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

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