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.