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).