Hope Lost and Found

A Certain Hope in Uncertain Days: 30 Days of Hope-filled Focus

Day 2: Hope Lost and Found

The prophet Jeremiah is commonly referred to as the “weeping prophet.”  In Jeremiah 9:1 we read of his plea that his eyes would be “a fountain of tears” that he might “weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” In his God-given ministry he called the people to repentance, warning them repeatedly of pending judgment.  He was faithful to his task, though he ongoingly suffered harsh criticism and physical threats and harm.  His unheeded warnings ultimately came to pass, and he witnessed that which he had foretold in the destruction of Jerusalem.

God sent the Babylonians.  They brought utter destruction to the city.  They burned the temple and the King’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem.  They broke down the city walls.  They raped, pillaged, and killed Jeremiah’s people.  Those not killed were taken off into captivity.  Jeremiah saw it all.  Women and children dead in the streets; the law, the temple, the priesthood—all torn away.  And he wept.  And he was discouraged.  He said, “My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord…my soul…is bowed down within me” (Lamentations 3:18-20). Jeremiah loved the city and the people.  Its hard to imagine how hard it must have been for him to witness such utter destruction.  His own eyes told him that he should abandon all hope.  He was defeated, discouraged, and depressed in the lostness of it all.

Did you know that Jeremiah owned a piece of property in that wasteland?  Before the destruction of Jerusalem, God had instructed Jeremiah to purchase it.  He bought it at the very time that “the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 32:2).  Not only was the city under siege, God had reaffirmed to Jeremiah His plan to give the city into the hand of the King of Babylon (Jeremiah 32:4).  Jeremiah’s cousin came to Jeremiah with the proposal to buy the field.  Jeremiah knew the matter to be “the word of the Lord” (Jeremiah 32:8).  So, Jeremiah purchased the field.  And the matter begs the question, “why purchase a piece of property in a land that is soon to be overthrown?”  God Himself provided the answer.  He instructed Jeremiah to secure the deeds in an earthenware vessel, that would last for a very long time.  He then explained the reason why, “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15).  Jeremiah responded to God’s promise by praying, “Ah, Lord God!  It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm!  Nothing is too hard for you.  You show steadfast love to thousands…” (Jeremiah 32:17-18).  In responding to Jeremiah’s prayer God spoke of a future day when God would gather up His scattered people and make them to dwell in safety.  He said, “And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jeremiah 32:38).

Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and wept and saw no reason for hope.  But then we read of a most dramatic shift in his outlook, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’ (Lamentations 3:21-24).  Through eyes of faith, Jeremiah shifted his vision to God Himself.  He called to mind certain truths regarding God’s nature and promises.  His grievous circumstances were not changed, but his mind and heart were encouraged in the truth of who God is.  Perhaps he reminded himself of the field he had bought which spoke of a future day when God’s purpose for His people would be fulfilled.  Somewhere in that wasteland lay a title deed which spoke to God’s promise.

Likewise, God has graced the believer with a future inheritance.  Having believed the gospel, he’s been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). This promised inheritance is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).  No circumstance can work to take it away, for it is being “kept in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4).  Not only is the inheritance being kept safe, we “by God’s power are being guarded” until we possess it (1 Peter 1:5). To those suffering believers, Peter then wrote, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

Jeremiah was hopelessly discouraged in all he saw, but then he looked—through eyes of faith—to His faithful and compassionate God and in Him he found hope.  No matter how difficult our circumstances, we can always find good reason for hope in reminding ourselves of the greatness of our God and the certainty of His promises.

Hope in Biblical Terms

A Certain Hope in Uncertain Days: 30 Days of Hope-filled Focus

November 1: Hope in Biblical Terms

Most would agree that the days we live in could be characterized by a lot of uncertainty.  We all have our own personal struggles and trials, but there is also a growing palpable tension in our country, evident in events and discussions related to the pending election.  No matter who “wins,” that tension will not be resolved.  No one knows for sure where these things are headed.

If our vision is restricted to just the here and now, we will hunger for hope.  In the days ahead, we plan to focus on what the Bible has to say regarding hope, and it has a lot to say on the matter.  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

We use the term “hope” all the time to speak of things we wish for.  We might say, for example, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.”  Typically, in our common usage of the term, there is a measure of uncertainty regarding the thing hoped for, for we cannot, using this analogy, control the weather!  The most common Greek term does not carry that connotation.  Vine’s Expository Dictionary defines the term “elpis” (i.e. “hope”) this way, “in the NT, ‘favorable and confident expectation’…It has to do with the unseen and the future.”

According to Vine’s definition, Biblical hope has to do with a confident expectation in an “unseen, future, reality.”  Romans 8:24-25 speaks to this understanding of the term: “For in this hope we are saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Hope has to do with something that is unseen.  No one hopes for something they already possess.  They hope for something that lies beyond their vision.  In the context this unseen thing lies in the future and has to do with “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  The broader context speaks to the future “revelation of the sons of glory,” for which “the creation waits with eager longing” (Romans 8:19).

There will come a day, a day for which creation itself groans (as do believers themselves; Romans 8:23), when Jesus will come to “be glorified in his saints” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).  On that day he “will be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).  In the “redemption of our bodies,” our redemption will be made complete.  But isn’t it already so?  Yes and no.  Redemption means to be set free by payment of a price.  There are three tenses when it comes to our salvation.  The believer has been set free already from the penalty of sin, through the shed blood of Jesus (Cf. Ephesians 1:7).  He is even now being set free from the practice of sin (Cf. Romans 6:6).  One day will be set free from the presence of sin (Cf. Ephesians 4:30).  This third tense of salvation is the focus of Romans 8:23.

What is the hope of the believer?  This world lies under a curse.  Sin is at the root of all our problems, personal and otherwise.  But there will come a day, in the presence of Jesus, in that place “where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), where sin will be no more.  The long struggle with sin and “sufferings of this present time” will be swallowed up in the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The believer lives according to this confident expectation regarding this future, unseen, reality.  It is the focal point of his hopeful manner.  Having “set (his) hope fully on the grace to that will be brought to (him) at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13), he is to be a hope-filled person in an uncertain and hope-needy world.  Herein lies our hope—Jesus is coming again!  Do you know Him?  Is your hope bound up in Him?  Trust in Jesus, for “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Romans 10:11; NASB).  In the faithfulness of God and His sure promises we possess both “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”; Verse 3).

Exemplary Servants, Part 1

Philippians 2:17-30; Luke 22:27

INTRODUCTION

Heavenly father, we just thank you for the opportunity for us to gather together to worship you. We praise you as our creator God and thank you for the salvation you’ve availed to us through your son Jesus Christ. We pray that we would be led by the spirit to give thanks and to praise you and to enjoy our life, our walk, our relationship with you, Lord Jesus. We pray today that by the Spirit, and through the word, our hearts might be instructed and encouraged, that we could walk closely with you to your honor and glory. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I came across this phrase last week, obviously not the first time I’ve seen it, but it just really struck me in Luke 22:27, where Jesus said this, “but I am among you as the one who serves.”  I want us to think about that a little bit because we’re going to be looking at that theme here in Philippians 2. I was, at first, naive enough to think that I was going to preach through that whole passage up there on the wall (Philippians 2:17-30), but actually what’s going to happen today is we’re probably not going to though through any of it.  We are going to introduce the text by dealing with this theme of being a servant according to Christ example.  But if you look at that phrase, how striking is it!  “But I am among you as the one who serves.” We will come back to that in a bit, but first let’s look again at Philippians chapter two.

This text has so much to say about how we are to relate to one another and what is to be the nature of our conduct before God. It says, in Philippians 2:3, “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Don’t merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Here God calls us, through the Apostle Paul, to be servants–to have the mind of a servant. Notice it says in verse 5, have this attitude in yourselves–or have this mind, this mind of Christ, this way of thinking, this attitude, this perspective on life–the same one that Jesus had. See that here, which is a striking thing to consider, that God has it for you to think as Jesus thought and to live like Jesus lived. That’ll bring us back to our phrase in a while. Then also not just to think that way, but to live that way and that’s why verse three is talking about, and it is no easy thing. Servanthood, according to Christ’s example, won’t happen by accident in anybody’s life. Imagine this verse rewritten according to the world’s way of thinking, it would be something like “Do all things from selfishness. Look out for number one.  If it feels good, do it.  It doesn’t matter if you must trample over people and their feelings. As long as you get what you want in the end, that’s all that matters.”

God’s version is very different. Have the mind of a servant according to the example of Christ. Live the life of a servant according to the example of Christ, where to put it succinctly, and to kind of summarize a whole bunch of matters means loving Jesus by loving and serving others. In fact, there’s a lot of confusion today in the church about issues related to worship. A lot of people lump that into just the music side of things and think that in itself that that constitutes worship. The atmosphere, or having the lights adjust just so, etc.  That’s worship they think. Now, here are the nuts and bolts of worship. Here’s worship as far as God is concerned, a worship that is pleasing and acceptable to Him. It looks like this. It looks like loving Jesus by loving and serving others. It’s very practical. It’s very real. It’s very much in keeping with who Jesus is, very tangible.

In Philippians chapter 2 we have four examples given to us of this kind of servanthood.  The first example is Jesus Himself.  It’s explained to us what that looks like in this wonderful description.  “Although He existed in the form of god, He did not regard equality with god a thing to be grasped.”  Reading then between the lines, so to speak, instructed from other scriptures, we know that He’s the eternal Son of God.  We know that He’s the creator of all things. We know that all things have been created by Him, through Him, and for Him.  We know that all the fullness of the deity dwells in Him. We know that, as He said, if you see me, you’ve seen the Father. We know that He is the one that was revealed to us, and when they beheld Him, they beheld His glory. He is the glorious lord Jesus Christ, the One who, before He came, enjoyed the richness and fullness of having a place with no sin and the worship of angels and nonetheless came here. That’s who we’re talking about.  It’s He who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself.

That’s not an easy thing to comprehend, especially in talking about emptying Himself from that height to that depth, or as it says, in another text: “We know the grace of our lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.”  That’s incredible. He became poor. He deliberately became poor. He divested himself of all his riches on purpose. That’s amazing. Taking the form of a bond servant being made in the likeness of men being found in appearance as man. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. What an incredible thing it is that, Jesus being who He is, should take on that task and be willing to humble himself in that way and to live the life of a servant. Incredible. Amazing.

So, we have this example. As you go on to this chapter, you have three more examples. In verses 17 and 18, the example the apostle Paul, as a servant, where he talks about being poured out as a drink offering in service to others.  Then in verses 19 down to verse 24, we have the example of Timothy, of whom Paul says, amongst other things, that he has no one else like him.   He says to the Philippians that Timothy is unlike the others.  They’ll look out for themselves, but Timothy will seek Christ’s interests in being genuinely concerned for them.  Then in verses 25 to 30 we have the example of Paul’s dear friend, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, Epaphroditus.  You read in the passage of how he ministered to the Apostle Paul and even came close to death in risking his life in caring for him.  Having the mind of Christ and living according to Christ’s way of living.

We’ll come back to these examples of next week.  But today we want to finish our introduction by looking again to Luke 22 and the phrase I brought up in the beginning of the message, “But I am amongst you as one who serves.”  And we want to focus in especially on how contrary the mind of Christ is to the world’s way of thinking.

MESSAGE

So, here we are in Luke 22:14-27, “When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.  And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”  And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.  But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.  For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”  And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.  And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.  For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Of course, we need to understand some very important truths about Jesus, if we are to understand what’s going on here.  Who is this Jesus?  Well, this is the eternal son of god. This is the creator of all things. This is the one who was born of a virgin, took on humanity, took on human flesh, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  This is the one who lived this life and did all those miracles, authenticating his identity.  This is that One.  And here He is having this last supper with His disciples.  And what is the theme of it? Well He’s talking about His pending death, right? His sacrifice on the cross. Of course, this is keeping with the rest of His life, because everything we read about Jesus, from beginning to end, is about serving others. It doesn’t matter. Flip the page anywhere in your gospel account and read about Jesus and you’re not going to find an example outside of that. That’s what He’s always doing. He’s always serving, loving, caring.  That’s the fabric of His life. That’s who He is.  And in that context, He says “But I amongst you as one who serves.” Stop and think about that for a second, because there’s never been a life like that ever before on this planet.  There’s never been anybody who was born and came into this world exclusively devoted to serving others.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to do what? To serve and ultimately give his life a ransom for many. How remarkable is that? It’s not what we would have expected.  Not what we would have thought.  God is coming to this world.  What if we were to paint a scenario in our own sin-darkened minds as to what that might look like.  No one would have imagined that God would come in such a way.  It is as Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the incarnation, that God would  take on human flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”  But not only did He take on human flesh, He embraced servanthood.  It’s amazing!  And that’s what we read of here.  And what is He doing?  Of what, is He speaking?  He’s speaking in anticipation of His pending sacrifice for sin, the pinnacle of His servanthood.

Now who are those who are there with Him?  Well, 11 of them are men who will soon desert Him.  He’s soon headed to the cross.  They will then head for the hills.  That’s what’s going to happen, right?  And He knows that.  He knows all about them?  He knows what we are made of.  That’s the 11, what about the other?  The other one is going to betray Him.  He had been following, listening, and appearing to be a disciple, for all those years.  Jesus had been a friend to him.  But then Judas turned traitor.

Jesus knows all about that. He knows about the 11 and all their imperfections. He knows about the one and the fact that he’s going to betray Him, and yet what is He doing?  Serving them.  And not just serving them here.  He is yet to serve them in preeminent fashion when He makes His way to the cross.  He speaks to them of the pending matter which will become the matter of first importance—the gospel message of His death for sins and resurrection.  It is remarkable. It is astounding.  Jesus speaks here of servanthood and sacrifice and His pending death.  What are His disciples doing? What is their response? What is the reaction in this context, in this setting? Well, you read of it in verse 24, “And there arose among rose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”

Are you kidding me? As Jesus is talking about dying on a cross, or pointed to that anyway, the disciples are arguing about which one of them is the king of the hill. That’s the discussion that’s going on here. Isn’t that amazing?  And you know what else I notice in verse 24–they really are no different than any of the rest of us does. This is the way it is. It happens everywhere you go. Everybody wants to be the king of the hill. They want to be noticed. They want attention. They want wealth. They want to be prominent. They want fame. Being the top dog.  Having power.  Being in the high position. Having people look up to you.  These are all common fare.  So, I suppose it’s not really that surprising that they’re arguing amongst themselves about who is greatest.

But notice Jesus’ response in verse 25, “And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’”  So, He’s talking about the way things are in the world, the way it is with those kinds of kings and those kinds of kings tend to lord it over them, domineer them, and take advantage of their power.  To be authoritative, to abuse their power, and to be glad to have it.

Looking through the course of history we see this.  Or, with the Old Testament Kings of Israel.  Look around the world today—to N. Korea, Iran, the former Soviet Union.  What do you see in these places?  You can find countless examples of kings who lord it over their people.  And you will find the same in other settings—in schools, at work, in families, on the streets.  People are glad to be served.

Notice the term that was used of them, “benefactors,” which is to say they benefit from that. They are benefactors. They get the benefit of lording it over others. That’s the great lie of communism. They claim that everybody will be on an equal plane. Yeah, right. Well why are all those people at the top living it up while all the others are barely surviving in poverty?  That’s the way it works in the world.  People are prone to selfishness.  They would rather be served, than to serve. There’s a tendency in sin to think the universe revolves around us.  That we are at the center of it and that everyone else in our lives revolves around us and their job is to keep us happy.   That’s the way the world thinks. It’s true. That’s why a guy can write a book entitled, “Looking out for Number One,” and that could be a best seller. People love that message.

That’s what Jesus is talking about.  Understand this–that is the nature of sin. In fact, this all started with the devil who wanted to have God’s place.  And that’s how he tempted Eve.  He told her she could be like God.  She could be in a high position.

That’s the way things are. In fact, in Mark chapter 10, Jesus uses similar language in speaking to the disciples regarding the same matter but on a separate occasion.  And realize this about the disciples—they were like slow learners like us, they didn’t always get it.

This is when James and John came with the request to sit at the privileged seats next to Jesus.  He responds.  The others become indignant and Jesus uses the situation to teach them these same truths that He will repeat to them again on a later occasion.  Mark 10:42-45, “Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Notice this phrase, “But it is not this way among you.”  And it is of the same spirit as the other in which Jesus says, “But I am amongst you as One who serves.”  The rulers of the Gentiles might “lord it over,” and in that economy greatness is ascribed to those on top, but it is not so among you.  It doesn’t matter if the rest of the world lives that way. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you see at school. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you see at work. Doesn’t matter if you see it on the TV screen and they portray that as an appropriate lifestyle program after program, movie after movie does not matter.

That’s not who God is and that’s not what He’s called his children to.  In fact, in this passage, this is what it says regarding God’s perspective on such matters.  In God’s economy things are turned upside down.  The world says greatness is having people serve you, but God says, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  Jesus is the great example.  If anyone ever came into this world possessing a right to be served it was Jesus, the One who created all things.

Jesus asked, (Luke 22:27), “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table?”  Perhaps by this point the disciples are getting wise to Jesus, thinking it probably to be a trick question.  The answer is simple—the one who reclines!  But then Jesus surprised them again, “But I am among you as the one who serves.”  In God’s economy, things are different. In God’s perspective, things are different. Not just man’s way improved, but something radically different, such that we would never even think about it, and have no power to do, it apart from the Holy Spirit.

Think of it!  What happened when the word became flesh and dwelt among us?  How did He show up? What did He look like? Did He have a royal entourage? Did He have a host of servants that were there to accompany Him? Did He have riches? Was He carried about? Was that the nature of his life? Did He have a fine home? Did have everything He wanted? Was He always receiving praise? Is that the way it was for Him? No, it wasn’t. It was day after day, week after week–because we read about it–being surrounded by people with needs and He would meet one need and here come another and He would go through his day loving serving, ministering, caring. That was his life. And as He’s living his life and as He looks ahead to what God has for Him from the beginning, it had been planned from his very birth that He would die. His life on earth would be for his short time of stay upon the earth. One hundred percent service.

That’s amazing! And one of things we can say about that, is we see the heart of God manifest to us in Jesus.  God manifest to us.  Emmanuel, God with us, is not whom we would have expected.  He is not as we thought He would be.

How does He measure up according to the thoughts of our culture, of our society in this day we live?  You recall that it says in 2 Timothy 3 how in the last days difficult times will come.  And then we have a list of the characteristics of men in these last days.  Do you know what is the very first thing listed?  That men will be “lovers of self.”  So how does Jesus’s character and life compare to this time in which we live?  They are radically apart.  The life of Jesus is up over there, and our culture is far removed and down in the depths.  And make note of this.  It takes no special ability or effort or smarts or power to be a lover of self.  You don’t have to be trained or educated.  You don’t need to do anything.  The youngest baby can do it.  And note this also.  There is nothing virtuous or positive about being a lover of self.  It is common fare.  Lovers of self are all about.  But then what of this life of Jesus—to have the mind of Christ, to walk as He walked, to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own.  What of that?  Well, that’s something very different. No, that’s not a common commodity. You’re not going to find that on the broad path, that leads to destruction.  You’re only going to find it on the narrow way that leads to life.  It’s only going to in the lives of those who are born again, and it’s only going to happen for those who are empowered by the Spirit, because there is no other way.

But when you see it, it’s a beautiful thing.   That’s what we see in the life of Jesus.  I love His glorious example.  I look at His life and say, wow—that He would live that way and extend Himself in loving service and sacrifice!  How beautiful is that? According to who God is, in his grace and love and mercy.  I’m captivated by it, and though I don’t know about this life of service—it’s a little bit scary and can’t even imagine what it all means–I know that’s what He’s called me to, that’s where I want to go. That’s how I want to live my life. I want to hear from Jesus one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I don’t want to waste my life away on selfish pursuits, that maybe make me feel better about myself.  I would rather live my life in a way that’s honoring to God in a way that’s according to the heart of God in a way that matters for eternity. Right? And that’s what this phrase–
“but I am amongst you as one who serves” — is about.

Do you see it there? But I am amongst you as one who serves. What about you? Can you say that in your marriage? I am amongst you as one who serves.  Or, in your family. I’m among as one who serves.  Or, even in the workplace or in the community.  I am among you as one who serves.   It’s challenging sometimes.  You love Jesus by loving and serving others, but what if they don’t like you in return?  What about your enemies?  Well it seems to me that Jesus didn’t let that stop Him.  Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. No, I don’t think there’s any opt out on this matter. Am I amongst them as one who serves? Here’s the thing. We don’t have to wonder whether God regards that matter highly or not. We know what happened for Jesus. He kept on serving until the serving took him to a cross where He died for our sins. God was well pleased in the matter. And then Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. So, we don’t have to wonder.

CONCLUSION

I don’t know if you’ve ever read this story about the Skin Horse, but it kind of speaks to our theme this morning—and to these two different perspectives on life.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Heavenly father. We’re so thankful for your grace and mercy towards us. We are so very thankful first and foremost for Jesus, as our savior. Thank you for a life of service that ended in the ultimate act of service of all. You’re willing sacrifice for our sins by which we are saved.  But thank you too for your example to us, and in as much as you exhort us to have the mind of Christ, to live according to your example, we pray by the Spirit of God indwelling us that it would be true, that we would grow more and more in that, that it would be attractive to us because it’s who you are.  And we simply want to praise and thank you again that you are our God and that you are altogether worthy in every respect.  Amen.

 

Lights in the World, Part 2

Philippians 2:14-16

INTRODUCTION

On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as sort of a club.

Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a miniature lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So, the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did.

As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

From the beginning, the church has been called to bear witness of the Lord Jesus.  It’s possible for us to lose track of this.  The passage before speaks to how we can be effective in fulfilling our purpose.

Before we look to the details of our text, I want to draw something to your attention.  When it comes to witnessing much attention is given to the sharing of the gospel.  More attention is given to what we say.  But this text lays things out in their appropriate order.

  1. There is the need for us to maintain a credible witness. The text speaks to us being “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach.  We can only do that as we are led and empowered by the Spirit.
  2. When we walk this way, we shine as lights in the darkness. Christ shines through us.  The reality of His presence makes that happen.
  3. When we walk with Christ, as children of God above reproach shining as lights in the darkness, we then have the freedom to “hold forth the Word of life.”

MESSAGE

  1. WALK UPRIGHTLY

Blameless = “means irreproachable, faultless, without defect or blemish and thus describes not being able to find fault in someone or something. The idea is that the person is such that he or she is without the possibility of rightful charge being brought against them.

The same term was used in Philippians 1:10. Paul prayed this way for the believers in Philippi.

The same term is used again in Philippians 3:6. Paul used the term in reference to himself.  As a Pharisee he had been “found blameless” “as to the righteousness which is in the Law.”  As a result of his conversion, Paul counted such things as “rubbish” (3:8), which is to say that a distinction needs to be made to the kind of “blamelessness” which is according to one’s religious efforts and the kind of “blamelessness” which is well-founded on one’s relationship with Christ.  The Pharisees had a kind of “blamelessness” also, but they were merely whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.  To be made truly blameless in any way, be that either in position or in practice, that kind of “blameless” comes only through Christ.

Warren Wiersbe commented that “Like most ‘religious’ people today, Paul had enough morality to keep him out of trouble, but not enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his ‘religion’ to find salvation.”

Innocent = “means that which is without mixture, unmixed and then figuratively pictures one who is innocent, guileless, sincere.”

Romans 16:19, “But I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.”

Blameless and innocent.  How is this possible for any of us?  There is only one way.  Jesus was blameless and innocent (1 Peter 1:17-19).  He shed His precious blood on the cross so that we could be saved from our sins.  Through His sacrifice, He is to us “of sin the double-cure, cleansing from its guilt and power.”  The believers in Corinth had come out of all kinds of sinful backgrounds, but they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

But there is a “blamelessness” and “innocence” that is ours positionally in Christ, and what is true of us positionally is to be true of us in practice.  Salvation is a salvation from sin in every way—from its penalty, from its practice, and, ultimately, from its presence.  This “blameless” and “innocent” conduct is not something we can attain by trying harder to be better.   This is a mistake that is commonly made.  But instead by being filled with the Spirit and walking by the Spirit, such that the Christ who lives in us is manifest in our presence.

These two terms together speak to what is to be the inside-out nature of our conduct.  That’s why religion doesn’t work.  It only has to do with the outside.  But God’s purpose is to change us from the inside out.  He wants us to be “blameless”—and that speaks to our outward behavior.  He wants us to be “innocent”—that speaks to who we are on the inside.  That kind of transformation can only happen in Christ.

Children of God above reproach.  The term translated “reproach” was used of OT sacrifices that were “spotless” and “perfect” and thereby acceptable to be offered to God.  The Christian

This term was used to describe the OT sacrifices that were Children of God above reproach.  And it reminds us of what we’ve been called to: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1-2).

There ought to be a difference in the life of the believer.  We’ve said it before, “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be any evidence by which you could be convicted.”  The Apostle John spoke in dramatic fashion of this: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

Now these are all very convicting matters.  And if we are honest with ourselves we are aware of our shortcomings.  We might even say as the Psalmist said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

But if we are to have a credible and effective witness for Christ, this needs to be the nature and character of our walk with Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, “Men will blame you, but you must seek as Christians to lead lives that give no occasion for blame. Like Daniel, compel them to say of you, “We will not find any pretext against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5). Erasmus writes of his great adversary Luther, “Even Luther’s enemies cannot deny but that he is a good man.”…We cannot be blameless if we murmur and dispute, for such things naturally lead to sin. Our lights cannot shine if instead of trimming them we occupy ourselves with blowing out the lamps of others.”

2. SHINE BRIGHTLY

Like a lighthouse.

Appear = means to give light, illuminate, or shine forth as a luminous body.

Lights = a luminary, light,” or “light-giver.”

This same term was used in the Greek version of the OT of the sun and the moon.

Writing to the saints at Ephesus Paul reminded them that…

Ephesians 5:8, “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”

Now notice something here.  You are “light in the Lord.”  1 John 2:5, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Light is who God is.  He is that inherently.  He is the source of all “light.”  Likewise, Jesus is light inherently.  It is who He is.

We are only “light” “in the Lord.”  We are that because of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God who indwells us.

The sun lights the day.  At night the moon shines.  But the moon has no light of its own.  It reflects to us the light of the sun.  Just like that we shine with a light that is derived from the Lord.  The moon doesn’t always shine at its full.  A full moon happens once per month when it is rightly situated between the sun and the earth.  So, Christ’s presence is you shines at full strength when you are walking closely with Him.  When you are “walking by the Spirit,” such that the Spirit—whose purpose is to mediate the presence of Jesus to us, in us, and through us—has the freedom to do that.

Note something else here.  The word “lights” is plural.  And the NASB has a side note describing the term, “Or, luminaries, stars.”

He does not say you appear as a light in the world.  He speaks in the plural because that is to be true of every believer in Christ.  Sometimes people suppose witnessing to be the job of the pastor or the missionary or those who have been specially trained.  But that’s not how God has designed things to work.  We are all to be as lights in the world.  We are all born again to bear witness of Jesus.  We are witnesses.  The only question is whether we are good ones or bad ones.

If you are outside on a dark night and you look up in the sky you see the beauty of the universe and how that infinite number of stars are scattered across the sky.  There is no place in the heavens where there are not stars.  And that’s how we see things as we gaze up into the heavens.  But if we could see things from a heavenly and spiritual perspective we would see God’s light-bearers scattered abroad in this present darkness.  He has them in their families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and classrooms.  You, believer in Christ, are one of them.  And during “the time of your stay upon earth” (as Peter puts it), as a citizen of heaven and an ambassador of Christ, have been called to shine for Jesus.

Note something else about the sun and the moon and the stars.  They shine brighter the darker it gets.  A couple of weeks ago Laura and I stayed in a remote cabin in eastern Oregon.  There was no ambient light, so it was very dark there at night.  And if you looked up at the stars it seemed as if they were brighter.  They weren’t any brighter, of course, it was the contrast that made them appear to be that way.  Just like that, this present darkness presents an advantage to us as believers inasmuch as the contrast provides for us a greater opportunity to shine.

As someone has said, “Even the smallest light can make a difference in the darkest night.”

It is our walk with Jesus that is key to our witness.  And there are things that can hinder that.

Grumbling and complaining works to hinder our light-bearing ability.

Unconfessed sin works to hinder our light-bearing ability.

A spirit of timidity works to hinder our light-bearing ability.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

3. HOLD FORTHRIGHTLY

Years ago, Christian publisher Fleming H. Revell (Dwight Moody’s brother-in-law) was about to launch a new Sunday School paper. He wanted a song that would capture the overall focus of the publication, which was to emphasize the vital importance of studying the Word of God.

The name of the paper was to be Words of Life. So, Mr. Revell asked Philip Bliss if he could come up with a song to fit, suggesting the key text, John 6:67-68. In the passage, many who had followed Christ were drifting away (vs. 66). The Lord turned to His disciples and asked, “Do you also want to go away?” And Peter made this reply on behalf of the other men: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

So, Philip Bliss wrote these words:

Sing them over again to me, Wonderful words of life; Let me more of their beauty see, Wonderful words of life.  Words of life and beauty teach me faith and duty.

Christ, the blessed One, gives to all, Wonderful words of life; Sinner, list to the loving call, Wonderful words of life.  All so freely given, wooing us to heaven.

Sweetly echo the gospel call, Wonderful words of life; Offer pardon and peace to all, Wonderful words of life.  Jesus, only Savior, Sanctify forever.

Beautiful words, wonderful words, Wonderful words of life.  Beautiful words, wonderful words, Wonderful words of life.

Indeed, the message of the gospel, these words of life are beautiful and wonderful.  There are over a million words in the English language.  And they are variously assembled to say a great many things—good things, bad things, and ugly things.  But of all the assembly of words put together none can match the beauty and power of the message of the gospel.

Paul called the gospel, the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11).  It the glorious good news (majestic, beautiful, excellent) of our praise-worthy God.

It is the matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3).  The preeminent message that is above all in the church’s priority list of concerns.  It is the message of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  It is the message of how Christ died on the cross for sins and rose from the dead to provide a means of salvation by grace through faith.

These wonderful words of life, the message of the gospel, are “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16).   By receiving this truth in putting one’s faith exclusively on Christ and the merits of His sacrifice for sin, a person is saved.  They go from death to life.  That’s what Jesus promised when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

We should note here, that the world is literally filled with “dead men walking.”  You say, “What do you mean by that?”  The Scriptures make it clear that we are all sinners by birth (Romans 3:23).  And the Scriptures also explain that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  Paul told the believers in Ephesus that they had been, before they were saved “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  He elsewhere spoke of those who are “dead while they live” (1 Timothy 5:6).  Every believer here today was once a dead man walking.  If you are here today as one who has not trusted in Jesus, you are a dead man walking.

Now how are the dead to be made alive?  God brought Ezekiel to a middle of a valley filled with dry bones.  And God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  And then God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:4).  So, Ezekiel prophesied over the bones and sinew was put on the bones and flesh grew and skin covered it.  And then Ezekiel prophesied to the breath.  And breath came into those bones and they came to life.

Now how is life brought to those dead men walking?  They look alive, but they are not truly alive.  They are spiritually dead, alienated from God, destined to die both physically and then eternally.  How are they to be made alive?  To be reconciled to God?  How are they to possess the eternal life and abundant life that is founded in the knowledge and fellowship with God?  There is only one way and it is through hearing and responding to the gospel.

Peter spoke of the experience of every believer when he said, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and abiding word of God.  For, all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of God abides forever.  And this is the word which was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25).

This was the word that was preached to you.  And do you know what happened.  You were dead in your trespasses and sins, but then you heard the word of life, the message of the gospel, and you believed.  And you were made alive together with Christ.  The word of life brought life to your dead bones.

Now the Philippians knew something about this.  Paul wrote this epistle about a decade after he had first come to that city.  And on that first visit do you know what happened?  The city was full of pagan idol worshippers who were without God and without hope in the world.  They dutifully worshipped and served gods that did not even exist.  And God brought Paul and his companions to Philippi.  They were called by God to preach the gospel, the word of life to those folks.  And they found Lydia down by the river.  And God opened her heart to the word of life.  And she responded.  And she passed from death to life.  And then they came upon the fortunetelling slave-girl.  And the shared the word of life with her.  And she passed from death to life.  And then they were put in prison.  And God caused an earthquake and the prisoners were set free.  And the jailer was fearful and was about to take his life.  And they preached the word of life to him.  And he passed from death to life.

And here’s Paul writing to this same church, nearly a decade later.  He’s in prison.  In prison as a direct result of his gospel preaching ministry.  And what is his chief concern as he sits in that prison cell?  The gospel!  In fact, the word “gospel” is used five times in chapter one of this epistle.  It is alluded to several more times.  And as Paul is his imprisoned there, God works through his circumstances to bring the gospel, the word life, to a group of people—the whole praetorian guard—who believe and pass from death to life.

Paul had come to Philippi with a message.  And when he came on that first occasion, he came purposed to share the gospel with folks that they might be saved from their sins.  And now here he is, writing to them some 10 years later—and what is his chief concern?  It is the same concern, the same purpose, the same matter of first importance, the same glorious gospel of the blessed God, the same power of God unto salvation.  He refused to be diverted from preaching it, because he had a calling from God to preach it, and because he knew what the message was able to do in the lives of those who would believe.

So, Paul writes to these believers.  He wants for them to be holding fast to the message.  He wants for them to be holding forth the message.  He yearns for that, “so that in the day of Christ, I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain” (Philippians 2:16).  Which is to say if they were not to hold fast to the word of life, he would not have cause to glory in the day of Christ, and his efforts with regard to the Philippians would have been in vain.

Note the phrase “holding fast.”  KJV has it “holding forth.”  NASB has “holding fast,” but has a note which says, “Or, holding forth.”  The phrase translates a Greek term which means to “have or hold” which is combined with another term, meaning “forth.”  As I mentioned, it is variously translated “holding fast” or “holding forth,” but the reality is that you cannot “hold forth” if you do not “hold fast.”  And we are, in fact elsewhere in Scripture exhorted to do both.

Now this is an especially pertinent matter for us.  In this age of apostasy, we need to be reminded of these things.  I’ve shared this illustration before…

The story of told of a small English village that had a tiny chapel whose stone walls were covered by traditional ivy.  Over an arch was originally inscribed the words: WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED.  There had been a generation of godly men who did precisely that: they preached Christ crucified.  But times changed.  The ivy grew and pretty soon covered the last word.  The inscription now read: WE PREACH CHRIST.  Other men came, and they did preach Christ: Christ the example, Christ the humanitarian, Christ the ideal teacher.  As the years passed, the ivy continued to grow until finally the inscription read: WE PREACH.  The generation that came along then did just that: they preached economics, social gospel, book reviews, just about anything.  We live in the later times.  The ivy has covered and obscured the message so that it is hardly discernable any more.  But regardless of what anyone else says or thinks, the word that God has given to us to believe and proclaim is Christ crucified.  There is power in that message, and that message alone, unto the salvation of souls.

Now, as I’ve shared before, this is more than an illustration.  In one of my trips to Uganda I met a missionary who was from England.  He was an older man and had grown up there, so I wanted to ask him about what I had read about—that the large churches were mostly empty, and the smaller churches were no more.  And he told me about his neighborhood when he was growing up.  And how there were a number of churches that were active not far from his home.  And now, how those churches are all gone.  And how those church buildings have been converted into a home, or a restaurant, or a bar.

And the church in England did not hold fast to the word of life. And America is headed down that same path.

There is a need to “hold fast” to the word of life.  That’s akin to what Paul was saying when he said, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

As he told Timothy, “You however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Then there is a need to be “holding forth” that to which we are “holding fast.”

At the entrance of NY Harbor, the Statue of Liberty stands, and she holds fast and forth that shining torch of liberty.

These words appear on the Statue’s pedestal.

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Her message is one of freedom in the earthly realm, but what you are to hold forth is something far better and more important.  You, Ambassador for Christ, possess this treasure—the knowledge of Christ—in your earthen vessel.  The treasure was never meant to be kept to yourself, it was meant to be shared.

CONCLUSION

At one of D.L. Moody’s meetings in America he related the story of a shipwreck on a dark and tempestuous night, when not even a star was visible. A ship was approaching the harbor of Cleveland, with a pilot on board. The captain, noticing only one light as they drew near — that from the lighthouse —asked the pilot if he was quite sure that it was Cleveland harbor, as other lights should have been burning at the harbor mouth. The pilot replied that he was quite sure, whereupon the captain enquired:

“Where are the lower lights?” “Gone out, sir,” replied the pilot.

“Can you make the harbor, then?” asked the captain, to which the pilot answered:

“We must, sir, or perish.”

Bravely the old man steered the vessel upon her course toward safety. But alas! In the darkness of the harbor mouth he missed the channel, the ship struck upon many rocks, and in the stormy waters many lives were lost.

Then Moody made his appeal to his audience: “Brothers, the Master will take care of the great lighthouse! Let us keep the lower lights burning!”

Among Moody’s hearers that evening was Mr. Philip P. Bliss, the well-known hymn writer, and the striking story at once suggested to him one of his most popular hymns:

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy

From His lighthouse evermore,

But to us He gives the keeping

Of the lights along the shore.

Lights in the World, Part 1

INTRODUCTION

“The moon is nearly 240,000 miles from Earth and is only 1/400th the size of the sun. With no light or heat of its own, it reflects the radiance of that greater heavenly body. It appears to be relatively insignificant. Yet, the moon quietly and almost imperceptibly moves the oceans of the world by its gravitational pull. Most of us may not seem all that influential or well-known. We don’t have the giftedness, the wealth, or the position to make much of an impact on our society. Our names don’t appear in the newspaper, nor are they mentioned on television. We may think that all we can do is practice our faith in the humdrum routines of everyday life. But perhaps, unnoticed by us, we are having an influence on the people around us by our Christlike attitudes and actions. Let’s not be concerned, then, about our seeming lack of influence. Instead, do what Jesus commanded: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). –Vernon C. Grounds (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)

“Even the smallest light, can make a difference in the darkest night.”

Philippians 2:14-16, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…”

MESSAGE

  1. A Crooked and Perverse Generation

Crooked.  Comes for a Greek term that was used of winding rivers or crooked roads.  Here it is used of the kind of behavior which is contrary to Gods’ standard of righteousness.  Paul, speaking of that society and all societies, says that they miss the mark when it comes to God’s standard.

Now, of course things are this way because of sin.

When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the garden they unleashed a contagion of sin in this world that has infected every person who has been born ever since.

Romans 5:12, Therefore, just as through one-man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

And the evidence of this contagion is everywhere apparent.

Before the flood.  Genesis 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  And God judged the world with that great flood.

In Sodom and Gomorrah.  Genesis 18:20, “And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.”  And God brought judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

In the time of the Judges.  Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

In Israel, as the prophet Habakkuk cried out (Habakkuk 1:2-4): “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and Thou wilt not hear?  I cry out to Thee, ‘Violence!’  Yet Thou dost not save.  Why dost Thou make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?  Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore, the law is ignored and justice is never upheld.  For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore, justice comes out perverted.”

In the time of Jesus.  Matthew 17:17, “And Jesus answered and said, ‘O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I put up with you?”

In the last days.  2 Timothy 3:1-5.  “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness.”  The passage fleshes out the meaning of the term “crooked.”  In every way there is a departure from God and His ways.

Now this is the case because of sin.  It is sin that it is the cause of all our problems.  There is something very wrong with man, in sin.  Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.”

The other term used here is the term “perverse.”  The term comes from a term which means to twist or distort.  Here it speaks to the condition in which wrong becomes right.  Now this term and this practice is readily apparent in our day.  But it has always been that way.

Isaiah 5:20, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness.”

In a perverse generation, things are turned around.  Romans 1:18-32 speaks to this.  In the downward spiral of sin what is good is rejected and what is evil is celebrated.

Romans 1:23, 25, 26, 27.

A crooked and perverse generation celebrates the practice of a perverted way of thinking and living.

In a crooked and perverse generation all kinds of perverted ways of thinking and living become the norm.

Now there are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. The children of God whom Paul addressed lived in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, but they weren’t alone. What was true for them is true for us.  What was true for them is true for believers in Christ around the world.  What is true for believers around the world will remain true until Christ returns.  So, if we are expecting anything different than that, we are going to be disappointed.  It seems to me that many of us want “heaven on earth,” but Jesus hasn’t promised that to us.  Instead he said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  And Paul said—in the context of the passage which speaks of the difficult times that would come in the last days—“And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
  2. Any response to the problems that beset us that fails to acknowledge the true source of our problems is faulty. Why are things the way they are?  Because man has a sin problem.  We are so prone misdiagnose the problem and look to other solutions than the solution that has been provided by God.  And I’m speaking here not just about the unbelieving world.  We tend to look to man and humanistic solutions to our problems, but our problem is a spiritual problem and the only One who can cure us of that problem is God Himself.  So, we look to education, supposing that if people were better educated they wouldn’t make poor choices.  Or we look to humanistic psychology or certain drugs, supposing that they can somehow cure the problem.  Or we look to humanistic philosophies or false religions supposing that they can somehow work to improve us.  Or we look to politicians and human powers and suppose that they can set things right in our world.
  3. The reality is that man has a sin problem and the only solution for man’s sin problem is Jesus. Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  When the Divine Son of God came into the world on His Divine Rescue Mission He came to rescue lost sinners.  Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  That was the purpose for which He came.  He came purposed to die on the cross for sins and rise from the dead so that we might be saved by grace through faith in Him.  Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved.”

2. The Child of God in the Midst

What happens when a person trusts in Jesus?

John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”  The most precious of all gifts and privileges is given to those who receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.  They are given the right to become children of God.  They are born again to a new identity.

1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us; that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason, the world does not know us; because it did not know Him.”  We are incredibly blessed to be called the children of God!  We take great joy in the birth of a child.  All heaven rejoices in the new birth of the child of God!  There is no greater blessing.  Jesus said this regarding John the Baptist—“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).  You’ve been born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine.  Justified fully through Calvary’s love.  Oh, what a blessing is mine (and yours).

When a person trusts in Jesus they gain a new identity and a new calling.  Notice what doesn’t happen when a person trusts in Jesus—they are not instantly taken physically to heaven.  We are still here.  So, God has a purpose for us here, until He returns for us.

John 16:15, “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

This is the text from which we get the phrase “in the world but not of the world.”

So that’s our reality.  We are children of God living in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  We are to live according to this identity and calling for God’s purpose of bearing witness of Jesus.

Now make no mistake about it.  Jesus has called His church and those who belong to it to bear witness of Him.  Acts 1:8. The church exists in this world—in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation—until the time of His return to bear witness of Him.

In this sense we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  We are citizens of heaven, eagerly awaiting His return (Philippians 3:20).  This world is not our home, in fact we are “aliens and strangers” here (1 Peter 2:11).  As Ambassadors for Christ our chief duty is to represent the interests of the One who called us, the Lord Jesus.  We are to bear witness of Him—by our lives and with our lips (in that order).

Now there have been a lot of differing perspectives when it comes to this “in the world, but not of the world” approach to things.

  1. There is what we might call the “out of the world but not of the world” approach. We call this the monastical approach.  The monks in the monastery sequestered themselves in a place divorced from all worldly influence and involvement.  The modern-day Amish folks live according to this same philosophy.  But this is clearly not God’s design.   It’s not even possible.  When Paul addressed the problem of gross immorality that had occurred in the church in Corinth, he said this: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for them you would have to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10).

It seems to me that the church in America has fallen into an “us vs. them” way of thinking when it comes to the lost.  But our “struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against” the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

There is a great example of the wrong spirit when it comes to interacting with this crooked and perverse generation in Luke 9:51-56.

  1. There is what we might call the “in the world and of the world” approach. In our day this translates into the cultural relevant approach that has captivated much of the church in recent years.  According to this way of thinking the key thing we need to do if we are to reach the lost is to make ourselves culturally relevant.  Books have been written, like the book “Dying for Change.”  The so-called “cursing pastor,” was using that approach when he cursed in his sermons.  One author supposed that the most important thing we need to do when planting a church is to determine the kind of music the people wanted to hear.  But this approach has been a disaster for the church.  Nowhere in Scripture do we find God calling His people to be more like the people around them so that they might have an influence on them unto salvation.  Instead we read of how radically different they are to be in Christ.

When God judged Ananias and Sapphira for deliberately and secretly withholding part of their offering we are told that “great fear came upon the whole church” (Acts 5:11).  Then we read, “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”  The church and those who belonged to it were clearly distinguished from those who did not belong to the church.

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 speaks to what should happen if an unbeliever were to enter an assembly and hear the word.

According to our text we are to “prove ourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach” that we might shine like lights in this crooked and perverse generation.  In the world, but not of the world.

  1. There is what we might call the “in the world and out of the world on Sunday” approach. This is the approach where religious observance is substituted for a sincere ongoing walk with Christ.  This is where a person calls himself a Christian and does Christian things, but his walk with Jesus is nothing but an afterthought—there is no reality or vitality to it.  There can be no shining as a light for Jesus because the light is not on inside.

 

  1. Then finally there is the legitimate “in the world, but not of the world” approach. We are here.  We are here by God’s design.  We are here according to God’s purpose to bear witness of Him.  We are here to be lights shining in the darkness.

Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck measure, but on a lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Now the only way that we can do that is to live rightly (blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach); shine brightly; and speak precisely.

CONCLUSION

Having said all of that, let me close with an illustration of what I’m talking about.  Years ago, when I worked at Trojan Nuclear Plant, I struggled with working in such a difficult environment.  Most of my fellow workers were unbelievers.  In fact, when I first started working in the training department there was just two of us who were born-again.  But I had a friend, Max Snook, who worked in Quality Assurance.  Max is now, and has been ever since those days, the pastor of St. Helens Community Church.  But Max understood something of what it means to live as a child of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  He went to work purposing to share Jesus with other people.  He was joined in that effort by another fellow, Bill Craft.  They would have Bible Study every day during lunch.  And God granted them many opportunities to share the gospel.  And people came to faith and trusted in Jesus.  They were in the world, but not of the world.  They were proving themselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in that environment.  They were shining brightly for Jesus.  They were holding forth the Word of Life.  And God used them.  And God wants to use you too.

People need Jesus.  God has strategically put you in a place as His ambassador that others might come to know Him through you.  You might be the only Christian witness some of your family and friends will ever see or hear from.  Go.  Shine brightly for Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

If you were accused of being a Christian would there be any evidence by which you could be convicted?

As a child of God is there a discernible difference in your life—in the way you think, in the way you walk, in the say that you talk?

God has called you to a different manner of life.  He has called you to be a child of light

Why Not Grumble?

Philippians 2:14

INTRODUCTION

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence.  After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?”

The monk replied, “Food bad.”

After another 10 years the monk again had an opportunity to voice his thoughts and he said to his superior, “Bed hard.”

Another 10 years passed by and again he was called before his superior.  What asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.”

To which the superior replied, “That doesn’t surprise me a bit, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”

We are prone to grumble and complain…such is the universal condition of men in sin.  Adults grumble.  Teens grumble.  Children grumble.  Poor people grumble.  Rich people grumble too.  We grumble about all kinds of things—our work, the weather, our food, the government, the cost of things, our illnesses, how we are treated, etc. etc.  For some, grumbling is as natural a thing as breathing.  Some have a special gift when it comes to grumbling and complaining.  But grumbling is not a spiritual gift.

What is grumbling?  Philippians 2:14 uses two terms to describe this kind of behavior.

Grumbling is from the Greek term “gongusmos,” which means “to mutter, murmur, grumble, say anything in a low tone.”  The word is an onomatopoeic word, which means the sound of the word is akin to its meaning.

Disputing is from the Greek term “dialogismos” and is related to our English word “dialog.”  It speaks to an inward reasoning that differs with others and leads to arguments and such.  Our English word is defined as engaging in an argument.

The two terms are related.  The disputing term speaks to our thinking, in which we find ourselves in disagreement with God or others, the grumbling term has to do with the expression of those complaints.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of this kind of behavior:

In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus told a parable in which He compared the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who owned a vineyard.  He hired laborers to take care of his vineyard.  Though differing groups of laborers were hired at different times of the same day, they all received the same amount of pay.  So, the ones who were hired first “grumbled at the landowner” and went on to express their displeasure (Cf. Matthew 20:11).

The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus’ disciples when they saw Jesus reclining at the table with tax-gatherers and sinners (Cf. Luke 5:30).

Some of Jesus’ followers grumbled in response to Jesus’ teaching that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they were to gain eternal life (Cf. John 6:54-61).

“Grumble” is the same word used in the Greek version of the OT of the murmuring of Israel.  Exodus 16:2-3, “And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  And the sons of Israel said to them, “What that we would have died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread in full; for you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger.”

This passage serves as a good case study when it comes to this issue.  What were those people grumbling and disputing about?  That problem started with a lack of food to eat.  Instead of trusting God and asking of Him, they began to think about how unfairly they were being treated.  They thought they deserved far better than what they were getting.  They complained to Moses and Aaron, though their complaints were ultimately directed to God Himself.

Their example encompasses the kind of behavior that is spoken of in Philippians 2:14. Disputing is a reasoning in our minds that tends to disagreement with God about His dealings with us.  Grumbling is the expression of such thoughts either to God or to others.

MESSAGE: Why not grumble?

  1. Because grumbling is a sin

It is sinful to grumble and dispute.

Grumbling and disputing is sinful behavior.  Both terms here are present tense imperatives.

Your Creator God.  The One who sent His Son to die for your sins.  The One who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  The One who had adopted you.  Who has privileged you to be called a child of God.  The One who is richly supplying all your needs and watching over the affairs of your life.  This God is speaking to you, His child, saying, “Do all things without grumbling and disputing.”  And to do otherwise is to sin.

Not only is it sinful to grumble and dispute, it is at the heart of our sin problem.  It is good to remind ourselves how this whole sin problem started.  Adam and Eve were doing well in the garden of Eden until the Devil came along.  And then he planted a seed of doubt into Eve’s mind.  They had everything they needed and enjoyed perfect fellowship with God, but then the Devil suggested to Eve that God was holding out on them.  If she were only to take of the apple and eat, then she too would be like God.  So, she and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and sin entered into the world.  And ever since men have been born into the world as sinners, possessing in sin an inherent distrust and rebellion against God.

Grumbling and disputing—in whatever it is about—is directed ultimately towards God.  It is either a distrust in Him or an expression of displeasure when it comes to His dealings with us.  That’s not to say that there is no place for communicating with God when it comes to such things, but there is a better way to do that.  Later in the epistle Paul speaks to this in Philippians 4:6. Instead of grumbling and disputing or being anxious, we should pray, and we should pray with an attitude of thankfulness.  We go to Him in humble faith, never demanding our supposed “rights,” but reminding ourselves that God doesn’t owe us a thing—He’s been very gracious to us in saving us.  That’s why Lamentations 3:39 says, “Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?”  We are all doing better than we deserve.  And instead of grumbling and disputing we should be “overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:7).

Grumbling and disputing is always a sin.

Note the command—“Do ALL things without grumbling and disputing.”  It does not say do some things.  Nor does it say do most things.  It says ALL things and ALL means ALL.

In this respect it’s kind of like some other commands.  “Never take your own revenge” (Romans 12:19).  “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6).  “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).

This applies to all of us.  Children are to obey their parents without grumbling and disputing.  That means doing your chores in a glad-hearted manner.  And it matters not if other children grumble when they are asked to do such things.  The child of God is called to higher plane of living.

Employees are to do their jobs without grumbling and disputing.  I served in the US Navy for six years in the submarine service.  A submarine is arguably one of the worst environments to put a human being.  And submariners are amongst the worst most proficient grumblers.  One day a friend of mine and me—making note of this fact—purposed to go through our day without complaining about anything.  No complaining about unreasonable officers.  No complaining about the lack of sleep.  No complaining about the bad food.  No complaining about the boring and tedious watches.  Needless to say, we didn’t make it through the whole day.  But as God’s children, God’s purpose for us is that we rise about the temptation to grumble about our circumstances.

We Americans are especially adept at grumbling.  And it is an incredible to consider how good we are at it.  Though we live in arguably the most prosperous country in the world and in the history of the world, you could hardly tell by the way that we behave.  You’d think, by the manner in which we are given to such things, that we were in some kind of severe distress.  But for the most part we Americans are well-fed and well-clothed and well-provided for.  I’m thinking that most of the world would be glad to walk in our shoes. Yet we grumble and dispute and complain about things all the time.

We are to serve the Lord without grumbling and disputing.  According to Romans 12:1-2 we are to present out bodies a living and holy sacrifice unto Him.  Our giving, our serving, our witnessing, our work is all to be done cheerfully, giving thanks to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity and privilege of serving Him.  Our example is the Lord Jesus Himself.  Where do we find Him grumbling or disputing?

We shouldn’t frankly grumble about anything.  God is sovereignly overseeing the affairs of your life.  He causes all things to work together for good.  You can always trust Him.

It is a serious sin.

We tend to think of grumbling as a minor thing, but we shouldn’t.

In Numbers chapter 16 we read of a man named Korah and his followers.  They were unhappy in their circumstances and displeased with Moses and Aaron.  So Korah tried to usurp Moses in his leadership.  And do you know what happened?  God judged them. He caused the earth to swallow them up.  Then others grumbled against Moses, faulting him for their death.  So, God sent a plague than eventually took the lives of 15,000 people.  This grumbling is serious stuff.

But oh, you say, this is a different dispensation, God is not as much concerned about such things today.  But Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth: “Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved…And do not be idolaters…Nor let us act immorally…Nor let us try the Lord…Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example and were written for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).

God hates grumbling and disputing.  It’s a sin.  We need to think about it as such.

  1. Because grumbling stifles our growth in Christ

Look at verse 14 in its context.

The context before: God is at work in you both to will and work for his good pleasure.  God is working out your salvation.  He’s doing everything necessary, our part is to trust Him and obey.

The context after: God has called as His children to bear witness of the Lord Jesus.  We can hardly expect to do a good job bearing witness of Jesus if we are busy grumbling and disputing all the time.

Grumbling and disputing works against our spiritual growth because it is the wrong response to God in the trials that we face.

The fact is that we all face trials of various kinds.  Trials in the life of unbeliever work for no good purpose unless they are used of God to lead that person to a saving knowledge of Jesus.  But it is different when it comes to trials in the life of the believer.   Our Sovereign God uses the trials that we face to grow us up into Christ-like maturity.  James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Now, generally speaking, we can respond to any trial that we face in one of two ways.  We can either trust God or give way to temptation.  We either trust God in the trial or we respond in giving way to temptation in a variety of sinful ways.  And amongst those various responses is this common response—we grumble.

Now here’s the problem.  God loves you.  He has called you.  You are His child.  He is patiently working in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.  We can be confident that He will complete the work that He has started in us.  In the meantime, there is the work He is doing in making us to be like Christ.  That is not a simple thing.  The Spirit of God applies the Word of God to our hearts and through trials He works to grow us up into Christ-like maturity.

Philippians 2:13 is a sovereignty of God verse.  God is sovereignly orchestrating the affairs of your life.  He’s got it all in control.  Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13. God is intimately involved in the affairs of your life.  So much so that He won’t allow any trial or temptation to enter your life that is beyond what you can handle.  He is faithful in that.  You can count on Him to not allow anything to happen in your life that is beyond your capacity to bear—in dependence on the Spirit and His all-sufficient grace.  He will provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.

He is at work in you.  He’s the Master Potter.  You are the clay.  As with the days of your life, round and round goes the wheel.  And there’s the gentle yet firm work of the Spirit, as fingers working the clay.  And through the trials of life He patiently works to conform you to the image of Christ.  It is not a simple thing.  It is not an easy thing.  It’s going to take some radical inside-out rearranging.  Those difficulties and trials are all a part of that.  You are the clay.  Imagine a piece of clay murmuring and disputing with its potter.  Why should we not gladly cooperate and submit to the work of the All-Wise and All-Loving Master Potter?  F. B. Meyer, “Whenever, therefore, you are in doubt as to the meaning of certain circumstances through which you are called to pass, and which are strange and inexplicable, be still; refrain from murmuring or repining ; hush the many voices that would speak within ; and listen until there is borne in on your soul a persuasion of God’s purpose; and let his Spirit within co-operate with the circumstance without.”

Here’s the ultimate problem with grumbling and disputing.  You aren’t going to win any arguments that you have with God.  Jonah is a good example of this.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh.  Jonah said no, I’m not going.  Who won that argument?  Jonah went to Nineveh but in his dispute with God he ended up going the hard way—through the belly of a whale!

“Dealing with difficult situations,” by Andrew Murray:

  1. Realize that God brought me here. It is by His will I am in this place: in that fact I will rest.
  2. Realize that He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
  3. Realize that He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons that He intends me to learn, and working in me that grace He means to bestow.
  4. In His good time, He can bring me out again – how and when – He knows.

A young man who was trying to establish himself as a peach grower had worked hard and invested all his money in a peach orchard.  It blossomed wonderfully but then came a killing frost.  He didn’t go to church the next Sunday, nor the next, nor the next.  His pastor went to see him to discover the reason.  The young fellow said, “I’m not coming any more.  Do you think I can worship a God who cares so little for me that He would let a frost kill all my peaches?”  The old minister looked at him for a few minutes in silence, the kindly said, “God loves you better than He does your peaches.  He knows that while peaches do better without frosts, it is impossible to grow the best men without frosts.  His object is to grow men, not peaches.”  We are so concerned with our immediate and temporal needs and problems, that we might fail to realize that God is at work and that He caused all things to work together for good in our lives, that we might be conformed to the image of His Son.

“Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by?”

  1. Because grumbling undermines our Witness for Christ

According to Acts 1:8, the mission of the church here on earth is to bear witness of Jesus.  God has called us to be His ambassadors, to be as lights shining in this present darkness.

Look at Philippians 2:15—“that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”  We live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  It has been that way and it will continue to be that way until Jesus’ return.  We are privileged to serve God in this manner.  It’s not our job to complain about the darkness, our job is to shine for Jesus.  Our job is to bear witness of Him wherever we go.

God has strategically placed each one of us in positions where we might serve Him according to this purpose.  When Dr. John Mitchell served as president of Multnomah Bible College one of his students came to him with a problem.  He asked Dr. Mitchell to pray for him that God might provide him with a different job.  It seems that he was forced to work in a difficult environment surrounded by nothing but unbelievers.  He had to put up with a lot of cursing and swearing and rude language.  Dr. Mitchell surprised the man in his response, saying, “I’m not going to pray that God will take you out of that place, but that God will keep you there where God has provided you a unique opportunity to bear witness for Jesus Christ.”

But maintaining a credible witness involves more than simply being able to recite the four spiritual laws.  We bear witness both by our lips and our lives.  And what we do in our lives is even more important than what we say with our lips.  There is a conduct befitting the gospel (Cf. Philippians 1:27).  There ought to be a difference in the behavior of the Christian.  We are called to that: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk” (Ephesians 4:17).

This difference applies to our conduct in many ways:

  • In the way that we love one another (John 13:34-35).
  • In the hope we possess (1 Peter 3:15).
  • In the wisdom we exercise in our conduct (Colossians 4:5).
  • In our blameless and innocent, above reproach conduct (Philippians 2:15).
  • And in our thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In a world that is given to grumbling and disputing, we as God’s children, are called to a very different kind of behavior.  There is something very attractive and winsome to gratefulness.  What does the world see in you when you are confronted by difficult circumstances?  Do people see you grumbling and disputing, or do they see you trusting and thanking?  You either adorn the gospel or distract from it depending on your response.

The unbeliever instinctively knows that it is inconsistent for a believer (by definition “one who trusts God”) to grumble and complain in his or her difficulties.  Years ago, I came across this letter to Dear Abby: “Dear Abby, I work in the medical profession where the profession is supposed to be sympathetic and caring, right?  Well, as I write this letter, a co-worker is cursing and complaining about the blanket-blank patients, the working conditions, the shortage of help, space, telephones, etc.  But what really bugs me most about this woman is the fact that she is a devout churchgoer.  Her conversations are always peppered with “the Lord this” and “the Lord that.”  I have great difficulty understanding the inconsistencies between her professed faith and her actions.  Although I am not an active member of my church, I wouldn’t treat a dog the way that this woman treats people.”

Every month some ladies from our church meet at a restaurant for a Ladies’ Lunch.  They rotate the venue from month to month so that meeting is held at different locations.  Some months ago, they had an especially large gathering.  And the restaurant wasn’t adequately prepared for that number of diners.  They didn’t have sufficient staff to cook and serve the ladies.  Some had to wait as long as an hour to get their meal.  But the ladies were gracious and understanding in their dealings with the waiter.  They didn’t withhold their tips.  And in doing that they adorned the gospel.  They maintained a credible witness before the staff.  What would have happened if they had grumbled and complained instead?  As people are oftentimes prone to do.

CONCLUSION

If you are like me, you grumble and complain too much.  We, as believers, have good reason to be thankful.  By God’s grace we are all doing better than we deserve.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).

We have good reason to be overflowing with gratitude, giving thanks in everything!

Why not grumble?

  • Because grumbling is sinful!
  • Because grumbling stifles your growth in Christ.
  • Because grumbling silences your witness for Jesus.

“Do all things without grumbling and disputing.”

Your Work and God’s, Part 2

Philippians 2:12-13

INTRODUCTION

John Newton, “I’m a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior!”

Salvation is a miracle.  By a miracle of God’s grace, a rebel sinner is forgiven, transformed, and brought into God’s presence.

It is a miracle in every tense—past, present, and future.

It is a miracle when those who are dead in their sins are made alive together with Christ and forgiven of their sins.

It is a miracle when the Spirit works in us transforming us from one state of glory to the next unto Christlikeness.

It is a miracle when Christ transforms the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.

Sanctification is no less a miracle than justification or glorification.  None of them are possible apart from God’s grace and the inner-working of the Spirit of God.

According to Ephesians 4:22-24 sanctification involves the putting off of sin, the renewing of the mind, and the putting on of Christlikeness.

But here’s the problem.  Sin is too tenacious and overwhelming of a foe.  Christlikeness is elusive and impossible for us as an objective.

The Christian life is sometimes compared to a race that we are to run.  To run with endurance.  But it is impossible for any of us to run the race with endurance were it not for God working in us.

The Christian life is sometimes compared to a good fight to be fought.  There is the need to finish the fight and keep the faith.  But none of us could ever hope to do that apart from the inner working of God in our lives.

We are prone to think of our Christianity on the horizontal plane.  That it is up to us in our own strength to do certain things not do certain things to reach our objective.  We need to try harder to be and do better.  But that’s not the way that God has designed things to work.  Apart from the Lord Jesus we can’t do a thing.  The Christian life is instead a walk of faith in which we walk by the Spirit in submission, yieldedness, trust, and obedience.

Fortunately, it is not up to us to do the work.  God is at work in us to will and to work.  God is at work in us to will.  That willingness when it comes to the things of God comes from Him.  He planted that there in your heart.  You see others living their lives as if there is no God.  They have no concern for Him or desire for Him.  God did a good work in you when He brought life to your soul.  Not only did He implant in you a willingness, He is even now at work in you to direct you in His will.  The Spirit Himself, the Helper, indwells you.  And He speaks in a still, small voice leading you in the will of God.

And God is at work in you to work.  He is at work in you.  Not on you.  Not against you.  In you.  This impossible task of sanctification is possible because God is at work in you.

SERMON

  1. God is at Work in You

“It is God”

It is God, the creator of all things, who is at work in you.  When it comes to your salvation, others—fellow believers, church leaders, etc.—have a role.  But ultimately it is God who is at work.

And how incredible is this truth!  The God of all creation is at work in you.  The One who raised Christ from the dead is at work in you.  The One who works all things according to the council of His will is at work in you.  Look, how vast is His universe!  He rules over it all.  Yet He has taken a person interest in you and me as His children with respect to our salvation.

Note what it says—“He is at work IN you.”  Note that it does not say that He is at work ON you.  Or, TO you.  Or, TOWARDS you.  Or, even FOR you.”  It says IN you.

This work of salvation is not a religious thing.  It is not about going to church and doing other religious things and being conformed on the outside to some kind of religious template of what we think a religious person should be.

It is the inside-out transformation into Christ’s image that works to change every part of us—body, soul and spirit.  1 Thessalonians 5:23, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He is at work in us by the Spirit who indwells us.  And make no mistake about it—this work of sanctification is a Spirit-led and empowered work.  There is no other way by which it can happen.  But by the Spirit God has purposed to take us, rebel sinners that we were, and transform us into conformity with Christ and His glory.  2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

God is at work in you.  The term translated work is related to our word “energy.”  It means “to energize, to work effectively.”  He is at work in us.  He is effectively working in us to accomplish His purpose with respect to salvation.  In Ephesians chapter 2 we read of the grace and mercy of God.  How He has taken us, who were dead in our trespasses and sins, and saved us.  He made us alive together with Christ (2:5).  We are reminded in verses 8-9 that salvation is by grace through faith, and not of works.  And then in verse 10 we have this wonderful statement, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.”

We are His workmanship.  We are His “work of art.”  We are His “masterpiece.”  The same term translated “workmanship” here is used in Romans 1:20 in describing God’s creation.  And as God’s creation works to display His eternal power and divine attributes, so God is at work in you to that same end.  We are His workmanship.  You are His workmanship.  You have been born again to that.  And He is at work in you that His glory might be revealed in and through you.

And when it comes to this matter of salvation all the resources of the Godhead have been availed to the believer.  In His working God has left nothing out.  2 Peter 1:3-4, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence.  For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”

So, beloved, God is at work in you…

  • He’s at work in you according to His plan. Romans 8:28-30.  “God causes all things to work together for good.”  He’s at work in you.  Note the repetition here in verses 29-30.  And note here God’s grand objective for you—to be conformed to the image of His Son.  But God is working in you.  He foreknew.  He predestined.  He called.  He justified.  He glorified.  He’s at work in you and there is no one who can stand in His way (8:31).  He’s at work in you and He will give all and do all necessary to finish the work that He started (8:32).
  • He’s at work in you by His grace. Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and 2:10. Look at all that God has done in you by His grace!  To His glory!  The riches of His grace being manifest in you.  It’s all by grace.  Your salvation.  Your spiritual gifts.  Your Christian growth.  The grace prepared for you in His coming again.  Every good work that you will ever do.  “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe it all to thee.”  He is even now working by His grace in you.  1 Corinthians 15:9-10.
  • He’s at work in you according to His power. Ephesians 3:19-21.
  • He’s at work in you as a loving father. Hebrews 12:1-10.  Earthly fathers discipline their own children as seems best to them.  Our heavenly father is at work in us.  He disciplines us according to His love that we might share His holiness.
  • He’s at work in you as a great physician. Jeremiah 17:9-10.  Hebrews 4:12-13.
  • He’s at work in you as a master potter. Jeremiah 18:1-4.
  • He’s at work in you as a divine husbandman. John 15:1-5.
  • He’s at work in you by the Spirit. This work of Sanctification is a work of the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18. 2 Thessalonians 2:13.  Philippians 3:3.

Joel Hemphill, “He’s still working on Me, to make me what I ought to be.  It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars, the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.  How loving and perfect He must be, cause He’s still working on me.”

  1. God is at work in you to will

Verse 12 speaks to an obedience to the Lord that is at the heart level.

Verse 14 speaks to how we are “to do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

The verse is speaking to a God-given, Spirit-imparted, willingness and affection for the things of God.

Note that we did not previously have such a thing.  Colossians 1:21. Rebel-sinners have no interest whatsoever in doing that which is pleasing to God.  Something must be done to change that.

God is the initiator in all things spiritual.  John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”  It is the Spirit who convicts of sin and presses upon the sinner the need to find salvation.  It is the Spirit who opens blinded eyes to the glory of the Lord Jesus.  It is by the Spirit that a person is born again.  And that person is, from that point forward, indwelt by the Spirit.

Years ago, that great Theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled “The Religious Affections.”  In that book he addressed the affections for the things of God that give evidence of a person’s born-again condition—a desire for obedience, for the Word, for fellowship, etc.

A great example of what we are talking about is evidenced in what happened at Pentecost.  The Apostle Peter delivered his great sermon to a group of Jews.  Amongst his hearers were some who had previously mocked and insulted Jesus.  Peter indicted them, saying that they themselves had nailed Jesus to the cross (Acts 2:23).  And as Peter preached the Spirit was working to convict of sin and open the eyes of these folks to the glory of Jesus.  And they believed in Jesus and were saved.  And the first thing we read about these new believers is of their devotion to Jesus (Acts 2:42).  They had previously cursed and mocked Him, but now they love Him and are continually devoted to hearing His Word, fellowshipping with His people, and sharing in His communion.  God was at work in them to will.

Now when it comes to the things of God we need to understand this simple dynamic.  “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  The flesh has no interest in the things of God.  And we still, as believers, have the flesh.  There is a part of us—having to do with self-interests and self-wisdom and self-effort—that has no interest in the things of God.  Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”  In writing to believers, Paul said, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17).

Unfortunately, religious self-effort (the flesh) is man’s fallback position when it comes to doing the things of God.  The church of Galatia, having been misled and deceived by false teachers, gravitated towards this.  Galatians 3:3, “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  They were trying to do that.  But to do such a thing is impossible because, as we have already noted, the flesh has no interest in the things of God.

This approach, attempting to substituting religious self-effort for that which can only be done by the Spirit, characterizes the day in which we live.   The Apostle Paul spoke to this when he wrote of the nature of things in the last days.  He said that people would be “holding to a form of godliness (or, religion), although they have denied its power.”  In other words, they would be externally religious, but their faith in God would be lacking and so would be any divine spiritual power associated with it.

Webster’s defines “willing” as being “inclined or favorably disposed in mind.”  From the divine perspective God has done and is doing everything necessary that we, as believers, might be “inclined and favorably disposed in mind” to the things that he is doing.  Having been indwelt by the Spirit of God we have a Helper who is with us, in us, always working lead and empower us.  He is the divine cheerleader when it comes to the things of God.  And He resides in us.  He mediates the presence of Christ to us and through us.  He is well able and divinely motivated in love in what He is doing.  He is purposed to transform us into the very image of Christ.  And if there is a problem when it comes to our own willingness, the problem lies on our side of the equation, not God’s.

The Spirit is at work in us not just to make us willing, but to lead us in the particulars of God’s will.  Romans 12:1-2.  As the Spirit of God works through the Word of God to renew our minds, he works that we might “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  He leads in our prayers.  Romans 8:26-27, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  God is at work in us to will.  The Spirit not only makes us willing, when it comes to the things of God, He leads us in the particulars of God’s will.  He is able to put that in our hearts so that we know and do His will.

We’ve said it before.  Everything that God has given for us to do as believers is to be done “by the Spirit.”  And, according to that reality, it is important that He have the freedom to do what He has purposed to do.  To be filled with Him and to walk with Him is to put ourselves in a position of reckoning ourselves dead to self and utterly dependent on Him to lead and empower us.

How thankful we should be for this reality—that God is at work in us “to will.”  Were it not for His work how could we ever make the journey.  The journey is too long, the obstacles too great, our frailties too many.  We’d long ago have given up.  But we find in the Spirit One who is always working to turn out attention back to Jesus.  In a still small voice He speaks to us in our discouraging times.  He kindles afresh a love for Jesus in our hearts so that we might say to God, when it comes to the things of God, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

What if you are not in this place?  1 John 5:3 says, “His commandments are not burdensome.”  But what if they are to you.  What is there is no willingness?  What if everything has become nothing more than religious obligation.  You’ve tried harder to be better, but you have no heart for the things of God—no desire for the Word, or fellowship, or prayer.  No yearnings for God.  No heart for truth.  Then it’s time for some Spirit-led self-examination.  Are you born again?  Have you sincerely trusted in Jesus for salvation?  And if you have, have you grieved or quenched the Spirit?  Have your sins piled up without confession to God (1 John 1:9).  Don’t be satisfied with a form of Christianity that is nothing more than going through the motions, God has designed and equipped us for something far better than that.

  1. God is at work in you to work

In verse 12 we are exhorted to “work out our salvation.”  But verse 13 makes it clear that there cannot be any working out without God working in.

Not only is God at work in the sense of “willing” us to do, He is at work in the “doing” part also.

Any work done by us can be traced ultimately back to God.  Apart from His intervention there are no “good works” done by man (at least in so far as God defines good).  Romans 3:12, “There is none who does good, there is not even one.”

But the born-again believer, the child of God indwelt by the Spirit, is a new creation of God.  He’s been saved by God’s grace to do good works by God’s grace.

The same Greek term is used here as is used earlier in the verse.  God is working effectively in you to work effectively for His good pleasure.  And it is important to understand that this is all by God’s grace.  Every aspect of salvation is by God’s grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9 speaks to the justification side of things when it says that salvation is by grace through faith.  Ephesians 2:10 speaks to the sanctification part of the matter.  And note what it says.  The good works that God has for us to do are good works prepared ahead of time by Him.  We can take no credit for the doing of them.

This dynamic with respect to God’s working is best illustrated by what we see in John chapter 15.  God wants us to bear fruit.  In fact, the text speaks to fruit (15:2), more fruit (15:2); much fruit (15:8) and abiding fruit (15:16).  There are two key terms in the passage: fruit and abide.  Now when it comes to fruit we can relate this to varying aspects of the Christian life: salvation; the fruit of the Spirit; Christian growth; Christian witness; good works; love for one another—all things that flow out of our relationship with Jesus.

Now the illustration that is used to describe this relationship between Christ and us is that of a vine and branches.  So, when it comes to fruit-bearing, in whatever sense we want to understand that, the key is abiding in Christ.  It is our relationship to Him that makes the difference when it comes to fruit bearing.  In fact, apart from that relationship there can be no fruit, as Jesus made clear: “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (15:5).  But if we abide in Him, by abiding in His Word and abiding in His love (15:7-9), then we are in a position in which divine power and divine love can flow through us such that good fruit is produced—not by us, but by God.

So, the key to working out our salvation is never trying harder to be better in our own strength.  They key is abiding in Christ and depending on Him and allowing Him to use us as He will.

This is all according to what Paul later wrote: “I’ve been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).  So, Christ lives in me.  I do not work in my own strength.  I don’t have the strength.  Apart from Jesus I can’t do a thing.  Instead I work according to the “strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11).  I work according to the truth of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Let me share with you another text that speaks to this dynamic.  When it comes to this work of salvation, God is doing a work in you that transcends our ability to comprehend.  He has purposed to fill you up—and I speak to believers in Christ—to all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).  Now that that is a reality that goes way beyond our capacity to imagine.  What does it mean to be filled up to all the fullness of God?  We’ll find out when we are in glory with Jesus.  In the mean time we understand that God is doing a work that is exceeding, abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).  Now note in the text the means by which He is doing that work is “according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).  The term “works” translates the same term we find in Philippians 2:13. The term “power” translates the Greek term “dunamis” (which speaks to power, force, or ability).  The same term is used in Romans 1:20 in speaking of the power of God by which He created all things.  It is used in Ephesians 1:19 where it speaks of “the surpassing greatness of His power” that was revealed in His raising Jesus from the dead.  So, His creative power and resurrection power is at work in us.  He is working in us.  And note this—what He has purposed to do in us could never happen any other way.  Salvation, in every tense, is a miracle.  And we don’t have to wonder as to God’s desire or ability to do it.  The question is our we willing to trust Him?   The question is our we on board with His dying to self and allowing the Spirit to fill us and to lead us and empower us.  Are we willing to submit ourselves to Him in the work that He is doing?  Are we willing to put ourselves in a position of absolute dependence on Him in the work that He is doing?

CONCLUSION

Now this work in you, to will and work, is to an even grander purpose.  It is to His good pleasure.

The term that is used here is used 2X in Ephesians chapter 1 (1:5 and 1:9).  There it is translated “kind intention.”

What is this good pleasure, this kind intention, of God?  He’s doing all that He is doing to reveal in and through you the true nature of His character.  To reveal His glory.  Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14, 2:7; 2:10; 3:10.

His work in us pleases Him.  We are His workmanship, His “work of art” (Ephesians 2:10).  He is the Master Potter, we are the clay.  He’s got a great purpose for us—to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).  That work, and its ultimate goal, is something that brings pleasure to Him.  It is good inasmuch as nothing better works to reveal His goodness (Psalm 119:68) and glory of His grace than the salvation of sinners and their subsequent transformation, by His grace, unto Christlikeness.

Since it is God’s good pleasure to work in us in such manner, it is befitting that we should cooperate with Him in the work that He is now doing in us.  So, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, seeking always to do that which pleases Him (2 Corinthians 5:9).

 

Your Work and God’s

Philippians 2:12-13

INTRODUCTION

“Your salvation.”

Is there anything of greater importance or value than this?

In the negative sense you have been saved from sin’s guilt and God’s wrath.

In the positive sense you are being saved from sin’s power unto eternal glory.

This salvation has come to you as a gift from God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for your sins.

And you now possess this salvation.  But what are you to do with it?  How are you to work it out?  What does God expect from you?  What are the attitudes and actions that God expects from you with respect to this treasured possession you now possess?

Before we dig deeper into this passage we need to explain a few things:

The “so then” in verse 12 is important.  It refers back to what we learned regarding the Lord Jesus in His humility and subsequent exaltation.  We see how He did what He did “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  And that obedience is a key theme in our passage.  We are called to follow in the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, amongst other things, we are to follow Him in His example of obedience.  We are to be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He has been set before us as an example in every way and in this particular way also.  He obeyed.  We are called to obedience.

The “my beloved” identifies Paul’s audience to be those who have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ.  Those who have been “born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine,” as the song puts it.  They are those who experienced the inner-working of the Spirit.  They were born of the Spirit and indwelt by the Spirit.  Philippians 2:12-13 is addressed to believers.  It is only those who God has first worked in, with respect to salvation, that can subsequently work out their salvation.

A key phrase in the text is this: “work out your salvation.”  And that has caused some confusion.  Some misread this and erroneously suppose that we are to somehow work for our salvation.  But that would contradict other Scriptures.  Ephesians 2:8-9 for example, which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”  Likewise, Titus 3:4-5, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

We’ve stated it this way: “Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.”  It is not by works.

So how are you to understand this call to “work out your salvation?”  A key is to understand salvation in its three tenses.  The author of Hebrews speaks of salvation this way: “Hence, also, He is able to save forever (or, to the uttermost) those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).

So, what are the various aspects of this “salvation to the uttermost?”  There are three tenses to salvation:

Past tense.  Justification.  Salvation from the penalty of sin.  When a person puts their trust in Jesus for salvation they are “once for all” declared to be righteous on the basis of their relationship to Jesus Christ.  His righteousness is imputed to that person.  Romans 5:1, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Future tense.  Glorification.  Salvation from the presence of sin.  There will come a day—either by your own death or through the rapture—when you are brought into the presence of the Lord Jesus.  And a marvelous thing will happen on that day, as Philippians 3:21 puts it: “(He) will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”  As with justification, this is a “moment in time” kind of thing.  It will happen all at once.

Present tense.  Sanctification.  Salvation from the practice of sin.  In theological terms we speak of this as “progressive sanctification,” since it incremental.  It is a work of the Spirit by which we are practically set apart from sin and unto Christlikeness.  Let me highlight a couple of texts having to do with this.  1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”  2 Thessalonians 2:13b, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”

Now our text lies in the realm of this aspect of salvation.  The sanctification part.  That part that has to do with the Spirit’s work of transforming us from the rebel sinners which we were into the Christlikeness God has called us to.  And in this part of salvation there is something we are called upon to do.  Now we need to be careful here, because some have come to some wrong conclusions when it comes to the matter of sanctification.  And we’ve spent some time in the past considering these matters.  Salvation in all three aspects is “by grace.”  We are justified by grace, sanctified by grace, and we will be glorified by God’s grace.  It all happens by the “unmerited favor” and strengthening on God’s grace.  And were it not for God’s grace there would be no salvation in any sense or any tense.  We have also considered the working of the Spirit with respect to these matters.  All that God calls upon the believer to do is to be done “by the Spirit.”  Later in this epistle Paul will address this, saying: “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).  We put no confidence in the flesh when it comes to justification.  We put no confidence in the flesh with respect to sanctification.  We put no confidence in the flesh when it comes to glorification.

Having said all that, it is important that we avoid either of two extremes when it comes to our understanding of this matter.  It has been said that heresy is truth taken in its extreme.  And there are extremes for us to avoid when it comes to sanctification.  These two extremes could be labeled “quietism” and “pietism.”

Years ago, I read the classic Christian book entitled “The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life,” by Hannah Whitall Smith.  Those who have read the book will know that its main premise is that familiar phrase which speaks to the need for us to “let go and let God.”  Now there is an element of truth in that.  The realization that God is sovereignly working in our lives and we need to let Him work matters out.  We might even extend upon that truth and support it with other Scriptures, like Philippians 1:6 (“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”).  So, the quietest might say that there is no need for us to do anything.  We can sit back and relax.  By the way…have you heard about these new cars that can drive themselves.  Tesla has designed a self-driving car.  It has sensors and cameras that allow the car to know where it is going.  All you have to do is climb in and turn it on and it will take you where you want to go.  The only problem is that the technology is not quite perfected.  Tragically, about a week ago, a man was driving such a car with the autopilot feature turned on.  The car and the driver both failed to see the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.  And there was a crash and the driver died.  Brethren, the Christian life is not to be lived out on “autopilot.”  God has things for you to do.  To be sure, they can only be done by God’s grace, by the Spirit, but that doesn’t negate the fact that you have been given certain responsibilities with respect to your salvation.  It is hazardous for you to not take your responsibilities with respect to your salvation seriously.

The other error to be avoided is pietism.  Another term we might use for this is legalism.  This is the religious approach to the Christian life which wrongly overemphasizes that the duty of the Christian is to merely obey certain rules and regulations.  Paul confronted this error in his letter to the Colossians, saying, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourselves to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’  (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:20-23).  The fundamental error of the pietist is that he wrongly supposes he has it in himself to do that which God requires of him.  Religion is no substitute to being filled with the Spirit and walking by the Spirit and doing the things that God calls upon us to do “by the Spirit.”  And by way of my earlier example—the car driven by autopilot—the pietist stands on the other extreme.  He’s like Fred Flintstone in the old cartoon.  He’s got a car devised of giant tree limbs and granite stones.  The wheels themselves probably weigh several tons.  But he jumps in his animated car and pedals his feet and the car goes.  But that could only happen because it was a cartoon.  And it is cartoonish to suppose that we can work out our salvation in our wisdom and strength and get anywhere close to where we are supposed to be going.

So, the quietist says you don’t need to do anything, “let go and let God.”

And the pietist says that you need to do everything, it’s all up to you to “get ‘er done.”

Now our passage speaks to balance of understanding that we are to maintain with respect to our sanctification.  God has something for you to do—work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  But that which God has given for you to do can only be done because God is at work in you both to will and work for His good pleasure.

Before we leave this point, let’s consider a couple of passages which also illustrate this dynamic.  And before we do let’s reconsider what we are talking about.  Verse 12 speaks to man’s responsibility with respect to sanctification.  Verse 13 speaks to God’s sovereignty in that process.  Sometimes we like to camp on either side of this equation.  But they are intertwined. Colossians 1:28-29, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose, also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”  1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”  Paul labored, yet it wasn’t by His strength—it was the grace and power of God working in him.

So, we are called to work out our salvation, but verse 12 would be an impossibility were it not for verse 13.

Having said all of that, let’s look at the attitudes/actions we need to be careful to maintain when it comes to this matter of sanctification.

MESSAGE

  1. Obedience to the Lord

Obedience = “to hear under.”  Has the basic meaning of listening to or of placing oneself under what is heard and therefore submitting and obeying what is heard.

Now the term is used a couple of times in this passage.  It is there in verse 8.  “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In the God-man, Jesus Christ, we find the lone example of perfect obedience.  He always obeyed, and, in His obedience, He submitted Himself to the Father every step of the way.  And in His obedience, He died on a cross, thus fulfilling the Father’s will.  And He is an example to us in every possible way, and especially in His obedience.

The term is used again in verse 12.  The verse speaks of the obedience that had been demonstrated already by these Philippian believers: “just as you have always obeyed.”  Now this obedience came about as a direct result of their salvation.  These folks weren’t born to it.  They were born sin rebels just as all men are.  Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Colossians 1:21 speaks to the natural state of men—“alienated from God, hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.”  But they had trusted in Jesus.  And they were forgiven.  And they were born again.  And they were made to be new creatures in Christ.  And they were given a heart to love and serve Jesus.  And we should note that there are only two classifications of folks, those who are still in their sins, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), and those who have been born again and are the children of God.  1 John 3:10 speaks to this: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”  But a change took place in these folks and that change was made evident in that these previous sin rebels were given a heart to obey.  1 Peter 1:1b-2, “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may OBEY Jesus Christ.”

Paul then speaks to his desire for these believers—“not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.”  Paul was concerned that they might continue in their obedience to the Lord even in his absence.  Now this is an important point from which we can draw some very practical conclusions.  The obedience called for, in working out one’s salvation, is a heart level obedience unto the Lord.  To be sure, there can be some degree of dichotomy between how we behave in the presence of some sort of authority and how we behave when that authority is not around.  This is true for children who are not around their parents.  Of employees when the boss is not around.  Or believers when they are not at church or around the pastor or church leaders.  Ephesians 6:5 speaks to this: “Slaves, be obedient to the those who are masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice.”  What is “eyeservice?”  It is that kind of service that is only rendered when the master is watching?  Now that’s not going to cut it when it comes to “working out your salvation.”  What is necessary is a responsiveness to the Lord in obedience both in public and in private.  Whether anyone is watching or not.  The kind of obedience that only happens when others are watching might work to impress others, but it won’t fool God and will do nothing of value when it comes to the matter of working out your salvation.

Having said that, obedience to the Lord is the one most important thing that you bring when it comes to the “working out your salvation” matter.  We might speak of it as maintaining a responsiveness to the Lord.  He speaks, and you listen and you obey.  God said it this way: “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).  The true blessings God intends for you can only be possessed this way.  There are no promises given to those who merely hear the Word of God, the blessings are promised to those who hear and do.  James 1:21-25, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.  But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

John MacArthur comments that Paul’s “point is that there is never a time when a true believer is not responsible to obey the Lord. Believers must never be primarily dependent on their pastor, teacher, Christian fellowship, or anyone else for their spiritual strength and growth. Their supreme example is the Lord Jesus Christ, and their true power comes from the Holy Spirit. Believers, gratefully, are never without Christ’s example and never without the Spirit’s power.”

2. Reverence of the Lord

“phobos and tromos”

Fear (phobos) = to flee from or to be startled.  In some contexts, it speaks of reverence.

Trembling (tromos) = tremble, gives us our English word “tremor;” quaking with fear or quivering.”

One translation renders the two terms “reverence and awe.”  The two terms are used in combination elsewhere of Paul in reference to what is to be the attitude of a slave towards its master (Ephesians 6:5) or the attitude in which he himself preached before the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:3).

We all have phobias.  Some are afraid of the water.  Others are afraid of heights.  Some people are afraid of spiders or snakes.  A lot of people have a fear of speaking in public.  Ask most people what they are afraid of and they probably won’t say that they have a phobia when it comes to thinking about the serious nature of their salvation.  They won’t say “my salvation is a priceless gift, I’m afraid of messing things up!”

We have good reason to approach the matter of our salvation with “fear and trembling.”  And it is not the fear of losing our salvation or of God abandoning us, for He has promised to never do that.  It is a holy dread of displeasing Him.

The roots of this fear and trembling lie in our understanding of who He is and who we are.  In the context we understand who He is.  The God-man, Jesus Christ, came to earth and took on manhood and servanthood and died for our sins.  God exalted Him to the highest place.  He’s coming again, and every knee will bow to Him and every tongue will confess Him to be Lord.  By grace we understand this reality.  All will be brought into submission to Him in His Lordship, but we’ve already confessed Him to be Lord.  And we know that He’s coming again.  And we are being prepared for that day.  And when He comes we will give account to Him.  2 Corinthians 5:9-11a, “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”

We “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” because, as Colossians 3:24 puts it, “It is the Lord Christ whom (we) serve.”

And on the other side of the equation there is fear and trembling because we are aware of our own weakness and vulnerability.  We have come to a place where we don’t trust in ourselves.  We know that the world, the flesh, and the devil are all set against us.  In fighting the good fight of faith, we understand that we are in the “fight of our lives.”  These enemies we face are too strong for us.  “The Devil, prowls about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  The world is at work to conform us to its own anti-God way of thinking and living.  The “flesh sets its desire against the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17).  These entities are always working to destroy and discourage us.  They work against our every move when it comes to the pursuit of holiness.  So, we don’t trust ourselves.  We know that we don’t have it in us when it comes to “working out our salvation.”  We treat the matter with a degree of reverence and awe because we realize what’s at stake.  We are guarded in every step.  We look to Jesus.  We are careful to take up the whole armor of God realizing that without it we could never be strong and brave to face the foe.

By way of practice this “fear and trembling” attitude reveals itself in how we approach our Christian lives.

Our salvation is something far more demanding than simply going to church once a week.

It cannot be a “going through the motions” kind of thing.

Not doing what we consider to be the “bare minimum” of that which is necessary.

J. C. Ryle, “If there is anything which a man ought to do thoroughly, authentically, truly, honestly, and with all of his heart, it is the business of his soul. If there is any work which he ought never to slight, and do in a careless fashion, it is the great work of “working out his own salvation”

3. Dependence on the Lord

“For it is God who is at work in your both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Verse 13 comes before verse 12 in our Bibles, but the truth and reality of verse 13 precedes verse 12 in our experience.  Verse 12 speaks to human responsibility.  Verse 13 speaks to divine enablement.  But there can be no response by us if God is not working in us to enable.

Note that the verse speaks to two separate things.  God empowers both our “doing” (energeo, the verb just used to describe God’s “working”) and the “willing” that lies behind the doing.

God empowers the doing.  Ephesians 2:8-10 speaks to God’s working with respect to salvation.  And we readily understand the reality that salvation is by grace (i.e. God’s unmerited favor).  But we sometimes don’t read all the way through verse 10.  Verse 10 speaks to the “sanctification” aspect of salvation.  And there are a couple of things that are noteworthy in this verse.  We are His “workmanship.”  We are God’s “work of art.”  We are His beautiful creation.  That’s true of us both individually and corporately.  This work of salvation is not a human engineered or human achieved kind of thing.  It is a work that God is doing start to finish.  And to emphasize this “by grace” understanding, Paul notes that the works we’ve been called to are works “which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  So, it is all by grace and His grace is all sufficient.

Look again to Ephesians 3:20.  Verse 19 anticipates the finished work of salvation, when we will be “filled up to all the fullness of God.”  In this context Paul glorifies God since it is He who is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20).  There is a power that is working within us that enables us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  This power is the power of the Spirit of God.  He is ever working in us.  We have noted in previous studies that everything God has given to us do as Christians is to be done “by the Spirit.”  This is according to what Jesus taught.  John 6:63, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing.”  Matthew 26:41, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Philippians 3:3, “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”  This needs to be our understanding about such things.  All that God has given for us to do can only be done by the Spirit.  We pray by the Spirit.  We understand and heed the Word by the Spirit.  We fellowship by the Spirit.  We put off sin by the Spirit.  We grow in Christ by the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who is at work in us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.

Now for some this will require a reorientation of things.  The church in Galatia got things turned around.  They had been born again by the Spirit but then they were misled into believing that they could work out their salvation in their own strength.  So, Paul said to them: “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3).  Another way of saying that would be “Having been saved through the work of the Spirit are you now attempting to work out your salvation in your own strength.  I’ve said it before and it bears repeating—religious doings are no substitute for the inner leading and empowerment of the Spirit.  To attempt to do what God has given for us to do in our own strength is like trying to drive a car without turning the ignition.  You can sit in the driver’s seat. You can even grab and turn the wheel and press on the gas pedal.  It might look like you are driving a car, but that car isn’t going anywhere.

The dynamic needs to be understood according to the reality of Galatians 2:20, “I’ve been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

Warren Wiersbe tells of a frustrated Sunday school teacher whose class wasn’t growing as it should. She wore herself out working harder and harder, yet nothing changed. Finally, after recognizing that her ministry was self-motivated and self-activated, things began to change. “I’ve learned to draw constantly on the Lord’s power,” she said, “and things are different!”

We, as believers, are God’s work of art.  The One who created the heavens and the earth have created us anew in Christ Jesus and bestowed on us everything pertaining to life and godliness.  We are one with the One who died for sins and rose from the dead.  Sin has lost its power over us.  We’ve been created anew to walk in newness of life.  The newborn baby cries and wiggles and looks to its mother for nourishment.  The Creator has deemed things so.  There was a day when you were still dead in your sins and you showed no signs of life.  But then you were born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine.  And then there were signs of life.  God was at work in you to will and to work.  Suddenly there were signs of life, what Jonathan Edwards referred to as “the religious affections.”  There was love and obedience and desire for truth and fellowship with God and your fellow Christians.  Those affections came from God himself.  That “willing” came from Him.  And that is where it must come from always.  And if the affections are somehow lacking we need to examine ourselves in our relationship to Him.  Have we grieved the Spirit?  Have we quenched the Spirit?  Have we lost the love we had at first?  Is there a need to remember and repent and to do the deeds we did at first (Cf. Revelation 2:5)?

J Lyth sums up God’s work this way…

God works:

SECRETLY — “in you.”

MEDIATELY — by His Word.

MIGHTILY — by His Spirit.

GRACIOUSLY — Of His good pleasure.

EFFECTUALLY — to will and to do.

James Hastings, “This virtually is what St. Paul says here: Work out your own salvation, for now the great impossibility has become possible; God is working in you; this is no hopeless task to which I am calling you, no fruitless beating of the air, no idle effort of the leopard to change his spots or the Ethiopian to wash himself white. The Lord is working in you, and He is mighty to save. Whatever impulse you feel, whatever goodwill to this work, look upon it as a token of His presence and of His readiness to help you in it; that is God working in you both to will it and to do it, for He has no feeling but one of goodwill to you.”

“For His good pleasure”

It’s a matter of worship.  Why do we exist?  Why are we here?  For what purpose were we created?  According to the catechism the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  It is here where we find ourselves in harmony with God’s divine purpose.  And that He should do all that He has done to rescue us from our rebellion and make worshippers out of us speaks to His goodness, love and power.

The great Christian writer, A. W. Tozer, devotes a chapter to this subject in his book Whatever Happened to Worship. The chapter is entitled “Born to Worship God,” and it’s so good I almost decided to read his chapter to you today instead of preaching. In this chapter, he told a story. He said that he was waiting one day on a bench in front of City Hall when a stranger approached him. The man looked at him and smiled, but he seemed a little bewildered. Tozer said, “Do we know each other?” The man replied, “No, I don’t think so. I think I am in some kind of a jam.”

He went on: “Something has happened to me. I think I tripped and fell somewhere in the city and bumped my head. I cannot remember anything for sure. When I woke up I had been robbed. My wallet and all of my cards and papers were gone. I have no identification—and I do not know who I am.”

Tozer was just about to take the man to the police station when another man nearby let out a sudden shout and rushed over to the man and called him by name. “Where have you been and what have you been doing?”

The lost man looked at him strangely and said, “Do we know each other?”

“What? You don’t know me? We came to Toronto together three days ago. Don’t you know that we are members of the Philharmonic and that you are first violinist? We have filled our engagement without you and we have been searching everywhere for you!”

“Ah,” said the man, “so that’s who I am and that is why I am here!”

Tozer went on to say that the poor man in the story is emblematic of the human race. Many years ago, our forefather Adam had a fall and received a terrible bump. And ever since then, men and women on this planet have been walking around in a fog, not knowing who they are and why they are here. That’s why there is so much confusion in life, so much despair, so many addictions, so much entertainment, amusement, and diversions. But to be healthy and whole in life, we must have a clear sense of who we are and why we are here.

And with respect to our salvation that is who we are and why we are here.  We are His born-again children.  We are here being prepared for that great reunion that will take place when then blood-bought bride of Christ is brought into His glorious presence.  In the meantime, we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, wholly dependent on all of the resources He has graced us with.

William Temple defined worship this way…

Quickening the conscience by the holiness of God

Feeding the mind with the truth of God

Purging the imagination by the beauty of God

Opening the heart to the love of God

Devoting the will to the purpose of God.

And these are amongst the things that God does as He works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure.

CONCLUSION

William Hendriksen explains the working out process with several analogies writing that “The toaster cannot produce toast unless it is “connected,” so that its nichrome wire is heated by the electricity from the electric power house. The electric iron is useless unless the plug of the iron has been pushed into the wall outlet. There will be no light in the room at night unless electricity flows through the tungsten wire within the light-bulb, each end of this wire being in contact with wires coming from the source of electric energy. The garden-rose cannot gladden human hearts with its beauty and fragrance unless it derives its strength from the sun. Best of all, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).  So here also. Only then can and do the Philippians work out their own salvation when they remain in living contact with their God…By means of his Spirit working in the hearts of his people, applying to these hearts the means of grace and all the experiences of life, God is the great and constant, the effective Worker, the Energizer, operating in the lives of the Philippians, bringing about in them both to will and to work.

Work out your salvation…

In Obedience to the Lord

In Reverence of the Lord

In Dependence on the Lord

 

The Name Above Every Name, Part 2

Philippians 2:9-11

INTRODUCTION

Jesus.  No other name is more hated and more loved.

Years ago, I had a job at Trojan Nuclear Plant in the Training Department.  Most of my co-workers were ex-Navy guys as I was.  And they were prone to do a lot of cursing.  And one of their favorite curse words was “Jesus.”  And I remember how I would cringe when I heard them using His name in that derogatory way.  Silently, I’d pray “Lord, forgive them.”  But its striking to consider that amongst the various curse words that people use, “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” is among the most popular.

By way of contrast, we have gathered here today to worship the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’ve prayed in His name.  Sung songs about Him.  And are now looking to His Word that He might instruct us in matters related to His Church.  We are here, as Philippians 3:3 puts it, to “worship in the Spirit and glory in Christ Jesus.”

The name of Jesus, which is despised by some, is adored by others.

Now we want to continue our study here in this incredibly important and relevant text, Philippians 2:9-11.  But before we do, we need to define some terms that we find here in this passage.  It will prove necessary for us to have a good grasp on these terms if we are going to understand.

Name.  The term “name” is used three times in verses 9 and 10.  Generally speaking the term “name,” as it is used in Scripture, represents not just one’s identity, but the total person—their character, authority, rank, power, etc.  And names were frequently given by God not merely to identify a person, but to identify them in their office or specific role in relationship to God.  For example, Abram—whose name meant “exalted father”—was given the name Abraham (“father of a multitude”), after God reaffirmed to him the covenant He made through which He promised to make Abraham “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5).  That’s just one example, but there are many more.  God gave Jacob the name Israel which means “he who strives with God” (Genesis 32:28).  Jesus gave “Cephas” the name “Peter” (which means “rock or stone”).

So, the name speaks to more than Jesus’ identity.  By the way…we use the name Jesus (at least we should use it) in this sense.  When it says those who “believe in His name” are given the right to become children of God, it is not speaking there about merely believing in His identity.  Its speaking about belief in His person.  And when we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we are not adding some kind of magical formula at the end of our prayers that guarantees that we will get what we want, we are submitting our prayers to the person of Jesus, His character, His purpose, His plan, and His will.

This passage speaks a lot about the name of Jesus, and you might note that He is referred to in a couple of ways.  The passage uses the singular name “Jesus.”  And it also uses the two names together, “Jesus Christ.”  It also speaks of the truth that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  And all these terms are of great importance.

So, by way of introduction, let’s take a brief look at each of these names.  And we are going to do this backwards, leaving the name “Jesus” for last.

Lord = Greek “kurios” = “having power or authority.”  It was used in that day of owners and masters and fathers and such.  It was also used in the Septuagint version of the OT to translate the term Jehovah.  Jesus used the title in reference to Himself (Matthew 7:21).  Then in his first sermon, Peter applied the term to Jesus, saying, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).  Following the resurrection, with two exceptions (Acts 10:14; Revelation 7:14), there is no record of believers using the term kurios in addressing anyone except God and the Lord Jesus.  In other words, following the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, as far as believers in Christ were concerned, there was only worthy of the title Lord, and that was Jesus.  And in reference to Jesus the term is used in a very practical and relevant fashion in other texts:

  • Salvation is to those who confess Him as Lord. Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”
  • The believer is exhorted to set apart Jesus as Lord. 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”

Christ.  The term means “anointed” and speaks to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah of Israel.  When Jesus asked His disciples of their understanding of His identity, Peter responded by saying, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  And Jesus affirmed Peter because, by divine revelation, Peter understood the truth about Jesus.  Later, following Christ’s resurrection and the out-pouring of the Spirit, Peter would declare: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).  And we should note, that in this very first sermon of Peter, the first sermon preached, we have the same terms used of Jesus that we find in Philippians 2:9-11.

Jesus.  The term is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua.”  It was a common name up to the second century.  The term itself means “Jehovah saves.”  That’s the meaning of the name.  It is a name which expresses Christ’s humanity.  Now if we are going to appreciate the meaning of His name, “Jehovah saves,” we need to do a little background study.

The name “Jehovah” occurs over 6000 times and in every period of biblical Hebrew.  Because it was written without the vowels, there is some debate regarding its exact pronunciation.  So sometimes you will hear it as “Jehovah” and sometimes as “Yahweh.”  It is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses.  Exodus 3:13-14, “Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?”  And God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The NASB has a note regarding this expression, “I am,” which says: “Related to the name of God, YHWH, rendered LORD, which is derived from the verb HAYAH, to be.”  So that’s where “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” comes from.  The name speaks to His self-existent nature and therefore His identity as our Creator God.

Now, Jehovah hears of the troubles of Israel, enslaved in Egypt as they were.  And He sends forth Moses as a deliverer.  And through God’s mighty hand the people are redeemed from Egypt.  And Moses and Israel respond by singing a song to the Lord.  We read of what they had to say in Exodus chapter 15.  But in Exodus 15:2 these say, “The Lord (Jehovah) is my strength and song and He has become by salvation.”  Jehovah, the self-existent One (the creator), is also our Savior.  He has worked to redeem us from slavery in Egypt and to set us free to serve Him.

As God has chosen His people.  And works to bring them into the promised land, He prescribes to them certain laws regarding the temple, the priesthood, and sacrifices, etc.  And these all are a part of His plan and speak to His provision of a future redeemer, the Messiah of Israel.

And this phrase, “The Lord has become my salvation,” is a phrase that speaks to all of this.  The fact that God worked to redeem His people from captivity and the fact that He has promised a future deliverer.  So, the phrase is repeated elsewhere:

  • Psalm 18:2, “The Lord (Jehovah) is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.”
  • Isaiah 12:2, “For the Lord God (Jehovah) is my strength and song, and He has become by salvation” (And Psalm 18:14).

Remember what I said, the name “Jesus” means “Jehovah saves.”  And the name Jehovah is the name by which God disclosed Himself to His people.  A Name which speaks to His self-existence and therefore His identity as the Creator.  And we should note that Jesus repeatedly used that expression, “I Am,” in reference to Himself.  In fact, on one occasion—during his arrest—He asked the arresting mob, “Whom do you seek?”  They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”  And then Jesus said, “I am” (John 18:5).  The English text adds the word “He” in italics, but it’s not in the original.  He said literally “I Am.”  And do you know what happened when Jesus the Nazarene—who was purposing to go the cross to die for our sins—said “I Am” to that group of people?  “Where therefore He said to them, ‘I Am,’ the drew back and fell to the ground.”  Just a little side note.

But when Jesus was born we are told something about His name that is very important.  We read of it in Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-23.  The angel’s instructions were explicit.  The baby was to be given a particular name.  A name which was in keeping with His particular office and purpose.  It was also in keeping with all that was and is true about our God and in keeping with all that was prophesied regarding Him in Scripture.  The name is more than just His name, it represented all that was true of God in salvation.  Jesus means “Jehovah saves.”

Embodied in that name is the nature and character of God.  The types and prophecies of the Old Testament.  The purposed work of Jesus in dying in the cross.  The finished work of Jesus.  His death, resurrection, and ascension.  And His return.  In the beginning of our Bibles we read of the One who would come and bruise the head of Satan.  In the end of our Bibles we read about the Lamb who was slain and purchased for God men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  And central to it all is this truth which we’ve read about in Philippians 2:5-8, how God became man and died on a cross for our sins.

I’ve said before that you could summarize the message of the Bible in four words—“Man sins; God saves.”  And the name “Jesus” embodies these truths—“Jehovah saves.”  The main message of the entirety of your Bible is summed up in that one word—that one name—Jesus.

Now sometimes in Scripture we find Jesus referred to in alternative ways.  Sometimes he is referred to as “Jesus Christ,” as we have it here in verse 11.  And other times we find it in the reverse order, “Christ Jesus.”  Rarely do we find the simple term “Jesus” in the NT epistles as it is used here.  And it appears twice.

The disciples John and Peter and James and Jude refer to Jesus by using the two names in the order “Jesus Christ.”  And, of course, these men knew Him first by His human name and only fully comprehended that He was the Christ after His resurrection.  So, they used the name that reflected that.

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, almost always referred to Jesus by using the two names “Christ Jesus.”  And the difference for Paul was that he first encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, and he encountered Him as the ascended Lord.

And as I’ve said, the name “Jesus” on its own is not typically found in the epistles.  So, the fact that it is found this way here is noteworthy.  As was mentioned before, the name emphasizes His humanity.  It was the name given to the human baby Jesus.  But embodied in Jesus and the name was the truth already spoken of—the truth that Jehovah saves.  But Jesus was His human name and as the God-become-man He humbled Himself in obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore, God exalted Him, that is Jesus and gave Him the name which is above every name.

MESSAGE

The Preeminence of the Name:

In its Source

We read in Genesis chapter 11 how the residents of earth decided to build a tower, the tower of Babel.  They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”  And it is obvious that in sin this is something that we humans are inclined to do—“to make a name for ourselves.”

But Jesus didn’t make a name for Himself, God gave Him that name.  Note what the text says, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (2:9).

“Bestowed” translates the Greek term “charizomai” which is the verb form of the term “grace.”  It means to show favor, grant or bestow.  God “graced” Him with the name.  Now some are troubled by the fact that the giving of the name actually took place at His birth.  And they can’t understand how it would be that God would bestow the name on Him at a subsequent time.  But there is no contradiction here.  That name which was given to Him at His birth was affirmed in Him in His death for sins and resurrection from the dead.  Romans 1:4 speaks of how Jesus Christ was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.”  Wasn’t Jesus already the Son of God before the resurrection?  Of course, He was (and is).  But what was true of Him was affirmed and declared through His resurrection.  And in the same manner, His name Jesus, meaning “Jehovah Saves” was affirmed in every way when He completed His saving work on the cross.

Hebrews 1:3b-4 puts it this way: “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

So, keep that in mind, next time you hear someone using “Jesus” name for a curse word.  That name was a name given to Him by God Himself.

In its Station

“Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (2:9).

God graced Jesus with a name that is above every name.  We read in the book of Acts of how Jesus sent forth His disciples to bear witness of Him.  And their efforts were met with both success and opposition.  In Acts chapter 4 we read of how the religious leaders threatened Peter and John, commanding them “to peak no more to any man in this name (i.e. the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). And of course, they refused to abide by that.  They kept on preaching.  So, the apostles were put in jail again.  But an angel of the Lord set them free.  The religious leaders captured them again and reminded them how they had given them “strict orders not to continue teaching in this name” (Acts 5:28).  The religious leaders were befuddled as to what to do with these men.  So, they held a council.  And Gamaliel stood up and said (Acts 5:35-39):

“Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So, in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

And, of course, the apostles kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.  But we should note that there were others that were claiming to be somebodies, and their plans and actions came to not.  And since those days, two thousand years ago, there have been plenty of nobodies claiming to be somebodies, and their plans and actions came to not.  And in our day, there are still plenty of nobodies claiming to be somebodies, and their actions will come to not.  But not so with Jesus.  He’s been given the name that is above every name.

Someone has compiled a list of the top ten famous people in all of human history.  They compiled the list according to the number of Google searches done on these names and the approximate number of books written about them.  Here’s the list:

#10: Sir Isaac Newton

#9: Leonardo da Vinci

#8: William Shakespeare

#7: Adolf Hitler

#6: The Apostle Paul

#5: Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)

#4: Moses

#3: Abraham

#2: Muhammad

#1: Jesus of Nazareth

He’s number one on that list right now—a list compiled according to the number of Google searches and approximate number of books written about Him—but to-be-sure not everyone would put Him at the top of their list.  There will come a day when He will be at the top of everyone’s list.

Years ago, a man wrote something he called “One Solitary Life”: “Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.  He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.  Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.  I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

In its Sway

Note the repeated use of the word “every.”  His name is above EVERY name.  EVERY knee will bow to Him.   EVERY tongue will confess Him.

There have been a lot of despots in the history of men who have endeavored to rule over people by force.  At the time in which Paul wrote this epistle Caesar reigned over an empire which included about 57 million people.  Hitler tried to rule the world, but failed.  Mao Tse Tung ruled over some 1 billion people as the communist dictator.  His government was responsible, through famine, executions, and other means—for the deaths of approximately 50 million people.  There are today rulers in our world who would love to bring every human being on this planet into submission—the rulers of N. Korea, Iran, and ISIS—to name a few.

The Psalmist spoke prophetically of such things in Psalm 2:

1Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Note the repetition of the word “every.”  Then note this reference to the extent of His exaltation over all—“those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth” (2:10).

You will find the same truth spoken of, with minor differences, in other passages:

Ephesians 1:20b-21, “Seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”

Revelation5:13, “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

So, we have these three realms of existence—in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.  Someone has referred to them as the “celestial, terrestrial, and infernal.”

So, when we speak of the celestial (above the earth) we are speaking of the angelic host.  And these, of course, have always been employed in the worship of God (i.e. Isaiah chapter 6).  But the angels struggle to comprehend something which we ourselves have experienced.  The angels in heaven do not sin.  And because of that they don’t experience the grace and mercy of God in salvation.  Peter writes of the greatness of the salvation we have received in 1st Peter.  He speaks of how the prophets of old sought to understand what the Spirit of Christ was speaking of with regards to the “sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1 Peter 1:11).  What they sought to understand has been declared to us in the gospel (1 Peter 1:12).  Now note what it says in verse 12—“things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).  The term translated “long to look” means to “gain a clear glimpse.”  It’s like that little child who stands on his tippy toes to look over a fence to get a better vision of something.  And what are text is saying is that all the angelic host will bow the knee to Jesus in the wonder and reverence as to what He has done in saving sinners.

And then we have the terrestrial.  And this will include people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  It will include people from every class and race and status—men and women, rich and poor, famous and infamous.  It will not matter.  It includes people of all differing religious beliefs—atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, and every imaginable cult.  In includes all of us and all of our loved ones and friends.  Includes all of those around the earth who are even now being persecuted for their faith in Jesus and it includes even their persecutors.  It includes all of those who exalt themselves in their own pride and power in this day, who are negligent of the reality that it is Jesus who is the “ruler of the Kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5).  Every means every.  The scope of what is spoken of here is beyond anything we can now comprehend.  There will be a kind of counterfeit duplication of this during the tribulation when the antichrist reigns for a time.  But Jesus will reign in this lofty place for all eternity.

Then we have the “infernal.”  That realm of existence which is “under the earth.”  And what is spoken of here is the demon realm.  Even the demonic realm will be brought into total subjection to Him.  It is even now defeated.  Colossians 2:15, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”  And you say, “But why are they still free to work in their evil ways?”  They are for now, but their ultimate doom is assured through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They are like those Japanese warriors—on remote islands–who continued to fight on, though the second world war had long since ended.  They haven’t got them memo.

Homer Kent, “’This universal acknowledgment will include angels and departed saints in heaven, people still living on earth, and the satanic hosts and lost humanity in hell…Every’ indicates a universal acknowledgment of Christ’s sovereignty, even by his enemies.  Paul does not imply a universal salvation but means that every personal being will ultimately confess Christ’s lordship, either with joyful faith or with resentment and despair.”

In its Strength

“Every knee will bow…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:10-11).

The statements are from Isaiah 45:23.  And we have here the language that is associated with the expected response of subjects to a King.  In this case we are speaking of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  There will come a day when all will be subjugated to Him.  They will bow the knee and confess His Lordship in humble reverence and submission.

Our text is associated with the second coming.  And we should note that there is a radical difference between the nature of His first coming and His second coming.  As Adrian Rogers put it: “He came the first time to die; He is coming again to raise the dead. When He came the first time, they questioned whether He was King; the next time the world will know that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. The first time He wore a crown of thorns; the next time He will be wearing a crown of glory. The first time He came in poverty; the next time He is coming in power. The first time He had an escort of angels; the next time He will come with ten thousand of His saints. The first time He came in meekness; He is coming again in majesty.”

How is this going to happen?  Note what it says at the end of Philippians 3:21. He has the power to “subject all things to Himself.”  By that power He will bring all into subjection.

Now this is going to happen in one of two ways.  There are those who have already confessed Him to be Lord.  Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”  We are speaking here of believers.  He is, for us believers, our Savior and Lord.  We even now bow the knee to Him in humble submission and worship.

But that vast majority of folks are not now in this position.  But He has the power and right to bring them to this point.  And He will.  That does not mean that they are going to be saved, but they will nonetheless be brought into complete subjection to Him.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 speaks to His second coming: “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His might angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”

British historian H.A.L. Fisher once said: “Men wiser and more learned than I have discovered in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave . . . nothing but the play of the contingent and the unforeseeable.”  But things are moving towards a God ordained destiny.

There is indeed a predetermined pattern to which history is inevitably destined.  The long war against God that started with Satan when he rebelled against God with a third of the angels of heaven; that long war that, on man’s side of things, started when Satan tempted Eve and Adam and Eve fell in sin.  That long war which has been going on for centuries past.  Where the forces of good and evil have raged against each other.  That long war will come to a conclusion one day.  The Lord Jesus has already triumphed through His death and resurrection.  And there will come a day when He will return and “Judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31).  And on that day, all will be brought into complete submission to Him.

You wonder where things are headed in this world?  This is where they are headed.  Christ will reign over all.

CONCLUSION

Now what does this mean to you?  If you are here as one who has not sincerely trusted in Jesus for salvation it means you have some soul-searching to do.  You will bow the knee to Jesus one day.  The question is will you do that in adoration and gratitude as one of His own or will you be compelled to do that, as a vanquished foe.

Isaiah 45:22-23 speaks to this.  Our text quotes part of this passage.  It also speaks to God’s desire that you look to Him to salvation: “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God and there is no other.  I have sworn to Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back.  That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.”

A 15-year-old teenager headed off to church, as he normally did on Sunday mornings.  But there was a blizzard that day and the heavy snow kept him from going to his usual place of worship.  Instead he found himself in a Primitive Methodist Church. As a young man, from a long line of Pastors, he knew all about Christianity, but he didn’t know Christ.  Later he would write of those days, “It was my sad lot to feel the greatness of my sin without a discovery of the greatness of God’s mercy.”  The Primitive Methodist Church almost didn’t open that morning, but the caretaker, thinking that a few people might show up, opened the doors and lit the stove.  By 11:00 some 12-15 people had come inside, but not the Pastor. He had apparently been unable to get there because of the snow.  Finally, one of the laymen of the congregation reluctantly took the pulpit. As he looked down, he could see the small congregation, hundreds of empty seats, and the young 15-year-old boy seated under the gallery. The text for his sermon was “Look unto me, and be ye saved” (Isaiah 45:22), and after about ten minutes of repeating himself, the man was about to step down from the pulpit. But before he did, he addressed the teenager. “Young man,” he said, “you look very miserable, and you will always be miserable if you don’t obey my text. But if you do obey now, this moment, you will be saved.”  He paused again, then shouted at the young man with more animation, “Young man, look to Jesus!  Look! Look! Look!”  That young man was Charles Spurgeon.  Years later Spurgeon wrote of his experience, “There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness was rolled away.”  And there are some here today—at this end of the earth—who need to look to Jesus for salvation.  We are all sinners.  We are all deserving of God’s judgment.  There is but One way by which any person can be saved.  Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Him.  Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”  And it is left to every man in this particular dispensation of time—confess Him now and be saved OR confess Him later as a vanquished foe.

Now if you are here as one who has trusted in Jesus, you even NOW confess Him as Lord.  You even NOW glory in His name and in His salvation.   But you see the events in this world.  You face tribulations and even some degree of persecution.  You see in the news how the name of Jesus is met with disdain and hatred.  People scoff at Him, His word, and the very prospect of His soon return.  But be encouraged.  Jesus has triumphed.  We’ve read the end of the book and we know about its conclusion.  Jesus wins!  And so, do all those who have been born again through faith to eternal life in Him.

We live in anticipation of the day when all things will be reconciled to Him.  And even now we recognize where things are headed in this world.  The spiritual battle we are now engaged in won’t go on forever.  It will come to a conclusion.  And every being in God’s creation will be brought into subjection to Him.  2 Corinthians 2:14-16 speaks to this: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the others an aroma from life to life.”

Vernon Grounds, “What’s in that name? All the grace of God, all the wonder of redemption, all that we believe, and all that we are hoping for. We say it, we sing it, and adoration fills our souls. We anticipate the indescribable glory of that day when every knee will bow and every tongue, by glad choice or by divine constraint, will praise that highest and holiest of all names–Jesus!”

In his book, “Approaching Hoofbeats,” Billy Graham wrote of what took place under the Christian persecution in Rome.  “Imagine a village,” he wrote,” in the suburbs of Ephesus or Laodicea.  Christian believers are at work tanning leather, dying cloth, harvesting crops, raising families, studying math and history—at worship, at work, or at play.  Then, suddenly, hoofbeats are heard clattering up the nearby cobbled streets.  The horses are reined in by a Roman centurion and his honor guard.  A leather camp table is unfolded.  An incense burner is placed upon the table.  A flame is lit.  Heralds sound the trumpets.  There is no place to hide, no time to decide.  Believers must join their neighbors in that line.  Just ahead the village mayor tosses his incense into the flames and exclaims proudly, ‘Caesar is Lord.’  Others follow.  The line ahead grows shorter.  The moment of decision draws near.  Will the Christian avoid the conflict and protect his life and security with the simple act of obedience?  Will he mutter ‘Caesar is Lord’ and sneak back home to safety?  Or, will he recognize that act as a symbol of a wider disobedience, refuse the incense, proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’ and pay the price for disloyalty to the state?

What would you do?  What are you even now doing in response to the cultural pressures that now work to suppress the truth and conform you to its own way of thinking and living.  The believer in Christ is one who has already confessed Jesus as Lord.  We are exhorted to set Him apart as Lord in our hearts.  And we do that for good reason.  He, the One who died for our sins and rose from the dead, has ascended to the right hand of God.  He reigns even now as Lord over all.  And He’s coming again.

Name Above Every Name, Part 1

Philippians 2:9-11

INTRODUCTION

According to the law of gravity what goes up must inevitably come down.  That is a law which governs the way that things work on this planet.  It is an undeniable and unavoidable reality.

There are many such laws of physics and life that pertain to the physical realm of our existence.  Likewise, there are spiritual laws which relate to all of us.  There are undeniable spiritual laws, axioms if you will, that govern the affairs of men in relationship to God.

One of those is a principle often cited in the Bible: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”  Those who lift themselves up in pride, will be humbled by God.  Those who humble themselves before God, shall be exalted.

This correlates with another principle found in the Bible: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  You will find this principle repeatedly cited in Scripture also.

Jesus spoke of such matters.

On one occasion he was invited to the house of one of the Pharisees for a meal.  He noticed how the invited guests were vying to sit in the places of honor at the table.  So, he spoke a parable to them about how a person, if invited to a wedding feast, should not take the place of honor, because someone more distinguished might come along.  And there would then be embarrassment if that guest was moved to the lowest place at the table.  Instead, the guest should proceed to the last place, so that he might instead be moved to a more prestigious place and be honored in that way.  And Jesus summarized the parable by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:7-11).

On another occasion he spoke a parable to those who were trusting in themselves in their own righteousness and looking on others with contempt.  The parable had to do with two men who went up to the temple to pray.  The first prayed to himself.  He thanked God that he was not like other people: “swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.”  The second was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, “but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’.”  Jesus summarized the parable by saying: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

On a third occasion Jesus was speaking to the multitude concerning the Pharisees.  He spoke of how the Pharisees loved the places of honor and how they gladly received respectful greetings, like “Rabbi” and “Teacher.”  And in doing that they were living contrary to this spiritual principle of which we have spoken.  And Jesus said regarding their misguided ambitions: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:6-12).

This spiritual axiom is proven to be valid in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the preeminent example of the truth that “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”  And that’s what we find here in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:5-8 speaks to the humility of Christ.  Philippians 2:9-11 speaks to His exaltation.

REVIEW

But let’s back up, before we go any further, and do a bit of review.

We have noted how God has called us, as believers, to a radically different way of thinking and living (Philippians 2:3-4).  This way of thinking is contrary to the way the world, the flesh, and the devil thinks.  These think that “looking out for number one” is the way to go.  According to the world’s economy, in this sinful way of thinking, it is perfectly okay and proper to idolize oneself.

But God calls us to a way of thinking and living that is characterized by humility and servant-mindedness and a propensity to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves.  “Love does not seek its own.”  And this radical way of thinking and living is according to this Biblical definition of love.

The radical way of thinking and living is exemplified in the Lord Jesus.  Amazingly, God’s word exhorts us to adopt the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5).  We are to adopt His way of thinking.  This will require of us, of course, a change in the way that we think—by the Spirit in the renewing of our mind.

So, what do we find as we consider this example of Jesus.  The key facet of His example is His humility.  We are called to “humility of mind.”  He demonstrated humility.  The eternal Son of God relinquished His divine prerogatives.  “Though He was rich…He became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  He became a man.  He took on servanthood.  He humbled Himself in obedience.  He suffered and died on a cross.

And in all of this He is set forth as an example to us of how we are to think and live.

  • Was Jesus selfless? We are to be like Jesus in that.
  • Was Jesus servant-minded? We are to be like Jesus in His servant-minded perspective.
  • Was Jesus humbly submitted to the Father in obedience? We are likewise called to submit ourselves to God and to others in humble obedience.
  • Was Jesus willing to suffer? “It has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Now the cross was not the end of the story for Jesus.  Nor is servant-mindedness and suffering the end of the story for any of His followers.  Jesus did what He did on the cross looking forward to His reward.  He was living according to the principle of which we have already spoken: “But he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”  In the words of the author of Hebrews, Jesus did what He did for the joy that was set before Him.  Hebrews 12:2, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising His shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  First the cross, then the crown.  First humility, then exaltation.

MESSAGE

“Therefore, also God highly exalted Him.”

The term exalted is a particular Greek term which means “to exalt to the highest rank and power, to raise to supreme majesty.”  God “super-exalted” Jesus.

And what we have here in Philippians 2:5-11 is the grand example of the truth of which we have been spoken, “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”  To what extent did Jesus humble himself?  To the maximum extent possible.  In descending from the heights of heaven to humbling himself to the point of death on a cross, he humbled himself beyond that of any person in the history of men.  And note that “He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:8).  He was not humbled by others.  He deliberately chose that path.  He “super-humbled” Himself.

And as we remember the events leading up to His death we see clearly how He humbled Himself.

  • He knew full well what would happen, but He set His face to go to Jerusalem.
  • In His prayer, He submitted Himself in obedience to the Father, “Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
  • When He was arrested, He did not resist arrest.
  • When He was tried, He did not plead His innocence.
  • When He was beaten, He did not strike back.
  • When He was reviled, He did not revile in return.
  • And He was put on that cruel cross, and object of mocking and scorn. He was mocked and insulted by the soldiers, by the religious leaders, by those passing by, and by the two thieves who were crucified with Him.
  • And a sign was placed above His head. It was written in three languages.  It was the charge held against Him.  It appeared to mock Him too, saying, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
  • And people insulted Him, saying, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself” (Matthew 27:42).
  • And He is all alone. Utterly forsaken.  The sin of the world is put upon Him.  He bears our sins and cries out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).

So, on the other side of this spiritual axiom, we have the expected result.  “He who humbles Himself shall be exalted.”  So, what if someone were to super-humble themselves in a transcendent and preeminent manner?  What would we expect in that case?  Well it is exactly as we suppose—according to this spiritual law—that person would be “super-exalted” to a place of preeminent honor.

And this is exactly what we read about in the history of Jesus.  He was born into this world.  He lived among men as a servant.  He humbled Himself to the point of death.  He died on a cross for sins.  He rose from the dead.  And in Acts chapter 1 we read of how He ascended to heaven.  And in his first sermon, Peter preached on these matters.  And we read in Acts 2:32-33, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.  Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God…”

Some might wonder “Where is Jesus now?”  The Apostle Peter acknowledged the fact that we “do not see Him now” (1 Peter 1:8).  But we believe in Him and love Him and know that He is now in heaven exalted to the right hand of God.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this (Ephesians 1:20-21): “He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”

Likewise, the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:3), said: “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Charles Spurgeon, “He stooped, who can tell how low? He was raised, who shall tell how high? “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him. ” He threw away his name; he emptied himself of his reputation. How high is his reputation now! How glorious is the name that God hath given him as the reward of his redemptive work!”

And He stands in this super-exalted position in relation to the church, His body.  From heaven He exercises authority (Matthew 28:18).  From heaven He is at work preparing His bride, the church, for His return (Ephesians 5:27).  From heaven He intercedes on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25).  God has given to Him the Highest Place, the Highest Name, and the Highest Reign.

The One who died for sins in humility, is now exalted to the right hand of God in glory.  And He’s coming again and will reign over all.

Now, in sin, some still mock Him.  According to 1 Corinthians 1:23 the message of Christ crucified is “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.”  They deny the reality of His death and resurrection.  They refuse to obey the gospel.  They use His name for a curse word.

But none of this will work to dethrone Him from His super-exalted position.  He rules even now and is coming again, and all things will be brought into subjection under His authority.  And for us, as believers, this is a comforting truth.  We are members of His body.  He is our head.  He is our captain, our commander, the author and perfecter of faith.  He is our champion.  He has defeated all our foes—sin, death, and the devil Himself.  He has been super-exalted in this triumphant position.  We, the members of His body, have nothing to fear.  He has overwhelmingly conquered, we will too.

Or, to put this is real practical terms, we believe that Jesus, the son of a carpenter, who lived about 2000 years ago and who was executed on a cross, rose from the dead and is alive today in heaven where He ascended to the right hand of God.  Even now, He reigns, “as ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5) and is coming again “to judge the world” (Acts 17:31).  Things are not spirally out-of-control in our world, to some unforeseen conclusion.  The ascended Jesus is coming again.  Those who have refused the gospel will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction.  Those who have believed in Him will be glorified with Him

CONCLUSION

There are a couple of other important lessons for us here:

The fact that He has been super-exalted by God implies that God was satisfied with the sacrifice He made for sins.  He finished the work.  Hebrews 1:3, “When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”  Through His death for sins and resurrection from the dead He has provided a means for lost sinners to be saved.  His ascension proves that.

Going back to the spiritual principle that we started with.  We see it perfectly fulfilled in the person of Jesus…

“Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

This principle applies to the matter of salvation.  Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.  But that grace is received, and that faith is expressed by way of humility.  Salvation comes to those who humble themselves before God, acknowledging that there is nothing that they can do to merit or earn salvation from their sins.  Instead they confess their sins and turn their eyes to the provision God has made for their salvation in Jesus.  To those who believe in Jesus God gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

The path of humility exemplified to us in Jesus is the path that He has called us, as believers, to also.  We have already seen how we are to avoid selfishness and empty conceit.  And how we are to instead, in humility of mind, regard others as more important.  We are called, in this manner, to walk according to a Christ-like way of thinking and living.  And this is a manner of life which is pleasing to God and meets with Divine approval.

The Apostle Peter put it this way (1 Peter 5:5-6): “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt you at the proper time.”  In other words, live like Jesus.  Humbly serve Jesus by serving others.  In due time you will receive your reward.

As one writer put it, “As a consequence, God exalted Him.  Thus, in the divine economy of things, by giving a person receives, by serving he is served, by losing his life he finds it, by dying he lives, by humbling himself he is exalted.  The one follows the other as night follows day, but always in order—self-sacrifice before the self being exalted by God.”