The Lord's Day Morning
August 12, 2007
“Living In a Manner Worthy of the Gospel (3)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one, as we continue to work through this great book together.
Philippians 1:27 and 28 contain the first major exhortation in the main section of this letter. The main section of this letter runs from this verse (Philippians 1:27) all the way to about Philippians 2:18. In that main section of the letter, the Apostle Paul is exhorting the Philippians, and he's exhorting you and me, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to live lives that are worthy of the gospel. The whole section is an exhortation to distinctive Christian conduct. He wants us to live distinctively as Christians in the world.
If you look at this middle section of this glorious letter of joy, it is all about this encouragement, this call, this challenge from God through the Apostle Paul to us that we would live lives in accordance with our profession as Christians. If you look at verse 27 and glance in your Bible all the way to verse 4 of chapter 2, you will notice in that section of this middle section of the letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul gives duties to us that we are to fulfill as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, if you look at verses 5-11 of Philippians 2, you will see him give an example of how we are to live with one another in Christian humility, and the example that he gives us is the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, especially in His humiliation in His gospel work on our behalf. So we have the call to Christian duty followed by an example drawn from Jesus Christ.
And then if you look at verses 12-18 of Philippians 2, you will see again exhortations to obedience: so, the Apostle Paul, at the center of this “letter of joy,” is calling us to holy conduct, to Christian conduct, to live in such a way as to be a credit to the message of Christ; to live in such a way as to be consistent with the gospel; or, to adorn our profession of faith by living consistently, or as befitting the gospel.
Now we have parked on verses 27 and 28 in part in order to apply those truths more deeply to our daily Christian living, but in part because this section announces themes that we see throughout our study of the center point of this letter. There's a real sense in which we could call the center part of this letter a quest for godliness, because the Apostle Paul in this letter of joy is also calling us to a life of godliness, to growth in grace. In fact, today we're going to see three Bible factors that the Apostle Paul identifies in this quest for godliness. Let me just tell you what they are ahead of time, so that you can be looking for them in the passages that we read and in the sermon as you hear God's word.
First of all, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that it is vital for us in our living of the Christian life to know what the gospel sets us free to. What does the gospel set us free to? Secondly, the Apostle Paul knows that it is vital in our quest for godliness and our living of the Christian life to know the relationship between joy and obedience. And then, thirdly, the Apostle Paul knows that it is vital in our quest for godliness and our living of the Christian life to know the necessity of activity in the Christian life…to know the necessity of our own personal exertion in our growth in grace. So be looking for those as we read through the passage together.
Let's look to God in prayer and ask for his help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We ask that You would teach us by Your Holy Spirit its truth; that we would not only understand it, but that we would embrace it and live it out by the sanctifying grace of Your Holy Spirit. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God; hear it:
“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, 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.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
This great passage, and in this great section of the book, the Apostle Paul teaches us three things that are vital for us to understand about the living of the Christian life. He will illustrate and apply them repeatedly in the passages that we're going to be studying in the weeks to come, and so it's good for us to be alerted to these things now.
I. The gospel sets us free to purse God and holiness.
The first one is simply this: The Apostle Paul wants us to know what the gospel sets us free to do. It is vital if you are going to live the Christian life to know what kind of freedom you have been given, what the freedom you have been given in the gospel is for, what it is to…what is its purpose, what is its effect. And here the Apostle Paul teaches us that the gospel sets us free to pursue God and godliness. Paul teaches us that the gospel sets us free to pursue God and godliness.
The Apostle Paul in this book has been talking about the joy that we have because of the saving work of God on our behalf, and of His liberating and redeeming work. And so he has exhorted the Philippians to live in such a way that His joy is made more full. He has told them that he is deeply concerned for their joy in the faith, but in verse 27 he says — what? “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Now Paul is giving an exhortation here. He is telling you something that he wants you to do. He's giving you a gospel command, if you want to put it that way. He's requiring you to conform your behavior to a certain standard, and in this case the standard is the very gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, the Apostle Paul sees absolutely no contradiction between his announcement of the gospel — that God has done something for you in Christ of inestimable value and cost to set you free from bondage to sin. You have contributed nothing to that liberation. You have not saved yourself. When you have received that salvation, you have received it as a gift of God accomplished entirely by Him. The Apostle Paul sees no contradiction between announcing that gospel and then turning right around and saying, ‘Now live in a way that fits that gospel…not because you have to receive that gospel and live a good Christian life in order to be worthy of salvation, or to earn salvation, but because the very purpose of God's total grace given to you in Jesus Christ was not simply to forgive you but to transform you, so that you are like Christ.’ And so the Apostle Paul sees no contradiction between announcing the gospel and then saying, “Now live in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
Now, what that means is simply this. Those who teach that since we have been saved by grace we are free to do as we please, we are free to live as we want, are blatantly and seriously contradicting the plain teaching of Scripture. Those who teach that since we've been saved by grace we can do as we please, live as we please…how we live does not matter…are not in accordance with the word of God. The entire center section of this epistle of joy is an obvious contradiction for that teaching. Those who represent the Christian life as freedom from responsibility and obedience in stead of freedom to a joyful, willing, delightful, growing gospel responsibility and obedience are dead wrong and dangerously wrong. They are setting Christians up for serious failure. They are robbing Christians of the delight of the duty of living a life in accordance with the gospel. And so it's vitally important.
The Apostle Paul wants us to understand that the gospel does not set us free to do whatever we jolly well please; the gospel sets us free to pursue God and godliness. We Presbyterians, when we quote the first question of The Shorter Catechism, sum up what we think life is all about: glorifying and enjoying God forever. Well, the gospel, the Apostle Paul says, sets you free to glorify and enjoy God forever…not to glorify yourself and enjoy yourself forever, but to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. And let me let you in on a little secret. There is more joy in an ounce of glorifying and enjoying God than in attempting to please oneself forever. And so the Apostle Paul is saying the gospel has set you free so that you can do what God built you for, so that you can be what God intended you to be: a human being made in the image of God, made for everlasting fellowship with, enjoyment of, glorification of Him. The gospel sets us free for that. It's so important for us to understand that principle, friends, and Paul will illustrate that over and over again in the next section of the letter.
II. For the Christian there is no contradiction between joy and obedience.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul knows that it is vital for us to understand in the living of the Christian life that there is no contradiction between joy and obedience. Everywhere around us, well-meaning religious teachers (very often who themselves have been under some form of legalism) are keen to tell Christians that they no longer have any obligation of obedience to God — God wants them to be happy, but God doesn't care whether they’re obedient. The Apostle Paul makes it clear here that there is no contradiction between joy and obedience. In fact, there's no competition between joy and obedience. Let me prove that to you.
Look at verse 25. At the end of that long section that we studied, after Paul uttered that great word, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” what does the Apostle Paul say is the reason that he is staying on planet Earth? So that the Philippians might have joy. Now, the Apostle Paul says ‘I am ready to forego being with Christ — which is the greatest thing in the world, which is what I have lived for — in order that you might have joy.’ And then two verses later, what does He say? “Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
Now, did Paul have a mental hiccup? Did he forget what he had just said about joy when he gave them this exhortation to holy conduct, to godliness, to holiness, to the pursuit of Christlike-ness when he gave them this exhortation to obedience? No! Because joy and obedience are not contradictory. They’re not in competition with one another. They are complements, under grace and under the gospel. After all, the command (Phil. 1:27) is a command that comes from the ‘epistle of joy’–the central section of the epistle of joy is all about holy conduct, the pursuit of holiness, the quest for godliness, becoming more Christ-like. This is not a contradiction of grace; it's the very purpose of grace. God desires that we would experience joy in our obedience.
Satan will always say this to us: ‘Here's your choice: obedience or pleasure. God's offering you gloomy obedience. I'm offering you easy pleasure.’ And here's what God says back: ‘There's no such thing as easy pleasure. There is only joyful obedience.’ There is the joy that comes from fellowship with the living God, there is the joy that comes from living the way He intended the creatures that He made (and presumably knows a little bit about), there is a joy that comes from living the way that He intended us to live, and it is only found by those who renounce their own designs on joy and pleasure and say, ‘Lord, You obviously know more about enjoying this life than I do. I'm going to trust You here. I'm going to follow Your way in pursuit of a deeper, richer, profounder, more lasting joy.’
And so the Apostle Paul is reminding us that glorifying and enjoying God are not mutually exclusive. They are two different things, but they are two complementary things. They are two inseparable things. We can put it this way: Glorifying God and enjoying God are two sides of the same coin. They always go together, and what God has put together, let no man put asunder. And so the Apostle Paul wants us to learn the fundamental truth about the Christian life. There is no contradiction between joy and obedience. Satan will always try and persuade you otherwise.
One reason Satan is often successful is because this temptation is plausible. It is true that sometimes doing the right thing is momentarily far more painful than doing the wrong thing. But even when you’re 40, or 45, or 50 years old, you can now look back 20 years, 25 years now, and see how doing the right thing, though momentarily painful, has paid dividends of joy in your life to this very day. That truth will only be exponentially increased when we are looking from the light of eternity. And so the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that joy and obedience are not enemies, they’re not in competition, they’re not contradicting one another. They go together in the Christian life.
III. The Christian life requires effort and purpose.
And thirdly and finally, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that the Christian life is not effortless. It is a life of purposeful exertion. And Paul makes that clear especially in verses 27 and 28 as he explains to us what it is he's calling us to in this life which is worthy of the gospel. Look at this passage again:
“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” [and then note these words] “…so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm [take note of that word] in one spirit [take note of that word], with one mind [take note of that word], striving [take note of that word] side by side [take note of that word] for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened [take note of that word] in anything by your opponent.”
Here in this passage the Apostle Paul is saying that our growth in grace, our living of the Christian life, our becoming more mature as believers–our sanctification, if you want to use the language of our Confession and Catechism–our quest for godliness, our pursuit of holiness, our becoming more Christ-like, is not something in which we are passive. It is something in which we are active…and that's one reason, by the way, that we titled this sermon series “Fighting for Joy.” It's not so much that we have to fight to get something that God has not given us as it is that we have to fight to keep something — or rather, to keep from giving up something — that God has already given us. God has given us enormous joy in Christ, but you know one of the things that we've been learning as we've studied Numbers together these last numbers of Wednesday nights is that the people of God very often, with the blessings of God spread out before them, want to go back. They want to turn their backs on a greater joy, and they want to be satisfied with a substitute of a lesser and passing joy, which upon further and closer analysis isn't joy at all. And so the Apostle Paul says ‘If you’re going to live the Christian life and grow in grace, it's going to involve fighting for joy.’
In fact, this exertion, this activity in this passage takes four forms, and I want to point you to those words that we've just looked at. If I could outline it this way, I'd say that Paul says that the effort of the Christian life is to be this way: there is to be tenacity, activity, mutuality, and unity. Tenacity…activity…mutuality…and unity.
Notice his words: “Standing firm….” “I want to hear that you are standing firm.” The Apostle Paul wants to hear that the Philippians, and you and me, are persistent in our clinging to the gospel. He wants to hear that we are standing firm, because it is very possible for a person who professes faith in the gospel to let go of the gospel, and so the Apostle Paul wants us to stand firm. It requires tenacity and persistence.
Secondly, notice that he calls us to activity, and the activity takes a couple of different forms. Striving is his word in verse 27 — “…striving…for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Now notice that both the striving and the not being frightened require exertion. Striving is a good athletic or military metaphor for being engaged hard in the fight, but it takes no less exertion or effort to not be frightened. Did you listen to what the choir was singing during the anthem? To “…be not afraid…though thousands and tens of thousands around you perish.” Well, picture that on the battlefield. Your commander, as tens of thousands are perishing around you, says, “Don't be afraid.” Now, my friends, it takes some exertion to obey that particular command — “Don't be frightened when tens of thousands around you perish.” And yet that is exactly what the Apostle Paul calls you and me, along with the Philippians, to. It's an activity that he calls us to.
Very often we come across teachers of the Christian life who say the Christian life is fundamentally passive, and the key to living the Christian life is “letting go and letting God.” Now, friends, I want you to understand how contradictory to the Scriptures that is.
There is of course a great truth that there are times in our lives when there's nothing more important than us being still and knowing that He is God. That is a great truth. Many of you have experienced precisely the power of those moments when God works, when there is absolutely nothing that you can do. But that being said, the Apostle Paul does not tell us that our growth in grace is going to be something in which we are not ourselves strenuously engaged. It is all over the pages of the center portion of the letter of joy. So when somebody comes and tells you that your problem is that you’re not letting go and letting God, take them to Philippians and say, “Help me understand these commands from the Apostle Paul. How do I square that up with your teaching?”
My wife had just been converted to Christ and was in college. She and a group of students went to another college to hear a famous “higher life” teacher — one of these teachers that teaches that you can have total victory over sin, total peace in this life, a total cessation of hostility in the fight with the inner man, and that the key to the Christian life is to let go and let God. And after the service, as a young Christian Ann was very confused, and she went up to this man and she said, “OK, I want to understand what you’re saying, but tell me, exactly how do I go about letting go and letting God?” and he would repeat to her, “Well, you just have to let go and let God.” And she kept saying, “Well, how do I do that?” And he couldn't explain it. And the reason he couldn't explain it is because it's not biblical–and it's not practical, either. The Apostle Paul is calling us here to a strenuous exertion. Yes, an exertion that is dependent upon God and His grace. Yes, an exertion that is based upon the gospel. But nevertheless, to an activity on our own part.
Thirdly, he's calling us to mutuality. Did you notice that beautiful phrase? That he wanted to hear that we were striving — how? — side by side. He wants us to understand that we need one another and that there is a required commitment to one another in the life of faith.
I know many of you have been side by side with one another when dire diagnoses came into your life. You've seen Christians who said, “I'm going to be there with you and for you to the end.” I know that some of you know what it is for a husband to sit down and say, “Honey, I've got some really bad news. We are in a state of financial disaster. I've done my best, but we're almost ruined.” And you know what it is for a wife to look you in the eye and say, “I married you for richer, for poorer, and I'm going to be with you through thick and thin. I'm not going anywhere.” And the energy, the comfort, the strength that is given in those moments when we express that kind of mutuality is absolutely essential for the living of the Christian life. We need one another, and we need that especially when we're confronting sin. And you know, as hard as it may be to bear up with one another when the diagnosis of cancer comes, or when the financial ruin comes, it's even harder when one of us has let others of us down morally to sit down and say, “My friend…my wife…my husband…I have committed a colossal sin. I am guilty of serious moral failure.” And then to have that believer say, “I am with you in this to the end. I'm not going anywhere,” is absolutely essential to the Christian life, because we're not little sinners. When we sin, we typically do big ones–and we don't need little forgiveness, we need big forgiveness. And we cannot do it alone. We need one another. And the Apostle Paul is calling us to that kind of mutuality: ‘I want to hear that you’re side by side. I want to hear that you’re like a band of brothers who is saying ‘All of us are coming out of this together. We’re not leaving anybody behind, no matter how bad it is. We are hanging in there with you until we see this thing through.’
And of course, what happens when that happens is [that] an enormous unity results. The Apostle Paul speaks of it here. He uses that beautiful phrase, one spirit, one mind. It's almost like we're two hearts in one body, or one heart in many bodies. We have the same mind, we have the same outlook on life, the same shared heart. And that unity comes out of shared sense of battle.
This past week I was looking at websites that are operated by veterans of one of the most famous battles in U.S. military history, the battle in Korea in 1950 at the Cho-Sin Reservoir. It was an amazing conflict, and one of the proudest moments in the history of the U.S. armed forces. You may remember, some of you who were around during the Korean Conflict, that in 1950 there were some who thought that the Korean War was on the verge of being won outright. And then, suddenly 60,000 Chinese troops came across the border and surrounded an American detachment half their size and were verging on exterminating all of the American forces. And there ensued a long battle in the frozen tundra of North Korea, and the people who survived that battle called themselves “the frozen Cho-Sin” or, the Cho-Sin few. There are many, many of them still alive, of course, today, and they've got websites where they share stories with one another and they tell about the hardships that they experienced together, and in which they celebrate the unity that they now share because of going through that experience. I saw one of the sites the other day, and it said this:
“Whatever we were in that frozen long ago, and whatever we are now, we are bound as one for life in an exclusive fraternity of honor. The only way into our ranks is to have paid the dues of duty, sacrifice, and valor by being there. The cost of joining us, in short, is beyond all earthly wealth.”
Now you understand that we as Christians have been brought into the same experience of unity, not by a battle that we have fought, but by a battle that the Lord Jesus Christ fought on our behalf in mortal single combat with the forces of Satan, death and hell. And He died and was buried, and was raised again in victory over those forces; and we now, as we have died and been raised to life in Him, share in His great victory. And His victory has given us a unity together, and it is first a camaraderie which says ‘We are in this thing together. Everyone is in this for one another. We’re not going anywhere without you.’ It is a commitment to expressing the reality of that unity in the face of the most difficult sins and trials, and expressing the reality that we are united to Christ as a church.
And that's what this whole section in the book of Philippians is about. What a joy it is going to be as we launch into it.
Let's look to God in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we ask that by Your Spirit we would live life in light of this glorious gospel, in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: The Gospel Song]
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits. Amen.