Sunday, March 9, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and
Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study in Philippians
Hold Fast to the Word of Life
Dr. Ligon Duncan
Amen. If you have your Bible, I would invite you to turn with me to Philippians 2. We’re going to concentrate on verses 16-18 today, but we're going to read verses 14-18.
The last time we were together we were looking at verses 14-15, all a part of an extended section in which the Apostle Paul is encouraging us, exhorting us to live the Christian life. And he is making very specific exhortations to us in that section reminding us about what is involved in living the Christian life.
For instance, in chapter 2:14 last Lord's day, we saw the Apostle Paul encouraging us to not grumble and question in our living the Christian life. In other words, he's saying, “Do what you ought to do because you want to do it from the very bottom of the heart, not because you think you’re being forced to do something that you really don't want to do.”
We have a new family member in our house — a 5 Ѕ month old Lab-Heeler mix named Lass. And she is normally very sweet as Derek Thomas will testify. She bathed him with kisses when he visited the house this last week. But sometimes she nips at us and our little puppy trainer that we go see on Saturday mornings at Pet Smart has told us a little trick. When she starts nipping and biting at the hands and the arms and at the nose, you take a pot, the lid of a pot, and a spoon and bang it loudly. And she does not like that loud, metallic sound so when she starts nipping, you bang it, and she stops.
Now, sometimes she's very good and she doesn't nip at all and she's doing exactly what she wants to do — she's just licking you and playing and having fun. But, sometimes she really wants to bite you, but she doesn't want that loud banging noise in her ear. And so what she’ll do when she wants to bite you, but she doesn't want the banging noise is she’ll bite the air. She’ll just bite the air.
And the Apostle Paul is saying, “Don't live the Christian life like that. Don't bite the air.” Do what you ought to do because you really want to do it, unlike Lass who really wants to bite you but doesn't want the banging noise in her ear. Do what you ought to do because you want to do it. Do it without grumbling and without second guessing and without questioning. Do it from the heart with joy.
And then, he says, “Be the children of God.” Did you hear Derek remind us of Paul's words from Romans about what we are. What are we? We are the sons of God. By grace we're not only forgiven, we're not only justified, but we are brought into God's family. We are adopted. We are the sons of God. We’re joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We are on the inheritance list.
We are the sons of God, but Paul here says, “Don't just claim to be the sons of God. Live like you are the sons of God. Live out what it means to be the children of the living God.”
And, he says, “Shine like lights in a sin-darkened world. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Jesus himself commands this to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. And Paul is just picking up on that theme in Philippians 2:14. So, he's giving those three exhortations.
Now, what he's going to do next after verse 18, and don't pass out because next week, God willing, we're going to go from verse 19 to the end of the chapter. Now, the reason we're going to do that is what Paul is doing in verses 19-30 is he is giving you two illustrations in the lives of two men, Epaphroditus and Timothy. And he's saying, “Look, these men are examples of what I've been talking about so far. You want to see how this works out in somebody's life? Let me give you the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are doing exactly what I have been urging you to do.”
So, we're moving from those three exhortations in verses 14-15 to the examples that Paul is going to give of what it means to live the Christian life in the lives of Epaphroditus and Timothy from verses 19-30.
But, today we're going to be in verses 16-18 where he's continuing the exhortations about Christian living. It may be helpful for you to actually look at those verses before we read
God's Word out loud and follow along as I sort of paraphrase them to you so that you can feel the flow and the force of Paul's argument.
So, look at verses 14-18 and let me sort of paraphrase them for you before we pray and actually read God's Word.
Paul is saying here, “Philippians, live the Christian life out willingly and joyfully from the heart so that you show yourselves to be God's adopted children even in this dark and dying world in which you are to be lights. How? By holding fast the word of life in your living so that on the day of Christ, I can boast in you seeing fruit from my labor. And even if I die, even if I am, as it were, poured out like a drink offering on your sacrifice of faith, I'm glad and I rejoice together with all of you. But you must rejoice with me, too.”
That's the flow of Paul argument in this great passage. Let me draw your attention to four things that we're going to learn together today, God willing. Paul is saying four more things to us here about living the Christian life.
First of all, he's saying if you’re really going to live the Christian life, you need to learn how to live the Bible. Not just say that you believe it, but live the Bible.
Secondly, he's saying that if you really want to learn how to live the Christian life, you have to learn the principle of delayed gratification. Now, I’ll explain that in a minute. Those of you who have an MBA or have done business courses have no doubt heard about the principle of delayed gratification. Well, there's a spiritual aspect to that as well. And Paul mentions it here in this passage in verse 16.
Then, he says, “If you’re really going to live the Christian life, you need to understand sanctification is expensive. Sanctification is expensive. It costs others much in order for you to grow in grace. And you need to appreciate how important sanctification must be because God spends a lot of the capital of His most precious children so that we will be more like Jesus Christ. So sanctification is expensive.
And finally, he says you have to learn how to rejoice in the self-giving of others. If you really understand the gospel, if you really understand grace, if you really understand what God is doing in sanctification, you’ll learn how to rejoice in the self-giving of others.
Now, we’ll look at those four things together in this passage. But first, let's pray and then we’ll read God's Word.
Father, this is Your Word and we need Your Holy Spirit if we're going to be able to understand it. So open our eyes to behold and believe and then to embrace and do the truth of Your Word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God beginning in Philippians 2:14:
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 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, 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. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Like wise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
I. Live the Bible…practice the truth.
The Apostle Paul is continuing to exhort us in living the Christian life. He is concerned that we would want to grow in grace and that we would want to manifest our faith to the watching world. It is so important for us to remember again that Paul in this passage is not telling you how you are made right with God. He's not telling how you’re justified. He's not recounting to you the gospel. If these things are the gospel, then all of us are going to Hell because none of us do these things well enough to be accepted by God.
Paul is not saying live the Bible and God will accept you. Live the Bible and God will forgive you. Practice the truth and you will be saved. If he were saying that, all of us would be condemned, but he is saying, “Christian, having received God's grace in Jesus Christ, now live out the truth. Having been forgiven by God's mercy, now live this way.”
And so, the Apostle Paul is giving us instructions on how to live the Christian life. And he tells us four things here following up on what he's already said in verses 14-15.
And the first thing that he says is simply this — practice the truth. You see it in verse 16 — “holding fast to the word of life”. Now, that little phrase is actually completing a sentence that he started at the end of verse 15 “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life”.
In other words, Paul's telling you how it is that you’re supposed to shine. How is it that you are supposed to be a witness in your life to a dying, sin-deadened world around you? By holding fast to the word of life — the word of the living God is to be your rule for faith and life. Your practicing of the truth is the way that you bear witness to this sin-darkened world.
In other words, Paul's saying, “Don't just say that you believe the Bible, live the Bible.” He's saying, “Don't just honor God's Word with your lips, honor it with your lives or you’re not honoring it at all.”
Very recently, Francis Schaeffer's son, Franky, (as he was formerly known. He calls himself Frank now.) has written a very, very demeaning biography of his parents called Crazy for God. Frank isn't even sure whether he believes in God any more. And Francis Schaeffer helped so many of us come to embrace the truth of the gospel. But it is a very, very scurrilous biography in which he trashes his mother and father.
And there have been a number of reactions to that biography. One was in a review that was just published in the journal Books and Culture by Os Guinness. Now, some of you have read Os Guinness, an outstanding evangelical writer, and Os Guinness knows a little bit about this family. You see, he lived in L’Abri with Francis and Edith Schaeffer and with little Franky as he was known then. In fact, he was the best man in Franky's wedding so he knows this family well. And he has written a review of this book calling into question the gross untruths and unfairnesses which Frankie has heaped upon his parents.
But that's not what I'm raising this for. The reason I'm mentioning this is because towards the end of that book review, he says this about Francis Schaeffer. He says, “Having lived with this man and knowing his sins, knowing that he had many, many blind spots and weaknesses and sins, nevertheless, I have never been around a man in my life who more embodied love for God, love truth, and love for people all at the same time.”
Boy! Isn't that a glorious description of a Christian — ‘love for God, love for truth, and love for people all at the same time.’
Well, what is that but living out the Bible? How does Jesus summarize all the commandments? Love God and love your neighbor. And what is loving God and loving your neighbor? It's living out the truth of God's Word which commands you to love God and love your neighbor.
And so, what that beautiful description of Francis Schaeffer's life and the words of Os Guinness, “he loved God, loved truth, loved people”, that's what Paul's exhorting the Philippians to do here — to practice the truth of Scripture by loving God, loving the truth, and loving people.
Many of you had to read Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales perhaps in a high school AP English class or maybe in college or maybe you just did it for fun. And you remember some of the strange characters that you encounter; some of them not altogether filled with integrity. Now, there are some hypocrites in The Canterbury Tales, but one of the characters that Chaucer clearly respected was the man that he calls The Poor Parson.
Remember what he says about the poor parson? He says this:
“He gave this noble example to his sheep that first he practiced and then he preached.”
Isn't that a great compliment of that poor parson's serving in his local parish church that he lived the truth that he preached before he even proclaimed that truth so that they knew that there was integrity from the life of the one who was proclaiming to them the Bible.
And that's exactly what the Apostle Paul is exhorting the Philippians to do — practice what you preach. Practice the truth.
II. The principle of delayed gratification
But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say in verse 16, “Do this so that in the day of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
Now, you say, “What in the world are you talking about, Paul? I thought you said we were only to boast in Christ. What do you mean you want us to live in a certain way so that you can boast in us on the day that Jesus comes?”
Well, what the Apostle Paul is saying is this. He's saying, “Look, Philippians, there are both Jews and pagans all around you who are telling you — look at Paul. What a waste! He's in prison. He's likely to be executed. There was a man with great potential, great intelligence, and look at him. He's thrown his life away. It is valueless. He's about to die. His mission has failed.”
And the Apostle Paul is saying to the Philippians, “No, no, no. My mission will not have failed if you walk by faith and live by faith and grow in grace and bear a witness to the world. If you do that on the last day, I will not be put to shame, but the Lord Jesus will say, ‘Look, Paul, look at the fruit of your ministry in the life of these people.’”
In other words, Paul is saying to the Philippians, “Remember my final report card won't come until the end of the term and the end of the term is on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's when the Lord Jesus comes again. And then, he’ll judge whether life has been lived to the fullest or not. Not all of these people around you who are telling you that I'm a failure because I'm in prison or I'm a failure because I'm not free to go out preaching my gospel or I've wasted my life.”
No, the Apostle Paul is saying, “I'm not living life for short term gains.” Paul is teaching the Philippians the principles of delayed gratification.
Now, you know that delayed gratification means passing up a short term gain for a long term reward.
Let's suppose that you have two very intelligent coeds, one female and one male, and they graduate from an excellent college and maybe they go on to do a Master's degree in business. And then they launch out and they get a good job in the job market and they both get a good, handsome salary to start with. And he decides because he's got a good salary that he's going to buy that car that he's always wanted. So, he gets a loan and he's paying what? Ten percent, 12 percent and he's got a car payment and it's going to take him five years to pay it off.
And she says, “You know, I don't think I'm going to buy that car I've always wanted. I'm going to drive the old rattletrap that I've been driving in college and I'm going to invest that money in a Mutual Fund.”
Five years later, she can go out and buy the car that she wanted to buy with cash and have money left over to make their first investment in property. That's called delayed gratification.
He's just paid off a car. Now he has a five year old car that has depreciated in value to nothing and she's got a brand new car paid for with cash and she's got a little money in the bank to invest and make more money. It's the principle of delayed gratification.
And the Apostle Paul is saying, “That works in the spiritual world as well. I'm not doing what I'm doing, Philippians, because I think my report card is now. My report card won't come until the day of the Lord Jesus. And when you and the other churches that I have planted live out the truth of the gospel that I have preached to you and by your faith live a life of service to God then, my report card will say, ‘A+’.”
So, the Apostle Paul is teaching them that our real rewards await the coming of Jesus Christ. And so, he doesn't particularly care that he's in prison as long as they grow in grace because as they grow in grace and live the Christian life, on the last day the Lord Jesus will say to the Apostle Paul, “Look at the fruit of your ministry. Men and women and boys and girls, spiritual descendants of the legacy that you wove and sewed into the lives of those little churches in Asia Minor, from around the world are here at my throne worshiping me. A+, Paul.”
And that teaches the Philippians a lesson. They are never simply to live for the approbation of their contemporaries. What they want to hear is what? “Well, done good and faithful servant. Enter into the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
What a huge message that is for us! We live an instant gratification society. Success is measured by what happens in the next five minutes. And the Apostle Paul is saying, “That's not how it is with me, Philippians. I'm waiting for the final report card then my success will be measured.”
III. Sanctification is expensive.
But he says a third thing as well. Look at verse 17. He says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I'm glad!”
In other words, he's saying, “Philippians, you understand what's happening here? Your sanctification is very expensive. God so wants you to grow in grace and be like the Lord Jesus Christ that He is willing to pour my life out so that you will be more like Jesus Christ, so that you will live the Christian life.”
And he says, “You know, I really don't mind that. If you are living a life of faith which is offered up to God like a sweet-smelling sacrifice, I'm happy to be the drink offering poured next to that sacrifice.”
Now, we don't do drink offerings. That's something that we don't do. Even Jewish people today don't do drink offerings because there's no temple. But in both Jewish culture and in Greco-Roman culture they all understood drink offerings. Drink offerings were a part of the total sacrifice that would have been offered in either the Jewish temple or in a pagan temple. You would have slain an animal whose blood would be sprinkled on the altar and then the carcass of the animal would be consumed by the fire on the altar.
And then in the Jewish sacrificial system, the drink offering would be poured out next to the altar. In a Greco-Roman pagan sacrifice, the drink offering might be poured out on the animal that had been burned and consumed on the altar, but either way the drink offering was sort of topping off the whole offering that was being offered to God.
And Paul's saying, “You know, if you will live the Christian life as your sacrifice of faith,” (Notice in the New Testament the old sacrificial language is never applied to our offering sacrifices in a temple. It is either applied to what? Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross or to our living the Christian life so that our worship is to be in all of life living by faith for God.) – and Paul is saying, “If you’ll live by faith for God, I'm happy to be the drink offering poured on your sacrifice of faith.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “If my life simply becomes a component of your living to God for His glory, it will all have been worth it. And I’ll be more than happy, in fact, I’ll be rejoicing. Paul is teaching the principle here of how expensive our sanctification is.
In order for us to grow in grace, God throws gifted and godly ministers and pastors and elders and Christians into the service of our growing in grace and they live and they bleed and they ache and they die all so that we’ll do what? Grow in grace.
Can you imagine being in the Philippian congregation and standing before God on the Judgment Day and hearing the Lord Jesus recount to you how He had given Paul to you so that you would become more like Jesus?
Now, Paul didn't contribute a thing to their being accepted by Jesus. Paul didn't contribute a thing to their being justified by grace. The Lord Jesus Christ did all of that, but Paul was part of God's plan for them to do what? To mature them as disciples.
Jesus caused them to be justified. Grace caused them to be saved, but Paul was part of God's plan for those Philippians to be sanctified, to be matured, to grow in grace. And the Apostle Paul is reminding you and me how expensive our growth in grace is.
God cares about our growth in grace when He gives gifted and talented faithful ministers and elders and pastors and other Christians to us so that we will become more like Christ and causes them to live and bleed and die so that we will grow in grace.
What if a young man or a young woman graduated from a good school with great grades and went to medical school at University Medical Center and after medical school said, “You know, I think I'm going to go to Reformed Seminary and do a degree, an M Div, and I want to pursue missions and do medical missions in some part of the world”. And after graduating with honors and going off to the mission field to Pakistan in a field hospital, in three months a radical Muslim killed that man or that young woman. Wouldn't your tendency be to say, “What a waste, what a waste?”
And the Apostle Paul is saying, “No, no, no. Don't you understand? God is ready to pour out expensive gifts for the sake of building up His people.”
And that three months of ministry is an indication of how much God wants us to grow in grace. He's ready to take that kind of an expensive gift if only we will become more mature in Jesus Christ. Paul is telling us here that he was poured out like a drink offering over the lives of the Philippians and he's exhorting us to realize that the investment of our elders and our pastors in us, the investment of other Christians in times past is all part of our sanctification. And it is worth it!
Do you realize the cumulative investment that God has now made in your sanctification? He sent Augustine into the world and Athanasius into the world and Martin Luther into the world and John Calvin and John Owen and Jonathan Edwards and John Murray and every other saint whose name you can think. All for what? For your sanctification.
He sent Jesus into the world for your justification. He sent Jesus into the world for your sanctification, too, but to that great work of the Lord Jesus Christ, He has gathered around a cloud of witnesses to do what? To urge you on in growing in grace. Very expensive, very expensive gifts.
And Paul wants you to realize that. How much must God want us to grow in grace if He has spent this much to help us to do it?
IV. Learn to rejoice in the self-giving of others.
Fourth and finally, in this passage Paul says, “It's not just that I'm glad that I'm being poured out. It's not just that I'm rejoicing that I get to be poured out as a sacrifice for you.” He says that he wants you to rejoice and be glad with him.
Listen to what he says in verse 18:
“Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “If you don't rejoice as I'm poured out like a drink offering and as my life ebbs away and as I'm executed on your behalf and for the sake of the gospel. If you don't rejoice in my gospel self-sacrifice, you just don't get it yet. You don't realize how valuable what we have in Jesus Christ is and how that changes the whole of life.
You remember the story of Jim Elliott, who quoted the old Puritan in his journal, and that journal entry was found after he had been martyred and left behind a young wife and children.
And you remember the phrase, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.
And the apostle Paul is saying, “Don't you understand how life reorienting that truth is?”
He's saying, “When you have already been given everything in Christ, you can't lose anything that matters. When you have already been given everything in Christ, you can't give away anything that matters. When you have already been given everything in Christ, no one can take anything from you that matters.”
And so he's saying, “As I'm being poured out, you need to rejoice with me because everything that I could possibly want, I have in Christ. And as I'm being poured out, I'm being poured out for you! So rejoice, Christian. Rejoice when you see God pouring out expensive gifts in the persons of His people for the sake of your sanctification because they can't miss anything. They can't lose anything that matters and their being poured out is for your everlasting good and gain.
And that's why though, yes, tinged with sorrow when we see a medical missionary go off and lose his life or her life to radical Muslims in three months of service, yes, we sorrow. We sorrow for their families and what has been left behind, but we do not assume it was wasted. It's never wasted. God just has very expensive gifts to give to His people for the building up of them in Jesus Christ.
And we need to learn the importance of gospel rejoicing because when we rejoice in those kinds of sacrifices, it says to the world that we're not here to delight in what you have to offer because you don't have anything to offer to us. We have everything that we could possibly need or want in Jesus Christ and this world can take none of that away form us. And it can offer nothing to us to augment it.
And so if our lives are poured out for the sake of the gospel, for the building up of the saints, it is gain!
But, I'm getting ahead of myself because Paul will say that in Philippians 4.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the truth of Your Word and we ask that You would open our hearts to embrace it and live it. It's so easy for us to say these things, but it requires your Spirit for us to do them. So give us Your Holy Spirit that we might live the truth of the word of life and rejoice for Your glory. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's take our hymnals in hand and turn to 154, Thou Art the Way.