Friday, February 25, 2011
Tuesday, in Philippians 1:21, we said that this verse is something which is true of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, having looked at the meaning of the two parts of this verse earlier this week, we’ll apply it this today and into next week. The first question that we’re going to be studying as an aid to applying this passage is simply this:
What does it mean to live as if to live is Christ: It means that we live with our first and central aim in life being to know, glorify, and enjoy Christ.
What is your first and central aim in life? Not what do you say is your purpose is in life when in a religious crowd and need to give a spiritual answer; but, in your heart of hearts, what is your first and central aim in life? Paul said the answer to that question for every Christian is the same.
Now in one sense that is just filling out the first commandment. He is to be sole and singular in getting the great and ultimate worship of our life. And so, in a sense, to live is Christ, and living it out, is simply saying that Christ is the One that I worship.
There has been a battle at this point from the beginning history. In the Garden, it is the battle between the supremacy of God and the supremacy of our desires from the very point of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve through the serpent. When Eve takes and Adam eats that fruit, they are saying to God, ‘No, sir! We are not going to follow Your word. We’re going to do it our way.
Every day that same story is played out in human experience, where we set our desires on something other than the one true and living God in Jesus Christ. We say, ‘To live is_____’ and you fill in the blank, and it’s not Christ, it’s something else, it’s ‘to live is to experience this sensual pleasure.’ And our hearts are pulled to it, and we do it. And we have chosen that pleasure over God.
Paul is saying in this passage that Christ is first and foremost, and no desire and no wealth, can substitute for knowing and serving, and loving and fellowshipping, and glorifying and enjoying Christ.
So, how do we know that we are living as if to live is Christ? Here’s four quick things:
First, those for whom it is true that ‘to live is Christ’ purpose to know as much of Christ as possible.
Those who know that to live is Christ want to know as much of Christ as possible. They want to know about His character, His plans. They want to know about how the Persons of the Trinity relate to Him. They want to know all about His claims, His words, His works, His ways, the meaning of His death—His saving, redeeming work—and they cannot get enough!
When you fall in love with a person, you want to both know him or her and know all about him or her. That’s the way it is for those for whom it is true that to live is Christ.
Secondly, those who live as if “to live is Christ” want to be like Christ.
They’re not satisfied with just knowing about Him. They themselves want to be conformed to His image. They want to think like He thinks, believe like He believes. They want their life goal to be His life goal.
And on the Last Day, when we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, one of the interesting things will be that though we will be accepted—not we did anything before or after our conversion that fitted us for life with God in heaven—yet we’ll stand back and we’ll look at the multitude say, “They’re like Jesus! They’ve become like Him, and He’s accepted them, not because of those things, but only for Christ. And He’s transformed them so that in their character they have become like Him who is the image of the living God.” Those who really live as if to live is Christ want to be like Christ.
Thirdly, those who live as if “to live is Christ” purpose to make Him known as far as possible to all humanity.
Paul thought God’s purpose for him in life was to stamp out the name of Christ and crush Christianity. And then, Christ met him on the way to Damascus, changed his heart, and turned him into a dynamic missions-evangelist-pastor-theologian. And when He did, because Paul understood the greatness of Christ in that encounter, he wanted everyone else within earshot to know the greatness of Christ, and he crossed land and sea so that others might experience the grace and the greatness of Christ in the way that he did.
One last thing. To live as if ‘to live is Christ’ means to purpose to enjoy Christ, to draw our comforts from Him, to find our happiness in communion with Him.
It is not that we don’t enjoy the good things that God has given us in this life. But even when we’re enjoying those good things, we know that we have them only because of Jesus Christ, and we can enjoy them only in fellowship with Jesus Christ. As good as these things are, they would mean nothing to us apart from Jesus Christ.
This is what it is to live is Christ. And if this is to live, then this also says to us something very important about death, which we’ll look at next week.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 5:27 PM
Yesterday we looked at Paul’s view of life and the future. He reminds the Christian that his life is caught up with God in Christ. Today we’ll consider what it is to die, that is to go to be in Christ’s presence.
II. To die is gain.
And it is that understanding that enables Paul to say a second thing, “…and to die is gain.” Paul is not saying for everybody in the world life is good and death is better, he is saying that only of those who have rested and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. He is saying that only of those, as he says in Galatians 2:20 and Philippians 3:8-10, only for those for whom this is true (that Christ is our life) can we say that real life is Christ, and death is even better. It is something, as far as Paul is concerned, that is universally true, but it is particularly experienced and it is only experienced by those who have placed their faith in Christ. And so this word of assurance, “...to die is gain...” is only for Christians. Paul is saying, ‘Because Christ is my life, because to live is Christ—because of that—death is even better.’ Paul is saying that he looks for a fuller experience of the knowledge and love, and glory and enjoyment, and communion and fellowship of Christ immediately upon his death.
Notice that Paul is not struggling between heaven and hell. This isn’t a struggle between heaven and hell, nor is it a struggle between hard, hard life...and some respite from that.
The struggle that Paul is having is between full life now and immediately fuller life upon death. Paul is wrestling between abundant life and fruitful, Christ-exalting ministry amidst sufferings and struggles and dangers and pain here on earth – that’s on the one side – and even more abundant life because of immediate enjoyment of Christ in His nearer presence, with none of the suffering and pain and struggle and toil and disappointment, in death. He’s come to realize this: ‘Whether I live or I die, no one can take Christ from me. No one can put me to shame; and if I die, I’m just going to be closer to Christ.’
Consider how radical this is both from the standpoint of the Old Testament and Paul’s culture and from our own.
In the Old Testament, you see this pattern that emerges in the Old Testament that to die is to be put to shame. One of the ways that God vindicates His Old Testament people against their enemies is He causes His people to live and His enemies to die. And so the psalmist will say in Psalm 118:17-18,
“I shall not die, but live, and declare the mighty works of God.”
In other words, he’s saying, ‘Lord, one of the ways You’re going to vindicate me is that my enemies are going to die, and I’m going to live to be able to tell the story of it.’ Look at Psalm 22:5 and Psalm 31:17, and you’ll see this same theme playing itself out in the Old Testament: to die is to be put to shame. That equation is made.
But Paul has come to the point where he’s said, ‘If I die, I’m not going to be put to shame, because to live or to die is Christ. The equation I face is not life with Christ and death without Him, life with honor and death with shame. Rather, it’s life with Christ, and in death more of Him. No shame, all glory, all Christ-exaltation: this is extraordinary. The Greeks in Paul’s day very often would talk about people who had had a hard life: ‘Oh, they’ve gotten rest in death. Their life was hard, but now they’ve got some rest in death.’ That’s not what Paul is saying. What he’s saying is better than that. Paul is not doing the same thing that Hamlet was doing in his famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy in which Hamlet thinks, ‘Well, maybe death will give me relief from the torture that I’m experiencing in life. But what’s death going to be like, asks Hamlet? Maybe, maybe,’ he says, ‘death is going to be worse than life!’
That’s not what Paul is doing here. Paul is doing something entirely different. He’s saying, ‘My deliverance does not depend on whether I live or die. In fact, death is advantageous to me. Christ is going to be glorified, no matter what the verdict is against me, and I am going to get the profit. I am going to get the gain, no matter what the verdict is against me, because death simply ushers me into the gain.’ What is the gain? It’s the personal benefit of being in the Lord’s presence. If for Paul this life is Christ, death is simply going to usher him into the presence of the One who is his life! That’s not a loss, it’s a gain.
And there’s the key: If to live is to know and to love and to glorify and enjoy Christ, then, and only then, is to die gain.
Of course it is only a gain for those who believe on Christ! What Paul is saying is universally true: the only people who know real life are those who have been granted it by Jesus, because He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by Me.” So these words of comfort are lost on those who cannot say, “For to me, to live is Christ….” The first part of the sentence is necessary for the comfort of the second part of the sentence.
When we wrestle with this verse, we are wrestling with eternal matters. Life is short. Hell is real. And eternity is long. And your knowing the life of which Paul speaks in the first half of this verse is going to determine your experience of life here and hereafter. God grant that we would accept no substitute for the only One who can give us life.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 5:25 PM
In Philippians 1:12-20, Paul is giving a missionary report, but it’s an unusual missionary report in that it has a pastoral purpose of ministering to the Philippians as they worry about Paul. Paul is in prison, awaiting sentencing, and that sentence may be death or it may be something else. As we continue making our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul, our passage today is a passage that no doubt many have memorized and used as a life verse, and so we’ll be looking at it closely for the next few days. Today, we’ll look at the first part of Paul’s view of the future.
I. To live is Christ.
Paul, in his state of imprisonment, has been thinking about his life and his death. And, thank God, the Lord had him write down his profound, inspired reflection upon the meaning of his life and the benefit of death. The struggle that’s going on in Paul as he thinks about his life and his death: ‘Lord, is it better for me to live and minister for many years to come, or is it better to die?’ And as he’s thought it through, Paul’s come to this conclusion: ‘Christ is going to be glorified whether I live or die. I’m going to be closer to Christ when I die, so no matter what the verdict is against me, whether I am released and I can go preach the gospel and see men and women, and boys and girls coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, or whether I die and go immediately into the presence of my Savior, I win! This is a no-lose scenario!’ Paul wants the Philippians, and he wants you and me, to understand this, because his experience is not unique.
Paul wants the Philippians to approach their persecution with the same biblical confidence, hope, promise, and truth, and he wants us to approach our circumstances – the most difficult of them, the most disheartening of them, the most discouraging of them – with the same gospel hope. And so I want you to see two things over the couple of days by way of introducing this verse, as beautiful as that sentence (Phil 1.21) is, it’s pretty dense.
What does that mean, that to live is Christ? Real life, real life…is… [Doesn’t that kind of get your juices going, when Paul is about to tell you what real life is? Here it is.] …knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, communing, and fellowshipping with Jesus Christ—that is real life. Knowing, loving, serving, glorifying, enjoying, fellowshipping and communing with Christ is real life. In other words, Paul is saying to you, to the Philippians, to me, he is saying: ‘My total life meaning and fulfillment is in knowing Christ, in loving Christ, in serving Christ, in glorifying Christ, in enjoying Christ, in fellowshipping with Christ, in communing with Christ. That is the whole thing!’
Paul is saying that anything worthy of the name life is caught up with an intoxication with fellowship with Christ, with serving Christ, with favor from Christ. This is why the old gospel song writer wrote, “Jesus is all the world to me: my life, my joy, my all.” In a sense, Paul’s words here are simply confirming that Jesus was not lying when He said to His disciples – what? – “I came to give you life, and that abundantly.” Paul is saying, ‘Let me stand up and testify. He did!
Paul was on his way to take the lives of Christians when Christ came and gave him life. You don’t think Paul wants to give Him praise for what the Savior has given to Him? Christ has given him life! And that’s what Paul is talking about here. Paul is saying, ‘I live to glorify Christ,’ just as Christ would say, “It is My food, My meat, to be able to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Christ alone gives me meaning and satisfaction. Christ alone is my greatest delight. My life,’ the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘has no meaning apart from Christ. He is the object of all my affections. He’s the goal of all my ministry. He’s the motive. He’s the why I get up in the morning. He’s my inspiration.’ Paul is saying, ‘My life has no meaning apart from Christ.’
You understand that the Apostle Paul is not saying that nothing else in life is to be enjoyed by Christians but Christ, but what he is saying is this: that as we enjoy all the gifts of God, they are subordinated to and related to our prime delight in, love for, satisfaction in, fulfillment in, love of Jesus Christ. And if any of those good things that we have compete with Him for first place, what have we become? Idolaters…worshiping the blessing rather than the Bless-er…worshiping the lesser blessing rather than the One greater blessing. Paul is saying, ‘From every delight that God has given me in this life, whether it is a cup of cool, refreshing, good tasting water, or that seven-course meal, or friends who stick with me through thick and thin, and love me despite my sin and the way I let them down, or whether it’s seeing a child come to faith in Christ, or an enemy of the gospel come to love the Savior, or watching a sunset, or contemplating that God flung the stars into space—all of those things are subsumed under and related to this one overarching thing: that for me, to live is Christ—so that if you took all of my ability to see and enjoy those things away, you could not take Christ away from me. But if you take Christ away from me, none of those other things matter.’ Paul is saying that Christ has given him life, and that to know real life is to know Jesus Christ, and that his life is all about loving and knowing and serving and glorifying and enjoying, fellowshipping with and communing with Christ.
Paul is not just saying that ‘that’s for me, a super-Christian.’ He’s saying that’s the way it is with every Christian, that life is caught up with God in Christ.
That’s the first part, we’ll consider more tomorrow and later this week.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 5:23 PM
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Over the past week, we’ve considered Paul’s comforting words to the Philippian church. Paul begins recounting how God has used Paul’s situation for His glory, and then reminds them that God will build His Church despite opposition. Finally this week, he reminds us of our ultimate concern.
III. Paul rejoices that the gospel is proclaimed (vv. 15-18).
Paul responds to the Philippians who are wondering about Paul’s enemies enviously preaching the gospel. Paul says, ‘Some are out there because they know that I’m in prison. They love me, they love the gospel, they love Christ, and say ‘We better step up and share the gospel.’ They’re doing it out of love, with right motives. Others, however, may be thinking, ‘Paul’s in prison, and when he hears that we’re out preaching the gospel and winning converts and gaining fame through our faithful proclamation, he’ll be discouraged.’’
Paul says to the Philippians, ‘I’m not discouraged when Christ is truly preached, even if it’s out of envy and competition or designed to discourage me, as long as the gospel is preached truly.’ He’s talking about the true gospel being proclaimed by people with wrong motives. His concern is the promotion gospel of Christ. Paul says, ‘whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, in this I rejoice.’
IV. Paul’s goal is to glorify God whether free or in prison. (vv. 19-20)
Here he begins confident that he is going to be released, but after saying that he says, ‘Whether I’m released or not, I know I’m not going to be put to shame, because my goal, my hope is that Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.’
Paul is speaking and living out the theology of the cross. Jesus’ great instrument of shame is Jesus’ great instrument of victory: the cross. If that is the case for Jesus, so also it is for all those who trust in Him, and so Paul says, ‘Whether I live in prison or die at the hand of a Roman executioner, if Christ is exalted I will not be put to shame, because I am here to live for the glory of God.’
Paul’s thinking is gospel-centered and Christ-centered: that is transforming for the way we approach life! When we live for Christ’s exaltation, when that diagnosis comes that no person in his right mind would wish for, if we are living for the exaltation of Christ, the question becomes not ‘Lord, why me?’ but ‘Lord, how will You cause this to work for the exaltation of Christ? I know I’m in Your hands. I know You love me like You love Your own Son, because no experience in this life can abase me that exalts Him.’ It’s the principle of the cross, that the way to glory is the way of the cross.
This world is filled with hard circumstances. But in them, Paul is saying, it is our joy to exalt Christ in our bodies, whether we live or die.
Now three things in application from this truth:
First, the word of God can’t be imprisoned. Paul makes it emphatically clear here, you can imprison the messengers of the word of God, but you can’t imprison the word of God. I think sometimes God sidelines the choicest of His servants precisely so that He can show that He can do this without them. Paul seemed indispensible for the first century spread of the gospel, and the Lord puts him in prison, and He says: ‘Watch this! The word of God can’t be imprisoned.’ That’s so important for us to understand in the Western world, where everywhere we look around it looks like the word of God is being hindered, imprisoned, or rejected. Sometimes that makes us think we’ve got to change the message, or our method, or use a new strategy. No, we need to be faithful to the word of God: it cannot be imprisoned; when He’s ready to let the lion loose, no one can hinder it.
Second, Christians rejoice when the gospel is being preached. The Philippians don’t quite know how to react to the progress of the gospel amongst these other preachers, and Paul reminds them when the gospel goes forth, he’s happy!
Thirdly, Christians long for Christ to be exalted, whether this is in our life or in our death. Our response to our circumstances is so important and telling, because our response shouldn’t be, “Why me?” but “How is Christ going to be exalted in this?” for then Christ is at the center of our universe and our worldview!
Paul has a word for us about God’s providence—to trust His providence, a word for us about the desire of our hearts in seeing the gospel proclaimed, and a word for us in understanding the purpose of our lives: to exalt Christ, whether in life or in death, to glorify and enjoy God forever. That’s what we’re here for. In every circumstance we have the privilege and opportunity to exalt Christ. May He help us to do so.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:22 PM
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
In the last couple of posts we have looked at Paul’s response to the Philippians’ concerns that his imprisonment will hinder the spread of the gospel. Last week, we saw how Paul comforted the brethren at Philippi by telling them how God had used Paul’s imprisonment for His own glory: people in the Imperial household have come to faith, and as a result of his imprisonment those in the churches are more confident to speak of Christ. Now, let us consider Paul’s second reason for his peace.
II. Prison bars cannot stop God’s plan for His Church.
Secondly, Paul believes what Jesus said in Matthew 16: that He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Paul knows that the gospel cannot be stopped. You can’t take a faithful gospel preacher off the field and stop the gospel; Paul had a little personal experience of that. He was on his way to Damascus to kill and persecute Christians, and God took the biggest persecutor of the church off the field and turned him into an evangelist! Paul knew that God would build His church. Because of these two things, as Paul looks at his circumstances he doesn’t throw his hands up in the air, but he says to the Philippians, ‘My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.’
As far as Paul is concerned, his circumstances were not the big picture. God’s plan, the gospel is the big picture, the spread of the kingdom of God, that’s the big picture. His circumstances are only part of that picture. Yes, those circumstances are important to God, but they’re not at the center of things. When something goes bad for Paul, it does not become the crisis of the moment of the day. Paul knows that God is working for his good and is building Christ’s kingdom.
This is hugely important for us. I understand that Paul is in prison for the gospel, but what Paul says here about his circumstances has a universal application to all Christians in how we look at our circumstances, especially the hard circumstances, because our circumstances, however difficult, have in them a larger purpose: the glory of God, the gospel of Christ, the propagation of the truth of God’s word.
You know, when we face difficult circumstances, we are very quick to call God on the carpet, ‘Lord, You’ve got to answer for this. How could You do this to me?’ What’s wrong here?’
The problem, is we’ve put our circumstances at the center of things, and we’ve declared a crisis. In fact, the gospel is at the center of things, and that’s how Paul looked at life—‘I’m a disciple of Christ.’ And so he says to the Philippians, ‘Don’t look at me and think that somehow God has made a mistake: my circumstances are under the sovereign control of my heavenly Father, and God’s gospel is going to go forth no matter what. Therefore, God will use even these circumstances for the expansion of the gospel.’ That changes the way that Paul looks at his circumstances.
That ought to re-frame the way that we look at our circumstances. We ought not to be surprised by hard circumstances that come into our experience. We should recognize that when those circumstances, when those trials come, we have an enormous privilege and gospel opportunity to make those circumstances count for the glory of God, for the spread of the gospel, for a witness to Christ. Paul could say ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ And when those kinds of circumstances are encountered by us, we ought to be asking the question, “How in my response can I serve the further progress of the gospel, even in this circumstance?”
For every believer in every trial there is a way for that to happen, God never wastes those circumstances. He always has gospel purposes in your pain, suffering, difficulties, your hard circumstances. He always has gospel purposes.
That’s not the only thing He has going on, by the way! That’s one of the marvelous things about God’s providence: He does multiple things all at once. But He always has in view gospel purposes, even in your pain and suffering, and you see how it transforms the way that Paul looked at this difficulty. He could have been, like godly John the Baptist, in prison scratching his head, saying ‘Lord, what went wrong?’ Even John the Baptist reacted that way to his imprisonment, but Paul is not reacting that way because the big picture for him is the advance of the gospel, the progress of the gospel. And if his circumstances, however difficult, however dangerous, however discouraging that they are at the human level, serve the advance of the gospel, then Paul re-frames the whole way that he looks at his circumstances.
In responding to the Philippians, Paul says to the Philippians, ‘Don’t worry; my circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ Next week, we will look at how Paul wants us to view his captors.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:40 PM
Thursday, February 17, 2011
In this section we see how Paul is answering some of the concerns that the Philippians for him because of his imprisonment and the spread of the gospel. The first thing Paul is going to do is teach them and us something about the providence of God. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at what Paul teaches us something about our concern for the promotion of the gospel, and our purpose in life. This week, we’ll look at the first: the providence of God.
I. God uses Paul’s imprisonment for His glory.
First of all, in verses 12-14, Paul is responding to the Philippians’ expressions of concern for him. ‘Paul, you’re in prison. If ever there was a time when you were needed, it’s now. What in the world is God doing? Won’t the gospel be hindered if you are imprisoned?
In response to the Philippians’ concern that the gospel is somehow going to be hindered by Paul being in prison, Paul says ‘My circumstances may look bad to you, but they have served the greater progress of the gospel.’ This is quite extraordinary. Paul actually goes on to give two examples of how his imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message in this region, and even all the way to Rome.
Rome is the economic, governmental, social, cultural center of the world. And Paul says, ‘Let me give you one example of how my imprisonment has served the expansion of the gospel message. For one thing,’ he says, ‘the whole Praetorian Guard has heard the gospel.’
Paul may be chained up, but he’s chained up to guards, and they’re hearing the gospel whether they want to hear it or not! And the Praetorian Guard happens to be the guard that guards Nero’s house! So the gospel has spread all the way to the guards who guard Nero’s house. In fact, Paul, in one of his letters, will greet those who are Christians in Nero’s house. Maybe it was through this very path: the guards are witnessed to; they embrace Christ; they tell others who then embrace Christ. But Paul is saying, ‘Look, even though I’m in prison, I’m sharing the gospel and the Praetorian Guard is hearing the gospel! The gospel is going forth. I’m chained up, but the gospel is not.’
And he says, ‘Let me give you another example.’ He says in verse 14, ‘There are brethren who are trusting in the Lord in ways that they have never trusted in the Lord before, just because I am in prison. They turn around, suddenly I’ve been sidelined, I’m in prison, and they say, ‘Well, we’re going to have to trust the Lord more than ever before, and if Paul’s voice has been muffled for a while, if he’s been sidelined, if he can’t be out in the streets and marketplace sharing the gospel, then I guess we need to be out in the streets and in the marketplaces sharing the gospel.’’ And so he says, “…They have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” It’s as if in their very moment of crisis they say ‘Hey, we have to step up and trust the Lord, and we have to get out there and share the gospel.’ And so Paul gives two examples to the Philippians about how even though he’s chained up, even though he’s in prison, even though he’s awaiting sentencing, even though he is possibly awaiting death, nevertheless the gospel is not hindered. In fact, his imprisonment has served the purposes of the greater expansion, or the greater progress, of the gospel.
What makes Paul respond to his imprisonment in this way? How is it that Paul can look at his circumstances and not say, ‘Lord, what are You doing? Lord, I am the one apostle concerned to primarily spread the word of Christ to the Gentiles, and here You are locking me up in prison! Lord, I’m trying to serve You faithfully, and here I am clamped to a Roman soldier.’ Why isn’t Paul asking “Why me?” kinds of questions? For two reasons.
First, because the Apostle Paul believes Romans 8:28, he wrote it, after all! “God causes all things to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose,” for those who love Him. Paul believes Romans 8:28. He believes in God’s providence over, His care for, His sovereign oversight of His people in such a way that He works everything in our lives for our good. Paul believes that, and so Paul doesn’t look at his circumstances and say, ‘Lord, my circumstances show that You don’t love me, You’re not in control. What’s going on here? Why me? What are You doing, Lord? Where are You?’ No, rather, Paul looks at his circumstances and he is confident that God is at work even in those circumstances.
The second reason is that God will build His Church. We will look at that next week, but for now, Paul is at peace because he knows that God is at work in all circumstances.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:01 PM
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Over the past week or so, we looked at a prayer Paul prayed for the Philippians. In this section, he is having to explain a little bit of a problem to the Philippians. The Philippians are deeply concerned because Paul is in chains. They’re concerned about the suffering that he is enduring; they are concerned about what the sentence is going to be against him by the Roman officials; they are afraid of the punishment or even the death that may well await him. They are concerned about the fact that the best evangelist in the world is in prison and not out there preaching Christ on the street. And, after all, the Philippians are partners with him in the gospel. They’re very concerned that the gospel be preached, and they’re concerned about the fact that the best evangelist in the world has been sidelined. And they’re concerned to figure out what God is doing in this: ‘Lord, what are You doing? You know of all the people that need to be imprisoned, Paul is not one of them! He’s the best of Your apostles in reaching the Gentiles. This part of the world,’ the Philippians would quickly point out, ‘has been evangelized in large measure because of the Apostle Paul. He’s the last guy that you would want in jail,’ they’re saying.
Now all these questions are running through the Philippians’ minds, so the Apostle Paul is writing to the Philippians to calmly explain to them the proper understanding of the events. And I want you to see three parts in this passage.
First of all, if you’ll take a look at verses 12-14, you’ll notice that Paul is explaining how his circumstances are actually furthering the cause of the gospel, rather than hindering the gospel. So he’s concerned to explain to the Philippians that their fears are unfounded; that his imprisonment isn’t going to result in the hindering of the gospel, but in fact, by God’s glorious sovereign providence, the gospel is going to spread all the more, despite his circumstances—and even because of his circumstances.
Secondly, if you look at verses 15-18, you’ll see him make an aside. He knows that the Philippians are wondering what their attitude ought to be to the people that are continuing to spread the gospel while Paul is chained up. After all, the Philippians are big supporters of Paul. They’ve been sending him money. In fact, in chapter four we’ll find out that Paul’s almost embarrassed by the fact that these relatively poor Philippians are sending him such generous gifts so that he can devote himself fully to the gospel. He’s their missionary. He’s their church planter. He’s their evangelist. They’re sending money to him. What should they think about these other people that are out there preaching the gospel while he’s chained up?
Well, he tells you in this section what you ought to think.
And then, thirdly, if you look at verses 19-20, he tells you what the burning hope is that he has that keeps him from being discouraged in his present situation.
We will examine each of these three things closely over the next few days and into next week: The first one, his circumstances; the second one, what to think about other preachers who are preaching while he is in prison; and then, third, what his hope is. In the first one, we’re going to be seeing Paul pointing them to the promise of God in his circumstances. In the second issue or question he raises (those others who are preaching the gospel), he’s going to point the Philippians and you and me to the propagation of the gospel - the spreading of the gospel - and ask us to consider that. The third issue is his purpose in life. He’s going to point us to the purpose not only of an apostle, not only of a disciple, but of all of us who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, he’s going to point us to providence, he’s going to point us to the promotion of the gospel, and he’s going to point us to our purpose in life as he wrestles through this very practical question with the Philippians.
In answering the Philippians’ questions—they’re concerned about his imprisonment and its ramification on the spread of the gospel, they’re concerned to know how they ought to respond to the others who are not in prison who are preaching the gospel while Paul is imprisoned, they’re wondering where Paul’s heart is, how his spirits are—in answer to that question, Paul writes this section. In the course of it, he teaches us something about the providence of God, he teaches us something about our concern for the promotion of the gospel, and he teaches us something about our purpose in life. We’ll look at those three things, and draw three more conclusions by way of application of this passage over the next several days.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 3:28 PM
Friday, February 11, 2011
Over the two weeks we’ve looked at these five verses spanning the first two sections of Philippians. Paul is offering thanks for the love he shares with the Philippians because of their shared experience of the grace of the gospel. In the second part of this section Paul offers a seven-part prayer for the Philippians. We looked at the first three points of that prayer last week, first that they abound in love, then that they abound in knowledge, and then, thirdly, discernment.
Fourthly, he goes on to say that knowledge, that discretion, is going to be manifested in what you choose. He wants you to choose the excellent, so he’s praying that we would abound in love, grow in knowledge, increase in discernment, and, fourth, choose the excellent. He’s saying if you know true truth, if you have the knowledge of God, if you have the gift of discernment, that will lead your knowledge and discernment to choosing that which is excellent as opposed to that which is bad or that which is corrupt, choosing that which is eternal as opposed to that which is temporal and passing.
Paul is wanting knowledge to form in us discernment that leads to right choices—choosing the excellent.
This in turn leads to behavior, fifth, “to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”
The choices that you make for that which is excellent are to living which is characterized by sincerity and integrity, so that you would be sincere and blameless until the Day of Christ.
Paul is talking about the cultivation of Christian sincerity and integrity in our behavior. Paul’s praying that there would be a moral unity in the life of the Philippians, that they would be outside what they are inside, that they would be at the home what they are in the world, that they would be sincere, and that they would walk with integrity. The world could look at them and say, not ‘you’re perfect,’ but there’s something about that person that could not be explained simply naturally. There’s evidence of a divine work of grace in that person. Paul had seen that in the Philippians, and so he prays that they would continue in sincerity and integrity.
Sixth, he goes on to pray that they would live in fruitful righteousness. Here Paul is praying for the production of fruit in the Christian life: that the result of the Spirit’s work of grace in their heart would be that they would bear fruit—much fruit—for God, through Jesus Christ.
Finally, seventh, he prays that they would live for God, live to God, live unto God, live before God, and that they would live for the glory of God.
So, seven things there. He prays that their love would abound, that their knowledge would grow, that their discernment would increase, that they would choose the excellent, that they would continue in sincerity and integrity, that they would live in fruitful righteousness, and that they would deliberately live for the glory of God.
Now. Let’s go back to my three questions to you last week. What do we learn about what we ought to desire for ourselves from this prayer? What do we learn about what we ought to rejoice for in one another? And, what do we learn about how we ought to be praying for one another?
It ought to be our personal desire to be Christians like this: growing in love, increasing in knowledge and discernment, choosing that which is excellent, living in sincerity and integrity, manifesting a fruitful righteousness, living for the glory of God. As Paul prays this for the Philippians, our hearts ought to be saying, “Lord, I want to be like that. That’s what I want to be like.”
Secondly, as we look at this prayer we ought to be saying to ourselves, “You know, what is it when I look at another person that I get excited about? What are the things that encourage me, interest me, as I look at another person. What are the things that catch my attention? Is it that person’s success? Is it that person’s social connections? Is it that person’s wealth or possessions? Is it that person’s background or family?” Or, as we look at one another, are the things that attract our attention and actually cause us to rejoice things like love, increasing in the knowledge of the truth, discernment, choosing that which is excellent, sincerity, integrity, fruitfulness in righteousness, and living for the glory of God?
Paul is looking over the Philippians and he’s seeing these characteristics in them, and he rejoices when he sees these kinds of grace-wrought moral characteristics in these Philippians because he knows that these things can only exist in them because God is at work, he says it point blank in verse 11: all these things come through Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can build a person like that.
But are these the things that we rejoice in? One of the ways that we can be an encouragement to one another is rejoicing in one another when these things are seen by us. We ought to be rejoicing in these things in one another.
And then finally, we need to be praying these things for one another. If Paul is praying these for the Philippians, surely we Christians need to be praying this prayer for one another: that we would abound in love and grow in knowledge, and increase in discernment, and choose what is excellent, and continue in integrity and sincerity, and live in fruitful righteousness, and live for the glory of God. May God make it so.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 11:20 AM
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Tuesday we looked at the first part of this passage, the affection Paul feels for the Philippians because of their shared experience of the gospel. Today and part of next week, we’ll move into look at the detail of Paul’s prayer in verses 9-11. As we look at the prayer to think about what we desire to be as the people of God, what we rejoice in as we look at one another, and what we ought to be praying for ourselves and for one another.
II. Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians.
This prayer has about three parts to it. It’s a prayer first of all that they would grow in love, followed by a prayer that they would grow in knowledge and that prayer for knowledge comes in various parts. It talks about knowledge, and discernment, and choices – all based on true knowledge.
Then, the prayer segues into an expression of Paul’s desire that the Philippians would live a godly life. So you have this first petition that they would grow in love, then knowledge, then a godly life. I’ve outlined the prayer in seven parts, and as we look at those seven parts, remember that they all relate to one of those three themes: love, true knowledge, and godliness.
As you think about those seven parts, be asking yourself these three things: What ought I to be desiring myself because of what Paul prays here; what ought I to be rejoicing in, in my brothers and sisters in Christ, because of what Paul prays here; and what ought I to be praying for, for my brothers and sisters in Christ because of what Paul prays here? We’ll look at the first three parts this week and save the rest for next week.
First of all, “That your love may abound still more and more.” Paul has just made it emphatically known that this is a loving congregation that is easy for him to love, because they’re so loving. And yet the very first prayer for them is that they would abound all the more in love.
If the Philippians needed Paul to pray for them that they would abound in love, then surely the rest of us do. And so Paul’s prayer is a prayer for the increase of Christian love, real love; not sentimentality, but real Christian love.
Where there is a true knowledge of Christ, an apprehension of the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ, there is always love. Love is a hallmark of the true knowledge of God, of the experience of His grace, of the experience of His love. If you have really known God’s radical life-transforming love, you will manifest something of that love in your life in your relationships with others. And so Paul’s first prayer for the Philippians and for you and me would be that we abound in love.
Then secondly, he goes on to pray “that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge….” Knowledge of the truth; knowledge of God.
Paul is concerned for the Philippians and for you and me to increase in true, practical, character-transforming, biblical knowledge of God: love and knowledge go together. Love increases true knowledge of God and results from true knowledge of God, and true knowledge of God is to accompany Christian love and produce it. And so he prays that they would grow in the knowledge of God.
And think of how Paul groups that idea of truth and knowledge over and over in his ministry. In I Timothy 1:3-5, Paul tells you what the whole focus of his teaching ministry is (I Timothy 1:5), “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience,
and a sincere faith.”Instruction and love—truth and love, knowledge and love—go together in the Christian life.
The more we truly know the truth, the more we ought to manifest that truth in Christian love, so that our reputation ought to be those who care with deep conviction about truth and who love generously and lavishly because of that deep conviction about the truth. In our world today that is countercultural, where most people think that in order to love you can’t believe that anything is true; Paul saying, no, gospel love is manifested precisely and only where true truth is embraced about God.
And then third, he goes on, to pray for “discernment.” It’s not enough that to grow in the knowledge of the truth; you need to know how to wield that truth in good judgment and discernment, and so notice his words:
“That you would abound in love more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.”
Paul is praying for the Philippians - and for you and me – to cultivate good judgment and discretion.
How important is that? Have you ever known a parent with a really smart child, and that child is off in college, and that parent is concerned because that really well-educated, really gifted, really intelligent young person is making the goofiest choices you’ve ever seen in your life! And that parent is deeply concerned, because that parent doesn’t want his or her child just to be smart; he wants that child to use good judgment, be wise in discernment: that’s exactly what Paul is praying for the Philippians and you and me: not just that we would know stuff, but that we would have judgment and discretion and wisdom as we apply the truth which is ours.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:46 PM
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
We’re looking at verses Philippians 1:7-11 for the next few days. These verses span two parts of this first chapter of this letter. If you look back to verse 3, from verse 3 to verse 8 Paul is expressing his joy in, his thanksgiving to God for, his love for, the Philippians. Repeatedly in various ways, Paul expresses gratitude to God for the Philippians, and he enumerates some of the reasons why he’s so joyful about them, why he’s rejoicing in, why he’s thankful for the Philippians. We will pick up this week right in the middle of that series of expressions of thanksgiving, Paul is speaking the way he is because of what he has just said in verse 6. So the first part of this passage, verses 7-8, continues and concludes the expression of thanksgiving that Paul has been making to God because of the Philippians. And again it reminds us of the reasons why he is thankful.
We’ll look at the second part of the passage in verses 9-11 next week, it is a Pauline prayer. We’re only half way into this chapter and we’re already finding a prayer of Paul for the Philippians.
In this great passage we have first an expression of Paul’s thankfulness, and then we have a glorious example of Paul’s prayers for God’s people.
I. Paul’s deep affection for the Philippians.
In verses 7 and 8, Paul is expressing his deep affection for the entire Philippian congregation, to give us a culmination to that section that runs from verse 3 all the way to verse 8, which is itself an expression of thankfulness and love. Allow your eyes to go back to verse 3, and follow the logic of Paul’s expression of thanksgiving. He says:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”
And then listen closely to verse 6:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Paul wants you to understand that he has just said something that is astounding. He’s saying, ‘Philippians, I am absolutely confident that the work that God has started in you, He’s going to finish.’ Paul is so confident of this because he has already seen with his own eyes how the grace of God is transforming these Philippian Christians. When he has been in suffering, they have been right there with him. When he has been in need, even out of poverty they have given generously to him. What he cares about, they care about. He wants to see the world trusting in Jesus Christ. They want to see that too, and they have put their money where their mouths are in that regard, in supporting his missionary journeys.
They, with Paul, understand experientially and personally the sovereign grace of God, and they were united to Paul in that. So when Paul says in verse 7, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you,” he is saying ‘I have every reason to have the confidence that I have in you, that God’s good work will be completed, because I’ve already seen what God’s grace is doing in your heart and life.
The Philippians had been knit together with Paul in Paul’s sufferings and ministry, and so Paul speaks confidently because he has already seen the change that God’s Holy Spirit has been working in their lives, he is an eye-witness of what the grace of God is already doing in them.
But not only is Paul rejoicing in what the grace of God is doing in the Philippians, in seeing what the grace of God is doing in the Philippians, it has knit Paul’s heart together with the Philippians.
Communion in the same grace and mission creates a band of brothers.
The unity that Paul experiences with the Philippians – their mutual love for one another, their deep affection for one another – grows out of the soil of their common experience of God’s sovereign grace and their common commitment to spreading the word of the gospel. Gospel love and Christian affection grow in the soil of grace and gospel service. In those things Paul has been able to perceive their heart, and they have been able to perceive Paul’s heart, which has pulled them together.
People are always talking today about ‘strategies for uniting the church.’ Paul is saying: The unity of the church is based on our common experience of and embrace of the sovereign, saving grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the mission that grows out of that. Just as Paul had been united in heart to the Philippians because they both had experienced God’s sovereign grace and they were both committed to this service of the gospel, so also gospel love and affection grow in every Christian congregation where the fundamental thing that holds us together is our awareness of having received unmerited favor from the living God, divine saving grace in Christ, which has made us brothers and sisters and given us a common purpose and mission in life to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth and to glorify God in all of life.
Even as he comes to the conclusion of his expression of thankfulness, we learn that communion in the same grace and mission creates a band of brothers and sisters that gospel love and Christian affection grow up in a congregation which has the soil of grace and of gospel service.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:13 PM
Monday, February 07, 2011
Over the past several days, we’ve been looking at this verse and six things I wanted to study more closely within it. We began by, first, reflecting on the joy that Paul has for the Philippians because of the salvation they have, because it is God’s work, and His work from start to finish. We also looked two more things last week: the second, salvation is a good work, because it makes us fit for the enjoyment of God and the third: our salvation, this good work, is unfinished here.
Fourthly, salvation is a certain work, because God always finishes what He starts. Yes, the Apostle Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus,” and therefore by implication it’s not going to be perfected, it’s not going to be completed, it’s not going to be finished until then; but it is a certain work. It is absolutely certain that He will complete it, and that’s why in the song that by Augustus Toplady he writes that in heaven you will be “more happy, but not more secure.” Because God finishes what He starts. God doesn’t leave off in the middle of His work. He finishes what He starts.
Fifth, salvation is a perfect work of God, because God only does things perfectly. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul is saying you can bet your bottom dollar that God will complete His work, because God does not fail to complete what He starts; God does not do imperfect work; God always, to the fullest degree of perfection, completes the work that He begins; and so, you will be made perfect. And you can be confident that not only will God not forsake you, but that one day He will perfect you, because God doesn’t do second-rate work.
And sixth and finally, Paul teaches us that salvation is a work that will only be perfect in the day and the appearing and the judgment of Christ:
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The Apostle Paul is saying that this will be the day when you are fully and finally perfected: in the day of the appearing of Christ Jesus. He’s saying that your perfection will not occur until then, and it will not occur until the perfection of all other saints.
The author of Hebrews talks about this in chapter 11. In verse 39 (he’s been talking about these great saints of the Old Testament and New), and he says,
“All these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised….”
He’s saying that the things that God had promised them they did not receive in this life. Why? He tells you in verse 40, he says:
“Because God had provided something better for us.”
Now is that the word you’re looking for? You’re waiting for "them," aren't you? Because God has provided something better for – them? No! Suddenly it’s because God has provided something better for us. That’s a strange argumentation. God didn’t give to them what He had promised, because He has something better for – us. What in the world does he mean? Look at the next phrase: “…So that apart from us they should not be made…..perfect.”
You see what the author of Hebrews is saying (and I have a sneaking suspicion he learned this from Paul): that it will be the day of the coming, the appearing, the judgment, the reign, the rule of Jesus Christ, when all the saints at the same time—from Adam to the very last person who is converted before the coming of Christ—at the exact same moment, we will be perfected. Nobody before anybody else in Christ. All at the same time. All to His praise and all to His glory. .
And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Philippians, I can only imagine what you’re going to go through in this life. (Now, Paul had a pretty good guess, similar to what he himself had experienced for the gospel.) But though he could only imagine what they were going to go through in this life, he was certain of this: that God was going to perfect in the Last Day what He had started in them, and therefore the Apostle Paul could be confident.
If your ultimate assurance and confidence in this life is because of something that you have done, because of something you have achieved, because of something you have attained…well, you’re in for a long, discouraging life. That rug can be pulled out from under you any time and a hundred times. But if your preservation is based on God’s work, then nothing can shake you. And that’s the kind of confidence we need in this kind of a world.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 5:20 PM
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Over the past couple days, we’ve been looking at this verse together, and in this verse there are six things I want to study more closely. Tuesday, we reflected on the joy that Paul has for the Philippians because of the salvation they have, because it is God’s work, and His work from start to finish. Today, I want to look at two more items.
II. Salvation is a good work, because it makes us fit for the enjoyment of God
The work of God’s grace in us is a good, blessed, noble, and an excellent work, because God’s grace works in us to make us who were bad to be good; it makes those of us who did not want to enjoy God to want to enjoy God. It makes us who did not want to glorify God to want to glorify God, and so it makes us fit to glorify and enjoy Him, to fellowship with and commune with Him forever!
The work of grace in us makes us to be godly, so that we might enjoy fellowship with God. Paul emphasizes this. “He began [what?] a good work in you.” This is a work that Satan never does, when you see that being built in you, you know that it is not the work of Satan. Oh, you may see grievous interruptions in that work, but when you see that work being worked in you, you know who is working that work in you: it’s God. It’s a good work, and it’s a work that only God does.
III. This salvation, this good work, is unfinished work here
“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Paul is telling us that the work of grace is only begun in this life, but it is never ever finished here. The Christian life is not one uninterrupted climb heavenward, nor is it catapulting to perfection and then a continuous experience of perfection in this life. It is a life filled with peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys are so deep that we never ever think that we’re going to climb out of them. This word is one of the most encouraging words to me in all of Scripture, without this word, I could easily despair. Paul saying this work is never finished here. If I thought that it would finish here, that would be the end of me, because I know what I’m like. And here’s Paul saying that this work of grace is never finished here. As long as we are in this imperfect world, there will always be something more—much more—to do.
Wise saints have always understood that. There is a hymn in our hymnal by a great hymn writer, Thomas Kelly in his hymn, Praise the Savior, Ye Who Know Him, writes these words:
“Trust in Him, ye saints, forever.
He is faithful, changing never.
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.
“Keep us, Lord, O keep us cleaving
To Thyself and still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving
Promised joys with Thee.”
[It could almost be a paraphrase of Philippians 1:6. Then, listen to his last stanza.]
“Then [the Day of Christ Jesus] we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be;
Things that are not now, nor could be,
He is saying, “Then we shall be where we would be…” (We’ll be where we want to be, with Him); “Then we shall be what we should be…” (We’ll be what we ought to have been, the way God made us before the fall of Adam, the very image of His own self); “Things that are not now, nor could be…” (It can’t be like this now in this fallen world, where we’re imperfect); “…Soon shall be our own.” (But it will be then, on that great Day.)
You see, there’s this recognition that salvation is an unfinished work here. John Newton, in less poetic language but just only less, put it this way when he said:
“I am not what I ought to be – ah, how imperfect and deficient I am! I am not what I wish to be. I abhor the evil in me, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be; soon, soon, I will put off with mortality both sin and imperfection; but though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say I am not what I once was: a slave to sin and Satan. And so, therefore, I can heartily join with the Apostle Paul and say, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’”
That’s where Christians live. And that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying. He’s saying, ‘Dear Philippian Christians, don’t think that this work of perfection comes to a terminus in this life. It does not. It is always unfinished in this life, and it is vital for us to remember it; else we will drive ourselves crazy.’
When I first started teaching, a godly, consecrated young couple who were headed for the mission field—more zeal for Christ than I could have touched with a ten-foot pole—and yet they were in my office deeply discouraged, because in the Bible college that they had just come from their president had stood up and he had said, “I have not sinned in three years. I exhort you to experience the higher life, perfect love, and a triumph over this sin in this life.” And they were deeply discouraged because they knew that that was not what they were experiencing. And the problem was that the Bible college president was teaching false doctrine. He was teaching them that believers can be perfected in this life, and the Apostle Paul is saying to you point blank, he’s looking you eyeball to eyeball, ‘That will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus!’ And it’s so, so encouraging to know that!
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:50 PM
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Yesterday, we looked at the reason for Paul’s joy and thankfulness regarding the Philippians. We said that the reason for it is because God is at work in the totality of a believer’s salvation.
And so I want you to see six things that we learn here. The main thing is: God is at work in your salvation, it is God’s work from start to finish. We’ll look at one thing this week and the other five over the next couple weeks.
I. Salvation is God’s work.
Paul emphasizes that:
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you….”
Paul is emphasizing the initiative of God in salvation. Salvation is God’s work and his of initiation. Paul emphasizes this over and over. Think of Ephesians 2:1 – “For you were…” what? “…dead in your trespasses and sins.”
Verse 5: “But God made you alive in Jesus Christ.” Who took the initiative in that salvation? You? No! You were dead. Dead people are notoriously bad initiators! But God took the initiative and made you alive in Christ!
And not just Paul, the Apostle John emphasizes this. In John 1:12, he explains where belief in Christ comes from, and he describes it beautifully in the first part of that verse:
“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God.”
What John is saying in that verse is that those who receive [trust in Jesus Christ…those who place their faith for salvation in Jesus Christ] are accounted by God, appointed by God, adopted by God, as His own children. And John is just marveling at this glorious thing, and he’s speaking about faith in Christ with the beautiful image of “receiving Him.”
But after showing you that picture of faith, and saying that all those who believe are the children of God – they’re not just pardoned of their sins, but welcomed into God’s family – you welcomed Jesus into your home, and God welcomes you into His.
Then he tells you (second half of the verse) – how did this happen?
“To those who believe in His name…who were born not of blood….” It was not by genealogy that you believed in Jesus Christ.
And then he says, “…nor of the will of the flesh.” It’s not our own human nature in our innate ability and will power that leads us to be able to exercise saving faith.
They are born “…of God.” God takes the initiative? Why? Because we’re dead. We can’t, and Paul is celebrating this truth that salvation is God’s work.
Luke talks about this in Acts 11. Peter has just come back to the church in Jerusalem, saying, ‘I was with some Gentiles and I saw the Holy Spirit poured out on these Gentiles. I think the Holy Spirit has been given to the Gentiles, too.’
And the church in Jerusalem responds, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’ But notice, it’s not that the Gentiles have taken the initiative in this. God has granted it to the Gentiles.
Paul, in II Thessalonians 2:13-14, says:
“…We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation…and it was for this He called you through our gospel…”
So Paul says, ‘Your salvation started, before the beginning, when God chose you. And even when we were preaching, it was God who was calling you through our preaching of the gospel. It was God who was taking the initiative to draw you to Himself.’ It is not that I sought the Lord, and then He sought me. No, John says it this way: We love because He loved first. Or, as we sing it in that beautiful old Southern hymn,
“I sought the Lord, but afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I who found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.”
He was the seeker, mover, initiator.
Paul is emphasizing that in this passage: He was the one who, “…Began a good work in you.”
Paul is not just saying that God began that work and then left the rest up to you; he is saying that this salvation is all of grace; that from beginning to end it is the work of God.
He’s not saying that there is nothing that you have to do. He’s not saying that faith is not important. He’s not saying that your living is not important. He’s not saying that your actions are not important.
Paul is emphasizing the initiative of God’s grace in your salvation from beginning to end, and he does it all the time.
Paul is emphasizing that God is at work in you now, and this gives Paul enormous confidence; it is the basis of our confidence and assurance as well. God’s involvement, His initiative, His preservation of us, is the very ground of our experience of confidence in the Christian life.
If you’ve been a Christian very long, you’ve found occasion when you have had to look into your heart and see things there that you would hope nobody else saw. If your goodness and improvement is the ground of your confidence, you’re never going to have confidence. But if God’s work in you is the ground of your confidence, the fact that He will persevere to the end, or as John Newton put it:
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
Grace has brought me safe thus far,"
[And now I’ll take it from here? No, no, no, no, no!]
“And grace will lead me home.”
This is what Paul is celebrating. He knows they're going to be persecuted and still sin, but Paul is joyful and thankful and confident because it is God who is at work in them! Paul is not being rosy-eyed. He is not in denial. He is wide-eyed at the realities the Philippians face, but he is even wider-eyed at the reality of God’s sovereign initiative in salvation which goes from beginning to end.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:14 AM