It Takes A Church (Prov 22:6)
Sermon Audio: It Takes A Church (Prov 22:6)
Sermon Discussion Questions
- Do you like kids? Are you a "kid person" or is caring for children hard for you?
- Read the three excerpts from the life of Jesus about children (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 9:46-48; Matthew 10:42). Which one stands out to you most?
- If our church is a body and a family, then what does it look like for you to care for children of our church? What responsibility do you bear for the "tenth generation" that will one day come from our children?
- Read Prov 22:6. If you are a parent, what are you currently doing to "train up" your child in the way he or she should go? What would you like to be doing? If you are not a parent, what are you doing for the children in our church? What would you like to be doing?
- "Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ." - Dane Ortlund. How can we make the heart of Christ beautiful to our children?
Children, do you like coming to church? Do you ever get bored? Wish that I would talk less? My family didn’t go to church very often when I was young, but on the rare occasions we did, I remember hating it. I would wait to go to the bathroom or use the water fountain till the service started so I had an excuse to escape the service for a minute or two, and would usually nod off at some point. A few hundred years ago, a little boy disliked coming to church. His parents had nearly given up attempting to get him to sit quietly through long morning service. He purposefully would try to be as disruptive as possible while he was there—making noise, faces, fidgeting. He hated church and he wanted everyone to know it. One day, somehow, he snuck away from the service and grabbed a set of pots and pans from his home nearby and paraded around the church building, loudly banging the pots and pans together in an attempt to disrupt the service. Eventually, an old deacon, tall as timber and old as the hills, lumbered out and stopped the young man in his tracks. He lowered himself down to where his wrinkled face was level with the red-faced child and said, “Young George, I can’t wait to see what happens when the Lord gets ahold of you.” And one day, when a young George Whitefield became an older George Whitefield, the Lord did get ahold of him and he was preaching to tens of thousands and leading scores of men and women to Christ.
Now, I heard that story years ago in a sermon someone preached and I cannot remember who said it or what source it was from. It has stuck in my mind because it is such an incredible story—you or I would have gone outside and reamed that kid out, but this old deacon responded with a remarkable amount of grace and compassion. Back then, deacons normally used to hang kids by their thumbs from nearby trees if they did things like that. Okay, I don’t really know that for sure, but it sounds like it would be true. Well, I have spent a long time searching for the source of that story or quote, and I could not find it anywhere. I may be remembering it wrong, or maybe it wasn’t about George Whitefield, but I went to Facebook and asked for help to see if someone else could remember it, and no one else did, but the story sparked a memory in someone else
“This reminds me of a church elder I know who got kicked out of Sunday School as a child for biting his teacher on the ankle from under the table…things got much better once the Lord got a hold of him! One colorful note to add…Bill wasn’t allowed in the church during Sunday School after the biting incident, so he had to wait outside until the church service began. This gave him the perfect opportunity to set fire to the weeds in the cracks of the church sidewalk. He was quickly reinstated to Sunday School.” Wise move. Bill sounds like a smart kid. Grateful the Lord got ahold of him.
Here is the aim of my sermon today: what is a church’s responsibility to the next generation, to our children? I am not thinking of exclusively what a parent’s responsibility is, but what an entire church’s responsibility is. There is an old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, but here we are going to argue that it actually takes a church. So, let’s look at our text.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
So, we are going to look at what Jesus’ own perspective was on children, what a church’s responsibility is for one another, and how we link arms to train them.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16
This is illuminating on so many levels. On the one hand, it shows us what the disciple’s thought about children (unimportant) and what they thought about Jesus (important). Important people don’t trouble themselves with the unimportant, and children often can feel unimportant. Maybe you are a very industrious person or have a demanding job or have very pressing “adult” things to do and if you sit and wait the five minutes it takes for your three-year-old attempt to put a sentence together or for your fourteen year old to pour out her heart to you about something that you know really doesn’t matter, that in a week’s time she will have moved on from, it will feel like Man, I could be doing something so much more important right now. And here is Jesus, literally the most important person who has ever lived, God in the flesh, the Messiah, right here. He doesn’t have time to serve in the preschool, parents.
But Jesus thinks otherwise. Jesus becomes “indignant” when the disciples stop the children from coming. This is the only time in all four gospels that we are told Jesus becomes indignant. That word is used elsewhere to describe the other ten disciples when they find out that James and John ask for special seats of prominence over everyone else in the Kingdom (Mark 10:41; Matt 20:41), when the disciples see the woman break the alabaster flask and pour out the ointment on Jesus’ feet, outraged at the waste of something so valuable just to be poured on feet (Matt 26:8; Mark 14:4; rulers of the synagogue see Jesus healing people on the Sabbath or hearing crowds shout out ‘Hosanna’ to Jesus (Luke 13:14; Matt 21:15). So, it’s used when someone sees someone doing something that they think is seriously out of place, something that is deeply offensive, wrong, outrageous. You can’t let these people worship you like you’re God or something…why did you let this woman waste something so valuable on your feet!? They are wrongly indignant. Jesus is worthy of worship, worthy of everything.
But here, Jesus is rightly indignant. Notice what verse 13 said, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them,” (Mark 10:13). This could mean a touch in the way of healing. These children may be sick and parents are asking for help. Or, as verse 16 tells us, this could just be children wanting to receive a general blessing from Jesus. Either way, Jesus is rightfully angry with His disciples and tells them, Don’t you dare stop them. And then Jesus scoops the kids up in His arms and blesses them (vs. 16). You and I tend to think children are unimportant. Jesus doesn’t think that. He considers children to be a great model of what it looks to enter the kingdom of God. If we were to think of what the ideal picture of a Christian were to be, we would think of some guru, some monk or martyr doing cosmically important things for the kingdom of God, someone who prays for 12 hours a day and speaks eloquently and wrestles with Satan—and then we think, Okay, that’s what it means to be a real Christian. But Jesus says, No, that’s not where things begin. It actually begins with looking like a child. Our problem is that we are too vain and self-important, and ‘becoming like a child’ doesn’t jive with that.
“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:46-48).
The disciples here are completely typical of us. Self-important, self-serious, self-centered. And Jesus, in an attempt to pop their bubbles of ego, brings a child forward and tells them that whenever they receive a child “in his name” they receive Jesus, and in receiving Jesus they receive the Father. Before explaining, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” Now, why does Jesus bring forward a child at this moment? In the previous story, the disciples were rebuked for stopping children from coming to Jesus and then a child was held up as a picture of what it looks like to enter the kingdom; here, however, the disciples are arguing about which one is the greatest, and Jesus says You want to be great? Take care of children.
Jesus concludes with, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great,” because we tend to think that caring for children is what the “least among” us do. But it is there that Jesus says true greatness is found. The world may not value children, but Jesus does. Stay at home mom’s, the world will never give an award for what you do; Dads who choose to scale back on their careers, to take a pay cut to spend more time with their kids, the world won’t understand that. But Jesus sees you, and He thinks what you are doing is beautiful, is glorious, is great.
“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matt 10:42. Here Jesus notes that every small act one of His disciples does for children, as small as giving a child a glass of cold water, is meticulously tracked by their Lord and will one day result in a reward. So every act of seemingly unimportant service to our children, every glass of water a mom gets for her boy, every granola bar a dad fishes out of the pantry for his little girl, every midnight diaper change, every late night conversation with your teenager, every frustrating act of faithfulness that you and I are tempted to feel like is mundane and boring and pointless, Jesus sees. And Jesus will one day reward.
So Jesus loves children, His heart is for them, He calls us to care for them, holds them up as a model for us to learn from, and says that one of the best ways to live a great life is to care for kids. Which brings us to our church.
Here is what the Bible tells us about the local church: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another,” (Rom 12:4-5). What is this telling us. It is telling us that the Christian life is communally shaped, and that community looks like people who are different (“the members do not all have the same function”), but who are united in one purpose (“so we, though many, are one body in Christ”). Another metaphor for the church used in the Bible is that of a family. 1 Timothy 3, when explaining the qualifications for an elder, explains that for a man to serve as an elder he must manage his own household well so that he can be prepared to manage the household of God, the church (1 Tim 3:4-5).
So, here is our church, we are like a body, like a family. We are filled with different people, with different gifts, from different walks of life, and different perspectives. But God tells that across our diversity, we are “individually members one of another.” We are bound together. We practice this at Quinault by taking membership vows, promising to use our gifts, our time, our energy, our resources to help one another grow in Christ, to bear one another’s burdens, to love one another. This means we put a priority and premium on the relationships within our church, with those we have made a commitment to.
Now click the lens over to thinking about our children: There are people here who are older without children, there are single people with no children, there are young families, there are empty nesters, there are widows, there are parents of teenagers, there are single parents; there are people who naturally love children, and there are people who find caring for children stressful. God has so chosen, so meticulously arranged this body together so that across the varied walks of life and various giftings, we could help raise the next generation. So this means that as we follow our Savior who loved children and commanded all His disciples to care for children and defined greatness that way, and we become a member of the body of Christ where we commit to help one another along in the Christian life, we never say anything like: Well, their not my kids, so their not my responsibility; I don’t have any kids, so I don’t need to worry about that.
We are all in this together. Christian Smith, a sociologist who has specialized in how religion, and Christianity in particular, is transmitted most effectively to subsequent generations has written on what seems to be the hallmarks of young people whose faith perseveres and flourishes beyond adolescence. The first hallmark is parents whose Christianity was just a natural part of their everyday life, who were strict with discipline, and who were active members in their local congregations. The second hallmark, more than anything else, more than going on mission trips or participating in a youth group or going to a Christian school, was that the young people developed meaningful relationships with non-family adults within the church.
When I was younger and not a Christian, like I said before, my parents were not walking with the Lord. So, when I began attending church in high school I began to make friends there and I was invited over to different Christian homes. I can remember clear as day, sitting at Julie and Mike Pemberton’s home for lunch after church one Sunday with everyone seated around the dining table and the thought struck me: Wow, all these people really like each other. I didn’t know anything about God, I didn’t know anything about the Bible, I didn’t know anything about anything, but I knew that this family possessed something I didn’t have. And I was hungry for it. I saw Christianity lived out in front of me there. I saw adults embrace the gospel whole heartedly. I saw how a husband loved his wife, how parents raised children, how a family prayed together, what repentance looked like—I saw it lived out in the families of the church. All because families were willing to invite me into their lives.
Just to make the point even more real for us.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
- Ps 127:3
What is a “heritage”? This is the same word for an “inheritance,” which we tend to associate with the opposite end of the spectrum of birth—with death. Like receiving a precious heirloom or vast estate, we receive our children as an immeasurable reward.
One pastor once noted a place in the Bible where God had blessed someone to the tenth generation. So, he began to pray for his children to the tenth generation. So, I have three children. If my three children each have three children, and that reproduction rate holds for ten generations, that will be 59,049 people. In our church, we have nearly 50 kids, in ten generations that will (assuming they have, on average, three children) turn into nearly 3 million people. That is almost half the population of Washington state. And they are coming, church. Do we not bear an obligation to them? Are we not responsible? Does not our church need to do something to get ready for them?
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
The word “train” does not refer merely to the transfer of knowledge, but the cultivation of taste. It is related to an Arabic word that refers to a date mixture parents would rub on a newborn infants palate to help them learn to suck. That serves as a wonderful illustration of how we “train” our children. We need to give our children a sense, a taste of what the correct path is. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Dane Ortlund explains his aim to do this as a parent and what he received from his own parents:
“Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.
This is perhaps the greatest gift my own dad has given me. He taught my siblings and me sound doctrine as we were growing up, to be sure…But there’s something he has shown me that runs even deeper than truth about God, and that is the heart of God, proven in Christ, the friend of sinners. Dad made that heart beautiful to me. He didn’t crowbar me into that; he drew me in.” – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, pgs. 100-101
How do you make the heart of Christ beautiful for your children? Well, you first need to be captivated by the beauty of Christ yourself. You can only give what you have. How do we do that? Well, we need to consider what the Bible says about us being children.
The Bible does not describe us as initially as children of God. Look at John, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). He gave the right to become children. Which means, of course, that we previously weren’t children. Similarly, Paul tells us that we have been adopted into God’s family in Eph 1:5 and Romans 8:15.
So, what are we naturally then? Here is what Ephesians tells us: we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3). Children of wrath. We were headed towards destruction, waging war against God, thinking we knew everything. We, like a dead fish floating downstream, just followed the paths of the world, living for the flesh. Children of wrath. And what does God do for us in our sorry state?
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved,” Eph 2:4-5. But God. The great interruption we sorely need! God interjects Himself into our situation, our poor and pitiful situation. And what does God interject with? The riches of His mercy. Not His wrath, though we were children of wrath, ones who everyone would expect to receive wrath; instead the holy God responds with mercy. And why? Because of the great love with which he loved us.
No one is born a Christian. Every single one of us are transferred from darkness to light by the sheer grace and love of God. Christ, our older brother, laid down his life so that we could be adopted into His family, made alive, lifted us up into the heavenly places, and placed into a new family in the local church. And when you and I see that kind of love and turn towards our own children, the children of our church, and we (imperfectly, yes, but genuinely) extend the same kind heart to them that we have received in Christ. That’s how we make the heart of Christ beautiful to them, we let the beauty that has gripped us spill over into every part of our lives, including our parenting.
Practically, how can we train up our children:
- Treat children like they matter. Jesus thought they did. Jesus told us if we wanted to be great we should care for children, we should learn from them, we should receive them in his name. So that means we are going to treat children like they matter at this church. Children are not an interruption to our services, they are honored here. When we are in a conversation with other adults and our children walk up we don’t, through our tone and dismissiveness, tell them, “You are a nuisance.” We get down on their level and we speak to them, treat them like they matter.
- Let children know that you like them. We love our children here and we interact with them in such a way that they know that we enjoy them. We care about them. I love that Mark told us that Jesus scooped the kids up in his arms and embraced them. Kids need lots of hugs and cuddles from mom and dad. We need to play with our kids, wrestle with them, read to them, spend unhurried time with them. We all know we cannot be a professional playmate for our kids. We have jobs, we have other responsibilities, and we must discipline our children. I am not saying we give our children everything they want. But, it is precisely because we have those other responsibilities that we must make it abundantly clear to them that we delight in them, that they are an inheritance in our eyes. This is why when mom and dad discipline their children, we have to be so careful to show them the heart of Christ. God disciplines all his children (Hebrews 12). But His discipline, He makes clear, is a display of His love. It is not Him losing His temper, getting pushed to His limits and finally snapping, You are driving me crazy! Our discipline is not the by-product of our own impatience and anger, but must be the outflow of our love and commitment to our children’s own good. So, when it comes time to get a spanking or a timeout or a grounding, you make it clear to your child: Sweety, I love you and it is because I love you that I have to give you this consequence. And then, afterwards, we go above and beyond to show them: you know, I really, really enjoy you; nothing is ever going to change that.
- Serve children how you have been served. We wipe noses, and have the same conversation a thousand times, and make lunches, and show patience to those who are being impatient. We extend the same kind of love and care and service that God has shown us. If you are struggling to serve your children, just ask yourself, “How has Jesus served me?” In our church, one of the best ways we can serve our children is through volunteering in our children’s ministry. You can also regularly pray for our children. You can interact with them, spend time with them, invest in them.
Jesus loves children. He cares for them, and He calls us to do the same. God has placed us into this church where we all bear responsibility for one another—including the raising of our children. And He has shown us the beauty of His heart as a model for how we can train our children in the way they should go.
The God of Peace (Phil 4:2-9)
Sermon Audio: The God of Peace (Phil 4:2-9)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- In this passage Paul calls us to exercise control over our relationships, joy, gentleness, anxiety, and thought-life. Is there one area of your life that you tend to feel most like you are helpless to your circumstances?
- Read Romans 5:1-2. What is the connection between peace with God and joy? What comes to mind when you think of "rejoice in the lord always"?
- Read Phil 4:5. If there was something other than "reasonableness/gentleness" that the church was known for today, what would it be? Why does Paul mention "The Lord is at hand."?
- Read Phil 4:6-7. What stood out to you most from this section?
- What does it look like for you to apply Phil 4:8-9 in your life?
Do you ever feel like your life is spent responding to what happens rather than exercising control over what happens? Like the difference between a raft floating on the ocean, victim to the currents and winds, entirely different than the cruise liner cutting along wherever it wills. Our emotions, our time, our relationships, our thoughts—all of it is consumed with the next thing wave that crashes upon our life. From the stresses of fixating on how to pay our bills or that tension building with a friend, to the trivialities of wasting time on social media or letting the countdown timer on Netflix usher you into another hour of television you don’t need—it is easy to feel like we are helpless.
When my wife and I were first married we took a class on helping us get on the same page with a budget and finances. I had always grown up with the idea that budgeting was something you did on the back end, it was how you found out where your money went in the past month and then you just hopped that all was well. The class we attended presented a different perspective: it invited you to tell your money where it was going. And this is similar to how the Bible describes the way Christians should think about life. We are not victims to the forces of life and circumstance. Of course, I am not saying this means that we can order circumstances around us in whatever we want—not at all. In fact, we acknowledge that God alone has the power to do such things. But something has occurred in the interior life of a Christian that enables him or her to have agency and choice in how they respond to life. We are not life rafts floating along, hoping for a favorable current. Rather, we have an engine inside us that enables to overcome the headwinds of our circumstances and choose how we respond. Charles Wesley describes this well in the hymn he wrote in reflecting upon his conversion:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, My heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee.
Here is what the gospel tells us: we were utterly helpless, stuck in our sin like a prisoner. Then, one day, God opened up our ears, our minds, our hearts to receive and believe the message of Christ—His death on the cross, His resurrection, His atonement for our sins, and His invitation to eternal life. But God doesn’t leave us in the shackles of sin; He sets us free and invites us to follow Him. He gives us His Spirit that empowers us to live a different life. We are not helpless.
We see a series of commands in our passage today where Paul looks at different situations where we normally feel that we are at the mercy of circumstance and Paul reminds us that this isn’t true. We can choose how we respond. Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil 4:2-9
The overriding theme that stitches these rapid fire commandments is the idea of “peace.”
We don’t know much about Euodia, Syntche, or Clement other than what we find here in this passage. Euodia and Syntche are two women who are members of the Philippian church who appear to be in a quarrel that has become at least significant enough that Paul feels the need to publicly address it in the letter. Remember, this letter would have been read before the entire church, so these ladies must have been in a conflict that was outward, obvious, and serious. We read, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life,” (Phil 4:2-3).
Notice three things Paul does here to address the conflict between these two women:
1. He asks the ladies to agree “in the Lord.” He reminds them both that they are both united to Christ, and so whatever disagreement they have with each other they must first fundamentally remember their basic identity that supersedes any other disagreement. They are both “in Christ.”
2. Paul calls on another individual a “faithful companion”—perhaps the pastor or another trusted co-laborer with Paul who was well known—to intervene in the conflict and to serve as a conflict mediator of sorts.
3. Paul reminds both of these women and the rest of the church that their conflict is not the final, or only word about them. He reminds them that they both labored at Paul’s side for the sake of the gospel, that they labored with the whole company of Paul’s workers. Paul also reminds them that their names are in the “book of life.” This is a book we can read of at the end of Revelation (see Rev 20:11-15) which possesses the names of all those whom Christ has saved. Paul wants these women and the rest of the church to know that, whatever their disagreement is, it is an “in house” disagreement.
This provides helpful instruction for us when we become divisive with one another. We should always remember that the brother or sister we are arguing with is fundamentally “in Christ.” This means that sometimes we may need the help of a “faithful companion” to mediate a difficult situation. We should also keep in mind that this conflict is not the only thing that defines and marks this other person. We should keep clear categories of “theological triage” for this disagreement, remembering where this disagreement falls on the ladder of importance and responding accordingly.
We should be eager to pursue peace, as Paul reminded the Ephesians, “1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph 4:1-3). Our peace between one another is something we should be eager to maintain because we have been filled with the Spirit and our peace together testifies to the peace we have with God.
Peace with God
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” (Phil 4:4). Joy has been a repeated theme in Philippians (mentioned 15x), whether it be Paul rejoicing (Phil 1:4; 1:18; 2:2; 2:17; 2:19; 2:28; 4:1; 4:10), Paul working for the Philippians’ joy (1:25), or Paul commanding the Philippians to rejoice (2:18; 2:29; 3:1; 4:4). The big question, of course, is how on earth does anyone do this? How do you rejoice always? Further, how can Paul command us to rejoice? How many parents have tried out telling your kid, “You’re going to do it, and you’re going to like it!” Has that ever worked? And yet, here Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord”?
In Romans 5, Paul explains: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” (Rom 5:1-2). What is this verse telling us? Sinners who declared war on God can find peace with God through Jesus Christ. Imagine a good king who rules his land fairly and justly. He establishes a law to govern the kingdom and all the citizens agree to it. But when the citizens rebel against the law, the king turns to the rebels and tells them, “If you will come back to me, I will personally pay the penalty of your debt.” This is what Paul is saying has happened: rebels like us have been made right with God, we have peace with him. And notice, the peace with God then leads to rejoicing, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Joy here isn’t lighthearted frivolity; it doesn’t refer to the laugh track of some sitcom. It is a deep joy that can persist even in the midst of sorrow.
We rejoice because our great dilemma has been solved, our sin is taken away and our guilt atoned for. Hell is no longer our destination, but eternal life, and nothing on heaven or earth can alter our eternal destiny, so we have every reason to rejoice. But that isn’t only all. When we “rejoice in the Lord” we are rejoicing that we are being connected to the source of all joy: God Himself. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Ps 16:11). God command us to rejoice because we have been reconciled with the God of all joy, have come into the presence of Joy itself. This is why Paul commands us to rejoice
Practical tips to rejoice always in the Lord:
- Consider the liturgies of your life.
o Read your Bible and pray every day so that you may keep your heart warm to the Lord.
o Prioritize Christian community and corporate worship.
o Sing hymns and Christian songs—even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll be surprised at how your heart may change.
o Remove practices that deaden your joy.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand,” Phil 4:5. What does this mean? The word “reasonable” there could also be translated “gentleness.” It has less to do with logic, or an ability to use reason in an argument, and has more to do with fairness, selflessness, and a desire to prioritize the need of others, even at cost to yourself. This is what is to mark off and highlight God’s people. We have peace with God and are given God, so we are people who should reflect God in our lives—and what is God like with us? Certainly He is powerful and righteous and just, but He is also gentle, compassionate, patient, kind—willing to empty Himself for us.
What are you known for? Would your fellow employees or subordinates describe you as “reasonable”? Would your spouse? Parents, would your children say that your gentleness is what marks your parenting? The parent who relies on “shock and awe” displays of anger to intimidate their children into submission is not only growing the seeds of bitterness and resentment in their children, but is also fundamentally misrepresenting God. That isn’t what God is like. God can be stern with His children, He disciplines them, and He does get angry—but God is slow to anger, and His anger lasts but for a moment. It is not the organizing principle or defining characteristic that marks Him. Rather, He is “gentle and lowly of heart.”
Angry, outraged people who have to rely on fury and intimidation are weak people—they are insecure and afraid that maybe they are wrong, so they overcompensate with intensity. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone,” (Prov 25:15). Gentleness isn’t about caving on our convictions of what we think is right or wrong, it is about the quiet strength that comes from the settled certainty of the Lordship of Christ and a commitment to follow His path, even when it takes us into lowliness.
Why does Paul mention “The Lord is at hand.” He is referring to the imminent return of Christ; Jesus is coming again soon and, I think, Paul mentions that here so that we need not feel tempted to create our own version of justice, attempt to balance the scales ourselves. We can simply leave that to Him.
Peace that Surpasses Understanding
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:6-7)
We will consider this passage again in a few weeks more thoroughly, but some brief comments will suffice for now. Anxiety may be the thing that feels most difficult to have any control over. In 2018, 39% of Americans said they felt more anxious about their health, safety, finances, politics, and relationships than they did just a year before that. In October of 2020, that number was up to 62%. Certainly, covid and quarantines have had an outsized impact on that. But, even setting that aside, our culture has taken the idea that to be “stressed out” is normal, maybe even a sign that you are a competent, responsible adult. How can we “not be anxious”?
Anxiety is imagining a future without Jesus in it. Anxiety is the consequence of you and me attempting to be God. It is the fear of the unknown coupled with the certainty of our limitations, projected forward in time. We can be anxious about anything.
Anxiety is when you talk to yourself about your problems; Paul invites us to instead talk to God about them.
Prayer is a general term that refers to communicating with God; supplication refers to making requests, asking God for things; and thanksgiving, of course, is thanking God for what He has done. And it is that last bit that we may be prone to forget—with thanksgiving. While I was in seminary I entered a few seasons where my anxiety got the best of me. I was working two jobs, I was a full time graduate student, and we had just had our second child. Pretty soon, I was waking up in the middle of the night from having stress nightmares and struggled to sleep at all. I had always had this verse memorized and began meditating on it, asking God to take my burdens off me, but I realized that I had completely excised “with thanksgiving” from the verse. I was making prayers and supplications, but not offering thanksgiving. So, every night before I went to sleep here is what I started doing: as I recited this passage, I would begin to thank God for everything that I could recall God had done for me. And as I began to mentally reflect on them, it slowly dawned on me just how many things God had done: namely, in giving me Christ, forgiving my sins, but also in giving me my wife, my precious children, providing our home, providing the money we needed when we weren’t sure how we were going to make it, the car that perfectly fit our family’s needs, and on and on it went. And slowly, like a life raft slowly inflating with air underneath me, I felt myself buoy upward with hope and confidence: God hasn’t failed me yet; He is faithful to provide. He will provide in this situation too. And he did.
And what happens when we do this? Paul tells us, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:7). Earlier, we reflected on how we have peace with God; here Paul shows how to receive peace from God. The peace which God Himself possesses. This is a peace which transcends all normal explanations, a peace that does not depend on your circumstances, but on the reminder of who your heavenly Father is. This peace then becomes a suit of armor which will protect you and guard you from the crippling power of anxiety. And armor is a great example--armor is intended to be used in battle. Meaning, there is still danger around you. The peace of God does not come to eradicate all the reasons for anxiety in your life; the risks and danger are still there. But in the midst of the danger, there is a peace that surpasses understanding that guards your heart and mind through it all.
Peace of Mind
Lastly, Paul invites us to fill our mind with what is true and fixate our eyes on what is good. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8-9).
Paul is concerned with the thoughts we entertain in our minds and the models we have lived out before us. From the fantasies we let roll out in our minds, to the content we consume online, to the ideologies we flirt with—Paul invites us to more critically evaluate them. Is it true? Is it honorable? Is it just? Is it pure? And on, and on it goes. Friend, do you let your mind run free to fantasize or catastrophize about every possible thing? Do you consider how the TV shows you are binging are shaping what your heart considers to be “lovely” and “excellent”? Don’t passively sit back and let your thoughts or media habits run the show; sift them through Phil 4:8. You become what you behold.
And if we pattern our life after Paul’s teaching “The God of peace” will be with us. As the great hymn reminds us:
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
In the final book of the Lord of the Rings, we find Sam and Frodo struggling through the Land of Shadow. Frodo has been carrying the Ring across all of Middle-Earth, and at this point the ring has hollowed him out spiritually. He is just a shell of a person now, consumed by fear and dread. It us up to Sam to bear his friend along to the end of their task, but as they trudge through the ugly, blackened land of Mordor, Sam's hopes begin to flag. Until, one night while making camp, he looks up:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.” – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow”
Two Ways to Live (Phil 3:17-4:1)
Sermon Audio: Two Ways to Live (Phil 3:17-4:1)
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you the most?
- Read Phil 3:17-18. Why does Paul think it is important for the Philippians to have good examples to follow? What does this tell us Paul assumes to be necessary for the Christian life?
- Why does Paul tell us of his tears in Phil 3:18? See also Rom 9:2-3.
- Paul describes the four characteristics of the enemies of the cross in Phil 3:19 to warn us from patterning our lives after them. Did any of those four strike a chord with you or help illuminate a temptation you see in your life?
- Why does Paul discuss the glorification of our bodies in Phil 3:21? What does the phrase "by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself," mean?
- If we are to keep "good examples" before us, then who or what are the good examples you strive to keep before your eyes?
Have you ever felt stuck about a decision that needed to be made? Where to go for dinner? What kind of car to buy? What outfit to wear? How to approach your boss about that problem? What to do in the face of your children’s persistent discipline issues? Life is full of decisions that have to be made, and the more serious the decision, the more paralyzing the choice can be. What do we need to make good decisions? Well, we need information and wisdom and then we have to simply make a choice. Information about the options before us, wisdom to weigh the two, and decisiveness to move forward with one and not the other. We all know what its like to make a decision, only to later regret it—the restaurant made for a disappointing date night; the exciting business venture tanks; the diet plan didn’t do anything for us. What did we lack? Either good information or the wisdom needed to analyze the information well.
During the pandemic when our family was feeling pretty stir crazy, we planned a short little vacation and we failed to read reviews very carefully. I took cursory glances at pictures of the house online and thought it looked fine. The house we stayed at was billed as a cabin in the woods, which sounds great, but in reality felt more like a “we might get murdered here and no one would find us for a long time.” We walked inside and my oldest son found a random dish towel hanging from a hook on a wall in the dining room and asked, “Dad, why is this here?” I moved the towel aside and behind the towel was either the remnants of a ketchup bottle that exploded onto the wall, or evidence of a crime scene. Needless to say, it would have been nice had we looked more thoroughly at reviews of our destination before we arrived.
This is likely why services which provide reviews have become so popular. Don’t want to waste your time with a bad movie? Look up a review. Worried about whether that new piece of technology is worth it? Read a review. We love reviews because they give us insider knowledge—an authoritative voice of someone who has been to the Air BNB, who has used that doctor, who knows and can tell you what the experience was like. But, I’m sure you’ve had moments where you were given an inaccurate review, or someone told you bad advice about something: Go see that movie, it’s incredible! You guys should totally go out, you’d really hit it off! And the more serious the decision being made, the more necessary it is for us to have reliable information.
What if we had someone who could provide fool-proof, 100% certain information about the most important decision in life? Here in our text today, we have just that. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so speaking on behalf of God, is going to give us an overview of the most important decision you or I can make in our lives: what you or I do in response to Jesus Christ. If you take a bad vacation, you can take another one; if you make a poor business investment, you’ll recover. But if you make the wrong decision about Jesus? That’s it. There is no do-overs. You get one shot with your life. You either receive Christ as your King and Savior who has died to purchase you, to forgive your sins and reconcile you to God, and fall down before Him in worship, or you don’t. And here, Paul is going to lay out the consequences of these two options. What does that look like? What affect do these two choices have on your life? Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Phil 3:17-4:1
The Power of Example
Paul opens this section with an encouragement and a warning. First, he encourages us to keep good examples before our eyes, and then cautions us of bad examples. He tells us, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3:17). We have spoken of this before, but Paul understands examples to serve as a critical function in the Christian life. Christianity is not calculus. It is not something that you can sit down with a book, alone in a room, and figure out all by yourself. It is something that needs to be demonstrated. And Paul says we should look at his example, and follow it, as well as keep an eye on others who do the same. Note why Paul concludes this, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ,” (Phil 3:18). Why should you have good examples? Because there are so many bad examples. And these bad examples don’t leave Paul shaking his fist in anger, they don’t leave him laughing, they don’t leave him with a cold indifferent shoulder shrug—they leave him weeping. Why? It becomes evident when we compare their life with the Christian life.
Two Ways to Live
In verse 19 Paul paints a description of what these enemies of the cross are like, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things,” (Phil 3:19). Here Paul gives us four characteristics of enemies of the cross: (1) He tells us their end, (2) their god, (3) their glory, and (4) and their mindset. If we move backwards through them (because I think it results in a natural progression), we can actually see how Paul counters each point with what marks a Christian. Remember: Paul isn’t only giving us these characteristics to identify what a non-Christian looks like, but as a warning for us, lest we follow in their path. So as we listen, we should seek to see if we identify any of these characteristics in ourselves.
“With minds set on earthly things.” Paul tells Christians to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” (Col 3:2), or elsewhere explains, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” (Rom 8:5-6). Paul is trying to warn us that if we set our minds on earthly things, things of the flesh, we are walking the path of death. A mind that is set on worldly things is a mind that thinks about, meditates on, and treasures what the world does.
But those in Christ? What do we set our minds on? We set our minds on “the things that are above” and on the “Spirit.” Philippians reminds us that, “But our citizenship is in heaven,” (Phil 3:20). If you’ll remember, back in Philippians 1:27 Paul told the Philippians to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The phrase “let your manner of life ” is actually all one word in Greek and it just means, “live as a citizen of.” So, the contrast Paul is making here is the same contrast the St. Augustine made in his classic work The City of God. There are two cities that you can belong to—the city of man or the city of God. Christians are those who belong to the heavenly city, so we set our minds on that city. Practically speaking, that means that we let the culture of the Kingdom of God impress itself upon us and shape and form out mental space. We meditate on God’s Word, we adopt God’s worldview, we interpret reality through God’s framework.
Enemies of the cross, however, have not seen the heavenly truths, the “things that are above,” so they operate within an enclosed, earthly frame. So, the values of our culture, of our own desires, become the grid through which we interpret reality. And this leads to what they value, what they glory in.
“They glory in their shame.” What does that mean? It means that they take pride in what should embarrass them, what should leave them ashamed. Paul explains to the Roman church that when we turn away from God our minds become darkened and we do shameful things with our bodies, especially when it comes to our sexuality (Rom 1:24-27). Shame is a tricky issue. We tend to assume that shame is unequivocally something to be avoided. But Paul makes it clear that there are some things that are dishonorable, shameful.
Human beings were made to know God, which means we were meant to have a mindset that was centered on him. When we fail to do that, what happens? What we love becomes twisted, and what should leave human beings ashamed can actually become something we are incredibly proud of. It is a tragic irony that “pride” has become a rallying cry of a movement that is based on doing shameful things with one’s body. But this can take other forms as well, it also looks like men who brag of how many women they have taken to bed, or looks like parents who feel proud of their career despite it leading to the sacrifice of their children. If your mind is set on earthly things, you will value and boast in whatever the world around you does.
What do Christians glory in? If the enemies of the cross “glory in their shame,” does that mean we glory in our honor? Do we glory in our self-righteousness, our prestige, our achievements? That would seem to be the natural opposite of “shame” wouldn’t it? No, Paul in contrast simply points us to Christ, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). Earlier, Paul explained, “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). The only thing a Christian brags about, boasts in, honors is Christ alone. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal 6:14).
“Their god is their belly.” Everybody worships, and you what you worship, you are controlled by. What do the enemies of the cross worship? Their bellies. Meaning, they worship their appetites. What their body wants, they give it. Why? Because their cravings are their god. Basically, you have appetites, you have cravings, and you should indulge them. If you want something you should have it. So, do you want sex? Go have it. You want status? Do whatever it takes. You want to be a lazy sloth that lies on the couch all day? Indulge away. When your belly is your god, you live to satisfy your cravings, so you glory in your shame with a mind set on earthly things: if you want something, you should have it.
For Christians, of course, our god is not our belly, but our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). As we considered last week, one thing Christians are to do is to discipline their bodily cravings and bring them under the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor 9:24-27). Jesus knows what is best for us friends, His law is for our good. He knows that handing ourselves over to our wanton desires and lusts will just destroy us. So, He—not out bodies and their cravings—is our Lord. But notice, He is not just our Lord, but also our Savior. Your belly won’t save you. Indulging your cravings won’t. It will leave you constantly looking for another high, another bed, another pursuit to distract you, with ever diminishing returns. Jesus isn’t like that. He will not dangle a carrot out on a stick with a promise of salvation some day. He can take you in your sins now, and redeem you wholly, save you entirely.
“Their end is destruction.” Where does this all end? Paul makes it clear that those who reject the gospel of Christ face “destruction.” He warns the Thessalonians, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thess 1:9). Enemies of the cross of Christ do not want God, and so for all eternity, that is precisely what they will get—but it will not bring life. How could it? In God is the light of life. The only thing found away from His presence is destruction. CS Lewis poignantly reflects on Christ’s words to the reprobate, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23) what terror could it be to “banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all,” (The Weight of Glory).
The point here, though, is to show you that the train the enemies of the cross of Christ is not an enviable one because its destination is not a place you want to go. Psalm 73 is a reflection of a faithful follower of the Lord who is frustrated that he has lived a life of holiness, but his life is filled with struggle and deprivation. Meanwhile, all the people who reject God seem to live a life of ease, they are rich, famous, and seem to have no consequences for their unrighteousness. And the psalmist confesses that he was envious—what’s the point of being godly! Now, that’s a problem—we don’t follow God so that we can become rich, famous, and indulgent. But here is part of what helped the psalmist:
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
- Ps 73:16-20
We keep our hearts rightly balanced when we keep eternity in mind, friend. Maybe you are tempted to look at the non-Christians around you who scratch the itch of desire whenever it comes, who give themselves over to whatever craving, and maybe there is part of your mind that is actually mirroring the mind set of the world. And deep down you think, Man, that must be nice. Friend, in the same way a dream evaporates at the first eyeblink of consciousness, they are going to utterly destroyed. Do not envy those who glory in their shame. Turn instead to the path of life.
What is the end, the final state of a Christian? Consider, “But 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, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” Phil 3:20-21. Our end is the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will usher us into the kingdom of Heaven, where our citizenship lies, and there we will remain forever. But not only that, we will experience a transformation of our body.
In the previous point I told you that our bodies are not our god, Jesus is, so we do not hand ourselves over unconditionally to our bodily cravings. But this does not mean that our bodies are inherently bad. Quite the opposite. Psalm 137 tells us that the creation of your body should inspire fear and wonder in us.
But the Bible explains that our bodies are in need of redemption. Which means that (1) our bodies are in trouble, they are riddled with sin, but (2) they are valuable and can be repaired. Paul is telling us here that one day our bodies will be restored and renewed, transformed into the same kind of body that Jesus Christ Himself currently possesses. Look again at verse 21 where we are told Jesus, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” (Phil 3:21).
What does that last qualifier mean? “By the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That is saying that the power God is going to use to transform your body is the same power which He uses to govern the universe and the same power He will one day exert when every knee on heaven and earth and under the earth bows to Him and confesses that Christ is Lord. That is the firepower God is intending to use to transform your body, which is itself indicative of just how dramatic this transformation will be. We all acknowledge problems with our body, and we can think of ways a glorified body would be an improvement—no more back pain, no more illness, no more death, etc. But, if we’re honest, the power used here seems to outstrip what is needed. But that is likely because you and I have grossly underestimated what God intends for us.
If I tell you I am going to show up this weekend to help you out with some landscaping work at your house and am bringing some help with me and show up with another friend and a pair of shovels, you can easily begin to guess the scope of the work being done. But if I show up with a crew of over a hundred, with bulldozers and backhoes and flatbed trucks of supplies, you will realize that the scope of this renovation far exceeds any expectations you initially had. If God intends to use the same power with which he rose Jesus from the dead with (Phil 3:10-11), and the same power he is going to subject all of creation to Himself with, then you can be confident that the restoration of your body that God has in store far outstrips anything you can expect.
Just think of the many joys the created world and our bodies give us now. What will it be like when we have this newly renovated, glorified body in a glorified, remade creation free from sin? The apex of bodily pleasures now are considerable, but if that is in a fallen world, what will it be like in a sin-free world?
And friend, what will it be like to worship God with a sin-free heart? To enjoy Him? And because we have a body and He now has a body, that means that we will be able to experience communion with God bodily. We shall see him. Embrace him. Know him. Forever.
That is the Christian’s end.
And now, you have a choice. You have the information before you. Now, you simply need to evaluate it and then have the courage to decide. Paul’s words serve as an invitation. To those who do not yet know Christ, God invites you: you do not need to remain enemies of the Cross. You can come and receive the welcome and embrace of Christ. Exchange your worldly mindset for a heavenly one, glory in Christ not your shame, worship Him as the one true God, and enjoy His communion forever.
To the Christian, Paul speaks these words of exhortation: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Phil 4:1).
The Christian Life (Phil 3:12-16)
Sermon Audio: The Christian Life (Phil 3:12-16)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out the most?
- What were the three ways we can functionally deny we are sinners? Do you see yourself tend to gravitate towards any of these?
- What did Luther mean when he told his friend to "be a sinner"?
- Read Phil 3:12-14. What role does "forgetting" play in the Christian life? If a new Christian were to ask you what it means to "forget what lies behind," what would you tell them?
- Read 1 Cor 9:24-27. What does that teach us about the role of discipline in the Christian life?
- Hebrews 12:1 identifies "weights and sins" which impede us from following Christ. What is the difference between "weights and sins"? Can you identify any "weights" in your life that are not inherently sinful, but not helpful in your pursuit of Christ?
The war in Ukraine has given us stunning stories of resilience and remarkable fortitude in the face of unthinkable odds. By all accounts, Russia, most of the West, and even many in Ukraine assumed that the Russian invasion would last a few days. Russia possesses one of the largest and most formidable armies in the world, nearly three times the size of Ukraine’s, with considerably more heavy firepower. And yet, two months later, the Russian army has been unable to claim victory. From city to city, the Ukrainian army, filled with trained soldiers and everyday citizens, have repelled the aggression from the East. And yet, they have born a terrible cost.
Desperate resistance in the face of aggression is familiar in war. We can think of the battle for Bunker Hill at the start of the Revolutionary War, the battle of the Somme in World War I, or the storming of the beaches of Normandy in World War II. Or we can think of the battle of Bataan, where the Japanese army pushed a combined American-Filipino army back into the tiny province of Bataan in the Philippines, where for three months the Allies held out against the Axis power. But, as they had been unable to receive any reinforcements, food or medical supplies, 80,000 starving, wounded, and disease-riddled Americans and Filipinos surrendered to the Japanese army.
Without supplying the captives any food, water, medical supplies, or transportation, the Japanese army forced the emaciated men to march 69 miles on foot to the POW camp that would house them. This trek later became known as “The Bataan Death March,” where men perished by the thousands from exhaustion, dehydration, illness, or wanton executions from Japanese soldiers who still burned with revenge at their enemies. Only 54,000 of the 80,000 soldiers made it to the POW camp.
Once at the POW camp, hundreds of soldiers died daily for a few months. Healthier soldiers were deported to go work as slave labor in factories. Three years went by and the massive swell of American prisoners had dropped to a mere 500 men left in the Cabanatuan POW camp.
In our text today we see Paul share with us a similar pattern of resistance, of striving, of pressing on despite resistance and difficulty with the hope and expectation that he will be vindicated. But unlike these soldiers caught in a mortal struggle, uncertain of the outcome, Paul is caught in an eternal struggle, but with great certainty. Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Phil 3:12-16
Paul opens by admitting that he has not obtained the resurrection of his body or the glorified and perfected state of sinlessness that comes with it. In verse 11 he told us that he was striving “by any means possible” to “attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:11). When you and I die, our souls will depart our bodies and we will be present with the Lord (Phil 1:23). But the separation of our souls with our bodies is an unnatural event. What our ultimate hope resides in is that one day Christ will return and we will be reunited with our bodies, only these bodies will be like Christ’s body. Paul dispels any notion that he has achieved this glorified, perfect state on his own, “Not that I have obtained this or am already perfect,” (Phil 3:12), and again in verse 13, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own,” (Phil 3:13).
Remember what Paul’s argument has been thus far. Back in verses 5-6 Paul recounted his resume of spiritual standing according to the flesh, and it was considerable. Yet, he dramatically spits all of that out of his mouth as “rubbish” and says that everything that he once held onto for his confidence he now counts as a loss in order to gain Christ. Now, if you were a member of the church at Philippi listening to this letter being read out loud, and you know of Paul, you know his commitment and his courage and faith, and you hear him say that the typical religious scorecard that people use to measure their godliness is below him, you might be tempted to think: Wow, Paul must be perfect. But Paul heads that off: No, I haven’t arrived, I’m still a work in progress. In fact, Paul tells his young protégé Timothy, in effect, the chief of all sinners (1 Tim 1:15). What a statement! Paul thinks of himself as the PhD of sinners, the Nobel prize winner of sinning. Paul has just been telling us about his own personal experience, of course, but the apostle John more generally tells us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” (1 John 1:8).
It is no significant thing for us today to admit that we are not perfect. Someone has to be an egomaniac of a supreme caliber to think they are perfect. But, interestingly, there are ways we may functionally deny what Paul is saying here. I’ll give you three:
1. We become defensive and touchy when other people point out our sin. We justify it, blame it on others, or turn the tables back on the other person: who do you think you are?
2. We airbrush our sins into the most attractive, understandable possible interpretation of the facts so that if anyone were to hear us confess our sins they would think it to be totally understandable.
3. We redefine “sin” into a more therapeutic concept of “weakness.” We aren’t “guilty” we are “broken”—we made a “mistake.” We may even make light of it, the way so many young people today almost flaunt their laziness and lack of responsibility (“I don’t know how to adult, haha”). These are subtle shifts, and they aren’t all necessarily wrong, for instance we see in Romans 5:6 “weak” is used to describe our sin, and we shouldn’t be too serious about ourselves. But all of this may reveal that we are not willing to take responsibility for our sins—we are less morally culpable for being “broken” or “weak” than if we are just “adulterers” or “liars,” or if you make it seem silly and laughable, it distracts you from its seriousness.
In 1521, Martin Luther’s friend Melanchthon wrote to him with a troubled conscience. Luther responded with a letter where he gives his friend this hearty advice: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world…Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”
Luther here is not endorsing sin. He doesn’t have a the more the merrier mentality towards sin. Rather, Luther is encouraging his friend to own up to the full weight of the reality of his sin. We need not entertain some fanciful notion that we are really better than we are, we don’t need to lie about ourselves, or present ourselves as if we are some superpowered version of ourselves. If you or I struggle to be honest about the reality of our sin, if we attempt to distract ourselves when convicted it may be because we have never truly admitted that we are sinners. Perhaps we have forgotten what Paul reminded us of just a few verses earlier, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ,” (Phil 3:9). Paul’s honesty about his sin, about his imperfection here is only possible by him putting his total confidence in Christ’s obedience to the Law, Christ’s atoning work for his sins, and nothing in himself. He is free to not be only an “imaginary sinner” but a real sinner, with strong sins, but who has a stronger Savior and real mercy.
Paul’s admission of his sin doesn’t crater him into a pit of despair. Rather, we are told: “but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14)
Paul employs the image of foot race and he is striving towards the finish line and with “one thing” he does: he presses on. But the “I press on” in verse 14 is clarified by two things Paul does to accomplish it: he (1) forgets what lies behind and (2) strains forward to what lies ahead.
Paul employs Christian forgetfulness in his race of faith. But what is he forgetting? “What lies behind.” What lies behind him? In the context of a race, “what lies behind” a runner is the part of the race they have already run. So, Paul could mean that he is not looking over his shoulder at yesterday’s spirituality to propel him today. He isn’t living in the nostalgic glow of that season where he worked hard for the Lord and get very serious about his faith, hoping that yesterday’s mercies are sufficient for today. No, Paul doesn’t look backwards, but looks forward, eager for more of God today.
However, there is something else that “lies behind” a runner in a race, and that is what the runner was doing before the race even began. So, perhaps Paul is referring to his old life of Judaism which he recounted back in Phil 3:5-6, when he was placing “confidence in the flesh” to achieve his own righteousness through his obedience to the Law. So, here Paul could mean that his forgetting is to completely abandon the way he used to think about God, and the law, and righteousness before meeting Christ. I am more inclined to think this is what Paul means here given the wider context of the passage. But I think we can press the meaning of this forgetting even further.
The Christian life is a life of duality, in some senses. We are people who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but still experience the temptations of the flesh. We have been given the power of the resurrection now, but await its fullness and continue to struggle with sin. Paul himself can say that, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand,” (Rom 7:21). He even likens us as to being two different people at times: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness,” (Eph 4:22-24). If we are to “forget what lies behind” than that means that we no longer identify ourselves with our old selves and their manner of life. That isn’t who we are anymore. We continue to experience temptation, we are not perfect, we have not arrived, but we are not who we once were. God is at work in us to mold us into who He wants us to be.
The word used for the “straining forward” literally means to stretch out forward. So, picture a runner sprinting towards the finish line with everything they got, and stretching their neck and head forward to cross that finish line before anyone else. It is a deliberate and intentional work of focusing all our energies toward a particular goal. Paul speaks similarly in the passage that was read earlier:
“24 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. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:24-27)
Paul invites us to, again, compare the Christian life to that of a race, or that of an athletic competition. Athletes exercise self-control diligently. James Clear writes of the British cycling team, which had historically doon dismally in all cycling events, new commitment to diligent scrutiny of even the smallest matters:
“They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip. They asked riders to wear electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature while riding…The team tested various fabrics in a wind tunnel and had their outdoor riders switch to indoor racing suits, which proved to be lighter and more aerodynamic…They hired a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce the chances of catching a cold. They determined the type of pillow and mattress that led to the best night’s sleep for each rider. They even painted the inside of the team truck white, which helped them spot little bits of dust that would normally slip by unnoticed but could degrade the performance of the finely tuned bikes.” (Atomic Habits, James Clear)
And the results? “During the ten-year span from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured 5 Tour de France victories in what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history.”
And they do all of this for a “perishable wreath”, but us? We exercise diligence for an eternal one, so how much more should we strive diligently?
Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Heb 12:1). Christians are not people who are looking to contribute the bare minimum amount of effort required for godliness. No, we are people who are looking to lay aside both “weights” and “sin” which hinder us. And that is significant—we should have a category for things that are not explicitly sinful, but are not helpful in pursuing godliness. So, maybe your screentime habits are not inherently sinful, but are they helping you? Or are they leaving you feeling bogged down and sluggish in your pursuit for godliness?
Just to make this point even more pointedly: the word that Paul uses in verse 14, “I press on,” which he also used back in verse 12, “but I press on to make it my own,” is actually the word used most commonly in the New Testament for persecuting others. For example, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecuteyou and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” (Matt 5:11). When Paul described his former life he explained that he was “a persecutor of the church,” (Phil 3:6). The word means to pursue something intensely. So, think of the way religious zealot pursues with single-mindedness the victim of their assault. Paul says that he has now turned that kind of focused passion towards pursuing Christ. This is who he is now.
What is Paul straining forward to? “What lies ahead.” His prize.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 3:14). If you enter a race, you need to know where the finish line is. If I asked you if you wanted to run a race, your first thought would be What kind of race is it? Where am I running to? How long is it? If you, for some reason, found yourself running a race and had no idea what the goal was, you would become discouraged fairly quickly. So, in the race of the Christian faith, what is our goal? The upward call of God in Christ Jesus. What is that?
The call of God is something that takes place at the beginning, not the end, of our Christian life. Paul explains, “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 8:30). From before time began, God predestined His people for salvation, and then, at some point in their life those people go from being spiritually darkened and hardened to God to suddenly, like a flip of a switch, sensing a draw and pull on their life that brings them to God and eventually to conversion, to put their faith in Christ and then be justified, and those who are justified will, one day at the completion of their race, be glorified. This is why under point twelve “Of the Perseverance of the Saints” in our statement of faith, it states, “We believe that all genuine Christians endure to the end. That their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial, false “Christians.” That a special Providence watches over their welfare and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
Those whom God calls, God keeps. Did you notice Paul’s little comment in verse 15: “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you,” (Phil 3:15). God is even going to go so far as to help you understand how to think!
But also, those whom God calls, God works in to create in them the desire to employ every effort, forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead, in their pursuit of Christ. The sovereign grace of God is not at odds with human effort and responsibility, it is the grounds of it. So we receive this call from God which opens the doors of our Christian life, but it is the consummation of that call that we strive after: the upward call of God in Christ. That is, the conclusion of our labors, the ceasing of sin, the final rest where we shall be brought into God’s presence. We are not perfect or complete now; we have not arrived, we struggle in many ways. But our sin does not stop us from pursing Christ. We forget what lies behind us, we are not marked and defined by our sin any longer, and we strain forward, we toil with all the grace-driven effort God supplies to our goal: our final Sabbath rest in eternity with Him. Hebrews reminds us:
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Heb 4:9-11)
That is the consummation of the upward call of God: the same kind of rest that God enjoyed once creation was complete. There will be a day when our labors cease, when we rest.
Eventually, the tide of the war in the Pacific had turned, and the American army was pushing up from the South and beating the Japanese forces back. A small platoon of Army rangers and Filipino guerillas planned a daring escape of the soldiers who remained in Cabanatuan, and on January 30th, 1945 they stormed the camp in the dark of night and overpowered the Japanese forces there, liberating all of the men. The captives were ghosts of men, walking skeletons who had spent the last three years being ground down to the barest nub of a humanity, hollowed out by deprivation, fear, and loss. And yet, against all odds, they persevered through titanic suffering and unthinkable opposition for their moment of release, for the moment to see their captors fall, their prison burn, and their hopes vindicated.
One author describes their exit from the camp, “Along the way they saw an American flag set in the turret of a tank. It wasn’t much of a flag, writhing weakling the breeze, but for the men of Cabanatuan, the sight was galvanizing. Sergeant Hibbs said his heart stopped, for he realized that this was the first Stars and Stripes he’d seen since the surrender. All the men in all the trucks stood at attention and saluted. Then came the tears. “We wept openly,” said Abie Abraham, “and we wept without shame.” (Ghost Soldiers, Hampton Sides, p. 399)
Friend, you may be weary, you may be tired, you may feel discouraged. Maybe you’re thinking about checking out of Christianity. But hold on. There is a homecoming that awaits you, a prize of eternal rest before you, there is an omnipotent God working in you, and a loving Savior who has died for you. Press on.
The Power of His Resurrection (Phil 3:10-11)
Sermon Audio: The Power of His Resurrection (Phil 3:10-11)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Why is Christianity not, in essence, a technique? See Phil 3:10a. Can you think of ways people tend to reduce Christianity down to a technique?
- Why was Jesus' resurrection essential? Why didn't Jesus simply stay dead? See Acts 2:24.
- Read Eph 1:18-19. What is the verse telling us?
- What in life feels most overwhelming or exhausting to you? Read 2 Cor 9:8. What do you think would change in your life if you consistently believed that?
- How are we to know Christ through our sufferings?
- Read Phil 3:12. What motivates Paul to continue pressing on despite his weakness? Why is knowing that "Christ has made me his own" essential for the Christian life?
Let me tell you an unlikely story.
“Flight Sergeant [Nicholas] Alkemade, the tail gunner on a British Lancaster bomber, found himself in a literally tight spot when his plane was hit by enemy flak and quickly filled with smoke and flames. Tail gunners on Lancasters couldn't wear parachutes because the space in which they operated was too confined, and by the time Alkemade managed to haul himself out of his turret and reach for his parachute, he found it was on fire and beyond salvation. He decided to leap from the plane anyway rather than perish horribly in flames, so he hauled open a hatch and tumbled out into the night.
He was three miles above the ground and falling at 120 miles per how: It was very quiet," Alkemade recalled years later, "the only sound being the drumming of aircraft engines in the distance, and no sensation of falling at all. I felt suspended in space." Rather to his surprise, he found himself to be strangely composed and at peace. He was sorry to die, of course, but accepted it philosophically, as something that happened to airmen sometimes. The experience was so surreal and dreamy that Alkemade was never certain afterward whether he lost consciousness, but he was certainly jerked back to reality when crashed through the branches of some lofty pine trees and landed with a resounding thud in a snowbank, in a sitting position. He had somehow lost both his boots, and had a sore knee and some minor abrasions, but otherwise was quite unharmed.” Even more amazing, after this incident Alkemade experienced three other near-death experiences, though less dramatic than falling from an airplane. Alkemade cheated death till he died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 64 in 1987. (Bill Bryson, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, p. 192-93).
Now, how do you know that story is true? It seems so fantastic that one wonders, could that really have happened? But through eyewitness testimony, Alkemade’s own testimony, historical records and evidence, we can reliably trust the truthfulness of the story—as fantastic as it may seem. Unlikely? Sure. Untrue? Not at all. Now let me tell you another, more unlikely story.
Two thousand years ago the small nation of Israel had been so diminished that for the last 400-500 hundred years they had been brutally mastered by the most powerful empires in the world, with the most recent overlord being Rome. The Jews at that time believed, according to their sacred Scriptures and traditions, that their God would send a great deliverer, an anointed one who would deliver them from Rome’s oppression. This deliverer would be a mighty general, a forceful king, and a powerful ruler—one who would slay the Roman overlords and establish peace. Many would-be-messiahs arose at this time and attempted to lead violent rebellions, all of which were quickly and mercilessly put down by Rome. And onto that scene arose a young Jewish peasant who furtively and quietly insinuated that He was this long-awaited for Messiah, but made it clear that what had become the popular conception of what the Messiah would be and do was mistaken. And that was evident from His entire life—He failed to fit the mold.
He came from a poor family, held no political office, wrote no books, and ministered for only three short years. His own family thought him to be out of his mind, the religious teachers thought him a heretic, and the majority of those drawn to his message were the bottom rung of society—the poor, sick, and unsavory. He preached a message of love and forgiveness, rebuked those who sought violent revolution, and called both Jew and Gentile to repent of their sin. He was quickly executed, publicly shamed as a common criminal, and his small band of followers (one of whom had already betrayed him) denied any association with him, and scattered in fear. This man was no messiah, just another pretender quickly silenced by the brute force of Rome.
And yet, amazingly, three days later the tiny band of disciples begin to proclaim that this Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified was indeed the Messiah! All of the earliest historical documents we have demonstrate that the confidence of the earliest followers of Jesus skyrocket after his death. So confident that Jesus is the Messiah, that all of the apostles, and scores and scores of the earliest Christians are willing to die for it. One New Testament scholar comments: “We are forced to postulate something which will account for the fact that a group of first-century Jews, who had cherished messianic hopes and centered them on Jesus of Nazareth, claimed after his death that he really was the Messiah despite the crushing evidence to the contrary” (N.T. Wright, Resurrection, 562).
They became convinced of the resurrection. They believed that Jesus did not remain dead, but three days later arose and conquered death, conquered sin, and then ascended to the right hand of the Father. And this confidence fuels the rag-tag group of early disciples to take the message of Christianity and spread it throughout the Roman empire. Today, in our text we will hear from a man who was so certain that Jesus was an imposter and Christianity false that he was systematically killing Christians. And yet, he eventually becomes Christianity’s greatest advocate, risking his life to extend this gospel throughout the known world. What happened? Paul encountered a resurrected Christ who changed his story. Unlikely? Sure. Untrue? Not at all.
We will read verses 8-11 of Philippians 3, but we will be focusing exclusively on verses 10-11:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Phil 3:8-11
Let’s look at three things we learn from this text: knowing Christ, knowing his resurrection, knowing his suffering.
“that I may know him” (Phil 3:10a)
Why is Paul willing to suffer the loss of all things? Why does he abandon any hope of finding a righteousness in himself and turns to the righteousness that comes from faith? Because he wants to know Christ. What comes to your mind when you think what Christianity is about? A way to give hope to those who are suffering? A method of transmitting morals? A means to alleviate a guilty conscience? We live in a world that is dominated by technology, and so we are fascinated with technique. We want six easy steps to lose weight, manage stress, become a better parent or spouse. And because of that, we can mistakenly assume that Christianity is fundamentally a technique for life, a way to enhance or manage our lives.
But here, Paul shows that the aim of Christianity is not fundamentally a technique, but a person. It is to know Christ. In many other world religions, if the founder of the religion proved to be a work of fiction, it would matter little. If Buddha or Zoroaster or Mohammed or Joseph Smith never existed but were fabricated by a group of people (not something I am claiming, of course, just a thought experiment), then the religion could still function pretty well. This is because each of these individuals pointed to the way. Jesus, however, says I am the way (John 14:6). The aim of Christianity is not merely to provide a path towards an improved life or even to an afterlife (though it does)—the aim is that we may know a person, Jesus Christ.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple,” (Ps 27:4).
And how do we know him? The two ways that Paul teaches we come to know Christ is (1) through his resurrection and (2) through his sufferings.
The Power of His Resurrection
“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection”
What happened at the resurrection? In our family devotions with my boys I have been explaining to them that Jesus could have remained in heaven or come to earth and just chosen not to die, but He chose to lay down his life and die so that we wouldn’t have to die, and my 3-year-old has just started to wrap his mind around that. He knows that if Jesus didn’t die, we would have to die for our own sins. But this weekend I was explaining to him what we were celebrating with Easter, how Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again and is alive! And my 3-year-old, very dismayed, said: Oh no, if he isn’t dead does that mean we have to die now?
That’s actually a pretty good question. If on Good Friday we celebrate that Jesus’ death on the cross took our place, why didn’t Jesus stay dead? Why the resurrection? The resurrection is so crucial to the Christian faith that Paul elsewhere can admit: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” (1 Cor 15:17). The resurrection does many things: it validates Jesus’ claims of who He was; He was not a mere prophet, but God in the flesh. Had He remained dead, we would be left unsure. It also serves as a model for our own resurrection which we will partake in one day. But consider this:
In the Apostles Creed, there is a line that explains that after Jesus’ death on the cross he “descended into Hell.” What does this mean? It means that in His death on the cross all of the punishment and judgment and condemnation that was reserved for Christ’s sheep was funneled into Him. He drank the cup of Hell’s judgment for us. Now, consider what it would have meant had Jesus remained dead? Had he “descended to Hades” but remained there? Well, then that might mean that death and Hell had proven to be stronger than Christ, that He had to remain there as a servant to peter out the rest of eternity suffering in perpetuity. But Christ, being the eternal and infinite Son of God was capable of providing the whole payment of sin so sufficiently that in three short days, He simply walked out of the grave. Listen to what the apostle Peter says of Christ’s resurrection:
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” – Acts 2:24
It was not possible for Jesus to be held by the pangs of death. Is there anything stronger than death? No matter how brilliant, how disciplined, how accomplished any human being is—once the night of death steals over them, they are utterly powerless to do anything about it. But not Christ. As the great hymn Awake, My Heart, With Gladness puts it:
He rends death's iron chain;
he breaks through sin and pain.
He shatters hell's dark thrall;
I follow Him through all.
Death’s iron chain is spider-web-thin to Jesus; He shears the gates of hell right off their hinges, and overcomes the grave. The wages of sin is death, but He paid the debt in full, so death no longer binds Him. This is why the Bible describes the work of Christ as not merely atoning for our sins, but also as a victory of the powers of darkness--Jesus "destroys the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14) and "disarms" the demonic forces and puts them to "open shame" (Col 2:15). Jesus walks up to the most terrifying forces in the cosmos and publicly humiliates them through his death and resurrection.
And now, Paul says, he wants to know that power. And of course that power is what gives Paul the future hope that one day he too shall experience the resurrection from the dead, as verse 11 shows us. The resurrection of our bodies is ultimately an end-times event, it is something that happens at great conclusion of history. And if we have put our faith in Christ, at the last day we too shall rise just as Christ rose from the dead.
Paul assumes that the resurrection of Jesus serves as a kind of source of power that he can experience or appropriate now. Paul tells the Colossians that they were “buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead,” (Col 2:12). The future inheritance that we have in the resurrection at the last day is something that we can experience here and now.
We saw something similar to this in our scripture reading earlier from the book of Ephesians where Paul prays that we may know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Eph 1:19-20). God wants to give us a power and strength—and what does that look like? The power that rose Jesus from the dead and installed him in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
Paul is saying that the reality of the resurrection is not only a historical fact that we need to know in the way we may know that George Washington was our first president or that we know that earth orbits the sun. It is rather a knowledge of experience. There are two ways that you can learn that honey is sweet—you can read about it or have someone tell you that it is sweet, or you can put a spoonful of honey in your mouth. Paul here reveals something of his heart: he longs to know Christ more, and to do so, he knows that he needs to experience the power of the resurrection.
There is a power at work in the people that is beyond their own doing. There is a strength and energy given to God's people that do not come from God's people, but are communicated to us by God. We saw this clearly in Phil 2:13 where we were told that "God is at work within you." Consider this astounding promise: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work,” (2 Cor 9:8). God is able to work so powerfully and sufficiently in you that you will be prepared for all things, so that you may "abound" in every good work! What a stunning promise! What would change in your life today if you believed that was true?
So, tomorrow morning you wake up and swing your feet out of bed and sit there. What's your first thought? "Man, I'm tired." And you begin to think through what needs to happen that day: "I need to get ready for work; I need to get the kids ready; I need to start on the project the wife wants me to do; I have that deadline coming up at work; I am going to need to go apologize to that person for how I lost my temper the other day; I feel guilty because of that temptation I caved into; I should be a better spouse; I should be a better parent; I should be doing more to volunteer at church; I should be getting to know my neighbors better because I am supposed to be sharing the gospel with them; I should be managing my schedule better," and on and on it goes and before you even leave the bed, you feel just utterly overwhelmed. Why? Because you are looking out at what God is requiring of you and then looking within at the pitiful resources you possess and think: I just don't have what it takes. Of course you don't! The way you overcome that isn't by just continuing to stretch yourself as much as you can, but it is to stop looking within yourself for strength and to start looking up! Look up to Him who desires to supply you with the strength, the patience, the joy, the love you need to fulfill His commands.
He longs to grant you the power of the resurrection, if you will but look up.
A man was needing to cross a frozen lake, but was uncertain of how thick the ice was. So, afraid he might fall through, he got down on hands and knees and began to slowly crawl across the ice, just waiting to hear a crack, terrified he would plunge into the icy water below. And as he was shuffling along, he heard a noise over his shoulder. It was a great sleigh pulled by a team of horses coming along, zooming right past the man who was shuffling along. See, the man driving the sleigh knew something that the man crawling didn't know--he knew that the ice was thick. Friend, how much of your joy and life is stolen from you because you are looking ahead, looking within, and are terrified that you do not have what it takes? Ah friend! Look up! God is supplying you with the same power which rose Christ from the dead! He is working to resurrect your dead heart and give strength, supply power, give peace. Do not fret over your own poverty, look to His abundant riches, and then move forward with confidence. Trust that His promise is reliable, step forward onto the ice and know that He will bear you up.
Knowing His Sufferings
How is a Christian to know Christ through his sufferings?
“that I may know him 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 from the dead,” (Phil 3:10-11).
The Christian life is a life fueled by resurrection power, so it is a triumphant life, but it is not an easy life. It is a life marked by sin, by struggle, and by suffering. Paul explains that his desire is to know Christ through participating in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. This doesn’t mean that Paul’s death (or ours) is a payment for sins, like Jesus’ was. Rather, we follow Jesus’ model of becoming a servant, denying ourselves, and loving others. This was Paul’s point earlier in Philippians 2 where he used Jesus’ suffering as a model for the Christian life: just as Christ didn’t consider His own dignity and priorities as more important than others, so too do we consider the needs of others more important than our own. And that’s hard.
The main idea that Paul likely has in mind here, however, is suffering that comes from the opposition of others. Jesus explains, ““If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” (John 15:18-20). It is part and parcel of the Christian life to experience persecution and opposition. Paul assumes that for us to walk the path of Christ, we shall be hated and opposed just as Jesus was.
But, unlike Christ, you and I have sin that dwells in our hearts. So our suffering doesn’t only come from outer opposition, but internal opposition as well. We must choose to not only be willing to suffer and die at the hands of others, but more importantly friends, we must choose to let our old selves die, to let our sins die. And that is a fight. You can sense that in Paul’s language at the very end of verse 11 there, “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil 3:11). The “by any means possible” isn’t there to communicate uncertainty, as if Paul isn’t sure he is going to make it or not, but is there to communicate his own humility as he acknowledges how difficult the struggle is in making it to the finish line. But consider what Paul tells us in Phil 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Paul's confidence in the resurrection does not make him naively assume that his life is going to be easy or filled with only victory. He knows his own weakness and sinfulness, he knows how hard it is to face temptation. But what keeps him going forward? Christ has made me his own! He knows that he belongs to Christ, knows that His salvation is sure and secure, so he presses on! As do you and I. We press on, not under any delusion that we are perfect or have arrived. But confident of this: we are Christ's, and Christ shall complete the work which he began in us (Phil 1:6).
And when we arrive at the golden shore, when the gates of splendor fling open to us, here is what we shall hear:
Who there my cross has shared
finds here a crown prepared;
who there with me has died
shall here be glorified.
The verse has a baptismal shape to it. When someone is baptized they portray a dramatic depiction of Christ’s own death and resurrection—they stand upright in the water, are lowered under, and then raised back up again. In the same way, Christ lived, died, and rose again. In baptism the individual is saying that they are now living within that story—they have lived, died, and rose again just as Christ has. Up, down, up. Now, notice the very structure of this passage: “that I may know him 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 from the dead,” (Phil 3:10-11). Here we have Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus’ death, Paul’s death, Paul’s resurrection.
- “the power of his resurrection”
o “his sufferings”
o “becoming like him in his death”
- “that I may attain the resurrection”
Up, down, up. The first half looks to Jesus’ resurrection and sufferings. The second half looks to Paul’s sufferings and resurrection, but what is critical is that for Paul to walk through his sufferings and attain his resurrection he must first know Christ’s resurrection and his sufferings, which is why the verse begins with, “that I may know him, that is, both the power of his resurrection and the participation of his sufferings.” How do we know Jesus? We experience the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings.
The Love of God (1 John 4:10)
Sermon Audio: The Love of God (1 John 4:10)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:7-12
Perhaps you have heard the popular tautology: Love is love. The assumption behind that statement is that love is self-evident, and though it may take different forms, we all know what love is—love is love. John, however, assumes that we need help in defining love. That for us to accurately be people of love we need to see what love looks like. We can all think of the overbearing parent who thinks they are being loving, when really they are smothering their children, or the husband who thinks they are loving their wife by lying to them. No, we need to see what love is. On Good Friday we gather to commemorate what verse 10 of this passage reminds us of: God sent his only Son to be the payment for our sins through his death on the cross. Herein, John tells us, is love.
And this love, the surrounding verses tell us, creates a fundamental change in us. Those who have received from God His divine love now become dispensers of divine love. We should love one another because we have now come into a relationship with the God who can describe himself as the God of love; God is love. Love flows from God’s heart so abundantly that it creates in us what it gives to us—a superabundant love. God’s love did not merely bring the debt of our bank account back up to “0”, but deposited such an abundance that we are now rich in love, freely giving it to others. He did not send the showers of love to merely moisten the dry soil of our hearts, but to transform them into an oasis themselves.
How do you become a person like that? Most of us, regardless of our spiritual commitments or perspectives, would like to become loving people. But, most of us, regardless of our spiritual commitments, can also admit that in many ways being a selfish person is just easier than being loving. Other people can be annoying and exhausting and hurtful. We may be loving to a small circle of people that we like, but even there we can quickly grow frustrated. We like the idea of being a loving person, but struggle to actually do it. How does that happen? Picture your life as a satellite floating through space, drifting through the cosmos till you are caught in the gravitational pull of something much, much larger than yourself. We are drawn in by our ambitions, our dreams, our self-centeredness—this is what comes to us naturally. But then John tells us that suddenly God shows up. And, wonder of wonders, it is not the immensity of the power of God, or the judgment of God, or the omniscience of God that pulls us in. Rather, it is the love of God that steps onto the fabric of our lives and pulls us in like nothing else does, it transforms us into someone who can’t not love others.
And this love is revealed, according to John, in one act: the death of Jesus Christ. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10).
The great English preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, explains: “There is love in a thousand places, like the scattered drops of spray on the leaves of the forest, but as for the ocean, that is in one place, and when we reach it, we say, "Herein is water." There is love in many places, like wandering beams of light, but as for the sun, it is in one part of the heavens and as we look at it, we say, "Herein is light." So, "Herein," said the Apostle, as he looked toward the Lord Jehovah, Himself, "Herein is love."
Let’s consider three things that God’s love does here: love that initiates, love that gives, and love that atones.
Love that Initiates
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us.”
Here John is inviting us to consider something: what motivated God to send His Son? Or, rather, what didn’t motivate God? It was not because we first loved him. We did not apply for membership in God’s family and supply examples of our devotion, piety, and love for God in the hopes that we would qualify for admission, hoping it would bend God’s eye towards us. No, God Himself had to first come down to us and initiate love when our hearts were loveless. We were indifferent, bored, and frankly uncomfortable with God. God interrupted our life, and we would rather be left to ourselves. And yet, like a parent whose heart cannot help but love their wayward child, in the face of our apathy and antagonism, God loved us.
If God had made a preemptory love for Him the condition for us to receive His love, in many ways that would make sense. When someone is sick, their pain and lack of knowledge leads them to a doctor. When someone is is ignorant, they find a teacher. When someone is hungry, they find one who can give them food. And here we are today, looking for love, longing for acceptance, and desperate for peace. Bruce Springsteen reminded us back in 1980 that everybody’s got a hungry heart. And St. Augustine back in 400 AD that our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God. So, it would make sense that, like the sick man driven to the doctor or the hungry man to the cook, our soul hunger would lead us towards God in love, and then in response God would pour out his love upon us. But that isn’t what the verse says. It is the exact opposite. NOT that we loved Him, but that He loved us! God is the doctor who goes to the streets to provide medicine to the sick who don’t think they need it, to teach the fool who thinks he knows it all, to give food to the starving man who thinks he lacks nothing. God’s love towards sinners is not a love that waits, but a love that initiates.
In this is love.
Love that Gives
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son”
What does God’s love lead Him to do? So there we are, mired in our sin, blind to the things of God, headed towards destruction—and what does our God whose heart is filled with love do? Let’s consider what He doesn’t do.
He doesn’t blink us out of existence or walk away and say, What a shame, I’ll guess I’ll need to go make another world now.
He doesn’t leave us to our own misery, giving us whatever we want like an exhausted parent who lacks the energy to parent well. As long as their happy right now, I don’t care.
He also doesn’t just get fed up with our arrogance and say That’s it! I’m going to just incinerate all of you ungrateful worms!
He doesn’t even do what nearly every other religion gives: He doesn’t leave us with abstract set of ethical teaching and then expects us to master it so that we may purify ourselves and earn our salvation.
No, He gives. He responds to our sin and our lovelessness with generosity. And what does He give loveless, coldhearted sinners like us? What would you give? He gives His Son, His only Son, the most precious gift He has. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”
But what is most astounding is to consider the identity of the Son. The Son of God is not merely a created being, like an angel (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and LDS church claim); he is not merely a prophet (as Islam claims); he is not merely an enlightened teacher (as Buddhism and modern secularism claims); nor is he an emanation of the cosmic divine energy which we all are apart of (as Hinduism and New Age Spirituality claims). Were He any of those things, his death on the cross would still be stunning. A merciful gift from the Father to create a being to die for us; a heroic model of courage and conviction.
But if Jesus is God? If he is the one who spoke from the fire at Mt. Sinai, the one who parted the Red Sea and poured out the plagues upon Egypt, the one who spoke this world into creation and sovereignly governs its affairs, the one who sits on the throne of heaven and whom myriads upon myriads of angels fall before in praise and fear and trembling—what kind of God is this? This God comes down, becomes a man to die. This God feels the thorn, the splinter, the nail, the whip. This God tastes the blood, the sweat, the bitter wine. The God who holds all things together by the power of His word who in glory is covered in praise and majesty is stripped naked and humiliated before the crowds he came to save, mocked and accused as a liar and lunatic. God gives Himself for us.
In this is love.
Love that Atones
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t God have simply forgiven us without the death of His Son? Couldn’t He merely say, Yes, what you did was wrong, but think of it no more, I have forgiven you. This brings us to question what this word “propitiation” means. Propitiation means to satisfy someone’s righteous anger. It is similar to the word “atonement”—when we atone for something wrong we have done we do something to make it right. But here we see that it is not us who make atonement or propitiation, but Jesus, the Son.
Here is what the Bible teaches us: when you and I fail to live up to God’s Law, we sin. But sin is not merely a mistake; it is a transgression; a willful denial of God’s authority. And that offense has earned us a debt of death: the wages of sin is death. Jesus tells us, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins,” (John 8:24). So, Jesus lays out for us two options: we can die in our sins, or our Savior can die for our sins. Why did Jesus have to die? Because the seriousness of our sin required that blood would be spilled, for “without the spilling of blood there can be no remission of sin” (Heb 9:22). The cross of Jesus is a vivid picture of how heinous our sins are in God’s eyes. “The cross of Jesus displays the most awful exhibition of God’s hatred of sin and at the same time the most august manifestation of his readiness to pardon it,” Octavius Winslow. And so Jesus, the God against whom we have sinned, took our place to suffer the punishment as a substitute.
In this is love.
More than that, the death of Jesus now provides a concrete, objective reality that we can look to that reminds us that the debt our sins had earned has been paid in full, that there remains now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1). Listen to the confidence that Spurgeon has in light of the atonement of Christ: “I feel that I am absolutely safe! I am a sinner, but there is no reason on earth, or under the earth, or in Heaven, itself, why I should be sent to Hell.” What a mind-blowing statement! How can you both know that you are a sinner and that there is no reason that you should be going to Hell? The Son of God has bled and died, He has satisfied justice’s demands—your sin that makes you shudder, the guilt that gnaws at you and whispers in your ears that you deserve something bad to happen to you, that can be slain by the cross of Christ. Here is your payment in full, here is the punishment I had earned; it has been satisfied, now be gone!
If God had merely passed over our sin, forgiven us, but not sent His Son to suffer and die, we would be left constantly wondering: how do I know? Am I really forgiven? Our assurance of salvation would ebb and flow with our own subjective apprehension. We would be left in a state of utter despair when the condemnation of the Devil arose. But notice what Paul says when the charge who shall bring any charge against God’s elect arises: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died,” (Rom 8:34). The death of Christ stands like a placard of the love of God who makes full atonement of our sins—when we are blind, unfeeling, lost, wayward, uncertain, doubtful, and weary, when we look inside ourselves and don’t find surges of Christian assurance but despair and doubt; when Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin! Because a sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.
The love of God initiates, the love of God gives, and the love of God atones. Dear friend, God is love—and He summons you to heed His love, to submit to Christ and the free offer He extends to you. Have you brought your sins to Christ? Have you taken shelter in His death? Have you trusted in the love of God? You can do so today.
Nothing in My Hands I Bring (Phil 3:1-9)
Sermon Audio: Nothing in My Hands I Bring (Phil 3:1-9)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What was most helpful for you?
- Why does Paul use such cutting language in this passage?
- Describe the danger that Paul is wanting to warn the Philippians about in Phil 3:2.
- What does Phil 3:7 mean?
- How can a moral, clean, respectable life be a stumbling block to someone believing in the gospel?
- What does it mean to "put confidence in the flesh"? What are areas of the "flesh" for you that you are most frequently tempted to "put confidence in"?
- What are the two options Phil 3:8-9 lays out before us?
Are you a good person? If you have ever asked someone that question you will almost always hear a “yes.” But, that depends on what definition of “good” we are using. We always answer that question with a "yes" because we can always find someone else worse than us that makes us feel like we are basically good people, we aren’t murderers after all. Dr. Samenow, a psychologists who specializes in criminology discovered, however, that actual murderers do the exact same thing. Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Samenow writes:
"Perhaps the most surprising discovery in my early years of trying to understand the criminal mind was that, without exception, offenders regard themselves as good human beings. No matter how long their trail of carnage, no matter what suffering they caused others, every one of them retained the view that he is a good person…"If I thought of myself as evil, I couldn't live," said one murderer. "Just because I killed someone doesn't mean I'm a bad person," asserted another."
That is certainly alarming. Through his research, Dr. Samenow demonstrates that nearly all criminals provide justification for themselves by pointing to other criminals who do things they deem to be worse. Perhaps we are not murderers, but if our moral justification can be employed by actual murderers to defend themselves, then perhaps we need a more objective standard. Dr. Samenow concludes with advice to those counseling violent criminals, reminding them that their problem is not low self-esteem, but the exact opposite: “We should not seek to raise their already lofty opinions of themselves but, instead, must endeavor to help them look in the mirror and see themselves as the predators they are.”
The more serious question we need to ask ourselves is are we prepared to look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we really are? Here we are, gathered at church, and what are we here to do? Are we here to put our lips on the helium tank of self-esteem and inflate our own sense of our moral superiority? To reaffirm the general positive disposition that we already had about ourselves? Perhaps that is why you came here today. To be told what you hope to be true: I’m a good person. What if, instead, today we let God speak to us? What if we let Him tell us about what He considers to be right, to be good. Can we be honest about ourselves today?
We have been studying the book of Philippians as a church and today we get to a point where Paul opens up about his personal story of what he was like before he was a Christian, what happened to him when he became a Christian, and what he gained after becoming a Christian. In that recounting, he shares what he once relied upon to consider himself a good, righteous person, and then what he turned to in meeting Christ.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, 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. – Phil 3:1-9
If you are not a Christian here today, or if you aren’t sure whether you are a Christian or not, this passage presents a unique gift to you. Here we see Paul recount what his life looked like before Christ, what it meant for him to receive Christ, and what he gained from Christ. If you are contemplating how one becomes a Christian, this passage represents a sort of blueprint.
I want to draw your attention to three things in this text—Just three things today: Paul’s passion, Paul’s warning, Paul’s confidence
Paul opens with, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you,” (Phil 3:1). Philippians 3:1 is a preacher-verse. Paul says, “Finally,” but is really only halfway through his letter. I’m sure you are all familiar with a preacher who tells you, “Lastly…” and then proceeds with a full head of steam for some time. He actually says that repetition is “safe” for them. Why? Because our hearts and minds are like leaky buckets, we forget quickly. Like the nation of Israel at Sinai who one minute are saying they will not worship other gods or make idols, and the other minute are making a golden calf and bowing down to it. We need to be reminded of truth. The thing Paul wants them to remember is the command to “rejoice in the Lord” a command that he will repeat five different times in this one short letter.
Perhaps it is a sudden awareness of what can choke the Philippians’ joy that leads Paul to turn suddenly with a sharp warning. “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh,” (Phil 3:2). Look out…look out…look out! There is something really serious Paul wants us to watch out for—what is it? Well, apparently it is a group of people who have in some way believed the gospel, but are going around teaching the Gentile converts that for them to be really saved they must become circumcised and must submit to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. They were a Jesus+ group: Jesus plus circumcision, Jesus plus food laws, etc. This is the same group of people referred to in the book of Galatians. And Paul reserves his strongest and sharpest language for these people (see Gal 5:12).
Here in verse 2 we have a bit of divinely inspired sarcasm. Paul calls these individuals who thought they were following God’s ceremonial laws and therefore clean, “dogs”, a ceremonially unclean animal; those who thought they were doing God’s works “workers of evil”; and lastly those insisted on circumcision as those who “mutilate the flesh.” This last phrase (katatomē) is a play on words with the Greek word for circumcision (peritomē). In the Old Testament, “mutilating the flesh” was something that pagan sorcerers did and was thus strictly forbidden (Lev 21:5; 1 Kings 18:28). So here is a group of people who think they are fastidiously following God’s law, heaping up holiness, and Paul ruthlessly rips into them as unclean, evil, pagans.
Why is Paul so cutting here? These opponents disagree with Paul, but still are certainly close to what Paul believes. They are not radical libertines, or atheists, or actual pagans living perversely. They are not out to redefine marriage or threaten family values. They are religious people who believe in God and think that following Him is obviously very important. Why would Paul be so sharp?
Shakespeare wrote, “The heresies that men do leave are hated most of those they did deceive.” Perhaps it is because that in this teaching Paul catches whiffs of what he once was deceived by.
Jesus reserved His sharpest and harshest words not for the sinners whose lives were the messiest, but for the orderly religious whose clean lives mimicked God’s laws, but whose hearts were dead as a stone. Here is a short excerpt from a much longer denunciation of Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” (Matt 23:27-28).
Those who use God as a platform to showcase their own brilliance, sophistication, and righteousness, God is repulsed by. And so is Paul. And, as we will see in just a minute, we must remember that Paul was once one of these Pharisees. The passion and intensity of Paul’s language comes out of a deep well of his own history, of what he was once deceived by, and leads him to use some of the sharpest, most biting language he ever uses. “The heresies that men do leave are hated most of those they did deceive.” Down in verse 8 he refers to his previous life and anything that vies for position with Christ as “rubbish”, which is just a politically correct way to refer to human excrement.
As we think about voices to listen to today, we should be cautious of individuals who build a platform on using inflammatory language, whose entire shtick is to be as derogatory or polemical as possible. The internet, in particular, rewards individuals for being as divisive and contentious as possible, so we should be slow to listen to individuals who always use verbal napalm to build an audience. But, on the other hand, Paul here shows us that there is a time and place to use strong language to describe what God hates. A good test for ourselves as we consider who we listen to is this: does this person's language match the seriousness of what it describes? Or is it attacking an unfair representation, relying on exaggeration, or using shock-jock tactics to earn attention?
Paul makes it clear in verse 3 what is the difference between real Christianity and this false imitation: “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). Circumcision was one of the key ways that God marked off and identified who His people were in the Old Testament, but even in the Old Testament circumcision was intended to be a picture of a greater spiritual reality that would one day take place (cf. Deut 30:6; Rom 2:25-29). Paul is saying that this is happening here and now through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who directs us to glory in and worship Christ. So, Paul warns us: we must be people who put “no confidence in the flesh.”
What Paul means by “confidence in the flesh” is going to be made clear in the next three verses.
Paul now decides to meet the opponents on their own playing field, “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more,” (Phil 4:4). Paul says, you know what, if you want to play the game of whose resume is more impressive, fine, let’s do it. Paul is confident that when it comes to putting confidence in the flesh, he has everyone beat in both his pedigree and his performance, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” (Phil 3:5-6).
The first four represent Paul’s pedigree: benefits he received just by virtue of his upbringing. He has circumcised on the prescribed day in God’s Law; he was a biological descendant of Israel (not a Gentile convert); he was of the illustrious tribe of Benjamin; and he was a full-fledged Hebrew (he was raised in Hebrew culture, spoke and read Hebrew, not Greek). The last three show Paul’s performance: he joined the most strict and rigid sect of Judaism (Pharisees); was so zealous that he was willing to snuff out the church through persecution; and were anyone to look at his life and weigh it, they would be stumped trying to find a way he wasn’t keeping all the rules.
We know from Paul’s own testimony in the book of Acts that he was a rising star in the Pharisee ranks. He was trained under the prestigious teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and was so zealous and ardent for the faith that the council of elders and the high priest himself had entrusted Paul with authority to travel to Damascus to imprison Christians there and bring them back in chains to Jerusalem (Acts 22:5). While committing violence is (rightfully) atrocious to us, from within the moral framework Paul was inhabiting at the time, it was a sign of his sincere and pure devotion. In other words, Paul went to bed every night telling himself: I’m a good person. That is, until he met Jesus.
When I was a young child I played flag-football for a season. I don’t remember much about, but I do remember not being very good. One time, however, I had a moment of glory. I (somehow) caught an interception and began running like a madman for the endzone. I could hear everyone cheering and could see them waving their arms in excitement out of my peripheral vision. But, had I turned to look at what they were actually doing and listened more carefully I would have seen them motioning me to turn around and heard them say: You’re going the wrong way! I was running towards the wrong endzone. When Paul meets Jesus, he realizes that his entire life he had been running for the wrong goal.
Paul’s conversion was a train-wreck conversion, not because he was living such a seedy, perverse life that needed repair—he was not strung out on drugs, he was not in the grip of some debilitating addiction or gambling his life away. What made Paul’s conversion so painfully difficult for him was that he was so moral.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ,” (Phil 3:7).
What Paul once considered “gain”, what was once a reckoned as moral income in the bank account of his righteousness, after meeting Jesus he now counts that as a “loss” a debt, a liability. Like a man who suddenly discovers that it is the person with the lowest stroke count, not the highest, who wins the golf game or a man who thought his long arduous hike would be taking him to the summit peak, only to discover that it had actually taken him into the caverns below, Paul discovers that all of his religiosity and moral efforts had actually taken him further from God.
Maybe our greatest danger isn’t our sin, but our goodness. Maybe it isn’t when our life is falling apart that we are farthest from God, but when everything is going swimmingly. When you are succeeding at your career, have a healthy family, are getting good sleep, good exercise, have excellent mental health, maybe then we are most prone to say: I don’t really need anything God, I think I got this. That is the heart behind Paul’s statement: “confidence in the flesh.” Confidence in the flesh for Paul is the confidence in what we can do to establish or prove our own righteousness; it is the man-made activities, interests, desires, or convictions that generate inside of us the certainty: I am a good person. So, take any hot-button cultural issue that really revs people up, (abortion, LGBT issues, race, etc.) and you will find that the most ardent activists on each side of the issue likely believe that what they are doing makes them a good person, even though they are diametrically opposed to each other.
Let’s be clear: God is not pleased with sin. I am not saying that the more we indulge in sin and break commandments, the more we will know God. God hates sin—hates it so much that He came down and took on flesh to break its power, died on the cross so that we may be delivered from it. Paul in no ways thinks we should take sin lightly. But the sin under all our other sins is the belief that we don’t need God, or if we do we only need a little help from Him. And Paul’s testimony and warning to you is: don’t buy it! Paul’s testimony deserves our hearing precisely because he was on top of the heap. If a person of modest income tells you: don’t bother with making money, it doesn’t satisfy. You can be left thinking: Maybe their just bitter because they never made it in life. But if a millionaire comes to you and says: don’t bother with wealth, I’m miserable. That is much more persuasive. Paul was a moral millionaire and his warning to us today: it didn’t work, it actually made me worse.
How do you know if you are putting your confidence in the flesh? Three tests:
1. Do you tend to look down on other people?
2. Do you tend to ground your sense of identity and security in your achievements?
3. When you fail, do you feel utterly hopeless?
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, 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,” (Phil 3:8-9).
Here Paul makes a dramatic statement: there lay before us two choices, (1) retain control, stay in the driver’s seat of your life and try to earn your own right-standing with God, or (2) abandon everything, relinquish control, and rely entirely and completely on Christ to give you His righteousness. That’s it. There is no other choice. We rely on Jesus completely to save us, or we don’t at all. Any attempt to really on Jesus plus something else, as the opponents Paul described earlier have done, is to abandon Jesus. As the great hymn Rock of Ages reminds us:
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save, and Thou alone
Paul makes two statements here, one is about the beauty of Jesus, and the other is about the work of Jesus.
Notice the value statements Paul makes here. He counts “everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In verse 7, Paul said that he counted his moral accomplishments as a loss, but here he says that he now counts everything as a loss. When Paul stacks up everything that life has to offer and places it next to knowing Jesus, he considers it all so small and so pitiful in comparison that it is worth leaving behind. Not only that, but he actually considers at as “rubbish”, dung, garbage. If a Christian is anything, he or she is someone who sees Jesus as infinitely more beautiful and valuable than anything or anyone else in the world.
“…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,” (Phil 3:9). There are two ways you can be righteous: by yourself, or through Jesus. To be saved is to turn from ourselves and turn towards Jesus. So we all have a choice to make. Do we think we can cut it on our own? Do we think we have what it takes? Paul's warning to us all is that he tried, and found out that even his best efforts did nothing but increase the distance between Him and God.
Here is what we can do instead: we can turn from ourselves and turn towards Christ. If we will open up the empty hands of faith, we will receive from Him His own righteousness. We don't need to bother with our own cheap, broke-down righteousness when we have been given access to God's very own right-standing. And all we need to do is open up in faith, just let our hearts crack open to His divine mercy and offer. His grace has postured God on the edge of His seat, ready to pour out a waterfall of righteousness upon sinners like us. But we must come, so come!
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and pow’r.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all
A Life Well-Lived (Phil 2:19-30)
Sermon Audio: A Life Well-Lived (Phil 2:19-30)
Reminder: These discussion questions are intended to only be a helpful tool. Use whatever questions are helpful, but do not feel obligated to use all of them, or any of them, for that matter. Only use whatever is helpful for applying God's Word to your life.
- As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
- "Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card." (Ray Ortlund Sr.) Do you agree? If so, what does that mean?
- Much of the sermon emphasized living a meaningful life. Do you feel like your priorities and schedule are aligned with where you want them to be? If not, what would you like to change?
- Why does Paul put this update about Timothy and Epaphroditus here in the letter? Why do we need living, breathing models of the Christian life?
- Consider for self-reflection: Is my life open enough to others that I could be a model for them, or do I keep my life fairly closed off from others?
- The three characteristics that we see mark out Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus are: love for one another, self-denial, and courage. Which of those three do you see yourself needing to grow in most?
- Paul tells the Philippine church to "honor such men" as Timothy and Epaphroditus (Phil 2:29). In your small group, who is in need of encouragement/honor?
What did you want to be when you grew up? Our life is so much more than a career, of course, but children often have incredible pictures of their future life. They want to be scientists, astronauts, professional athletes, etc. Life is exciting and they want to do something with it just as exciting. As kids grow up, their perspectives change, but if you speak with any eighteen-year-old, they usually still have a sense that they are going to do something great, something meaningful. For some that means looking forward to starting a family, to others that means starting a career, to others that looks like pursuing education or travel. But I have yet to ever meet a young person who explains, “I want to live a totally meaningless life.” I’ve met young people who I thought was living aimlessly, but they didn’t think that. I just spoke with a family recently who had a young relative who had gotten a full-ride to an exceptional college, but was entirely unmotivated. He barely graduated and now has no intention of pursuing a career. It is incredibly frustrating as a parent to watch a child throw an opportunity like that away. Exasperated parents often plead with their wayward children, “What are you going to do with your life?!” The assumption behind that question is, of course, your life needs to have a point; what’s yours going to be?
But the moody, angsty teenager can always retort: Life isn’t just about making money, Dad! And, as melodramatic and naïve as it may be, they are 100% correct. You can make gobs of money, work in a highly respectable career, create a very comfortable life for your family, and live a totally meaningless life. The actor Jim Carrey has said that he wishes everyone could become rich and famous so they could realize how unsatisfying it is. In fact, accomplishments, wealth, and ease may lull us into thinking that we have created a meaningful life when really we have done nothing of the sort.
Ray Ortlund Sr., writing in 1974, warns us of the all-too-common wasted life of our day, “Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card,” (Lord, Make My Life a Miracle!).
What if Satan’s great scheme, his plan for your life is to give you a comfortable, unsurprising life? To live where you stay within the warm cocoon of your own interests, where the only difference between you and your non-Christian neighbor is a veneer of spirituality? Sure, you may go to church on occasion or don’t let your children watch certain movies or pray before dinner, but the deep architecture of your life, your heart, is basically the same: you work, buy stuff, have fun experiences, sit alone staring at a screen, and then die. That’s what Satan wants for you: a comfortable, respectable, religious copycat of worldliness. A wasted life.
We don’t want that! I’ve never met someone who said: I would love to live a meaningless life centered on things that ultimately don’t matter. So what does an unwasted life look like? Denying yourself to serve others for the cause of Christ. We get two examples here in Philippians:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
- Phil 2:19-30
Normally, in Paul’s letters he reserves news and updates towards the conclusion of his letters, but here Paul drops a series of updates on Timothy and Epaphroditus right in the middle of the letter. Paul has been building an argument thus far in the letter: we are to live a life “worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27) which means following Paul’s example courageous selflessness (1:12-14), and avoiding selfish ambition (2:1-4). Paul exhorts the Philippians to remember the supreme example of selflessness in the hymn to Christ (2:6-11) before exhorting the Philippians to then workout the implications of the salvation that Christ has earned them (2:12-18). And then, for some reason, Paul gives an update on Timothy and Epaphroditus, before continuing on with his exhortation to the church in chapter three. Why does he do that? If you read the whole letter, this section feels like it is out of place. What is Paul doing?
Paul isn’t making a mistake here. The Philippians were familiar with these two men (cf. 2:22, 25-28). So as he is considering the “mind of Christ” in Phil 2:1-11 and what that looks like played out in God’s people in 2:12-18, immediately Paul thinks of Timothy and Epaphroditus as two living examples of this that the Philippians know. There are a number of key words used in this section that link Timothy and Epaphroditus’s lives back to what Paul has been teaching thus far:
ἡγέομαι in 2:3, 6, and 2:25;
ἀναγκαῖος in 1:24 and 2:25;
δοῦλος in 2:7 and δουλεύω in 2:22
λειτουργία in 2:17 and 2:30 and λειτουργός in 2:25
θάνατος in 2:8 and 2:27, 30
But more importantly the life of Timothy and Epaphroditus model what Paul has been teaching thus far.
Back in 2:3 we were told to do nothing “from selfish ambition” but were told, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (2:4) which was a sharp contrast from the false preachers in 1:17 who preach “out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.” But Timothy? “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” (2:20-21). Timothy is a living-breathing example of what the humility of Christ looks like in contrast with the self-centeredness of the world.
Back in chapter one we heard of Paul’s willingness to risk his own life through his imprisonment in the gospel (1:12-14) and his perspective that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). Of course, Paul learns this from Christ Himself who didn’t merely risk His life, but gave His life by, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (2:8). And what do we read of Epaphroditus? “…he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me,” (2:30). Epaphroditus is an example of selfless sacrifice and Christ-like risk taking.
So, Paul has been calling the Philippians to follow Christ and explains what that looks like abstractly in 2:1-18, but then he thinks, “Oh, you know what, Timothy and Epaphroditus are a great example of this, let me fill you in on them.” Paul’s exhortation at the end of this section for the Philippians to “honor such men” as Timothy and Epaphroditus make it even more explicit: Paul wants the Philippians to view these men as examples, models of the Christian life.
This tells us that we need more than abstractions and mental exercises for us to grow in Christ. We need to see it modeled before us. Paul could have just provided the teaching of Philippians 2:1-18 and then rolled on right by the examples of these men. But he doesn’t, he draws the church’s attention to consider the lives of these men. And if that is true for the Philippians, that is true for us as well. We need living and breathing models of what it actually looks like for us to follow Jesus in our lives.
The Bible is chock-full of clear and accessible teaching, but we were never meant to be left by ourselves to figure out the Christian life. We need to see what it looks like in flesh and blood around us. I can read what Ephesians tells me about loving my wife as Christ loved the church and get an idea of what that means by myself. But I will be far better equipped if I also observe how an older, godlier man interacts with his wife, how he speaks of her, how he treats her.
Friend, do you understand that one of the most basic ways you can disciple others is by simply inviting them into your life to see what following Christ looks like in the day-to-day? In another letter Paul wrote, he tells the Corinthian church, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” (1 Cor 11:1; cf. 1 Cor 4:16). Later in Philippians he will tell them, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3:17). Are you eager to grow? Find other people here in this church who are running after Jesus a little bit faster than you are and spend time with them. Invite yourself over for dinner, ask if they need help with projects on the weekend, take them out for coffee and ask them questions.
This is one of the reasons we have elders and deacons in our church. Consider, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith,” (Heb 13:7). A leader in the church is someone that we have all recognized as being someone who still struggles with sin, they are not extraordinary as Christians, but they are exemplary in what is ordinary to the Christian life. If you pattern your life off of theirs, you will likely grow as a Christian.
So what do we learn from the life of Timothy and Epaphroditus? Why are these men lifted up as exemplary models, and what does this then tell us about what kind of lives we should live?
A life of love, a life of self-denial, and a life of courage.
A Life of Love
What sticks out most glaringly in these passages is just how much Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus care for one another and care for the Philippian church. In nearly every verse of this section we get a vivid demonstration of the affection that Christians should have for one another. Look back through verses 19-30 and notice how prevelant it is…
“…so that I too may be cheered by news of you” 2:19
“[Timothy] will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” 2:20
“how as a son with a father [Timothy] has served with me in the gospel” 2:22
“Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” 2:25
“for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” 2:26
“…lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” 2:27
“I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” 2:28
“honor such men” 2:29
“risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” 2:30
Verses 19-30 are a display of the supernatural love that marks the ordinary life of a Christian. John tells us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us,” (1 John 4:9-12).
John, more shockingly, states, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20).
Put a seed in rich soil, water it, give it sunshine, and it inevitably follows that it will grow. Take a sinner, put him in the rich soil of the gospel, water him with the Holy Spirit, and shine on him the love of the Father, and it inevitably follows that he will love his brothers and sisters in Christ. This isn’t a natural, worldly love that is dependent on the shared interests, backgrounds, or even time. Paul had only spent a few days with the Philippians on his first visit, and only a few months on his second, yet the church cares for Paul so deeply that they raise money to give to Paul and Epaphroditus is willing to risk his life to deliver it to him. So deeply connected in our affections for one other we should be, Paul can tell the Corinthians,“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” (1 Cor 12:26). The body of Christ is profoundly interconnected.
You want to live a meaningful life worthy of honor? Love the brothers and sisters around here deeply.
A Life of Self-Denial
Paul tells us of Timothy: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 2:20-21). After verse 20 explained that Timothy was genuinely concerned for the interests of the Philippians, it would have made sense for verse 21 to say, “For they all seek their own interests, not those of others.” But it doesn’t say that, it says, “not those of Jesus Christ.” What are the interests of Jesus Christ? Denying yourself to serve others. And “serve” is the exact right word, “But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel,” (Phil 2:22).
Why does Timothy standout as so extraordinary to Paul that he wants to send him to the Philippians?
1. He will be genuinely concerned for their welfare. Timothy barely even knows the Philippians yet, but Paul is confident that Timothy will care for them well, not because he knows that he and the Philippians necessarily will have an incredible affinity for one another, but because he knows what kind of person Timothy is. He seeks the interest of Christ.
2. He doesn’t do what everyone else does. He doesn’t seek his own interests. It is normal and natural for us to put ourselves first—to serve when it is convenient, to give when we have extra, to invest time when we have it to spare. You don’t need to be regenerate to have an “appearance of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5). But it is supernatural to say to Jesus, not my priorities, but yours. Following Jesus means that we let Him set the agenda for our life. Our careers, our families, our interests, our personality types—all of it is subordinate to King Jesus.
Here is a little experiment for you: consider how you spent your time this last week. How much of it was spent seeking your own interests, and how much of it was spent denying yourself for the interests of others?
A Life of Courage
Paul tells us that on his journey to aid Paul Epaphroditus became, “ill, near to death” (Phil 2:27). It is not immediately clear that the illness necessarily has anything to do with his journey. Epaphroditus very well may have become deathly ill had he stayed home. But Paul understands that the hardship that Epaphroditus experienced was not incidental, “for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me,” (Phil 2:30). Jason C. Meyer explains, “Suffering that comes on the path of obedience to Christ is suffering for Christ,” (ESVEC, Philippians). As many of you know, there are few things that are more discouraging and disincentivizing to serving others than personal sickness. But, amazingly, even in the midst of his sickness he still chooses to serve Paul and is actually more concerned with the Philippians worrying about him than he is about himself.
As soon as Epaphroditus left Philippi to travel to Rome, he took the path of risk, a path that Paul believes is worthy of commendation, honor, and imitation.
When is the last time you did something risky for Christ?
The example of John Paton to the New Hebrides:
The New Hebrides islands were a chain of about eighty islands in the South Pacific. The indigenous population who lived there were cannibals and in 1839 killed two missionaries and eaten them only minutes after the men had stepped on shore. John Paton, a 33 year old Presbyterian missionary, announced to his church that he intended to go to these same isles. An older man in the church named Mr. Dickson exploded: “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” To which Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
That’s a model of selfless courage that we need sorely today.
For God Is at Work in You (Phil 2:12-18)
Sermon Audio: For God Is at Work in You (Phil 2:12-18)
- What was most helpful?
- " Give what you command, and then command whatever you will." What does that mean?
- What leads Paul to rejoice in Phil 2:17-18?
- What do you find yourself complaining about most? What leads us to complain? How does the story of the Exodus illustrate the danger of a grumbling spirit?
- What does it mean to "work out" your salvation? What does "with fear and trembling" mean?
- How would you explain what Phil 2:13 means to someone? See also 1 Cor 15:10.
What does God expect of us? What does He ask us to do? Does He want us to care for the poor? Does He want us to combat error and false teaching? Does He want us to become peaceful and free from anxiety? Does He want us to sell everything we have and go to another country to preach the gospel? Does He want us to raise a family, work a job, and be faithful in a local church?
Where do we look for an answer to question like that? We are here gathered at church today, so we know that the correct answer to that question lies somewhere in the Bible. But when we think about what serves as our functional authority for the day-to-day of our life, our authority might not be the Bible, but would be our intuition, what seems right. What does God want me to do? Well, I will look around, evaluate the problems I see, and then take stock of what interests me, what resources I have.
So what happens is I will give myself over to what seems reasonable to me; I’ll only write checks that I think my abilities can cash.
But is this the way God has summoned us to live? The story of the Bible is, in so many ways, a story of God summoning people to do what is far beyond their ability. God’s people are slaves to Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth, for 430 years and God says, “You’re going to be free.” There is a murderous army chasing them down and a sea blocking their path and God says, “You’re going to walk through the water.” Peter sees Jesus standing on the water and Jesus says, “Peter, you’re going to walk out here with me.”
Friends, God does not need your tee-ball stand of low expectations to hit a homerun. You may look at God’s commands and say, I cannot see how I could possibly do that. But God isn’t despairing at your limitations—He is calling you to something more because He has more to give.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. – Phil 2:12-18
Quick overview of the passage
- Therefore…the connection with 2:5-11
- Paul’s confidence in the Philippians obedience and summons to future obedience
- He summons them to three things
o They are to work out their salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in them
o Do all things without grumbling or complaining by holding fast to the word of life
o Paul wants them to rejoice with him at God’s work in their life
Augustine, the 4th century church father, wrote his classic work Confessions, a spiritual autobiography of sorts, where he wrote, “On your exceedingly great mercy rests all my hope. Give what you command, and then command whatever you will.” This is our hope as we walk through this passage, whatever God commands, God can will to make happen.
A Heart of Joy (vs 17-18)
“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” Phil 2:17-18)
A “drink offering” is when a priest would take a pitcher of wine and pour it out upon the ground or upon another offering as a libation (cf. Num 28:7). Here Paul considers a hypothetical scenario: even if my life is emptied out as a sacrifice for your faith, I am glad. What does this mean? Remember, Paul is writing this from a jail cell, but he is fairly confident that he will be released (see Phil 1:19), but even if he doesn’t, even if his life is expended in the service of the Church, he is glad. What is he glad about? He is glad of their faith. Even if it ends in his life being cut short, Paul is content, satisfied, and happy. So full and happy that it spills over and he summons the Philippians: You should be happy about this too!
Paul is a man who has his eye on the ball. He is the one who earlier taught us that ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ If you don’t know what life is for, it does not matter how much comfort and entertainment and money you have, you will be miserable. You can use a violin as a tennis racket or to paddle a canoe, but you will never experience the highest joy of a violin until you sit down and play it, until you use it the way it was designed. Our generation is the wealthiest, healthiest, most entertained, most educated, and most comfortable generation that has ever walked the planet. Children today would put emperors and monarchs of the past to shame with the kind of resources they have at their disposal. And yet, we are miserable, bored, and anxious. Why? Because we have lost sight of what matters.
Our lives are made for God, we are made in His image which means we exist to make Him known, to glorify Him, and there stands before us a world that does not know Him. We have an immense mission that lay in front of us with an eternal reward. So great is this hope that we can suffer the loss of every earthly joy, we can lose our very life, and yet be abounding with joy.
What do you live your life for?
Parents, what do you “pour your life out for” in regards to your children? What would your children describe as the bullseye of your hopes for them? Would it be their sports? Their college prospects and future career? Or maybe just their tacit obedience so that they don’t bother you? Our hope as parents is that one day our children would be able to say, “More than any career or life choice, my faith is what makes my parents happier than anything.”
We can only do this if we ourselves find our highest joy in Him. O God, command what you will, and will what you command.
A Heart of Gratitude (vs 14-16)
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Phil 2:14
This is an interesting application of what Paul said earlier. He tells the Philippians to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”, and then the first thing that comes to his mind is: don’t complain. That may seem like a rather mundane application when Paul could have done something a little more dramatic or holistic. But consider what he says in verse 15: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” (Phil 2:15). So, if we do all things without grumbling or arguing we will be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish, who will shine as stars among a dark, crooked generation.
The reference to shining like stars comes from the book of Daniel where we are told that at the resurrection we will be clothed with stars and will shine in brightness (Dan 12:3). All because we don’t complain?
Verse 15 actually appears to be almost a direct citation, or inversion, rather, of Deuteronomy 32:5, “They have dealt corruptly with [God]; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.” Philippians 2:15 states, “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” So, in Deuteronomy, it is unbelieving Israel who are the crooked and twisted generation, but in Philippians it is their lack of grumbling that makes them precisely what Israel wasn’t.
Deuteronomy is referring to the wilderness generation here who doubted and disbelieved God, despite seeing miracle after miracle of God’s salvation and provision for them. And what was that generation marked by? Grumbling and complaining! It only took three days after the parting of the Red Sea before we read, “And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Ex 15:24). It happens again just a few verses later when the people grow hungry (Ex 16:2-3), and again when the people once more need water (Ex 17:3), and again when they doubt Moses’ leadership (Num 11:1).
Grumbling and complaining is a motif that shapes the entire story of the people of Israel coming out of the Exodus. It eventually leads to a fever-pitch after the people send spies into Canaan, “And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Num 14:2-4). Moses and Joshua try to intervene and remind people that they can trust God to deliver on His promises, and what do the people do? “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel,” (Num 14:10).
A grumbling and demanding heart is fundamentally a sick heart. Like a child on Christmas morning throwing a temper tantrum because he didn’t get as many presents as he was hoping for, Israel has become somehow blind to everything that God has done for them—to the point that they are saying We wish we were dead! Why did you ruin our life, God! Let’s go back to our slavery. CS Lewis perceptively picks up on the danger of a grumbling mood:
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine,” – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity.
Friend, do you see the danger of a grumbling, complaining spirit in you? Do you sense its danger? If you want a sense of how deep rooted this problem is, here is an eye-opening test: spend the next week trying to never complain. Or, to look at it from another perspective: are you easily pleased?
The opposite of grumbling and disputing, of course, is gratitude and contentment. When we moved into our home a few years ago we noticed that a weed started to grow all over our freshly laid sod. We asked around and found out that this weed was called barnyard grass and, if you didn’t stay on top of it, it would eventually spread and cover the whole yard. Unfortunately, there was no chemical that would kill it without also killing the rest of our grass. So they told us we needed to do two things: one, we needed to go out and try to pluck up as much of it by hand as we could, but also, and more importantly, we needed to work on fertilizing and watering our grass really well because if your grass grows in really well, the roots of the grass will be so thick that there won’t be any room for barnyard grass or other weeds, they’ll be choked out.
A heart of gratitude chokes out a grumbling spirit. A grumbling spirit is a heart that nurses grievances, that gathers together frustrations and huddles around them the way a cold man does the embers of a fire. That isn’t the way they used to do things…I hate it when he does that…Kids these days! But a grateful heart is a heart that is well-watered by the abundance of God’s grace and goodness. And the verse actually shows us this—how do we avoid grumbling? “holding fast to the word of life,” (Phil 2:16).
What is the “word of life”? It is God’s Word in general. Paul elsewhere tells us that we should let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col 3:16), so that if you crack a Christian open, Bible should just spill out.
But it is more specifically the gospel itself, that is the Word which brings life. Hold fast, with two hands, onto the gospel and watch your petty complaining shrivel and die. What does the gospel tell us? We are condemned sinners worthy of death who have been pardoned by the King at great cost to Himself. The entitled snob who thinks the world is owed him will find much to complain about. But the criminal on death-row who has been set free? All of life around him will explode with joy and gratitude.
A Heart at Work (vs 12-13)
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” – Phil 2:12
How do we live like this? How do we live so totally for God that we would say, “You know what, even if it kills me, I am overjoyed in seeing others come to faith”? How do we hold onto the gospel so that we don’t become eaten up by a grumbling spirit? We “work out” our salvation with fear and trembling.
Let’s clear up a few misconceptions:
- “Work out” doesn’t mean “earn” or “achieve,” it means “do.” Our salvation is entirely a gift that Jesus Christ has earned on our behalf, but it has implications that come with it. If you are in a coma, completely paralyzed and bed-ridden, and a brilliant doctor is able to heal you and restore you, what do you do? You get out of bed. Jesus has saved us, but He has saved not only saved us from our sins but has saved us for living a new life! The Bible is so emphatic on this that if you someone claims to have faith, but their life is devoid of any good works, then James says that faith is actually dead, not real.
- What about the “Fear and trembling” statement? This doesn’t mean “fear of punishment”, as in if you don’t work hard enough God is going to fry you. This means acknowledging the grandeur and goodness and holiness of the God who is at work in you, who has saved you. Every time God appears to a human being in the Bible, the respond with fear and trembling. Not because God is bad, but because He is so good. Consider the passage we read earlier:
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” – Jer 32:40-41
The fear of God being instilled in our hearts is accompanied with God’s everlasting commitment to us, His unflagging plan to do good to us with “all his heart and soul.”
Now, consider what verse 13 means, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” Phil 2:13
“For”—the grounds of our work, of living out the Christian life, is that simultaneously God is at work! You understand now why Paul told us we work with “fear and trembling”—God Almighty is there at work.
God is at work in our “will and work” with the aim of pleasing Him.
“There are, in any action, two principal departments ― the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?” – Calvin
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Eph 2:10
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. – Col 1:29
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Cor 15:10
God’s working in us is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relation strictly one of co-operation as if God did his part and we did ours so that the conjunction or coordination of both produced the required result. God works in us and we also work. But the relation is that because God works we work. – John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 148-49.
He Emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-11)
Sermon Audio: He Emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-11)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What did Jonathan Edwards think distinguished God from all other beings most? Do you agree?
- How did Jesus "empty Himself"?
- What difference does it make if Philippians 2:6's "being in the form of God" is read as, "because he was in the form of God" as opposed to "though he was in the form of God"?
- How does Phil 2:6-11 teach that Jesus is Yahweh?
- "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." - James 4:10. Where is God asking you to humble yourself? Where is He calling you to serve in the low place?
The great New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards once wrote: “God is God, and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above them, chiefly by his…” How would you finish that sentence? What makes God God? What distinguishes him from all other beings, and exalts him above them? His power? Sovereignty? Omniscience? Holiness? All of things He possesses, of course. But what Edwards is getting at is what sets God apart most from all other creatures, what distinguishes Him most supremely? Here is what Edwards thought: “God is God, and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above them, chiefly by his divine beauty.” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections)
It is the beauty of God that reveals to us more than anything else what God is like.
In another sermon, Edwards considers what it is that draws us to God. Perhaps it is His sheer greatness and immensity? No, he explains, “it is a sight of the divine beauty of Christ that bows the will, and draws the heart of men," (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 25:635). We are hardwired for beauty. It summons our attention like nothing else will, it transcends our rationality and grips us at our very core. The great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “Beauty will save the world.” That may seem naïve at first. In all the brokenness of our world, what can beauty do? It may charm us or ennoble us, but it can’t fix anything. But Edwards says it is the divine beauty of Christ that bows the will—power may overwhelm it, but beauty alone transforms it. Our world is broken, but no amount of politics or economics or social programs will be able to solve our woes because it is we who are broken, we need something that can bow down our arrogant wills. We need, as Edwards says, a sight of the divine beauty of Christ.
I frankly have struggled to prepare this sermon because the truths here are so precious that I don’t know how to do them justice. If someone stood next to you by the Grand Canyon at sunrise and asked you, “Can you explain to me why this is beautiful?” you would struggle to respond. It just is. In our text today we see the beauty of God displayed in His most sublime act: His emptying of Himself for our sins. How can I explain to you its beauty? I don’t think I can, but I hope I can simply bring you before our God and let the beauty of the gospel itself draw you into Him.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Phil 2:5-11
When you draw the letter “V” you start at the top and draw a line slanted down, and then a line slanted up. This whole passage is “V” shaped. Many have noted that verses 6-11 have a poetic structure to them, leading many to believe that verses 6-11 are actually a well-known hymn used in the early church that Paul is simply quoting here (sometimes referred to as the Carmen Christi). One commentator explains the strange paradox of this hymn: “The first three stanzas do not lift up our eyes to the heavens to see the wonders of creation; they do not even lift up our hearts by showing us wonderful miracles of healing and deliverance; they take us down, down, down to the deepest, darkest hell-hole in human history to see the horrific torture, unspeakable abuse, and bloody execution of a slave on a cross,” (Hansen, PNTC). It has been said that Christianity is the only religion that has the humiliation of its God at its center.
So we will start with the descent down in Christ’s humiliation (6-8), and then the ascent up in Christ’s exaltation (9-11), before turning to our participation (5).
Christ’s Humiliation (6-8)
Verse 6 opens with, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Phil 2:6). The word for “form” used in vs. 6, “in the form of God” refers to the outward physical appearance, the exact representation of what God is like. No one can see God, but the Son of God makes God known to the world. Consider two passages concerning Jesus:
“Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” John 14:8-10
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” Heb 1:3 (cf. Col 1:15; John 1:18)
In the Bible no one was able to see God directly, but they could see the glory of God radiating outward. Jesus represents the visible representation of God, much like the radiance of God’s glory in the OT. So, when we look at Jesus, we are not seeing the first work of God’s creation, we are not seeing a stand-in, or an archangel—we are seeing God Himself. He is in very nature God, of the “same essence” of the Father, as the Nicene Creed explains. The second half of the verse, in fact, does not make any sense if we are to understand Jesus as anyone less than God!
Look again at verse 6. “[He] did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited, or taken advantage of, or held onto for his own advantage.” The ESV translates the word as “grasped” and it can give the mistaken notion that Jesus had the opportunity to stretch upward to lay hold of equality with God (whatever that would even mean). That isn’t what this means; rather, it refers to something that Jesus already possesses (equality with God), that He is willing to forego. The pre-incarnate Son of God could have remained in heaven and received the praise and adoration due Him and avoided all the shame and degradation the rest of the verse details; He could have retained that right, but He forsook that right, He did not take advantage of it. It is one thing to suffer against your will because you lack the power to stop the suffering, but it is another thing entirely to have every opportunity and every chance to avoid suffering, but choose to willingly accept it. That’s what Jesus does here.
And from here on out, the rest of verses 7-8 unroll like a cascading descent into utter condescension, humiliation, and shame.
First, we are told that He “emptied himself.” Does this mean when Jesus became man He un-God-ed Himself? No, not only is this clearly not what the verse means (as the rest of the verse shows), but it is simply impossible. Jesus can no more stop being God than God can cease to exist. When Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied himself” he is setting this up as a contrast to what he said just earlier: he did not count equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself…”
This doesn’t mean that Jesus emptied Himself of something in particular, as if He was a container that He reached into and pulled something out of. Rather, He did not empty Himself of something, but emptied Himself. That may seem abstract, so let’s look at the text. He did this through three things:
1. He became a servant. “By taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). The word “servant” here is the same word for “slave.” The Philippians would have been well-acquainted with the world of Roman slavery and how degraded and powerless slaves were—to be a slave meant to be taken advantage of. The repetition of the word “form” causes us to naturally contrast this with the previous phrase in verse 6, “the form of God.” What a contrast! From the position of total power, to utter powerlessness; from honor and glory, to shame and disrepute, from having the rights of heaven, to no rights.
Jesus taught, “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 10:45. “The one, who could have rightfully claimed the highest position in human history and justly received supreme honors, deliberately sought the lowest position and submitted himself to extreme humiliation.” – Hansen, PNTC
2. He became a man. “being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form,” (Phil 2:7-8). Part of Jesus’ emptying Himself is adding to Himself a human nature. Not appearing to be a human, or partially becoming human, but fully and entirely taking on a human nature—to the degree that He was born! Jesus did not descend down upon the earth as a 30-year-old emperor and sit upon a stately throne in a sumptuous palace. He became an infant who had to be burped and couldn’t hold his own head up. An infant destined to a life of poverty and servitude—a slave. “Being found in human form” refers simply to the fact that Jesus’ humanity was verifiable by others. Jesus did not float a few inches off the ground, but His earthy humanity was evident to all.
3. He humbled himself to death. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Phil 2:8). Jesus was not humbled by others. That is often how you and I become humble—you live long enough in this world and the school of hard knocks will knock you down a peg or two and humble you. Jesus, however, wasn’t knocked down. He freely stepped down to the humble place. He submitted to the Father’s plan. When He was in the garden of Gethsemane He asked if the Father could provide any other way to avoid the cross, but prayed, “Not my will, but your will be done,” (Mark 14:36). He said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord,” (John 10:18).
This reminds us of the great prophesy of the servant of the Lord of Isaiah 53 who suffers and dies in the place of God’s people so that they may be healed and forgiven. At the end of the chapter God promises to His servant, “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors,” (Isa 53:12). Jesus emptied himself by pouring out his soul to death: becoming a servant, becoming a man, humbling himself to obedience, and dying on a cross.
Notice that point of emphasis Paul adds at the end of verse 8: even death on a cross. It is hard for us to conceptualize just how shameful and humiliating this form of death was.
“To speak of a crucifixion is to speak of a slave’s death…If Jesus’ demise is construed merely as a death — even as a painful, tortured death — the crucial point will be lost. Crucifixion was specifically designed to be the ultimate insult to personal dignity, the last word in humiliating and dehumanizing treatment. Degradation was the whole point. As Joel Green describes it, “Executed publicly, situated at a major crossroads or on a well-trafficked artery, devoid of clothing, left to be eaten by birds and beasts, victims of crucifixion were subject to optimal, unmitigated, vicious ridicule”…This was the destiny chosen by the Creator and Lord of the universe: the death of a nobody,” (Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion).
Not only this, but the book of Deuteronomy tells us that anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed by God (Deut 21:23). Paul picks up on this in the book of Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13). So not only is Jesus shamed and ridiculed by society, but He receives the shame and condemnation of the Father Himself. He takes our very sin into Himself, bears our iniquity and guilt, and then stands before the Father’s judgment. Utter scorn, utter shame, utter humiliation.
Why? Why would Jesus condescend to literally the lowest of the lows? Look back at vs. 6 with me where we are told, “who, though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Phil 2:6). Most every other translation just says, “being in the form of God.” The editors of the ESV have chosen to interpret the participle “being” as a concession, so, “in spite of Jesus being God, He did not take advantage of it and emptied himself.” So the emphasis is on the contrast between how different God is from the lowly humiliation that follows in verses 7-8. However, this week I was reading an article by John Barclay, a New Testament professor out of the University of Durham, who argues that it makes more sense to interpret it not as a concession, but as a cause. So, rather than, “though he was in the form of God,” it is, “because he was in the form of God.” Barclay explains, “On this reading, Christ did not cease to be in the form of God when he emptied himself and took the form of a slave: it was the very fact that he was in the form of God that impelled him to take the slave-form, because it is of the very essence and character of God to give of God’s self in this way…Christ’s condescension is not an abandonment or renunciation of his true identity, but its expression and embodiment.”
What is God like? Jesus taught, “I am gentle and lowly of heart.” It is the very heart of God to stoop, to condescend, to take the lowly place. He could not do anything else.
Consider this passage from the prophet Hosea:
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9 I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. – Hos 11:8-9
It is natural to man to explode in anger when someone hurts you. It is natural to man to abandon someone when they seriously betray your trust. It is natural to man to run out of patience and abandon those who repeatedly sin against you. But, praise God, God is not like us. His compassion warms Him and He comes, not in wrath, but in grace. That is what sets God apart from man.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Phil 2:9-11
We find several key truths here.
First, notice that the passage begins with a “Therefore”, so what follows is connected with what happens just prior. It is the humiliation of Christ that serves as the ground for the exaltation of Christ. The cross comes before the crown, or as Proverbs tells us, “humility comes before honor,” (Prov 18:12). Notice in verses 6-8 it is Christ who humbles himself, but here in verses 9-11 it is the Father who exalts the Son. When we pursue honor before humility, we get nothing, but when we pursue humility as our main priority and trust the Lord to take care of our exaltation, we shall be raised up. Jesus taught His disciples, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” (Matt 23:11). It is the meek who will one day inherit the earth. This is precisely what Jesus did—He went down to the lowest place, only to be “highly exalted.”
Second, here He receives the “name that is above every name”, that is the divine name of Yahweh, or what is translated as “LORD” in our English Bibles, the name given to Moses and repeated all through the Old Testament (see Isa 42:8). Jesus, being God, of course already possessed the divine name; but now, after the incarnation Jesus has became both truly God and truly man, so in His humanity Jesus now receives, like a coronation, the divine name.
Third, we are told that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is almost a verbatim citation of Isaiah 45:23, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” This is rather scandalous because here Paul is not merely saying that Jesus is associated somehow with Yahweh in the Old Testament, rather it is saying that Jesus is Yahweh. When you read the Old Testament and you see the Lord interacting with His people, you are reading about the pre-incarnate Son of God.
Verses 9-11 show us a window into reality. The ‘real world’ is not the fantasy our TV shows and news and social media present to us. It isn’t your spiritual dullness or boredom; it isn’t the anxieties and fears the world spins for us; it isn’t the bleak despair that Satan tries to strangle us with by shoving all the pain, suffering, and sin of this world into our face. Reality is that our humble Savior, our crucified Messiah, exalted to the right hand of the Father and receiving all authority in heaven and earth, and one day everyone will confess, everyone will acknowledge that truth. And how did Jesus arrive at this exalted place? Through exploiting others? Stepping on others? No—by dying, by losing, by going down to the low place. The ‘real world’ will try to tell you that the way to win is to get on top, look out for yourself, love yourself, and don’t let anyone drag you down. Live for you! But Jesus shows a different way, He shows the path of quiet beauty, the path of lowliness and service. The path that doesn’t make sense. And what happened? He was exalted to the highest place.
Let’s return to verse 5, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (2:5). Paul is connecting what he said previously with the hymn of 6-11 with verse 5. In verses 3-4 we read, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (Phil 2:3-4).
The V-shaped life of Jesus is to be our life. We are to follow the pattern Jesus laid out, but notice what verse 5 tells us: have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. What does that mean? The mind of humility and lowliness of verses 3-4 is already ours because we have been united to Christ. So, this means that when we empty ourselves, when we take the low place, we are not just molding our lives to an external model, rather we are submitting ourselves to our true identity, we are finding our real life—this is who we are.
And that also means that our future mirrors Jesus’ future! So, the book of James reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you,” (James 4:10). We are responsible for drawing the down-stroke of the “V”, and trusting God to draw the up-stroke. We can trust that when we are relegated to the low-place, when we follow Jesus into the place of a servant, we know that God Himself will one day exalt us.
Examples of what this looks like: an ordinary life of a thousand acts of small, unseen faithfulness.
- Coming to church
- Be willing to serve where it is uncomfortable
- Admit your faults
- Caring for children
When Jesus disciples got into an argument about which one of them was the greatest Jesus explained to them:
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:35-37
Verse 36-37 almost seem like a non-sequitur. Jesus doesn't grab a child and then say that the disciples must become like children to enter the kingdom (as He does in Matt 18:2-4). He exhorts them to become the "servant of all", to take the low place, and then for an object lesson he grabs a child and then tells the disciples: take care of them. Raising and caring for children is a great example of serving in the low place. It is often thankless and tedious, but it is precious in Jesus' sight. When we receive children, we receive Him.
In closing, consider the Lord's beatitudes, a picture of the paradoxical picture of the upside-down path to true blessedness:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.