I must thank the Holy Spirit for his mysterious ways of juxtaposing the two sermon titles today: What Do You Know? and What Does the Lord Require of You? I would like to say that Aaron and I collaborated, but as you have already observed, we are on two different levels! Beyond similarity in titles, it is providential that my subject precedes his. As you will see, in order to effectively do what the Lord requires of you, there are some important realities you must know.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
This is a straightforward passage easy to follow. Its real beginning starts at 1:27 into verse 28: “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.”
The apostle Paul is telling the members of the Philippi church, “Live a life worthy of the gospel. Be united and do not give way to fear of opposition.” He then addresses the matter of suffering from opposition. Now he comes back to the subject of unity.
Paul would have made a great halftime coach. (Since we have an all-conference football player preaching tonight, we’ll make Paul a football coach.) His team has taken a beating in the first half. His players look whipped and, especially worrisome, they are starting to grumble. “Coach, the line’s not giving me protection.” “I’m open and not getting any passes.” “They are running all over our defense.”
This is analogous to what’s going on in Philippi. Opposition is rising against the Christians. They are taking hits. The church is still strong and active. They are still in the game, but signs of strain are appearing in its normal fashion – irritation within the body.
So what does a good coach do at halftime? He motivates the team to unite. “Guys, listen to me. If school pride means anything to you, if our goal of a championship still moves you, if the work all of you have put in together matters to you, then make me proud. I believe in you. I believe that good work begun before the season will come to completion when we step out on the field. Now stick together. Be of one mind. We can only win as a team.”
This is Paul’s halftime speech. “I know brothers and sisters that times are tough, but you have got to stick together. You have got to be of one mind (verse 2). To have that kind of unity, you have got to get rid of the idea of being rivals and even count one another as more important than yourselves (v. 3). You have got to look out for each other (v. 4). Does this seem a bit much to ask? Then look to Jesus Christ for your model (v. 5-11).” Coaches and anyone else needing to motivate a team, 1:27-2:11 is your model speech.
You may have noticed that I actually skipped verse 1. That is because it will have the rest of our attention. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”
The “ifs” are like the coach’s “ifs.” Paul appeals to what the Philippi believers know, that is, what they experience. He is not appealing to their theological education, but rather to their personal testimony. He calls them back in 1:7 “partakers with me of grace.” They know God’s grace. It is not a mere term for them. When they heard the gospel, it struck home and they experienced the encouragement of being in Christ; they felt the love of God; the Holy Spirit moved in them and gave them a sense of new life. They experienced this joy and love in the fellowship of believers. It is to the experience of all these things that Paul appeals to as motivation for the Philippi church to not give way to trials of suffering, but all the more stand together in humility, lifting up each other with Christ as the model.
It is the same experience that we, of course, know… We do know this experience, don’t we? I think most of you do. It’s just that, to be honest, it sometimes seems that you have forgotten. For some of you, the grace of God has actually become a burden to bear. You think, “God has done so much for me, and what have I shown in return?” Christ’s model of becoming a servant only dismays you as you realize how little sacrifice you make. “Why do I let troubles bother me so much?” you bemoan. “When am I going to get it together?” “It is such a burden to live the way I know I am suppose to.”
Such feelings get played out in relationships. Seeing others showing more faith or joy is irritating rather than encouraging. To be honest, we are a little miffed that such people are not more sensitive to our feelings. And, by the way, it does occur to us that such people are often not carrying the load they should. We think, “I may be having my problems, but I least I can be depended on to do my share of work. I don’t need to be told not to do anything out of rivalry, but I can tell you a few people who do need to hear!”
Before we sink into self-pity or more guilt for not living up to expectations, let’s do contemplate the encouragement and comfort we have in Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Let’s study what has been done for us, what is being done for us, and what will be done for us.
To think about what has been done, I will read just one sentence from the Apostle Paul; that is, it is one sentence in the original Greek that it was written in.
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, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
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, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 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, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3-14).
That is one sentence! Paul seems to have gotten carried away as he contemplated what the Triune God has done for him and his fellow believers. Wow! God chose us before the foundation of the world! Have you ever felt like you were an afterthought? Well, forget about that. You were known and chosen not just before you were born, but before the world was created!
And chosen for what? To be blessed! His intent was not merely to pull you out of trouble. He is not the father who begrudgingly bailed you out of jail. It was his pleasure to choose you to receive “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Try wrapping your mind around that thought.
Oh, and he adopted you. You were not his child. We lost all claim to that status back in the Garden. Children? We were God’s enemies! Spiritually we were dead! But God sent his only begotten Son to die for us, his enemies, so that all the guilt is removed. Then he sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, give us spiritual life so that we could turn to him, so that we could not only hear about adoption but know it, but feel it in our hearts and cry out, “Abba! Father!” (cf. Romans 8:15-16).
Think on this. Meditate upon these great truths and then join Paul in praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Or some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, I know all this. I feel bad that I haven’t been more grateful. When I think about what he has done for me, I know he must be disappointed in my response.”
Yes, thinking about ourselves is depressing. Let’s go back to thinking about God. Consider then what God is doing for us. He is saving us. He won't stop giving! He is giving to you right now. At this moment he is giving you his Word. Not only that, he is giving you ears to hear and understand. I think back to my days of sitting in church spiritually dead – listening to the gospel preached and getting nothing from it. And now, to read especially the psalms thanking God for his salvation and steadfast love, I am moved with the understanding that I have now been given about that salvation and steadfast love being shown in Christ. You might sometimes pick up on it when I give the pastoral prayer. I know I sound like I a broken record, because I will have picked up on some phrase about God’s love or saving power, and I keep bringing up what he has done for us in Christ. I can’t seem to get past this salvation. It is not because I can’t become more creative and think of other topics. I am just blessed again and again as I think about it. I will catch myself and realize that I have got to move on to confession. But when I do that, all the more I am caught up with God’s mercy that he is showing right now. Articulating our sin makes me feel even more blessed as I think then about the forgiveness we have in Christ and the boundless love that our Father has for us.
You see, God loves us now. He loved us before the foundation of the world; he loved us when we were his enemies; he loves us now! “But, pastor,” you might say, “that’s my problem. I know what God has done for me. I know what he gives me. And I am so ungrateful. I don’t have any excuse for my sin.”
That is true. We Christians have no excuse for sin. How wondrous then is the love of God that, nevertheless, his love remains steadfast! Do you see what is happening? Think about ourselves and we get down; think about God and we are lifted up. Let’s rephrase verse 1 so that it reads about us: “So if there is any encouragement in what you do for Christ, any comfort from the love you show God, any cooperation you give the Spirit, any affection and sympathy you naturally have…” It just doesn’t work, does it? The only thing that breaks us from the circle of self-pity and self-accusation is contemplating the character and work of God.
Now back to that subject. God is sustaining our wobbly faith; he is, much more often that we are aware, protecting us from sin and the attacks of Satan. He is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure. His Holy Spirit is interceding for us, sanctifying us, filling us with the sense of belonging to God, giving us understanding into God’s Word. Christ our Lord is serving now as our High Priest praying for us, keeping his promise through the Spirit to stay with us and prepare us as a bridegroom his bride. He is now our Good Shepherd who gives us life abundantly; he is now our brother who leads us to the Father; now our king who leads and guards us; now our friend who repeats again and again his word, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…”
And then there is what God will do for us. He who began a good work in us will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Paul was not the only biblical writer who could write great doxologies about what God. Even the fisherman Peter could rise to the occasion as he considered what God guarantees us:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:1-5)
God has given us an inheritance of the riches of glory. That inheritance will be kept safe. Not only that, we will be kept safe to receive it. Do you wonder if you will make it to the end? Then worry no more, for your faithfulness rests not in your power but in that of God the Father who chose you before the foundation of the world, in God the Son who conquered death, and in the Holy Spirit whom God sent as the very seal of your inheritance. Even Jude, whose epistle is filled with dire warning about judgment and exhortation to stay true to the faith, has to close with the following doxology:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).
We will enter into the presence of God's glory; we will live in the city that has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God will give it light, and its lamp will be the Lamb of God. And God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more. There will never again be mourning nor crying nor pain.
All of this is the encouragement and comfort that you have in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You have the love, the mercy, and the power from God of the past, the present, and the future. Doesn't such personal knowledge lift you up? Don't you feel good? And as you think about these things and feel good, don't you actually become a good person to be around? You become patient; what seemed to be annoying traits of your neighbor are kind of endearing. You really do want to look out for the interest of others. Christ's model of selfless sacrifice really is inspiring. You want to be like Jesus.
It is not difficult to understand what is going on. As we feel loved, so we love. As we feel encouraged, so we want to encourage others. As we understand God's loving patience with us, so we feel patient towards our neighbor. We do not love because we are commanded to love. We love because we know God first loved us and loves us, and so we gladly obey our Lord's command to love. We do not humble ourselves out of willpower because the Bible tells us to. We are humbled as we are taken up with the joy and peace of knowing our Lord. It is difficult to be resentful or jealous of others while we are feeling blessed.
I think this was the apostle Paul's secret. Do you recall Christ's description of his calling for Paul? I will read it from Acts 9:15: "…he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." A bit of a daunting commission, and yet Paul embraced it. How could he embrace suffering for Christ? I think he experienced what he prayed the believers in Ephesus would personally come to know.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:14-19).
Paul wanted his readers to experience what already exists – the love of Christ. May you know such love and be encouraged in Christ, comforted by the love of God, and strengthened by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
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