Tag Archives: Philippians

A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Philippians 1:9-11)

William Carey (1761-1834) is known as the father of modern missions. Carey was a cobbler, a shoe maker, who had a burden in his heart for the nations without Christ. He made a map of the world out of shoe leather, and would look at it, and pray for the world, as he made shoes. During those early years he also taught himself Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French, often reading while working on his shoes.

In 1789 Carey became the full-time pastor of a small Baptist church in Leicester. Three years later in 1792 he published his groundbreaking missionary manifesto, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

This short book consists of five parts. The first part is a theological justification for missionary activity, arguing that the command of Jesus to make disciples of all the world (Matthew 28:18-20) remains binding on Christians. The second part outlines a history of missionary activity, beginning with the early Church and ending with David Brainerd and John Wesley. Part 3 comprises 26 pages of tables, listing area, population, and religion statistics for every country in the world. Carey had compiled these figures during his years as a schoolteacher. The fourth part answers objections to sending missionaries, such as difficulty learning the language or danger to life.

Finally, the fifth part calls for the formation of a Baptist missionary society and describes the practical means by which it could be supported. Carey’s seminal pamphlet outlines his basis for missions: Christian obligation, wise use of available resources, and accurate information. Carey later preached a pro-missionary sermon (the so-called deathless sermon), using Isaiah 54:2-3 as his text, in which he repeatedly used the epigram which has become his most famous quotation: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

Carey finally overcame the resistance to missionary effort, and the Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen (now the Baptist Missionary Society) was founded in October 1792. A year later the Lord opened the door for Carey to go to India himself as one of the first missionaries to that country. Carey translated the Bible into 37 different Indian languages, Many of these languages had never been printed before. The Lord had gifted Carey with a great intellect but the fruitfulness of his ministry can be attributed to someone else.

Back in England, Carey had a sister who was a quadriplegic. She was unable to walk or use her hands. Every day for 50 years she prayed for her brother, and his work in India. She wrote him encouraging letters by holding a pencil in her teeth. Carey made the famous statement: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”

A large part of Carey’s fruitfulness must have been the result of his sister’s faithful prayer life.

How can we learn to pray like this? A good model is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It was written by Paul while a prisoner in Rome about the year 62 AD and sent to his friends at Philippi to the church founded on his second missionary journey. You can read about it in Acts 16. One of the church members there, Epaphroditus had been sent to Rome to bring some money from the church to help Paul while in prison.

Paul’s letter therefore is something of a “missionary thank you” but it is much more than that. In his letter Paul shares the secret of Christian joy. Paul mentions joy, rejoicing and gladness 19x in four short chapters. Now the unusual thing about this letter is that from what we know of Paul’s circumstances he had no earthly reason for rejoicing at all.

He was a Roman prisoner, and he did not know whether his trial would result in an acquittal or execution. He was chained to Roman guards and denied basic freedoms. Yet in spite of his danger and discomfort, Paul overflowed with joy.

What was the secret of this joy ? We shall find that the answer lies in another word often repeated in this letter. That is the word “mind”. Paul uses the word 10x, the word “think” 5x, and “remember” once. Add those together and you have 16 references to the mind.

In other words, the secret of Christian joy is found in the way we think – our attitudes. For our outlook so very often determines our outcome. This is no shallow “self help” book that tells us to think positively, or to convince ourselves everything will turn out all right in the end. It is a short letter that explains how we can continue to experience God’s joy irrespective of our circumstances.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

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Philippians 3:10-14: The Purpose Driven Life

I recently bought myself the latest must-have luxury in-car accessory – a travel mug. Vacuum sealed, I could enjoy my favourite hot drink for an entire journey. Knowing I would be driving quite a bit that week I decided to give it a whirl on my way to a day conference at Oak Hill College. I decided to baptize it with some really strong Arabic coffee with cardamom seeds purchased in Jerusalem. High in caffeine there is nothing that will kick-start you faster in the mornings.

The aroma itself is quite intoxicating – in an entirely legal sort of way. In the stop-go traffic of the M25 I began to enjoy the fragrant aroma of my Arabic coffee with cardamon seeds. With around a hundred or so other clergy attending from right across England I had decided that on such an important day I should wear one of my nicest jackets, a white shirt and brown trousers.  I did indeed make quite an impression. Unfortunately I discovered belatedly that the momentum of driving in one direction can cause liquid refreshments to drive in another direction. While I did indeed enjoy the taste of some of the coffee, some of it also left me with really quite impressive coffee stain down my white shirt as well. It could easily have been mistaken for dried blood from a wood chopping incident had it not been for the fragrant aroma of Arabic coffee with cardamom seeds. My lesson for the day? Everyone could tell I had been driving, and not very well.

Everyone of us is driven by something. Is it as obvious to everyone else as a coffee stain? What is driving your life? Is it fear? Is it anger? Is it remorse? Is it ambition? The desire to please? The accumulation of possessions?  A few years ago we examined what the scriptures teach about the Purpose Driven Life. We saw why Rick Warren’s book has become so popular.  Rick identifies five main purposes that God intends to be a driving force in our life.

1.We were planned for God’s pleasure – to know him and love him;

2.We were formed for God’s family – to find a home and family;

3.We were created to become like Christ – with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control;

4.We were shaped for serving God – with a unique mix of talents, skills and passion; and

5.We were made for a mission – to introduce other people to God’s five purposes for their lives too.

Without a God-given purpose to shape our life, we become driven by destructive influences for we are all motivated by something. Here are three of the most common forces that drive people. People are:

1.Driven by Guilt and Fear

Many people are unable or unwilling to forget what lies behind. They are unable to hide from their past. The Apostle Paul had every reason not to forget his past either. As we saw last week, he writes, “As for zeal, persecuting the church” (Philippians 3:6). He had hunted down Christians, he had supervised their arrest. He had prosecuted them and even approved their execution. “Guilt-driven people are manipulated by their memories” so that “their past controls their future”. But even though “we are products of our past” … “we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”  God’s purpose is not limited by our past. His purposes are not neutralized by the mess we make of life.

God promised through Jeremiah to his wayward people, “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). God is concerned with your future not your past. Without a God-given purpose for the future many people are driven by guilt & fear from the past. That is why Paul insists, ”Forgetting what is behind … I press on toward the goal.” (Philippians 3:13). We must forget the past and look to the future.  Secondly, many people are:

2. Driven by Anger and Resentment

Holding on to hurts is incredibly destructive. If we don’t forgive and forget, we will remember and resent. “Resentment driven people either ‘clam up’ and internalize their anger or ‘blow up’ and shower others with the fall-out.” Anger always hurts.  Paul writes with sadness about some who were once friends:

“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction…” (Philippians 3:18-19).

If we do not forgive, Jesus warns, God will not forgive us. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel – it is the purpose of the cross. To not forgive is to turn our backs on Jesus and what he has done for us. In Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing about Grace? he writes “Not to forgive imprisons me in the past and it locks out all of the potential for change.” Resentment always hurts you more than the one resented. “While the one in the wrong has probably forgotten what it was that offended you, you will continue to stew in it, chained to the past.” Rick Warren says, “Listen: Those who have hurt you in the past cannot continue to hurt you now unless you hold on to the pain through resentment. Your past is past! Nothing will change it. You are only hurting yourself with your bitterness.”

God promised through Jeremiah “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). Instead of crying out against others in rage, give them over to him. He will listen. He can take it. Seek him and you will find him. Forgive and you will be forgiven. For to forgive is also to forget. To “forget” in the Bible means “no longer to be influenced by”. In Hebrews 10:17 the Lord promises

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” That doesn’t mean God has a bad memory! It means He forgives our past as if its forgotten.

That is why we should not keep looking back.  When Paul urges us to forget the past, he means that we are to break the power of the past by living for the future. We cannot change the past, but Jesus has changed the consequences of our past. Driven by guilt and fear, driven by anger and resentment. Thirdly many people are

3. Driven by Wealth and Materialism

The desire to acquire can so easily become a consuming passion. The drive to want more comes from the mistaken belief that ‘more’ will make me more happy, more important, more secure. The truth is the very opposite. Possessions only provide temporary happiness. I know. I’ve only ever owned one new car in my life. Actually I only owned  50% of the car – the other half belonged to a charity. But at least I told myself that my half was the visible half. It was a metallic blue Nissan Prairie, with sliding doors. And it drove like a van. But I confess that it did make me feel good driving the kids to school on that first day in a shiny new car, with my arm out of the window and with a smile on my face as if to say ‘look at me…’ The fun lasted precisely 11 months and 29 days until… the new registration plate came out and my new car became just a used car. If you want to own the latest registration plate you have to change your car every six months now… The fact is, “Self worth and net worth are not the same. Your value is not determined by your valuables … God says the most valuable things in life are not things …

Real security can only be found in that which can never be taken from you – your relationship with God.” John Stott writes: ‘Certainly no one can know himself until he has honestly asked himself about his motives. What is the driving force of his life? What ambition dominates and directs him? Ultimately there are only two controlling ambitions, to which all others may be reduced. One is our own glory, and the other, God’s.’

As we saw last week, that is why Paul says, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul counted the best the world could offer as rubbish compared to knowing Jesus. His life had become purpose driven.  Three destructive things that drive many people : People driven by guilt and fear, driven by anger and resentment; driven by wealth and materialism. In Philippians 3, Paul offers a much more worthwhile motivation : the God-given purpose driven life. This is how he describes it:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14)

There are at least five benefits from living a purpose-driven life contained in this passage.

1. Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life

Paul writes: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12).

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance…” The greatest tragedy is not death. The greatest tragedy is to live without a purpose.

That is a life sentence. We were made to have meaning. “I know the plans I have for you” God promised through Jeremiah. The initiative is all from God. Paul’s life had been transformed because the grace of Jesus had taken hold of him. This is why Paul can be so emphatic “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.” (Philippians 3:10). Jesus had shown Paul love and forgiveness in friendship. Jesus had given Paul meaning and hope, a new purpose for living. “Hope is as essential to your life as air and water. You need hope to cope.

Dr. Bernie Siegel found he could predict which of his cancer patients would go into remission by simply asking, “Do you want to live to be one hundred?” Yes or no? Those with a deep sense of life purpose answered ‘yes’ and were the ones most likely to survive. Hope comes from having a purpose.”  Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life

2. Knowing your purpose simplifies your life

Paul writes, “But one thing I do.” (Philippians 3:13). One thing.  One. “One thing you lack” Jesus says to the rich young man in Mark 10. “Only one thing is needed” Jesus has to say to over worked and hyper-critical Martha in Luke 10. “One thing I know” cries the man who had received his sight by the power of Christ, in John 9. Often we are involved in too “many things”. Only one thing matters. God’s purpose for you today – this moment. No athlete succeeds by doing everything.

They succeed by specializing. On Monday I met Josh Salzmann in the changing room at Wentworth. Josh is the director of fitness at Wentworth. He has a physique many men would die for. The secret is exercise. To concentrate on “one thing,” – to be purposeful, intentional, focused. Paul is single-minded about his ambition. “One thing I do”. This does not mean he neglected every other area of his life. Rather it means that all else was subordinated to his goal. Without a clear purpose we lack the foundation on which to base our decisions, allocate our time, or use our resource.

Life becomes cluttered with choices made based on circumstances, pressures, and emotions. Not knowing our purpose leads to overwork, to stress, fatigue and tension. On the other hand, knowing your purpose simplifies your life because, “It defines what you do and what you don’t do. Your purpose becomes the standard you use to evaluate which activities are essential and which aren’t.” I regularly remind myself that it is impossible to do everything people want me to do. I have just enough time to do God’s will. If I can’t get it all done, it means I am trying to do more than God intended for me to do or just fiddling with my computer.  Rick Warren says wisely, “Purpose-driven living leads to a simpler lifestyle and a saner schedule.” Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life. Knowing your purpose simplifies your life

3. Knowing your purpose focuses your life

“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (Philippians 3:13)

Paul is describing the athlete stretching out, straining every muscle as he goes flat out for the finish. He brings to mind the striking image of Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner whose story was retold in the film Chariots of Fire, chest out, head held high, legs and arms pumping furiously as he tore down the back straight to the finish to win the Olympic gold medal.

When he was criticized for spending so much time training as a runner instead of becoming a missionary, he said “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Do you? Do you feel his pleasure knowing you are fulfilling your purpose? Paul isn’t saying “I’ve arrived” but he does say “I don’t look back.” That’s because one of the rules of running is that you don’t look back.

When you’re in the middle of a race you don’t look over your shoulder, because when you do, it can throw off your confidence if you see somebody gaining on you. It can throw off your step so that you slow down. You will lose your balance. You could fall. There’s no reason to look back. As a runner, you’re focused only on the finishing line. You cannot focus on what is ahead and turn your head at the same time.  Take your eyes off Jesus and you will focus on other people and what they have or have not done. Focus on Jesus and his love and everything is put in its right perspective.

Here’s a test: Lee Strobel once said, “If you can’t sing ‘Amazing Grace’ with tears in your eyes–or at least in your heart–then you really don’t understand what it means.” Does the grace of God drive your life? Does it grip you? Does it motivate you?

Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life.
Knowing your purpose simplifies your life
Knowing your purpose focuses your life

4. Knowing your purpose motivates your life

“I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

This is purpose produces passion. Nothing energises more than having a clear purpose. “On the other hand, passion dissipates when you lack a purpose.” Rick says, “Just getting out of bed can become a major chose. It is usually meaningless work not overwork that wears us down, saps our strength, and robs our joy.” We won’t become a winning athlete by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books, and cheering at the games. An athlete is not distracted by cream buns or heckling bystanders.

They win by getting on to the track, practising hard and determining to win. Hebrews tells us “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. He started the race for us and he will finish it with us. We are not alone. He is with us by his Holy Spirit. There is no greater motivation than discovering the purpose for which you were created. Knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life, it simplifies your life, it focuses your life and it motivates your life. Finally,

5. Knowing your purpose prepares you for eternity

“I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) “Many people invest their entire lives building up a legacy on earth.” Its all for the children they rationalize. “They want to be remembered when they’re gone.” They want to be immortalized so we name roads after them. Think of the names of some of the roads in Virginia Water. Simon’s Walk, Cabrera Avenue, Wellington Avenue, Stuart Way. “what ultimately matters most will not be what others say about your life but what God says… because all achievements are eventually surpassed, all records are one day broken, all reputations eventually fade, all tributes are soon forgotten, and even road names can get changed.

I’m sure you have heard of Dr James Dobson. He recently retired as Founder and President of Focus on the Family. “In College, [the young] James Dobson’s goal was to become the school tennis champion. He felt proud when his trophy was prominently placed in the school’s trophy cabinet. Years later, someone mailed him that trophy. They had found it in the rubbish bin when the school was remodeled. Jim says “Given enough time, all your trophies will be trashed by someone else.”

Living to create an earthly legacy is a short-sighted goal. How much wiser to build an eternal legacy. You were not put on earth to be remembered. You were put here to prepare for eternity. “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14).

C.S. Lewis put it like this: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” “One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit on your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity.” As the Apostle Paul says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat … So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10,12). The good news is that God wants you to pass the test. He has given us the questions in advance. What will those questions be?

1. What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?

God is not interested in our religious background or our religious views. The only thing that will matter is this – Did you receive Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? Did you learn to love him? Did you learn to trust him? Did you choose to follow Him? Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). What did you do with my Son? Second question:

2. What did you do with what I gave you?

How did you invest the time, the skills and the money I entrusted to you? What did you make of the opportunities, the energy, the relationships I created for you. Did you spend them on yourself? Or did you invest them for me and my purposes? Preparing you for these two questions is the purpose of this Church and everything we stand for – “to know Christ and make him known”. Rick Warren says “The first question will determine where you spend eternity. The second question will determine what you do in eternity. So what is the driving force of my life? What would other people say it is? What do I want it to be?” For one day soon, the driving force of your life will become as visible and as obvious as the coffee stains were on my white shirt. Want to know what drives me?

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings… I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10, 14)

Lets pray.

 

Dear Lord, help me discover your purposes for my life so that I might know you, love you and faithfully serve you all the days of my life, so that one day I may hear you say, “We’ll done, my good and faithful servant.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

 

This sermon draws heavily on material from Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” (Zondervan) and is intended to motivate people to read the book and undertake the Purpose Driven Life – 40 Days of Purpose.

For more information see the Purpose Driven Life and details of Rick Warren’s best-selling book. For further sermons in this series see below:

40 Days of Purpose
What drives your life? : Ephesians 1:1-14
What on earth am I here for?
You were planned for God’s pleasure
You were formed for God’s family
You were created to become like Christ
You were made for a mission
Living with Purpose : Ephesians 6:10-18

Created to become like Christ : Ephesians 4
How to Grow : Philippians 2
Transformed by Truth : James 1:17-27
Growing through Temptation : Matthew 4:1-11
It Takes Time : Philippians 1:1-11

Formed for God’s Family : Ephesians 5:1-11
A Place to Belong : Romans 12:3-16
Cultivating Community : 1 Corinthians 5:1-13
Restoring Broken Fellowship : Matthew 5:17-24
Protecting our Church : Matthew 18:15-22

Chosen for a Purpose : Ephesians 1
What drives your life? : Philippians 3
Seeing Life from God’s View : 1 Corinthians 4
What Makes God Smile? Genesis 6
The Heart of Worship : Romans 12:1-2
Becoming Best Friends with God : John 15:9-17
Worship that Pleases God : John 4:19-26
When God seems distant : Job 23

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Counting your Profits and Losses: Philippians 3:1-11

Can you imagine earning £3 million a day? Can you imagine spending £3 million a day? For every day of every week of every year of your entire life? Then you are beginning to comprehend how much money Bernard Madoff confessed to defrauding his clients of Friday. He faces a possible 150 year jail sentence for defrauding people of a cool $65 billion dollars. But that amount pales by comparison with what the British government is planning to do legally over the next three months.

The Bank of England has just announced unprecedented steps to prevent the deepest slump since the 1930s. Described as “Quantitative Easing” policy makers cut the key interest rate to 0.5 percent last week, the lowest since the bank was founded in 1694. The Economist described this policy of “Quantitative Easing” with something of an understatement as advancing “to the frontier of orthodox monetary policy.” But more dramatically, this week, the Bank of England published plans to print £75 billion pounds. Something the Economist described as “having already crossed a frontier…”

Newsweek Magazine, noting that some banks made a profit the last two months and that their shares are rising, has confounded the pessimists by predicting we are actually entering a bull market.  Their headline shouts “Buy”. So should we sell or buy? Should we sit tight or take risks? What lessons do we learn from the week? Jesus once asked a question which may shed light on all this.

“What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Mark 8:36).

What good is it for you to defraud $65 billion dollars and forfeit your freedom? What good is it for a nation to print £75 billion pounds and continue in the life style that led to the crisis? Despite the front cover of Newsweek suggesting we are entering a bull market instead of  a bear market, I’d like to suggest a third option – a Biblical market – for God has spoken more about wealth than just about any other subject in the Bible. My advice is sell, sell, sell and invest in the Church. We give a far better rate of return and for a far longer period. Jesus says:

“I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

That’s what I call a pretty good rate of return. In our passage from Philippians this morning Paul encourages us to think about our profit and loss account.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

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The Exalted Christ: Philippians 2:8-13

A teenager had just got his driving licence. He asked his father, if they could discuss the use of the car. His father took him to his study and said to him, “I’ll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study your Scriptures a little and get your hair cut and we’ll talk about it.” After about a month the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss use of the car. They again went to the father’s study where his father said, “Son, I’ve been real proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you’ve studied your Scriptures diligently, but you didn’t get your hair cut!” The young man waited and minute and replied, “You know Dad, I’ve been thinking about that. Samson had long hair; Moses had long hair, why even Jesus had long hair….” To which his father replied….”Yes, and they walked every where they went!”

I think we would agree that God wants us all to grow. It’s a no-brainer. But have you noticed how different the word “grow” sounds when someone adds that little word “up”? “Grow up” It has negative connotations. It implies a degree of immaturity. It suggests we are not there yet. And that is the point. We are not there yet. We have not arrived. There is work to do, growing up. The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:1 and 5, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2:1, 5)

Because we have some way to go, in our reading today, Paul introduces another “Therefore”. Verse 12, “Therefore… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Our heavenly Father’s goal is that we mature and become like Jesus Christ. But spiritual growth is not automatic. It takes time and energy. We must want to grow up and we must persevere in growing. Discipleship is another word to describe growing up or working out our salvation. Salvation is actually three dimensional. It involves my past, my present and my future. Let me illustrate this…

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Imitating Christ: Philippians 2:5-8

It has topped The New York Times’s bestseller list. Sold over a million copies in a year. It has been called The Pilgrim’s Progress of our generation. It’s received rave reviews from Christian leaders. So what is it about William P Young’s The Shack that has captivated so many people? Without giving the plot away, the heart of the book is a series of extended conversations between a man called Mack and the three Persons of the Trinity, about why God allows suffering in his creation.

These conversations take place in a shack associated with a deeply traumatic family tragedy, the worst nightmare of any parent. Through these conversations, God reveals deep secrets about himself, about the nature of the universe, that slowly begin to heal Mack’s anger and pain. (See Paul Grimmond’s excellent article in the Briefing for a critique of the Shack)

Allowing for the fact that the book is fiction, you need to know that Young depicts God the Father “(addressed throughout the book as “Papa”) as a middle-aged, slightly overweight and extremely cheeky African American woman who loves to bake, Jesus as a  man of Middle Eastern appearance in blue jeans, and the Holy Spirit as a slight woman of Asian appearance who is seen more clearly when you aren’t looking directly at her.” So what makes an imaginative but extended dialogue with the three persons of the Trinity so popular with non-Christians?  At several key points in The Shack, God declares that love must involve no compulsion and therefore no expectations…

The message is reinforced when the Father declares, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” (p. 120). God says the Mack, “we are submitted to you… we want you to join us in our circle of relationship. I don’t want slaves to my will; I want brothers and sisters who will share life with me.”  (p. 145-146). Put simply, the God of The Shack, while sometimes angry at people’s folly, is never angry with people. Sad yes, angry no. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that his anger will never lead to judgement. So we are relieved to hear the God of the Shack assuringly insist, “Evil and darkness… do not have any actual existence.” (p. 136).

In a beguiling way, The Shack speaks words about God and sin and judgement that will scratch itching ears, but this is still not enough to account for the book’s popularity. If there is one thing that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code exposed was the deep seated suspicion that the Church down the ages has distorted and corrupted the real Jesus. And the failure of the Church is woven into the fabric of this story too. So Jesus insists, “who said anything about being a Christian?” (p. 182) “My life was not meant to be an example to copy. Being my follower is not trying to ‘be like Jesus’…” (p. 149).

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Grace and Peace: An Introduction to Philippians

“Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” That was Mark Twain. Here is another of his ditties on grief and joy.

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” Mark Twain was a professional humorist. His lectures and writings have made people laugh all over the world. He had that rare gift of enabling people to forget their troubles, at least for a time. Yet Mark Twain was himself, in private a man whose life was broken by sorrow.  When his daughter Jean died suddenly of an epileptic seizure, Twain, too distressed even to go to the funeral.

He said to a friend, “I have never greatly envied anyone but the dead. I always envy the dead.”  Many of the people who have brought the most happiness to the world have been people who have suffered deeply.  Isaiah the prophet described Jesus Christ as “A Man of sorrows acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yet we know from the Gospels that Jesus possessed a deep and lasting joy. As He faced the cruel death of Calvary, Jesus said to His followers, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11).  Hebrews tells us “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2). Indeed, Jesus explained that while his friends would grieve when he died, his resurrection would bring them lasting joy,

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy… Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:20-22, 24).

So, one of the consequences of coming to know God as our loving Heavenly Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, of having the assurance of sins forgiven, of eternal life, of the indwelling, empowering, equipping, baptising, filling of the Holy Spirit – is the joy, the joy of Jesus. After love, the second fruit of the Spirit. Joy. Yet it seems we don’t always take advantage of this privilege. We live under a cloud of discouragement, of disappointment, even of despair, dependant on our circumstances, on the newspaper headlines, on the weather, on other people, when we could and we should be experiencing deep seated joy of Jesus.  What robs us of this joy?

The answer to this important question is found in Paul’s intensely personal letter to the Philippians. In just 104 verses Paul uses the personal pronoun no less than 100 times. Not because he is being boastful or having to defend his apostleship. No, he is writing to friends who have been loyal and generous and he cares passionately about their welfare in a hostile and increasingly menacing world.

With the prospect of a very challenging year ahead, when pundits are comparing this recession to the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s, there is good reason for studying Philippians together on Sunday mornings in the Spring.

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