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 CNN.com:
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.”
[1]

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.”
[2]

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"!
[3]

“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!


[1] http://www.preceptaustin.org/1_peter_17.htm#Tested%20dokimazob
[2] Guinness, Os. The Call. p31.
[3] http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_19-17.htm#1:10

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