The Lord's Day Morning
May 11, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“Two Ways to Live”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
I'd like to invite you all to have a subversive Mother's Day. What I mean by that is that we live in a culture that does not value motherhood, and it doesn't believe in a biblical view of male/female role relationships. And I would invite you to subvert that in the way you celebrate Mother's Day today. Celebrate Mother's Day in an explicitly Christian way, in such a way to subvert this false and alien culture in which we live.
Yesterday I received the weekly newsletter from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, where our friend, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, is the pastor. And he wrote a column on Mother's Day, and this is what he says in a couple of paragraphs of that column. He says:
“Although it goes largely unrecognized, the celebration of Mother's Day depends on a number of important biblical convictions. For one thing, it implies that motherhood is a high calling and worthy of special honor, far from the view that it is a major obstacle to women's progress in what really matters in life. It is also a constant reminder to us that God made man, male and female, in His image, and that the complementary differences run deeply into the fabric of our being. It also stresses the privileges of rearing children, because it anticipates, and actually seems to assume their love, devotion, and expression of appreciation for their mothers.
”Much of this we owe to the Christian gospel. It should not surprise us, therefore, that when a society has been transformed by the gospel but then rejects it, respect and honor of mothers will begin to disappear, and the prospect of being a mother, rearing children for time and eternity, will be seen as a burden and an obstacle to personal satisfaction.”
And that's our culture, isn't it? So let's be subversive this Mother's Day, and rise up and call our mothers blessed — all of them, including our spiritual mothers, who may not have had children themselves, but who have been a spiritual mother and guide to many.
Let's prepare to worship the living God together now.
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians 3:17. We’re going to read to the end of the chapter, and take in the first verse of the fourth chapter as well. We have been luxuriating in Paul's letter to the Philippians for about a year now. We’re coming down the final stretch. In just another few weeks we’ll be done with our slow study of this letter, but I trust that our pace has enabled the truth of this word to be worked down into your heart and bones. I certainly have found myself repeatedly saying, “I wish I had known this twenty years ago. I wish I had learned this. I wish these truths had captured me years ago,” as I've studied through the book with you.
And today we're in a section of this letter in which the Apostle Paul is pressing home to Christians how to live the Christian life. I want to say very quickly, if you are not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and you’re here today, it would be very easy for you to hear the message of this sermon as “stop being bad; be good.” I want to make very clear that that is not the gospel. If that is the gospel, we're all going to hell. The gospel is that God has loved us at the cost of His Son, and receives and accepts us not because we've stopped being bad and tried to be good, but because the Lord Jesus lived perfectly and died perfectly in our place, the benefits of which we receive by faith alone. We contribute nothing to them, we receive all the blessing, and God accomplishes it. It's good news — it's the gospel — because we don't do it. God does it. We simply receive a gift that is offered us. It's a costly gift that's freely offered to us in Jesus Christ.
Paul is not contradicting that in what he is saying in this section of the letter as he calls Christians to stop doing some things and to do other things. He's not offering an alternative to the gospel. He's not saying you could be saved by grace through faith, or, you could stop being bad and be good. That's not what he's doing.
He's saying, having been saved by grace through faith, this is how you live. And the Apostle Paul makes this clear by what he's said in the passage previous to this.
If you’ll remember last week, as we looked at Philippians 3:12-16, we said that Paul almost summarized the Christian life in three mottoes, the first of which was “We’re not there yet.” We haven't arrived at perfection. Paul, in other words, openly admits that he is filled with sin still, even as the Scripture reading that we read today professes. We’re sinners. We’re still sinners. If we're redeemed, we're still sinners. We fall short of the glory of God. God is not finished transforming us yet. So, “We’re not there yet” was the first motto.
The second motto was even though we're not there yet, “We’re pressing on.” We’re not satisfied with being where we are. We want to be more like Christ.
And then, the third motto is that to do that, we're reliant upon God's grace. God hasn't saved us by grace and justified us by grace and then said, ‘Now, buddy, you’re on your own. Do it by yourself.’ No, it's the grace of God working in us because we are united with Christ by faith, by the work of the Holy Spirit, that enables us to grow. And so Paul says, ‘We’re not there yet, but we're pressing on. And as we're pressing on, we're striving from grace.’ We’re striving by grace, because God has accepted us in Jesus Christ and God is transforming us in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is applying to us the power which raised Jesus from the dead in order to make us like Christ that we're even able to make progress in the Christian life. So please hear me loud and clear: when Paul gives the exhortations — and he's going to give exhortations in this passage today — he's not telling you this is how you’re saved. He's saying this is how you live, now that you’re saved. This is how you live now that you've received the grace of God in the gospel. So please bear that in mind.
Now let's outline the passage before we read it today. As you look at Philippians 3:17-4:1, you’ll notice four parts of Paul's argument. It hangs together. Let me give you four short phrases to help you follow the argument. The first phrase is simply this: Act like me. The second phrase is: Worldliness kills. The third phrase is: Homesickness helps. The fourth phrase is: Stand firm.
Now let's look through the passage. Verse 17, there's the first part — Act like me. Paul invites us in verse 17 to follow his example–and, interestingly, the example of those who follow his example.
Second part, verses 18-19 — Worldliness kills. In verses 18-19, Paul contrasts his good example with the bad examples of those who live in such a way that they reveal themselves to be enemies of the cross, even though they claim to be Christians. Worldliness kills.
Third part, look at verses 20-21 — Homesickness helps. [What in the world are you talking about, Ligon?] OK, here's what I'm talking about. Paul in those verses reminds us of the locale of our citizenship. He says, ‘Christian, let me tell you where you’re from. Now live like you’re from there.’ He reminds us of the locale of our citizenship. Where is it? In heaven. And then he says we are to live in view of the fact that Jesus is going to return from where? From heaven. And then what's going to happen? We’re going to be resurrected in body, and we're going to reign with Him in the kingdom of heaven forever. So he says live your life in light of that. Homesickness helps.
Fourth, in light of these truths, Paul calls on us to stand firm in the Lord — verse 1 of chapter 4: Stand fast. OK.
Now let's pray before we read God's word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. Because it is Your word it never returns void, it never fails to accomplish what You want it to accomplish, it is sharper than any two-edged sword. It is powerful and effective. It searches us out in the depths of our heart where no one else can see. But, O God, we are blind and we are stubborn, and we are distracted, and we're obstinate. And we can see how this word applies to everybody else around us and not see how it applies to us, so we need Your Spirit. Show us our sin. Show us ourselves — our real selves. And then, show us Your glorious truth and grace, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to himself.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This is a rich passage, isn't it? It's rich, and you can catch Paul's exhortations very easily. Even without a preacher, you would catch Paul's exhortations in this passage. Act like me; stand firm…you don't need a preacher to tell you that that's what Paul is telling you. It's so clear, it's so gloriously clear and obvious; but, you know, you could miss that this passage is about worldliness.
Now you say, “Hold on. I didn't see the word worldliness.” You’re right. You didn't see the word worldliness, but you almost saw it. You almost saw it at the end of verse 19, because in this passage Paul is warning the Philippians about a kind of professing believer and teacher that is in their midst influencing them in the wrong direction, and he says about them, “Their minds are set on earthly things.”
Now that is almost a definition of worldliness, because worldliness means that a person has come to be at home in this world, to find their place of belonging in this world, to think like this world, to act like this world, to desire the things that this world desires. And Paul is warning in this passage (the Philippians) that even people who are religious, even people who are spiritual, even people who claim to be Christians can become captivated by that kind of worldliness, and, he says, it will kill them. So he's talking to us here about a vital issue. He is giving you marching orders to fight against worldliness in this passage.
Now this is crucial, because worldliness is one of the great problems of evangelical Christianity in our time. Now it's always appealing, isn't it, to get up and critique evangelical Christianity out there so that we can feel really good about ourselves in here…you know, “At least we don't make their mistakes!” No, my friends. This is a problem for us. Worldliness is our home address. We are steeped in it.
Now let me say worldliness is a word that sometimes can strike us as a little bit quaint. You know, if you’re my age or older, you know a definition of worldliness that goes like this: Worldliness means “drinkin’, smokin’, dancin’, and playin’ cards!” That's worldliness. And so, you know, we're going to be the anti-worldliness brigade and so our motto's going to become “We don't drink, dance, smoke or chew…and we don't go with girls that do!” OK? That is not what Paul is talking about here!
Now let me say that some of those things can manifest worldliness. Some of those things do manifest worldliness, but worldliness is a matter of heart. It's a matter of what you love, it's a matter of where you belong, it's a matter of what you want. Worldliness takes control of our mind, our will, and our affections. It takes control of our thinking and living and desiring, and we become captive to a lesser joy than the real and true joy that is only found in treasuring God and His glory in Jesus Christ.
The Puritans were always so concerned that they and their people would be caught up in worldliness, and so they had sayings to help us fight against worldliness. They would say things like this: “Love the Lord, but use the world.” Their point was that what the believer really treasured was the Lord. The believer appreciated all the wonderful things that the Lord gives us in this world, but prefers the Lord over those things…so that they love the Lord and used the world. But the worldly person does what? Loves the world, and uses the Lord to get it. So the Puritans would say, “Love the Lord, but use the world.” Don't use the Lord and love the world.
Another Christian put it this way: “For the worldling, their gold is their God. For the believer, God is their gold.” In other words, don't choose the gift over the giver. Don't treasure the gift more than the giver. Don't treasure the thing that's passing away more than the One who will never ever pass away. Don't treasure the lesser gift over the greater gift.
Now, my friends, worldliness is soul-destroying. It's soul-destroying and joy-robbing because it tricks our hearts into seeking satisfaction in what can never satisfy us, and thus it slowly strangles us of the experience of being fully alive to God.
This is why John Newton, who knew about worldliness… Remember? John Newton, though he was reared in a Christian home, lived a profligate life. He experienced every kind of carnal pleasure — illicit carnal pleasure — that you could experience in this world. And then one day he found himself in the bottom of a dark, sinking, slave ship, and he realized who he was and what he’d been doing. And by God's grace, the Holy Spirit brought him to his senses, and he eventually would write the hymn
“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
was blind, but now I see.”
Now he understood the grip of worldliness because he had tried to satisfy his desires by everything legal and illegal that the world could offer. And in another of his hymns — and I’ll bet you will be able to guess which hymn it is when I quote you these words — he says this:
“Fading is the worldling's pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show.
Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion's children know.”
Do you hear what he's saying? Is he saying, ‘You know, I once had my fill of joy and satisfaction as a pagan, but I had to give all that up when I became a Christian’? No, that's not what he says! He says, ‘Everything that I thought that could give me joy and satisfaction, I had, and then some. And you know where it left me? In the dark, in the bottom of a sinking slave ship. It nearly killed me — eternally. But by God's grace, I was saved, and I have come into a greater joy, a greater satisfaction, than I could have ever imagined then. Worldliness, you see, sells you the bill that it can provide satisfaction–and then leaves you in the bottom of that dark hole of a sinking ship. It kills you! It robs you of real joy, whereas the one whose citizenship is in heaven has solid joys and lasting treasures that none but Zion's children know.’
Now, my friends, in the religion all around us we are actually being encouraged to be worldly. Do you understand that in 85% of the things that are on the best-seller list…I'm not talking about The New York Times best-seller list, I'm talking about the Christian Book Distributers retailers’ list of the top 100 Christian books… 85% of these are giving you this message: God can get you what you want better than anybody else. And do you know what that message is? “Use God to get the world.” That's the message. God can get you your best life now. God can get you everything…He can get it for you better and faster than anybody else. In other words, what is being promoted on television and in Christian books — Christian television! — 85% of it is “Use the Lord to get the world.”
Now, my friends, that's not Paul's message. That's not Jesus’ message. It's not the Bible's message. It's not Christianity's message. But that's being pumped into our ears and our hearts by Christians (people that claim to be) all around us. And you buy into it, and it will destroy your soul. You've got to be discerning. Paul says be discerning here.
But there's another message that's being pumped in…especially, young people are vulnerable to this. The world around us is saying to young Christians, ‘Look, your faith is only as good as it is in doing good to this community around you. If you do good to this community in the way that we define doing good, then your faith is OK. The rest of it you keep to yourself, but insofar as you do good to this community, you’re doing good. We’ll accept you,’ so that the world is actually dictating to Christians what is valuable about their faith.
And you know what that promotes? Worldliness, because the world doesn't get to decide how God's people think, believe, act, and what they long for, what they’re here for. The world doesn't get to dictate that. But many, many young Christians are under enormous pressure to conform their faith to what the world says is valuable. The world says, ‘If we don't think it's valuable, it's not valuable. We don't care about your creeds. We want to see your deeds. You do deeds that we like, we’ll like you. We’ll accept you. But forget the things that you believe. We’re not interested in those.’ And what happens is (and we see this in whole movements of churches) they say, ‘You know, you’re right. We’re going to have to ditch the creeds and just do stuff that the world will like and will accept us for.’ And this actually institutionalizes worldliness.
How do we fight this? Well, Paul tells you four things that you fight it with in this passage: Act like me; worldliness kills; homesickness helps; stand fast.
What do I mean by that? Notice that in those four things you've got two exhortations. The first and the fourth things are exhortations: Act like me, and stand fast. Those are exhortations. In between, the second and the third thing are actually explanations or reasons for why we ought to do what we do: Worldliness kills; homesickness helps. Let's work through this passage and see what the Apostle Paul says by way of remedy to this kind of creeping worldliness.
He says that we fight against worldliness by carefully following godly examples, by recognizing worldliness when you see it and knowing that it kills, by remembering who you are and where you’re from, and by resolve. Let's look at each of these.
I. Act like me.
The first one is simply this: Act like me. There's Paul's first exhortation. Act like me. Live like me. Follow my example. Do as I do. Watch me. See how I live. Copy me. Watch those who copy me, copy how they live.
Do you remember the basketball player, Michael Jordan? I'm dating myself, because if I were going to be really hip I'd be talking about LeBron or Kobe or K.G. or one of these other guys. But when I was younger, Michael was the guy. Gatorade had a whole advertising campaign built around Michael Jordan. Do you remember it? It was called “Be like Mike.” That was the campaign, “Be like Mike.” And they’d show Michael Jordan, you know, dunking over the back of his head and this and that and the other, and then they’d try and sell you some Gatorade! Well, let me tell you what. All the Gatorade in the world wouldn't have helped me be like Mike! And that's why I love what Paul says here.
Paul's not saying ‘Now you become endowed with the kind of gifting that I have’ because let me tell you what, we're all going to fall short!
But Paul himself has emphasized, one, in verses 12-16, ‘I am not perfect. I am struggling in this Christian life, too. I'm trying to fight the fight of faith that you’re trying to fight, too. I fight with sin. I have struggles with doubt. I have besetting sins. I have thorns in the flesh. But follow me. Look at how I fight against worldliness. Look at how I refuse to allow worldliness to get a grip in my soul.’ Paul says, ‘Look, Christian. You need to find examples of people who are not buying into the prevailing wind of worldliness around them. You need to follow them like a beacon light in the midst of a storm.’
I’ll never forget, in seminary one of our professors was preaching a sermon on prayer. At the end of that sermon he was exhorting us to have a regular pattern of prayer for ourselves and for others woven into our lives. It was a powerful exposition of Scripture. It was deeply convicting. But nothing prepared us for what he did at the end of the sermon. We had never heard a preacher in our lives do this. He looked at us, right in the eye, and he said, “Do as I do.” Now, every one of us at that school knew how that man prayed. In fact, we were so convicted when we would go into his classroom that we would pray just to be ready to hear him pray at the beginning of his class. That's how powerful his prayer was. And he looks us in the eye, and he says, “Do as I do.” We were pinned to the pew! I'd never heard a preacher say “Do as I do.”
That's exactly what Paul is saying. That professor was not saying he was perfect, but he was saying, ‘By God's grace, I've learned just a little bit about prayer and you would do well to practice what I've learned. Follow me. Act like me. Live like me.’ And, my friends, Paul is telling you that you need to be looking around in your congregation at your elders, at your pastors, at your deacons, at mature fellow members, and saying, “How can I resist the world in my own life by following that good example?”
Many of you in this room know Catherine Hutton, a beautiful, beautiful, godly young woman who at this very hour is dying. She doesn't have many more hours on this planet. And I daresay that every one of you who knows Catherine knows that that young woman is showing you how a Christian dies. For a year now she has been showing us how a Christian dies. And her mother has been showing us how a Christian mother grieves a daughter who is dying of cancer, and her father has been showing us how a Christian father grieves the loss of his dear, precious daughter to cancer. They have been living pictures of how you live. No worldliness has crept into their expression, this angry shaking of the fist against God, or this declaration that God has nothing to do with this. They have embraced God's sovereignty, and they are showing us how a Christian lives and dies. And let me say, I could say that about people in this room. I could rattle off a list my arm long in twelve-point type of people in this room who could show you in various difficult situations how a Christian does it. And the Apostle Paul is saying to you, ‘You open your eyes and you look around. You look at the people that are acting like me, and you act like them, because they’re showing you how a believer resists worldliness and thinks and wills and desires like a Christian.’ That's the first thing that Paul says.
II. Worldliness kills.
And then he gives you two reasons why, to help you fight against worldliness. And here's the first thing that he says: Worldliness kills. Look at verses 18-19:
“For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
He's not talking about pagans. Of course pagans are enemies of the cross of Christ. Why is he in tears? Because these are people who claim to love God, and yet they are so worldly that he can characterize them as enemies of the cross! And then he characterizes them as what? People whose ‘end is destruction, their god is their belly, their glory is their shame, and their minds are set on earthly things.’ Do you see what Paul is saying? They’re all wrapped up in this life. They want their praise here. They want their affirmation here. This is where they belong. This is where their reward is. They claim to be believers, but what they want most in life is here.
Now let me ask you to play a little mental game. Maybe to this point in the sermon you think, ‘This sermon is for somebody else, it's not for me. I'm in church every Sunday morning.’ Let me just ask you this. Let's say you’re sitting down next to an unbelieving friend of yours. Maybe it's a neighbor, maybe it's a colleague, maybe it's a family member, maybe it's a long time friend from school. You’re sitting down next to the unbelieving friend, and you’re going to write on a sheet of paper for nobody else to see. You’re not “putting on” for anybody, this is just for you. You’re going to write down on a sheet of paper what you care about most in life…what your habits are, how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what you want more than anything in this world, what your aspirations are, what your greatest desires are, what your ambitions are, what you want out of life. Let me just ask one question. How's your sheet going to differ from your unbelieving friend's sheet? And if you don't have a real good answer for that right now, my guess is you may be struggling with worldliness. Because we ought to be different from people whose citizenship is here.
III. Homesickness helps.
And that's of course exactly where Paul goes. Here's the third thing that he says: Homesickness helps.
I wish Derek were here. I can't even pronounce this right. The Welsh have a word…I think it's something like hiraeth, and it means an indescribable deep yearning and longing for home. And Welshmen, when they’re away from Wales, they feel it all the time. They want to be back home. They want to be back in the hills, they want to be back in the dales, they want to be in their native land. There's a deep longing for home. And here's the Apostle Paul giving the Welsh application to everybody, and he says this: ‘Christian, there ought to be in you a deep yearning and longing for home, and this ain't home. You ought to be homesick for heaven. You ought to want to be in your Father's arms. You’re to the point where you don't care what this world says about you, you just want to hear your Father say, ‘Child, welcome home. Enter into the kingdom that I've been preparing for you from the foundation of the world.’’
In other words, if you’re not heavenly-minded, if you’re not homesick for your home, if you’re not longing for something that this world can't give you, you’re utterly vulnerable to worldliness. Because until that point you are vulnerable to believing that this world can actually give you something that can last.
IV. Therefore, stand fast.
And so then Paul says in verse 1, chapter 4, this is how you stand fast. In other words, Paul is saying the Christian's resisting of worldliness does not just happen. It takes resolve. It takes a dogged refusal to abandon one's citizenship, one's calling, one's standards, one's identity, one's belief. You don't just resist worldliness by wishing to resist worldliness; it requires resolve.
I was talking to a friend who's in the financial services business. We bumped into one another at Starbucks yesterday. He's an elder in another PCA church, and we were talking a little bit of politics and economy and we were both moaning over the impending tax increases that are coming in 2010-2011 when the current tax cuts expire. It will be the greatest tax increase in the history of the world. And my friend made a comment to me that I'd never thought about before. He said, “The problem with this is all Congress has to do for those tax increases to happen is nothing. They don't have to do anything to make those tax increases happen.” They happen, and all congress has to do is nothing. And what is Congress best at doing? It's scary! It's really scary!
And here's Paul saying to you, ‘Friend, all that you have to do for worldliness to happen is nothing. You don't have to go out and court worldliness, it's looking for you. It knows where you live. It knows your street address. It knows your email, knows your cell phone, knows your heart. And unless you are resolved not to buy into the lie that's all around you, you’ll be sucked in.
So how do you resist it?
You find a believer who's acting like Paul, and you follow them. You remember that worldliness kills. It will put you in a box and cover you up with dirt, from which you will never recover. You cultivate that homesickness that this world is not my home, and so you live like this world is not your home. And then you stand fast. You strap yourself to the mast by God's grace, and you say, “Lord, shut my ears; shut my eyes; shut my heart to all the things that the world wants to tell me will give me satisfaction, that will only make me value those things more than You.”
You know, it's just like the garden, isn't it? The serpent comes to the woman and says, ‘This piece of fruit…it’ll make you happy. It’ll do the trick. God won't do the trick. This piece of fruit, it will do the trick.’ And worldliness does the same thing: ‘God won't make you happy, but this? Oh, it’ll make you happy!’ And what happens? Does it make you happy? It brings you nothing but misery. And it causes your heart to grow dead to the only joy that has ever existed, and the only joy that will last.
And so Paul's saying, ‘Dear, dear, Christian friend, don't buy that bill of goods. Stand firm. Act like me, because this world is not your home.’
O Lord, grant that we would only be satisfied with the love that will never let us go, instead of falling for the passing fads of this age. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals in hand, and let's sing No. 708, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.