Tag Archives: Paul

Sunday’s Sermon — Acts 26:18-30 Strength to Stand

23 Feb

“Man will never fly. This is an activity reserved for the angels.” These were the words of a minister in the late 1800’s. Yet a few years later, the sons of that minister, Orville and Wilbur Wright, would fly. All through the ages some of the greatest moments of humanity have come from what seem to be crazy ideas. President Kennedy pointed us to the moon, saying that we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard. And in July of 1969 we took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. 

          At the beginning of such ventures, those who are involved in doing great things often have to endure charges like Paul endured from Festus in Acts chapter 26, “You’re insane! You’re out of your mind!” But the truth is most of the time those who accomplish great things are not insane, they are the clearest thinkers of all, because they are possessed by a vision and focus that drives them to greatness.

          In the Christian life, our drive for achievement is always to be for God’s glory rather than our own. If we want to be great, we must be servants. Still, there is much about Christianity and about God’s calling which to the world seems insane. I mean, we do believe some things which don’t sound reasonable to most people. We believe God came to earth in human flesh and lived a perfect life among people. We believe that God the Son died. We believe that God the Son, the Lord Jesus, rose from the dead. We believe He ascended to heaven and is reigning with God now. We believe that He is coming to earth again to make all things new. We believe that our mission in the meantime is to know Him and to make Him known. We believe that though we cannot see Him, we love Him and are filled with joy in knowing Him. We believe He has given us His word in a book, the Bible. We believe we can talk to Him in prayer and He hears us and works in answer to prayer. We believe we are called to share all of this truth with the world. And on the surface this all sounds pretty crazy to our world that likes to measure everything and control everything. And maybe part of our hesitancy as Christians to share our faith comes from being a little uncomfortable saying out loud what we believe inside to be true, because we fear the raised eyebrow, the uncomfortable change of subject or even the outright questioning of our sanity. But Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” I believe we can find the strength to take the same stand as Paul if we will pay careful attention to how he interacts with people in Acts 26:19-32.

          We will have strength to stand if . . .

We Have a COMMITMENT to Sharing the Gospel (26:19-23).

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

The commitment to share the gospel is seen here in Paul’s obedience. He followed the instructions he received on the Damascus Road. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his readiness to speak of the gospel early and often and everywhere. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is see in his preaching the true gospel, the message of repentance and faith and spiritual fruit, the only good news there is in this world. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in the fact that he didn’t stop declaring it even when he was arrested by the Jews, even when his life was in danger. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his recognition that the power he has had for all of this has come from God. Paul’s confidence is not in himself but in God and that power of God is what gives him power to share the gospel. Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his commitment to the Bible, to sharing how Jesus fulfills what Moses and the prophets said would come to pass. Paul knows the gospel is the fulfillment of the story of Scripture, not God’s plan B or some kind of later add-on. Paul shows his commitment to the gospel by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is integral to the truth of the gospel, for the truth of a risen Savior shows that His death was not in vain and it shows that because He lives, all who follow Him will live also. Finally, Paul’s commitment to the gospel is seen in his proclaiming the gospel to all people, to great and small, to Jew and Gentile.

What about you? Do you have a commitment to sharing the gospel? If not, consider whether you may be lacking in some area where Paul’s commitment was strong. Are you being obedient? Is it a simple matter of you wanting to be in charge of your own life rather than being obedient to God’s call to know Him and to make Him known? Are you ready to speak for Jesus anywhere and everywhere? Is there anywhere or anyone to whom you are hesitant to speak this word of life? Are you preaching the true gospel, not the false gospel of easy belief and cheap grace nor the false gospel of good works? How important it is to understand and love the gospel ourselves! If you have any questions or just want to grow in your love and understanding of the gospel, pick up Milton Vincent’s A Gospel Primer or my little brochure Our Great Salvation in the book racks at the exits. Do you have a commitment to the gospel such that you will endure opposition, such that you are willing to be called foolish or even hated for telling people about Jesus? Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Well then, let me ask you, does your commitment to telling people about Jesus find its power in a heart of dependence on God? Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. Apart from an abiding relationship with Christ, we can do nothing. So are you leaning of God for boldness and power. Is your commitment to the gospel rooted in your commitment to the Scriptures? This is important because when we see the gospel as just something that happened to us rather than something God planned all along and promised in His Word then when the storms come we will fold. But when we see God’s work in the gospel as the fulfillment of His plan for the ages, we know that in sharing it and living it we are just one small piece in a large puzzle, one stitch in a beautiful tapestry, and this knowledge gives us the strength to go on in a mission that God Himself has established for His glory, the blessing of the nations, and our joy. Is your commitment to the gospel rooted not only in Scripture, but also the person and work of Jesus Christ? We serve a risen Savior who has a plan for our earthly lives and an eternity of joy in His presence for all of us. I wish all of us could consistently set our minds on things above. It would give us so much perspective and so much power to be able to say every morning, “I know my Redeemer lives.” And finally, is your commitment to the gospel a commitment for all people? Are you ready and willing to share the message with anybody, great or small, whatever race? In our food ministry, I have had to face my failure in this way. There is someone who comes to our food ministry pretty regularly and they smell really bad. It is always consistent. I am a little sensitive to smells already and the first time I was with them I gagged. That’s how bad it is. Well, I’ve had to repent this week because I realized that I was avoiding this person because of their smell. I was not willing to engage with them like I should because I was repulsed by them. And I wonder how I could be so arrogant as to not share the gospel with someone just because of how they smell. How can I be that way when my heart stinks so badly? And I think maybe our greatest temptation in life is to write other people off, to dismiss them because of something we don’t like about them. We need to remember CS Lewis’ words, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

So if we are to have a boldness and effectiveness like Paul, we must have a commitment to sharing the gospel. Grace is opposed to earning but not to effort. We should give our best effort to the thing which is most important: the gospel.

We Show RESPECT in the Face of Ridicule, but Without Compromise (26:24-26).

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.

Paul got accused of being out and out crazy here, as the Roman governor Festus told him twice, “You are out of your mind.” Festus couldn’t deny that Paul was educated, he just thought he was insane. So he publicly breaks in to Paul’s presentation and calls him out as a madman in front of everybody. But notice Paul’s response. He does not lash out in return, but speaks with respect. At the same time Paul does not back down from his words at all, but affirms everything he says has been true and reasonable. He says that Agrippa is familiar with what he is saying and Paul makes it clear that he hasn’t been saying or doing anything in hiding. This gospel he proclaims is something that is out in the open.

In our world today, much is made of people who “come out of the closet” to begin to live a certain lifestyle. Maybe as Christians, we need to come out of the closet as unashamed followers of Jesus. Maybe we are trying to do in a corner what God intends for us to put front and center in our lives: to know Him and to make Him known. We need to not be ashamed of Jesus because He is the way, the truth and the life. We need to not back down at all from what we know is true and reasonable, that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Art Azurdia says, “We do not exist for ourselves, we exist for the advancement of the kingdom of God. We exist for the gospel. My dear friends, the sphere of our mission is the world. And I want to tell you something, this does not frighten me. I believe with all my heart that is a great day to be a Christian in the world. I don’t despair the condition of the world. It is a great moment in history to know the gospel because we are living in a day when lives are being destroyed by sin like never before and the answers belong to us! The truth is ours to make known, the truth that can conquer any complexity that life can throw at us. I don’t want my children growing up in a defensive posture. You’ve got to be kidding. I want them to grow up in an offensive posture. We have the gospel!

Now here is the thing. Can we be bold and gentle? Can we be lamb-like lions who are respectful and uncompromising? Can we offend with our words without being offensive in our ways? Can we be like those in 1 Peter who give the reason for their hope with gentleness and respect? Most Christians I know are afraid to tell others about Jesus. Outside this pulpit I find it a real challenge too. And most of the rest of the Christians I know are really bold about telling others about Jesus and they want to make sure everybody knows it. They are rude and obnoxious and overbearing and when they get pushback it is always that they are being persecuted. They’re not being persecuted, they’re just jerks. So can we be unashamed and at the same time loving in our ways? I believe it is possible because it was true of Paul. He lights the way for us. We can be bold and loving at the same time.

We Have SENSITIVITY to Opportunities to Press for Commitment (26:27-28)

27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

Unlike Festus, who was dismissive of Paul, Agrippa seemed to be open to the gospel. Paul pressed him here, but with gentleness and respect. But he pressed him. Paul was the Holy Spirit’s instrument to put a finger on Agrippa’s soul. Agrippa puts him off. He doesn’t answer Paul’s question. His response is almost startled. “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Do you see the balance here? Sensitivity while also pressing for commitment. Paul didn’t push to the point of excess. He didn’t say, now we’re just going to sing six more verses of this hymn until somebody comes down. He didn’t try to twist Agrippa’s arm. And you may say, “Well, that’s because Agrippa was a king.” But wait, where do you see Paul in the book of Acts twisting arms? He says just the opposite in 2 Corinthians 4, “We don’t use manipulation. We don’t pedal the gospel. We don’t think it is by our eloquence that men are saved. We are just frail pots, easy cracked jars. But we contain treasure. And so we are all about pouring out that treasure not so people can see us and think, what a great person, but so that they can see Jesus and think what a great Savior! We don’t commend ourselves but Christ!” So can you be like that? Can you be sensitive to opportunities and lovingly call for commitment? Can you know when to put your foot on the gas pedal and when to apply the break? Yes. You absolutely can. But you have to walk with God. And you have to trust that the same sovereign God who was in control of Paul’s life is also in charge of yours. And some of us, most of us maybe, need heart surgery. I’m going off track a little bit here but I think it is important. You and I so often are fearful and silent about our faith because our lives are like a heart with blocked arteries. There are blockages in our lives that prevent the free flow of the life of the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. And it usually comes down to one of two things; outward trials and inward struggles. And these things block the arteries of our spiritual life and they will, if left unchecked, leave us lifeless. Some of you have faced so much loss. You’ve faced so much tragedy. You’ve had so much hardship. Relational hardship, loneliness, the death of loved ones, disease, financial struggles. These outward trials have made you wonder, “Does God hear? Is God real? Does He care?” And this blockage of frustration has your soul blocked, so that the free flow of God’s life does not move in your life. For others, the blockages are inward. You can’t shake the problem you have with anger. You’re just frustrated with everybody all the time. You can’t shake the struggle with lust or food or alcohol and you just feel like a slave, and nobody knows the pain but you. You are gripped by worry about the future, about what might happen. You are in the throes of envy, wanting the lives of the people you see on TV or on Facebook. And your soul is blocked. And I want to say that at the core of our lack of love for the gospel and lack of desire to share it there is often a blockage which is holding us back. We clear out the blockage by repentance. God is ready to restore the repentant. He will give you back your joy. We clear out the blockage by opening up with supportive friends who can gently point us to the way home. And when your soul starts getting freed up, it starts to sing. You may be an introvert or an extrovert but no matter who you are by personality this is the will of God for you, fullness of the joy of the Lord, which is your strength. Joyful people are energized for the purposes of God. And when we are energized, we tend to see things the way Paul saw them here in verse 29 . . .

 

We Have OPTIMISM Regarding the Goodness and Power of the Gospel (26:29).

29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

Don’t you love how Paul turned around Agrippa’s words about time to express his wish that all who hear him might become Christians? You of all those people gathered there that day, probably 95% wanted Paul dead. But Paul could wish without irony for the salvation of every one of them. Why? Because Paul was optimistic. Even though he was a prisoner, even though he was in chains, Paul was optimistic. I love it. Why was he optimistic? He trusted in the goodness of God. He trusted in the sovereignty of God. And he had seen God save him, a killer of Christians. Paul knew God could save anybody, because God had saved him.

Are you optimistic about the work of God? No, Pastor, I’ve had too much hardship, too many pains. Well, this guy Paul was almost beaten to death and he was even in this chapter still in chains. Yet he has hope that all these gathered to hear will one day bow the knee to Jesus in faith. Do you believe God can save that wayward family member? Do you believe He can transform that friend or co-worker? Are you earnestly praying to that end? I know we talk about our prayer list and praying for the sick but are you praying for those with sick souls? Because you can pray for health and that’s good but even the healthiest person is still going to die. But the person who is sick in soul is going to die and go to hell. They are facing eternal death. And only God can open their eyes. And we are called to go to people and tell them of Jesus, no matter the cost or what others do. Are you earnestly praying for the lost? We sometimes talk about praying for revival and I certainly believe in that but you know what I think? I think if we got really serious about praying for lost people we might just find revival breaking out among us. Because revival is nothing more and nothing less than the result of a people aligning their hearts with the heart of God. And God loves people and desires to save people. Want revival in your life? Talk about Jesus to people and talk to Jesus about people. God will bless it and you will not be down in the mouth and depressed all the time, because your pessimism 9 times out of 10 is rooted in self-centeredness. Let your life be taken up with the purposes of God and you won’t have time to live in the dumps. There are those seasons where we may struggle, I understand that. Grief is hard. Disease is hard. We don’t just snap out of it. But if we focus on the kingdom of God, it can go a long way toward bringing us healing.

We Value CHRIST-EXALTATION Above Self-Preservation (26:30-32).

30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Paul knew what he was doing when he appealed to Caesar. He knew this was not only a ticket out of the hands of the Jews but it was also a ticket to Rome. Yet he must also have known that he still stood a chance of surviving a trial apart from appealing to Caesar. He could have stayed the course and defended himself and gotten out to continue his life. But he chose to be arrested and to appeal to Caesar and to subject himself to more time in prison and a Roman trial. Why? Because Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles and his appeal to Caesar would be a one way ticket to the center of the Gentile world. You see, Paul was all about exalting Christ rather than preserving self.

If you want to be an effective servant of God, His will must be more important than your will. The words of John the Baptist must become true of you, “He must become greater, I must become less.” The furtherance of God’s kingdom must be more important than the establishment of your kingdom. As has often been said, “Before we pray Thy kingdom come we must pray my kingdom go.” We must put the stent of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to the blockages of our lives, be they internal or external and not let ourselves be defined by either our circumstances or struggles.

We get to live such an exciting life! If you are home with your kids all day or working a dead end job or whatever, as a follower of Jesus you live a life of wonder. John Piper says, “We get to live an exciting way to live your life expectantly under the providence of a sovereign God. You get up in the morning and you pray and make your plan for the day. But then you pray again and say, “Lord, I know that I do not control this day—what will happen to my car, who will call me at work, whom I will see at lunch, and a hundred other unexpected details. Would you govern my day so that all its unplanned detours are spiritually valuable? Help me to see divine appointments where Satan may only want me to see interruptions and irritations.”

In the movie The Rookie, Jim Morris is a pitcher who doesn’t get his start at pursuing his major league dream until his late thirties, when most guys are retiring. His efforts in the minor leagues have been discouraging and he is just about to quit, when one night he goes out into one of the small towns where his minor league team was playing. There he sees a youth league baseball game. And the enthusiasm and joy of those kids on the field reminds him that the game was really worth playing. The burden of trying to make the big leagues fades away and he is able to focus on the joy of the journey. And so the next day, as he goes into the locker room, he says to his best friend on the team, “You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball.”

Oh how I long for my own life and for yours that we would get to the point that when we wake up in the morning we would say, “You know what we get to do today? We get to be part of the kingdom of God! We get to talk about Jesus! We get to give our lives for something eternal! We get to throw our blockages to the side and run the race with perseverance! We get to finish well! We get to read our Bibles, translated in our own language! We get to talk to the God of the universe whenever we want! We get to live free from condemnation and never in fear of separation from God’s love! We get to come to church and worship our Lord! Away with all the have to’s and need to’s and wish I wanted to’s! By the grace of God and for the glory of God We GET to be Christians! Let’s not waste the opportunity. Go from this place today ready to share Jesus wherever you go. God will be honored, people will be blessed, and you will have joy you never knew you had.

 

 

 

Sunday’s Sermon — Acts 25, Paul on Trial

8 Feb

Two years. Innocent. But awaiting trial. Two years. For two years Paul languished in the prison in Caesarea. All that time the governor Felix had kept him waiting. After being convicted by Paul’s gospel message of righteousness and self-control and the judgement to come, he put Paul off, at once attracted to Paul’s message and repelled by it. He tried to get Paul to offer a bribe, but Paul would not. So Paul is left waiting. The man who had been a tornado of activity was left in a cell. Yet, he had a promise. God had told Paul that he would not only escape Jerusalem but that he would testify for the gospel in Rome. Paul had a word from God, a promise, so he knew that he would get out of the prison, somehow, some way.

It is not uncommon for God’s people to suffer even though they are innocent. We think of the sufferings of Joseph, years and years in prison before God fulfilled His promises. We think of David and Saul, where David had to flee the king even though he had only been good to the king. We think of Daniel in the lion’s den, of Elijah on the run from Ahab, of Moses criticized by his people, and supremely we think of Jesus, of whom the book of Isaiah says,

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

so he opened not his mouth.

    By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

    And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,        although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet we read in the same section of Isaiah, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him.” You see, for Joseph and David, for Abraham and Sarah and Hannah and Elijah and Moses and Daniel and for Paul, the things that happened to them were not cosmic accidents. They were not the schemes of the devil. They were not the result of bad luck or systems that were against them. They were right from the hand of God. And in every case, the sufferings they faced were not to be compared to the later and greater glory. And in every case, the sufferings they faced furthered God’s purposes in the world. God is sovereign over this universe. We often don’t understand. We often can’t understand. As the great Wesley hymn And Can it Be? says in one of its verses, ’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries To sound the depths of love divine. ’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more. ’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; Let angel minds inquire no more

The mysteries of God’s design are undeniable but the reality of His sovereign rule in this universe is also undeniable. You can suppress it, you can push it down, you can try to explain it away, you can even deny it, but it is there, always, sustaining your every breath, holding together the forces of gravity, the hand that moves the world. If even His finger were moved off the world for a second, all the universe would crash in on itself and we would be destroyed. He could say the world and slay any one of us where we sit. It is He who rules and reigns in all things. Don’t worry about Trump or Hillary or Bernie or Ted or Marco. One of them or somebody else will win but none of them will reign. One of them may put money in your pocket or take it away, they may enact legislation that moves our nation in one direction or another, but none of them can stay the hand of God. As a popular Steve Green song from many years ago says, “Though the earth be removed And time be no more These truths are secure God’s word shall endure Whatever may change, these things are sure… We believe So if the mountains are cast down into the plains When kingdoms all crumble, this one remains Our faith is not subject to seasons of man With our fathers we proclaim We believe our Lord will come as he said The land and the sea will give up their dead His children will reign with Him as their head . . . We believe.”

What I am continuing to learn from the Bible is that God is working out His purposes all the time and the way He chooses to work out those purposes in our lives is often hardship. As I read this week in my devotions about Israel sending in the spies into the Promised Land in Numbers 13 I was reminded of how the call of God on Israel was difficult. They were indeed heading into a land of many people. They would have to fight. It would be difficult. But they had the promise of God that they would prevail. If we want a life of ease we ought never take up the name of Christian. If we want a life of meaning it is the only name we should ever know, for we will never find anything with as much eternal value as the gospel of Jesus Christ. But this value is unfolded in the struggles of life ruled by the sovereign hand of God. This was Paul’s experience in Acts 25, and it will be our experience too. Two years . . . an innocent man. What would you do? How would you feel? Would you be tempted to question God? I want to briefly look at what happened with Paul in chapter 25 this morning and consider what his story can show us about our own way of looking at the world.

 

25 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.

Festus was the new Roman governor in Judea. He was making a courtesy call as he came into office. Festus wanted to connect with the leaders of the most important city of the land to see if there were any pressing issues he needed to deal with.

 And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him,

The pressing issue on the minds of the Jews was still Paul, even after two years. They laid out their case against him. But they did not really want to put him on trial, as we see in verse 3.

asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way.

The Jews did not want Festus to rule on Paul, they wanted to use Festus as a way to get Paul to come to Jerusalem, so they could assassinate Paul on the way. Their earlier ambush plan had been foiled, so now they would try again. Bitterness doesn’t go away apart from a work of God, it just gets worse.

Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

Festus doesn’t take the bait. He won’t be ordered around by the Jewish religious leaders. If they want to see Paul, they will come with Festus, he will not bring Paul to them.

After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove.

After staying in Jerusalem a few days Festus returned to Caesarea and convened a court to try Paul. The Jews came from Jerusalem and brought many and serious charges. But there was one problem: they couldn’t prove any of the charges. By this time it had been two years and their original charges were false anyway. They really couldn’t build much of a case. Their only hope was to try to pressure the new leader to appease them. But Paul’s defense is brilliant.

Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”

On the surface, Paul’s reply seems to be a simple denial of the charges against him. Remember, the Jews had charged him with defiling the temple by bringing a Gentile into it. They had charged him with speaking against the law of Moses. They had charged him with stirring up the people. But none of the charges the Jews brought had to do with Paul showing disrespect to the Roman Empire. But Paul adds here, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” By focusing on the fact that he had not offended Caesar, the Roman government, Paul is setting up his way of escape. By linking the charges against him to an offense against Rome Paul is making a way for his case to be taken out of the hands of the Jews entirely. We see this in verses 9-12.

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”

Festus knew the religious leaders of Jerusalem were powerful and he wanted to please them, so he asked if Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem to face trial before Festus there. In other words, Festus wanted to move the trial to the religious leader’s home court. But Paul shifts the focus to Rome, again proclaiming his innocence and appealing to Caesar. Once Paul appeals to Caesar, he provides cover for both himself and Festus, as Festus’ hands are tied by the appeal of a Roman citizen to a trial in Rome. He would have to send Paul to Caesar. Now the effect of Paul’s appeal was that Paul was going to be out from the threat of death at the hands of the Jews, Festus was going to be out from the obligation to please the Jews by sentencing an innocent man to death, and the Jews were going to be dissatisfied that Paul would not be tried, convicted and executed at this time.

But I wonder, how does this relate to our earlier sermons in Acts which highlighted the fact that Paul did not live a self-protective life? We said a few weeks ago that Paul did not live for self-preservation but for Christ-exaltation. Is this still true in chapter 25? I believe it is true and I believe that Paul’s appeal to Caesar is not an expression of fear but is an expression of great faith. Back in chapter 23, after he had been mobbed by the angry crowd, while he was in the Roman soldier’s barracks under guard in Jerusalem, the Lord appeared to him and gave him a promise, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” So as Paul remembered this promise he appealed to Caesar, knowing this act would get him to where God had promised he would go. In addition, remember that Paul’s ultimate mission was to Gentiles. While he had come to Jerusalem to bring a gift of aid to the Christians in Jerusalem, his ultimate ministry was not among the Jews in Jerusalem but was for the Gentiles. So in appealing to Caesar, Paul would get back into Gentile territory, back onto the ground God had called him. 

13 Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and greeted Festus.

Time would pass before arrangements could be made for Paul to go to Rome, so in the meantime King Agrippa II and his sister Bernice came to Caesarea for a visit with Festus. Again, as a new Roman governor it makes sense that the king of the surrounding areas would come visit. So Agrippa comes with Bernice. Agrippa was the grandson of Herod the Great, who had been king at Jesus’ birth. Bernice’s husband had died so she came to live with her brother. Festus takes the opportunity of their visit to discuss with them the case of Paul. As leaders with an extensive knowledge of the Jews, Festus probably thought Agrippa and Bernice could give him good advice.

14 And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying, “There is a man left prisoner by Felix, 15 and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews laid out their case against him, asking for a sentence of condemnation against him. 16 I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face to face and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. 17 So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed. 19 Rather they had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. 20 Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. 21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” 22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” said he, “you will hear him.”

So Festus recalls the story of Paul for Agrippa and Bernice and after hearing the whole story Agrippa is intrigued. He wants to hear from Paul himself.

23 So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then, at the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. This verse is fulfilled in Luke 21:12, But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.

24 And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. 25 But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. 26 But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

Festus knows he must send Paul to Caesar since Paul has appealed to Caesar but he doesn’t want to be called incompetent by the Emperor for not having any charges to bring against Paul. Therefore, he asks for Agrippa’s help to understand the situation so that he will have an adequate reason to send Paul to Rome. This is what we will look at next time when we look at the fascinating 26th chapter of Acts.

What do we say about this chapter today? I see two truths which, if we can grasp can help us greatly. First, we must talk about the sovereignty of God. Paul is surrounded by powerful people in this chapter. Roman governors, kings, officials, Jewish religious leaders, but the bottom line is this: none of these people has any power at all over Paul that God hasn’t given them. One of my favorite lines in the gospel of John is when Pilate says to Jesus, “Will you say nothing? Don’t you know I have the power to set you free or have you crucified?” And we remember Jesus’ reply . . . “You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given you from above.” Paul was not ultimately in the hands of those who imprisoned him, he is in the hands of God.

Second, we must talk about the necessity of faith. Paul could live anchored in the love of God because he believed the promise of God. He believed what God had told him, that he would testify in Rome, that he would be a light to the Gentiles. And this trust in the promise of God gave him the foundation to bear any burden and endure any trial, even the hatred of his people, even the darkness of prison. Paul was convinced that the God who made the promises would be faithful to keep them. Vance Havner said that in today’s church there is too much “sitting on the premises and not enough standing on the promises.” He’s right. Why not us? Why not now? Why can’t we by the power of God live a life of holy love? Why can’t we see victory over that persistent area of sin? Why can’t we be useful instruments in the hands of a mighty God, no matter our age or station in life? What’s holding us back? It’s not God. It’s not Him. It’s not because He hasn’t promised us anything. He has promised us everything we need for life and godliness. Don’t let go of Him when hard times come. Don’t live a life of passivity where you just expect God to do everything. Don’t let go and let God, grab hold and let God. He’ll take you on a wild ride but where you end up is really good.

Steve Camp wrote a song several years ago that I have always liked. It is called “Living Dangerously in the Hands of God.”

How easily Jesus is forgotten Amid the comfort of my life How the flames become a flicker And faith a brilliant disguise Oh, Sunday’s become a holiday Prayer an empty exercise And the cost of real devotion Seems so foreign to my life Our Lord, He is a hiding place His hold is strong and sure Though the storms may rage around me In His love I stand secure So let me live like I believe it And though my faith is prone to fail Though I cower under trial By His grace, I shall prevail There’s safety in complacency But God is calling us out Of our comfort zone into a life Of complete surrender to the cross To live dangerously Is not to live recklessly but righteously And it is because of God’s radical grace for us That we can risk living a life Of radical obedience for Him You’ve got to walk on For the Lord, He walks with us You’ve got to walk on Oh, though it costs you everything You’ve got to pray on For the eyes of the Lord Move to and fro throughout the earth That He may strongly support those Whose hearts are completely His Oh, to gladly risk it all Oh, to be faithful to His call Abandoned to grace But anchored in His love Living dangerously Are you living dangerously Oh, we ought to be living dangerously In the hands of God Are you living dangerously In the hands of God

Sermon — Acts 21:15-36, “Friends and Enemies”

13 Jan

This morning we return to the book of Acts. We started in Acts way back in 2011 and have come back to it from time to time over the years. The plan is to finish this book in January and February of this year. We are in chapter 21 this morning and the rest of the book through chapter 28 is very much like what we will look at today. This last section of Acts is all about Defending the Faith.

On one level, our faith needs no defending. It is true. God does exist. He has created the world. Humanity has sinned and God has sent His Son to pay the penalty for that sin so that all people who repent and believe can be restored to relationship with God, escape His wrath and live eternally with Him. These things are just true. They don’t have to be proven on one level. They can’t be seen or touched but this does not mean they are not real. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

On the other hand, there will always be many challenges to our faith. Our world is sinful. People would rather be the captain of their own ship rather than submit to the authority of God. There is much hostility against Christians in our day. In parts of Africa and the Middle East, you may be killed for professing Christ as Savior. In some countries you may be imprisoned or your rights restricted. In America, you may be looked at as narrow-minded or bigoted or unloving if you really seek to follow Christ. None of this is new. The Church has always faced persecution and hardship has often been the crucible of revival. Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble. 1 Peter tells us not to be surprised at the fiery trial we are undergoing, as if something strange were happening to you. Paul tells Timothy that all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And James tells us to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.

As Christians, we ought to be the most joyful people in the world. Our past is covered. Our future is secure. In the present we have the Holy Spirit living in us and everything we need for life and godliness. And yet . . . for many of us there is a weakness and a joylessness to our Christian experience. We have been taken down by the trials of life and have grown discouraged. Concerns about the future plague us.

Many of us stand on the edge of a new year with fear and trembling rather than faith and joy. But the man whose story we are looking at over the next few weeks was not like that. The apostle Paul was a man of great faith and deep joy. To be sure, he had his sorrows. There were times when the ministry was overwhelming, when watching people turn away from God hurt him to the core. There were times when he felt anxiety over the churches he had planted. But the overwhelming tone of his life is joy. And the overwhelming message of his life is joy. This is the man who wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” This is the man who wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

The end of the year is a time for reflection and as I was reflecting on my life this last week and as I studied through this passage, I recognized that joy has been decreasing in my life for some time. There are many reasons this is so . . . maybe it’s getting older, kind of getting to mid-life. Maybe it’s all the death and sickness we face as a church, watching people we love suffer. Maybe it’s my ongoing battles with sin and the discouragement that comes when I fail to live as I should. Maybe it is concern for the future of the church. Maybe it’s the times of prayerlessness or times when God’s Word seems dry to me. It could be all these things in some combination which has sapped some of my joy. But then I remember Paul’s words . . . “rejoice in the Lord.” I have failed in my life to rejoice in the Lord and this has affected everything negatively. You see, that’s my failing and I’m owning it publicly today because I believe it is probably also the reason many of you also lack joy. Like Peter walking on the water, we have gotten our eyes on the wind and the waves and taken our eyes off Jesus. I know the wind and the waves are scary. They can be overwhelming. I know. And I know Jesus is not visible to us like He was to Peter on the Sea. Still, He has promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

If we’re going to understand joy from a biblical perspective, we’ve got to understand what it is not. It is not perfect circumstances or pleasurable experiences. If you’re waiting for everything to be right in your life before you can be joyful, you’ll never be joyful. When you consider the lives of God’s choice servants in the Bible, you find mostly very harsh circumstances. Paul’s own life was filled with persecutions, hunger, danger, abuse and scorn. Yet he was the man of joy. I believe it was the great missionary Hudson Taylor who said, “Peace is not the absence of trouble but the presence of God.” This is right. Yes, we should be joyful and peaceful in our lives, but we will never get there by trying to manipulate our circumstances until we are in a happy place. And we will never get there by looking within. Look to yourself and you will find the problems. How many of you love looking at yourself in the mirror? Most of us, when we look in the mirror, find something to be displeased about. The same thing happens when we look within for joy.

Joy and peace and love and all the rest are the fruit of the Spirit. This means God produces them in us as we trust Jesus and walk with Him. If you seek joy and peace you’ll never get them. If you seek Jesus and walk with Him, you suddenly find joy and peace breaking out in your life. They are the fruit that is produced from abiding in the vine, the Lord Jesus.

You will also find, if you really walk with Jesus, trouble breaking out. And I do not think this is outside of the will of God but is integral to His plan. There are two reasons for this that I can see. One is to wean us off the notion that joy comes through lining up my circumstances to be the best they can be. God knows that we live in a fallen world and because of the effects of sin nothing quite works the way we hope it will. So God lovingly brings hardship into our lives so that we do not put all our hopes in things which will ultimately perish, spoil or fade. The other reason God brings hardships into our lives is for the spread of His gospel. One of the key verses many Christians think of when we consider the issue of defending the faith is 1 Peter 3:15, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. What strikes me about this verse in the context of what we’re talking about this morning is that phrase, “be prepared to make a defense for anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” And the question that comes to mind there is, “if I have my life all together and everything is going great, if the bank account is fat and the waistline is thin, if the car is running great and everybody loves me, who is going to has me about the hope I have?” What reason do I even have for hope? I don’t need hope if everything in my life is perfect. The very idea of hope is rooted in the longing for something (or Someone) beyond what we have. In other words, hope only flourishes in hardship. So God brings hardship into our lives to cause us to base our lives on Him, not on our fleeting circumstances or our uncertain future. This hardship is intended to draw us to hope in God and when those close to us see us hope in God in the midst of hardship, they will ask us for the reason for the hope that lies within us.

About a week before Christmas, I learned that a college friend, Eric, had died. He was just 43. His father had died a few years ago of a brain tumor and then about a year and a half ago he was diagnosed with four brain tumors. He fought valiantly but in the end he died. But he maintained the same gentle faith throughout his whole ordeal. He remained faithful in the midst of the deepest trial and God used Him mightily. We can’t make sense of all that happens to us and some things are tragic and seem unfair. But the difficulties we face are God’s tools of change in our lives and He chisels away at us through hardship so that our hope in Him is rock-solid and sure and sufficient. God gives us trials to show us that He is enough and that we can rejoice in Him come what may. This is the kind of life Paul lived.

We may understand the dynamics of how God works that I have just described but fail to enter into that life unless we know the secret of Paul’s joy. Paul was not joyful in bitter circumstances because he understood God’s purposes for hardship. He was joyful for a different reason, which we will see all through this last section of Acts.

I realize I have been talking all this time and haven’t yet addressed the text for today’s message. So let’s jump in for a moment and look at this story from Acts 21 and see if we can discover the secret of Paul’s joy.

Now Paul has just completed his third missionary journey and has had a very emotional parting from the church in Ephesus. They shed tears and said their goodbyes on the beach as Paul and his traveling companions set sail for Jerusalem to deliver the monetary gift he had collected from the Gentile churches to give to the church in Jerusalem, which had been facing a famine and much hardship. This would be a gesture of great meaning, as the Gentile Christians would be helping the Jewish Christians, demonstrating their unity in Christ. Paul hoped to arrive in Jerusalem by Pentecost. At that time there would be many people in Jerusalem from the surrounding areas. Some studies say up to 2 million people may have been in Jerusalem and vicinity at this time. Paul’s travels went well and he made it to Jerusalem. He stayed with Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple. He may have been converted on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Mnason was from a Greek background, so Paul may have stayed with him because he had Gentiles in his traveling party and didn’t want any unnecessary conflict that could come from having Gentiles in a Jewish home.

In the beginning, things look good for Paul. He is received warmly by the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. The next day, he goes to meet with the elders, or pastors, of the Jerusalem church, led by James, the half-brother of Jesus. Paul shared what God had done through his ministry to the Gentiles just as he had at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. The Jerusalem leaders rejoice and tell him excitedly of the many thousands of Jews who have turned to the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem. So it seems things are going well among both the ministry to the Jews and the ministry to the Gentiles. But there is trouble afoot. These Jews who have believed in Jesus are suspicious of Paul because they think he has been teaching Jews living in Gentile lands to not follow the law and not circumcise their children or keep the traditions of Judaism. This suspicion was not exactly right. Paul did indeed teach that the law could save no one and that if a person added keeping the law to believing in Jesus that person would actually be believing a different gospel, which was really not a true gospel at all. But Paul did not shut the door to people observing the traditions of Judaism while also following Jesus. He just insisted that these things must never be seen as gateways to salvation. Romans 14 makes it clear that Paul left decisions over the Sabbath and things like it to the conscience of his hearers. So the Jews who were suspicious of Paul had no real reason to be suspicious of him. It seems they believed exaggerations and rumors rather than seeking the truth.

The Jerusalem elders were concerned enough about this faction of troublemakers in their midst that they devise a plan for Paul that amounts to something of a PR campaign to put him in the good graces of the Jewish Christians and other Jews in Jerusalem. Paul is told to go with four men to the temple who had taken a vow and to pay for their expenses in their ritual purification. So they want Paul to participate in a Jewish ritual to show that he is not against the traditions of his people.

And Paul followed their instructions. There has been much debate over the years about whether Paul did the right thing by making this decision. What we do know is that in spite of Paul trying to not offend people, he still got into trouble. Some Jews from Asia who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, saw Paul and stirred up the crowd against him. These Jews were likely from Ephesus, because they knew the man, Trophimus the Ephesian, who was with Paul in the temple. And they stirred up the crowd against Paul and seized him, accusing him of teaching against Judaism, charging him with denigrating the Jewish people and the law and the temple. Their trump card was that Paul had brought Trophimus into the Jewish temple courts. This was a lie, based on the fact that Paul was with Trophimus in Jerusalem they assumed Paul had taken him into the temple. But Paul would have never done such a thing. There was a Gentile court in the temple, but the Jewish court was clearly marked that any non-Jew who entered could be put to death. Paul would have known this. But these enemies of Paul lived by the same principle as people on the internet live by today, never let a false rumor go to waste.

So Paul is seized from the Jewish courts of the temple and the temple gates are shut at once. In other words, the Jews in Jerusalem at this time are ready to kill Paul but they don’t want to defile the temple by killing someone within its gates.

In the sovereignty of God, word gets to the Roman officer in charge of Jerusalem and he takes soldiers and centurions to the temple immediately. The fact that he took more than one centurion with him probably means he took more than two hundred soldiers, since a centurion was charged with leadership over a hundred soldiers. The presence of the Roman soldiers causes the beating Paul is receiving to cease. Paul was arrested and chained then he was asked by the Roman officer who he was and what he had done. No innocent until proven guilty here, just arrest. And lots of confusion. The crowd is not even clear about what is angering them. Paul is delivered by being brought back to the Antonia Fortress, the Roman barracks at the northwest point of the temple. The crowd went after him so fiercely that the soldiers had to actually lift him up to carry him through the crowd to safety. And then Luke quotes the mob in the one thing they could all agree on. We read in verse 36, “for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” These are the exact same words the crowds used when they chose Barabbas over Jesus and Pilate delivered Jesus over to be crucified. Paul is truly walking in the footsteps of his Master.

And so will we, if we really follow Him. The road to the fullness of God is paved with suffering. Paul did not rejoice in being struck by people’s fists. He did not celebrate being insulted and rejected by his own kinsmen in the flesh. He did not enjoy being arrested. But there are several truths his encounter with his friends and enemies here which can help us pursue real joy in God and reject empty and fading joys.

First, we can see in this passage the power of rumor and false accusations to mobilize a mob. This is something that happens so often in our world today. We hear a story, assume that we know the truth and then go into outrage mode. To deliberate over the facts, to carefully consider what is true, is looked at as weakness. The pace of our world demands instant decisions, but rash decisions are often wrong. Paul wasn’t against Judaism. He loved his kinsmen according to the flesh. Paul insisted that Judaism must not be made a requirement for salvation but he was not trying to overthrow the culture of Judaism, his goal was to transform Judaism from within by showing that Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism. This is why in Romans Paul’s longing is that Jews would trust Jesus.

Paul’s motivation, and the secret of his joy, was his desire for Christ to be preeminent. This is why he did what he did in this chapter. I don’t think he was fearful. He went to the temple after all. I don’t see him in the next chapters cowering under pressure. He views his hardships as an opportunity to testify to his captors. Paul’s heart was for the gospel.

I remember when my dad was sick, one of the things he said was that he was thankful for the opportunity his sickness gave him to testify to the nurses and doctors of God’s goodness to him. That was a challenge in everyday life, because cancer stinks and the treatments for cancer are just as bad, but I think he saw that even in the midst of all that he had an opportunity to glorify God. For Paul, the old cliché really was true: he viewed obstacles as opportunities.

Paul’s focus throughout his Christian life was on the preeminence of Christ. This is why he says in Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ.” Paul’s constant focus was on how he could point other people to Jesus and how he could continually live by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave Himself for Paul.

We will always face opposition. Much of it will be unfair. We see that unfairness in this passage. We will often be misunderstood and misinterpreted. The issue is not that we face hardship. The issue is how we deal with hardship. We are quick to blame hardship on the devil but I have come to believe that much hardship is from God and all of it passes through His sovereign hand. I find support for this idea in Hebrews 12, where we read, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Ricky Nelson was a young man who became a star at a young age. An actor on the Ozzie and Harriet television show in the 1950’s, he parlayed his good looks and celebrity into a singing career. He had almost as many hits as Elvis in the late 50’s and early 60’s. But by the late 60’s times had changed and his music fell out of favor. In the early 70’s, Nelson was doing a show at Madison Square Garden with several other singers and groups. He was working on new music and began to sing those songs. The audience booed him loudly. In response he wrote a song called Garden Party. The key line of the song is the chorus, “It’s alright now, I learned my lesson well, you see you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” The first part of his lesson is exactly right but the second part is way off. We can’t please everyone. You’ll never be loved by everyone. But the answer to the fact that you can’t please everyone does not mean that you should then please yourself. The choice in life is not either about pleasing others or pleasing yourself. Listen to Paul for the right answer . . . 2 Corinthians 5, “we make it our aim to please Him.” Don’t live to please others. And don’t live to please yourself. Live to please God. How do you please God? Remember Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” Jesus doesn’t want you to work really hard to make Him happy. He doesn’t demand that you do everything right before He will accept you. He invites you to trust Him and walk with Him daily and in that daily walk your life echoes the chorus of the great hymn, “Faith is the victory, faith is the victory, O glorious victory that overcomes the world.”

As you walk with Jesus in this way, you will find two things bubbling up in your life, two things that will strengthen your soul and make you a useful instrument in the hand of God: courage and joy.

My wish for 2016 is that the words of the great hymn we sang at the beginning of the service would be true of us . . .

And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him. That word above all earthly powers Not thanks to them, abideth. The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever…

This life is available to every one of us through faith in Christ. Let’s walk with Him in 2016 and watch His work in our lives.

 

 

Colossians 3:1-4, Christ Our Life

9 Aug

One of the most important parts of a door is its hinge. Without the hinge, the door is not useful. Colossians 3:1-4 is like the hinge on a door, everything turns on this. The first two chapters of Colossians were mainly doctrinal, laying out truth about Jesus and warning the church at Colossae not to give in to the false teachers who are trying to take them away from Christ. After Colossians 3:1-4, Paul turns to how to practically live as a follower of Christ. So this paragraph we are looking at today is a turning point and is the key to the whole letter.

This paragraph is both a contrast and a reminder. Paul has just been warning us in chapter two about foolish attempts at holiness. These are man-centered efforts to make our way to God and they never work. We always come up short when we try to make our own way. Instead, Paul reminds us to fix our eyes on the One he had so powerfully talked about in chapter one, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom. This mystery revealed, this supreme Christ who is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer, He is our focus, He is our goal, He is to be our life. This is the message of Colossians 3:1-4 – Don’t settle for cheap imitations when the real thing is right in front of you. Don’t chase shadows when you can have the reality.

But we are good at chasing shadows aren’t we? People chase shadows in all sorts of ways, looking for real life in all the wrong places. Some seek the Special Experience. They look for one decisive, dramatic moment when the Holy Spirit will work bringing life-long freedom from sin and the fullness of God. It seems some in Colossians were seeking this kind of experience, a higher plane that opened the door to a deeper life. I do believe there can be decisive spiritual breakthroughs in our lives, but none of these experiences lift us to a place where we no longer have to battle sin or seek God.

Others seek the shadow of Special Knowledge. They believe if they can go beyond the basic teachings about Christ they can unlock a door of understanding that will lead to a fulfilled life. They are looking for a new idea, some new thought to open up everything. It seems some in Colossae were attracted by this kind of approach. This is also a common approach in cults. If you look at groups that are offshoots of Christianity very often they are claiming some kind of special knowledge that the Church at large has missed.  So we must be careful to not chase the shadow of special knowledge.

Another shadow many people chase is the shadow of Ritual Observance. We see this in Colossians chapter 2 with the warnings about keeping festivals and Sabbaths. Many people believe that if they jump through all the right spiritual hoops, they will have freedom and fulfillment in God. So they may be very cautious about their behavior and even go beyond the Bible in defining right and wrong. They challenge here is that these people very often are not only seeking a dead end through ritual but they also look down on anyone who doesn’t share their view. We could see the Pharisees of Jesus’ day perhaps as falling into this category.

Others go the way of Self-Denial. They focus on finding life through fasting, cutting off desires, and having a dim view of the material world. There is a desire to live on a spiritual plane and escape worldly corruption. The Colossians seem to have struggled with this as we saw in chapter two, but Paul was very clear that these efforts at self-denial in and of themselves had no power to restrain the flesh. The Gnostics chose to do so. Spirituality had to be found beyond the world of things and persons. And so the body and desires associated with this world had to be denied.

Finally, many people try to find life through chasing the shadow of Pleasure. Some seek life through partaking of all the pleasures life has to offer. So they indulge their flesh, adopting the motto, “You Only Live Once.” While this is an obvious dead end, many people seek to throw off restraint and do what they want, thinking this will make them happy.

Now these things: the Special Experience, Special Knowledge, Ritual Observance, Self-Denial, and Pleasure, they all have an element of truth to them. This is why Paul calls them shadows, they are reflections of the real thing. But they are also like shadows because they lack any real substance of their own. All of these pathways for living leave us cold and empty in the end. Life is found in the reality: Christ. And so for the rest of our time we will put our focus on the reality and find our life in Him.

 Εἰ οὖν συνηγέρθητε τῷ Χριστῷ, τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε, οὗ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενος· 2 τὰ ἄνω φρονεῖτε, μὴ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.

“If therefore you have been raised with Christ.” Remember the words of chapter 2 verse 20, “If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world.” So you died with Christ and you have been raised with Christ. The “if” here in both cases is an “if” which is assumed to be true. Some translations will even translate this as “since.” The point Paul is making is that all who have trusted Christ have died with Him and have been raised with Him. When we trusted Christ, this happened. We died with Him and were raised with Him. See, it has already happened, “you HAVE BEEN raised.” As Paul said in chapter 1 verse 13, God, “rescued us from darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

In coming to Christ, we died to the sin that held us down and separated us from God. We died to an eternity of hell. We died to being enslaved by our earthly nature. And we were raised to a new life where we get all the benefits listed in Romans 8: no condemnation, power for living, adoption into God’s family, coming glory in the presence of God, God’s good guidance through every trial of life and no separation from God’s love.

So through faith in Christ we have already died to sin and self and been raised with Christ to new life. But now we see here that we must seek the things which are above. We must become what we are. We must enter in to what we have already received. We must in our present experience pursue this life in Christ if we are to have the reality rather than the shadow.

It’s like someone who has a great talent and never uses it. It’s like a woman  who can really sing, just has a natural gifting, but never sings. She possesses the talent but she never enjoys it because she never puts it to use. The Christian life is intended to deeply shape you right now, today. But that only happens when we actively pursue what we already possess. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” “Ask, seek, knock.” There are all kinds of invitations in Scripture to seek God. What are we seeking today? Are we seeking shadows: ritual, pleasure, knowledge? Or are we seeking the things above?

The “things above” here are certainly not streets of gold or pearly gates or even beloved friends and family who have gone on before us. The “things above” here are kingdom things, rather than sinful things. At the heart of the book of Colossians is the question of what is at the center of our lives. Is your life Christ-centered or is it self-centered? To seek the things above means to increasingly have the priorities of God. To seek the things above means to walk in the behaviors given starting in verse 5, putting off sinful behaviors and putting on godliness in our attitudes and actions. So to seek the things above is not to become some kind of otherworldly, super-spiritual person, it is to live in this present world focused on Christ and dependent upon His power. As one author says, “Life in this world will be better if it is lived by a power beyond this world, the power of the resurrected, ascended, glorified Christ.”

You see, we worship the King of the Universe. Does it not follow that the One who reigns over all, who holds all in His sovereign hand, would be worthy of our allegiance, would be worthy to be the center of our lives? As John Piper has said, “Christ is like the sun, the blazing center of the solar system of our lives.” If the sun ceases to be at the center, the solar system is destroyed. And so for our lives. If we try to put the shadows at the center, all the little planets of our lives will fly off in a hundred directions and in the end our lives will crash into a million pieces.

We seek the things above because it is where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For the Christian, life is about Christ. Paul will say it later in this passage as he also said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ.” As the author of Hebrews urges us to throw off hindrances and run with perseverance fixing our eyes on Jesus. How much grief we bring ourselves by focusing on everything but Christ in the life of the church! We come as critics or judges or we come to elevate ourselves. We come for friendship but not for worship. And we wonder that our hearts feel cold. Focusing on Christ, seeking things above, is the key to everything. He is seated at the right hand of God. He has finished His work of redemption and the risen, ascended Jesus has taken His place on the throne. He is at God’s right hand, the place of power, the place of authority. Seek the things above.

In verse two Paul repeats himself, “set your mind on things above, not on the things of the earth.” Here we have a similar idea but with a slightly different focus. “Set your mind on things above.” Concentrate your concern, focus your energies, on things above. Why? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “Fix [your] eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” So Paul told us here to seek the things above and to set our mind on things above. This is the picture of an athlete to me. There is the striving pursuit but also a deep concentration and focus.

When Paul tells us not to seek earthly things, he’s not telling us to avoid the world altogether. He has just told us in 2:20-23 that self-denial will by itself will never work to bring us to God. Again, Paul is saying here, don’t choose the shadows, follow the Son, Jesus.

One commentator says, “This command to set our minds on things above not on earthly things called the Colossians to focus on matters related to the rule of Christ in the world. Since he is the sovereign one, his concerns should occupy the Christian. While being a part of the fallen order, they were not to let that environment occupy their thoughts and minds. Their values were to be different. Creation will pass away; the things of God will remain. Before they pass away, however, they will again reflect the glory of Christ, their Creator. The Christians had the responsibility of seeking ways to make that happen here and now. Believers’ values and loves were to be focused on the rule of Christ, and consecrated energies were to be devoted to making that rule a reality on earth. In practice, this meant that the believers could not succumb to teachings which limited the focus of Christianity to this earth and its rituals. The task of the Colossian church was to call people to Christ and away from earthly things. It was to call people to life.”

So as followers of Jesus we get a new motivation and a new mind. So verses one and two are the command: seek Christ, set your mind on Christ. Verses 3 and 4 give us the reason for the command . . .

3 ἀπεθάνετε γὰρ καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν κέκρυπται σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ·

Set your mind on things above because you died. You died to the shadows of ritual and experience and knowledge and self-denial and pleasure and you have come to Christ. Set your mind on things above because your life is now hidden with Christ in God. This is a great mystery. We have died yet we live because our lives are hidden with Christ in God. What a turn of events that Jesus, who was the mystery hidden for long ages but now revealed, saves a people who are now hidden in Him. The “hidden” here of course is less about mystery and more about safe-keeping and protection. It is also about what we are yet to experience. Christ in you is the hope of glory. The glory that is to come is our hope. So being hidden in Christ gives us a foretaste of future glory and fills us with hope.

We have died to all the shadows: ritual and special knowledge and pleasure and special experience and self-denial. We know none of these things bring life apart from Christ. We died. Our focus is not self-effort but the person and work of Jesus Christ. Because of this reality, we can’t go back to the things we died to, we must focus our eyes on Christ, seek Him and set our minds on Him.

The second reason we must set our minds on Christ is in verse 4 . . .

4 ὅταν ὁ Χριστὸς φανερωθῇ, ἡ ζωὴ ὑμῶν, τότε καὶ ὑμεῖς σὺν αὐτῷ φανερωθήσεσθε ἐν δόξῃ.

We must set our minds on Christ because He is our life and because He is our destiny. The point of verse 3 is restated here in verse 4 . . . you died, your life is now hidden in Christ. So Christ is your life. So this passage is telling us to look upward to Christ and to look forward to His return. The Bible constantly tells us to look upward to God and forward to God’s plan and often it tells us to look back to what God has done. The one thing the Bible rarely tells us is to look within. But this is what our culture and all the shadows we looked at earlier tell us to do all the time. So we become self-focused and self-obsessed even in the pursuit of holiness. So I want to say to you today . . . stop pursuing holiness. Pursue Christ! And holiness will come. I know the book of Hebrews tells us to “strive for holiness” so I sound like I am contradicting the Bible. But remember the rest of Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” The point is seeing the Lord. The goal is seeing Jesus. So don’t get caught up in constantly taking your spiritual temperature or comparing yourself to other Christians you know. Just pursue Christ and live.

Eternal life is Christ and this life is Christ. Read the gospel of John and you will see those truths everywhere. Christ is our life. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12).

Someone has said, “Life is what you are alive to.” What makes your eyes light up? That’s what you are alive to. For some it is grandchildren, for others it is a romantic interest, for others it is a hobby or a sport, for others it is cooking or crafts. When you start talking about it you become excited and you could talk about it all day long. This is not wrong. Every good and perfect gift is from above. God has made this world for us to enjoy. But as a follower of Jesus, what should make our hearts beat above all else, what should bring a sparkle to our eye and a spring to our step is this: we are hidden in Christ and He is our life. So when we have this opportunity to meet together for worship, our hearts should be moved, we should be excited. That we could sit unmoved is a bad sign for the inward state of our soul. Have you really died to the world and live with Christ if you can hear all about His glory and goodness and be unmoved?

If you are not moved by the magnificence of Jesus Christ, you will be. One day Jesus will return to this world and when He returns every eye will see Him and will be confronted with two truths: Jesus is real, and He is greater than we imagined. We who have been hidden in Him will be revealed as His and the whole thing will be glory. And every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Four times in four verses, Paul mentioned Christ. Jesus is central and supreme. Paul doesn’t want believers to forget that. Jesus Christ is what life is all about. So how do you make Him first place in your life? First, you’ve got to trust Him to save you. You’ve got to turn away from the shadows and embrace the substance, Christ. Have you ever repented and believed? Are you born again, trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection to cover your sin and God’s wrath against you? If you have trusted Christ, you can see Him reign supreme over your life by seeking Him. Daily spend time carefully reading and meditating over His Word. Talk to Him daily and often through the day. Hide His Word in your heart by committing favorite passages to memory. Put yourself under good teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Worship with God’s people. While doing all this, set your mind on things above by putting off worldly living and embracing godly attitudes. Focus on relating to others in ways that glorify Christ, starting with your own family. And finally, as Paul models for us personally and challenges His readers too as well, let us join God in His work of taking the gospel to all nations, starting right here with our own families and community and spreading to the ends of the earth. All this is what we will see in the rest of chapter 3 and the early part of chapter 4. I believe the rest of this letter is for the most part just an explanation of how we set our minds on things above, putting off sin, putting on holiness, loving others and sharing Christ. All of that flows from a life seeking Christ. Nobody does those things if they’re not connected to a living relationship with Jesus. But when He is the One we seek, then all the shadow pursuits fade away and He is everything to us. Are you seeing this pattern of life unfold in your life? Maybe it once did and now does no more. Today you can be restored. Jesus is ready to welcome you home. Come to Him today. Everything else you are resting in will let you down. Jesus will become more dear to you as the days go by and when you die He will become more precious still. Don’t waver today. Come to Him. No matter your age or station in life. Come to Him to find life.

Sunday’s Sermon — Philippians 1:19-30

1 Jul

Philippians
Philippians 1:19-30
To Live is Christ

Who is this man? Who is this man who can take the lashes on his back and not deny his Lord? Who is this man? A man who can take insults and injuries from his own Jewish brothers, injuries and insults he himself had once handed out against Christians. Who is this man? Who can see prison not as a cell and chain but as freedom and an open door? Who is this man who having nothing has everything? Who is this man?
This is what I’ve been thinking about this week. How could Paul have taken all he took in his life as a follower of Christ and, far from shrinking back, actually gone forward with Jesus? I look at my own life and realize that so little can throw me off and lead me to despair. Some family conflict can make me discouraged. My own sinfulness can get me down. When attendance is not good or when people drift away from the church I get down. So my question over these last couple of weeks has been, “who is this man?” How could this man have lived such a faithful life to Jesus in the midst of such incredible trials? What can I learn from him so that I can walk in victory?
Now I would be leaving out an important piece of the puzzle if I didn’t bring Paul’s other writings into the picture. When we consider 2 Corinthians, for example, we see that there were times when Paul says he was so stressed that he even despaired of life itself. And, of course, many of us know of the famous passage about the thorn in the flesh, some satanic challenge in Paul’s life that stretched him spiritually.
Still though, the overall tone of Paul’s life was one of victory. And I have been trying, in studying through Philippians, to get to the heart of that victory. The easy answer is, “well Paul was a man of great faith” and that is true. But what I am trying to do is look at Philippians to understand the shape of his faith. As we go through Philippians 1:19-30 this morning, that is what I will be doing, just observing aspects of Paul’s life with God which led to his victorious outlook. We focused last week on the outward reason Paul had for having great hope in God, namely that Paul was involved in the ministry of the unstoppable gospel. Now this morning, we turn more to the inward realities of Paul’s life which gave him such joy.
Paul had said in verse 18 that he rejoiced that the gospel was preached and that he would continue to rejoice. The cause of his continued rejoicing is verse 19.

for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
The word order in most of our English translations is different from the Greek. The Greek text puts the phrase “this will turn out for my deliverance” at the start of the sentence, giving it some emphasis. The emphasis of the verse then is that Paul expects to be delivered. The way in which he expects to be delivered is through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The question to ask about this verse is, what does Paul expect to be delivered from? And the obvious answer would seem to be “prison.” Paul expects to be freed from prison. But I think there is also a deeper deliverance Paul is expecting and this deeper deliverance is so important to Paul that it almost makes being delivered from prison unimportant in comparison and this is the key to Paul’s victorious life. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is what we will see as we go through the passage. At the end of the day, being delivered from prison is much less important to Paul than the other kinds of deliverance.
The phrase “this will turn out for my deliverance” is a word for word quote from the Greek version of the Old Testament book of Job. In Job 13, Job has had enough. His friends have been telling him all these reasons why calamity has come to him and Job knows they are wrong and he is fed up with all their hints that sin in Job’s life is causing the problems. So he lays into them. And it is in this passage I believe that Paul finds inspiration for his own life. This is what Job 13 says, beginning at verse 13 . . .

13 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless person would dare come before him!
17 Listen carefully to what I say; let my words ring in your ears.
18 Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.

Paul had lots of people against him, many unbelievers. But most hurtful probably were those fellow believers who opposed him. Our hearts are always heavy when one whom we think loves the Lord sees in us someone who is a rival or someone to be criticized. Paul had people in his life who were like Job’s friends, whispering about what was wrong with Paul that got him in prison, sometimes openly opposing him. So Paul goes back and lifts a phrase from righteous Job to say something to the naysayers. “I’m going to be delivered. Though He slay me, I will trust in Him. To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
But Paul knew his deliverance was not going to come because of his great faith. This is another of the secrets to Paul’s victory. He is a man of great faith precisely because he is not measuring his faith but is instead focusing on the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t worry about how much faith you have, be concerned about who you are placing your faith in.
Paul knew his deliverance was dependent on God. If Paul was to be delivered, it would have to be the work of God. Nothing makes that more obvious than when your back is up against a wall. You don’t get much more up against a wall than when you are chained to a Roman soldier 24 hours a day in a prison.
Though Paul knew his deliverance was dependent on God, he also knew that God uses means to bring his deliverance. The means God uses most often are the means Paul mentions here: prayer and the help of the Spirit. The way the Greek phrase is written, prayer and the help of the Spirit are linked together very definitely. We have things to do but we don’t do anything of worth apart from the empowering of God. God does things, but He chooses to do many things through human response. So there is an important place for prayer. God has determined to work in response to believing prayer. So if we need deliverance, we need to pray and depend on the Spirit to give us all we need. Don’t give up on praying. Consider how powerful the Bible says prayer is. Still though, we must remember that self-centered prayer goes nowhere but God-centered prayer changes the world. Most of us are discouraged in prayer because we have forgotten the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer. Before we ask for our daily bread or protection we say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayer is as useless as a water gun in wartime if it is directed toward comfort and ease of life and it is mountain-moving powerful on the lips of a believer whose life is given over to the great purposes of God.
With this hope of effective prayer and the power of the Spirit to bring deliverance, Paul begins to draw out what this deliverance would look like. And it is contrary to what most people would expect. Look at verse 20 . . .

20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Paul has an eager expectation and hope. Hope is one of Paul’s favorite words and should be one of our favorite words, for biblical hope is not “caught in the mid-air wishful thinking” but is rooted in the promises of God. The word translated “eager expectation” is only used in one other place in the New Testament, Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” So Paul has a deep longing, a hope and he expects it to happen. But his hope is very different than what we might expect. We might think Paul would say, “It is my eager expectation that I will get out of this prison and go on preaching and be blessed.” But Paul says instead that his expectation and hope is that he will not be at all ashamed. Ashamed of what? Being in jail? Maybe. I think rather though that what Paul is talking about is that he would not be ashamed of the gospel. The reason I say that is the next phrase, “that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body.” I think Paul is looking forward to the time when he is going to go to trial. He was in prison awaiting trial as was often the case in the ancient world. And as he awaited trial in that cell, he thought about his defense. What would he say when he was called on to make his defense? Would he wimp out or would he speak boldly of Jesus, even though doing do could possibly lead to death? So his hope is that he would not be ashamed but have courage. And the goal is that Christ would be honored in his body, whether by life or by death. This word honored can be translated “magnified” or “to make great.” Paul’s goal was the glory of Jesus. He wanted Jesus to be seen as great and beautiful and powerful through his life. And he knew that was happening now, as he was preaching Christ in prison and people among the guards and all the rest were being influenced. And he wanted this Christ-exalting to continue always in his life so that he whether in trial or back out in the world he would not be ashamed but would always have courage to make much of Christ, even if he died.
There are two truths about what Paul says here that I believe are vitally important for our lives. First, he says he wants to magnify or honor Christ. I wonder if so often our problems and struggles in the Christian life don’t arise from the fact that we don’t want Christ to be magnified, we want Christ to magnify us. We call on Jesus when we are in trouble not so that we can be delivered into His presence or into His great purposes but so that we can be made comfortable or be given favorable circumstances. Perhaps this one little change of perspective could change our whole life, if we began to see everything in our life not by how it affected us but by how it exalted or failed to exalt Christ. The second truth I think is so important here is found in the phrase “in my body.” Paul cannot conceive of a Christianity that has to do only with believing things. To be sure, beliefs are involved. There are very definite truths Christians must embrace but at the end of the day where the Christian life is lived out is in the body. We are not wispy spirits floating in the air and we are not going to have victory in the Christian life by separating the spiritual from the physical. Our bodies are the battlefield of the Christian life. The Christian life is lived in flesh and blood. Our warfare is not with flesh and blood but our warfare is waged in flesh and blood. So Paul tells us in Romans 12, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Our whole selves, body and spirit, must be offered to God if we are to enter into the kind of life Paul lived, if we are to tap into the endless streams of joy he found. Because those streams are in Christ and only Christ-exalting people can have them. So if you thirst today for Christ, come to Him and drink and be renewed and then out of the joy of your satisfaction go point others to the fountain of life.
Wouldn’t you like to be able to say with Paul, whether I live or die, I will still praise Jesus? When my chains are unlocked and I walk out of this place a free man, I will praise Jesus. And when the sword is at my neck and is about to come down, I will praise Jesus. Why could Paul live like this? Verse 21 gives us the answer . . .

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Here it is, right? This is it. To live is Christ and to die is to gain. To live is Christ. What does Paul mean by this? He means just what he says, to live is Christ. There used to be a line of t-shirts several years ago for different sports and they would say, “Baseball is Life” or “Football is Life.” Most of us are not that extreme. We are much more noble than that. We say “Family is Life” or “Success is Life” or “Wealth is Life” or “Romantic Love is Life.” And Paul comes along and says to us, “No, Christ is life.” And the reason he can say this is that he has personally seen the beauty and power and love and glory of Jesus in his life. To me, to live is Christ. I’ve experienced it, Paul says. Until you see Jesus as great and good, as worthy of worship and as the unending source of joy, you will never be able to identify with Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21. No one can say what Paul says here without a deep awareness that Jesus is the greatest treasure in all the universe. And this same treasuring of Christ is the reason Paul can say, “to die is gain.” What does Paul gain by dying? What is the gain he is talking about? The gain is Christ! Not freedom from pain and suffering, not deliverance from prison, not seeing loved ones who have passed away. Christ! Paul is so taken up by the greatness of Christ that he knows that to die will be to bring him to where he has always wanted to be: in the fullness of the presence of Christ. Right now he is pressing on toward that goal, not fully attaining but when he dies he will be in the presence of the Lord, free and fulfilled. So Paul is looking forward to that day. Paul was a man of two worlds. He lived and ministered in this world and longed for the world to come.
Do we really believe that to die is gain? Or are we really not looking forward to going to be with the Lord? I know none of us looks forward to the process of death. I am sure Paul didn’t think the executioner’s sword was gain. But to die is gain because in dying I come into the fullness of Christ’s presence.
So if we are thinking through this passage, we might wonder whether Paul has a death wish. If he is saying it is gain to die, why not just take our lives or give up the will to live so that we can have life with Christ forever? Paul has an important answer for us, for every one of us. He begins to unfold that answer in verse 22 . . .

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
Why not just give up on life if it is gain to die? Because if I live in the flesh it means fruitful labor. If Paul continues his ministry more Gentiles are going to come to the Lord and be changed by the Spirit. The flesh here is not talking about Paul’s sinful self, the way he often uses flesh. It is talking about his body. This temporary humanity is where I live and if I go on living there then there will be fruitful labor. The Greek phrase can be translated “a fruit of work.” For the Christian, ministry is labor. It is work. It is not easy and it is not passive. And Paul doesn’t shy away from it. He is eager to work for the Lord because he knows the Lord gives him power to do everything he does and because he knows his labor will produce fruit. So Paul is confident that his work is not meaningless. In what other area of life can we be involved in which we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will make an eternal difference? Human achievements are covered over by the sands of time. Who in here knows who the Roman Emperor was in 100 AD? Nobody. But in 100AD a large part of the world knew.
Every other view of life must ultimately take its cue from Shakespeare in Macbeth,
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Without Jesus, this is where we all end up. No matter how idealistic or disillusioned we are right now, this is where we all end up in our thinking and living if we insist that this life is all there is. But if we know, as Paul did, that right now counts forever, we will find that life, though brief, is infused with meaning and that death, though painful and harsh, is not the end. If, as Paul says elsewhere, our lives are hidden with Christ in God we can live in such a way that we do great good for people in this life while also pointing them to the deeper and more real life to come. The best way you can invest your life is to be taken up with the great purposes of God. A man or woman who treasures Christ above all things and lives for God’s purposes can be a powerful force for good in the world.
Paul’s life was taken up with God’s great purposes. But he was torn. He knew there would be fruitful labor for him but he also wanted to be with Jesus. So he didn’t know which he would choose. Of course, ultimately, Paul knew it was not his choice. And this is why he doesn’t throw his life away. Paul knows that his times are in God’s hands. He has conflict within about where he would like to be but in the end it is God’s will that he cares about.
Martin Luther King Jr., the night before he was shot, gave a speech in Memphis that sounded a lot like Paul. King, like many, was a deeply flawed man with very real sins but on this night before he died, he with a voice of resigned peace, said these words, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
So it is with Paul. He is ready to be with the Lord, but he is not just playing out the string. Look at verse 23 . . .

23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
This word translated “hard pressed” shows up 12 times in the New Testament but most notably when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “the love of Christ compels us.” So the same word is used here. Paul has two compelling options, fruitful labor in God’s work here in this life or fullness of life in the presence of Jesus upon his death. And Paul had full confidence that he would see Jesus because he had already seen Jesus. On the Damascus road Paul saw the risen Jesus so he had no doubt that Jesus was alive. So his highest desire was to be with the risen Christ who had so graciously saved him all those years ago.
The fact that Paul says he would depart and be with Christ shows us that Paul would immediately be with Christ at death. The Bible picture of death is that we are with the Lord and then at the second coming of Christ, our bodies are raised from the dead. So when we die as believers we are absent from the body but present with the Lord and one day we will have new bodies. No wonder Paul wanted to go be with Jesus! His desire wasn’t simply because his life was so bad it was because Jesus was so good. One author says, “Paul did not tremble at the thought of death. He considered it to be a most welcome prospect. He expressed a desire ‘to depart and be with Christ’ which would be for Paul ‘far better’ (v. 23).
Such words seem very strange to many people these days. This life is generally regarded as being so very wonderful that we must cling to it at all costs. We would have no trouble agreeing with Paul if he had said, ‘I would prefer to die than to continue in prison.’
We are all familiar with situations that are so dreadful that death is a relief. But Paul is not saying that death is better than the worst of life. He is saying death is better than the best of life. In other words, he was not longing for death as the way out of unbearable circumstances. He was longing for it as the way into unspeakably glorious circumstances.
If we cannot share Paul’s desire, it is because we have not seen as clearly as he has the wonder of what Christ has done.”
Paul is torn then between two options but not in an unhappy way. He is joyful because he knows he cannot lose. There will either be fruitful days of ministry or the presence of Jesus forever. Paul is happy because in either case Christ will be magnified. This is what really makes Paul happy. I show that I love my wife by enjoying her company and trying to do what’s best for her. When I give her flowers or serve her in some way I am doing it out of love. And here’s the wonderful thing about love . . . when it is real, nothing makes you happier than loving the other person. Did you see that? Nothing makes you happier. So the wonderful by-product of true love is joy. However, if I am doing nice things for my wife in the hope that she will do nice things for me, I am not loving her, I am loving myself. Or if I live with her in a way that keeps the peace but doesn’t foster real relationship, I am trying to protect myself. And when I live like this I am miserable. There really are two ways to wash the dishes. The “I’d rather be doing anything else in the world than this now” way or the “there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than this, because I want to bless the one I love.” One is heavy and the other is light. One is gloomy and the other is bright. Now don’t get me wrong, doing dishes is not fun. And so it is with the things of God. On one level, indulging your eye with lust is more fun than purity. Living for comfort rather than God’s kingdom is on one level an easier way. But don’t underestimate the cost to your soul when you turn away from delighting in the Lord and try to come to him from a deal-making or a fearful heart. If you love God you will follow God, you will obey Him, you will worship Him and these things, though challenging, will ultimately be a joy to you because of your love for the Lord. But if your love for God is cold then you will be looking at every act you do and measuring it out. Did I do enough so that God will do something for me? Or maybe, what’s the least I can do and still feel like He accepts me? This way of living leads to shriveled hearts and is the explanation for why so many professing Christians lead defeated lives. We have, like the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation, lost our first love. And remember, that church was doing all sorts of things right but their relationship to Jesus was wrong because their love motivation was gone. Can we say with the Psalmist, “I delight to do your will, O Lord.” Can we say what Paul says elsewhere, “We make it our aim to please Him”? Not out of fear, not out of duty or obligation, out of overflowing joy, the kind of joy that fueled Paul’s service.

Look at verse 24 . . .

24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Paul wants to go be with Jesus but he knows that for him to remain is more necessary for the church in Philippi and the others he serves. He knows in God’s plan that his ministry is important and will go on for at least a while longer. So notice what’s happening here. I am making a lot of careful points today because there is real gold in this passage if you are willing to hear it. I am going after the handful of you today who are really locked in. If you will follow with me you will see great things from the Word here. Now have you noticed what has happened here in verse 24? Paul wants to go be with Jesus. This is his desire and his great hope. And to be with Jesus is better by far. So the best thing for Paul is to go be with Jesus. But notice this . . . the best thing for the church in Philippi is for Paul to stay. So Paul gladly turns away from his desire in order to bless others. Now this is Christian love, a love that gladly turns away from what is best for us to what is best for others. And what is always best for others is the kingdom of God in their lives. So the Christian who really loves Jesus wants Jesus’ Name to be lifted up in all the people around him. So his priorities will be shaped by his desire for Jesus to be praised rather than what the best case scenario would be for him. We go through most of our lives trying to arrange things for the furtherance of our kingdom when Jesus is calling us to turn our eyes in a totally different direction and ask, “What is best for God’s kingdom?” Ask that question and then spend the rest of your life constantly running after the answer. Out of love for Jesus you can willingly pour your life out for others.
To genuinely enjoy Jesus means seeking to live in ways that honor Him. Think about marriage for a minute. To genuinely enjoy our spouse is to honor our spouse. Face it, if you give your wife the flowers and tell her, “Well, I just felt obligated because Sally was talking about how her husband got her flowers so here.” She is not going to feel loved. But if you say from the heart, “I gave you these flowers because I love you and it makes me happy to give to you” then she will feel honored. Now of course there’s more to it than that. If you give her flowers and then hide behind the newspaper all night you’ve honored her in a kind of empty way. Sometimes she doesn’t need flowers, she just needs you to help with the kids. And we can be like this as Christians, when we gather to worship God on Sunday morning and then spend our week avoiding Him. Or when we are happy to serve the Lord as long as we are in the spotlight but when it comes to the mundane things we are not willing.
So Paul wants to be with Jesus, but he says in verse 24 that to stay for now is better for the Philippians and so he says in verse 25 . . .

25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Paul was convinced of that it would be best for the Philippians if Paul made it out of the jail cell and back into public ministry. Therefore he was confident that this would be the path God would choose for him. The word convinced here in verse 25 is the same Greek word Paul uses in verse 6 when he says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” So again we see Paul’s overwhelming confidence, for the Philippians and for God’s plan for his life. Paul is confident because for him, to live is Christ. He is not trusting in himself, gifted as he was. His hope is in Jesus. So he is confident because he serves a Savior who is greater than any trial Paul will face. Paul’s confidence here is that he would remain and continue with the Philippians. The word remain here points to the fact that he would survive this imprisonment and the word continue points to the idea that Paul would continue to minister. Paul’s goal is not just to avoid death, it is to encourage spiritual life among those with whom he is working. Again, his goals are not self-centered but Christ-centered and this is the secret to his joy and confidence. Paul was not in ministry for money or a personal fulfillment. He was not in ministry so people would think he was a great guy. He wasn’t in ministry to try to rule over people and feel the rush of power. Paul was in ministry because what gave him joy was seeing other believers filled with the same joy in Jesus that he had. And that is my daily goal too, however imperfectly lived. I want to see you flourish in your walk with Jesus. To flourish means progress and joy in the faith. Progress speaks to the abounding love of chapter 1:9-11, a love that is growing in knowledge and discernment, enabling us to live a pure and powerful life for God’s glory. And progress speaks of the life hidden in Christ which can look at death or life, trials or blessings, as opportunities for glory to go to Jesus and the gospel to move forward.
And joy of course speaks of the great sense of personal blessing we get from knowing Jesus. It is not enough for Paul to see the Philippians making progress in the faith he also wants them to have hearts of joy. The reason for this is that the only way their progress will be sustained is if their joy in Jesus is so deep that it can weather the waves of adversity.
So Paul will stay and work for their progress and joy in the faith. But Paul will not only minister to them by using his gifts for their growth in Jesus, he will also minister to them in another way. Look at verse 26 . . .
26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul’s own personal example of service and satisfaction in Jesus will move the church in Philippi to treasure Jesus more fully. The word translated glory here is often translated “boast” elsewhere. The Philippians, like Paul, will come to boast in Jesus Christ alone as they observe Paul’s example of selfless service. And this is where Paul is going in chapter 2. He is a follower of the supreme servant, the Lord Jesus. Paul’s great point in chapter 2 is that we should emulate the one who had every advantage yet laid aside those things to take up the form of a servant and go even to death for us. Since we serve this kind of a Savior this is the kind of followers we should be. Many years ago there was a best-seller called “The Purpose Driven Life.” I think if Paul were going to write a book he might call it “The Service Driven Life.” And the first thing he would do in that book is show how the only way the service life can be sustained is by a consistent treasuring of the suffering servant Jesus.
The last verse of the great song “All I Have is Christ” says it well . . . “Now Lord I would be yours alone and life so all might see the strength to follow your commands could never come from me. Oh Father use my ransomed life in any way you choose and let my song forever be my only boast is You.”
So this is the example Paul has set forth for the Philippians and for us. We have seen the prayer he prayed earlier. Now we see what he calls them to do as a result.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
The phrase be worthy of the gospel is better translated as “only behave as citizens worthy [of the gospel of Christ].” Philippi was a Roman colony where its citizens could become members of the great Roman Empire. But Paul is reminding them and will remind them again that they have a greater citizenship and that they should look to Jesus, not Caesar, for their life and joy. So we should look for joy and life in Christ and not in culture.
How do we live as worthy citizens? He has already told us two things: trust in the unstoppable gospel and follow Paul’s example of joyful service in love for King Jesus. Now he tells us something more. He says that living in harmony with each other as Christians is an essential part of living as worthy citizens of God’s kingdom. And not just when he is with them. He doesn’t want it to be like the children who only straighten up when the parent walks into the room. Paul wants the believers in Philippi to be unified all the time. How does their unity look? It is first a unity of spirit. Unity happens when a church comes together for the things Paul talked about earlier in this passage: love for Christ, joy in Him, treasuring Him. There we can have unity of spirit. But if we found our lives together on anything else it will fall apart. If our identity as a church is as the “family church” what will happen when people who are not related come in? Disunity. If we are known as the traditional church what will happen when people come in who desire contemporary music? Disunity. When we are known as the deep church, what will happen when people who are less seasoned in their Christian experience come in? Disunity. Anything we find our unity in apart from Jesus will ultimately lead to disunity, even if it is missions or ministry or how to do church. So unity is first a unity of spirit built on our common and supreme allegiance to Jesus.
Second, to be unified means to pull in the same direction, to work together that Christ might be exalted in our midst. The word “striving together” is an image like that of an athletic team working together. Those World Cup teams playing right now are not just kicking the ball around, there is coordination, a game plan, and group effort.
Warren Wiersbe reminds us: ‘The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. We are sons in the family, enjoying the fellowship of the Gospel (Phil. 1:11); we are servants sharing in the furtherance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12–26); but we are also soldiers defending the faith of the Gospel’.
A key part of living the Christian life as Paul lays it out here is to link arms with other Christians who share the desire of Christ above all and then stand side by side together in ministry. The other key Paul mentions here is to not back down. Look at verse 28 . . .

28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
Stand firm, keep fighting, don’t be scared. And remember, Paul is not speaking this from behind some cushy desk job. He is speaking it from prison. And he saying, don’t be afraid. The word frightened here was a Greek word that was used to describe when a horse was startled. Don’t be taken aback by those who oppose you.
And here Paul again wows us with an incredible insight. He says to us, “If you will not be startled by opposition, if you will not pull back but will instead move forward, if you will press through, you will not only continue to promote the gospel but you will profoundly affect those who oppose you. They will be aware, when they see your standing in joy in the worst trials, that the grace that has forgiven you has also freed you from fear. And they will tremble because they will know that they do not share that fearless life because they do not know the God who gives such freedom from fear that we don’t even fear death. Our unity in suffering says something to the unbeliever and it says something to us. We are reminded of our great God-given salvation as we experience the God-given sustaining that enables us to endure hardship for the gospel’s sake with joy. Paul isn’t coming up with something new here, he is just following the teachings of Jesus . . . Paul follows the teaching of Jesus here (Matt. 5:10–12), reminding us that persecution is a sign that we belong to Christ. Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Do you see that our God is a redeemer this morning? Nothing can separate us from God’s love and God is working in every single thing for His glory and our eternal joy. It is the life that can’t lose. The only way it loses is if we stand on the edges of it. In that case it is like a swimming pool on a hot day. We linger around the edges and appreciate the potential of the pool to refresh us but we never get into the water. My urging to you today, my pleading, is to dive in.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
Paul finishes this section by saying to the saints in Philippi, my lot is your lot. What I have experienced in salvation and suffering you too will experience. And we too will experience salvation and suffering if we truly follow Jesus. And notice here, it has been granted to you. This word granted in Greek is related to the word grace. Suffering for the sake of Christ is a gift. Almost no one looks at it that way today. Our goal as Americans is to avoid suffering at all costs. But past generations have understood that suffering, when it serves a redemptive purpose, is vitally important and even empowering. The early church understood this. I remember in our sermons on Acts, reading these words in Acts 5 when Peter and John were persecuted . . .
Acts 5:41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
The suffering in itself is not good but the results are good when we suffer for God’s glory. We are not happy that we are rejected or penalized for being a follower of Jesus, but we are happy when our suffering serves God’s purposes. You see, it is the life that can’t lose. God can even take our sufferings, our failures, our weaknesses and He can work through each one. This is what God means in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.”
We believe in Him and we suffer for Him and this is an unstoppable combination. It is people like this that God used to change the world in the first century and so it goes on today in many parts of the world. May it happen here. May it happen in me. But this life is not something just for pastors or missionaries, as Paul makes clear in verse 30 . . .

30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
The word conflict here is the word Paul uses elsewhere in his writings when he says to fight the good fight of faith. The Philippians had seen Paul persecuted and opposed by his enemies and now they have heard that he has faced conflict in prison. But Paul faced all this with joy. Not free from stress but in the end filled with the Holy Spirit and great confidence.

What about you? Is yours a confident faith? A joyful faith? Can you say, “To live is Christ”? Is your Christian experience something less than you hoped? If so, you must ask yourself, “what have I hoped for?” Have you hoped that knowing Jesus would make your life comfortable? Did you hope that having Christ would mean no dark days? Did you look to Jesus as a life enhancer, an assistant to make all your dreams come true? Or have you walked the Calvary road of surrender? That narrow road where your dreams die and God’s dreams for you come to life? That life where you live to please the one you love the most, not yourself but the Lord Jesus. That life where love for Jesus issues in glad-hearted and sacrificial love for others. That life where your heart is divided and both options make your heart leap with joy. Hope of the resurrection on the one hand and hope for a fruitful life on the other hand. Oh this life! It is available. It is real. It is free for anyone who submits with a humble heart and an eager spirit. Paul was not an elite Christian. He was in the same conflict as the believers in Philippi and every one of them had the same sustaining treasures of Christ available to them.
2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
The way of life is open to you. What’s holding you back? This morning, God welcomes you through Jesus Christ to abundant life . . . even in prison, even when racked with disease, even in loneliness and need. Jesus is that great and He is that good. This morning call on God to give you a confident, joyful life in Christ.

Sunday’s Sermon– Philippians 1:9-11

23 Jun

In the Old Testament, the high priest wore special clothing that set him apart as a priest. One part of that garment was a plate that he wore over his chest. This plate contained twelve colored jewels, one for each tribe of Israel. The names of the tribes were engraved there. And the high priest wore this plate right over his heart. As a young child I always loved the pictures in the back of the Bible of the high priest and I especially loved the multi-colored jeweled plate on his chest. The high priest carried the people of God over his heart, but as we heard last week in Pastor Rob’s message, Paul carried the Philippians in his heart. Paul loved his friends in Philippi. They were a special people to him. And when somebody is special in your life, you want to pray for them. You want to pray for God to bless them. If you want to know who you love, think about who you pray for, not just in a “pray over the prayer list, check off a spiritual duty” way, but those whom you labor for in prayer. Most of the time, the people you earnestly pray for are the people you love most.
Now some of us rarely pray. And there the problem may be a lack of love for God or a lack of faith in God. If we think God is mad at us because of our sins, if we think God is distant or uncaring, if we are disappointed over past prayers that haven’t been answered the way we hoped or if we are just burned out in our spirits, we may not come to God. So before we get into the passage today, I just want to say to you, God welcomes you into His presence through Jesus Christ. No matter who you are or what you have done. The Father embraces the Prodigal when he comes home and the Father calls the Elder brother who is always fretting over His performance to both come and experience grace. So what we are looking at this morning will make no impact on us if we don’t open our hearts to prayer. So come back to God this morning. He welcomes you and He is listening. Turn away from running after sin and follow Jesus.
In verse 3 Paul told the church in Philippi that he prayed for them constantly. Now in verse 9 Paul tells them exactly what he is praying for them. Sometimes maybe we need to let our friends and family know we are praying for them. And sometimes it is good even to tell them what we are praying for them. It is good for our loved ones to know we are praying for good for them. It makes a person feel loved to know that someone is bringing them before the throne of grace and asking God to bless them. Some of the best things we can pray for people are passages from the New Testament like this one, or Ephesians 3 or Colossians 1 or many others. Why not get in the habit of praying Scripture for those you love? You might even write them a note including the verses you prayed.
Let Paul’s example of prayer motivate you to be a person of prayer. But don’t try to be some kind of prayer warrior. Don’t worry about saying just the right words. Don’t give up when your spirit is dry. Just come to your mighty and merciful Savior. Relate to God and receive His grace and pray for His grace to be displayed in the lives of those you love.
So I’ve urged you this morning to come to God in prayer with joy, just like Paul in verse 3. I long for this in my own life and I long for it in your lives. Having given this call to prayer, let’s now look at the kinds of things we might pray for ourselves and those we love. Let’s look together at verses 9-11 . . .

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Let’s look first at . . .
The REQUEST: A Growing and Wise Love (1:9).
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
Paul wants for God’s people in Philippi and God wants for us an abounding love. Just to add emphasis he uses the words “more and more.” The idea here is like that of an overflowing cup. God wants us filled to the brim with love. We are called to live full lives as followers of Jesus. We all too often live lives that are full of activity and empty of spiritual life and power. Our busyness deceives us into thinking our lives are meaningful when in reality true meaning is always and only found in relation to Christ. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the only meaning in life is found in reading your Bible or going to church. No. True meaning is only found in relation to Christ because everything in the life of the Christian relates to Christ. So breakfast has meaning. My job has meaning. Family time has meaning. Writing an email has meaning. Watching TV has meaning. Praying has meaning. Everything in life for the follower of Jesus is infused with meaning. Therefore, Christians should be the least bored people in the world because every moment of every day is an opportunity to worship. I beg you not to use busyness as an excuse. Do you really want to stand before God and say, “Well, you know Lord, I would have spent more time with You but I was just so busy. You know I had to work long hours and I had my hobbies and there just wasn’t time for You.” Or even worse, and I as a pastor could sadly say this sometimes, “Lord, I would have spent more time with You but I was just so busy in ministry.” “I would have come to worship at church or met one on one with another believer or joined a home group but you know I just had so much going on.” Are you really at the end of your life going to be thankful that you invested so much energy in things that matter so much less than the kingdom of God and the people of God?
An empty Christian is a tragedy. We need to be filled with love. But Paul knows this will not just happen, so he prays for the believers in Philippi. And he prays for their love. He had already experienced this love. This love was not something they lacked. Like our church, the church in Philippi was a loving church. But the church in Philippi, like our church, needed to have their love refined and strengthened.
Paul says, “I pray that your love will keep going.” There is no place with love, for God and for people, where we say, “We’ve arrived.” Love is like a fountain always bubbling up, always overflowing, always being fed by the spring of life in God. It is not like a pool, filled up and standing still until somebody stirs it up.
But love should not only be overflowing and growing in us consistently, it should also be a wise love. Most of us think of love on the emotional level. We have been taught by the movies that love is the spark of attraction, whether it is between two dogs in a Disney cartoon or two movie stars in the summer blockbuster. Love in our culture is all about the heart. But love in the Bible is about the heart and the head. True Christian love must overflow. It must be sincere. It must come from the depths of our souls and it should stir our affections. But real Christian love must also be informed by truth. Paul will warn the Philippians in chapter 3 of the danger of false teachers, people who want to add to the gospel of grace in Christ human works. Sometimes I get the sense that some people believe the church should not oppose doctrinal error or worldly living because to do so would be unloving. To many, love means not ruffling feathers. But this is not a Bible way of looking at things. In the Bible, love and truth kiss each other. The most loving thing we can do is stand for truth in a loving way.
So let me get down to the nitty gritty here. If we are dealing with someone in sexual sin, we must be loving and truthful. “You are walking a destructive path through extramarital sex or pornography or homosexuality or obsessive thoughts about people who are not your spouse. And I know it feels so real and you feel so alive but it is a way that leads to death. With all the love in my heart, turn away from sin and turn to God. He will receive you. Come to Him. Find life in Him.” And we just plead with people and pray for people. We must not condemn and we must not compromise. Just as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” We must love people enough to share with them the truth of God’s Word with them, always holding out not only the holy standard of God but also the grace of God in Christ that brings restoration and new life. Now this is a fine line, of course, because we all know people who just like to point out everybody else’s faults. And it is possible that even if we act with a loving heart that if we do not compromise the truth we will be looked at as judgmental. You may not have a judgmental bone in your body but if you lovingly deal in truth you will be looked at as judgmental by many in our culture and sometimes even in the church simply because our culture is so unaccustomed to dealing with the truth of God’s Word. Truth and love. Paul consistently links the two. The most loving thing we can do is stand for the truth in a loving way.
Here are a few other places Paul speaks of the same idea, love and truth . . .

1 Thessalonians 3:11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Colossians 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

So we see in verse 9 the Request: a growing and wise love. In verses 10 and 11 we see the Result of the Request . . .

The RESULT: A Holy and Fruitful Life for God’s Glory (1:10-11).
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
When the Philippians’ love abounds with knowledge and wisdom, they will have the discernment to know truth and see truth and handle truth in a right way, in a loving way. The word “approve” in Greek was used for testing the genuineness of coins or precious metals. Does this coin have any mixture of worthless material in it, or is it a pure metal? This word is instructive because it reminds us that when we are dealing with falsehood it is not usually outright falsehood but is usually mixed with a good deal of truth. So we need the kind of abounding and wise love for God that will enable us to see the truth. Our world can make it hard to see the truth. The world of Philippi was like that: filled with lots of uncertainty and all kinds of competing philosophies. But if your love for God and your love for people is overflowing and growing in wisdom, you will be able to cut through the moral fog of our day to see the truth of God from His Word.
But what is the point of all this? Is it just so we can know a lot and counsel others? No. Growing in love and knowing the truth affects you far more than it affects anyone else. In fact, you ought to speak the truth to yourself far more than you preach it to others. I may have the greatest challenge to do that but you have a challenge there too. Many of us fail in the Christian life because we listen to others but we don’t talk to ourselves. We need to be reminding ourselves of spiritual truth all the time. Go to Romans 8. No condemnation, no separation. Go to 2 Corinthians 3. Transformed from glory to glory. Go to Philippians. Go to the Upper Room in John 13-17. Go to the parables of Luke. Go to the Psalms. Talk to yourself. Don’t let the enemy drive you down. He will come to you and tell you how worthless you are. He will tell you how you can’t live a holy life. He will tell you about how you have no right to tell other people about Jesus because your life is so bad. Take up the words of the great Reformer Martin Luther, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”
If we will give ourselves to growing in love that abounds in wisdom we will not fear the day of the Lord. We will be looking forward to the coming of Jesus. Most people who don’t want the Lord to return are either in love with the world or ashamed of their lives. The antidote to this is a living love relationship with Christ that overflows in wise love for others. People who are growing in love for Jesus long for His coming. A good test for your heart is this question: “How would you feel if Jesus came back today?”
Paul restates the idea he expresses here in verse ten in Philippians 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
None of us are pure in ourselves. But God does purify us over the course of our lives as we walk with Him. Remember verse 6, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Remember our study of Titus, what we read in Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
So we are not perfect but God is changing us. And this is the goal of Paul’s prayer. He prays that we would grow and overflow in wise love so that we can live holy lives. And second, as verse 11 says, we can be . . .

11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
So the life God calls us to as those who are in Christ is one which is holy and one which is fruitful. So our inner life is one of living in relationship with God and avoiding sinful things. And our outer life, the way we live toward others, is a fruitful, righteous life. Why do I say this fruit of righteousness has to do with how we relate to others? For two reasons. First, fruit is the outward result of the inward reality. A healthy tree produces good fruit and an unhealthy tree produces no fruit or poor fruit. So the very word fruit points to the outward results of the inward reality of living in Christ. Jesus speaks of this connection in John 15. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. We don’t produce our own growth. We trust in the power of Christ by living in Him and trusting Him to produce good fruit.
The other reason I believe this fruit is about how we relate to others is what Paul says elsewhere about fruit in the New Testament.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
All these truths of Galatians, all this fruit, relates to how you deal with other people. So when Paul’s prayer is answered we will be people who are being changed inwardly and are living from that inward change to bring hope and life to others through the way we live. This fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ. It does not come through our own efforts. It does not come through our own righteousness. It does not come through the law. It comes through abiding in Christ. In other words, being in Christ changes our whole lives. And what is the result of this . . . God is glorified. Notice what Paul says in Ephesians 1 . . .

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The praise of His glory. One author says, “The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is that the fruit brings glory to Jesus Christ. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.”

What will you do with this message today? You could ignore it. You could read it again online and continue to think about it. You could open your heart to the Holy Spirit to move in your life through the truths you’ve heard today. But the main thing I want to encourage you to do with this message today is to pray it. Begin praying Philippians 1:9-11 in your life. Begin praying it for others whom you love. Begin praying that the truth of this verse would permeate our local church and other churches in our town and in our nation. Pray that true life in Christ would be the hallmark of the church around the world. Pray these verses. Go to your Bible and just voice them as a prayer to God.

Right now, just pray these verses for yourself or someone you love . . .

Commentary on Romans 9:18

14 Jun

18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Verse 18 sums it up: God chooses. To some He gives mercy and some He hardens. But this is not a cause of despair. There are at least three reasons for this. First, all of us deserve judgment. Second, God often uses the hardening of some for the saving of many. And third, the Bible is clear that God will not cast away those who earnestly seek Him. We need not waver or wonder. We can know God has awakened our hearts by seeking Him. He will work in those who seek Him because He has already been at work.

God’s mercy is given to those who do not deserve it; his hardening affects those who have already by their sin deserved condemnation.

But God is not flippant. He is not just willy-nilly saving and condemning. The point of this passage is not to say God is randomly choosing some and condemning others. The point of the passage is to say that God’s choosing is rooted in God and not in us. And who is God? He is merciful . . .and mighty. He is the Redeemer . . . and He is righteous. He is just . . . and He is the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ.

Douglas Moo says, “God’s freedom to do that which is in accordance with his will does not sit well with many moderns whose philosophy of life stems from a combination of relativism and belief in personal autonomy. For the Christian, however, it is important to build one’s theology not on personal perceptions of what ought to be but upon the biblical revelation of the character and purpose of God. The unalterable nature of God and the absolute justice of his actions are undoubtedly more difficult for the twentieth-century reader to understand than for those who lived in the biblical period, but a proper hermeneutic calls for us to interpret Scripture in its historical context. While its meaning will never change, how it is to be applied will depend upon the context of the reader. To fault God for showing mercy to some while hardening others is to require that he conform to our fallible and arbitrary concept of justice.”

Warren Wiersbe reminds us that God’s holiness demands justice, but his love manifests mercy: “God is holy and must punish sin; but God is loving and desires to save sinners. If everybody is saved, it would deny His holiness; but if everybody is lost, it would deny His love. The solution to the problem is God’s sovereign election.”

And finally, I want to conclude with a quote from John MacArthur. These men, though not equal to the Bible, can help us think through the Scriptures. “I want to say that believing the plain teaching of the Bible, even when it is hard to accept, is a very important component of Christian discipleship. Because if we will reject this teaching, so clear in its word, because it is uncomfortable to us then there are other teachings that we will be willing to object to and reject because they are uncomfortable to us. But the mark of a disciple is that he believes the word of his master and so because we believe the words of our Master, we believe even when do not fully understand what God teaches us in His word.”

Commentary on Romans 9:17

14 Jun

17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Notice again, “the Scripture says.” Paul is rooting his thoughts in what God has revealed.

Now he takes an interesting turn here. He turns not to Moses, the recipient of mercy, but to Pharaoh, the recipient of judgment. God had a purpose with Pharaoh in judgment and because of this He raised Pharaoh up. Now when we think of being raised up, we think of something positive, but here it is not for Pharaoh’s blessing but for judgment.

The word raised points to the idea of being made prominent. So Pharaoh comes to the forefront of history and becomes a central figure in God’s work. So why is Pharaoh the Pharaoh? Because God willed it to be so. And in putting Pharaoh in power, God gets to show His power and glorify His name in all the earth.

That power God displayed was some kind of power wasn’t it? The greatest display of God’s power in the Old Testament apart from creation and maybe the flood was the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. That all happened through God’s work in hard-hearted Pharaoh. It was Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness that necessitated the plagues and it was his hard-heartedness that brought about that great miracle at the Red Sea. If the Pharaoh doesn’t pursue Israel, they find another way to travel to the Promised Land but because he hemmed them in, God had to provide a miraculous deliverance. Whenever an Israelite celebrates God’s saving power he goes back to the Passover, when God delivered Israel from Egypt. These great works were the things God became known for in the people that lived around the Israelites. And the reason these things happened like they did was largely because of Pharaoh’s hard heart. Because he would not let the Israelites go, God had to miraculously save them. So this brings us to Exodus 9:16, where God says to Pharaoh the words Paul quoted here. God displayed His glory because Pharaoh stood in His way. God displayed His glory by triumphing over the most powerful man in the world.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Why was Pharaoh so stubborn? Over and over he refuses to let Israel go. Maybe you have to be stubborn to be the most powerful man in the world. I am sure stubbornness comes with the territory often in the halls of power. But beyond that, Pharaoh also hardened his heart against God and Moses. But someone else was doing some hardening too. God said in Exodus 4:21, “I will harden his heart that he shall not let the people go.” Why did God do that? This is not the only time. God will be said to harden Pharaoh’s heart ten more times in these chapters. Now it is true that Exodus also says Pharaoh hardened his heart. So we have here this issue of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Whenever we deal with God’s judgment on someone it is always a two way street because of our corruption because of sin. We are always cooperating with God in His judgment because of our actions. We deserve His judgment. So there is a sense in which God in judging, while acting by choice, is also confirming the course of rebellion we have already chosen. He is still free to choose but His choice is also confirmed by our actions. This is not the case in salvation because we have nothing in ourselves and no track record in ourselves to commend ourselves to God. We are not deserving in any way of salvation. So God’s saving work is all of grace. When we look at what God says about Himself in Exodus chapter 34 when he does appear to Moses, it is instructive. Exodus 34:6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” As I look at that text, I see a real justice in God that deals with sin. But the greater thing is God’s mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. God shows mercy to the undeserving and God can choose at any time to harden confirmed sinners in their way for His own purposes. We see this in the New Testament with Judas. God chose Judas to betray Jesus but Judas acted in ways that confirmed that choice. He was responsible even as he was also God’s chosen instrument of betrayal. The people who put Jesus to death according to Acts 4 chose to do so but they did what they did according to the foreknowledge and plan of God.

So God has chosen to show some mercy and to harden others. But this is very, very significant. Even God’s hardening in the case of Pharaoh served a positive purpose of demonstrating God’s power and proclaiming God’s glory. And this is often how God works when He hardens a person. He is working the hardening in order to open up a greater display of mercy.

Again, consider the example of Judas. God’s work in him led to the betrayal of Jesus, but the betrayal of Jesus led to the salvation of the world. The actions of the Romans and the Jews at the cross were God-ordained but led to salvation for the world. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart led to the deliverance of the Israelites.

Here’s the big connection. What Paul will bring out later in this chapter is that a hardening has come upon part of Israel in order that God might display mercy to the Gentiles. So what happened in Moses’ day is also happening in Pharaoh’s day. A hardening has come upon the Jews, God’s kinsmen in the flesh, in order that God’s name might be proclaimed in all the earth by the gospel going out to the Gentiles. This is where Paul is going in 9:22-23.
This theme of salvation through judgment is so prominent in Scripture you can even make a case that it is one of the primary themes of Scripture. From the cross to the Passover lamb to the entry to the promised land God brings salvation through judgment so that even the right display of His holiness against some has the effect of extending mercy to many undeserving sinners. It is a beautiful truth, especially when you consider that all of us deserve God’s wrath.

As Art Azurdia says, “We raise our fist at God and say ‘why do you save some and not others. And it makes us mad. In our arrogance it makes us mad. As the pot we think we have rights to the potter. But when you understand that we are all guilty then suddently the amazing thing is not that God saves some and not others the amazing thing is that God saves any”. And what we find, even though in this world that the way is narrow and it seems few are saved that when we get to Revelation 7 a numberless multitude is gathered around the throne praising the lamb. So it’s not just that God saves a few. In His great mercy He saves multitudes. He saves many. He is merciful.

Commentary on Romans 9:16

14 Jun

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Now the most important word to define in this verse is the smallest word in the verse, the word “it.” What is this word referring to in this verse? The “it” is God’s saving work in the world, the display of His glory to individuals and nations, His work done in His way by His choice. And His choice is rooted in mercy.

God’s saving work does not depend on human will or exertion. What is the difference between these two? Human will refers to inner desires while exertion speaks of action, carrying out the inner desires.

So mercy doesn’t come because I want it and mercy doesn’t come because I work for it. It comes because God chooses to give it. But that’s not fair. How can God withhold mercy from those who want it? Well, let me ask you a question, who doesn’t want mercy? Isn’t mercy something we all want at the end of the day? Some might claim to want no mercy but when the chips are down in their life I bet they will want it. Everybody wants mercy. But not everybody wants mercy on God’s terms. And since He is God that is the way we’ve got to have it if we’re going to get it. We want mercy on our own terms and that usually means we either want mercy plus or we want mercy earned. In other words we want mercy without forsaking our idols. We want God to forgive us for the golden calf even as we are bowing down to the golden calf. Or we want to think we in some way have earned mercy by our goodness or by our effort. But Paul puts the lie to both these approaches. You’re not going to have IT by your desire and you’re not going to have IT by your effort. God’s saving work is God’s work and it is rooted in mercy and in nothing in us.

Commentary on Romans 9:15

14 Jun

In verse 13 we have begun to get at the heart of a very difficult, passage. We said that the central question Paul is dealing with in verses 14-18 is the matter of whether God is unjust. This is the conclusion Paul expected his readers to think about after having read or heard his words about God’s right to choose and make distinctions among people without regard to anything within or outside the people themselves.

Now it’s important heading into this passage to go back to the beginning of chapter 9 where we see Paul’s anguish for his kinsmen according to the flesh, the people of Israel. The reason this is important is because it helps us to see as we come to verses 14-18 that Paul is not dealing with an academic, theoretical issue but with one that has amazing implications for life and ministry. And for us we are not talking about these things without regard to real people, people we love, people we know. Paul is not in an ivory tower somewhere and neither should we deal with this as an academic discussion. These issues are of vital importance to him, because the character of God is Paul’s confidence. He knows that if he can’t trust in the character of God than all is lost but that if he can rest in who God is, he can face anything with confidence and hope. And again, it’s the same for us. Our confidence is in God’s character, not in our circumstances. If you trust in your circumstances you will live an absolute roller coaster life, always pushed and pulled by the joy and sadness of life. So Paul sets out beginning in verse 6 defending God’s character.

Paul made it clear that the unbelief of Israel is not inconsistent with God’s promise. Not all who are Israel are Israel. And God knew this. God never meant to say that every single physical descendant of Abraham would be a child of the promise, one who inherited all the blessings of Israel culminating in the Messiah, Jesus. Salvation has never been and will never be an issue of natural origin. This is proven in John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”The issue is not whether you are Jew or Gentile but whether you are born of God. In the case of God’s promise to Abraham, only one of his sons was the son of the promise. Isaac was the son of the promise while Ishmael was not. And this was God’s call. So that no one will make the argument that Ishmael was less worthy of the promise because he was the child of the slave woman Hagar, Paul points to the example of Jacob and Esau.

Here we have these twins, who were born at the same time, who had done nothing either good or bad, yet God chooses Jacob rather than Esau. Why? In order that God’s purpose in election might stand, not by works but by Him who calls. What is God’s purpose in election? I believe God’s purpose in election is seen in that last phrase, “him who calls.” What God wants to demonstrate in election is that it is God who saves. In this way, He gets the glory, we get the joy and all ground of trying to distinguish ourselves from others in order to make our way with God is removed. Boasting is excluded.

So why did God choose Jacob and not Esau? Because God is God. He has the right to choose as He wishes. God’s word has not failed because His word of promise is for every person among the children of Israel whom He had chosen.

So Paul defends the trustworthiness of God’s promise but in doing so he raises another issue. If salvation is based on God’s faithfulness to His own promise, how can God be just, or righteous in saving some but not others? If we are saved by God’s choice alone, how can God be fair in choosing some and condemning others? That’s the issue Paul sets out to explain in verses 14-18.

There is no doubt that this section of Scripture is challenging for us and is among the most difficult parts of Scripture for us to understand. But this is not because it is unclear, it is rather because it is clear but we are not comfortable with what it says. This passage is about the sovereignty of God, His absolute freedom of will. And it is a defense of God’s righteousness in light of that absolute sovereign will. This passage is difficult because we are going into the depths of the ways of the infinite God. But I want to make it very clear: if you will press through here, I believe you will come away strengthened in faith. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is not worthwhile. In fact, difficult things can often be the most worthwhile things. Somehow, we’ve got out of our minds in church life the idea that unless it is really simple and spoon fed for us as Christians, we can’t take it. We study science or math or we have all kinds of know-how about computers or we can carry off difficult recipes or do some really technical handiwork and we don’t give it a second thought. I was talking with someone this week about how the game of golf is largely muscle memory. You give yourself to practice and you can improve. But if you only play once every six weeks you will probably be the same golfer in five years that you are today. The same thing applies to our walk with God. There is a muscle memory aspect here. If you will give your mind to spiritual truth and press into knowing God, you will grow as the Holy Spirit works in you. But if you come to church sporadically and read your Bible sporadically you can expect that you probably won’t grow a whole lot. So I urge you to take up the challenge to grow. Give yourself to knowing these truths.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

The “what shall we say then?” is, of course, connecting these verses that follow with the previous argument in verses 6-13.

Emil Brunner said, “We want to measure God by our yardstick. But God’s righteousness cannot be measured by our standards. It includes his absolute sovereign freedom; else he would not be the God who freely bestows.”

So the choice of God can’t be based on anything in us or else it is not free choice. And since we are dead in our sins we won’t choose apart from God’s power. I do not believe as some do that God’s sovereign choice is based on His foreknowledge of the choices we will make as human beings, that somehow election is about affirming the course we will choose and not about God doing the choosing. The reason I don’t believe this is because if it is true then the ground of God’s choosing would be human merit. Even if one says we are saved by faith, if that faith is my doing rather than God’s gift, I am being saved by my own merit rather than by God’s mercy. My salvation is based on God’s right to choose. Do I still have to believe? Absolutely. But I will not believe unless God calls me to himself, as we see in Romans 8:29-30.

So how can this be fair? How can it be right that some are saved and some are lost? Well, remember Abraham’s words to God in Genesis 18:25 “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham asks it in the form of a question but it is really a statement about the character of God. God is not inconsistent, He does all things well, He will not be unfair or unrighteous, He never sins. God’s righteousness is affirmed many times in the Psalms. Words like righteous and righteousness are used 254 times in the Psalms in the ESV. Many of these times refer to people but many other times the reference is to God. A good example is Psalm 119:137, “Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright in all Your judgments.”

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Jeremiah 9:23-24, “The Lord says, Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man boast in his strength, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him that boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth.”

Now it’s interesting that Jeremiah says boasting in God is rooted in understanding God’s kindness, judgment and righteousness. And when Paul talks about boasting, he talks about boasting in the cross. And in the cross we see the greatest display of God’s kindness, judgment and righteousness. So Jeremiah is hinting at what Paul unfolds, if you want to really know God, you have to know Him here in the midst of what we’re talking about tonight, in the depths of His character. God’s character is our confidence. As you think about and rest in the character of God, you will be changed. I think about 2 Corinthians 3:18 . . . “But we all with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.” But note verses 7-11 in that chapter, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.” So the glory Paul is talking about in verse 18 that we are to behold is the glory not of the law but of the gospel. As we behold, gaze on, dwell on what Jesus has done, we are transformed. And the reason for this is because we see the character of God for what it really is. We are not transformed because we see that God has warm feelings for us. We are transformed because God saved us even though we were totally undeserving and could do nothing to save ourselves. And in saving us, God revealed Himself as mighty and merciful. And in saving us God’s character shines forth as He is seen as just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God can be fully trusted.

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