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.