himself for us sinners so that we can turn our eyes from fleeting pleasures to infinite joy.

And Paul is overflowing with joy when he says his next statement in verse 6. “For I am confident that (the God who drew you to Himself) He who began a good work in you is going to carry it on to completion” which leads us to the second great truth that will lead us into having joy beyond our circumstances.

C. Because God is in control Christians can have joy beyond circumstances

What Paul is saying in verse 3-8 is that even though he is in prison whenever he thinks about the Philippian giving, and their overall partnership in the gospel he breaks forth in praise to God. I believe it is because he is seeing the grand picture—God’s work of advancing the gospel is not going to be thwarted. It cannot be stopped by Paul’s prison stay or even his death. The truth is that the advance of the gospel is not tied down to any one of us. God will be glorified and the gospel will prevail. God is in control.

As Paul is looking at the Philippians and joyously thanking God for their partnership from the first day of their salvation until now, he then in verse 6 focuses on the sovereignty of God and that beautiful principle that God always finishes what he starts. Now, it is worth noting that the good work that Paul is speaking of is not referring to the Philippians individual salvation. That good work is their partnership in advancing the gospel. So, what Paul is saying is that God has begun this work in you, and God is going to continue this great work of advancing the gospel until Christ returns.

God is in control! The Gospel IS going to advance! The glory of God IS going to spread to the nations! God WILL ultimately be glorified! These things are definitely 100% going to happen. God and His gospel will not be thwarted. As Job declared, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”.

What we have seen so far is that joy is not circumstantial. If Paul can have joy after numerous beatings, and even still in prison then it is possible for anybody to have joy. Paul is human just like you and I. Men and women of God have modeled this throughout the centuries. Christians can have joy beyond their circumstances. Furthermore, Christians have joy in the partnership of the gospel. And a further anchor to our joy is the fact that God is in control.

Perhaps you take that last point to mean—because God is in control nothing bad is going to happen to you. Let me be blunt. You’re not the center of the universe. You’re happiness is not why God created you, it is not why He saved you, it is not why He is still keeping you alive. It’s about Him and His glory. Does that bring us happiness? Yes. Is our greatest joy found in the advancement of God’s glory and His gospel? Yes. Does that mean that God is always going to do things that make you feel happy and comfortable and never bring things in your life that are hard? Absolutely not. You know that is ludicrous by experience and by your reason.

The simple truth is this; a Christian can have joy beyond circumstances because a Christian is not living in their circumstances. A Christian’s joy is not tied up to this world. Paul was able to have joy because his joy was not penned up in what happened to him. His shackles did not matter to him. What mattered to Paul and what should matter to all who call themselves followers of Christ Jesus is that Jesus Christ is honored.

Perhaps you should ask yourself these questions. Does the fact that the gospel is going to advance to the nations give me joy? Does the fact that God and His will is not going to be thwarted cause me great joy? Do I leap for joy at the advance of the gospel in the lives of other Christians? When I hear of people coming to Christ do I have joy beyond my circumstances? Is my joy tied up in what happens to me or is my joy tied up in the unstoppable gospel of God’s glory?

If you honestly cannot say that the advance of the gospel brings you joy…If you are consistently brought down by circumstances and you have a difficult time enjoying what God is doing…If you are indifferent to the spread of the gospel…Then you have a problem. First of all, you are not going to have joy beyond circumstances. Because the truth is, your joy is wrapped up in your circumstances. You will have joy when things are going good (which is actually not joy but happiness) and you will be miserable and depressed when you do not get your way.

Yet the word of God is clear, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice”. Why is this a command? Why is joy a commandment? Because it is a reflection of your heart, your passion, and your focus. If you are living for yourself and for the advancement of your kingdom then you will never be able to “rejoice in the Lord always”. But if you are living for the advancement of the kingdom of God, then you will realize that joy is not circumstantial, you will have joy in the advancement of the gospel, and you will relish in the fact that God is in control and His will is not going to be thwarted.

Perhaps tonight you realize that you are living for yourself. Maybe it is because you do not know Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is because you are not actually in fellowship with Him. Maybe you do not have joy because you are not intimately connected to the God of Joy! In that case you must repent. Repent of your self-centeredness. Repent of your sinfulness, turn from yourself and run to Jesus. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Perhaps you need to know more fully what that means then I urge you to come and talk to me after the service.

Perhaps you are a Christian but you have lost your focused. My exhortation to you is simple. Get over yourself and turn your eyes upon Jesus. Trust in Him, and bow before His sovereignty. Live for Him and not for yourself. Make your life’s ambition to be a part of the advancement of the gospel, the advancement of the kingdom of God and not the advancement of your own.

[1] Carson, D.A., Basics for Believers, p.16

Friday, March 2, 2007

Live like it's precious--Philippians 1:27-30

“Live Like its Precious”
Through Advancing the Gospel Together In the Face of Opposition
Philippians 1:27-30

Scripture Introduction:

Imagine that you are about to stand trial on bogus charges. You figure that justice will be served and you will be set free, but nevertheless, it is possible that your life will be taken. You have, potentially, one last opportunity to send a letter to people that you dearly love. What would your letter say?

This is very much similar to the situation that Paul was facing as he wrote his letter to the Church at Philippi. Throughout the course of this series I want you to remember that as Paul is writing this he is either chained to a Roman guard or a Roman guard is present as Paul is under house arrest. He is awaiting trial, one that could very easily determine whether he lives or dies. As he is writing this letter to the Philippians he has no idea if he will ever see them again. Perhaps he will die in this Roman prison, perhaps he will be released but never able to see them again, or maybe God will see fit to spare Paul’s life and at some point he will again see the Philippians. In our text tonight it is almost as if Paul is giving his parting words. We see this from the word “only”. One commentator says it is as if Paul is stopping and pointing his finger in the air saying, “here’s the one thing I want you to catch. No matter the outcome, whether I ever see you again or not, I want you to catch this one thing!” We can learn much about what has driven a person based upon what they might perceive as their last words. As we read Philippians 1:27-30, I want you to imagine them as Paul’s “parting words” to the Philippians:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents-which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.

Sermon Introduction:

History does allow us to know that Paul did not die in this Roman imprisonment. It was actually a few years later that Paul was beheaded; during his second Roman imprisonment. On this occasion Paul was actually released. Paul had assumed that he would be released upon this occasion, but he was not certain. “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”. Paul’s passion, and we can see this throughout his life, is that “Christ will be honored”. It is clear from certain texts such as Isaiah 43:6-7 that we were created for God’s glory. The supreme passion in Paul’s life is the same passion that should drive every one of us who call Him Lord and Father; to accurately display the infinite worth of God’s glory. Or to put it another way, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”. . Paul is saying much the same here in our text tonight, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”.

“Conduct yourselves” is actually one word in the original Greek, and it refers to how you conduct yourself in regards to the laws and customs of the state. Philippi was an important city in Rome. The Philippians would have taken much pride in their privileged status as a Roman colony. But the Philippian Christians must have “stuck out like a sore thumb”.
[1] They refused to worship the emperor as well as refusing certain customs in the Roman culture. As far as “conducting themselves” as Roman citizens they would have probably done a poor job. To properly conduct yourself like a Roman would have meant to accurately reflect the fact that you are a Roman citizen, in this perhaps they were failing. Paul, however, is reminding them that their citizenship is not on earth but in heaven. Therefore they are to conduct themselves in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.

But, what exactly does it mean to be “worthy of the gospel”? Does it mean that you have somehow made yourself deserving? In the movie Wayne’s World Wayne and Garth bow down to Alice Cooper chanting, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy”. Is Paul saying to live your lives in such a manner where you no longer have to chant, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy”. Do you live in such a way as to be deserving of the gospel?

If you look through the New Testament you will find that the word used here for “worthy” appears 6 times in the New Testament and in all but one it is referring to our being worthy of God or of the gospel. Matthew 3:8 can help us understand what this phrase means. There, in Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist tells the Pharisees to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”. It is clear from the context that he is not saying do things that will merit repentance. He is not saying “do these things so that you can repent”, or “be deserving of repentance”. Certainly John is urging them to act in such a way that fits the value and nature of true repentance. So we get from these the answer to our question what does it mean to be worthy of the gospel? It means to reflect accurately that which you are representing. If you are to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”, then you will bear fruit that accurately reflects the fact that you have truly repented.

So, Paul is telling them, “As citizens of the kingdom of God, live your life in such a way that you accurately reflect the gospel”. What does Paul mean by “gospel”? More than likely he means what he always does, “the good news that God has redeemed sinful man through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by his grace through faith alone”. Certainly, It does not mean to live so as to become deserving of the gospel—we will never be “worthy of the gospel” in that regard. Instead it means to live as though you have been transformed. Live in such a way to accurately reflect what Christ has done; given you a new nature and given you a new heart that is capable of treasuring Him. The gospel is a display of God’s glory. When we are saved, we are saved unto Christ and for His glory. If I can be permitted to paraphrase Paul’s words what he is saying is this, “Live your lives in such a way that you accurately display the infinite worth of God’s glory”.

How are the Philippians to do that? How can we do that? Hopefully, as Christian’s our hearts cry is to do precisely that. Live in such a way as to accurately display God’s glory. But, how do we practically do that? How do you live your life in such a manner that it glorifies God? Our text today is going to give us three ways to do exactly that.

I. We display the infinite worth of God’s glory by being united in one spirit for the sake of the gospel.

Apparently the church at Philippi had recently been hit by the disunity bug. We learn from chapter 4 in Philippians two ladies had been in a dispute and it was beginning to split the church. We are not told what the cause of the feud was but only that it was bringing about disunity in the church. Throughout the book while encouraging the Philippians he is also urging them to be united. The theme of unity is all throughout this letter to the Philippians. It is important for the sake of the gospel that they put aside their petty differences and squabbles and stand firm in one spirit for the sake of the gospel.

To encourage the Philippians on towards unity Paul employs a few military terms that they would understand. Philippi had been the stage of one of the most epic battles in the Roman civil war. Certainly those in the church would have heard of these great battles. Philippi was also known as a “retirement” village for soldiers who had finished their duty, it is within reason that perhaps the Philippians Church had a few ex-military personnel within their ranks. So Paul uses language and illustrations they would be familiar with.

When Paul writes to them “standing firm” the Philippians would have immediately thought of a military formation. The word is stay-ko (steko) and refers to the determination of a soldier standing his post and not budging an inch out of formation. This was crucial to military success. The Romans soldiers would line up shoulder to shoulder and not budge an inch. If one of the soldiers was out of sync then the entire formation would be penetrable. But if they stood unmoving, shoulder to shoulder, then that which they were protecting would remain. This is Paul’s idea for the Philippians. That they might stand shoulder to shoulder in one spirit. His prayer is that for the sake of the gospel they might all remain in formation, with not one of them budging, but continuing to be united for the sake of the gospel.

How does “standing firm” in unity display the infinite worth of God’s glory? Whenever we drop our squabbles and differences for the sake of the gospel we accurately reflect its value and preciousness. We are saying, “The gospel is more valuable than my need to be right”. We will display how much we value God’s glory whenever we stand firm in the midst of our differences.

The disciples of Jesus displayed this perfectly. Fisherman, tax collectors and zealots alike could be in the same band. Tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people. They were seen as sell-outs. It would be much like an American in our day making his living off making bombs for terrorists. A Zealot (Simon the Zealot) belonged to a group of Jewish militants that sought to overthrow Roman rule in Palestine. So it is not hard to see that in their natural state Simon the Zealot would probably hate Matthew the tax collector. But that is the power of the gospel. It links tax collectors and Zealots in fellowship.


  • Your lack of involvement and unity with the adults and children in our church
  • High School and Junior High (Mentor)
  • Different social classes at school
  • Being “friends” or sociable at youth group but not at school
  • Mature Christians versus New or Immature Christians
  • Catty Girl Fights
  • Differences in appearance
  • Disunity with your parents

Sometimes it is necessary that we not be in “unity”. We will deal with that more in depth in some of our blogs, but for now Richard Baxter has a wonderful quote to sum that up.
“In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

God is saying to us live like the gospel (like my glory) is precious. First of all you do that through being united for the sake of the gospel. But you also do that through striving together for the faith of the gospel.

II. We display the infinite worth of God’s glory by striving for the faith of the gospel.

Again in verse 27 Paul says, “Striving together for the faith of the gospel”. Again focus is on unity, but I want us to see a different aspect to this. Paul moves to a different picture. Previously he spoke of a soldier standing firm, this time he uses the image of an athletic team “giving it all” for the sake of their goal.

The word that Paul uses for “striving” is soon-athleo. Does that sound familiar? Minus-the “soon” it is where we got our word athlete. It means to labor side by side. What I want us to focus on is not so much the “side-by-side” aspect but the labor. The determination it takes to be a successful athlete. I still take this to be in reference to what Paul is saying about conduct ourselves in a way that displays the infinite worthy of the gospel of God’s glory. And one way we do that is through striving to spread the gospel. This is in fact what the entire book of Philippians is about. It is about Paul encouraging the Philippians to continue in their task of advancing the gospel. As John Piper so eloquently puts it our task (purpose) is the same as God’s

“namely, to fill this world with his glory, by rooting out of his kingdom all sin and unbelief, and filling it with white-hot worshippers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation. In the seed of Abraham, all families of the earth will be blessed. All the families of the nations will worship before the Lord”.

Our task is a global task. We are to advance the gospel; we are to join with God in filling this world with His glory. We are to strive together for the faith of the gospel. If we are not giving our all to the spreading of God’s glory then we are treating it as if it is cheap. We are showing it as if it is nothing. The gospel of God’s glory and the redemption of sinners is the most precious thing in the entire world. If we are giving our thoughts, our time, our money, our lives to anything else we are not accurately displaying the infinite worth of God’s glory.

Just like on a baseball team there are role players. The pitcher is not responsible for the first basemen; he is responsible for the pitcher. The right fielder is not responsible for the duties of the third basemen; he is responsible for the duties of the right fielder. So it is in the kingdom. You are responsible for that which God has entrusted you with. God has not called me to be the next Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, or Charles Spurgeon. God has called me to be Mike Leake. He has given me gifts, talents, duties, etc. that I must do, and that I am responsible for. You are responsible for displaying the infinite worth of God’s glory in the way that you give of YOUR TIME, YOUR MONEY, YOUR LIFE, YOUR TALENT, and YOUR GIFTS. You are a part of the Body of Christ; both the universal body of Christ and the local body. If you are not involved in the spreading of the gospel then you are communicating that God’s glory is not worth as much as your comfort.

Just as on a baseball team we all have one goal (hopefully) and that is winning. So it is in the kingdom. We have one goal: the spreading of God’s glory. So it is with all of you who are Christians. God is calling you to do specific things, but namely, spread His glory to the nations. That will look different for each of you. You will all have different responsibilities but one goal-spreading God’s glory!

The first point was the defensive strategy. Stand firm. Keep a unified front, shoulder to shoulder, and you will not be breeched. The second point is an offensive strategy, strive together. Not only should you not break under the pressure of opposition but exert pressure of your own. Spread the gospel to the nations, proclaim the gospel and live your life in a manner that is worthy of what you are proclaiming.

By fixing our eyes on the goal of spreading God’s glory and then apply the effort and discipline and endurance of an athlete is to display how precious God’s glory is. The gospel of God’s glory is so precious that in order to display even a little of its beauty it demands all of us. To not give our all to the spreading and enjoying of God’s glory is to cheapen it. Live like it is precious!

III. We display the infinite worth of God’s glory by being fearless with the gospel in the face of opposition
One of the things that has been assumed in the previous two points is that we have an enemy. Our enemy is the god of this world that has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Part of Piper’s definition includes the “rooting out of His kingdom all sin and unbelief”. This does not come without a fight. Satan is continuously at work to take away the seed that is planted. He is consistently trying to defame the glory of God’s name. Furthermore, men in their natural God-hating sin-loving state do not care about the glory of Christ. They join heartily with Satan in considering themselves more precious than God’s glory! There is opposition to the spreading of the gospel it is not easy. We have opponents.

Paul is giving the Philippians the accurate way to deal with their struggles and opposition. He says it is a sign; a sign to the Philippians of their salvation and a sign to the opponents of their destruction. Take heart, spread the gospel despite opposition. You are on the winning side, do not give up. To give up is to treat the gospel as if it is not powerful, as if it is not precious; it is to live as if you are not on the winning side.

One of the biggest, in fact THE biggest thing that stands in the way of our spreading God’s glory through personal evangelism is “fear”. I would venture to say that most everyone in here, including myself has some apprehension in sharing the gospel. Some have more fear than others. Whatever the reasons are behind our fear they have one root a lack of really understanding the preciousness of the gospel. Or to put it another way fear is an inaccurate display of the infinite worth of God’s glory. If we really believed the gospel, if we really believed how precious Jesus Christ is then we would not be able to shut up about the gospel. This often times frustrates me. It breaks my heart to know that I value my own self-image above displaying the worth of God’s glory.

No matter what excuse any of us could give for not sharing our faith we can find the root cause in not really understanding the infinite worth of God’s glory. Some people might be able to share a “gospel” and leave out the parts that are offensive, and that is not what I am referring to. Some people might be able to share a gospel that is me-centered and not God-focused. That is not what I am referring to. Some people might be able to share a gospel that is offensive, not because the gospel they proclaim is offensive but because they do not have an overflowing heart that is broken for the people they are witnessing to, that is not the gospel I am referring to. I am referring to the gospel that is the whole gospel, God-centered, and the gospel that causes you to be broken for those who it is being preached to. And this only comes by catching a vision of God’s infinite worth.

Lastly, a Christian, a youth group, a Church, should never be comfortable. If a church is comfortable it is not godly. I am not referring to the comfort and peace that Christ gives, but I am referring to modern Western Civilization’s obsession with comfort. 2 Timothy 3:12 clearly states that those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. WILL BE!! I conclude from that verse that if I am not being persecuted, if God has not given me the grace of suffering then it is because I do not truly desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. We get this point from verses 29-30. God has given us the gift of suffering as a sign. And whenever we are standing fearlessly united in the face of opposition, whenever we are boldly proclaiming the gospel no matter the cost, and whenever we are being obedient to Christ above any fear we have then we are accurately displaying the infinite worth of God’s glory.

“Thomas” his friend lowered his voice so as not to be heard by the guard. “I have to ask you this favor. I need to know if what others say about the grace of God is true. Tomorrow, when they burn you at the stake, if the pain is tolerable and your mind is still at peace, lift your hands above your head. Do it right before you die. Thomas, I have to know.

Thomas whispered to his friend, “I will”.

The next morning Thomas was bound to the stake and the fire was lit. The fire burned a long time, but Thomas remained motionless. His skin was burnt to a crisp and his fingers were gone. Everyone watching supposed he was dead. Suddenly, miraculously, Thomas lifted his hands, still on fire, over his head. He reached them up to the living God, and then, with great rejoicing, clapped them together three times.

The people there broke into shouts of praise and applause. Thomas’ friend had no answer.

At this point we could tell a million other stories of those who have been martyred for their faith. We could talk about the very Paul that wrote this letter who considered the infinite worth of God’s glory more precious than his own life when he was beheaded by Nero. There are countless stories of men, women, and children who have given of their lives freely to display accurately the infinite worth of God’s glory.

There is a quote that is on the front of one of my notebooks by John MacArthur. It says, “Your life either tells the truth about God or it tells a lie”.

In closing I ask, “Does your love for other believers accurately display the infinite worth of God’s glory?” Do you count the gospel as more precious than any petty squabbles we may have?
Do you give every bit of yourself to the spreading of God’s glory? Are you so consumed by God’s glory that you stand fearless in all opposition? Has the infinite worth of God grabbed you in such a way that you can not shut up about Him? Does your life accurately display how precious God is?

[1] Arnold, Clinton. Zondervan Bible Background. pg 354.