Tuesday, December 24, 2013

You Shall Call His Name Jesus

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21).

Baby Names 

When a baby boy or girl is born, one of the big decisions for the parents is what to name the baby. What were the top Canadian baby names in 2013? The top names for boys were Liam, Jacob, and William, and the top names for girls were Emma, Olivia, and Sofia/Sophia. Babycenter.com has a list of unusual 2013 baby names. Some unusual boy baby names were Kashmere, Legend, and Cheese. Some unusual girl baby names were Oceana, Blip, and Fairy.

Joseph probably would have had enough sense not to name Mary’s son “Cheese,” but neither he nor Mary were permitted to name the baby boy. A name had already been chosen. The angel said to Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Why was Joseph to give the baby the name “Jesus”?

There is a connection between the name of Jesus and the mission of Jesus. 

The Name and Mission of Jesus 

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but he knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (vv. 24-25; cf. Luke 2:21). 

1. “Jesus” was a popular name. 

“Jesus” was not a unique name. Many Jewish baby boys were given the same name. “Jesus” (Gk. Iesous) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua” (Hb. Yeshua). The name means “Yahweh (the Lord) saves.” 

2. “Jesus” was a prophetic name. 

Mary’s son was to be named “Jesus” because “he [would] save his people from their sins” (v. 21). In Luke’s Gospel, the angel announced to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). As an adult, Jesus declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

Jesus Was Born to Be a Savior 

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, people misunderstood the kind of salvation he came to bring. He was not born to bring political salvation; he was born to save people “from their sins” (v. 21). This is our greatest need.

We can be saved from the consequences of our sins because of Christ’s death and resurrection. He was punished so that we could be forgiven. He died so that we could have eternal life.

There is a big difference between Santa and Jesus. If you’re nice, Santa will bring you presents. But if you’re naughty, he’ll leave a lump of coal in your stocking. Jesus, on the other hand, gives salvation to all who repent of their sin and put their faith in him, whether they’ve been nice or naughty.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Learning Contentment

Part 11 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

[Sorry, there is no audio for this sermon.]

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (vv. 11b-13). 

Is Contentment Possible? 

The apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians by thanking them for a gift (probably money) they had sent him. In his expression of thanks, Paul wants the Philippians to know that he would be content whether he received their gift or not.

[Read 4:10-23.] 

Have you started your Christmas shopping? According to BMO Financial Group, Christmas spending by Canadians is projected to climb for the third consecutive year. Canadians expect to spend (on gifts, trips, entertaining, etc.) an average of $1,810 this Christmas season—up from $1,610 (12 percent) in 2012 and $1,397 (30 percent) in 2011. Atlantic Canadians anticipate spending $759 on Christmas gifts. That’s higher than the Canadian average ($678).

But Canadians do have good intentions about their Christmas spending. According to Deloitte’s “2013 Holiday Retail Outlook,” 59.1 percent of Canadians plan to spend the same amount on Christmas as they did last year and 34.5 percent plan to spend less. Only 6.5 percent say they will spend more. However, what we plan to spend and what we actually spend are two different things.

So why do we often end up spending more than we planned. One reason is TV commercials. (By now I’m sure you’ve seen lots of Christmas TV commercials.) The purpose of TV commercials is to create discontentment within us. Businesses don’t want you to be content with what you have. (I didn’t realize I needed a Duck Dynasty Chia Pet until I saw them advertised on TV.)

Think of all the things we were once content without, but now we think are necessities.

  • We used to be content with a standard definition TV; now we need a high definition TV. 
  • We used to be content watching TV shows when they air; now we need a DVR. 
  • We used to be content with 20 TV channels; now we need 200 channels (but we still only watch 20). 
  • We used to be content with a regular coffee maker; now we need a Keurig Brewing System. 
  • We used to be content with a regular telephone; then we needed a cell phone; then we needed a Blackberry; then we needed an iPhone; now we need an iPhone 5S. 

When we think about all the things we don’t have, it’s easy to be discontent. But Paul writes, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (v. 11). When Paul wrote this letter, he was a prisoner and execution was a possibility. His circumstances were bad, but he was content. Paul was someone who could be content whether his Christmas stocking was full or empty, whether he went home for Christmas or stayed in prison, whether he enjoyed a turkey dinner or ate prison food.

Circumstances change, but contentment is always possible for the Christian. 

How to Be Content 

Contentment is possible, but it doesn’t happen instantaneously. Twice Paul says that he had “learned” to be content (vv. 11, 12). He had learned it in both good and bad circumstances. (Good circumstances don’t guarantee contentment. Ecclesiastes 5:12 says, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.”) He says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound” (v. 12). (Those who think that Christians should expect to be healthy and wealthy need to examine the lives of the NT’s two main characters: Jesus and Paul.)

In 4:10-23, there are six truths that can help you be content regardless of your circumstances.

1. In every circumstance, God is still in control. 

The Philippians had helped Paul financially in the past (vv. 15-16). Now they had “revived [their] concern for [Paul]” (v. 10; cf. v. 18). Why hadn’t they helped Paul for several years? We’re not given the reason. Paul simply says, “You had no opportunity” (v. 10). Instead of being bitter about the lack of help coming from the Philippians, he trusted that God, in his sovereignty, would provide for him in other ways.

2. In every circumstance, Christ can give you strength. 

The word “content” (v. 11) was used by Stoic philosopher’s of Paul’s time to mean “self-sufficient.” But unlike the Stoic, Paul does not find the resources for contentment in himself. Instead, the strength the face all circumstances is found in Christ. Paul wasn’t someone who claimed to be strong (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10), but he writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (v. 13). This is the “secret” (v. 12) to learning contentment.

3. In every circumstance, we are to think of others. 

Even in bad circumstances, we are to have the attitude of Christ (2:5-8). We are to “look not only to [our own] interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). Paul is more concerned about how the gift will benefit the Philippians than how it will benefit himself: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (v. 17). Being self-focused during times of trouble will only increase our unhappiness.

4. In every circumstance, God will give you want you need.

Paul gives the Philippians a promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19). Is Paul referring to material needs, spiritual needs, or both? Probably both. But we may need to reassess our “needs.” (In verse 12, Paul says he has been in “need.” Perhaps sometimes we need to be in need.) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim. 6:6-8). Discontentment with what we have (“the love of money”) can lead us away from God (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

5. In every circumstance, it’s possible to glorify God. 

Paul includes a doxology in verse 20: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This is a reminder that our purpose is to glorify God, and he can be glorified in both good and bad circumstances. 

6. In every circumstance, you can be grateful. 

The letter ends with a benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (v. 23). When we go through difficulty, it’s helpful to think of the blessings in our lives. The greatest blessing is salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Though circumstances change, God's love remains, and our hope in Christ remains.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Part 10 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (vv. 6-7).

An Anxiety Epidemic 

The church at Philippi was not free of problems. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, they were experiencing two: persecution and disunity. Many of them were probably worrying about the future of their church. So Paul tells the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything” (v. 6).

[Read 4:1-9.] 

It’s been said that anxiety is the “disease of the twenty-first century.” We live in a sin-cursed world in which bad things happen. Many people are filled with worry afraid of what might happen to them and their loved ones in the future. Probably some of you struggle with anxiety.

Life makes us anxious, but God gives us peace. 

Our Anxiousness

Paul tells the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything” (v. 6a). In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus says three times, “Do not be anxious” (vv. 25, 31, 34).

[Read Matt. 6:25-34.] 

There is a difference between concern and anxiety. Timothy was “genuinely concerned for [the Philippians’] welfare” (2:20; cf. 1 Cor. 12:25). The Greek word for “concerned” (merimnao) is the same as the Greek word for “anxious” in 4:6.

1. Anxiousness doesn’t work. 

Jesus asked, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life” (Matt. 6:27). Being anxious actually does more harm than good. It can subtract hours from our life spans.

Jesus also said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (v. 34). In other words, each day has enough trouble on its own. Worrying is bringing the possible troubles of tomorrow into today. (Most times those troubles we think might happen never happen.)

2. Anxiousness should not to be tolerated. 

Sometimes Christians say, “I’m just a worrier. Worry runs in my family.” It’s true that many people are predisposed to anxiety. But that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for anxiety. (Many people are predisposed to lust. That doesn’t make it acceptable for them to have lustful thoughts.)

It’s often asked whether or not anxiety is a sin. “Do not be anxious about anything” is a command. To disobey it is a sin. However, we need to be sympathetic with those who struggle with anxiety. Christians who worry desperately want to rid their themselves of anxiety.

3. Anxiousness creates more problems. 

When we are anxious, we are not joyful. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4). We rejoice in the Lord, not in our circumstances. Paul was rejoicing even though he was a prisoner (1:12-18). “In the Lord” is a key phrase in Philippians (1:14; 2:19, 24; 3:1; 4:1, 2, 4, 10).

When we are anxious, we are less likely to be kind to others. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone” (v. 5). (Friday was “Black Friday.” People who are worried about getting a certain item on sale are not gentle with others. Some people have started calling Walmart “Brawlmart.”)

God's Peace 

Paul continues, “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (vv. 6b-7). “The peace of God” is an inner sense of contentment given by God. It is the opposite of anxiety.

1. God’s peace comes to those who pray. 

When we pray, we show our dependence on God. We are to pray “with thanksgiving” (v. 6). When we have anxious thoughts, we should think of all the blessing for which we are thankful.

The apostle Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). To stop worrying requires humility. We must admit to God that we can’t handle life on our own. 

[Read Luke 10:38-42.] 

Jesus said to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things” (Luke 10:41). Instead of being “distracted” (v. 40) by our anxious thoughts, we need to take time to be like Mary who “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (v. 39).

2. God’s peace exceeds human understanding.

Some people might think Paul’s counsel is a bit naïve. “Just pray and you’ll have peace instead of anxiety?” Obviously it’s not that easy or no Christian would be anxious. But if we sincerely engage in thankful prayer, casting our cares upon a loving God, we are promised that God will give us his peace. That’s something that can’t be fully described. It must be experienced.

3. God’s peace protects our hearts and minds. 

In verse 9, Paul writes, “The God of peace will be with you.” We are promised not only the peace of God but also the God of peace himself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Running Well

Part 9 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14). 

Life's a Race 

Paul writes that Christians are in a race. And this race is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

At the 1980 Boston Marathon, a relatively unknown runner named Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line with a time of 2:31:56, making her the winning woman. But her lack of any sweat stains immediately raised suspicions. When the male winner asked her about her splits, she had no idea what splits were. Then two Harvard students came forward claiming to have witnessed Ruiz run out of the spectator section into the race only a half a mile from the finish line. Eventually, Ruiz was disqualified.

Paul, unlike Rosie Ruiz, was determined to run well. Twice he says, “I press on” (vv. 12, 14). He would keep on running toward the finish line no matter how difficult the race became.

Running the Christian race well is to be our lifelong pursuit. 

You might be thinking, “Is it really important to run well?” Paul would answer that question with an emphatic “Yes!”

The Race's Prize

Most races have a prize. (In the Olympics, the prize is a gold medal.) Winning the prize is the goal of a runner. The Christian race also has a prize. Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (v. 14). But Paul repeatedly states that he hasn’t yet received the prize (“Not that I have already attained this,” v. 12; “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own,” v. 13).

What is the prize of the Christian race? What is the “this” that Paul had not attained? What is the “it” that Paul had not made his own? Look back at verse 11. Paul desires “that [he] may know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

1. The prize of the Christian race is knowing and becoming like Christ. 

If anyone could say he knew and had become like Christ, it was Paul. But he says he hasn’t reached this goal. So the prize must be a full experience of knowing and becoming like Christ. We strive for this goal, though in this life we will never fully reach this goal. The goal will not be reached until “the resurrection from the dead” (v. 10; cf. v. 21). This is the completion of our salvation (1:6).

The prize is not won by us (by our works); it was won for us by Christ (through his death and resurrection). God has determined that all who put their faith in Christ will receive the prize. In the NIV, verse 12 says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Paul is saying, “Because Christ took hold of me, I will one day take hold of the prize.”

The Runner's Motivation 

A runner needs motivation to run. Paul was a motivated runner. He says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead (v. 13). But if every Christian will receive the prize (because of God’s grace), what’s the motivation for running well? (If before a marathon, the runners were told, “All of you will receive a gold medal,” how would their motivation be affected?)

In verse 18, Paul refers to people who are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They were either legalists (e.g., the Judaizers, v. 2) or hedonists (“ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness,” Jude 1:4 NASB). The legalist and the hedonist are enemies of the cross because they twist the grace of God into something it’s not.

Grace makes the legalist nervous. Grace makes the hedonist excited. The legalist says, “I am obligated to do everything I can.” He doesn’t believe that grace is enough. The hedonist says, “I am free to do whatever I want.” He thinks grace is a license to sin. The legalist robs grace of its happiness. The hedonist robs grace of its holiness. The legalist has the wrong motivation. The hedonist has no motivation.

2. The motivation for the Christian runner is love for Christ. 

Paul had received “the upward call of God” (v. 14; cf. Rom. 8:29-30). There is a delicate balance between God’s call to salvation and the believer’s works. “It is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13), but we are to “work out [our] own salvation” (2:12).

Those who have been saved by God’s grace desire to please him (run well). (Some people love to run. I have no desire to run. I’m not a runner.) If you have no motivation to run the Christian race well, perhaps you’re not a Christian.

The Race's End 

Running a marathon is difficult. (A marathon is over 42 kilometres.) And living the Christian life is not easy. There may be times when we feel like giving up, but in the end we will say, “It was worth it to run well.” Our running will cease when we go to be with Jesus when we die or when he comes to us when he returns (whichever occurs first). “From [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 20).

3. The end of the Christian race will bring immense joy. 

(Have you ever watched marathon runners cross the finish line? They’re exhausted, but they’re also joyful.) Imagine what it will be like to hear Jesus say, “You ran well.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Confidence In Christ

Part 8 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3). 

Your Christian Résumé

Probably most of us have written a résumé. As you know, a résumé is a list of our qualifications and accomplishments that we use in our attempt to get a new job. We try to impressive a prospective employer with our resume, but sometimes a résumé has the opposite effect.

  • “Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave.” 
  • “Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store.” 
  • One women sent her résumé without deleting someone else’s editing, including such comments as “I don’t think you want to say this about yourself here.” 
  • “My duties included cleaning the restrooms and seating the customers.”
  • “Objective: I am anxious to use my exiting skills.” 
  • “Other interests: Playing with my two dogs. (They actually belong to my wife, but I love the dogs more than my wife.)” 

One day we will all stand before God, and he will determine whether or not you and I are really Christians. (Not everyone who says he is a Christian, really is a Christian. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. 7:21). If you were to hand God your Christian résumé, how confident would you be that he would accept you into heaven? Maybe you’d be anxiously thinking, “Is my résumé good enough? Do I have the right qualifications? Do I have enough accomplishments?”

Consider "Bill Baptist's" Christian résumé.

  • I was born into a Christian family. 
  • At the age of 8, I walked forward during an altar call at my church and repeated a sinner’s prayer. 
  • I had perfect Sunday School attendance in 1983 and received the Scripture memory award in 1985.
  • I was baptized by immersion at the age of 13. 
  • I have read through the entire Bible 7 times. I even read every word of Leviticus. 
  • I pray almost every day
  • I go to church almost every Sunday. I have even attended church on my summer vacation.
  • I give a tenth of all my income to my church. I even give extra money to various charities.

Should Mr. Baptist be confident? No, his résumé is missing the one essential requirement for entrance into heaven: faith in Jesus Christ.

A Christian is someone who puts his or her confidence in Christ, not in his or her qualifications and accomplishments. 

Unless your confidence is in what Jesus has done for you and not in what you have done for God, you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian.

Where's Your Confidence? 

Paul was a man who once was confident in his own religious qualifications and accomplishments. But then he met Jesus on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and his life was changed. From that day forward, his trust was in Christ, not in himself. And our confidence (trust) must be in Christ alone.

1. Confidence in Christ is sufficient. 

Paul tells the Philippians to “look out” (v. 2) for the Judaizers. The Judaizers claimed that faith in Christ is not enough to make a Gentile a Christian. They said that a Gentile must also follow the Mosaic law, and they emphasized circumcision (Acts 15:1). Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:11)—God’s promise to bless Abraham’s descendents and make them his chosen people.

By demanding that Gentile believers be circumcised, the Judaizers thought there were doing what was right. But Paul calls them “dogs,” “evildoers,” and “those who mutilate the flesh” (v. 2). The Judaizers thought they were the true people of God, but Paul says, “We are the circumcision” (v. 3). Unlike the Judaizers, the true people of “worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (v. 3). 

2. Confidence in Christ prevents immense disappointment. 

Paul writes, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Then in verses 5-6, he presents his pre-conversion résumé: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Paul had once thought that his religious qualifications and accomplishments would bring him eternal life.

But,” he writes, “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). What he thought was a positive was actually a negative. Paul came to the realization that trusting in his religious résumé was actually preventing him from receiving eternal life. Religious people who continue to trust in their religious résumés will be shocked that they will not gain entrance into heaven.

3. Confidence in Christ brings immeasurable gain. 

Paul says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8). Paul was like the man in one of Jesus’ stories who sold all of his possessions to buy a field that contained a great treasure (Matt. 13:44). Paul adds, “For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (v. 8).

A Christian is someone who is justified—declared righteous (innocent of sin) by God. How is this possible if we are sinners? Paul says that he is now “found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (v. 9). How we can be justified through faith in Christ is explained more fully in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Your Christian résumé should read, “My confidence is in Jesus Christ.”

Do Good Works Matter? 

People like the Judaizers argue, “If faith in Christ is the only requirement to be a Christian, then it doesn’t matter how we live.” Obviously Paul didn’t think that good works don’t matter. In 1:27 he writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy [fitting] of the gospel of Christ.”

Confidence in Christ doesn’t mean that sit back and do nothing. Paul’s desire is that “I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead” (vv. 10-11).

We don’t obey God in order to gain acceptance with God; we obey God because we love him.

Throw Away Your Flawed Résumé 

If your Christian résumé looks like Bill Baptist’s, throw it away. It’s garbage.

No amount of religious effort can make a person a Christian. The only way of acceptance with God is through faith in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Selfless Service

Part 7 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel (Phil. 2:21-22) 

[Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me (Phil. 2:30). 

Christian Service 

[This sermon was preached on Nov. 10, the day before Remembrance Day.]

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day, a day to honor our military veterans—especially those who lost their lives in battle. As Canadians, we have great respect and admiration for those who have served our country so well.

In Philippians 2:19-30, we read about two men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who were faithful Christian servants. Paul describes Epaphroditus as his “fellow soldier” (v. 25) who risked his life to minister to Paul (v. 30). Paul also says that we should “honor such men” (v. 29).

Not every Canadian is expected to serve in the Armed Forces. But every Christian is expected to be serving Christ and his church. We are not only to respect and admire men like Timothy and Epaphroditus; we are also called to follow their example.

Christians are to live lives of selfless service.

Is It Possible to Have the Mindset of Christ?

The church at Philippi (like every other church) struggled to maintain unity. So in his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul repeatedly stresses the importance of behaving in ways that promote Christian unity (1:27; 2:3-4; 4:2). We are not to be like the Israelites in the wilderness who constantly grumbled (2:14-15). Instead, we are to be like Christ who, in humility and love, gave his life for us (2:5-8).

The example of Christ shows us that we should live lives of selfless service. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). But is the goal to have the mindset of Christ a realistic goal?

The examples of Christians like Timothy and Epaphroditus show us that we can live lives of selfless service. 

Two Selfless Servants

Timothy and Epaphroditus were two men who had the mindset of Christ. Timothy was Paul’s protégé (Acts 16:1-3) and was like a son to Paul (v. 22). Epaphroditus was a member of the church at Philippi who had been sent by the Philippians to give Paul a gift (4:18).

1. Timothy and Epaphroditus were known as servants. 

Timothy had “served with [Paul] in the gospel” (v. 22). Epaphroditus is described by Paul as “my…fellow worker” and “your…minister to my need” (v. 25).

2. Timothy was genuinely concerned about others.

Timothy was “genuinely concerned for [the Philippians’] welfare” (v. 20). He was not like others who sought “their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (v. 21; cf. 2:4).

3. Epaphroditus was willing to make sacrifices. 

Epaphroditus “nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (v. 30). He, like Timothy, was also concerned about others because he was “distressed,” not because of his illness, but because “[the Philippians] heard he was ill” (v. 26).

How Can You Serve? 

Our service should not be confined to service within the church, but it should start there. “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Do you have no opportunity to do good for your fellow Christians? I don't think so.

Think now about how you can serve. Is there any area of service that you have been sensing that God is leading you into?

The example of Christ shows us that we should live lives of selfless service. The examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus show us that we can live lives of selfless service.

You might have a young family and feel you’re too busy. You might be a senior and think your time for service is over. You might feel you don’t have the qualifications or the talent to do anything. But all of us can serve. And all of us should serve.

Are you willing, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, to be a selfless servant?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lest We Forget: A Remembrance Day Communion Meditation

This time of year, Canadians wear poppies. As you know, poppies are symbols of remembrance. We wear poppies as a way of remembering the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in battle serving their country.

Before us now are two other symbols of remembrance: the bread and the cup of the Lord's Supper. The bread is a symbol of Christ's body, which was nailed to the cross. The cup is a symbol of Christ's blood, which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

The apostle Paul writes,

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thinks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this is in remembrance of me." In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

One of the sayings of Remembrance Day is "Lest we forget." As Canadians, we must never forget the sacrifice of the men and women of our Canadian Armed Forces. May their service inspire us to be better citizens of Canada.

And as Christians, we must never forget the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. May his love for us motivate us to surrender our lives fully to his will.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't Be a Grumbler

Part 6 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (v. 14). 

Grumbling and Arguing 

How many times have you grumbled and argued already today?

Some people act as if they think they have the spiritual gift of complaining. Mark Twain once said, “Don’t complain and talk about your problems—80 percent of people don’t care; the other 20 percent will think you deserve them.”

Christians must not be known as grumblers and arguers. 

Paul tells the church at Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (v. 14). Grumbling and arguing destroys church unity. It is not behavior “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27) and is contrary to the mindset of Christ (2:5-8).

Working Out Our Salvation 

Everyone knows that Thursday was Halloween. Fewer people are aware that October 31 was also Reformation Day, a celebration of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther made public his Ninety-Five Theses—ninety-five complaints against some of the practices of the Catholic church. (Though Paul writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” there are legitimate complaints. The truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of unity.) These theses were Luther’s attempt to bring changes to the Catholic church. (At the time, Luther was a Catholic priest.) This event is seen by many as the catalyst for the Reformation.

Three of the slogans of the Reformation were “by grace alone” (solo gratia), “by faith alone” (solo fide), and “Christ alone” (solus Christus). If you put these three slogans together, you get the Reformers view on how salvation (more specifically, justification) is received: by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
But doesn’t v. 12 say that we must work for our salvation: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? No, or else Paul would be contradicting his own theology. In Romans 4:5, he clearly writes, “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Simply put, working out our salvation means showing evidence of our salvation by our works (“obeyed,” v. 12).

Verse 13 says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Not only does God work in us to bring about obedience (“work,” v. 13), but God even gives us the desire (“will,” v. 13) to obey (“obeyed, v. 12). This is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5).

Ridding ourselves of grumbling and complaining is one way we can work out our salvation (v. 12). We demonstrate God’s working in our lives by our obedience in this area of our lives.

Unity Is Important

Why should we not grumble and argue?

1. Grumbling and arguing grieves our God. 

Paul’s desire for the Philippians is that they “may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (v. 15a). He is probably thinking of the Israelites in the wilderness. They constantly “grumbled against Moses” (Ex. 15:24; 16:2; 17:3) and were described as “a crooked and twisted generation” (Deut. 32:5).

The Israelites complained even though God had miraculously delivered them out of Egypt (the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea). They said they would rather go back to being slaves in Egypt than die in the desert. Imagine how God must have felt. He said to Moses, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me” (Num. 14:26). Because of their grumbling, that generation never reached the promised land.

Paul is saying, “Don’t be like that generation the Israelites in the wilderness.” But, sadly, many times we are. Even though God has graciously saved us through the death of Christ (v. 8), we grumble and argue among ourselves. Stop and think how that must sadden God. 

2. Grumbling and arguing extinguishes our light. 

Christians are to “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (vv. 15b-16a; cf. Dan. 12:3). Being “lights” means being witnesses of the truth of the gospel (through words and actions). Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

There is a connection between the unity of a church and the effectiveness of its witness. Jesus prayed, “[I ask] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Grateful for the Gospel 

Have you ever, before eating a meal, thanked God for your food and then, after praying, started to complain about the food? (“The potatoes are cold! The chicken is overcooked!”)

A complaining spirit reveals an ungrateful heart. (Are you really thankful for the food that you’re complaining about?) But if we have been saved by the gospel, we should be grateful people! Christians should not be known as grumblers and arguers.

Do you want to grieve your God? No. None of us want to sadden the one who saved us by his grace.

Do you want to extinguish your witness? No. None of us want to bring dishonor to the name of the one who died for us.

Don’t be a grumbler.

Monday, October 28, 2013

God on a Cross

Part 5 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [which was also in Christ Jesus, NKJV], who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). 

Feeling Humbled 

Back in May, Lebron James was named the National Basketball Association’s MVP. It was the fourth time James had received the league’s highest honor. What was his response? He said, “It’s very humbling.” 

Humbling? I don’t think “humility” means what Lebron James thinks it means.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an NBA player. In those dreams when I was named the MVP, I didn’t feel humbled; I felt honored.

Now it seems that every time an award is handed out, the recipient talks about how he or she is “humbled.” To me, that always comes across as fake humility.

In contrast to today’s fake humility, there is the humility of Jesus. By choosing to be crucified, he allowed himself to be humiliated. Why? Out of love for you and me.

The Attitude of Christ

The apostle Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (v. 5, NIV). In verses 6-8, we discover that the mindset of Christ is a mindset of service.

  • Jesus was “in the form of God” (v. 6; cf. John 1:1). The NIV reads “in very nature God.”
  • Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (v. 6). This is the opposite of “selfish ambition” (v. 3). 
  • Jesus “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” (v. 7). He declared, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He acted as a servant when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:4-5).
  • Jesus was “born in the likeness of men” (v. 7; cf. John 1:14). 
  • Jesus “humbled himself” (v. 8).
  • Jesus became “obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). He “gave himself for our sins…according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). 
  • Jesus died “on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was a humiliating and excruciating way to die. Jesus once said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

The one who is equal with God the Father washed his followers’ dirty feet. The one who is the Lord of the universe became a helpless baby.

The one who is God died on a cross for our salvation. 

Until we understand who Jesus really is, we can’t appreciate the depth of his humility and love.

The Antidote for Self-Centeredness 

Based on what Paul writes in this letter, it appears that the church at Philippi struggled to maintain unity (cf. 1:27; 2:14; 4:2). In 2:3-4, Paul urges the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Humility and love are two essential requirements for Christian unity. But we are naturally self-centered people. (Have you noticed that when someone shows you a photo that you’re in, you always first check how bad or good you look? Everyone else in the picture could have their eyes closed, but if you look good, it’s a great picture.) Humility and love don’t come easy for us.

Self-centeredness destroys unity. So what can rid us of our self-centeredness? What can inspire us to have more humility and love? The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Back in 1:27, Paul writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Living a self-centered life is not worthy of the gospel of Christ.

We have the gospel because of the humility and love of Jesus. If he had not come to this world to serve, we would all be without hope. Without his death on the cross there would be no salvation.

The cross shows us the kind of humility and love needed to maintain Christian unity. 

Daily reminding ourselves of the gospel is the antidote for self-centeredness.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Gospel Unifies

Part 4 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27). 

Confessing Our Role in Disunity

Jesus once told a story about a servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king but refused to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him by a fellow servant. “Seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe’” (v. 28). When the king learned what had happened, he summoned the servant and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (vv. 32-33).

It’s easy to despise the unforgiving servant. But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we often act like him. God has forgiven all of our sin, yet we refuse to forgive the wrongs committed against us. God is patient with us in spite of our weaknesses, yet we become frustrated with others and speak unkind words. God continues to love us even though we have grieved him many times, yet we harbor bitterness in our hearts against those who have slighted us.

Before we consider what the apostle Paul says about Christian unity, we need to first acknowledge that we are often like that wicked servant.

The Gospel and Christian Unity

Paul writes to the Philippians, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The Greek word for “worthy” (axios) occurs five additional times in the New Testament. (Four times “worthy” is used in the context of appropriate conduct among Christians.)

  • “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of saints” (Rom. 16:1-2). 
  • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). 
  • “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
  • “We exhorted each of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12).
  • “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:6). 

The gospel is the good news that God in his grace has saved us—undeserving sinners—through faith in Jesus Christ.

Earlier this year, two men were sentenced to two years in prison for setting two fires in the village of Doaktown, NB. What made this case so notable was that the two men had been volunteer firefighters. Obviously, committing arson is not fitting behavior for firefighters. And behavior that discourages unity is not fitting behavior for people who have been saved by the gospel.

Disunity among Christians is not consistent with the gospel. 

Actually, it’s not uncommon for firefighters to commit arson. And, sadly, disunity is not uncommon among Christians. Based on what Paul writes in Philippians, it appears that maintaining unity was one of the biggest struggles of the church at Philippi (2:14; 4:2).

When needing help maintaining Christian unity, remind yourself of the gospel.

Requirements for Unity

Paul repeatedly states his desire that the church at Philippi be unified: “one spirit” (1:27), “one mind” (1:27; 2:2), “same mind” (2:2), “same love” (2:2). (He also says this in 4:2.) In fact, he writes that unity among the Philippians would “complete [his] joy” (2:2). In 2:3-4, we find two basic requirements for Christian unity.

1. Maintaining Christian unity requires humility. 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3). A proper understanding of the gospel produces humility. We are sinners saved by grace.

2. Maintaining Christian unity requires love. 

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). This is a description of true love. A proper understanding of the gospel produces love. As the apostle John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Christ Is Our Example

The Greek word for “let your manner of life” (1:27) is politeuomai, which can also be translated “live as citizens.” Philippi was a Roman colony, and the people of the city were proud of their Roman citizenship. The Christians in Philippi were dual citizens: citizens of Rome and citizens of heaven (“our citizenship is in heaven,” 3:20).

One reason why Paul chose to use this Greek word may have been to remind the Philippians that their model for behavior was not Caesar but Christ. When Paul wrote Philippians, Nero was the Roman Emperor (if Philippians was written around A.D. 62). Nero was a proud man who killed and mistreated others to get his way. He was, in many ways, the opposite of Christ.

If you think humility and love are not for you, think about Christ. Even though he is God (2:6), “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8).

Disunity among Christians is not consistent with the gospel.

  • When you start to look down on others, remember the gospel. 
  • When you become consumed with your own needs and problems, remember the gospel. 
  • When the concerns of others don’t matter to you, remember the gospel. 
  • When you are struggling to forgive, remember the gospel. 
  • When you start complaining about other people, remember the gospel. 

Remember that God in his grace saved you—an undeserving sinner. Therefore “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living and Dying as a Christian

Part 3 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (1:18b-21). 

Thanksgiving in Prison

[This sermon was delivered on the Sunday before Canadian Thanksgiving.] 

Thanksgiving is a day on which we give thanks for our blessings.

But how is it possible to be thankful when life is difficult?

The apostle Paul’s life was often difficult. When he wrote his letter to the church at Philippi, he was in prison. And he was awaiting a trial that could result in his execution. Yet in the midst of those circumstances, he writes, “I rejoice” (1:18; cf. 4:4). Paul was a man who didn’t just talk about being thankful in all circumstances; he lived it. He says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (4:11).

The persecution of Christians still exists in our world today. Right now in Kazakhstan, a pastor named Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev is facing persecution because of his faith. Pastor Kashkumbayev was arrested on May 17, following accusations that he had laced communion juice with hallucinogens. The sixty-seven-year-old pastor suffered from “Soviet-style psychological exam-inations” while in a psychiatric ward. He was discharged from the ward on September 4, but the government refused to reveal his whereabouts. On October 8, Pastor Kashkumbayev was freed from prison but was arrested within minutes on new charges.

How is it possible for Pastor Kashkumbayev to be thankful while experiencing persecution? Obviously, it isn’t easy. But I believe it’s possible if we, like Paul, live out the words of 1:21: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

The Christian's Highest Goal

Paul has written about his present joy (1:18a). Now he turns to his future joy: “Yes, and I will rejoice” (1:18b). Paul anticipates rejoicing in the future because, as he says, “This [his present circumstances] will turn out for my deliverance” (v. 19).

Paul’s “deliverance” (v. 19) could refer either to his release from prison or his eternal salvation (cf. 1:6). When verse 19 is compared with Job 13:16 (“This will be my salvation”) the latter view appears best. Furthermore, the Greek word for “deliverance” is soteria, which usually refers to salvation in the New Testament. F. F. Bruce writes that Paul “is not thinking so much of immediate acquittal and dis-charge from custody…but (like Job) of his vindication in the heavenly court, his final salvation” (Philippians, 48).

There is a connection between faithful perseverance and salvation. Our salvation does not depend on our faithfulness, but our faithfulness gives evidence of our salvation. Paul is sure that he will persevere “through [the Philippians’] prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v. 19).

As Paul is awaiting a trial, he’s more concerned about the day when he will stand before Christ. He says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed” (v. 20; Rom. 5:5). Paul’s confidence was not based on who he was or on what he had done. It was based on Christ (cf. 3:9).

Paul writes, “With full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (v. 20).

The Christian’s highest goal is to honor Christ. 

Paul was able to be thankful in all circumstances because he knew that he could honor Christ in all circumstances. And honoring Christ was his highest goal.

Life or Death

Paul was confident that he would honor Christ whether he lived for died because “to [him] to live [was] Christ and to die [was] gain” (v. 21).

1. Christ is honored in a Christian’s life when doing Christ's will is more important than pursuing personal comfort or advancement. 

For Paul, continuing to live would result in “fruitful labor” (v. 22; cf. vv. 24-26). Before his conversion, Paul was most concerned about his advancement in Judaism. But when he met Christ on the road to Damascus, everything changed. What had once been so important to Paul was now considered “rubbish” (3:7).

2. Christ is honored in a Christian’s death when gaining Christ's presence is more appealing than hanging on to life. 

For Paul, dying would be “far better” because he would “be with Christ” (v. 23). Paul describes death as a departure. The Greek word for “depart” (analuo) could be used to describe the departure of a ship. When a person is departing on a ship to live in another place, he is sad to leave loved ones behind, but he is also excited about his new adventure. Death for the Christian is like that.

The Alternative

Paul’s life was often difficult. And, yes, much of his difficulty came because of his Christian faith. But if you think that being a Christian isn’t worth the trouble, think of the alternative.

If you are not a Christian, then death is not a gain; it’s a loss. And (if you are a Christian) when death comes to you, you won’t be thinking, “I wish I could have had a more comfortable life.” Or, “I wish I would have advanced more in my job or education.” If you do have regrets, you will probably say to yourself, “I wish I would have served Christ better.” Or, “I wish I would had a greater impact on those around me.” Think of the alternative.

If we could sincerely say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain,” we would be less concerned with our circumstances and more concerned with how we can honor Christ. And the joy of honoring Christ is something to be truly thankful for.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Advancing the Gospel

Part 2 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12). 

Bad Things Will Happen

No matter how hard we try, we can’t eliminate bad things from happening in our lives.

  • We have security systems, but houses still get robbed. 
  • We have seatbelts and airbags in our cars, but people still die in car accidents. 
  • We try to live healthy lifestyles, but people still get sick. 

We can reduce the problems in our lives, but we can never eliminate them. When the apostle Paul wrote his to the Philippians, his life was far from perfect. But how he responded to his difficulties provided a good example for the Philippians (and for us today).

The Unchained Gospel 

One of the reasons for Paul writing to the Philippians was to let them know how he was doing. So he writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (v. 12).

What “ha[d] happened to [Paul]”? He had been imprisoned (1:7, 13, 14, 17). And it was possible that he could be executed (1:20). But instead of Paul dwelling on his problems, he tells the Philippians that his imprisonment had “really served to advance the gospel.”

The word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel can be summed up with three words: problem, solution, and response. The problem is sin, the solution is Christ, and the response is faith. The gospel is the only message that brings salvation.

Paul was “in chains,” but the gospel was still advancing. During another imprisonment, Paul wrote to his friend Timothy, “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Tim. 2:9).

The Gospel and Our Circumstances

In the midst of Paul’s bad circumstances, he never lost sight of what was most important: the advancement of the gospel.

1. The advancement of the gospel is possible in all circumstances. 

Paul’s use of the word “really” reveals that he “felt that what he was writing would come as a surprise to the Philippians” (Frank Thielman, Philippians, 58). They would have been troubled about Paul being in prison. They were not expecting him to say that anything good had come out of it. Paul’s imprisonment had advanced the gospel in two ways.

First, people in Rome were being exposed to the gospel: “So that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (v. 13). Second, Christians had gained courage in sharing the gospel: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (v. 14). Paul’s imprisonment had a positive effect on both unbelievers (v. 13) and believers (v. 14).

 Paul “did not merely say that the gospel had continued to make progress in spite of adversity; rather, the adversity itself had turned out for the advancement of the gospel” (Moises Silva, Philippians, 62).

The Philippians were also facing adversity (1:29-30). Paul’s example showed them that the gospel can advance even when circumstances are bad.

2. If our joy is connected to the advancement of the gospel, it will remain firm regardless of our circumstances. 

For Paul, the advancement of the gospel was more important than his circumstances. If a bad circumstance, like imprisonment, could be used by God to advance the gospel, he was happy.

The gospel was advancing even though some were preaching it with the wrong motives: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will” (v. 15). Those who preached “out of rivalry” did so in an attempt “to afflict [Paul] in [his] imprisonment” (v. 16). Ironically, their preaching brought Paul joy. Why? He writes, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (v. 18).

One of the themes of Philippians is joy and peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. In 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Responding to Things We Can't Control 

While we can’t control our circumstances, we can control how we respond to things we can’t control. That’s what Paul did. He didn’t want to be in prison, but he understood that the gospel could still be advanced while he was a prisoner. We also can advance the gospel in the midst of bad circumstances.

  • The young man who loses his job can demonstrate that he trusts in God, not money. 
  • The elderly woman who is confined to a sick bed can pray that people would be saved. 
  • The man who is diagnosed with cancer can be a witness to others by remaining faithful to God. 

God can use us to advance the gospel in any circumstance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

God Finishes What He Starts

Part 1 of To Live Is Christ, a series through Philippians

You can listen to this sermon here.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). 

Unfinished Projects 

It’s common for us to start a project but never finish it.

Sometimes a project is not completed because of the death of its creator (Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood) or it becomes too costly (the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea, which would have been the tallest hotel in the world) or it becomes too overwhelming (the Tower of Babel in Gen. 11:1-9).

But what God starts, he always finishes.

The Church at Philippi 

In Acts 16, we learn how the church at Philippi began.

  • Paul traveled to Philippi after having a vision of a Macedonian man (vv. 10-12). 
  • A wealthy woman named Lydia and her household were saved (vv. 10-15). 
  • Paul cast a demonic spirit out of a slave girl (vv. 16-18). 
  • Paul and Silas were imprisoned (vv. 19-24). 
  • The prison’s jailer and his household were saved (vv. 25-34). 
  • The church may have met in Lydia’s house (v. 40). 

Now about ten years later (c. A.D. 62), Paul is writing to this church that originally consisted of Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family, and possibly the slave girl (Acts 16 doesn't tell us if she was saved or not). If Paul had a favorite church, it might have been the church at Philippi. (But we shouldn't think of this church as a perfect church. It appears that they struggled to maintain unity, 2:1-4, 14; 4:2.)

Paul wrote this letter from prison (1:7, 13-14, 17) and was facing possible execution (1:20, 30; 2:17). The traditional (and probably best) view is that he was in prison in Rome. Paul mentions that the gospel had become known “throughout the whole imperial guard” (1:13) and sends greetings from believers among “Caesar’s household” (4:22).

Salvation Is the Work of God 

The “good work” in verse 6 is salvation. “Salvation” is deliverance from sin’s punishment, power, and presence. There is a progressive nature to salvation. We “have been saved” (Eph. 2:8); we “are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18); and we will be saved (Rom. 13:11).

1. Our salvation was started by God. 

Paul states that God “began a good work in [the Philippians]” (v. 6). Salvation is a work of God’s grace: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

2. Our salvation is evidenced by our lives. 

The Philippians gave evidence of their salvation by helping Paul in his ministry (v. 5; cf. 1:28; 2:12-13). They were known for their generosity (4:15-16) and had recently sent him a gift to encourage him during his imprisonment (4:18).

3. Our salvation will be completed by God. 

Paul’s recollection of the Philippians’ partnership with him in the gospel “from the first day until now” (v.5) causes him to think of the future. Paul is “sure” that God “will bring [the Philippians’ salvation] to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day on which Christ will return. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24; cf. v. 23).

God Won't Give Up on You 

I started a home improvement project a couple of years ago that still isn’t finished. My wife probably has doubts if I’ll ever complete it. But we shouldn’t doubt God’s ability or willingness to finish the work (salvation) he began in us.

No matter the difficulty you’re facing (think of Paul’s imprisonment), God is still at work in your life. No matter the spiritual struggle you’re experiencing (think of the Philippians’ struggle with disunity), God will not give up on you.

“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What God starts, he always finishes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Heavenly Rewards

Part 5 of the series Heavenly-Minded

(Sorry, no sermon audio is available.)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor. 5:10). 

This Is Not Our Final Reality 

The apostle Paul was a man who face great difficulty, but he did not lose heart (4:16). Why not? First, he knew that his struggles were temporary (4:18). And, second, he was looking forward to the lasting joys that awaited him beyond this life. We also look forward to these future joys.

  • The glory of heaven is in our future. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17; cf. Matt. 5:11-12). 
  • A resurrection body is in our future. “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). 
  • The presence of Christ is in our future. “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). 

The Judgment Seat of Christ 

The Greek word for “judgment seat” is bema. In ancient Greek culture, a bema was a raised platform on which a judge sat. The ultimate judge of all people is Jesus Christ. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

1. We will all be judged by Christ. 

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10a; cf. Rom. 14:10). “Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). 

2. We will be judged according to our works in this life. 

The purpose of the judgment is “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done, whether good or evil” (5:10b).

  • “[God] will render to each one according to his works” (Rom. 2:6). 
  • “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Cor. 3:8; cf. vv. 12-15). God rewards faithfulness, not “success.” 
  • “Knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph. 6:8). 
  • “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:27). 
  • “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). 

Our good works demonstrate the reality of our salvation and determine the measure of our reward.

Wayne Grudem writes that “this judgment of believers will be a judgment to evaluate and be-stow various degrees of reward, but the fact that they will face such a judgment should never cause believers to fear that they will be eternally condemned” (Systematic Theology, p. 1143). There is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).

In the NT, our heavenly rewards are described as crowns or wreaths (like the wreaths awarded to victorious athletes in the ancient games). “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:24-25; cf. 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:2-4; Rev. 2:10). Even though there will be degrees of reward in heaven, the joy of each person will be full and complete for eternity.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

I have kept all of the trophies I won in my youth. Why? Not because they are valuable. (I've seen similar trophies in yard sales for 25 cents.) I have kept my trophies because of what they represent: past achievements.

Think about what heavenly rewards represent. They represent Christ being pleased with us. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please [Christ]” (5:9).

When I think about receiving a reward from Christ, I don’t think about a crown (cf. Rev. 4:10). I imagine what it will be like to hear Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23).

The greatest reward will be to hear that we pleased Christ.

We ought to be motivated to serve Christ not because we fear him as our Judge but because we love him as our Savior.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Heaven on Earth

Part 4 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:11-13). 

Temporary Treasures

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved…” (v. 11a).

“…because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (v. 12b).

It’s been said that our age is “the age of envy.” The poor envy the rich, and the rich envy the richer. Immanuel Kant declared, “Give a man everything he wants and at that moment, every-thing will not be everything.”

One day, everything in this world will be “dissolved.” (Actually, our stuff usually doesn’t last that long anyway. Most of it ends up either in the landfill or a yard sale.)

[When I preached this sermon, I showed some things that I wanted badly in the past, but now no longer use: Rubik’s Cube, Nintendo Entertainment System, mp3 player.] 

An eternal perspective helps us see that the world’s treasures are not worth living for. 

The world’s treasures are not capable of satisfying us. (Have you noticed how kids today are often bored even though they have more toys and games than any other generation?)

C. S. Lewis once said that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, pp. 136-37).  

God has made us for another world. In the future, he will make a new earth, which will really be heaven on earth.

[Read 2 Peter 3:1-10 to understand the context of vv. 11-13.] 

Paradise Regained 

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (v. 13).

In the Bible, there are three phases of earth’s history: (1) the original earth (Gen. 1-2), (2) the fallen earth (Gen. 3-Rev. 20), and (3) the new earth (Rev. 21-22; cf. Isa. 65:17; 66:22). According to the ESV Study Bible, “‘New’ could mean ‘newly created’ but probably means ‘renewed, made new'” (p. 2423). “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

“Heaven” is sometimes called “paradise” (see Luke 23:34; 2 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 2:7). Paradise has been lost, but it will be regained.

1. The new earth will be a unification of heaven and earth. 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:1-2; Ga. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-24).

2. The new earth will be free from sin's curse. 

Creation and humanity have been adversely affected because of sin (cf. Gen. 3:16-19). This is called “the curse.” “We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23; cf. vv. 18-21).

“No longer will there be anything accursed” (Rev. 22:3). “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

The hymn “Joy to the World” is theologically correct: “No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.” God will lift the curse, not only morally (in terms of sins) and psychologically (in terms of sorrows), but also physically (in terms of thorns infesting the ground; cf. Gen. 3:18).

3. The new earth will be a place of great joy and beauty. 

The “new Jerusalem” is compared to “a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).

4. The new earth will be filled with righteousness. 

Randy Alcorn writes, “We are homesick for Eden. We’re nostalgic for what is implanted in our hearts. It’s built into us, perhaps even at a genetic level. We long for what the first man and woman once enjoyed—a perfect and beautiful Earth with free and untainted relationships with God, each other, animals, and our environment. Every attempt at human progress has been an attempt to overcome what was lost in the Fall” (Heaven, p. 77).  

Holy and Godly People 

“…what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (vv. 11b-12a).

An eternal perspective helps us pursue holiness and godliness. 

Is it really possible for us to hasten the day Christ’s return by living holy and godly lives? Jesus said, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt. 24:36; cf. Acts 17:31). God has set a day for Christ’s return, but he also took our actions into account.

Living a holy and godly life simply means separating ourselves from what is sinful and doing what pleases God. The promise of Christ’s return and a new earth should be a motivation to live a holy and godly life. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6; cf. 7-10).

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Resurrection

Part 3 of the series Heavenly-Minded

You can listen to this sermon here.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-52). 

Body Problems 

When the first man and woman sinned, a curse came upon God’s creation. And the human body was affected by this curse. To Eve, God said, “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). To Adam, he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (v. 19). Adam and Eve (and all of their descendents) would experience three physical problems: pain, weariness, and death.

Some of our body problems are very serious; others are simply annoying. Health.com lists twenty-five annoying body problems. Here are a few: waterlogged ears, hiccups (a man named Charles Osborne hiccupped for 68 years! ), stiff neck, chapped lips, sleeping foot, dry skin, mosquito bites, and heartburn. 

God promises that one day believers will receive new bodies—bodies that will be free from all of the body problems we experience now.

The Hope of Our Resurrection

Jesus repeatedly promised that there would be a future resurrection.

  • “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29; cf. v. 25). 
  • “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39-40; cf. vv. 44, 54). 
  • “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:24). 

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives us three truths about the resurrection of believers.

1. The hope of our resurrection is connected to the reality of Christ's resurrection. 

Apparently many of the Corinthian believers didn’t believe that the dead in Christ would be raised: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12). In verses 13-19, Paul stresses how crucial the resurrection of the dead really is.

  • “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (v. 13). 
  • “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (v. 14). 
  • We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (vv. 15-16). 
  • “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and your are still in your sins” (v. 17). 
  • “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (v. 18). 
  • “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19). 

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). “Firstfruits” is an agricultural term. The firstfruits were the first crops harvested; at the end of the growing season would come a bigger harvest. Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits, and our resurrection is the bigger harvest to come.

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vv. 21-23). Because of Christ’s resurrection, we will be able to experience life apart from the curse. Death (the “last enemy,” v. 26) will be destroyed.

2. The resurrection body is a transformed body. 

“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body to they come?’ You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (vv. 35-38). The seed and plant analogy suggests both continuity and change. In other words, our bodies won’t be replaced, but they will be changed.

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (vv. 42-44).

Joni Eareckson Tada (who is paralyzed from the shoulders down) writes, “Somewhere in my broken, paralyzed body is the seed of what I shall become. The paralysis makes what I am to become all the more grand when you contrast atrophied, useless legs against splendorous resurrected legs. I’m convinced that if there are mirrors in heaven (and why not?), the image I’ll see will be unmistakably ‘Joni,’ although a much better, brighter Joni” (Heaven: Your Real Home, p. 37).

Why is it important that we have new resurrection bodies? God created us as humans. Having a physical body is part of what it meant to be human. And it is God’s plan to redeem us completely—spirit and body. Resurrection is the final step of redemption.

  • “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). Paul longed for his resurrection body (2 Cor. 5:1-2). 
  • “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). 
  • “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). To be “glorified” means to receive resurrection bodies. God’s plan is for us to be like Christ—not just in character but also in resurrection.

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 49). Since we will “bear the image” of Christ, perhaps the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances give us clues about what our new bodies will be like. However, as Millard Erickson writes, “It should be borne in mind that Jesus’ exaltation was not yet complete. The ascension, involving a transition from this space-time universe to the spiritual realm of heaven, may well have produced yet another transformation” (Christian Theology, p. 1205).

3. The resurrection will happen when Christ returns. 

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (v. 50). In other words, our bodies as they are right now (“perishable”) aren’t suited for eternity.

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed” (vv. 51-52; cf. vv. 53-57). The return of Christ was previously a “mystery” (not revealed by God to man). On that day, dead Christians will be “raised imperishable” and living Christians will be “changed.”

Your Labor Is Not in Vain 

Paul ends with a practical application: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, im-movable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58; vv. 30-32). 

What we do now matters. 

If what we do matters, we need to be doing what really matters.