Marc Sims • August 08, 2022
Sermon Audio: Sight (John 20:24-31)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Read John 20:24-31.
- Why do you think this story of Thomas is included in John's gospel? How is Jesus’ interaction with doubting Thomas instructive to us in our own doubts and unbelief?
- Why did Thomas find the resurrection of Jesus so impossible to believe? What are some other aspects of Christianity that people today similarly find impossible to believe? Are there aspects of the Christian faith that seem strange to you? Or difficult to believe? Describe.
- What does Matt 28:16-17 seem to show us? Have you ever struggled with a season of doubt? Or are you currently struggling with doubt? Describe.
- What does it mean to "doubt your doubts"?
- Why is it significant that Jesus is identified by His wounds?
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:24-31
John’s account opens by referencing a past encounter with Jesus and the disciples that Thomas missed out on. The morning of Easter, the disciples are informed by Mary that the stone blocking the tomb has been rolled away. They run to the tomb and do not find Jesus there, but find an empty tomb with the grave clothes Jesus was wrapped in left behind (John 20:1-10). Jesus then appears to Mary alone and charges her to go tell the disciples what she has seen (John 20:11-18). Then we are told: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord,” (John 20:19-20).
The disciples have seen the empty tomb, they have heard Mary’s testimony, but now they see Jesus—they even see the wounds in his hands and side. This isn’t an imposter, this is the same man who was hanging on the cross three days earlier. The disciples are shocked with joy—the nightmare has ended, everything sad is coming untrue.
But, Thomas misses it. We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t present, but he walks in later and finds his friends to be, in his mind, delusional. They tell Thomas that they have seen Jesus, that He isn’t dead, He is very much alive. But Thomas responds strongly, even disdainfully: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe,” (John 20:25). This tells us a number of things:
1. Thomas was not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. Sometimes modern skeptics today look at the accounts of the gospels and say, This is just wish fulfillment. The apostles thought Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah but he was crucified. So they created stories about Jesus coming back to life to keep the Messiah myth alive, or perhaps they were delusional and hallucinated a resurrected Christ.
Three quick responses to that: (1) the first witnesses of the resurrection are women, which would have been deeply embarrassing and problematic for patriarchal society that did not permit women to testify in court; if the events are fabricated, why include women when it would have been seen as a barrier to the spread of the gospel? (2) The earliest accounts of the gospel story are written too close to the events described (10-15 years), so if these were fabrications the movement would have been discredited, and (3) all of the apostles eventually die for their faith in a resurrected Messiah—as Pascal says, we should believe the witnesses who get their throats slit. One doesn’t usually die for what one knows to be false.
There are many more responses one could give to that, but the simple testimony here of Thomas’ skepticism makes the modern perspective problematic. The disciples were not expecting the resurrection because the resurrection didn’t fit into any kind of common worldview of their time. Greco-Roman culture believed that the material world was inferior to the spiritual, so there was no category for bodily resurrection—the body was something to be transcended for the higher immaterial realm. But the Jewish worldview held a high view of the body and the material world and strongly affirmed that there would be a resurrection one day, only the resurrection came at the final Judgement Day, when the Day of the Lord would arrive.
So Thomas’s incredulity towards the testimony of the other disciples centers on this worldview—someone being resurrected in the middle of history, while suffering, and death, and sin continue to take place? That doesn’t make any sense. This is why Thomas insists on the physical verification—unless I place my finger into the nail prints and put my hand in his side, I will never believe. If Jesus appeared merely as some apparition or ghost that wouldn’t mean that Jesus was alive—plenty of people claim to see apparitions of loved ones after they have departed. The spirit of Jesus walking around wouldn’t have been controversial—but a living, breathing, resurrected Jesus? The hallmark of the end of the world, being helicoptered into the present, here and now? That was an insurmountable challenge to Thomas’ worldview. The resurrection of Jesus Christ would have forced the disciples to adopt an entirely different worldview.
2. So, Thomas wants incontrovertible evidence. He needs empirical, firsthand experience of the resurrected Christ. He won’t take his friends’ word for it. Another typical modern skeptical posture towards Christianity is a kind of “chronological snobbery,” as C.S. Lewis described. It is an assumption that people “back then” were simple, gullible, and superstitious. They lacked the sophisticated, scientific knowledge we modern people possess today. But this is as incorrect as it is arrogant. The disciples know that dead people don’t come back to life. And Thomas demands touchable, verifiable evidence that the other disciples’ account is trustworthy. In fact, he claims that without it he “will never believe.”
3. Lastly, this shows us that doubt is common in the Christian life. Isn’t it amazing that the gospel accounts display the leaders of the church with such raw honesty about their own unbelief? There is Peter denying Christ, there are the other apostles fleeing at the Gethsemane, and here is Thomas—even after the account of the fellow disciples—refusing to believe. I think this functions to help us realize that faith in Christ does not come to the exclusion of doubt, but amidst it. Doubt and unbelief are not virtues, are not to be celebrated or embraced, but they are realities. We shouldn’t view belief and unbelief like on/off switches, but like dimmers. There is a gradient between the poles of complete belief and complete unbelief. Consider Matthew’s account of the disciples’ interaction with Jesus right as He is about to ascend to the Father, “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted,” (Matt 28:16-17). Worship and doubt, simultaneously.
“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you,” (John 20:26). Notice the similarities between the previous appearance of Jesus: the disciples are inside, the door is locked, yet Jesus appears and stands among them, and then proclaims “Peace be with you.” Even the day of the week is the same—eight days later (since Jews count the day of as the first) would have been on Sunday again, one week from Easter. The only difference is that this time Thomas is with them.
So, Jesus turns to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe,” (John 20:27). Jesus knows what Thomas said one week prior, so he invites Thomas to put Him to the test: touch my wounds. He invites Thomas to evaluate the evidence for himself. And then, He gently rebukes him: do not disbelieve, but believe. Do you see the patience and mercy of Jesus mingled with correction? Jesus doesn’t come to destroy Thomas for His lack of faith, nor He does He simply refuse to appear. But notice that in His appearing He corrects Thomas—Thomas was unbelieving, doubting, lacking faith, and Jesus summons him to faith. Doubt, skepticism, or the “deconstruction” of faith is not a virtue to embrace, but a problem that Jesus arrives to alleviate.
Nowhere in the text are we told of Thomas actually touching the scars of Jesus, rather the emphasis in verse 29 is on sight, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” The image of sight and blindness is used throughout the gospels as a kind of metaphor for spiritual understanding—here, Thomas literally sees Jesus which enables spiritual perception. Thomas no doubt was dumbstruck by the arrival of Jesus who can walk into a room despite the door being bolted shut. But imagine what flew through Thomas’ mind at the moment that Jesus spoke “peace” to him, when he offered to meet Thomas where he was at, and then invited him to believe. Jesus has not shut the door on him, has not closed the book, has not wiped His hands and waved Thomas off. Friend, don’t you see the encouragement in that? Perhaps you find yourself like Thomas today and struggle to believe. Perhaps you would not identify yourself as a Christian because you struggle with believing its claims. Jesus’ response to Thomas is a response to you: He is inviting you to believe.
One of the deceptive things about doubt is that it feels like it is the safe, neutral position to inhabit, while “faith” is the risky gamble. But actually, our doubts hide their own faith statements. If I doubt the Bible is a historically accurate and reliable disclosure of God’s Word, that is because I have faith in an alternate set of beliefs, God cannot speak and preserve His Word, a set of beliefs that are relying on faith just as much as the believer. When Jesus invites Thomas to believe He isn’t inviting Him to go from zero faith at all, to faith—He is inviting Him to reevaluate the previous faith he had (the Messiah cannot die, the Resurrection cannot take place in the middle of history). One of the reasons why Christians and non-Christians alike should take seriously their doubts about Christianity rather than ignore them is because there are often unexamined faith assumptions being made, assumptions that should be evaluated and tested—is there good reason to believe that? Is that true? Or, to put it another way, do you doubt your doubts with the same level of scrutiny you use for the claims of Christianity?
“Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Of all the disciples, Thomas expresses his doubts most clearly and most dramatically: ‘I will never believe.’ And, of all the disciples, Thomas now provides the most clear identification and confession of who Jesus is: ‘My Lord and my God!’ The gospel of John opens by identifying Jesus as the Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:1, 14). That is a pretty clear explanation that Jesus, the Word made flesh, is God. And all throughout John’s gospel Jesus alludes to this truth. But nowhere in all four gospels is the identity of Jesus as God made as clearly as it is here by Thomas. Doubting Thomas! On the other side of his doubt Thomas found clarity and conviction that none of the other disciples at the time had.
Another reason why we shouldn’t pretend that our doubts and uncertainties don’t exist is because there is a security and solidity of faith on the other side. If you are willing to wrestle with your doubt and bring it Christ then there will be a strength in your faith that you would not have had you never wrestled with those doubts in the first place. If we leave unanswered questions to remain buried in our subconscious we may begin to tacitly wonder if there are no answers, and find our faith slowly deteriorating from the inside. But when we examine our doubts, and look at the assumptions those are based on, and scrutinize the evidence and bring it before Christ we find clarity. This is what happened for Thomas.
“Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” (John 20:29). There is a unique blessing reserved for those who believe without having the same evidence that Thomas has. If you ask someone to house sit for you, but you set up cameras all throughout your house and watch what they are doing the entire time you are gone, what does that reveal? You don’t trust them. You don’t believe them. And what then does that reveal about your relationship with that person? Jesus invites us to see that the faith that comes without sight enjoys a unique dimension of blessedness from God—we have a deeper trust in Him and so experience a more intimate relationship with God.
Okay, you may say, but Thomas had something we don’t have—if Jesus came and visited me I wouldn’t struggle with doubt either. Would you? Jesus does invite Thomas to see, even touch Him—yet there are other individuals who witness the resurrection, yet do not believe. After Jesus rises from the dead angels appear at the tomb and leave the guards trembling and afraid (Matt 28:2-4). And the guards report back to the chief priests and tell them what happened, and do you know what the chief priests do? They pay the soldiers off to lie and to tell everyone that the disciples stole the body (Matt 28:11-15). They don’t reconsider their position or admit what they did was wrong or seek Jesus or the disciples out.
People are not merely brains on sticks—they need more than evidence or reason to believe. If you have ever been in an argument or debate with someone, you know this to be true—you can be 100% correct, but it mean nothing to the person if they do not possess a willingness to listen. So too, good arguments and tangible evidence can help someone in their process of belief, but if their heart is hard, then they will simply find another way to reinterpret the evidence. The one generation who witnessed more miracles, more supernatural intervention, more tangible and experiential evidence of God was the wilderness generation in Exodus. Just think of what they saw: the plagues of Egypt, the Red Sea part, water come from a rock, bread from heaven, fire descend on Mt. Sinai—they heard the very voice of God. And yet, you will not find a better example of a generation that simply does not believe in God, that refuses to trust Him, whose hearts are hardened.
Is there a chance that some of our doubt and unbelief is a product of the fact that we may not want to believe? And if so, no amount of evidence will change that. You need a work of the Holy Spirit to give you a new heart that is open to God. Dare I say, that loves God. Love is required for all true knowledge. The man who loves Russian literature is likely going to understand War and Peace more than the man who despises it; the husband who has loved his wife for decades knows her in a way no one else will; the scientist who loves her subject will be able to find insights that a disinterested scientist would ignore. And if we do not have hearts that are open to love God, nothing matters. Consider what Peter tells us, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” (1 Pet 1:8). You don’t see him yet you love Him—love is the source of knowledge.
And yet, like Thomas, we are not left alone to muster faith out of nothing. John closes this section by summoning us to the purpose statement of his gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:30-31). You see where this leaves us? We are Thomas now. We haven’t seen the resurrected Christ, but we are invited to rely on the testimony of the disciples to lead us into belief. All that John has recorded has been done so that one may go from unbelief to belief, to give you the conversion Thomas experienced but through the blessed sightless faith that Jesus commends. In other words, here is the claim: for those of us who struggle with doubt, we can examine this book, and if we are willing to doubt our doubts, to examine the reasons for our faith, and have a hear that is open to God, that is inclined towards Him, then we can find grounds for genuine belief.
Maybe you are not a Christian here today: I invite you to this process. Read through John’s gospel and when you find something that you seem to find unbelievable, simply ask yourself, “Why do I think that? What grounds do I have for that conclusion?” Take seriously Jesus’ claims and His work and see what you find.
Or maybe you are a Christian, but find many pockets of unbelief in your life. Maybe you are embarrassed about certain things that the Bible teaches that you know our wider culture finds ridiculous, backwards, or even immoral. Maybe you struggle with how the Bible can be reconciled with science, or struggle with how a loving God can permit evil, or maybe you doubt whether God can forgive a sinner like you. O friend, have you doubted your doubts? Is your heart open to God? Do you see the benefit that comes on the other side of doubt?
It is significant that Jesus authenticates Himself by showing the disciples His scars, isn’t it? It is the wounds of Jesus that break the spell of disbelief. It is the marring and rending of the flesh of the Son of God that identify Him most—so much so that even after resurrecting and receiving a glorified body, His wounds remain. The scars Jesus remind us that Jesus is not unfamiliar with pain, with shame, with abandonment, with agony. He knows the pain we go through and deliberately chose to enter into pain on our behalf, for us. You can trust Him. But more importantly, it was in those scars that He purchased salvation and forgiveness for us. As Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Jesus he knows these should have been mine.
If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Marc Sims • August 01, 2022
Sermon Audio: Dealing with Doubt: Belief (John 14:1-6)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most from the sermon?
- What is causing the disciples to feel troubled? See John 13:36-38. What tends to lead you to feel "troubled" most often?
- What does Jesus mean by "believe in God" in John 14:1? If someone were to ask you to define what "believe" means according to John, what would you tell them?
- Why are some people helped in belief by Jesus' teaching and miracles, while others seem to be led into further unbelief? (See John 3:19-20)
- Why is Jesus' response to Thomas' question ("I am the way") significant for those who struggle in their faith?
- How can a person increase their trust and love in Jesus?
Digory was scared. It had been months since his mother was able to get out of bed, months since she had been able to sleep without medication, and months since he had seen her smile. Her illness was daily filling her with more pain, slowly stripping away life, and leaving Digory’s home darker and lonelier. Digory’s father was in another country for his job, so his mother and him had moved in with relatives, but they had proved to be strange, distant, and provided little comfort for the young boy. Doctors filled the hallways of the home, carrying out hushed conversations with Digory’s Aunt, always with bleak looks on their face, leaving Digory feeling more and more scared. He just wanted his mother to be okay.
And then, much to his surprise, by a strange turn of events Digory wound up in another world. A world of talking animals, of magic, all under the charge of their great king: a large, golden lion, Aslan. Also, through Digory’s own foolish choices, an evil witch is allowed to enter the world. Summoned by the sheer gravity of Aslan and the revelation of his own error, Digory agrees to a task Aslan sends him on: he must go fetch a piece of magic fruit to protect the land from the evil witch. He must not eat the fruit himself, but is to bring it back to Aslan. But once Digory arrives to the sacred garden where the fruit lie he encounters the witch. The witch, who has already eaten some of the fruit herself, tries to tempt Digory to do the same. This fruit, she explains, is the source of immortal life and the Lion obviously wants the fruit for himself, he has only sent Digory here like a servant to fetch it for him. Why not take some for himself? Or, even more tempting for Digory, why shouldn’t he bring some back home for his dying mother?
“What has the Lion ever done for you that you should be his slave?” said the Witch. “What can he do to you once you are back in your own world? And what would your Mother think if she knew that you could have taken her pain away and given her back her life and saved your Father’s heart from being broken, and that you wouldn’t—that you’d rather run messages for a wild animal in a strange world that is no business of yours.” (The Magicians Nephew, “An Unexpected Meeting”)
The longer the witch speaks, the weaker Digory’s answers and resolve become. Who is this Lion? What has he done for Digory? And why shouldn’t Digory simply concern himself with his own problems? C.S. Lewis, in this selection from the Chronicles of Narnia, is attempting to transparently recreate the temptation of Eve by the serpent. Has God really said? You will not surely die! You will be like God! “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate,” (Gen 3:6). What happened to Eve and what is happening to Digory is a dilemma of belief. One moment, the truth seems obvious and unquestionable; the next, after a few cleverly directed questions and assertions, everything seems upside down. New evidence, new arguments have been brought to light that suddenly leave our hero and heroine left with serious doubts about the character of God. Should you trust what God says even when your eyes or heart tell you otherwise? Friend, I wonder if you struggle to believe God? Or perhaps you are not a Christian here today and have never trusted the Lord—how can you believe in God? What must be overcome in you to trust in a God that your eyes cannot see?
If you have a Bible you can go ahead and open it to the gospel of John. We are starting a short series reflecting on the issue of doubt and belief in the Christian life, and today we are going to look at this question: how does one believe? Turn with me to John 14:1-6,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:1-6
Problem One: Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
Jesus opens with this phrase in verse 1, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jesus repeats this phrase again in verse 27, and twice more draws attention to the sorrow of the disciples in this block of teaching (16:6; 16:16-22). Jesus is referring specifically to the issue of His departure. He is just moments away from being delivered over to the authorities and will be put to death. So Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to a place that they will not be able to follow Him. Now, the disciples love Jesus and have been following Jesus (literally) for the past 2-3 years. They have given up their jobs, their homes, all to follow Jesus. So, right before Jesus tells the disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, Peter asks this question:
“Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:36-38).
The problem is twofold. Not only is Jesus explaining that His death is about to separate Him from them—a problem that would have been incalculable in scope to the disciples who had no category for a crucified Messiah—but even worse, they cannot follow because they lack the devotion needed. They cannot follow Jesus physically into His death and resurrection now, but they also cannot follow Jesus spiritually and morally. Peter, the boldest of the twelve, is going to deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times! They all are going to chicken out when courage is needed. But then Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Here is the problem: there is much that troubles us. There is so much in the world that can leave us heartbroken, especially in our hyper-information age where we can have all of the worst events going on in the world, all the time, piped to us. And not just in text, but with pictures and videos. There is so much that can knock the wind out of us, especially when we feel like we live in an age where we are guaranteed long life, health, and prosperity, yet sickness, frustration, and death still reign. Where careers, purpose, and notoriety feel deserved, yet unemployment, meaninglessness, and insignificance still dog us. Friend, I wonder what troubles you?
Perhaps it is something out there that has made the world stop making sense. I hope you grasp how seriously the death of Jesus seemed like a complete defeat to the disciples. They are not troubled here because they understand that Jesus had to die and would then resurrect for the forgiveness of sins. No—they assumed, like every other Jew of their day, that the Messiah was to establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem where He would preside as King. The crucifixion of Jesus was a wholesale refutation of that, it completely unraveled the worldview of the disciples, like if you were to discover the spouse who you thought loved you really had been having affairs the whole time.
Or maybe it is something in here. Maybe it is not the breaking headlines, but your own brokenness that fills you with trouble. Maybe it is not being snubbed by your boss for ignoring your hard work, but it is the knowledge of your own laziness and ignorance that fills you with pain. Could you imagine being Peter, right after saying that you will die for Him, hearing your Lord personally tell you: No, you are actually about to deny me three times. Have you ever been shocked by your own wickedness? Have you ever looked inside yourself and not find light, but darkness? Not found courage, but cowardice? Not found victory, but impasse?
Here is what Jesus has to say you: Don’t be troubled, its okay.
Solution One: Believe in God
“Believe in God; believe also in me.” John 14:1. Jesus is keenly aware of how much turmoil His disciples are about to go through, so He summons them to the most important thing He can: belief in God and belief in the Son of God. He then calls them to believe in this specifically: “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also,” (John 14:2-3).
Jesus is inviting His disciples to see why His departure is not something that should trouble their hearts: (1) He is going to personally prepare places for them in His Father’s house, (2) He will return for them, (3) they will be where Jesus is. He knows His departure is going to pain them greatly, so He reminds them of truth that will swallow up sorrow. In other words, He gives them reasons to believe, reasons for why their hearts should not be troubled.
At the very end of John’s gospel he explains why he wrote this book: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,” (John 20:30-31). How an individual can believe in the Son of God serves as the guiding framework of John’s entire gospel. The very word “believe” appears in Matthew’s gospel 9x, Mark’s 14x, and Luke’s 9x, but in John’s gospel? 85x! Here would be a helpful practice for you to do, maybe before your small group gathers this week: sit down and read the gospel of John and every time you see the word “believe” or other words or terms related to belief/unbelief, circle it. You will be amazed at how nearly every single story and nearly every teaching in John’s gospel is overtly about the issue of belief or unbelief.
What is belief? If someone asks you, “Do you believe in God?” they likely mean, “Do you believe God exists?” That is an extremely thin understanding of what the Bible means by “belief.” To that degree, we could say alongside James that the demons believe in God, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). The demons believe, but they hate it. Thus, in the Bible true belief includes more than acknowledgment, but trust, confidence, and love. You may believe that the IRS is going to tax you in the Spring, but it has little to do with trust or affection. However, if a son believes that his dad is going to follow through on his promise take him on a camping trip next weekend, or decides to obey his father’s wishes even if his father isn’t watching, it has everything to do with love and trust. So, Jesus’ summons to “believe in God” is a summons to love and trust God in the face of what lets our hearts be troubled.
Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is inviting people to that kind of belief, and exposing unbelief. We may assume that belief and unbelief is ultimately an issue of the mind—if someone does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then what we need to provide are good arguments and good evidence to the contrary. And that impulse isn’t wrong. Jesus Himself does both of these things throughout the gospel. There are two things that Jesus does to help people believe in Him: (1) He provides teaching and (2) He works signs and wonders.
There is one point in John’s gospel where a troop of officers from the Pharisees are sent to arrest Jesus, but instead they wind up listening to His teaching and return empty handed, “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:45-46). As Jesus teaches people believe in Him (cf. John 8:30). Further, when Jesus meets an official whose son is dying and is asked to heal him, Jesus explains, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe,” (John 4:48). And Jesus heals the man’s son, and the man and his entire household believe (John 4:53). The purpose of these signs and wonders are to generate belief.
So, if we find ourselves lacking in faith perhaps we need to immerse ourselves in the teachings and works of Christ; perhaps we need to sit and soak in God’s Word to discover who this Savior is. When Jesus summons us to belief, He is not summoning us to a leap in the dark, He is not summoning us to, in the words of Mark Twain, “believe in something you just know ain’t true.” We should consider Jesus’ arguments, His teaching, His miracles, His resurrection. Friend, if you find yourself struggling with uncertainties about your faith, questions about the validity of Christianity, or how to respond to arguments commonly made against the Christian faith, I would encourage you to study the faith more seriously. There is an embarrassment of riches we have today in regards to resources for responding to questions of our faith—if you are interested in what some of those may be, feel free to come speak with me or another pastor here after the service.
But here is an interesting twist: there are some people in John’s gospel who find themselves filled with more unbelief the more they are exposed to Jesus’ teachings and signs. The more plainly that Jesus teaches to the Pharisees, the more hardened against Him they become. After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and many people then believe in him, the Pharisees decide that they must put Jesus and Lazarus to death (John 11:45-53; 12:9-11). They do not stop and say, “Hang on, maybe we should reconsider our position—He just rose a guy from the dead. Maybe He really is the Son of God?” They become more hardened in their opposition towards Him. At one point, Jesus cries out: “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him,” (John 12:28-29).
A literal voice booms from heaven in answer to Jesus and some people respond, “Nah, that’s just thunder,” and other people are like, “Are you crazy? That was definitely a voice—maybe an angel, but definitely a voice.” So Jesus responds by withdrawing, “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,” (John 12:36b-37). When the famous atheist Bertrand Russel was asked if he were to die and discover that he was wrong what he would say to God, he responded, “Why so little evidence?” While Jesus wants to provide good argument and evidence, John’s gospel shows us that our primary problem is not that we lack evidence. In fact, Paul can tell the Romans that existence of nature of God is so evident to all mankind that they all are “without excuse” when judgment comes (Rom 1:18-32). So, what is our problem?
“If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority,” (John 7:17). What is our problem? It is a problem of the heart. How can we know Jesus is from God? Our will must be to do God’s will.
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed,” (John 3:19-20). This puts things more starkly: our problem is what we love. We love the dark because in the dark we remain in control, we are autonomous, we make our own rules. And the light of God’s holiness exposes us and requires us to submit to His standards.
Aldous Huxley in his book Ends and Means, explains, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had not; and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning for this world is not concerned exclusively with the problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he should personally not do as he wants to . . For myself .. the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”
What is Huxley saying? Don’t think I am being objective here—I am motivated to reject any idea of divine meaning or design. Huxley wants to have sex with whoever he wants to have sex with, craft a political system any way he wants without feeling guilty about it. Huxley is being honest here—we do not arrive at conclusions solely by evidence or reason, but by what our heart loves. And if our heart loves darkness more than light? Than no amount of evidence matters, we will simply find a way to justify our beliefs. And that is a problem.
Problem #2: We Do Not Know
“And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5). Jesus is telling the disciples He is departing to a place that they will not be able to follow, at least for now, but then explains that they know the way. And Thomas has the courage to admit, “Jesus, I have no idea what you are talking about. We don’t know the way.”
I wonder if you ever heard something from our Lord, ever read anything, maybe even heard something from this pulpit and thought: I have no idea what that means or, more seriously, I think I know what that means, but I am not sure that I believe it. Friend, far better than ignoring our doubts and uncertainties, we should (like Thomas) bring our unbelief and misunderstanding to Jesus and tell Him: I don’t know what this means, I don’t know how this can be true, I don’t know what to do.
Solution #2: I Am the Way
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). This familiar passage may be known to you as a classic proof text for why someone must believe in Jesus and Jesus alone as the way to know the Father. And that is true. But notice how if functions in response to Thomas’ question. How can we know the way to the Father? How can we get to where Jesus is going? What is the way to heaven?
Notice what Jesus doesn’t say: he doesn’t point people towards great acts of piety or religion, doesn’t tell them to go on a pilgrimage, get baptized, fulfill some sacred rite. He doesn’t put them towards the realm of the intellect, doesn’t invite them to read thick books and sort every problem out. He doesn’t point them towards morality, doesn’t tell them to clean their lives up. He points to Himself. I am the Way. Jesus doesn’t point to an argument, doesn’t point to evidence, doesn’t point to anything that Thomas can do—He just points to Himself.
If I were to tell you, “Hey, I would like to pay all of your bills for the rest of your life,” you would likely say something like, “Wow! Thank you…why? What did I do to deserve that?” If I explained that it was just something I wanted to do and I refused any offers you made to pay me back or do me any favors, you would be happy, yet you would likely feel uneasy. If you had nothing to do to pay me back, you might think: There is nothing I can do to put Marc in my debt, so how do I know he is going to continue to pay my bills for me? If I give you nothing you can do, then you are forced to simply trust my character, to trust my person. This is what Jesus invites Thomas to, and what He invites you to. Trust Him, His person.
And perhaps that feels painfully difficult for you. Perhaps you realize that you really struggle to trust Jesus, perhaps you look inside yourself and find a great deal of reservation and uncertainty about your faith. But notice what Jesus points to: Himself. He is the Way. It is not the strength of our faith or understanding, it is the object of our faith that saves us. There once was a man attempting to cross a frozen river, but he had no idea how thick the ice was. So, he got down on his hands and knees and began slowly pawing his way across the ice, terrified he would fall through. As he strained his ears to hear a crack in the ice, he noticed a sound coming up behind him. It was the sound of hooves and sleigh bells. A man driving a team of horses pulling a sleigh flew by him across the ice and over to the other side. What did the man driving the sleigh know? He knew how thick the ice was, so he crossed with confidence. But, most importantly, both men made it across the river. It was not the strength of their belief that got them across, it was the strength of the ice. Friend, it is not your subjective apprehension of truth that makes something true or false, it is true whether you are certain of it or not. Similarly, Jesus is able to save those with strong faith and those filled with weak faith. So, maybe you struggle to fully trust Jesus’ person, struggle to lean on Him—but take heart, He will hold you up regardless.
Digory was scared. The witch sounded so correct. Yet, Digory steeled his resolve and resisted the temptation. How? Well, before Digory left on his quest he was confronted by Aslan for his role in bringing the witch into Narnia. Digory tries to make excuses before quietly admitting his fault. And he is utterly crushed because he had been hoping all along to ask Aslan to do something to save his mother. And now he is certain he has lost his chance, but still he cries out:
"But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?" Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining
tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
"My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great…Let us be good to one another.” (The Magician’s Nephew, “Strawberry’s Adventure”).
After Digory says no to the witch, he is incredibly uncertain and deeply saddened. We are told:
“He was very sad and wasn’t even sure all the time that he had done the right thing; but whenever he remembered the shining tears in Aslan’s eyes he became sure.” (The Magician’s Nephew, “An Unexpected Meeting”). What I love about this story is that Digory’s confidence had nothing to do with any ironclad proof or mathematical certainty: he had simply seen a disclosure of the character and person of Aslan, his tears over Digory’s pain, that gave him the confidence he needed to say “no” to temptation, and “yes” to obedience. And friend, what could I possibly show you that would adequately convey the character of Jesus, His total trustworthiness, His commitment and love to you that deserve your allegiance and belief. Consider two simple passages. As Jesus is about to go to the cross, He gathers together His wayward, doubting, uncertain disciples and we are told this:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. – John 13:1
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” – John 15:9
You may be uncertain of God, but He isn’t uncertain of you. His love endures, even when ours falters. Lean on Him, believe in Him.
Marc Sims • June 28, 2022
Sermon Audio: The Partnership of the Gospel (Phil 4:14-23)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What from the sermon was most helpful for you?
- How would you define what Christian fellowship is? Where would you go in the Bible for a good picture of that?
- "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:21). Practically speaking, what does it look to keep this command? Break this command?
- Look at Phil 4:17. What was Paul seeking? Why should pastors encourage the members of the church to give their money generously?
- Can you think of anything that would change in your life if 100% of you believed the promise of Phil 4:19?
- Read Romans 8:32. What does this tell us?
When I was in high school I worked as a busboy and host at an Applebees. In-between passing out chicken fingers and burgers, my fellow co-workers found out that I was planning on becoming a pastor someday. This was something they found wildly comical and referred to me from then on as “Father Marc.” I cannot remember how it came about but eventually my co-workers found out that I also believed that sex should only happen within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. This led to a whole new slew of haranguing and poking fun. Most of it was lighthearted and silly. One conversation, however, was different.
One of my coworkers was a gay man who struggled with how I could believe that God was loving, yet I would deny that if two people loved each other they wouldn’t be allowed to give themselves to each other in the ultimate expression of love: the sexual act. We tend to assume that “love” is primarily a feeling, and that our job when we experience that feeling is to not inhibit it, but to let it have free reign and go where it wills. So, if you love someone and feel strongly towards them, you should let your affections take you wherever you will. This was what my coworker assumed.
But I asked him if he could define what he thought “love” meant. He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, I think it is some mixture of affection for someone coupled with a commitment to their good.” And I told him I thought that was exactly right. But then I asked him how he defined what “good” was. He sat quietly for a moment and slowly realized: This is more complicated than I thought. We understand that love involves affection, but it also must involve something more. Someone who “loves” someone, but is doing things to hurt that other person does not really love them. To truly “love” someone else, we must be working toward their good, and for us to work toward their good, we need to have a definition of what “good” is. Love requires a goal.
And while it may be easy for us to spot the error in my coworkers understanding of love, I wonder if we may have a harder time spotting the error in our understanding of love as it pertains to how we are to love one another within the church. What does it mean to love your neighbor or your fellow church member? What does it mean to be committed to their good? In our text today we will see what love between Christians looks like in action, what the goal is that Paul is working towards in the Philippian church.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
- Phil 4:10-23
On of the most common themes in the book of Philippians has been the love of God’s people for one another. In fact, the very first sermon I preached in Philippians was called “The Love of God’s People.” All over the letter, Paul’s affection and admiration for the Philippians, and their love of him, is evident. In this final section we get three more pictures of what love does amidst the people of God: love shares, love seeks, and love supplies.
Love Shares (14-16)
“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” – Phil 4:14
But, vs. 14, Paul wants them to know that he recognizes their gift as a kindness, for they were sharing in his trouble—had “fellowship” in his trouble. The word for “sharing” is from the same root word for “fellowship” in the Bible, like in Acts 2, where we are told, “42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” (Acts 2:42). How do you “devote” yourself to Christian fellowship? We tend to use the word “fellowship” just to refer to hanging out together—which is, no doubt, a key aspect of Christian fellowship. In fact, just a few verses later we are told that the early church would gather to share meals on a daily basis (Acts 2:46). Time together matters. But, this isn’t the sum of Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship isn’t just a commitment to hang out, but a commitment to one another’s good, even when it comes at great personal cost. Which is why we also read in Acts 2 of the sacrificial love of Christians for one another, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,” (Acts 2:44-45).
This is what Christian fellowship is: Paul’s problem became their own. Love shares. What is burdening you, burdens me; what rejoices you, rejoices me. The body of Christ is an interconnected whole, like a vine, or the bricks of a building, or a body. We are like a tightly interwoven net: when a rock falls on the net, the whole net bends down to absorb the blow, and in doing so it pulls the individual strand of the net that was struck back up. This is distinct from our typical, modern idea of the autonomous man. The autonomous man works a decent job, makes plenty of money, has great insurance, a cushy retirement, drives his new car directly into his garage, closes the door, and spends his evening by himself. He is a monad, a marble, a disconnected and isolated individual who has all the entertainment and comforts he needs. His relationships are ones of convenience, never dependence. But that is wholly alien to the nature of the relationships that Christians are to have with one another—we are to depend on one another.
And so, Paul depends on the Philippians; he has been in need, and the Philippians have supplied his need.
In fact, vs. 15-16 show that the Philippian church has a track record of financially supporting Paul, even when no one else did, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” (Phil 4:15-16).
Paul’s pattern of receiving financial support: Paul refused to take financial support to the church he was currently planting, but once he left to go plant more churches, he would then receive monetary support from them (cf. 2 Cor 11:9). Paul was concerned that by receiving financial support initially from the church plant he was working on it would both put a stumbling block in front of early believers that may hinder them from the free gift of the gospel, or it may confuse some to think that Paul was like other paid rhetoricians who received money for their eloquent sophistry. But after the church was established and Paul traveled on, he would then receive and solicit financial support from these churches to help him.
This is what the Philippian church did, but notice that vs. 15 tells us they did this from their first exposure to the gospel. Which is significant, because we know from the book of Acts that Paul only stayed in Philippi three Sabbaths. Just three weeks. How could you establish a relationship of that kind of trust in such a short time? Well, look at the last few verses of our section:
The “greet one another” commands.
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.” (Phil 4:21-22).
Have you ever considered why, in the providence of the Lord, these conclusions were included in Scripture? Many times we are given a long list of names that Paul greets (cf. Rom 16:1-16). Given how short Paul’s letters are, why would the Lord waste precious space on these greetings and farewells that have nothing do with us? Why is that? Notice, vs. 21 is actually a command given to us: we must greet every saint in Christ. Have you ever considered what it looks like for you to obey that command? Have you ever considered ways in which you may have broken that command? This means that Paul assumes that there is a relational obligation and connection between fellow Christians that exceeds other relationships. We are commanded to greet other Christians, to put a premium on the relationships of others who are united to Christ. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” Gal 6:10.
And because we are to be devoted to fellowship, this means that we share in one another’s troubles, we bear one another’s burdens. Why? Because we all have trusted in Jesus who has born our burden of sin for us, and that creates in us a desire to love one another similarly. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). When we see what Christ has done for us, and then look around at the much smaller burdens of others around us, we naturally desire to move in and help in the same way Christ has helped us.
Practically speaking, this means that we should put a premium on the relationships with other believers around us, especially those within our church. We should prioritize time to spend together, to share meals with one another, to help one another move and fix one another’s lawn mowers or babysit or shovel each other’s driveways. Consider setting aside a small amount of money each month specifically with the aim of being available to use on blessing other people within the church.
Do you have needs yourself? Bring it to the church. We may not be able to always provide everything, but we can always strive to help in whatever way we can. Don’t deprive your brothers and sisters the joy of bearing a burden with you.
Love Seeks (17)
“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” (Phil 4:17).
Vs. 17 Paul again wants to clarify so that the Philippians won’t be mistaken. In vs. 11-13, Paul’s clarification was for them to know that—while grateful for the support—Paul wasn’t banking on their support for his source of contentment—he has learned the secret to being content in any circumstance. Here, however, Paul is wanting to guard against the idea that his aim is the money itself. It isn’t. He is seeking something else: “fruit that increases to your credit” or “I seek the profit that accrues to your account.”
Paul’s main aim isn’t his own self-interest, but the Philippians’. Now, this is tricky. Paul thinks that the churches should financially support pastors and missionaries. “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5:17-18; cf. Gal 6:6; Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11).
In fact, he refers to the financial gift that the Philippians gave him in vs. 18 as, “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” It is an act of worship for Christians to use their money to care for the needs of the church. This is why most churches on Sunday for as long as churches have been around have made it a part of the worship service to include a collection of tithes and offerings. Our church does not practice this mainly because we are concerned that it may lead to a misunderstanding that to attend our worship services one must pay money. But we do not want anyone to get the idea that we think that what we do with our money is not a critical part of worship. It is! Paul thinks so.
And yet, Paul makes a careful distinction: though he thinks churches should support their pastors and missionaries, should give money to help others, he does not advocate this for his own good, but for the good of the givers.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints… And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” (2 Cor 8:1-4, 10)
Paul loves the Philippians, so he seeks their good, the “fruit that increases to your credit.” Here the “fruit” that Paul refers to is the Christian character he sees growing in the Philippians, but the phrase also has a financial overtone. Paul is using the language of an “investment manager: he desires “continuously increasing profits, daily compounding interest, and accumulating dividends for the Philippians' account.” In other words, Paul is encouraging them that their generosity to Paul is a wise investment that will pay rich dividends. Jesus exhorts us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth.
God loves you, and He desires your joy, He desires your fruit that increases to your credit.
Love Supplies (18-20)
“I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:18-19)
Vs. 18 shows that Paul has received an overwhelming gift from the Philippians, he is “amply supplied.” The Philippians didn’t skimp on their support—Paul is overflowing with a superabundance of resources and funds now. But then, he provides this amazing promise as a boon and comfort to the Philippians: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Notice the “my” there? Paul has experienced the provision of the Lord himself so personally that he can speak to the Philippians about “my God who supplies everything you need.”
Christians should be abundantly generous because our God is abundantly generous. Paul has been supplied well by the Philippians, and then he turns around and insures them: God will supply you with what you need. Our zeal for generosity comes out of a deep assurance that God honors and provides Christians with everything they need to pursue the ministry of love.
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:6-8)
There is a way that Christians can take a good and right vision of wisdom with finances, but have it morph into a kind of miserliness that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. The servant who buries his talent in the ground is rebuked, not rewarded. Ebenezer Scrooge may have had no credit card debt, but he is no model for those who follow Jesus. We should invest and spend our finances wisely and courageously as we seek to further the mission of the gospel through our support and care of one another and the missionaries we support. In our member’s meeting we will be discussing some ways we want to use the money the Lord has entrusted to us to invest in future opportunities of ministry.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Do you see the storehouse that God is drawing from to supply your needs? “his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” That is the measurement of wealth that God draws upon to insure that you will be supplied with everything you need for life. If an angel were to come and take you on a tour in heaven of the storehouses of wealth in glory King Jesus has, how long would you be gone walking the hallways of that heavenly bank? How wealthy is the God who not only owns a cattle on a thousand hills, but who speaks our entire cosmos into existence? Will the wealth and riches of our God prove to be inadequate for your needs? Will his checks bounce? Friend, the God of the universe will richly supply every need of yours. So trust Him.
If you struggle with faith to believe that promise, consider what God has done in Christ. The Father did not even spare His own Son, but graciously gave Him up for us—how will He not then give us everything else we need? Friend, what more could the Father do to prove His commitment to you? What else could He offer to demonstrate that He will spare no expense for your good? The cross of Christ is a placard of God’s unfailing love and commitment to your good. You can count on the promises of God to be depended on—the offering of Jesus is the ultimate display of God’s love for you. The promises of God are something that you can stand upon, not merely print on coffee cups and throw pillows.
Marc Sims • June 13, 2022
Sermon Audio: The Secret of Contentment (Phil 4:10-13)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- When you think of someone who is caught in a cycle of addiction, like the gold-miner, what comes to mind? What tends to be the most regular thief of contentment in your own life?
- In Phil 4:11 Paul speaks of not being in need, despite being in a perilous situation with being in jail. Read 2 Tim 4:16-18. How did the suffering Paul experienced in being abandoned lead to his confidence that God would provide for him? How does suffering produce clarity for the Christian?
- “My brethren, the reason why you do not have contentment in the things of the world is not that you do not have enough of them. The reason is that they are not things proportional to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself.” – Burroughs. What does that mean? Read Jeremiah 2:12-13.
- Why does Paul call Christian contentment a "secret"?
- What are some wrong ways to apply Phil 4:13? What does it actually mean?
How much money does someone need to make to be satisfied? How much time off from work, how many new gadgets, how extravagant do their vacations need to be? Perhaps you are familiar with the parable of the gold-miner? This prospector noticed a few flecks of gold around the base of an enormous cliff. He began to dig into the side of the cliff and found, to his joy, more gold. The only problem was that about a foot up the side of the cliff, the rocks crumbled away easily. He was left only to hollow out a small, flat space level with the ground to unearth the treasure. If he attempted to cut away with his pick axe any higher, the entire cliff face would begin to erode down, and bury the gold (and possibly himself). So the man began to chip away at the bottom of the cliff, creating a tiny pocket of space that he could squeeze a few wooden blocks and, if he laid flat on the ground, himself.
The deeper into the cliffside the man dug, the richer, thicker, and more plentiful the vein of gold became. Soon, the man was not bringing out mere flecks, but knobs and lumps of gold. But consequently, the deeper the man dug into the base of the cliff, the more perilous it became—he could hear the patter of rocks slide down every time he shuffled inside, felt the dust of the ceiling cover his face with ever hammer blow. At any moment, any strike of his axe would bring the entire cliffside down upon him. Every day, he promised himself that it was his last time going in, but every morning he awoke tormented by the possibility of just a little more, and he would wind up scrambling into the little crack at the base of the cliff, in the throes of terror and elation. And, of course, eventually he found an enormous tumor of gold buried in the rock, larger than anything he had ever seen and, in removing it, was immediately crushed.
The story is a parable that illustrates the seductive power of “just a little bit more.” It is easy to spot the foolishness of someone caught in a cycle of diminishing returns, an addiction that only grants a fleeting whiff of satisfaction before driving the victim to a deeper indulgence than before. It is easy to see the problem out there in others who are struggling with sins we don’t struggle with—the stock broker working 80 hours a week, the heroin addict, the celebrity carving up their body with plastic surgery—but it is harder for us to see the problem in ourselves. We know that we want to be content, we know that we should be content, we know we have no good reason not to be, and yet like the anxious prospector, we look at what we currently have and think: “Not enough.” Which brings us to our text today where Paul shows us the secret of contentment:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Phil 4:10-13
Here, we now get to the main purpose of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the first place. He wants to thank the Philippian church for the financial gift they have given to support his ministry. He rejoices that they now have an opportunity to demonstrate their concern for him. We aren’t sure what prohibited them from supporting him financially thus far: perhaps they lacked the money, perhaps they weren’t able to get support to Paul because of how far away he was, perhaps Paul didn’t need any financial support till now. Either way, their faithfulness in giving causes Paul to rejoice in the Lord. But, Paul turns in verses 11-13 to correct a potential misunderstanding the Philippians might have about supporting Paul: he explains, in a way, that he doesn’t ultimately need their gift. Why? Because he has learned a secret.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” (Phil 4:11). Now here is the strange thing—Paul is in need. Remember that Paul is writing this letter from prison (cf. Phil 1:7). Roman prisons were not comfortable places—they were often overcrowded, dark, dingy, places of squalor and filth. The daily allotment of food given to you barely kept you alive, so prisoners were dependent on the generosity of outsiders to supplement them with food and clean water. Unfortunately, however, similar to today, prisoners bore a serious social stigma and there was a great pressure to sever ties with the individual put into prison. This is why the New Testament puts such an emphasis on Christians caring for those in prison (Heb 13:3; Matt 25:36). And yet, in this position of vulnerability, Paul says “I don’t need anything.”
Or, at least, Paul doesn’t need anything in the way we typically think we need things. Of course, there are things we do need. Last week we reflected on Jesus’ statement about prayer and anxiety, where Jesus commands us to not be worried about food or clothing because, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,” (Matt 6:32). Paul warns Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” (1 Tim 5:8). Paul, therefore, isn’t advocating a strange kind of self-denial where we never labor to care for ourselves or our families.
Yet, suffering produces a strange clarity on what one really needs. Anyone in this room who has received painful news—the death of a loved one, the serious injury of a child, the business failing—knows how it suddenly grants an entirely new perspective on life. But it is not just deprivation itself that leads Paul to claim that he isn’t in need, it is rather seeing how the Lord provides for us in the midst of suffering that gives confidence. When Paul explained to Timothy that certain individuals began attacking him, he explained, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim 4:16-18).
It was in the midst of being utterly abandoned by all his companions that Paul experienced the Lord’s sustaining and strengthening presence and granted him this invincible confidence: God will deliver me from everything and bring me safely into his kingdom. Of course, to enter the “heavenly kingdom” means that you die—so Paul sees the Lord’s oversight and protection of his life as something that does not mean physical safety, alone, but a safe oversight of his soul, a safe oversight of his earthly life till Paul’s time is complete.
So, Paul is grateful for the money the Philippians have sent him, but he is confident that if they didn’t, God would find some other way to provide for what he needs. The psalms tell us that no good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps 84:11). God has never held back on us.
“Nothing is needed that he withholds, everything is needed that he sends.” – John Newton
What do you feel like you need most?
So, Paul isn’t in need, rather, he has learned in whatever situation he is in to be content, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” (Phil 4:12). Here Paul shows us that Christian contentment does not come through favorable circumstances. It is in abundance and need, plenty and hunger that Paul is content. Which is so foreign to the natural way of thinking, is it not? We tend to think that contentment comes when we abound, not when we are brought low; when we have plenty, not when we hunger. But Paul has contentment regardless of his circumstance. He is similar to the psalmist, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound,” (Ps 4:7). More joy? Not just the same, but more? How could that be?
This is because the contentment that comes from God is of an entirely different species than worldly contentment. Apples and oranges. Jesus promised His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you,” (John 14:27). How does the world give contentment? It is contentment with an expiration date, contentment that lasts until the new piece of technology comes out that makes your current one obsolete, contentment that lasts till someone else comes along and does something at your job better than you, contentment that lasts until your children embarrass you out in public. It is a fragile and temporary contentment that is wholly dependent on your circumstances. It has often been said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” And how true that is. You may have a season where you feel a great deal of contentment with the lot the Lord has given you, but then you spy someone else whose life seems to be operating at just a better frequency with yours, and suddenly life feels dull, dreary, and disappointing. And you start to think I just need more.
Jeremiah Burroughs, in his classic The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, writes: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” Notice how that definition lacks any mention of outward circumstance and focuses instead entirely on the disposition of our heart: glad submission to the Father’s will.
We live at a time where we have more material wealth than ever, and yet satisfaction, peace, joy, and contentment seem so rare. The Greek myth of Tantalus serves as a fitting illustration of our time. Tantalus, a friend of the gods, commits a heinous crime and so, as a punishment, he is forced to stand waist deep in a pool of water in the underworld for all eternity. Above him is a fruit tree with ripe fruit easily within reach. Yet whenever he reaches his hand up to grab the fruit, the tree branch raises just out of reach; whenever he bends down to scoop some water to drink, the water recedes away. So, he is left forever tantalized by what is just out of reach. And friend, I wonder if life feels like that for you. Just a little more money…just a little more attention from that girl…just a few more vacations, then I’ll be happy. And yet, when we reach our hand down and take a drink, we find no water there.
“My brethren, the reason why you do not have contentment in the things of the world is not that you do not have enough of them. The reason is that they are not things proportional to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God Himself.” – Burroughs. It would be easier to scoop water out of the ocean with a net than find lasting contentment in the things of the world. Yahweh, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, illuminates this truth:
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
- Jer 2:12-13
Notice what Paul says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.” In other words, there is a particular Christian way to orient ourselves to our changing circumstances. Do you know how to experience financial ruin? Do you know how to experience financial success? We may think that those things just happen and we respond. But Paul says, No, you need to know how to walk through those things. Notice that Paul said that he has “learned the secret of contentment.” In other words, this is something you have to learn. It does not come naturally to you. And what is it? It’s a secret, Paul says.
So a secret is something that is not obvious, but Paul quickly explains what it is: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). Now, this may be the most popular and most misunderstood passage of Scripture in the whole Bible. Perhaps you have seen the meme, I can do all things through a Bible verse taken out of context. Often this passage is used by people as a way of thinking about achieving goals—you want to lose some weight, want to hit your quarterly goals at work, want to buy a house, etc. It is a particular favorite of athletes who use it as a way to, I assume, draw encouragement to win the game. So, in this thinking, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” understands the “all things” in an exclusively positive sense: I can do anything!
But, of course, Paul already specified what the “all things” were back in verses 11-12. He can abound, or he can be brought low, he can win, or he can lose, he can have a lot, or a little. So, two opposing quarterbacks go into a game with “Phil 4:13” painted under their eyes—one of them will win, and one will lose. That doesn’t mean that “Phil 4:13” only applied to the winner of the game, but to the loser as well. I can do all things—like lose—through Christ who strengthens me. So this isn’t a blank check for whatever goals or dreams we have, some kind of ‘name it and claim it” promise that whatever we want will happen. It is much, much more profound than that. Three things we see from Phil 4:13
1. You can walk through anything with contentment.
"I can do all things." This is an astounding promise. There is no set of circumstances that can come into your life that has the ability to rob you of your contentment. No suffering, no weakness, no failure, no deprivation. You may think those things rob you of your contentment, but that is a willful surrender, not an inevitable conclusion. How?
2. You do this through Christ.
"I can do all things through Christ". Christ has pledged Himself to us. We have been enveloped into Him. We are made for God, and Christ has come as a way to have us be reconciled to God. He has so pledged Himself to us, that our debts become his own, and His resources become our own. The great ailment of our discontentment is that we are made for God but are alienated from Him. Through Christ's death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, He has made a way through which we can receive the very thing our soul longs for most: God. So, we can be content in any situation.
In 1851 a group of British missionaries to Tierra del Fuego was forced to winter in the bitter cold while they waited for their supply ship to arrive. It came too late. They all died of cold and starvation. On Good Friday, April 18th, Richard Williams, a surgeon and Methodist lay preacher, wrote in his journal, “Poor and weak though we are, our abode is a very Bethel to our souls [Genesis 28:10-19], and God we feel and know is here.” On Wednesday, May 7th, he wrote, “Should anything prevent my ever adding to this, let all my beloved ones at home rest assured that I was happy beyond description when I wrote these lines and would not have changed situations with any man living.”
Okay, but perhaps that sounds so fantastical and extreme you are left thinking: "I could never do anything like that." That brings us to our last point:
3. He strengthens you.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Jesus is offering you His own strength. Jesus' relationship to is not the relationship of a celebrity to a fan, or a politician to a constituent: someone who is appreciative of your support, glad to have you, but remains fundamentally separate from you. No, our Lord bleeds His own strength into us to do what we cannot do on our own. As the great hymn tells us, "I will strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand."
Martin Luther's friend, Philip Melanchthon, was overwhelmed with anxieties about the cause of the Reformation, uncertain about what the future held. Luther wrote him a letter as a way to encourage his friend to stop "sucking up cares like a leech" and to be encouraged in God's promises to them:
"Christ knows whether it is stupidity or bravery, but I am not much disturbed, rather of better courage than I had hoped.
God who is able to raise the dead is also able to uphold a falling cause, or to raise a fallen one and make it strong.
If we are not worthy instruments to accomplish his purpose, he will find others.
If we are not strengthened by his promises, to whom else in all the world can they pertain?"
Marc Sims • June 06, 2022
Sermon Audio: Do Not Be Anxious (Phil 4:5-9)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Do you think we tend to be more anxious today than people of previous generations were? Why or why not?
- How would you explain what anxiety is to someone unfamiliar with it? How did Marc define it?
- What is the double-meaning of "the Lord is at hand"? Why does remembering that provide help in our fight against anxiety?
- Why does Paul send us to prayer to deal with our anxiety? What does praying "with thanksgiving" mean?
- Do you identify more with Martha or Mary?
- "Dealing with anxiety is less like having surgery and more like exercise." What does that mean?
- Read 1 Peter 5:7 and Romans 8:31-32. What do we functionally believe when we refuse to cast our burdens on the Lord? How do we know God cares for us?
Imagine, if you could, speak with someone who lived in a thousand years ago and you got to listen to the typical things they are concerned about. What would they be? Will I and my family have enough food to eat? Will another king come along and wage war with my king and our village be in danger? Will there be another plague that kills a third of everyone I know? Will I live past the age of 40? How many of my children will die? Now, imagine if you could explain to someone what life is like for you. We live in an age where there is such an abundance of food that there are more deaths worldwide from eating too much food rather than hunger. We live in the comfort of a (relatively) stable democracy; likely no one in this room has worried this week about a foreign nation invading. We have modern medicine that has eradicated things like the bubonic plague, the average life expectancy is now more than double what it was a thousand years ago, and we consider it a horrible and unusual tragedy if a child dies today, not just another part of life. If you could explain all of that to someone a thousand years ago, they might think, Wow! The future sounds incredible! You must live in incredible peace, no fear, no worries, no anxiety.
Well, do you? Actually, if you read the writings of history, you could argue that we possess much more anxiety than they do. How could that be? I am very glad that I live today and not a thousand years ago, but it seems that the problem of fear and anxiety isn’t merely an issue of circumstance, but there is something more deeply rooted in us that gives it life. What are you worried about? What are you anxious about? Maybe it something out there: seeing the price of gas continue to climb or watching your 401K diminish or the future of our nation as the angriest and non-sensical and destructive of forces seem to be winning. Or maybe it is something in here: maybe your family is going through a tense season, maybe your health isn’t as reliable as it once was, maybe you’re afraid that the worst parts of you are outweighing what is good.
We may have more technology, information, resources, opportunities, and comforts available to us today than any other generation of human beings who have ever existed, but all of these things have not made us more virtuous, only more powerful. And like pouring gasoline on a fire, it has appeared to only amplify our fears, anxieties, and stress. So, what are we to do? So we come to our text for our sermon today:
The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil 4:5b-9
The center of this passage is the command “do not be anxious about anything.” We consider what anxiety was a few weeks ago when we looked at this passage. We said that anxiety is imagining the future without Jesus in it. Anxiety is not only future-oriented but functionally atheistic. Or, at least, the God we imagine to exist in whatever future scenario we are paralyzed by is not the God of the Bible, but is a god that cannot be trusted. The only person we can trust is ourselves. And we fear and worry about that which is outside of our control. Anxiety is a fear, stress, worry of the unknown; it can be localized onto a specific situation (I’m worried about what my boss will say in my annual review), or it can be generalized and diffuse (I feel fearful and uncertain about life).
Now, we all know that anxiety is not good for us. Jesus asks us, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt 6:27). We now know that anxiety not only fails to lengthen our life, but actually shortens it. There are all sorts of problems that happen to our health and well-being by keeping a pot of anxiety on a low-boil in our mind. Our immune system doesn’t work as work as well, our blood pressure shoots up, we develop ulcers, and lose sleep at night. Everyone admits that anxiety is unhealthy and a problem, you’ll never find a self-help book that encourages you to practice anxiety more effectively. Everyone agrees on the problem, but not on the solution. Simply telling someone “don’t worry, be happy” doesn’t provide much help. So, what does Paul mean here when he flatly commands us “do not be anxious”?
We were discussing this passage weeks ago in our small group when someone mentioned that maybe Paul’s command “don’t be anxious”—which seems so unhelpful to just tell yourself in the moment of anxiety—really means, “you have no reason to be anxious.” In other words, when Paul commands us to not be anxious he doesn’t do it without providing reasons for why we shouldn’t be.
So, what are those reasons?
“The Lord is at hand.” We looked at this phrase briefly last week, since it was a part of verse 5. I think, however, that the verse division here was probably not the most helpful one; I think that this phrase makes more sense to be included with verse 6. The phrase contains a double meaning. To say that Lord is “near” could refer to his nearness in time, as in, Jesus is returning soon. But it could also refer to his proximity in space, as in, Jesus’ presence is near, right here. I think Paul intends both of these meanings to serve as the diving board to jump into the command of “do not be anxious about anything.”
So, friends, Jesus is coming back and bringing with him the New Creation. Look inward and do a brief analysis of what you are currently anxious about, what you feel is a present source of stress. As you mentally compile that list, consider that there will be an end, not only to that specific stressor or fear, but to all fear, all worry. The Lord is at hand, Christ is coming again soon. Remember, this world is not our home and there is a great reward that awaits us. Whatever dire circumstance you fear, whatever calamity falls upon you, it cannot touch your eternal hope. There is no darkness so black that it will not be pierced by the rising sun, and there is no suffering in our lives that will not be swallowed by the beauty of the New Heavens and New Earth. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. The Lord is at hand, brothers and sisters, so do not be anxious.
But also remember, the Lord is near you. He has not abandoned you. Jesus has promised that He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5). Maybe as you survey your future and feel paralyzed at what could happen. Take heart—your Lord is there with you. Maybe a solider is very fearful to press the battle, but if he has a great general at his side who says, “I will not leave you,” his heart is lightened. A young novice may be frightened at the inspection of their craft, but if the grand master, the wise senior stands by his side to guide him along the way, he feels hopeful. Our great Savior will not send you where He will not go Himself. He is with you. So with you, that the Bible speaks of us being united with Christ, so that wherever we go, we are with Him.
Hudson Taylor, the founder of China Inland Mission, reflecting on his union with Christ, wrote:
"The sweetest part, if one may speak of one part being sweeter than another, is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me." - Hudson Taylor.
Okay, so we have heaven ahead of us, and God for us; all His resources are at our dispense here and now—we must remember that. So, we have the presence of God on our side—that would sound like we are ready to do some superhero, Marvel-movie, level of action. We are going to obliterate our anxieties by going out and fixing them ourselves, right? Well, not exactly: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:6-7).
This is illuminating on so many levels; let me just tease out a few thoughts.
First, just as we are not to be anxious about “anything” so too are we to pray about “everything”. Meaning, there is no issue too small, too trivial for prayer. If it can cause anxiety in you, it is worth translating into prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Second, the impulse of the Christian when fear and anxiety arise should be first to pray. Many times, prayer is our last resort. We are like the sailors who are told to throw Jonah overboard, but continue to strive against the oars till they are exhausted, and then finally heave the prophet overboard. We tend to think that the remedy of anxiety is to solve the problem—so you are anxious about hosting a family for dinner because your house isn’t clean. You think, I will be at peace once I finish the task. But Paul says, when anxiety rears its head, there is something else going on in our hearts that is deeper going on than just the task at hand.
When Paul tells us that we are to “let our requests be made known to God,” he knows that we are not giving God new information that He does not already possess. Jesus taught us that our Heavenly Father already knows what we need before we ask (Matt 6:8). So, in making our requests be made known to God, we are doing this because there is something happening to us in that process that we need.
Do you remember the story of Martha and Mary? Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, who are sisters, and Martha is playing the role of being a good host—she is rushing around, preparing food, getting the home in order, and where is Mary? She is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him, she is having her quiet time, so to speak. “…Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42).
Martha is doing what so many of us do: she is using her anxiety and stress like jet fuel to get all the tasks done that she thinks needs to be done—and they are good things! She is serving! But Jesus gently rebukes her, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; your mind is scattered a thousand places, Martha. One thing is necessary, and Mary is showing you what that is.” Anxiety, stress, the tyranny of the urgent, yanks our hearts and minds all over the place and leads us to ignore what is most important. Why does the psalmist pray, “unite my heart to fear your name,” (Ps 86:11)? Because our hearts, left to themselves, will branch off into a thousand little tendrils reaching out for everything, and we need the Lord to mercifully untie our hearts into an undivided whole, centered on Him. Paul tells us to pray first, not accomplish a task, because anxiety is a symptom of impoverished faith that needs to be taken directly to the Great Physician through prayer. If we don’t do that, if we only find relief from anxiety and stress after the task has been completed, then we will experience peace, but it will not be the peace of God which surpasses understanding; it will be the peace of man which makes all sense in the world.
This also means that if we seek the Lord, we have to let go our idol of productivity. We may not get as much done. If Martha was sitting at Jesus’ feet as Mary was, the meal probably wouldn’t have been as good or the house as clean; and maybe if you spend more time in prayer and reading, perhaps your house won’t look as nice for guests, perhaps you won’t be as productive at work. But we may be surprised at what the Lord can do when we seek Him. Psalm 127:1-2 reminds us: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Martin Luther once remarked, “I have so much to do today, I must spend at least three hours in prayer first!”
Third, notice how the verse works. You “let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (4:6-7). It doesn’t say, “let your requests be made known to God, and once He answers your prayer, then the peace of God will guard your heart.” Rather, it is the act of turning to the Lord in eager faith through prayer that results in the peace of God. I think this is why we are told that the peace of God “guards” our heart; all difficulty has not been removed, but there is now an impenetrable shield of peace between us and our fear. I think this is also why we Paul reminds us to pray “with thanksgiving.” We pray with thanksgiving by looking back at how the Lord has blessed us and served us, but also we thank the Lord in the very moment we are praying, thanking Him for how He will answer this prayer. We aren’t sure how He will answer it, but we trust that He knows what is best for us and will be on our side for our good. Consider Jesus’ words, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:7-11)
This is one of the reasons why we gather to pray together as a church—we gather because we are beset with so many weaknesses and are in need, and the resources available to us through prayer are just too great for us to ignore.
After Paul exhorts us to remember the Lord’s nearness, and then exhorts us to pray, he calls us to think: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8-9).
Paul wants us to be deliberate in our thoughts and learn from his pattern of life so that “the God of peace will be with” us. This is because anxiety is what our minds naturally gravitate towards. Dealing with anxiety is less like having surgery and more like exercise, less like a vaccine and more like a vitamin. It is not something that is dealt with once and then we are done. We can fill our minds and hearts with beautiful truth about God that silence anxiety, but there are holes in the bottom. So, we have to constantly be pouring fresh water in. Isaiah reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” (Isa 26:3).
Anxiety is the great mind-killer. You don’t have to think to be anxious. I know we tend to associate anxiety with over thinking, our minds get wound up and splintered out in a thousand directions, stressing over a thousand possible worst case scenarios. But our problem is that we have failed to remember, to think about what is ultimately true. At some point this week, this afternoon maybe, sit and write down everything you feel stressed about, feel anxious about. Everything, big or small. As you look over that list (1) remember: God is here with you in this problem, He is for you, and is coming back soon, then (2) pray: anxiety is when we talk to ourselves about our problems, peace comes from talking to God about them; pray with thanksgiving, thank God for how He has blessed you, and then thank God for how He is going to answer this prayer; lastly, (3) think. Evaluate your thoughts about each of these issues—are they true? What is true?
As you look over the list of verse 8 of what to think on, “True…honorable…just…pure…lovely …commendable…excellent…praise worthy”, I can’t think of anything that fits that description better than God’s heart for you in Christ Jesus, than the gospel itself. Is there anything more lovely, more commendable, more praise-worthy than Christ giving Himself for us? Peter exhorts us to “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Pet 5:7). Such a simple command, and yet, why are we so reluctant to do it? Why do we hedge our bets and try to deal with things ourselves? Perhaps it is because we don’t really believe that He cares. We are suspicious that this God whom our eyes cannot see is really something to be banked on, to be trusted in, to be turned to in our need.
So we remember, we pray, and we think—who am I? Who is God? And what does God think of me. And perhaps, in God’s mercy, He may kindly wound us with grace, we may feel the twist of the augur of guilt burrowing into our soul and a mighty stroke from heaven falls and we are stricken deaf and dumb, certain with knowledge that our God in heaven would be wholly right and just to cast aside. And yet, He doesn’t. His heart is so bound up with ours that He is willing to send His son to die in our place, to take our sins, to forgive us, so that we can be reconciled to God, be brought into His family.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31-32)
Marc Sims • May 31, 2022
Sermon Audio: Gentleness, Known to All (Phil 4:5)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What comes to your mind when you think of "gentleness"? Can you think of someone in your life who modeled gentleness well?
- What are some wrong, but common definitions of "gentleness"?
- Why do you think Paul chose "gentleness" as the characteristic that should be "known to all"?
- How can we be gentle in the face of evil?
- Is there any scenario in your life where exercising gentleness feels particularly difficult right now? Why do you think that is?
“I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.”
These famous words were written by the former British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, describing none other than leader of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain felt uneasy about the increasingly bellicose statements from Germany’s fiery leader who made it known that he intended to recapture the glory of the German empire, by force if need be. So, he flew to Germany three times in 1938 to meet with Hitler in person in the hopes of securing a guarantee that Hitler would not, in fact, invade the surrounding countries. With the Great War a mere 20 years in hindsight, Chamberlain knew that Germany’s ability to wreak devastation was considerable.
Chamberlain’s approach towards Hitler was that of appeasement. He dealt delicately with the Fuhrer, hoping to charm him with kindness and patience. When Hitler made it known that—after already invading Austria--he intended to invade neighboring Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain’s response was to merely get an agreement from Hitler that after this, Hitler would go no further. Hitler agreed, but remained aloof, often showing up to meetings with Chamberlain hours late, or refusing to show up at all. During his visit to Munich, Chamberlain was able to get Hitler to sign an Anglo-German agreement that stated that Germany and Britain would not go to war against one another. As Chamberlain explained the agreement to Hitler, Hitler interjected enthusiastically that he supported this, and quickly signed his name. Chamberlain flew home from Munich to excited crowds, proudly holding the paper signed by both Hitler and himself up as proof that the nation was free from the threat of war. He proudly proclaimed that he had secured “a peace for our time” with his statecraft and delicacy with the German Fuhrer. When Hitler’s Foreign Minister expressed dismay at Hitler’s signing of the document, Hitler laughed and said, “Oh, don't take it so seriously. That piece of paper is of no further significance whatever.”
Ten months later, when Germany was on the eve of invading Poland, Britain warned them that if they were to do so, there would then be a state of war between them and Germany. Hitler instructed his generals to prepare for invasion telling them, “Our enemies are small worms. I saw them at Munich.”
History has not been kind to Neville Chamberlain. He is routinely remembered as the man who was duped by Hitler; who treated a monster with gentleness, when he needed to be met with force. Of course, no one knew what we know now, no one could guess the kind of horrors that Hitler would be capable of. And yet, Chamberlain’s appeasement likely enabled Hitler to greater and greater success.
Christians are commanded to be gentle, we are told that it is the meek who are blessed and will inherit the earth. Does this, then, lead us to standing idly by when evil happens? How can Christians pursue gentleness in a fallen world?
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. – Phil 4:5
What is Gentleness?
Paul tells the Philippians to let their “gentleness”, their “reasonableness” to be known to everyone. The ESV has translated the word as “reasonableness,” but places a little note at the bottom that tells you that it could also be translated as “gentleness.” I think gentleness is the more accurate translation since this is how it is used most frequently throughout the New Testament (1 Tim 3:3; Tit 3:2; James 3:17; 1 Pet 2:18).
What comes to your mind when you think of “gentleness”? Aristotle taught that “gentleness” was a virtue concerning the right approach to anger; the golden mean between the extreme of a quick temper and the other extreme of indifference towards injustice.
Perhaps we tend to think of someone who is gentle as being someone who lacks strength, or as a friend from Texas puts it, someone who is “a little light in the loafers.” So, in the movie, when the bad guy shows up, there is always the lame boyfriend who is terrified and just says, “Now, now, let’s be reasonable here…” but won’t actually do anything to protect the girl, and then there is the strong, cool macho-man who punches the bad guy, picks the girl up off the ground, and they ride off into the sunset. Now, that’s kind of a ridiculous example, but is gentleness being the lame boyfriend? Being Grima Wormtongue, not King Theoden? I don’t think so. Let’s examine the word a little more.
Dictionaries define the word (ἐπιεικής) as, “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant,” (BDAG). It is, “in contrast to the attitude that demands that rights, including one’s own, should be upheld at all costs,” (NIDNT). John Calvin defines it as: “…when we are not easily moved by injuries, when we are not easily annoyed by adversity.” So, that tells us that gentleness is not about the absence of power, but about the presence of fortitude and humility. Having enough to strength to go without, to be willing to deny yourself, to not be so vain that you can swallow injuries without returning them in kind. When the proverbial plate of treats are being passed around and you realize that to take one would require others to go without, you abstain without drawing any attention to yourself, without embarrassing the host. When the offense comes, you don’t worry about your ego or reputation.
The term assumes the presence of conflict or hardship, but responds with grace and self-denial, not aggression or selfishness.
I’ve been in one fight my entire life and do you know what it was over? Sitting in a chair. It was eighth grade and some kid was sitting in my chair. And I, very rudely, told him he needed to move. And he said make me. And our fragile little egos just couldn’t handle it, so we started hitting each other. Neither of us understood what gentleness was.
The term is frequently used in contrast with being a quarrelsome person. Elders are to be, “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome,” (1 Tim 3:3; cf. 2 Tim 2:24). Paul explains to Titus a command for all Christians: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people,” (Tit 3:1-2).
It is Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” and “do not resist the evil one” virtue. Think of all the mattress commercials you have seen where someone places a glass of wine on the mattress, and then drops a bowling ball next to it. The mattress absorbs the shock and the glass of wine is unmoved. That is what the people of God are to be like. That is what we are to be known to all for. We are not to be brittle or unyielding. We are not to have our fingers hovering over the proverbial detonation trigger, waiting for the slightest provocation before BOOM.
The greatest definition, however, of what gentleness looks like would be to look at our Lord Himself. As Dane Ortlund helpfully pointed out in his book Gentle and Lowly, there is only one place in all four gospels where Jesus tells us what His heart is like, and when He does, He explains that it is “gentle and lowly.” So the entire ministry and life of Jesus is itself a billboard for what gentleness is.
This tells us that gentleness is not the absence of power. Gentleness does not equal weakness; Jesus had all the power in the world. Jesus explains that no one takes his life from him, but He lays it down of His own accord (John 10:18).
This tells us that gentleness is not the absence of convictions. Jesus had strong convictions that He was unyielding on. When arguing with the Sadducees about the resurrection, Jesus replies, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God,” (Matt 22:29).
This tells us that gentleness is not permissiveness or just an aversion to conflict. Jesus was willing to enter into conflict, He was willing to call out sin. Can you imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds as they watched Jesus flip tables in the temple? As they heard Him curse the Pharisees, calling them vipers and white-washed tombs? The same apostle who wrote this passage in Philippians also wrote, “By rejecting [the faith], some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme,” (1 Tim 1:19-20).
Gentleness is Jesus stooping down to the woman caught in adultery and saying, “I don’t condemn you, go forth and sin no more.” Gentleness is Jesus seeking Peter out and restoring him after he denied Jesus three times.
Gentleness is how Jesus treats you, dear Christian. So, gentleness is not insisting, but being kind and yielding, not demanding one’s own rights, not being easily injured by offense. How have you offended and wounded Christ? Friend, just think this last week. In what ways have sinned against your Lord with your words, your time, your money, your thoughts, your actions, your inaction, your desires? None of us here could look back and say, “I have treated Jesus the way He deserves to be treated perfectly.” And yet, how does our Lord treat us?
Non-Christian, Jesus shows his tenderness and gentleness to you through His offer of salvation. If you will admit that you are a sinner in need of help, Jesus will freely and unquestioningly offer it to you. He will atone for your sins, and wash them away in a moment. His death on the cross will serve a substitute for your own death, and you will live in Him forever.
Christian, Jesus shows you his gentleness by not treating you the way your sins deserve. He has brought you into His family, given you an inheritance, and called you “friend.” He has paid the debt you owe and promised to never leave you nor forsake you. So, despite your sins and your offenses to our Lord, He remains gentle and kind towards you.
Paul says we are to let our gentleness be known to all. In other words, gentleness should mark us so evidently that it is our reputation around town. Now, why that? Why not our self-control? Why not our holiness? Why not our knowledge? Why gentleness?
I think, likely, because gentleness, true gentleness, is so rare in the world. When Jesus is arrested, what does Peter do? He draws a sword and attacks. And then when Jesus rebukes him and tells him to put his sword away, what does Peter do? He runs away! That is a great picture of the two extremes we usually practice when conflict arises. We lash out, or we flee. Fight or flight.
Sometimes we will use gentleness, but it is really just a means to an end, a way to try to guilt people with our kindness. If we are nice enough, then people will adopt our view, change their mind, etc. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But that isn’t real gentleness. If we are only gentle with others so that they change, then we are just manipulating them. And we know when we are using fake gentleness by how we respond to when they don’t change. If we think, Well, gentleness didn’t work. Guess I need to be more aggressive now, then we know that we were never being gentle in the first place.
I think there are a few reasons why Paul includes the phrase, “The Lord is at hand.” Part of the reason has to do with what he is going to explain in the next few verses about anxiety. But I think there are two reasons, in the Lord’s providence, it has been included in this verse.
One is that the phrase refers to the imminent return of Christ. Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead, to punish the wicked and to reward the righteous. We can be gentle with all, swallowing offenses, because we know that vengeance belongs to the Lord, not us.
A second, however, is that the phrase serves as a double entendre: The Lord is at hand could refer to the nearness of the Lord in time (the day of the Lord is near), but it could also refer to the presence.
When we are willing to take an offense and still respond with grace, with gentleness, when we meet rudeness and selfishness with kindness and the offer of love, that demonstrates the presence of God in our life in a way few other things will. We want, above all, Jesus to be known in our community, and nothing demonstrates the heart of Jesus like gentleness and lowliness. What we have received from the Lord should be evident to others.
You know the parable of the unforgiving servant. The man who owed the king an exorbitant sum of money that he could never repay. The man, we are told, is a servant. He has no social standing whatsoever. And yet, wonder of wonders, the king forgives his great debt. But then, here is what we are told:
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt 18:28-35)
How can a man who has been forgiven of so much not extend the same mercy to others? Especially when the debt is of such small account compared to what he was forgiven of? Jesus’ point here is to show that those who realize what they have been forgiven of will forgive others. Those who have received the gentle mercies of the Lord will extend gentle mercies to others.
How Can We Be Gentle?
1. Receive one another as Christ has received us. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God,” (Rom 15:7). How has Christ received you? How gentle has our Lord been with us?
2. As much as it depends on you, be at peace with all. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” (Rom 12:18). The qualifier at the beginning of that verse informs us that there are times where it will not be possible to live at peace with all. As far as it depends on us, as much as we can strive to while keeping our Christian convictions, we should strive to be at peace with all. But when those around us redefine “gentleness” in such a way that we must compromise on our convictions in order to be known as “gentle” in their eyes, then we must be willing to lose that moniker.
3. Suffer well. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you,” (1 Pet 4:12-14). Don't be surprised when you suffer. Don't think, "Well, I am suffering--something is wrong, I need to stop being so gentle and need to start being more punchy." The path of the Christian life commonly walks through fiery trials and opposition. Those trials do not write us a blank check to stop pursuing gentleness, to adopt a worldly combativeness.
Marc Sims • May 23, 2022
Sermon Audio: Rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- How would you handle the question of the poor, old woman at the beginning of the sermon? Are you happy? Do you think that is a fair question?
- The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever." What does that mean?
- "There are two extremes in life." What are those two extremes and what role do they play in our experience of joy?
- What does it mean to rejoice in the Lord? See Ps 16:11 and 21:6
- What is "spiritual Judo"?
- Were there any of the six practical tips on pursuing joy in the Lord that stuck out to you most? If so, why?
Should Christians expect to be happy?
J.C. Ryle, an Anglican bishop, in 1878 in a sermon simply titled “Happiness” shared the story of an eloquent atheist giving a public lecture on why religion was a sham, why tradition couldn’t be trusted, why there was no heaven, no hell, no resurrection, and how everyone should throw away their Bibles. At one point in the middle of his lecture, a poor, old woman pushed her way through the crowd and till she was face to face with the man and asked him, “Sir, are you happy?” The man, taken aback by such a question, began to explain that his happiness had nothing to do with the matter, but she persisted, “I ask you to answer my question. Are you happy? You want us to throw away our Bibles. You tell us not to believe what preachers say about the gospel. You advise us to think as you do, and be like you. Now before we take your advice—we have a right to know what good we shall get by it. Do your fine new notions give you much comfort? Do you yourself feel to be really happy?" The man couldn’t answer her question. He stammered and struggled for a few moments before eventually leaving the stage.
Now, I wonder if you were cornered by this same old woman how you would answer her: are you happy? If someone were to judge the attractiveness of your faith by your own happiness, would they find your faith appealing? William Tyndale, one of the first men to ever translate the Bible into English defined the gospel as: “Evangelion (which we call the gospel) is a Greek word that signifies good, merry, glad and joyful tidings—tidings that make a man's heart glad and make him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” Here is how J.C. Ryle concludes his sermon, “I say that there is no happiness among worldly people which can possibly compare with that of the true Christian. All other happiness compared with theirs is moonlight compared with sunshine, brass compared with gold.” That is an audacious claim.
As gospel-people, are we known for our joy? Surprisingly, the Bible not only expects that we are known for joy, but it actually commands joy. Hebrews commands pastors to provide oversight of the congregation “with joy” (Heb 13:17) and 1 Peter similarly tells pastors to do their work “eagerly” (1 Pet 5:2); Paul tells the Corinthians that they should be a “cheerful givers” (2 Cor 9:7) and to make our joy the “joy of others” (2 Cor 2:3); Romans tells us that we are “to do acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12:8); and that brings us to our text today where Paul commands the Philippians and us to:
“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice,” (Phil 4:4).
What does it mean to rejoice? It was Spurgeon who noted that the word rejoice is a doubling of joy, “We are to joy, and then we are to re-joy.” So “rejoicing” is when the tankard of joy spills over into expression, overflowing into our life so that we must share it. We rejoice when we find or experience something that is supreme, excellent, lovely, and wonderful and we are overwhelmed with a pang of happiness and delight. C.S. Lewis thought that true joy wasn’t found until we expressed praise of whatever object brought us joy. He was reflecting on the book of psalms and why God commands His people to praise Him. It bothered Lewis because it made God sound like “a vain woman who wants compliments,” but then an idea struck him:
“The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game. ... I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” (Reflections on the Psalms, 94-95).
So, when we are commanded to praise God, God is not thinking only of receiving praise Himself, but is actually inviting us to maximize our joy through expressing our joy in our highest object of joy: God, Himself. No one teaches you to praise what you love—you naturally want to share that with others. The psalms instruct us that God should be what we love most, therefore we should praise God most, and in praising Him experience joy most. You and I are fitted, made for God; there is a slot in our heart, a groove that has been worn by the Lord Himself wherein He is made to fit, and we are distracted by a thousand other things and attempt to place them where only God belongs. God, our kind Maker, comes to us and says, No child, you are made for me, worship me. And when we do, there is a wholeness to our being, a wonderful sense of peace and joy. In other words, God’s praise is a means by which you and I experience our greatest joy. So to live life in such a manner that brings God greatest praise and brings me greatest joy are not two alternatives, but one in the same.
But isn’t it stunning that God has so constituted life to work this way? That we are invited into a life of joy? That God is so concerned with joy that we are commanded to rejoice in Him? God could have made obedience to His Law dull and dreadful, but He doesn’t. Consider what David tells us about God’s Law:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
- Ps 19:7-8
God’s Law is the path to joy, to life, to sweetness. When we lean into God’s design, we find refreshment and joy. The classic Reformed catechism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, famously opens with this question and answer: “What is the chief end of man? That he glorifies God and enjoys Him forever.” What were you made for? Joy.
But what does this joy look like? Consider a couple of verses that show us what it isn’t:
“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity… And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:1, 10-11
The king here throws himself into every possible source of joy and pleasure that money can buy. Verses 3-9 detail him enjoying everything from the sensual pleasures of drinking parties and sexual indulgence, to the more refined pleasures of art, architecture, and industry. The king gets everything that you or I think would make us happy.
There are two extremes in life: extreme suffering and extreme success. Frequently those who have suffered most realize how transient and fickle this life is, and they realize that they must look beyond this life for their hope and security. Those who achieve phenomenal success, on the other hand, frequently report how empty and hollow it feels. They have all the money, the career success, the beauty, the fame, and yet what they thought would bring them joy turns out to be “vanity and a striving after wind.”
You and I, and most people, however, are caught in between those two extremes. We have not suffered greatly and we have not achieved extreme success, so we are tempted to just think if only I had a little more, then I’d be happy: just another pay raise, just another vacation, just a few pounds to lose, then I’ll be content. Ryle notes, “You might as well try to make an elephant happy by feeding him with a grain of sand a day as try to satisfy that heart of yours with [status], riches, intelligence, idleness or pleasure.” And yet, those are often the broken cisterns we keep coming back to thirsting for joy.
That is worldly joy. Joy that gives you some haha’s and a few moments of raising your heart rate, but then leaves you just as empty as it did before; that distracted you from your pain and problems for a moment--all whip-cream and no cake. Proverbs tells how ineffective this kind of lighthearted joy is: “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief,” Prov 14:13. This isn’t the joy that the Lord offers. When God commands us to rejoice He is not commanding us to a fake, superficial happiness while inside we languish. “The most beautiful cut flowers stuck in the ground do not make a garden,” (Ryle). Which makes us wonder, well what is the joy offered by the Lord?
In the Lord
Paul commands us to rejoice in the Lord. Paul uses this phrase nine different times in Philippians alone. It locates the domain in which God’s people are to act, think, and feel rightly. We can hope in the Lord (Phil 2:19), trust in the Lord (Phil 2:24), receive one another in the Lord (Phil 2:29), stand firm in the Lord (Phil 4:1), agree in the Lord (Phil 4:2), and rejoice in the Lord (Phil 3:1; 4:4; 4:10). It is the arena in which we live all of life as those united to Christ. If there is any act, thought, or feeling that we cannot do “in the Lord” then that is what we must avoid.
This tells us that joy comes from the Lord. It is a by-product of seeking the Lord. Which means that true joy, true happiness is found indirectly. This is a very simple, but counter-intuitive point. In the beatitudes when Jesus describes what a “blessed” life looks like you’ll notice that Jesus never says, “Blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after blessedness.” Rather, Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness,” (Matt 5:6). Blessedness comes as an indirect by-product of pursuing the life the Lord has called you to. This isn’t because God doesn’t care about our joy, (He obviously does) but because that just isn’t how joy works. Go into a job with the aim this job needs to satisfy me and fulfill all my vocational desires, and you’ll almost immediately find yourself hesitant and unsure about the job. Go on a vacation with the expectation this vacation needs to be perfect and filled with happiness, and find out how quickly you are disappointed. Happiness is a by-product of a life rightly ordered and well-lived. If you are constantly pulling up the flower of joy to check on the roots, the plant will never grow. Joy in the Lord is not found by aiming exclusively at the felt-reality of joy, but found as a consequence of a life that is simply seeking the Lord. “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in, aim at earth and you get neither.”
Further, as we are told to rejoice in the Lord, we must remember to do anything “in the Lord” means that we do so in the presence of the Lord. Consider a few more verses:
“For you make [the king] most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence,” (Ps 21:6).
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Ps 16:11).
Do you see the connection between joy and the presence of God? Which is rather odd when you think about what the presence of God normally brings to people in the Bible. Normally, when people come into God’s presence in the Bible they are filled with awe, terror, and fear. It is a traumatic encounter for most. The apostle John, who spent three years ministering alongside Jesus during His time on this earth, when He sees the glorified and ascended Christ in the opening pages of Revelation, he falls over like a dead man! Now, why would the psalmist assume God’s presence is the source of joy? It sounds like the opposite of that!
God is our creator, therefore He is immensely more powerful than us.
God is our lawgiver, therefore He is immensely more holy than us.
God is our glory, therefore He is immensely more lovely than us.
Put all of those things together and one can see why we tremble in His presence. But add onto that that we are sinners then that adds an entirely new dimension to the fear of the Lord. God is our creator, but we have worshipped created things instead; God is our lawgiver, but we have broken His laws; God is our glory, but we have exchanged it for cheap imitations. And for this we have now earned for ourselves the righteous wrath of God. Think of Isaiah’s response when he is suddenly found in the presence of God, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:5). When the divinity of Christ is first revealed to Peter, what is Peter’s response? “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Sinners flee from God’s presence the way you or I would flee from a hungry lion, the way a criminal flees from the police, the way darkness flees from light. And yet, David, a serious sinner himself can say, “It is in the presence of God that all joy is found.” How can that be?
It is because David has discovered that this holy, awesome God is a God who has provided a means of atonement and forgiveness. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” (Ps 32:1). David can find joy in the presence of God because for as awful of a sinner as he is, he knows that God is a more magnificent Savior, and this Savior loves David. And this Savior, Jesus Christ, loves you. And He has decided to manifest all of the power and awe and glory of Himself supremely in His sacrifice of Himself on the cross so that your sins, and my sins, could be forgiven.
“The true Christian can think calmly about the holy God whose eyes see all his or her actions and feel: he is my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I am weak; I am unworthy, but, in Christ, he regards me as his dear child and is well pleased. What a privilege it is to be able to think these things and not be afraid!” (Ryle).
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”…Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” (Luke 10:17, 20). I have never (to my knowledge) cast a demon out of someone, but I am guessing that would be a remarkable experience. To see someone set free from the bondage of Satan, to experience that kind of power? That would be tremendous. And yet, Jesus says, Don’t rejoice over something like that—here is what you rejoice in: your name is written in the book of Life. You’re not going to hell, man! And friend, maybe you have never experienced some remarkable display of spiritual power, maybe you feel spiritually weak, but if you are in Christ then that means that your name is written in the book of Life, it means that your sins have been taken away and your guilt atoned for, you have been reconciled to God and shall spend an eternity enjoying Him and His presence—so rejoice!
When are we to rejoice in the Lord? Always. At all times. There is never an inappropriate time to rejoice in the Lord. Paul can describe himself as a man who was, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” (2 Cor 6:10), which sort of sounds like a “meat-eating vegetarian” to us. How can one be sorrowful, yet able to rejoice? Consider the closing verses of Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
- Hab 3:17-19
Habakkuk just ruled out all of the possible avenues of joy that we would normally assume joy would come from. Yet, he rejoices in the Lord; he takes joy in the God of his salvation. Why? Because no amount of suffering, no amount deprivation, no amount of economic calamity or life-altering tragedies can separate him from His God. And this God is the “God of my salvation.” This isn’t an abstraction, this is the God who saved him.
Maybe you are a person who struggles profoundly to rejoice. Maybe you have experienced an extended “dark night of the soul.” How do I rejoice when I feel nothing but darkness? Consider: If God has commanded us to rejoice, then that means that we can rejoice. God does not command what we cannot do. So if we are commanded to rejoice, that means He will provide everything we need to rejoice, always, at all times. But I don’t feel it! Learn spiritual judo. Use the weight of your sin, weakness, or Satan’s condemnation drive you to happy assurance that Christ has paid for all your sin and forgiven you. Your sins are many, but His mercy is more, so the more your sins are exposed the more reasons you have to breathe a sigh of relief—Jesus paid for this. Feel a spiritual hollowness? Feel a total desolation of joy? Confess that itself to the Lord, confess your spiritual coolness, confess your apathy, confess your joylessness. And with your confession, boldly plead the blood of Christ as sufficient to cover your sins totally. Lay hold of God like Jacob did and refuse to let go.
“God does not bless us begrudgingly. There is a kind of eagerness about the beneficence of God. His anger must be released by a stiff safety lock, but his mercy has a hair trigger,” (John Piper).
There may be many reasons that we are not experiencing joy in the Lord. We may be neglecting the ordinary means of grace God has offered us: Bible reading, prayer, confession, community, corporate worship, etc. We may be harboring sin and refusing to repent and feel like David in psalm 32 where he described himself feeling as if his bones were rotting away. But let me conclude with some less obvious applications to help us rejoice in the Lord:
Practical application for rejoicing in the Lord always:
1. Avoid too much leisure. Inactivity and laziness breeds depression. Go outside, work, volunteer, exercise regularly. The poet and hymn writer William Cowper suffered from a terrible depression all his life and attempted suicide on a number of occasions, but one thing that contributed to his depression was the fact that he inherited a massive amount of money, so he never had to work, and so spent copious amounts of time by himself, doing nothing. He was always psychologically at his healthiest when he was composing hymns with his friend John Newton. God made us to work, to create, to cultivate.
2. Avoid consuming any kind of media that deadens your mind and heart to God. Read, listen, and watch things that fill your heart and mind with wonder, that expose the ugliness of sin, that make you long for heaven.
3. Ask God regularly to help you experience the Holy Spirit’s comforting presence, to taste and see that the Lord is good.
4. Spend time with other people who remind you that we are sojourners and strangers in this world, who smell like heaven, who will point you towards the bright beauty of godliness.
5. Talk about yourself less—the world is filled with fascinating people. Your own stuffy thoughts are already familiar to you. Make a spiritual discipline of telling other people what you appreciate about them.
6. Practice “omnivorous attentiveness.” Open your eyes to the wonder of the created world around you, the bountiful gifts God has bestowed upon you. Stare at the fruit on your counter, the tree in your yard, the sweep of clouds across the sky and think: God could have made a world without those, but He didn’t. We are princes living in palaces of a million treasures, taking nearly all of them for granted.
Perhaps one of my favorite examples of what a life brimming over with joy in the Lord looks like comes from the life of Charles Spurgeon:
“Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, the celebrated Brooklyn divine, was visiting the famous London preacher, Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon. After a hard day of work and serious discussion, these two mighty men of God went out into the country together for a holiday. They roamed the fields in high spirits like boys let loose from school, chatting and laughing and free from care. Dr. Cuyler had just told a story at which Mr. Spurgeon laughed uproariously. Then suddenly he turned to Dr. Cuyler and exclaimed, ‘Theodore, let’s kneel down and thank God for laughter!’ And there, on the green carpet of grass, under the trees, two of the world’s greatest men knelt and thanked the dear Lord for the bright and joyous gift of laughter.” (The Sabbath Recorder, 4 January 1915, p. 157)
Marc Sims • May 18, 2022
Sermon Audio: It Takes A Church (Prov 22:6)
Sermon Discussion Questions
- Do you like kids? Are you a "kid person" or is caring for children hard for you?
- Read the three excerpts from the life of Jesus about children (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 9:46-48; Matthew 10:42). Which one stands out to you most?
- If our church is a body and a family, then what does it look like for you to care for children of our church? What responsibility do you bear for the "tenth generation" that will one day come from our children?
- Read Prov 22:6. If you are a parent, what are you currently doing to "train up" your child in the way he or she should go? What would you like to be doing? If you are not a parent, what are you doing for the children in our church? What would you like to be doing?
- "Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ." - Dane Ortlund. How can we make the heart of Christ beautiful to our children?
Children, do you like coming to church? Do you ever get bored? Wish that I would talk less? My family didn’t go to church very often when I was young, but on the rare occasions we did, I remember hating it. I would wait to go to the bathroom or use the water fountain till the service started so I had an excuse to escape the service for a minute or two, and would usually nod off at some point. A few hundred years ago, a little boy disliked coming to church. His parents had nearly given up attempting to get him to sit quietly through long morning service. He purposefully would try to be as disruptive as possible while he was there—making noise, faces, fidgeting. He hated church and he wanted everyone to know it. One day, somehow, he snuck away from the service and grabbed a set of pots and pans from his home nearby and paraded around the church building, loudly banging the pots and pans together in an attempt to disrupt the service. Eventually, an old deacon, tall as timber and old as the hills, lumbered out and stopped the young man in his tracks. He lowered himself down to where his wrinkled face was level with the red-faced child and said, “Young George, I can’t wait to see what happens when the Lord gets ahold of you.” And one day, when a young George Whitefield became an older George Whitefield, the Lord did get ahold of him and he was preaching to tens of thousands and leading scores of men and women to Christ.
Now, I heard that story years ago in a sermon someone preached and I cannot remember who said it or what source it was from. It has stuck in my mind because it is such an incredible story—you or I would have gone outside and reamed that kid out, but this old deacon responded with a remarkable amount of grace and compassion. Back then, deacons normally used to hang kids by their thumbs from nearby trees if they did things like that. Okay, I don’t really know that for sure, but it sounds like it would be true. Well, I have spent a long time searching for the source of that story or quote, and I could not find it anywhere. I may be remembering it wrong, or maybe it wasn’t about George Whitefield, but I went to Facebook and asked for help to see if someone else could remember it, and no one else did, but the story sparked a memory in someone else
“This reminds me of a church elder I know who got kicked out of Sunday School as a child for biting his teacher on the ankle from under the table…things got much better once the Lord got a hold of him! One colorful note to add…Bill wasn’t allowed in the church during Sunday School after the biting incident, so he had to wait outside until the church service began. This gave him the perfect opportunity to set fire to the weeds in the cracks of the church sidewalk. He was quickly reinstated to Sunday School.” Wise move. Bill sounds like a smart kid. Grateful the Lord got ahold of him.
Here is the aim of my sermon today: what is a church’s responsibility to the next generation, to our children? I am not thinking of exclusively what a parent’s responsibility is, but what an entire church’s responsibility is. There is an old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, but here we are going to argue that it actually takes a church. So, let’s look at our text.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
So, we are going to look at what Jesus’ own perspective was on children, what a church’s responsibility is for one another, and how we link arms to train them.
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Mark 10:13-16
This is illuminating on so many levels. On the one hand, it shows us what the disciple’s thought about children (unimportant) and what they thought about Jesus (important). Important people don’t trouble themselves with the unimportant, and children often can feel unimportant. Maybe you are a very industrious person or have a demanding job or have very pressing “adult” things to do and if you sit and wait the five minutes it takes for your three-year-old attempt to put a sentence together or for your fourteen year old to pour out her heart to you about something that you know really doesn’t matter, that in a week’s time she will have moved on from, it will feel like Man, I could be doing something so much more important right now. And here is Jesus, literally the most important person who has ever lived, God in the flesh, the Messiah, right here. He doesn’t have time to serve in the preschool, parents.
But Jesus thinks otherwise. Jesus becomes “indignant” when the disciples stop the children from coming. This is the only time in all four gospels that we are told Jesus becomes indignant. That word is used elsewhere to describe the other ten disciples when they find out that James and John ask for special seats of prominence over everyone else in the Kingdom (Mark 10:41; Matt 20:41), when the disciples see the woman break the alabaster flask and pour out the ointment on Jesus’ feet, outraged at the waste of something so valuable just to be poured on feet (Matt 26:8; Mark 14:4; rulers of the synagogue see Jesus healing people on the Sabbath or hearing crowds shout out ‘Hosanna’ to Jesus (Luke 13:14; Matt 21:15). So, it’s used when someone sees someone doing something that they think is seriously out of place, something that is deeply offensive, wrong, outrageous. You can’t let these people worship you like you’re God or something…why did you let this woman waste something so valuable on your feet!? They are wrongly indignant. Jesus is worthy of worship, worthy of everything.
But here, Jesus is rightly indignant. Notice what verse 13 said, “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them,” (Mark 10:13). This could mean a touch in the way of healing. These children may be sick and parents are asking for help. Or, as verse 16 tells us, this could just be children wanting to receive a general blessing from Jesus. Either way, Jesus is rightfully angry with His disciples and tells them, Don’t you dare stop them. And then Jesus scoops the kids up in His arms and blesses them (vs. 16). You and I tend to think children are unimportant. Jesus doesn’t think that. He considers children to be a great model of what it looks to enter the kingdom of God. If we were to think of what the ideal picture of a Christian were to be, we would think of some guru, some monk or martyr doing cosmically important things for the kingdom of God, someone who prays for 12 hours a day and speaks eloquently and wrestles with Satan—and then we think, Okay, that’s what it means to be a real Christian. But Jesus says, No, that’s not where things begin. It actually begins with looking like a child. Our problem is that we are too vain and self-important, and ‘becoming like a child’ doesn’t jive with that.
“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9:46-48).
The disciples here are completely typical of us. Self-important, self-serious, self-centered. And Jesus, in an attempt to pop their bubbles of ego, brings a child forward and tells them that whenever they receive a child “in his name” they receive Jesus, and in receiving Jesus they receive the Father. Before explaining, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” Now, why does Jesus bring forward a child at this moment? In the previous story, the disciples were rebuked for stopping children from coming to Jesus and then a child was held up as a picture of what it looks like to enter the kingdom; here, however, the disciples are arguing about which one is the greatest, and Jesus says You want to be great? Take care of children.
Jesus concludes with, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great,” because we tend to think that caring for children is what the “least among” us do. But it is there that Jesus says true greatness is found. The world may not value children, but Jesus does. Stay at home mom’s, the world will never give an award for what you do; Dads who choose to scale back on their careers, to take a pay cut to spend more time with their kids, the world won’t understand that. But Jesus sees you, and He thinks what you are doing is beautiful, is glorious, is great.
“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Matt 10:42. Here Jesus notes that every small act one of His disciples does for children, as small as giving a child a glass of cold water, is meticulously tracked by their Lord and will one day result in a reward. So every act of seemingly unimportant service to our children, every glass of water a mom gets for her boy, every granola bar a dad fishes out of the pantry for his little girl, every midnight diaper change, every late night conversation with your teenager, every frustrating act of faithfulness that you and I are tempted to feel like is mundane and boring and pointless, Jesus sees. And Jesus will one day reward.
So Jesus loves children, His heart is for them, He calls us to care for them, holds them up as a model for us to learn from, and says that one of the best ways to live a great life is to care for kids. Which brings us to our church.
Here is what the Bible tells us about the local church: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another,” (Rom 12:4-5). What is this telling us. It is telling us that the Christian life is communally shaped, and that community looks like people who are different (“the members do not all have the same function”), but who are united in one purpose (“so we, though many, are one body in Christ”). Another metaphor for the church used in the Bible is that of a family. 1 Timothy 3, when explaining the qualifications for an elder, explains that for a man to serve as an elder he must manage his own household well so that he can be prepared to manage the household of God, the church (1 Tim 3:4-5).
So, here is our church, we are like a body, like a family. We are filled with different people, with different gifts, from different walks of life, and different perspectives. But God tells that across our diversity, we are “individually members one of another.” We are bound together. We practice this at Quinault by taking membership vows, promising to use our gifts, our time, our energy, our resources to help one another grow in Christ, to bear one another’s burdens, to love one another. This means we put a priority and premium on the relationships within our church, with those we have made a commitment to.
Now click the lens over to thinking about our children: There are people here who are older without children, there are single people with no children, there are young families, there are empty nesters, there are widows, there are parents of teenagers, there are single parents; there are people who naturally love children, and there are people who find caring for children stressful. God has so chosen, so meticulously arranged this body together so that across the varied walks of life and various giftings, we could help raise the next generation. So this means that as we follow our Savior who loved children and commanded all His disciples to care for children and defined greatness that way, and we become a member of the body of Christ where we commit to help one another along in the Christian life, we never say anything like: Well, their not my kids, so their not my responsibility; I don’t have any kids, so I don’t need to worry about that.
We are all in this together. Christian Smith, a sociologist who has specialized in how religion, and Christianity in particular, is transmitted most effectively to subsequent generations has written on what seems to be the hallmarks of young people whose faith perseveres and flourishes beyond adolescence. The first hallmark is parents whose Christianity was just a natural part of their everyday life, who were strict with discipline, and who were active members in their local congregations. The second hallmark, more than anything else, more than going on mission trips or participating in a youth group or going to a Christian school, was that the young people developed meaningful relationships with non-family adults within the church.
When I was younger and not a Christian, like I said before, my parents were not walking with the Lord. So, when I began attending church in high school I began to make friends there and I was invited over to different Christian homes. I can remember clear as day, sitting at Julie and Mike Pemberton’s home for lunch after church one Sunday with everyone seated around the dining table and the thought struck me: Wow, all these people really like each other. I didn’t know anything about God, I didn’t know anything about the Bible, I didn’t know anything about anything, but I knew that this family possessed something I didn’t have. And I was hungry for it. I saw Christianity lived out in front of me there. I saw adults embrace the gospel whole heartedly. I saw how a husband loved his wife, how parents raised children, how a family prayed together, what repentance looked like—I saw it lived out in the families of the church. All because families were willing to invite me into their lives.
Just to make the point even more real for us.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
- Ps 127:3
What is a “heritage”? This is the same word for an “inheritance,” which we tend to associate with the opposite end of the spectrum of birth—with death. Like receiving a precious heirloom or vast estate, we receive our children as an immeasurable reward.
One pastor once noted a place in the Bible where God had blessed someone to the tenth generation. So, he began to pray for his children to the tenth generation. So, I have three children. If my three children each have three children, and that reproduction rate holds for ten generations, that will be 59,049 people. In our church, we have nearly 50 kids, in ten generations that will (assuming they have, on average, three children) turn into nearly 3 million people. That is almost half the population of Washington state. And they are coming, church. Do we not bear an obligation to them? Are we not responsible? Does not our church need to do something to get ready for them?
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Prov 22:6
The word “train” does not refer merely to the transfer of knowledge, but the cultivation of taste. It is related to an Arabic word that refers to a date mixture parents would rub on a newborn infants palate to help them learn to suck. That serves as a wonderful illustration of how we “train” our children. We need to give our children a sense, a taste of what the correct path is. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Dane Ortlund explains his aim to do this as a parent and what he received from his own parents:
“Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.
This is perhaps the greatest gift my own dad has given me. He taught my siblings and me sound doctrine as we were growing up, to be sure…But there’s something he has shown me that runs even deeper than truth about God, and that is the heart of God, proven in Christ, the friend of sinners. Dad made that heart beautiful to me. He didn’t crowbar me into that; he drew me in.” – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, pgs. 100-101
How do you make the heart of Christ beautiful for your children? Well, you first need to be captivated by the beauty of Christ yourself. You can only give what you have. How do we do that? Well, we need to consider what the Bible says about us being children.
The Bible does not describe us as initially as children of God. Look at John, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12). He gave the right to become children. Which means, of course, that we previously weren’t children. Similarly, Paul tells us that we have been adopted into God’s family in Eph 1:5 and Romans 8:15.
So, what are we naturally then? Here is what Ephesians tells us: we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind,” (Eph 2:3). Children of wrath. We were headed towards destruction, waging war against God, thinking we knew everything. We, like a dead fish floating downstream, just followed the paths of the world, living for the flesh. Children of wrath. And what does God do for us in our sorry state?
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved,” Eph 2:4-5. But God. The great interruption we sorely need! God interjects Himself into our situation, our poor and pitiful situation. And what does God interject with? The riches of His mercy. Not His wrath, though we were children of wrath, ones who everyone would expect to receive wrath; instead the holy God responds with mercy. And why? Because of the great love with which he loved us.
No one is born a Christian. Every single one of us are transferred from darkness to light by the sheer grace and love of God. Christ, our older brother, laid down his life so that we could be adopted into His family, made alive, lifted us up into the heavenly places, and placed into a new family in the local church. And when you and I see that kind of love and turn towards our own children, the children of our church, and we (imperfectly, yes, but genuinely) extend the same kind heart to them that we have received in Christ. That’s how we make the heart of Christ beautiful to them, we let the beauty that has gripped us spill over into every part of our lives, including our parenting.
Practically, how can we train up our children:
- Treat children like they matter. Jesus thought they did. Jesus told us if we wanted to be great we should care for children, we should learn from them, we should receive them in his name. So that means we are going to treat children like they matter at this church. Children are not an interruption to our services, they are honored here. When we are in a conversation with other adults and our children walk up we don’t, through our tone and dismissiveness, tell them, “You are a nuisance.” We get down on their level and we speak to them, treat them like they matter.
- Let children know that you like them. We love our children here and we interact with them in such a way that they know that we enjoy them. We care about them. I love that Mark told us that Jesus scooped the kids up in his arms and embraced them. Kids need lots of hugs and cuddles from mom and dad. We need to play with our kids, wrestle with them, read to them, spend unhurried time with them. We all know we cannot be a professional playmate for our kids. We have jobs, we have other responsibilities, and we must discipline our children. I am not saying we give our children everything they want. But, it is precisely because we have those other responsibilities that we must make it abundantly clear to them that we delight in them, that they are an inheritance in our eyes. This is why when mom and dad discipline their children, we have to be so careful to show them the heart of Christ. God disciplines all his children (Hebrews 12). But His discipline, He makes clear, is a display of His love. It is not Him losing His temper, getting pushed to His limits and finally snapping, You are driving me crazy! Our discipline is not the by-product of our own impatience and anger, but must be the outflow of our love and commitment to our children’s own good. So, when it comes time to get a spanking or a timeout or a grounding, you make it clear to your child: Sweety, I love you and it is because I love you that I have to give you this consequence. And then, afterwards, we go above and beyond to show them: you know, I really, really enjoy you; nothing is ever going to change that.
- Serve children how you have been served. We wipe noses, and have the same conversation a thousand times, and make lunches, and show patience to those who are being impatient. We extend the same kind of love and care and service that God has shown us. If you are struggling to serve your children, just ask yourself, “How has Jesus served me?” In our church, one of the best ways we can serve our children is through volunteering in our children’s ministry. You can also regularly pray for our children. You can interact with them, spend time with them, invest in them.
Jesus loves children. He cares for them, and He calls us to do the same. God has placed us into this church where we all bear responsibility for one another—including the raising of our children. And He has shown us the beauty of His heart as a model for how we can train our children in the way they should go.
Marc Sims • May 09, 2022
Sermon Audio: The God of Peace (Phil 4:2-9)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- In this passage Paul calls us to exercise control over our relationships, joy, gentleness, anxiety, and thought-life. Is there one area of your life that you tend to feel most like you are helpless to your circumstances?
- Read Romans 5:1-2. What is the connection between peace with God and joy? What comes to mind when you think of "rejoice in the lord always"?
- Read Phil 4:5. If there was something other than "reasonableness/gentleness" that the church was known for today, what would it be? Why does Paul mention "The Lord is at hand."?
- Read Phil 4:6-7. What stood out to you most from this section?
- What does it look like for you to apply Phil 4:8-9 in your life?
Do you ever feel like your life is spent responding to what happens rather than exercising control over what happens? Like the difference between a raft floating on the ocean, victim to the currents and winds, entirely different than the cruise liner cutting along wherever it wills. Our emotions, our time, our relationships, our thoughts—all of it is consumed with the next thing wave that crashes upon our life. From the stresses of fixating on how to pay our bills or that tension building with a friend, to the trivialities of wasting time on social media or letting the countdown timer on Netflix usher you into another hour of television you don’t need—it is easy to feel like we are helpless.
When my wife and I were first married we took a class on helping us get on the same page with a budget and finances. I had always grown up with the idea that budgeting was something you did on the back end, it was how you found out where your money went in the past month and then you just hopped that all was well. The class we attended presented a different perspective: it invited you to tell your money where it was going. And this is similar to how the Bible describes the way Christians should think about life. We are not victims to the forces of life and circumstance. Of course, I am not saying this means that we can order circumstances around us in whatever we want—not at all. In fact, we acknowledge that God alone has the power to do such things. But something has occurred in the interior life of a Christian that enables him or her to have agency and choice in how they respond to life. We are not life rafts floating along, hoping for a favorable current. Rather, we have an engine inside us that enables to overcome the headwinds of our circumstances and choose how we respond. Charles Wesley describes this well in the hymn he wrote in reflecting upon his conversion:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, My heart was free
I rose went forth and followed Thee.
Here is what the gospel tells us: we were utterly helpless, stuck in our sin like a prisoner. Then, one day, God opened up our ears, our minds, our hearts to receive and believe the message of Christ—His death on the cross, His resurrection, His atonement for our sins, and His invitation to eternal life. But God doesn’t leave us in the shackles of sin; He sets us free and invites us to follow Him. He gives us His Spirit that empowers us to live a different life. We are not helpless.
We see a series of commands in our passage today where Paul looks at different situations where we normally feel that we are at the mercy of circumstance and Paul reminds us that this isn’t true. We can choose how we respond. Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil 4:2-9
The overriding theme that stitches these rapid fire commandments is the idea of “peace.”
We don’t know much about Euodia, Syntche, or Clement other than what we find here in this passage. Euodia and Syntche are two women who are members of the Philippian church who appear to be in a quarrel that has become at least significant enough that Paul feels the need to publicly address it in the letter. Remember, this letter would have been read before the entire church, so these ladies must have been in a conflict that was outward, obvious, and serious. We read, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life,” (Phil 4:2-3).
Notice three things Paul does here to address the conflict between these two women:
1. He asks the ladies to agree “in the Lord.” He reminds them both that they are both united to Christ, and so whatever disagreement they have with each other they must first fundamentally remember their basic identity that supersedes any other disagreement. They are both “in Christ.”
2. Paul calls on another individual a “faithful companion”—perhaps the pastor or another trusted co-laborer with Paul who was well known—to intervene in the conflict and to serve as a conflict mediator of sorts.
3. Paul reminds both of these women and the rest of the church that their conflict is not the final, or only word about them. He reminds them that they both labored at Paul’s side for the sake of the gospel, that they labored with the whole company of Paul’s workers. Paul also reminds them that their names are in the “book of life.” This is a book we can read of at the end of Revelation (see Rev 20:11-15) which possesses the names of all those whom Christ has saved. Paul wants these women and the rest of the church to know that, whatever their disagreement is, it is an “in house” disagreement.
This provides helpful instruction for us when we become divisive with one another. We should always remember that the brother or sister we are arguing with is fundamentally “in Christ.” This means that sometimes we may need the help of a “faithful companion” to mediate a difficult situation. We should also keep in mind that this conflict is not the only thing that defines and marks this other person. We should keep clear categories of “theological triage” for this disagreement, remembering where this disagreement falls on the ladder of importance and responding accordingly.
We should be eager to pursue peace, as Paul reminded the Ephesians, “1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph 4:1-3). Our peace between one another is something we should be eager to maintain because we have been filled with the Spirit and our peace together testifies to the peace we have with God.
Peace with God
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” (Phil 4:4). Joy has been a repeated theme in Philippians (mentioned 15x), whether it be Paul rejoicing (Phil 1:4; 1:18; 2:2; 2:17; 2:19; 2:28; 4:1; 4:10), Paul working for the Philippians’ joy (1:25), or Paul commanding the Philippians to rejoice (2:18; 2:29; 3:1; 4:4). The big question, of course, is how on earth does anyone do this? How do you rejoice always? Further, how can Paul command us to rejoice? How many parents have tried out telling your kid, “You’re going to do it, and you’re going to like it!” Has that ever worked? And yet, here Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord”?
In Romans 5, Paul explains: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” (Rom 5:1-2). What is this verse telling us? Sinners who declared war on God can find peace with God through Jesus Christ. Imagine a good king who rules his land fairly and justly. He establishes a law to govern the kingdom and all the citizens agree to it. But when the citizens rebel against the law, the king turns to the rebels and tells them, “If you will come back to me, I will personally pay the penalty of your debt.” This is what Paul is saying has happened: rebels like us have been made right with God, we have peace with him. And notice, the peace with God then leads to rejoicing, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Joy here isn’t lighthearted frivolity; it doesn’t refer to the laugh track of some sitcom. It is a deep joy that can persist even in the midst of sorrow.
We rejoice because our great dilemma has been solved, our sin is taken away and our guilt atoned for. Hell is no longer our destination, but eternal life, and nothing on heaven or earth can alter our eternal destiny, so we have every reason to rejoice. But that isn’t only all. When we “rejoice in the Lord” we are rejoicing that we are being connected to the source of all joy: God Himself. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Ps 16:11). God command us to rejoice because we have been reconciled with the God of all joy, have come into the presence of Joy itself. This is why Paul commands us to rejoice
Practical tips to rejoice always in the Lord:
- Consider the liturgies of your life.
o Read your Bible and pray every day so that you may keep your heart warm to the Lord.
o Prioritize Christian community and corporate worship.
o Sing hymns and Christian songs—even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll be surprised at how your heart may change.
o Remove practices that deaden your joy.
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand,” Phil 4:5. What does this mean? The word “reasonable” there could also be translated “gentleness.” It has less to do with logic, or an ability to use reason in an argument, and has more to do with fairness, selflessness, and a desire to prioritize the need of others, even at cost to yourself. This is what is to mark off and highlight God’s people. We have peace with God and are given God, so we are people who should reflect God in our lives—and what is God like with us? Certainly He is powerful and righteous and just, but He is also gentle, compassionate, patient, kind—willing to empty Himself for us.
What are you known for? Would your fellow employees or subordinates describe you as “reasonable”? Would your spouse? Parents, would your children say that your gentleness is what marks your parenting? The parent who relies on “shock and awe” displays of anger to intimidate their children into submission is not only growing the seeds of bitterness and resentment in their children, but is also fundamentally misrepresenting God. That isn’t what God is like. God can be stern with His children, He disciplines them, and He does get angry—but God is slow to anger, and His anger lasts but for a moment. It is not the organizing principle or defining characteristic that marks Him. Rather, He is “gentle and lowly of heart.”
Angry, outraged people who have to rely on fury and intimidation are weak people—they are insecure and afraid that maybe they are wrong, so they overcompensate with intensity. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone,” (Prov 25:15). Gentleness isn’t about caving on our convictions of what we think is right or wrong, it is about the quiet strength that comes from the settled certainty of the Lordship of Christ and a commitment to follow His path, even when it takes us into lowliness.
Why does Paul mention “The Lord is at hand.” He is referring to the imminent return of Christ; Jesus is coming again soon and, I think, Paul mentions that here so that we need not feel tempted to create our own version of justice, attempt to balance the scales ourselves. We can simply leave that to Him.
Peace that Surpasses Understanding
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:6-7)
We will consider this passage again in a few weeks more thoroughly, but some brief comments will suffice for now. Anxiety may be the thing that feels most difficult to have any control over. In 2018, 39% of Americans said they felt more anxious about their health, safety, finances, politics, and relationships than they did just a year before that. In October of 2020, that number was up to 62%. Certainly, covid and quarantines have had an outsized impact on that. But, even setting that aside, our culture has taken the idea that to be “stressed out” is normal, maybe even a sign that you are a competent, responsible adult. How can we “not be anxious”?
Anxiety is imagining a future without Jesus in it. Anxiety is the consequence of you and me attempting to be God. It is the fear of the unknown coupled with the certainty of our limitations, projected forward in time. We can be anxious about anything.
Anxiety is when you talk to yourself about your problems; Paul invites us to instead talk to God about them.
Prayer is a general term that refers to communicating with God; supplication refers to making requests, asking God for things; and thanksgiving, of course, is thanking God for what He has done. And it is that last bit that we may be prone to forget—with thanksgiving. While I was in seminary I entered a few seasons where my anxiety got the best of me. I was working two jobs, I was a full time graduate student, and we had just had our second child. Pretty soon, I was waking up in the middle of the night from having stress nightmares and struggled to sleep at all. I had always had this verse memorized and began meditating on it, asking God to take my burdens off me, but I realized that I had completely excised “with thanksgiving” from the verse. I was making prayers and supplications, but not offering thanksgiving. So, every night before I went to sleep here is what I started doing: as I recited this passage, I would begin to thank God for everything that I could recall God had done for me. And as I began to mentally reflect on them, it slowly dawned on me just how many things God had done: namely, in giving me Christ, forgiving my sins, but also in giving me my wife, my precious children, providing our home, providing the money we needed when we weren’t sure how we were going to make it, the car that perfectly fit our family’s needs, and on and on it went. And slowly, like a life raft slowly inflating with air underneath me, I felt myself buoy upward with hope and confidence: God hasn’t failed me yet; He is faithful to provide. He will provide in this situation too. And he did.
And what happens when we do this? Paul tells us, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 4:7). Earlier, we reflected on how we have peace with God; here Paul shows how to receive peace from God. The peace which God Himself possesses. This is a peace which transcends all normal explanations, a peace that does not depend on your circumstances, but on the reminder of who your heavenly Father is. This peace then becomes a suit of armor which will protect you and guard you from the crippling power of anxiety. And armor is a great example--armor is intended to be used in battle. Meaning, there is still danger around you. The peace of God does not come to eradicate all the reasons for anxiety in your life; the risks and danger are still there. But in the midst of the danger, there is a peace that surpasses understanding that guards your heart and mind through it all.
Peace of Mind
Lastly, Paul invites us to fill our mind with what is true and fixate our eyes on what is good. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you,” (Phil 4:8-9).
Paul is concerned with the thoughts we entertain in our minds and the models we have lived out before us. From the fantasies we let roll out in our minds, to the content we consume online, to the ideologies we flirt with—Paul invites us to more critically evaluate them. Is it true? Is it honorable? Is it just? Is it pure? And on, and on it goes. Friend, do you let your mind run free to fantasize or catastrophize about every possible thing? Do you consider how the TV shows you are binging are shaping what your heart considers to be “lovely” and “excellent”? Don’t passively sit back and let your thoughts or media habits run the show; sift them through Phil 4:8. You become what you behold.
And if we pattern our life after Paul’s teaching “The God of peace” will be with us. As the great hymn reminds us:
Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.
In the final book of the Lord of the Rings, we find Sam and Frodo struggling through the Land of Shadow. Frodo has been carrying the Ring across all of Middle-Earth, and at this point the ring has hollowed him out spiritually. He is just a shell of a person now, consumed by fear and dread. It us up to Sam to bear his friend along to the end of their task, but as they trudge through the ugly, blackened land of Mordor, Sam's hopes begin to flag. Until, one night while making camp, he looks up:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.” – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow”
Marc Sims • May 02, 2022
Sermon Audio: Two Ways to Live (Phil 3:17-4:1)
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What stood out to you the most?
- Read Phil 3:17-18. Why does Paul think it is important for the Philippians to have good examples to follow? What does this tell us Paul assumes to be necessary for the Christian life?
- Why does Paul tell us of his tears in Phil 3:18? See also Rom 9:2-3.
- Paul describes the four characteristics of the enemies of the cross in Phil 3:19 to warn us from patterning our lives after them. Did any of those four strike a chord with you or help illuminate a temptation you see in your life?
- Why does Paul discuss the glorification of our bodies in Phil 3:21? What does the phrase "by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself," mean?
- If we are to keep "good examples" before us, then who or what are the good examples you strive to keep before your eyes?
Have you ever felt stuck about a decision that needed to be made? Where to go for dinner? What kind of car to buy? What outfit to wear? How to approach your boss about that problem? What to do in the face of your children’s persistent discipline issues? Life is full of decisions that have to be made, and the more serious the decision, the more paralyzing the choice can be. What do we need to make good decisions? Well, we need information and wisdom and then we have to simply make a choice. Information about the options before us, wisdom to weigh the two, and decisiveness to move forward with one and not the other. We all know what its like to make a decision, only to later regret it—the restaurant made for a disappointing date night; the exciting business venture tanks; the diet plan didn’t do anything for us. What did we lack? Either good information or the wisdom needed to analyze the information well.
During the pandemic when our family was feeling pretty stir crazy, we planned a short little vacation and we failed to read reviews very carefully. I took cursory glances at pictures of the house online and thought it looked fine. The house we stayed at was billed as a cabin in the woods, which sounds great, but in reality felt more like a “we might get murdered here and no one would find us for a long time.” We walked inside and my oldest son found a random dish towel hanging from a hook on a wall in the dining room and asked, “Dad, why is this here?” I moved the towel aside and behind the towel was either the remnants of a ketchup bottle that exploded onto the wall, or evidence of a crime scene. Needless to say, it would have been nice had we looked more thoroughly at reviews of our destination before we arrived.
This is likely why services which provide reviews have become so popular. Don’t want to waste your time with a bad movie? Look up a review. Worried about whether that new piece of technology is worth it? Read a review. We love reviews because they give us insider knowledge—an authoritative voice of someone who has been to the Air BNB, who has used that doctor, who knows and can tell you what the experience was like. But, I’m sure you’ve had moments where you were given an inaccurate review, or someone told you bad advice about something: Go see that movie, it’s incredible! You guys should totally go out, you’d really hit it off! And the more serious the decision being made, the more necessary it is for us to have reliable information.
What if we had someone who could provide fool-proof, 100% certain information about the most important decision in life? Here in our text today, we have just that. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so speaking on behalf of God, is going to give us an overview of the most important decision you or I can make in our lives: what you or I do in response to Jesus Christ. If you take a bad vacation, you can take another one; if you make a poor business investment, you’ll recover. But if you make the wrong decision about Jesus? That’s it. There is no do-overs. You get one shot with your life. You either receive Christ as your King and Savior who has died to purchase you, to forgive your sins and reconcile you to God, and fall down before Him in worship, or you don’t. And here, Paul is going to lay out the consequences of these two options. What does that look like? What affect do these two choices have on your life? Turn with me to the book of Philippians:
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Phil 3:17-4:1
The Power of Example
Paul opens this section with an encouragement and a warning. First, he encourages us to keep good examples before our eyes, and then cautions us of bad examples. He tells us, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3:17). We have spoken of this before, but Paul understands examples to serve as a critical function in the Christian life. Christianity is not calculus. It is not something that you can sit down with a book, alone in a room, and figure out all by yourself. It is something that needs to be demonstrated. And Paul says we should look at his example, and follow it, as well as keep an eye on others who do the same. Note why Paul concludes this, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ,” (Phil 3:18). Why should you have good examples? Because there are so many bad examples. And these bad examples don’t leave Paul shaking his fist in anger, they don’t leave him laughing, they don’t leave him with a cold indifferent shoulder shrug—they leave him weeping. Why? It becomes evident when we compare their life with the Christian life.
Two Ways to Live
In verse 19 Paul paints a description of what these enemies of the cross are like, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things,” (Phil 3:19). Here Paul gives us four characteristics of enemies of the cross: (1) He tells us their end, (2) their god, (3) their glory, and (4) and their mindset. If we move backwards through them (because I think it results in a natural progression), we can actually see how Paul counters each point with what marks a Christian. Remember: Paul isn’t only giving us these characteristics to identify what a non-Christian looks like, but as a warning for us, lest we follow in their path. So as we listen, we should seek to see if we identify any of these characteristics in ourselves.
“With minds set on earthly things.” Paul tells Christians to, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” (Col 3:2), or elsewhere explains, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace,” (Rom 8:5-6). Paul is trying to warn us that if we set our minds on earthly things, things of the flesh, we are walking the path of death. A mind that is set on worldly things is a mind that thinks about, meditates on, and treasures what the world does.
But those in Christ? What do we set our minds on? We set our minds on “the things that are above” and on the “Spirit.” Philippians reminds us that, “But our citizenship is in heaven,” (Phil 3:20). If you’ll remember, back in Philippians 1:27 Paul told the Philippians to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The phrase “let your manner of life ” is actually all one word in Greek and it just means, “live as a citizen of.” So, the contrast Paul is making here is the same contrast the St. Augustine made in his classic work The City of God. There are two cities that you can belong to—the city of man or the city of God. Christians are those who belong to the heavenly city, so we set our minds on that city. Practically speaking, that means that we let the culture of the Kingdom of God impress itself upon us and shape and form out mental space. We meditate on God’s Word, we adopt God’s worldview, we interpret reality through God’s framework.
Enemies of the cross, however, have not seen the heavenly truths, the “things that are above,” so they operate within an enclosed, earthly frame. So, the values of our culture, of our own desires, become the grid through which we interpret reality. And this leads to what they value, what they glory in.
“They glory in their shame.” What does that mean? It means that they take pride in what should embarrass them, what should leave them ashamed. Paul explains to the Roman church that when we turn away from God our minds become darkened and we do shameful things with our bodies, especially when it comes to our sexuality (Rom 1:24-27). Shame is a tricky issue. We tend to assume that shame is unequivocally something to be avoided. But Paul makes it clear that there are some things that are dishonorable, shameful.
Human beings were made to know God, which means we were meant to have a mindset that was centered on him. When we fail to do that, what happens? What we love becomes twisted, and what should leave human beings ashamed can actually become something we are incredibly proud of. It is a tragic irony that “pride” has become a rallying cry of a movement that is based on doing shameful things with one’s body. But this can take other forms as well, it also looks like men who brag of how many women they have taken to bed, or looks like parents who feel proud of their career despite it leading to the sacrifice of their children. If your mind is set on earthly things, you will value and boast in whatever the world around you does.
What do Christians glory in? If the enemies of the cross “glory in their shame,” does that mean we glory in our honor? Do we glory in our self-righteousness, our prestige, our achievements? That would seem to be the natural opposite of “shame” wouldn’t it? No, Paul in contrast simply points us to Christ, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). Earlier, Paul explained, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” (Phil 3:3). The only thing a Christian brags about, boasts in, honors is Christ alone. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal 6:14).
“Their god is their belly.” Everybody worships, and you what you worship, you are controlled by. What do the enemies of the cross worship? Their bellies. Meaning, they worship their appetites. What their body wants, they give it. Why? Because their cravings are their god. Basically, you have appetites, you have cravings, and you should indulge them. If you want something you should have it. So, do you want sex? Go have it. You want status? Do whatever it takes. You want to be a lazy sloth that lies on the couch all day? Indulge away. When your belly is your god, you live to satisfy your cravings, so you glory in your shame with a mind set on earthly things: if you want something, you should have it.
For Christians, of course, our god is not our belly, but our “Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 3:20). As we considered last week, one thing Christians are to do is to discipline their bodily cravings and bring them under the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor 9:24-27). Jesus knows what is best for us friends, His law is for our good. He knows that handing ourselves over to our wanton desires and lusts will just destroy us. So, He—not out bodies and their cravings—is our Lord. But notice, He is not just our Lord, but also our Savior. Your belly won’t save you. Indulging your cravings won’t. It will leave you constantly looking for another high, another bed, another pursuit to distract you, with ever diminishing returns. Jesus isn’t like that. He will not dangle a carrot out on a stick with a promise of salvation some day. He can take you in your sins now, and redeem you wholly, save you entirely.
“Their end is destruction.” Where does this all end? Paul makes it clear that those who reject the gospel of Christ face “destruction.” He warns the Thessalonians, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thess 1:9). Enemies of the cross of Christ do not want God, and so for all eternity, that is precisely what they will get—but it will not bring life. How could it? In God is the light of life. The only thing found away from His presence is destruction. CS Lewis poignantly reflects on Christ’s words to the reprobate, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt 7:23) what terror could it be to “banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all,” (The Weight of Glory).
The point here, though, is to show you that the train the enemies of the cross of Christ is not an enviable one because its destination is not a place you want to go. Psalm 73 is a reflection of a faithful follower of the Lord who is frustrated that he has lived a life of holiness, but his life is filled with struggle and deprivation. Meanwhile, all the people who reject God seem to live a life of ease, they are rich, famous, and seem to have no consequences for their unrighteousness. And the psalmist confesses that he was envious—what’s the point of being godly! Now, that’s a problem—we don’t follow God so that we can become rich, famous, and indulgent. But here is part of what helped the psalmist:
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
- Ps 73:16-20
We keep our hearts rightly balanced when we keep eternity in mind, friend. Maybe you are tempted to look at the non-Christians around you who scratch the itch of desire whenever it comes, who give themselves over to whatever craving, and maybe there is part of your mind that is actually mirroring the mind set of the world. And deep down you think, Man, that must be nice. Friend, in the same way a dream evaporates at the first eyeblink of consciousness, they are going to utterly destroyed. Do not envy those who glory in their shame. Turn instead to the path of life.
What is the end, the final state of a Christian? Consider, “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,” Phil 3:20-21. Our end is the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will usher us into the kingdom of Heaven, where our citizenship lies, and there we will remain forever. But not only that, we will experience a transformation of our body.
In the previous point I told you that our bodies are not our god, Jesus is, so we do not hand ourselves over unconditionally to our bodily cravings. But this does not mean that our bodies are inherently bad. Quite the opposite. Psalm 137 tells us that the creation of your body should inspire fear and wonder in us.
But the Bible explains that our bodies are in need of redemption. Which means that (1) our bodies are in trouble, they are riddled with sin, but (2) they are valuable and can be repaired. Paul is telling us here that one day our bodies will be restored and renewed, transformed into the same kind of body that Jesus Christ Himself currently possesses. Look again at verse 21 where we are told Jesus, “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself,” (Phil 3:21).
What does that last qualifier mean? “By the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” That is saying that the power God is going to use to transform your body is the same power which He uses to govern the universe and the same power He will one day exert when every knee on heaven and earth and under the earth bows to Him and confesses that Christ is Lord. That is the firepower God is intending to use to transform your body, which is itself indicative of just how dramatic this transformation will be. We all acknowledge problems with our body, and we can think of ways a glorified body would be an improvement—no more back pain, no more illness, no more death, etc. But, if we’re honest, the power used here seems to outstrip what is needed. But that is likely because you and I have grossly underestimated what God intends for us.
If I tell you I am going to show up this weekend to help you out with some landscaping work at your house and am bringing some help with me and show up with another friend and a pair of shovels, you can easily begin to guess the scope of the work being done. But if I show up with a crew of over a hundred, with bulldozers and backhoes and flatbed trucks of supplies, you will realize that the scope of this renovation far exceeds any expectations you initially had. If God intends to use the same power with which he rose Jesus from the dead with (Phil 3:10-11), and the same power he is going to subject all of creation to Himself with, then you can be confident that the restoration of your body that God has in store far outstrips anything you can expect.
Just think of the many joys the created world and our bodies give us now. What will it be like when we have this newly renovated, glorified body in a glorified, remade creation free from sin? The apex of bodily pleasures now are considerable, but if that is in a fallen world, what will it be like in a sin-free world?
And friend, what will it be like to worship God with a sin-free heart? To enjoy Him? And because we have a body and He now has a body, that means that we will be able to experience communion with God bodily. We shall see him. Embrace him. Know him. Forever.
That is the Christian’s end.
And now, you have a choice. You have the information before you. Now, you simply need to evaluate it and then have the courage to decide. Paul’s words serve as an invitation. To those who do not yet know Christ, God invites you: you do not need to remain enemies of the Cross. You can come and receive the welcome and embrace of Christ. Exchange your worldly mindset for a heavenly one, glory in Christ not your shame, worship Him as the one true God, and enjoy His communion forever.
To the Christian, Paul speaks these words of exhortation: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Phil 4:1).