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THE LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
Philippians 1:1-8 : Spiritual Truth About Encouragement
Philippians 1:1-8: Encouraging Others
Philippians 1:9-11: Flourishing Love
Philippians 1:12-18: Redeeming the Storms
Philippians 1:19-26: Paul's Dilemma
Philippians 1:27: Living Worthy of the Good News
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The contents of this booklet is based and built on a series Pastor Dave Strem preached on the book of Philippians. This is booklet 1 of 4.
The goal of converting the messages into written form is to give the truths contained within a more durable form. Written form also allows the reader more time to reflect, ponder, and do personal research. This is difficult to accomplish amid a flowing sermon. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will use this medium to continue to impact hearts and lives.
Malachi teaches us what kind of attitude God is looking for in His people. Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It is God's last words of special revelation until New Testament times. After all the laws, battles, and hardships are endured, listen to what he says concerning those who love and care about God.
"Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 'They will be my people,' says the Lord Almighty. 'On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child.'" (3:16-17)
Good Christian literature helps us to think about, or contemplate, God. And that is the ultimate goal of this booklet. Trinity Evangelical Free Church wants you to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ." We hope and pray that the lessons contained within this booklet will help you in that noble endeavor.
Please receive this booklet in the humble spirit in which it is given. Read, learn, and go forth with God!
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. 2 Peter 3:18
The book of Philippians is actually a letter Paul wrote to a church that he started and wanted to see spiritually grow and prosper. When he wrote Philippians he was confined for preaching the gospel, for basically for being a Christian. He is locked in a house, under house arrest, with a guard at the door, and he cannot leave. He is stuck there, so he spends his time remembering, thinking, and praying for the churches that he is ministering to. And he writes letters to them. That is how he spends his time. And one day he sat down at a little wooden table and took out a fresh piece of parchment, a quill, and a little saucer of ink and thinks about what he wants to write to the church at Philippi. What is he going to say? He stirs the ink a little bit, just kind of wondering what to write.
And then the corners of his mouth turn up with a smile because he knows what God has put on his heart to say to them. He starts the letter by saying,
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with all the overseers and the deacons, the leaders who are there. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers, for all of you I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart. For whether I am in chains or in God's grace with defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Can you hear his excitement, his passion, his love for that family of believers in Philippi? How would you like to receive a letter like that? How would you like to gain that kind of encouragement?
Encouragement is to bring courage to someone else's life. Christianity in Philippi was challenged by the local religious cults and hated by the businesses. False religions and cults can be big business. Statues and images made by artisans bring a tidy profit for their makers. The marketing of animals for sacrifices and all the paraphernalia used in all the intricacies of cultic worship also were profitable businesses. Paul himself was thrown in jail because he disrupted a sorceress working in a fortune telling business. But despite the opposition the church at Philippi flourished. But at the time Paul wrote this letter it needed encouragement.
The world we live in sometimes is discouraging. Things come our way, people say things, or people do not say things that dishearten us. We need to hear encouraging words from those who care about us. And sometimes there is just silence and it breaks our heart. I was working on my car one afternoon a few weeks ago, lying on a creeper and I had a country music station on the TV and all of a sudden I heard a song that made me pick up and take interest. It talked about discouragement. These were the words.
I watched him take the two-strike home, he hadn't tried to swing at all, I guess he had all he could take, he walked away for goodness sake. His father's voice was loud and mean. 'You won't amount to anything.' That little boy quit trying. He just walked away. There were teardrops on his face. Tell me how would you feel. You'd probably give up too if nobody believed in you.
That old man said, 'One more try. I know I'm not too old to drive. I promise, son, I'll do my best. This time I'm going to pass the test.' 'Give me the keys, Dad, and get in.' His father never drove again. That old man quit trying. He just turned away. There were teardrops on his face. Tell me how would you feel. You'd probably give up too if nobody believed in you."
We take His name out of school. The lawyers say it breaks the rules. The Pledge of Allegiance can't be read and "Under God" should not be said. I wonder how much He will take. I just pray it's not too late. What if God quit trying? He just turned away. There were teardrops on His face. Tell me how would you feel. You'd probably give up too if nobody believed in you. Tell me how would you feel. You'd probably give up too if nobody believed in you."
Whether you're eight or eighty or somewhere in between, we need to know that the ones we care about, care about us. That is human encouragement. Our hearts yearn to hear "I believe in you" from somebody else. I remember being an eight-year old boy on that ball field. Full count, everyone watching, and I am hoping it is going to be a ball or maybe the ball will hit me so that I could "take one for the team." And I know that someday Scott's going to say, "Dad, give me those keys." And I need to know that even though I could not hit the ball or maybe I cannot drive anymore, I am still important to him, that I am loved, that I am significant. Our hearts long to hear those words, "I believe in you."
But as powerful as that is, there is something more powerful. Human encouragement comes from humans. Spiritual encouragement comes from God. It is rooted in the power and faithfulness of who God is and what He has done. He has proven Himself to be a powerful encourager. Adam and Eve were not cast aside forever but were encouraged to repent and live according to God's will and ways. Abraham was encouraged to continue on his journey despite the absence of so many detailed facts about his future. David was encouraged to persevere despite opposition from King Saul. Elijah was given food and water, plus verbal encouragement after fleeing from a murderous Jezebel. All through the Old Testament God encourages His people who were experiencing opposition in all its forms. And one thing you notice is that many times God is the only one doing the encouraging.
We love hearing those words "I believe in you." Songs have been written about it for decades. Go back to Frank Sinatra, Count Basey, Bobby Darin, Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, Neil Young, the Charlie Daniels Band. Even recently, N'Sync, Snoop Dogg, and Latoy Williams. As humans, we long to hear the expression of it, just to listen to it. One songs cries, "When the world pulls you down and when you're feeling low, when nothing seems right, I want you to know, I believe in you." That is encouraging. But despite all the positives of human encouragement, they are based on human emotions that change.
It may be heartwarming but often there is little substance to it. Sometimes it is as shallow as saying "I believe in Santa Clause." Spiritual encouragement is different. It is not based on our ability to perform, do the right thing, but is built on trusting the power and guidance of God. Abraham was called from a rich and populated land to a land in the middle of nowhere and by receiving the encouragement of God he persevered to become the father of nations, father of all those who walk by faith. It is about letting God work out the details even thou we have no idea how He is going to do it.
Human encouragement is powerful, but spiritual encouragement trumps human encouragement. It gives greater, better results. Human encouragement calls you to try harder, to reach farther, to give more, to think smarter. But it still leaves you alone when you are out in the middle of the field. Somewhere in the grandstand someone is calling out to you, "You can do it." But what if you really cannot do it? What if trying your hardest is not enough. If thinking smarter does not make your grade improve. If giving your all still falls short. There is tremendous power in positive attitudes, but it is limited to things that are only humanly possible. But spiritual encouragement from God concerning those things He cares most about is unlimited. Spiritual encouragement brings the best of human encouragement. It brings emotional power, but it brings more. It brings the power of God into your life.
Paul's motive for writing these opening verses to the Philippians is to spiritually encourage them. His very words tell us three reasons why we can be spiritually encouraged. In this politically charged world where it is unpopular to be a Christian, where standing up for God's standards is portrayed as intolerant or bigoted, it is easy to shrink back from our faith. Let us look at this passage and see what Paul has to say to the Philippians.
The encouragement Paul offers comes from three key words found in verses 3-6. These three words show us the difference between human encouragement and spiritual encouragement. He writes, "I thank my God every time I remember you." Remember is the first key word. "I always pray with joy in all my prayers for you because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Every time he remembers them, his thoughts jump to God because God had orchestrated every step of their relationship. This is not just ordinary human remembrance but a remembering that results in thankfulness and gratitude for God's past blessings. Such remembrance is encouraging.
In Acts chapter 16 it says that he was not intending to go to Philippi, but God changed his direction for reasons known only to Him. Acts 16:9-12 says:
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.
God has the ability to engineer circumstances to fit His plan and He engineered Paul's ministry in Philippi. He takes events of our lives and constructs something useful out of them. He does not cause everything to happen. He is not to blame for so many evil and bad things people do, but He works events for good in our lives if we trust Him to do it. Romans 8:28 clearly states that God causes all things to work for good in the lives of those who trust His guidance. Proverbs tells us that a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Sometimes God has to change our path because He wants our best direction, because He sees the big picture and He has a plan. Jeremiah 29 declares,
I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
Do you understand God is a planner? This is not a haphazard world. He knows best how it can prosper. We get in trouble when we refuse to listen. He has understanding. He knows what is needed. Paul experienced this firsthand. He was not planning on going to Philippi but God had a plan for him to minister to the Philippian people. We see down a little bit farther in Acts 16:23 that just because something is God's plan does not mean that hardships will not occur. "After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown in the prison." Does that sound like a very good plan to you? I think Paul was a little surprised. But we find that as a result of a half night of imprisonment, hundreds of lives are changed. And eventually the book of Philippians is written. None of which would have occurred had Paul not listened to God.
In verse 25 Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Prisons in those days were dark and gloomy places. How could they do this in the face of such discouraging circumstances? How? Because they were encouraged to believe they were smack dab in the middle of God's will for their lives and that He was going to work things out for the greater good.
Acts 16 records that God released them by sending an earthquake to shake the prison walls. The jailer woke up and saw the prison doors were open and drew his sword to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Do not harm yourself. We are all here." The jailer must have had an incredible look on his face. It was the practice during this time that if a jailer allowed a prisoner to escape he was put to death for his failure. He could not believe that these prisoners cared enough about him to not escape. The jailer called for the lights and rushed, trembling, before Paul and Silas and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" This man was one of the first converts to Christ among the Philippian people. God furthered the Philippian church with an unjust situation, an earthquake, and a forgiven jailer. He and his whole household were saved that evening.
Where might God be engineering your circumstances today? Are you just trying to endure them and get through them or are you trying to escape them, or are you being encouraged spiritually to know that God is at work in your circumstances for your good and seeking opportunities to let those 'goodness' things come out of your life. That leads to the second key word in the passage, partnership. God teamed up with Paul and the Philippians to change their world. Spiritual encouragement comes when you know that you are not alone, that it is not all up to you. Recognize that God invests Himself in your life. God is not simply sitting in heaven orchestrating or pulling strings. He is personally present in the heart of every believer.
First Corinthians tells us that you were bought with a price. So do not be slaves of men. You belong to Him. Christ died on the cross for your sins. Not simply to save you from judgment but to restore you to a personal relationship with God. Jesus said, "I will send you the Holy Spirit who will guide, strengthen, and never leave you."
Ephesians chapter 3 says, "He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us." God invests Himself in your life. The Spirit that brings peace, the Spirit that nudges you to act, to see miracles before your very eyes. Sometimes they are small and sometimes they are much larger. Paul and those present with him saw first hand in Acts 16:26, where it says, "Suddenly, when they were in jail there was a great earthquake that shook the prison foundations and the doors flew open and everybody's chains fell off." Sometimes miracles are big, sometimes they are small, but God is always faithful and works through these things.
God has been investing His time and energy into your life in certain ways. Have you accepted the price that Jesus paid to redeem you? Are you using what He has given you for His purposes or for your own? God has made an investment in your life. What are you doing with it? What investments has God made in your life that are not yielding godly fruit? He has blessed each of us with gifts and abilities, with time and energy, with resources, with finances. Are you using them for the greatest good? If yes, "good job, great." If no, I have got good news for you. God is not done with you yet.
The third key word is the word "completion." "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." God never gives up on you. God is invested in you and engineering circumstances to grow your spiritual heart, to shape your character, to refine your priorities. James tells us that the testing of your faith develops the perseverance necessary for the developing of a mature Christian faith. Nobody likes a test unless you know all the answers.
The good news is, when God tests you, He provides the answers. He will give you the strength to get through what He presents and puts in your way. He is invested in your success and in your growth. Romans 8:30 says, "I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God." Nothing can separate us from Him and He loves us so much, so deeply, that He cannot stand by and see us lazily live our lives at a kindergarten, fruitless spiritual level. So He allows things to happen, faith to be tested, challenges to be faced.
Is there an area in your life that you spiritually ignore? "I am not going to worry about that. I am not going to deal with that anymore. I cannot do that. I cannot control that. I cannot overcome that." God says He can. God has not forgotten about it. God is not helpless or powerless in that situation. Have you given up the fight? God has not and He wants to join you in that fight. He is invested in your growth and victory over sin, over misery, over failure. You cannot do it because I believe in you. You cannot do it because your husband or your wife or your mom or your dad or your children believe in you.
But you can do it because God believes in you! He is with you in this battle and He wants to come along your side and help. Human encouragement says, "I believe in you. You can do it. Try harder. Dig deeper. Don't be a wimp." This may be helpful if your goal is to hit a curve ball or finish a 26-mile marathon race, but spiritually that is not good news. That is legalism. That is being on your own without God, trying to measure up to some religious standard. "Be righteous." "Follow the Ten Commandments." "Follow the church traditions." "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what God says." Spiritual encouragement says, "I am your Father. Believe in Me. Trust in Me. We can get through this together."
Join hands with God in your walk. He wants to strengthen your grip. He wants to spread your stride. He wants to increase your vision. He is there for you. That is spiritual encouragement, rooted in the power and the faithfulness of God.
Paul is writing to a church that is about 20 years old, to a church he has known from its beginning. And when you read Philippians, you do not realize Paul's circumstances. Paul opens this book with such joy that you have no idea he is confined to house arrest for preaching the gospel. The big idea of Philippians 1:1-8 is encouragement, of the importance and the power of encouragement in the believer's life. Paul wants to encourage the Philippian church because it is experiencing difficult times. He is encouraging them to maintain their Christian work and testimony despite their difficult circumstances.
In Part 1, we focused on the scriptural truths that you can tell yourself when you need encouragement. In Part 2, we will focus on how Paul encouraged others. His focus was elevating the spiritual life of others. He was a spiritual encourager. We are called in Scripture, we are commanded in Scripture, " to encourage one another daily." You are called by God to encourage those around you. As your life rubs against others you will see things, you will observe things, you will sense things. And God calls for us to spur them on, to encourage them to love and good deeds.
Let us look at the passage again. I want you to feel that these words are washing over your life. Let them wash over you and refresh your mind and your spirit.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and the deacons. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, in all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart. For whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
These are words of encouragement. They lift the heart.
I looked deeper into this passage to try to discern what makes it so encouraging, so uplifting. I saw a simple pattern that Paul used that we can emulate. The first step of that pattern is indicated by the same key word we talked about in Part 1.
The word is "remember." So to become a spiritual encourager, you need to root your encouragement in reality. To become a spiritual encourager, you need to root your encouragement in actual historical situations in a person's life. Paul says, "I remember your partnership in the gospel." When Paul thinks about the Philippian church he has many positive memories about their growth and ministry together. Paul remembers what they have done in the past and essentially says, "With God you can go on from here. Because of the reality of your past, you have a future that can be bright and productive." When you root your encouragement in reality, it brings credibility and reminds them of the challenges that they have faced and conquered.
The author of Hebrews does the same thing when he said, "Remember those earlier days…" and then goes on to describe the terrible things that they went through.
How after you received the light you stood your ground in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution. At other times you stood side by side with those who were badly treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your very property because you knew that you yourselves had a better and a lasting possession. Do not throw away your confidence for it will be richly rewarded." In other words, "Remember where you have come from. Remember what you have gone through in the past because it will inspire you, it will empower you, it will encourage you to face the challenge you are facing now with the power and the strength of God.
You can tell a little boy, "You can be anything you want. You can grow up and be an all-star player." But if it is not based in reality it will mean little to him and he will not take you seriously. There is such a thing as positive thinking and that is great. Christ calls us to be positive. In fact, positive thinking is commanded in Scripture. "Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is right, whatever is faithful, whatever is encouraging, think on these things." But fantasy is something different. Just thinking something does not make it so. Root your encouragement in reality. When Jesus established communion, He gave us a historical reminder of what He had done for us. He said, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Remember the historical facts because they will inspire your devotion and your faith in the future.
Root your encouragement in reality and then say it in a way that expresses his or her positive impact on others. Express the impact of their actions on you. Did you sense how Paul was affected, impacted by the Philippians? He said, "I am thankful every time I remember you. I have joy because of your partnership in the gospel. I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." He does not just value what they did, he values who they are. Paul expresses the impact of their actions on his life. John does the same thing when he writes: "It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell me about your faithfulness, about your past, about your history, about reality. It gave me great joy to have brothers come and tell me about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk. That you are going to go from here with God and continue to walk in the truth." And when Jesus wanted to encourage His disciples to continue being faithful, to do what is asked, to trust God, He gave them the example, told them the parable of the talents. And at the very end of this parable, He spoke the words that we all long to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Do you realize the things you do here-and-now can bring joy to God? Not that He says, "Ok, that goes on the good side of the ledger. Ok, another good one. Ok, good, good. That's good." But He looks and He smiles. He has joy when He sees His children doing the right thing. As parents we know that. As parents we feel the same thing when big brother helps little sister. When little sister shares something with the girl next door. When we see them do the right thing, it brings us joy. With so many choices and opportunities to do wrong or do things that do not include God, He is pleased when we genuinely seek to do what is right and good, when we choose Him. The desire to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant" from our Lord is the ultimate encourager for godly living to those who really believe it is going to happen-that Jesus was talking about a real time in a real future.
Let us say you have a bush in your front yard. It has been the centerpiece of your beautiful landscaping for 17 years but now it is all wiry, overgrown, and gangly and has become an eyesore. And it is in front of your house so everybody that goes down your street can see it. Everybody that pulls in your driveway, the first thing they see is that ugly old bush. You finally get fed up with it and you spend five hours digging and pruning and reweaving those branches. Covered in sweat and dirt you finish. It looks nice and ready to be the centerpiece, again. How do you feel? Do you have a sense of accomplishment of a job well done? Probably, most likely.
But then your spouse comes home. How do you feel if he does not notice what you have done? Or, if he has noticed but could care less? Isn't it discouraging? Disappointing? Of course it is! Conversely, how do you feel if he said, "Hey, the front yard looks better!" You feel good because he actually noticed and acknowledged that the way it is now is better than it was before. It feels good to have your work acknowledged. But it is better to have the other person appreciate you as a person. Wouldn't you get a different feeling if your spouse said, "Hey, the front yard looks good! I feel so blessed to have a wife (husband) that notices things like that and knows how to make things better." Suddenly, you do not just feel valued because of the effect you had, but you feel valued as a person important to him (or her). You now feel respected for a job well done and valued as a person important in the life of the other. That is the best kind of encouragement.
To hear "You are important to me" means a lot more than "The work you do for me is important to me." Paul valued the fellowship and spiritual partnership of the Philippians and he let them know it!
When you share how you feel about something someone else has done, it draws a connection that is inspiring and powerful. That is what Paul does. "I find great joy." I have a friend that I have not seen for 30 years but still remember a time that he encouraged me. I was program director at a camp in Texas and it was my first real leadership position. I had worked hard to get prepared, to get everything in order, to launch the high school camp ministry. We had 300 kids coming and it was going to be a big extravaganza to start the camp off. Suddenly things started falling apart. The weather started clouding over, three of my leaders got sick, and things just were not working according to plan. I felt panicked and frustrated.
My friend put a rock of encouragement in my life that still encourages me today. He put his hand on my shoulder and took me into the back room. By the washer and dryer the kids used for their laundry he said, "Dave, I saw you prepare all week long. I feel confident that you can handle this and I know that God is not surprised by anything that is going on. The rain, the sickness is not a surprise to God and I see whatever God starts to do with you He will finish. So get out there and take care of business!" That was a rock of encouragement. I went out and to my amazement everything went amazingly well. But that was just one situation. I remember his encouragement to this day and it helps me when things do not go according to plan. When something unexpected happens, like a microphone going out in the middle of a sermon, all the words going away from Power Point, something happening every single week that is unexpected, I just say, "Thanks, Coach!"
We can become spiritual encouragers when we express the impact the other person has had on our actions. It is good to say, "I saw," like noticing the beautified bush, but it is better to say, "I felt." When you are going to encourage someone, you start off with, "I saw." "I saw what you did and it was good." Then proceed to the "I felt." "I appreciate what you did and I feel so good to know that we have someone else in the church that cares about that."
And then you go on to the third step. The third step is basing their spiritual potential in God's faithfulness and power. The first two steps entail what it means to be humanly appreciative. With this third step, you bring God into the picture. You base their potential for spiritual ministry in God, not just themselves. Their potential is linked to God's involvement. They have a brighter future because God is invested in their life, not just because of their personal talents and skills. Paul says he is "confident that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion."
From the start of his relationship with the Philippians, it was a partnership. Paul was in the lead and the people were faithfully following. This kind of encouragement expresses confidence in God, not simply confidence in their efforts and abilities. It does not lower personal responsibility, but gives them help with life.
When God gives you a job, when God gives you a task, He will build you and equip you at the same time for that task. He has purposes in mind for the things that are going on. He has things that need to be accomplished. He has lives around you that need help, that need encouragement, and He says, "I put you there for that job." Our spiritual potential is based on God's work in and through us. The easiest way I remember this third step is by saying, "I see." "I saw" refers to the past. "I see" refers to a vision of the future. "I saw you doing this. I felt so impressed. I had feelings about what you did and I see a future with you and God that is limitless." Link their potential to God's involvement.
This week you might be going on a casual lunch with a friend and that friend might just unload and say, "You know, I just need to let you know I've about had it with my marriage. I feel so hopeless, helpless, I just feel like giving up and you're my best friend so I thought you should know." And you say, "Oh, boy. I don't need this right now. I don't know what to say." God is not surprised by what happened and He wants you to be an encourager.
And what can you say?
Well, I've seen, I saw you handle some pretty tough situations in your life. I've seen you do a lot of difficult things and I feel that God's not done with your life yet and that God's not done with your marriage. And I know it would be easier just to walk away and I feel like you really want to do that, but I know God is going to give you greater blessing and is going to be with you in this situation and He can help. I'm not telling you just to shut up and gut it out, to stick it out, to buck up like a man and take it (or to be a submissive wife and ignore wrong doing) and just be physically present but emotionally absent. God is going to give you the ability and the strength to be the husband (or wife), to endure situations that He can turn around to bring encouragement, to bring help.
Just about everybody else in the office will say, "Well, thanks for telling me. I'll be praying for you. Anything I can do, let me know, I want to help." But you can bring encouragement, strength. And to say not simply that God will be with you, but "I will be with you. I will be with you through this. "God has placed me in your life for a reason and I want to help, so I will be praying for you." And then you need to pray and you stay in close contact with them because they are going to need regular encouragement.
You can be a spiritual encourager. Follow the pattern that Paul has laid for us in Philippians. Root your encouragement in reality. Express the impact of their actions on you. And link their potential to God's involvement in their life. For me, it is easy to remember the three steps by remembering "I saw," "I felt," and "I see."
What can you say to someone needing help? Remember Timmy, the 8-year old boy who struck out in an important baseball game? What can you say to Timmy when he does not seem to be able to cut it on the ball field? You tell him,
Son, I believe in you. I saw how hard it was for you to walk up there up to that plate and stand there, how hard it was for you knowing that baseball was not your greatest skill and you still went out there and did that hard thing. But I felt so proud of you to know that I have a son that will try and do the hard things. And I see your future, if you keep on trying and doing the hard things, God's going to work great things in your life. You may not be an all-star baseball player. You may be better at something else because God has something different in mind for you.
To the old man that sees his life shutting down, the driver's license is gone. That son can say,
Dad, I'm sorry, but I see a lot of dangers on the road right now with you. But I also see Timmy's eyes light up when he knows he's going to have time with his grandpa. And what that means to him and I am so thankful that he has another man in his life because you know my work schedule and I just can't be there as much as I want to be and I see you being able to build the qualities of life and a belief in God in him that you built in me. I need you. Timmy needs you. I love you, Dad!
That is spiritual encouragement.
We are commanded by God to be spiritual encouragers. Whether you are eight or eighty, you will have opportunities to encourage someone else. And if you remember, "I saw," "I felt," and "I see," you can be a more effective encourager. You may not be the most verbal man or woman, but if you base your encouragement in the other person's past successes, the positive impact they have had on you and others, and their potential with God you can be an encourager. God can open your mouth and let encouragement flow if you have a heart for it. You and God can do it together!
Paul is writing to a church that he dearly loves. The church is doing much right. It is, if you will, his dream church. In the opening verses, Paul tells them to keep growing, keep doing the good things that made them a blessing to their community. In effect he tells them, "God is not done with you yet. God is not finished. God has more. You have not exhausted the power, the strength, the plan, the dreams of God." Verses 9-11 continue this theme.
Verses 9-11 focus on God's method of protecting individuals from spiritual harm and promoting spiritual vitality and vigor. Paul says, "And this is my prayer (This is my dream. This is what I am lifting up to God for you. This is what I see in your future.). That your love may abound more and more. In knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best. And may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. To the glory and praise, not of yourselves, but of God. Of the God who engineers it all, the God who makes it all possible for your blessing and for the world around you." Simply stated, the big idea here is God's ever-abounding love flowing into us and out of us to others. Flowing into the Philippian church and out of the Philippian church. Ever-abounding love passed from individual to individual in a never ceasing cycle of love.
One translation states verse 9 like this:
This is what I am praying for you guys, that your love will flourish. That your love will flourish that you will not only have much love but you will love well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.
So rather than simply calling this "ever-abounding love," I think the phrase "flourishing love" paints a more memorable picture, drawing it in a way that attracts us and keeps it in our minds. The message is that God, expressed through Paul, wants our love to continue overflowing, a perpetual flood of love, to those around us.
The love I am talking about is not a feeling-based love. I am not talking about you feeling good, about being attracted to someone or something. I am talking about love being a driving force that affects what you think and what you do. It is to be a filter through which our intentions are screened before they result in behaviors. It is to actually shape our lives and move us to make personal investments in the welfare and well-being of others. Paul takes a whole different perspective in encouraging the Philippians to love others. In these verses he focuses on the personal benefits of loving others. Usually you are told to love others because you are supposed to love them because of all that Christ has done for you. You need to pour out and pay back this debt to others. That you owe other people your love for what Christ has done for you. And this is true. Such admonitions exist elsewhere in Scripture. But that is not what Paul is saying here. Paul is saying, "Your life will be blessed if you love." In the acts of loving others our souls prosper!
Recently, I went to one of the Trinity shepherding groups and Lewis Stone gave a devotional. I heard he was going to do that so I wanted to go. I wanted to hear what Lewis had to say. And he read something about our indebtedness to Christ. How God has done so much for us that we are truly indebted to Him. He has redeemed us and we can never pay that back. And that simple gratitude should motivate us to behave like our Lord. Not to earn favor or merit with Him but honor Him by imitating His ways. That the love that Christ gave us we are to share with others.
Then he talked about his friends, Rick and Karen Smart, who are in Guatemala. They have been there for about three years. It is amazing the sacrifices that they have made to live among the Guatemalan people. But when you listen to them, you do not get the sense that they think they have given up anything significant. To such a tremendous degree, everything they have sacrificed is of little account to them. You cannot out-give God. You cannot out-bless God. When someone focuses on loving and doing for others as Christ did for us, the Father pours blessing upon that person. And those blessings are more personal than material. When God's love moves through you to others it has a purifying, nourishing effect on your soul!
We are in a self-centered society that infiltrates our mindset and sometimes we think, "Well, what's in it for me?" And that is what Paul is addressing here. But he is thinking about this issue from a different perspective. He is not catering to selfishness to provoke action. He is not feeding selfishness to expand his ministry like some modern day self-help guru looking to pad his bank account. Paul is simply stating it as it is--"It is good for us spiritually, physically, emotionally, and morally to be loving and kind to others." It is the way God made us. Our souls flourish when we love as Christ loved.
If love is to flourish in our lives, I want you to think about what it would look like. What will your life look like? Verse 10: "Do it so that you may be able to discern what is best. You will begin to commit yourself in doing things that are truly worthwhile. That will actually have lasting results and make a difference." "Discern," is the word that is used for purifying metals. These metals are heated to tremendous temperatures and the impurities rise to the surface and then are scraped off leaving a highly pure metal behind. The junk that weaken and harm the beauty and usefulness of the metal are removed. But the most interesting word in this passage is the word "best." It means things that will carry through. In this context they are those things that will cross-over to the other side-that will last forever. One of the benefits of loving others is that it creates an ability to be more discerning about what really matters in life. The focus and priorities of your life will be changed.
Secondly, it says, "So that your life will be pure and blameless." The word for pure means: when something is unfolded, nothing ugly falls out. Nothing dirty is seen. It is like when you look under the carpet and see what has been swept there. You look under the bed and see what has been stashed there. You look in the closet, underneath the top shelf of the books and you see what has been hiding there. You unfold it and find nothing present that shouldn't be there. Love will protect your life from sin. We teach our children from the very beginning, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
To be loving is the basis for so many moral commands--"don't lie," "don't cheat," "don't steal." Love keeps you safe from doing things that will destroy relationships, reputations, and human trust. "Pure" means avoiding those things that could damage your life. "Blameless" basically refers to those things that you know you should do and you follow through with doing them. "Pure" means taking those things out of your life that do not belong. "Blameless" means you do the things that you should be doing. To be blameless means you have followed through on all your commitments, on your responsibilities.
This last week, most of you came across somebody that needed encouragement and some of you did not have the courage to say anything to him or her. You missed it. You missed an opportunity to bless someone and that person is in need today because of it. To be pure and blameless means you do not do what you shouldn't and you do do what you should.
And thirdly, he says, "So that you be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ." Jesus commissions us for fruitfulness. When I first saw this I thought this was referring to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) because we are to bear peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, and other traits of character. But that is not what he is saying in this passage. He is referring to what Jesus talked about when He was commissioned His disciples in John chapter 15. "Go therefore and bear fruit, fruit that will last." And also, "This is my command that you love each other." The fruit He is talking about is the positive effects that are produced in this world for His glory!
In Colossians chapter 1, we have a parallel passage where Paul is writing to the Colossi church and says basically the same things but with a little more clarity. "And we pray that you may live a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work as you grow in the knowledge of God." "Filled with fruit" means that you are productive in your life, having a positive impact in this world for Christ's glory. As you consider your life and what you have been doing and how you are investing your life, is your life bearing spiritual fruit? Has anyone been spiritually blessed by your Christian witness? Is love abounding in your life?
Some might say, "Well, I don't hate too many people and I'm doing some good stuff. I help, I supported some kids that went to Guatemala or Mexico and I did this and I did that. And I'm feeling pretty good about it." Right away we are getting off track. Because it is not talking about a feeling, not simply talking about attitudes, but it is talking about actions. Let me get more specific.
Are your relationships, your marriage, your children, your classmates, the people you hang around with, the people you influence, the things you spend doing with your leisure time, the things you invest your energy and efforts in, the things that consume your mind and thoughts and passions, characterized by more self-sacrifice? I mean, letting go of "me, me," what I want and my way, and getting more involved in the lives of others. Are you making a spiritual investment in the well-being of others?
Think about last year. Have you made any steps forward or steps backwards in the last year? Have you bought, invested, done more things for you or are you starting to do more and more things for others? That is the measure of love abounding. Flourishing love sprouts and grows in our souls when God's truth and God's wisdom is allowed to have their way in our lives.
Look at this a little closer. How can you nurture flourishing love in your life? "Ok, I'm not where I want to be on that test, pastor Dave, so what do I need to do? What can I do? Just try harder? Just go to the homeless shelter and do something for somebody? Maybe give more offering? What can I do?" I think the answer will surprise you because Paul surprised me in what he says. He says, "Let your love abound in knowledge and depth of insight." Knowledge. "Let your love abound in knowledge." The "in" word speaks of "instrumentality," of how love abounding is going to happen.
As you gain more knowledge of God's truth, you will grow in your love. This type of knowledge is not mere head knowledge but knowing something to be true in your heart so that you will alter your life to accommodate it.
First Corinthians chapter 13 helps us understand the nature of the love God calls us to. It says,
Love, genuine love, agape, is painfully patient and enduringly kind. It is never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud. It is never arrogant of selfish or rude or demanding its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It is not vengeful or begrudging. It quickly lets go of personal injustice, but grieves when others are treated unjustly, and rejoices when truth finally wins out. If you really love someone, you will be loyal despite personal risk. You will always believe God is at work in them, always hope for the best for them, and stand up to defend them. All the special gifts and abilities from God will someday come to an end, but love continues for eternity.
Notice that one characteristic of love is that it is loyal despite personal risk. That sometimes you have to stand up for someone who has been taken advantage of, who has been wrongly accused. You might say, "Well, I do not want to put my head up because I might get shot at." Love takes the risk. I never thought of love in that context until I read it in this translation. Suddenly, I have more knowledge on which to base my life decisions.
According to the way the rich and powerful think and live their lives, it does not make sense that Rick and Karen Smart are so blessed in what they are doing. Despite giving up many of their material things they are happier and more blessed. But they are not martyrs for Jesus. They want no one to feel sorry for them, to pity them. They giggle and have an inner sense of joy and peace with a great sense of purpose. God is involved in their lives. People buy thing after thing to make them feel contented and happy. But things lack the ability to fill the human heart. Only God can do that. Rick and Karen Smart know that because they are walking by faith on a daily basis. Who needs a bunch of things to feel happier? Only he or she who has an empty heart! The emptier the heart the more one feels the need to fill it with things.
At the end of our passage it tells us how we are to do these things. It is not like the vine saying, "Look at me. Look what I have. I made all these grapes." It is not like the dirt saying, "Well, I am really important. Look what I pushed up." It is the engineer who designed the whole system that deserves the credit. The vine and the dirt merely do what they were created to do. Who makes it all work? That is the one who deserves the honor. That One is God, Maker of heaven and earth. Verse 11 says: "... those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ…." As the vine should not take credit for what it does nor the dirt for what it does, so the Christian should not take credit for the good things that he or she does!
Some misunderstand God. They see Him as some kind of glory hound, much like some earthly despot who demands that his subjects give him honor with the threat of punishment if they refuse. "We need to make Him feel better by praising Him and saying, 'Oh God, you are really great!'" That view of God is held by those who do not know Him. He is not like that. Giving God glory simply means that we affirm His reputation so that others will know who He is and what He has done and that our hearts will be filled with joy. Praising God is healthy for the soul. It helps us know Him better. And knowing Him better will encourage us to become more like Him. And becoming more like Him will protect us from the things that want to destroy our marriages, our families, our children, and other relationships that are important to us. And it brings health, help, and refreshment to people around us.
You may not see yourself as this great vineyard. You may say, "I am just a big tangled bunch of vines not doing much good." But God says, "Look to me and I will help you grow one grape at a time. We will not grow the whole cluster over night, but one grape at a time." Like Namaan, who followed Elisha's simple instruction to dip himself 7 times in the Jordan River to be healed from leprosy, if we do the simple things with a faith toward God, God will work His influences in our lives. Just do one simple thing and see where it takes you and then do it again and try it again. Never give up!
The paper has been full of stories about the storm. It has been good to see neighbors pulling together with neighbors, sometimes people that never talk to each other becoming acquainted and helping each other. To see communities team together. To have a government that actually has the resources and moves to help. We are very blessed. Life is full of storms. As devastating as hurricanes can be, many of you would welcome a hurricane compared to some of the life storms that you are facing. A crushed car, an uprooted tree, or a roof torn off a house sometimes is much easier to fix than the problems some of you are facing.
Hurricane Charley blew by our area in about an hour. Some of you have been fighting battles and weathering storms that have lasted months, even years. Some of you are fighting battles that without God's intervention you are guaranteed to lose. And yet, you keep on fighting because giving up just feels worse. Jesus said that you will always have trouble. But Jesus went on to say, "But I have overcome the world's troubles. I bring good news." Jesus came to make a difference amid the storms of life.
Sometimes we wonder, when storms are hitting, how can I go on? Do I want to go on? Why should I go on? "I do not know how to fight this. It just seems that my life is an endurance contest." And you question yourself and you question God. "God, hello, are you watching? I am your child. Do you see what is going on here? Are you there?" And you get that silent reply. Most times we want those storms to go away, but they keep on day after day. They stick with us. There is a false belief that bad things should not happen to good people. Especially God's people. But bad things do happen to good people. Joseph was sold into slavery and then he was betrayed again and again. David was hunted down by Saul. Christ was betrayed and crucified. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded. Bad things do happen to good people. We want trouble-free living, but God wants us to grow, to live, to develop. He is a God who knows how to turn your troubles, the troubles you are guaranteed to have, into great blessings for you and those around you. We want our troubles to go away, but God wants to use them and see something wonderful develop in our lives.
I could have you turn to James where it says, "Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials because they will develop your perseverance which will develop a mature and well-rounded character, a character without flaw." That is God's design and desire and many times troubles, storms, are the sandpaper that build that character. Peter says the same thing. In our passage today, Paul does not say it just with words, but also with his life. No other disciple of Jesus suffered more persecution, pain, and troubles than Paul.
Philippians is a letter written by Paul to one of his favorite churches. Because he could not be with them, he did the next best thing-he wrote to them. I want you to catch the flow of the letter. He starts off in verse one, "Paul and Timothy, to the saints who are in Philippi." Basically, that is his way of saying, "Hi, you all. Hi!" Then he goes on in verse three and says, "I thank God every time I remember you." He is encouraging them by telling them, "I am proud of you. I am thankful for you. God is at work in your midst and it is encouraging to me and I want to encourage you on in that work." And so he goes on and says, "My prayer for you, my dream for you, is that your love will continue to flourish." Verse 12 signals a change of pace.
Look at verse 12. The first word is "now" because he is changing what he is talking about. He is changing the subject. For the first time, he addresses his situation. He says, basically, "Don't worry about me. Don't worry about me." The Philippians had heard that Paul had gone through a lot of struggles. They loved Paul and they did not like what had happened to him. And so they sent Apaphroditis with a gift to help meet his needs. Verse 12:
Now, I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel and everyone else knows that I am in chains for Christ. It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
Then in verse 15:
"It's true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others are doing it out of good will. The latter do so in love knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preached Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains, but what does that matter. The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true that Christ is proclaimed. And because of this I rejoice, yes, I will continue to rejoice." Paul is saying all the way through here, "Don't worry about me. What has happened to me has really turned out great. I am thrilled."
At this time, Paul was under house arrest for preaching the gospel. Paul had been through so much that it is hard for us to comprehend the peace of heart he has. Turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 11.
"I've been flogged five times with the Jew's lashes-thirty-nine lashes each time. I've been beaten by Roman rods three times. I've been pummeled or stoned and left for dead once. I've been shipwrecked three times."
We only know about one time, but three times he says.
I've been shipwrecked. And, I've been lost at sea for a night and a day. I've traveled by foot year in and year out. I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends and struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city. I'm at risk in the country. I've been in danger by the desert sun and by sea storm and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I've known drudgery and hard labor and long, cold nights without sleep, without food, without friends.
Paul endured storms just to get to Rome and then when he gets there, he is handcuffed to a palace guard twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for two long years. But he says, "Don't worry about me. I'm doing fine."
Paul was not simply chained to a guard, the guard was chained to Paul. The guard could not get away. What many people saw as an obstacle, a hindrance, a restriction, Paul saw as an opportunity. One-by-one the whole palace guard was impacted by his faith, by his hope, by his character, by his testimony. One-by-one until you get to the end of the book of Philippians and he says, "All the saints here greet you even the household of Caesar." The household of Caesar? The servants of Caesar's household, the governors that worked with Caesar had heard about Paul's testimony and some had become Christians. The whole guard knew about it and they shared the truth they learned with others. The way you respond to life's storms can make an eternal difference. That is the purpose for them. That is the redeeming factor for them. That is Paul's message to the Philippians. God wants to help you redeem the storms.
You are going to go through storms. You want to merely endure them? Why not make them worthwhile? Why not let God have His way with them? Why not have God involved with you in them for His purpose? This passage shows us the great benefit they can bring to our lives and gives you the key to unlocking them for your future. How you respond to storms can make an eternal difference. First of all, it can make a difference in you. I could take you to that passage in James where it says storms develop a perseverant spirit. That is worthwhile for you. That is of benefit for you. God will use the storms to shape, to batter, to prune, to strengthen your life and your character. I could have you look down at verse 18 of Philippians chapter one where it says, "Because of these things I've been going through, I rejoice." And I can tell you when you go through storms with God, you will have cause to rejoice for the good things, for the good results, for the strengths that He will bring to your life because it is in your weaknesses that His strength is made known. Knowing you are not alone in this world is a powerful realization.
We spend millions of dollars every year on satellite dishes out in the middle of the Nevada desert or the New Mexico desert just listening to outer space for someone saying, "Hello? Hello, we're here. Are you there?" It is important for us to know that we are not alone in the universe. Mankind wants to know that we are connected, that there is something more, that we are not just happenstance that just sprung up and oozed out of the earth. God wants us to know that our lives are significant. We have a hunger for significance. And that is what God wants to use storms for in our lives, to give them significance.
Secondly, the way we respond to storms can make a difference to others. There are people in the hospital every day that are going through heart problems. Some with God, some without God and it is your choice how you will go through similar storms in your future. How you respond to life's storms can make an eternal difference in you and also in others around you, particularly in unbelievers. Look at verse 13, it says, "It's become clear to everyone that I am in chains for Christ." They saw what was happening in Paul's life.
Everyone-the palace guards, the servants, even the government officials--heard about Paul and his amazing Jesus. It became the talk of the town and they did not just hear about it, they saw the reality of it in his life and that is what made the difference. People can hear about your faith, hear about your testimony, hear that you go to church, but when they see some tangible results in your life, then all of a sudden, it takes on greater meaning. It becomes real to them and gives them hope that it might be real for them as well. Your storms can spark interest in Christ and show the reality of Him in your life. People want faith in rotten times. They want to know there is help out there and when they see that you have found help in Jesus, it makes a difference.
Our world is hungry for authentic faith. Not church faith, but authenticity. How you respond to life's storms will make a difference in the lives of those around you, particularly unbelievers. The example of Paul inspired the other Christians in Rome. Paul's fellow believers in Rome were encouraged to share their faith with others. The believers there in Rome had received a letter from Paul about 10 years previous teaching them the foundational truths of their new faith. But they were under persecution, they were scared, they were running, they were meeting secretly. Suddenly, the whole town is talking about Christianity. It brought encouragement to them to speak about their faith.
When storms hit our lives what can we do to unlock their potential? Look at verse six. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." He who began with you will stay with you. Spiritual courage is gained by knowing that God will never give up on you. God is with you to help and carry you through. The first thing we need to do when the storms hit is to hold onto God. Get reconnected. Our first response usually is, "Oh, no! Why has this happened?" Satan is going to attack you when the storms hit. "See, if God really loves you, He would not let this happen." Satan attacks us amidst the storms. And even though God turns storms to good things, Satan keeps on attacking. You would think Satan would learn that God can turn it around? The thing is, many times, we do not let God turn it around and Satan wins. We listen to the wrong side. We get discouraged. We pity ourselves. We feel like a victim. And instead of blossoming by God's grace, we shrink back, we hide out, we cower, we run away.
Hold on to God. The biblical word for this holding on is "faith." The world may betray you, dump on you, discourage you. Christians may let you down, abandon you. But your God is bigger than all of them. Get a hold of God and trust that God is working in that situation. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to see. Sometimes you will never see what God is doing and why those storms came into your life. And you may never know. But you know what? Believing that God is working in your situation even if you cannot see it directly changes your attitude. That is faith. That is trusting that God is involved in the things that you never see. You have to go through it anyway, why not go through it with God?
Secondly, do not simply hold on to God, but declare your Lord. Why are you doing the things you are doing? Do those around you know why you are doing the things you are doing? Do you give Christ credit when you do things? When you help someone, are you just being a humanitarian or are you being Christian? Many times we do things just to be a "nice guy." But what has motivated your niceness? Without declaring your Lord, you are not being a witness, you are just being a humanitarian. You are just being nice. Give God the glory. Now, that does not mean you have to start preaching at them or be overbearing. When storms hit, declare your Lord. "I do this because Jesus has done so much for me."
And then thirdly, let love flourish. "My dream for you is that love will continue to flourish in your life." That is ministry. That means coming alongside others who are hurting and helping them. What motivates your love? Why do you give? If it is for any other reason than to give to others what God has given you, the motive is wrong. Not just incorrect, as in making a mistake or an error, but morally and spiritually wrong. When storms hit, love becomes much more valuable. Love redeems the storms. Let God love others through you!
When storms come your way, how can we learn to recognize how those storms can be redeemed? Number one, look at the storm. What is happening; what is threatened? Number two, look at who you are bound to in the storm. Who are you tied to? Who are you chained with? Who might God want to influence through that storm you are going through? And thirdly, talk to God to determine how to redeem it.
If there is one word that describes God it is redemption. Many have a mistaken notion of God. They see Him as judgmental and harsh. But Scripture reveals a God who always wants to restore sinners and help them to create something beautiful out of their lives. Condemnation always follows human rejection of God's offered grace and forgiveness. God's heart is revealed most in redemption. And God's redemption is not based on whim and arbitrary choice.
The Bible says that before the foundations of the earth were set, the Lamb of God was slain. In other words, our Universe was created by a God who at His core is governed by a redemptive heart! That is the big picture--the Son of God coming to redeem humankind by purposely dying and shedding His blood. This was important because it opened up an avenue for God's holiness to be satisfied and thereby allowing His love to be exerted on our behalf.
But God's redemption did not stop there. God also wants to redeem the little things because that is who He is. God wants to redeem troublesome situations, the storms of life that batter us and too often beat us into submission. We could not participate in Creation because that is a God thing. We could not participate in the central drama of history, the cross on Calvary's hill. That belonged to the Father and the Son. But, because we have a God who is redemption-minded, we can participate in redeeming life's events, good or bad. It is how we can most become like Jesus Christ!
Paul was in a dilemma. Paul was not sure what to choose. He was apprehensive about the future. What was going to happen? In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes about his spiritual and emotional dilemma. He says,
For me to live is Christ and to die is gain, but if I live on in the flesh, it will mean more fruit from my labor. Yet what shall I choose? I cannot tell for I am hard pressed between the two. Having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. What shall I choose? I just don't know.
Paul is torn. His future could go one of two ways. He does not know which he would choose if the choice were left to him. Paul lists the pros and cons of both situations. And those same pros and cons can be used for our own self-examination.
If you asked yourself the question, "Would I rather die or would I rather keep living?" what would you say? For most of us it is a no-brainer. We want to live and that is a healthy impulse. It is spiritually and morally wrong to take your own life because you are tired of living. But that does not describe Paul's dilemma. Paul is not contemplating taking his own life. However, his heart yearns for that time when he will be in the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had endured so many troublesome and physically painful situations that to die and be with his Lord seemed most precious to him. We should not confuse Paul's emotional revelation to the Philippians with someone who is tired of living and who is contemplating suicide "to go to a better place." I cannot stress strongly enough that suicide is sinful and an usurpation of God's authority over your life!
To better understand Paul's emotional dilemma, we are going to look at seven benefits of the Christian's life after death. Not all of these will occur immediately after death, but all will eventually occur when God's timing is right. Turn to Revelation chapter 21. Revelation is the last book of the Bible. It tells us what is going to happen during the 'endtimes' and into the far future. Looking at it will help us get a better feel for why Paul would say "to die is gain."
The first of the seven benefits is given in Revelation 21:1. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth and the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea." To depart would be better because there is actually going to be a better universe that you get to be a part of. It says the first heaven and the first earth are done away with and God creates a new one. We live in an awesome galaxy. The beauty, splendor, and power of the universe in which we live are amazing. But like some of those TV shows, home improvement TV shows we see these days, God is going to do a makeover and it is going to be much better. We will live in a better universe.
Second, we will have a better home. Look at verse two. It says, "I saw a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from which God had prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." Your new home is going to be a beautiful place. You may have a wonderful home in Florida surrounded by lush trees and beautiful flowers but it will not begin to compare with what God has prepared for you. It will be "beyond what we could ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).
Thirdly, you will have better relationships. Look at verse three. "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, '…the dwelling of God is with men.'" There will be no more "seeing through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13)," but we will be blessed with His actual physical presence. God in Christ will sit with you, walk with you, and talk with you face-to-face. The dwelling of God will be with men. It will not be, "I think He is there, I sense His presence," but you will know His presence. "And he will live with them and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and be their God." It will not just change our relationship with God but our relationship with each another, as well.
In this world, relationships are fraught with problems. They are interrupted by death. They are plagued with interpersonal disharmony, with conflict. But in heaven that circle is completely unbroken. No death, no misunderstandings, no conflict.
Fourthly, in verse 4, we will have a better body. It says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain." Age and sickness take their toll. But the new body will not experience death or disease. And our new environment will not cause mourning or crying.
There are three more future truths from other places in scripture I want to share with you. Number five is a better understanding. In I Corinthians 13, it says, "Now we see through a glass dimly, or a mirror darkly, but then we'll see face to face and know. Now we know in part, but then we'll know fully." We will gain a full perspective. We will understand what life is all about. We will not get wrapped up in the things that do not matter, that are insignificant, or let those things consume our lives. We will have a better understanding of God, ourselves, and the world we live in.
Sixthly, we will have a better future. First Peter says that we have an inheritance that can never perish or fade or spoil. We try and prepare an inheritance, put some savings aside, plan for our future to take care of ourselves. And then the stock market crashes or something breaks down or it just is not as easy as we thought it was going to be. And even if we are successful, we die and all that we accumulated becomes worthless to us. There we have an inheritance that will never fade. We have a sure future because it will be based in God's efforts and not our own.
And finally, we will have a better character. First John says, "Dear friends, we are children of God. And what we will be has not yet been made known." In other words, God is not done with us yet. "But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." Do you ever get frustrated with yourself? Frustrated with your own character, with the decisions you want to make but do not, with the things you end up doing that you did not want to do, with the way you talk to people. Where did those things come from? Why did I say that? Why do I feel or act in those ways? God is going to revise our character. God will remake those who want to be remade. We declare this desire by receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Wouldn't you like to have a better character, a better body, a better future, a better understanding, better relationships, a better home, a better universe to live in? That is what Paul sees and he says, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain."
What is the good side, what are the benefits of remaining? Literally, the word picture for "remaining" is "camping out". "If I stay [camped] here in this temporary location rather than [picking up stakes and] moving on, what good is it?" First of all, we gain time to grow in our faith, to know God better, to trust and to learn to trust Him, to learn to obey Him, to be amazed at the adventures He will lead us on. And that is more important than you think because now is the only time you have to grow in faith. You are not going to do it in heaven. You cannot say, "Well, I am going to wait until I get there." Or, "It is not going to do any good to do it here because up there I am going to take care of it." There you will be exposed to a fuller revelation of His power and His greatness. Faith is needed now and is a treasure that will last forever.
At the bottom of my closet I have a big banana box filled with five years of love letters between Katie and me. We dated for five years before we got married and much of the time I was in Santa Barbara going to school or I was in Texas working at a camp and she was in LA or in Washington working at a camp and we communicated by letter, looking forward to being together. Those letters contain five years of precious life memories for us, filled with hopes and dreams. We can go back and look at those letters and recall what we were going through, what we experienced and how we experienced things together. You will have those same kinds of memories for eternity with God if you build them now. They will be a treasure.
In heaven there will be rewards and crowns for the faithful. It is not a matter of having jewels and "my crown is bigger than your crown" and "mine is more shiny." It is the things that you have done during your lifetime that carry on forever as memories, as signs of things you used and did in your earthly life. That is the crown. Your crown, as Paul says, is going to be the people that you are with and what you did with and for them. Paul tells one group, "You are my crown." For many of us, that include our kids, our relationship with our wife or husband, our friends, and the people we minister to. The time to grow our faith is now.
Secondly, we have time to produce fruit. Look at verse 22. It says, "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me." One of the major reasons God leaves us here is so that our love will grow and flourish. When friends are going through divorces, when friends have kids that are driving them crazy, He wants us to come alongside them and share encouragement, love, help, and hope. He wants to affect this world with the love of Christ through us!
Thirdly, we gain time to share truth. Earlier in Philippians we talked about declaring who God is amid the storms of life. Let them know the hope that you have. Let them know that you are not just being a nice guy or gal because your mom raised you right, or whatever. Let them know that because God has done so much for you, you are called to do much for others. Paul says, in verse 20, "May Christ be exalted in my life and by my death." The things that we do in His name lift Him up. He deserves the glory, praise, and thanks for meeting peoples' spiritual needs. What we do for them provides Him the opportunity to do just that. Are you taking the time to share truth with others? They are not in your life just by happenstance, by accident, but God is knitting you into their lives so that you can make a difference.
This was Paul's dilemma. Can you understand it a little better now? Can you identify with Paul a little more? You may say, "Pastor Dave, it does sound like it is harder to live than to die. I mean, there are many positives on the dying side for Christians, but living involves struggles and hardships that are painful." In case you have not caught on yet, living is designed to be harder than dying. You have choices. Living properly makes dying worthwhile! Living is designed to be harder because it is meant to bear fruit in preparation for all that comes after death. Heaven will be a glorious place where only those who love God through Christ will dwell. But each person there will experience the joy of heaven with some subjective differences. These subjective differences will be based on the spiritual faith, hope, and love exhibited during this lifetime.
Paul's dilemma. Do you share that dilemma? Are you so tied up, perhaps, in the world around you and the things that you are involved in that you have no heart for heaven? If truthfully examined, your life revolves around you, your business, your cars, or the things you play with, or the things you are trying to accomplish. You have no eternal perspective, no spiritual vision for the future. Or, are you on the other side of the dilemma? You are just biding your time. You are just sitting back and running down the clock another day, another week, another month, another year closer to glory and not making use of any of the days that God has given you. God wants you to be in the middle. Use the time He has given you with eternity in mind.
Dilemmas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are financial. Should you keep pouring money into that old car? Is it pouring good money after bad? Or should you just invest in something newer? How do you know? When do you make the decision? It could be a financial dilemma. It could be an emotional dilemma. The pet that your child has had from a puppy is now getting so old and has a severe sickness and you see that dog in misery each and every day and know he cannot go on much longer. You feel like something needs to be done. "But my child and that pet are inseparable, I love them both, but I do not know what to do."
The dilemma can be geographical. Wanting to be in two places at one time or loving where you are at, but you have the opportunity to move with a promotion, which means more money, a different environment for you and your family, new friends, and you get away from some old problems. But you are losing old friends and good situations that have sustained you for years.
It could be a relational dilemma. You could be dealing with an adult son or daughter who you love dearly, but they are living a lifestyle that is disappointing to you and to God and you made your position clear on what you think should be done, but you are not sure how much further you can push it. How much more pressure you should exert without breaking the relationship altogether. When does unconditional, gracious loving become enabling?
An emotional dilemma will tear you apart no matter what you choose and most of our dilemmas are not simply being torn between two different things, it may be between several different things or combination of things. Perhaps you need to relocate one of your parents that is getting older and she really needs more care than you can give her, but she does not want to go. Some dilemmas can be gut-wrenching.
From Paul's situation, I have noticed three things that might help you with some of your dilemmas. Three things that are important if you find yourself stuck in a dilemma. The first is to recognize that many times now is not the right time to solve the dilemma. That is why a solution cannot be found. More time needs to pass. Feelings, thoughts, truths need to be processed. Often it is unwise to force a decision. Paul wanted to be released from prison. He wanted to be out. He did not enjoy his time there. It wasn't, "Oh, goody. I get to go to prison again." He was in prison a number of times. But it was not time for him not to be in prison for preaching the gospel. You know why? Paul was a type A personality. He was driven. He was constantly going somewhere or doing something. This was the only time he was able to really sit down and write what turned out to be half the New Testament. It was not time to be released because God had something more important for him to do.
Secondly, you have to realize that many times it is not your role or your place to solve the dilemma. It is someone else's dilemma. Or perhaps, someone else or God Himself has to step in to take care of the dilemma. In Paul's situation, it was not his decision. He could not say, "Ok, I am going to decide to die, now." It was not his decision. Paul correctly allowed God to make these decisions for his life.
And thirdly, sometimes it is not in your best interest for the dilemma to be resolved. Paul had what he called "a thorn in the flesh" and he prayed that it would be removed. He sees it hindering his effectiveness for Christ. "Why doesn't God take it out? Are you there? Don't you listen? I am your servant, don't you want to fix this? I can be so much more effective for you if you get rid of this problem." But God had other plans. It was not in Paul's best interest to remove that thorn. It is going to teach him grace, humility, mercy, and compassion for others. All necessary qualities for someone God plans on using to write half of the New Testament. All things considered, it was not in Paul's or the church's best interest to take this particular problem away.
In dealing with problem situations, you have to consider what choices are available for you. But with dilemmas you cannot make a clear choice. That is why it is called a dilemma. But even in dilemmas there are some things that you can choose to do. First, look at verse 19. It says, "For I know that through your prayers and with the help given by the spirit of Christ, what has happened has turned out for my deliverance whether it is for life or for death."
You have a choice with your dilemma. You can worry and scheme about it. You can push to solve it prematurely, creating more problems. You can fret about it. You can lose sleep over it. God will shape your mind and heart to deal with it properly. You may not be able to control the situation but you can control your attitude towards it and what you allow it to do in and through your life. Whether it breaks you down or empowers you to walk closer with Christ. That choice you do have!
Secondly, in verse 22, it says, "I find to go on living in this body, this will mean fruitful labor for me." Paul chose not to dwell on his problems. "Look at me. This is terrible. I'm in a rotten situation. What can I do for God?" Just because you have a dilemma does not mean that is all you should focus your attention on. It should not consume your life. If we focus on our attitudes and what we can do in the situation and pray and allow God to do His part, the dilemma will not overwhelm us.
And thirdly, look in verse 20. "Christ will be exalted in my body whether by my life or by my death." You can determine that you will honor God by how you behave in the situation. The solution to the dilemma may be cloudy but God's command to be godly within the situation is quite clear. Honor God with your behavior even when the future cannot be clearly seen.
I get energized by problems. That is when God becomes real. That is when we experience the presence of God. Jesus told the disciples, "Lo," which means watch and listen, "I am with you always." And He told them that on the night that He was betrayed, on the night when He Himself was facing a dilemma. He wanted to stay with these friends that He had built relationships with, that He cared about, that He loved, that He spent time with, that He could help, heal, and guide their lives. Or, He could die the next day and pay the redemptive ransom for all of us. Jesus, the Son of God, is in a dilemma. He said, "Father, I know what I want. I want to stay with these guys. But, thy will be done. I trust you and I will allow you to make this decision and lead me where you want. I trust that now is the time for me to suffer and die." When God's will is known, there is no longer a dilemma. The only thing left to do is to yield to His will. Jesus did that!
Where do you stand spiritually? Where are you with God? Where do you stand on His chart? How do you measure that? When gauging physical health, you may put a hand on the forehead and feel for a fever or look at a thermometer. But how do we gauge spiritual health?
There are three usual ways that we measure spiritual health and all three lead to faulty diagnosis. The first way is we look at others around us and compare ourselves to them. "Well, I'm doing as good as they are. I'm doing as much as they are." The unfortunate thing is that God does not grade on a curve. And if you are hanging around with a bunch of spiritual losers, you will look as good as they are. But does not that also make you a spiritual loser? Some of the most successful people using the world's definition of success-money, power, and status-are spiritually dead or very anemic. They do not have a place for God or His ways in their busy lives. But in the thinking of many, money, power, and status are signs that God is blessing them. They suppose that "gain is godliness." In other words, the more material possessions and status one has the greater the assumed blessing of God is on that person. It can be very deceiving to use this criteria. Some of the godliest people in the bible had little wealth. Human comparison is not a good way to measure spiritual life and vitality.
Another faulty way to measure spiritual health is to compare oneself to the rules and commands used by those you hang around with, maybe even attend church with, maybe even the Ten Commandments. The folly is apparent when we realize the standards we follow are human inventions and traditions. Just look at the Pharisaic leadership that eventually consented to murdering Jesus because He was a threat to their status and religion. Jesus reserved His harshest criticism for these men. But what if we are trying to follow legitimate biblical standards and commands, like the Ten Commandments? That seems like a safe way to figure it out, doesn't it?
Well, I have not killed anyone this week, so I am doing good there. I got one point. I am not cheating on my wife right now, so I am 'ok' there, and I have not told any lies to get anyone else in trouble. Ummm, I must be doing well.
The problem with measuring yourself by those kinds of standards is that you start focusing on those standards as your measuring stick for spiritual health. The Pharisees were considered by many to be what Judaism was all about, the finest examples of their religious history. By keeping the religious rules they were recognized as spiritually superior and good. In the eyes of others also trying to keep these rules and commands they were good and uncommonly righteous. But Jesus actually said they were children of the devil.
Being a Christian is not about being 'good' at keeping rules and regulations. Do not misunderstand me. It is right to be good. I want to be good. Katie wants me to be good. I want my kids to be good. God wants me to be a good person. But as we will see, God has a different view of what it means to be 'good'. Using rule keeping as our standard, we can conclude that being a Christian is not about being 'good', it is about being good for something. It does not stop with just obeying all the rules.
A third faulty way to measure oneself is by having an erroneous view of grace. "I am saved, I have my eternal salvation taken care of, all my sins from the past are taken care of, all my sins from the future are taken care of, I am saved, I am saved, I am saved. This is wonderful. This is great. And so what if I have crossed the line, I am forgiven." Paul encountered people with this view and he corrected them. "Shall I continue to sin so that grace can abound?" The answer is an emphatic, "No!" It is a drastic spiritual error to interpret God's grace offered through Christ Jesus as a license for indulging sinful desires. "I am forgiven anyway, and it does make me feel good, so why not?"
Christian salvation is not just about escaping hell and a Christless eternity, but it also involves becoming like Jesus Christ. In other words, salvation is much more about acquiring positive aspects than escaping the negative. Escaping hell is escaping the negative. Growing in our love for God through Christ and doing His work are the positives salvation was designed to produce. Do not use God's grace to excuse your sin!
If the above three measuring rods lead us in a wrong direction, then how are we to examine ourselves. How we measure ourselves is not nearly as important as how God measures us. If God was to ask you the question, "How are you doing?", what would you say? You know you cannot snow Him. You end up saying, "Well, why don't you tell me?" He is the one who knows and He knows us better than we know ourselves. How does God measure us? How does God measure our spiritual health? That is the question the remaining portion of this paper will address.
Open your Bibles to Philippians chapter one. We are going to look at verse 27. Paul paints a clear picture of what spiritual health looks like. "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit. Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel."
To help us understand the central message in this verse we need to take out the subordinate clauses and see what we have remaining. What remains follows: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Stand firm in one spirit contending as one man for the faith of the gospel."
Paul uses very specific words that give a vivid picture of how we are measured. Translating this central message in the Greek we end up with: "Live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, committed and focused as a united team bringing others to a living faith in Him." Using this verse as our core starting point, we can see that God measures us in three areas of life. First, He measures us by our relationship with Him. Second, He measures us by our relationship to the body of Christ, to other believers. And thirdly, He measures us based upon our relationship with our neighbors, friends, and others outside the body of Christ.
Let us start off with the first sentence because the first sentence talks about our relationship with Him. The first word with significance is the word "live." The word that Paul uses for "live" is "politic." Paul is essentially saying, "Politic consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ." Last year was an election year and we have had more politics than we want to have but Paul's use of the word does not have the negative connotations we give it today.
Just the mention of the word "politics" suggests lying and scheming to gain office. You know why? Because politicians tend to say what they want to do, not necessarily what they will be able to do. They promise to do more than they are actually able to accomplish. They have desires to fix this and fix that but when they gain office they learn they cannot fix them all and much of it ends up being a big hairball. They cannot get through them the way they thought they could. And to avoid scrutiny and criticism many maneuver and scheme behind the scenes. Paul uses the word in describing everyday behaviors not in any way related to political office. He is literally telling them to be citizens of their community with behavior characterized by the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Let me explain what I mean. You are all losers. Like that? You are all losers. You all do not measure up to God's standard. You all will blow it a number of times, a number of ways this next week. But God says, "I want to be with you and help you to become spiritual winners." Jesus says, "Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. You cannot do anything on your own, but together we can do some great things." Jesus has hopes and dreams for us that we can be better than we are because He has committed Himself to us.
I am better than I am because I am married to Katie. Katie makes me a better man. She calls out the best in me. She inspires the best in me, to be better than I normally would. I do not do some things that I would want to do, that I would naturally do, because I am married to Katie and it would be inconsistent with the husband that I want to be for Katie.
The same goes for our spiritual lives. We deny ourselves certain things and actions because it is not consistent with who we want to be for God, with who we want to be as a Christian, a husband, a wife, child, or parent. It may not even be something obviously sinful. It is just not the best for what we want to become. And Paul says with one phrase the standard we are to live up to-"the Good News of Jesus Christ."
The word "politic" is teamed up with the word "consistent," which means "one and only." Paul is telling us to live consistent with the one and only Good News of Jesus Christ. This last week we had to get new tires put on Katie's car. But before I purchased the tires I checked the alignment to make sure the tires were not wearing, were not scrubbing, wearing out improperly. If the two front tires are not aligned to go straight, what will happen to them? You are going to be buying a new set of tires in six months, right? The car is out of control, it is harder to steer, and the suspension does not work the way it was designed to work. It messes up a lot of things. The car actually 'wants' to go in a different direction than you want. The end result is worn out tires.
Paul is telling us to align our hearts with God, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. To align our hearts with God means that we are responsive to His leading. God wants to take you places and show you things. "Oh, you have to see this." And so He turns His wheel this way and if we are not aligned with Him we start scrubbing and wearing down. We try to head off in a wrong direction. We fight His lead in our lives. God wants to lead you and you fight against Him. It is much better to be sensitive to His leading. "Lord, what do you want me to do? How do you want me to feel? How do you want me to respond to this situation? Lord, do you want me to follow this or just let it go? Lord, I want to go where you want me to go so I want my heart aligned with your heart."
Growing up, the message I always heard in churches we attended was to live consistent with all the rules. This makes one good. Be consistent with Old Testament rules and regulations. But here Paul says, live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel of Christ. What is the gospel of Christ? Many of us would easily understand if it said, "live consistent with the Ten Commandments" because those are rules. We are used to having a list, a checklist of all the things we need to do. But here it says, "live consistent with the Good News of Jesus, with the gospel." What is the gospel of Jesus? Most of you learned it when you were in third grade Sunday School. "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life."
What is the principal element of the gospel of Christ? What is the principal element of John 3:16? God's love! His passionate love for you and me shown by the gift of His Son for us. He does not want you to perish but have everlasting life. He wants us to have life and not perish in our sin. It is with this great love we are to live consistent with. Paul tells us to live consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Many times people see Christians as miserable, depressed, burdened people. But Jesus came to bring us freedom. The gospel should bring spiritual and moral freedom. Without the grace of God, where would you be in your life? Without the grace of God, where would you be? You would have no hope for eternity. You would have no eternal purpose in life. You would just be living to die. Just waiting until death overtakes you. Jesus came to bring the Good News that this life is not all there is. That God's forgiveness is available to all who repent and want to follow Jesus Christ. Celebrate God in your life. Live consistent with the Good News. Let the Good News shine through your life. That is how we are to relate to God. That is how He measures us. Are we being better than we naturally would be because we are teamed up with Him? Is our heart aligned with Him relationally and can we celebrate God and His Good News? It is this that we are to live consistent with.
Secondly, we are measured by our commitment and focus as a united team in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. You are measured based upon your relationship with other believers. He calls us a body. It means we are to have interaction with each other, we are to depend on one another. The word "committed" literally means "staked down." The picture is that we are anchored and holding on to each other. You have seen all kinds of trees blow over this last two weeks. Trees uprooted and just flopping over. Can you see the same kind of thing happening in the lives of men and women? Lives being uprooted and falling over. To avoid this "fallenness" we are to be "staked down" to one another, standing strong as the winds of life blow on us.
Did you ever notice that you rarely see a tree that is in the middle of the forest fall down? We saw trees falling down all around this place but you usually do not see trees fall down that are in the middle of a forest, surrounded by other trees. Why? Because they strengthen and help each other. They break the wind for each other. They share the load. And literally the roots of those trees grow together so that when one starts to be uprooted, the roots of another pull it down. The roots hold each other tight. "Staked down." In your own life, there are others around you that you know that may have started to lean and your role before God is to be the root to help them hold on. The storm is going to pass. It may have been blowing for a long time, but it will pass. Hold on to your family and friends. Strengthen them amid the storms of life.
After "commitment" the verse continues with "and focused." To be focused means living on purpose. You have a reason for who you are and what you are doing. Living on purpose. Focused as a united team. As a church, our official purpose is equipping believers for worldwide ministry because we believe there is more to being a Christian than being saved. It is being a follower of Jesus Christ--to have your heart united with His and joining with other followers in proclaiming the Good News. On purpose we are to join together to declare the Good News to others around us.
"As a united team." What does that mean? In the Greek it is the word "sunathlountes." "Sun" means "with" or "together" and "athloutes." Know what "athloutes" means? It means striving. "Sunathlountes" literally means "striving together" or "striving with." You just saw the Olympics. It is drawing the literal picture of a team working together. Of, if you will, like a relay team or rowing team where each member does his or her part to accomplish the goal.
In this church, we have a lot of rowing teams. We have a worship rowing team that works together every week. We have a children's ministry rowing team. We have a youth ministry rowing team. We have all kinds of small groups and ABFs (adult bible fellowships) that are all rowing in the same direction. That is "sunathlountes." That is a united team all going in the same direction with a common goal. We are measured by our joint unity, by our connectedness, and by doing and living together in accordance with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
You can be a Christian, you can be saved and not be part of a church. But God measures you, God calls you to be part of a local fellowship of believers so that you can be strengthened, so that you can grow, and so that you can strengthen and help others to grow. Each of you has been given spiritual gifts to use for that purpose. That is what we are about, and you can be at this church, you can be someplace else, but you need to be in a fellowship of believers somewhere. You might say, "Well, I do not like those people or those people." It is not a question of whether you like them or not. It is God's command to join a church, a fellowship of believers, because they will strengthen your life and you can strengthen theirs. We are all in this together.
And then thirdly, you are measured by your relationship to those outside the body of Christ. You are called and held accountable for your relationship with them, bringing others to a living faith in Him. I know most of you do not want to hear this point. You are called by God to share your faith with others.
How did you come to Jesus? It probably came about because some regular people either brought you to church or shared Jesus with you. God does this work through normal, everyday people. Last year we had a young man start coming to play with one of our youth worship bands. He was not a Christian, but he came because he liked the music and wanted to play with them. He came to Christ because of it. Then, because it seemed like a good thing, he liked it, he told his mom about it and she started coming and she received Jesus two months ago. She died last Friday. Just in time. This young man is not a Bible scholar. He does not know a lot of the doctrines of the church but who cares? Yes, it is important to know God's word so that Satan cannot deceive us, but it is much more important to know the One whom the word talks about and points us to. This young man knew that Jesus is real and that God is life and he told his mother about it. That made the difference.
Is it hard? Oh, you better believe it is hard to tell your mom about Jesus, to tell your parents about Christ, to talk to anyone in your family, to talk to your friends. It is hard because it is so important and there is a spiritual battle going on. There is a race for the spirits, for the souls of those around you. And some of you are sitting on the bench watching them go by. We are not called to be spectators. We are called to be "sunathloutes," co-workers in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
This lady who accepted Christ saw a difference in her son. It was a living faith. It was not that he explained the great doctrines of the church to her. He explained the person of Jesus to her. It was his living faith that makes the difference. Life lived is more important than words. It is not your education, it is your experience with Him that matters most. Tell them your story. Tell them where you have been. Tell them what God has done for you. Tell them the real difference Jesus has made in your life and how you have learned to trust Him. Your life speaks louder than your words. You can say all the right things, but if you do not have the life that backs it up, they will walk away from you. People are hungry for a real faith and a real God that makes a real difference in the lives of real people. Bring others to a living faith in Him, not to a religion, but to a relationship with the Father. Do not lead them to church, lead them to God.
Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." He wants us to have a relationship with God. He did not lead the people to the temple or the sanctuary. He met them at these places but then He introduced them to His Father. We are called to do the same thing. How you doing? Are you living consistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ-consistent with who He is and what He has done. You want to do better? You do not have to read Shaeffer's systematic theology. What you have to do is talk to God and reflect on His word. Talk to God and reflect on what He has for you. As you grow healthier, we grow healthier. That is how the body of Christ prospers.
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