Thursday, June 30, 2011
Article Text – Philippians 3:17-4:1
Suggested Article Title: “Two Ways to Live” Part 1
We close out this week in a section of this letter in which the Apostle Paul is pressing home to Christians how to live the Christian life. He’s saying, having been saved by grace through faith, this is how you live. Paul makes this clear by what he’s said in the passage previous to this.
If you’ll remember Tuesday, as looked at Philippians 3:12-16, we said that Paul almost summarized the Christian life in three mottoes, the first of which was “We’re not there yet”: We haven’t arrived at perfection.
The second motto was “We’re pressing on”: We’re not satisfied with being where we are, we want to be more like Christ.
And then, the third motto was “we’re reliant upon God’s grace.”
In this week’s passage Paul is warning the Philippians about a kind of professing believer and teacher that is in their midst influencing them in the wrong direction, and he says about them, “Their minds are set on earthly things.”
This is crucial, because worldliness is one of the great problems of evangelical Christianity in our time. Worldliness is a word that sometimes can strike us as a little bit quaint. If you’re my age or older, you know a definition of worldliness that goes like this: Worldliness means “drinkin’, smokin’, dancin’, and playin’ cards!” That’s worldliness, but that is not what Paul is talking about here!
Now let me say that some of those things do manifest worldliness, but worldliness is a matter of heart.
The Puritans were always so concerned not to be caught up in worldliness, so they had sayings to help us fight against worldliness such as, “Love the Lord, but use the world.” Their point was that what the believer really treasured was the Lord. The believer appreciated all the wonderful things that the Lord gives us in this world, but prefers the Lord over those things…so that they love the Lord and used the world. But the worldly person does what? Loves the world, and uses the Lord to get it.
Worldliness is soul-destroying and joy-robbing because it tricks our hearts into seeking satisfaction in what can never satisfy us, and thus it slowly strangles us of the experience of being fully alive to God.
Now, in the religion all around us we are actually being encouraged to be worldly. Do you understand that in 85% of the things that are on the Christian best-seller list are giving you this message: God can get you what you want better than anybody else: God can get you your best life now. What is being promoted on television and in Christian books and television is “Use the Lord to get the world.”
Now, that’s not Paul’s message. That’s not Jesus’ message. It’s not the Bible’s message. It’s not Christianity’s message. But that’s being pumped into our ears and our hearts by people that claim to be Christians all around us. And if you buy into it, it will destroy your soul.
But there’s another message that’s being pumped in, young people especially are vulnerable to this. Many young Christians are under enormous pressure to conform their faith to what the world says is valuable, to abandon right beliefs for simply doing right things. Now, it’s important to do right things, but those deeds must flow from right beliefs.
Paul tells you four things that you fight these ideas in this passage: Act like me; worldliness kills; homesickness helps; stand fast. What do I mean by that? I’ll explain the first one today and the rest next week on Tuesday (there won't be a post on Monday, July 4).
Notice that in those four things you’ve got two exhortations. The first and the fourth things are exhortations: Act like me, and stand fast. In between, the second and the third thing are actually explanations or reasons for why we ought to do what we do: Worldliness kills; homesickness helps.
He says that we fight against worldliness by carefully following godly examples, by recognizing worldliness when you see it and knowing that it kills, by remembering who you are and where you’re from.
I. Act like me.
Do you remember the basketball player, Michael Jordan? Gatorade had a whole advertising campaign built around Michael Jordan. It was called “Be like Mike.” They’d show Michael Jordan, dunking over the back of his head and this and that and the other, and then they’d try and sell you some Gatorade! Well, let me tell you what. All the Gatorade in the world wouldn’t have helped me be like Mike! And that’s why I love what Paul says here.
Paul’s not saying ‘Now you become endowed with the kind of gifting that I have’ because let me tell you what, we’re all going to fall short!
But Paul himself has emphasized in verses 12-16, ‘I am not perfect. I am struggling in this Christian life, too. Look at how I refuse to allow worldliness to get a grip in my soul.’ Paul says, ‘Look, Christian: You need to find examples of people who are not buying into the prevailing wind of worldliness around them and follow them.’
Paul is saying to you, ‘You open your eyes and you look around. You look at the people that are acting like me, and you act like them, because they’re showing you how a believer resists worldliness and thinks and wills and desires like a Christian.’ They’re not perfect and I’m not perfect, but by God’s grace, they’ve learned how to resist worldliness, so learn from them and you too resist worldliness, by His grace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:36 PM
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Last week, the Apostle Paul reminded us that Christians should to desire to be like Jesus Christ and to, by the grace of God, be transformed in increasing holiness. Perfect holiness, however, only comes after the Last Day in Christ Jesus.
That is in the background of what he says in Philippians 3:12-16. Also, there are some people in the Philippian congregation who have fallen under the influence of a false teaching of perfectionism. “Perfectionism” is the view that a person can become sinless in this life.
Now in order to teach that, you have to either scale down what you mean by sin, or you have to scale down the requirements of holiness, or both. In Philippi some were teaching that the way to be complete, mature, perfect, was to not only believe in Jesus, but also to keep the Law of Moses with its ritual ordinances.
Contrary to that, Paul gives us here three key truths that guide us in our sanctification, our living of the Christian life, and help us in our growth in grace in the Christian life.
I. We are not yet there yet.
Notice what Paul says in verses 12-13:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect….”
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it [perfect holiness] my own.”
Paul is saying, ‘I have a zeal to become more like Jesus like you can’t believe! But I’m not there yet! I have not arrived at that perfection, and I will not arrive at that perfection until the final resurrection.’
Why, then, does he talk about the perfect in verse 15? I think Paul may be doing a little play on words. He’s saying, ‘For those of you who are ‘perfect’, you need to recognize that none of us are perfect yet. And we will not be until the day that we stand before His throne in glory. Until then, we’re on the way. Life is a pilgrimage, it’s not perfection.’ The church is not a place where perfect people gather.
Christians still struggle with sin. Perhaps you have encountered Christians who you believe are hypocrites because they’ve sinned. It is very important for you to understand that Christians do not believe that we have somehow become perfect. We do not excuse our own sin, we’re still responsible for our sin. In fact, there are very often Christians who have done really, really bad things who have subsequently come to faith in Christ, and they still have to pay for the consequences of their sin.
For believers: the fact that you are not perfect yet is your charter of hope in this life. You know, if I thought where I am now was as far as I was ever going to get, I’d give up today. But the fact that I’m not perfected yet gives me hope and comfort.
II. We press on.
Christians are always desirous and active in growing in holiness, in becoming more mature in Christ, in pursuing godliness. Notice the language that Paul uses in verses 12-14 and 16: “I press on...I strain forward… I forget what is behind… I strain forward to what is ahead… I hold true to what we have attained.” Paul’s pursuit of holiness is active and passionate.
Paul is not telling you that this is the way that you are saved. The way that you’re saved is by embracing the gospel. So when you hear Christians urging one another to press on, to strive to grow in holiness, they’re not talking about how they’re made right with God. They’re talking about having been made right with God by grace, how they become more like the Lord Jesus Christ who saved them by grace.
We must always press on, cultivating a holy dissatisfaction about our present state of growth. Paul is able to do that, but it doesn’t compromise his assurance. Paul knows that he is saved by grace alone and yet, he is utterly dissatisfied with his present state of godliness, because he wants to be more like Jesus.
III. We strive by grace.
Christians want to grow, not so that we will be accepted and embraced by Christ, but because we already have been accepted and embraced by Christ.
In verse 14 Paul tells you how He presses on: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God…in Christ Jesus.”
Paul pursues holiness in and from his union with Christ. How does the Holy Spirit change our hearts from the inside out? By uniting us to Jesus Christ, so that all that is His becomes ours. How are we united to Jesus Christ? By faith. So the Holy Spirit causes us to trust in Christ, and as we trust in Christ our sin is imputed to Him, His righteousness is imputed to us, and the power of His resurrection begins to work renovating us.
Unbelievers, if you want to change your life, it’s got to start with you realizing that you can’t change your life. Christianity is not offering you yet another program or package about how you can change your life. Jesus has to change you before you can change.
But believers, our security is not based upon how well we do in this pursuit of holiness. Our security is based on Jesus Christ having embraced us, on our union with Christ. But what that leads us to is not laziness, but energy and passion and zeal in the pursuit of godliness.
And those three truths that Paul lays out in this passage are life-transforming, if we’ll understand and practice them by His grace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 2:50 PM
Monday, June 27, 2011
On Thursday last week, in looking at verses 7-11, we looked three things that those who gain Christ gain with Him:
Justification (9) – counted righteous in Christ.
Sanctification (10) – becoming like Christ by the power of His resurrection.
Glorification (11) – completely perfected in the final resurrection.
We said that the Apostle Paul is giving us the answer to three very important questions. The first question we looked at last week, “What is Paul’s treasure?” He makes it very clear that Jesus is his treasure. Jesus isn’t just a ticket, Jesus is his treasure. Today, I want to look at two related questions, How is it that I gain this treasure? and then, having gained that treasure, How then do I live?
I. How Paul receives it.
The staggering thing in this passage that Paul says is that the greatest treasure in this world is something that you don’t find; it finds you.
Paul spells it out so beautifully in this passage, Paul says, ‘I didn’t gain my treasure, I received it. I didn’t earn my treasure, I was given it. Jesus did something in order to give me my treasure. And my response to that is simply to receive it.
So here’s Paul’s message to you: ‘Here’s how I received the treasure. I didn’t go looking for it; it came looking for me. I didn’t find it, I was found by it.’ Paul’s own testimony bears this out: he was on the way to Damascus not to find Jesus, but to find Christians to kill, but Jesus finds him, and suddenly He who was not his treasure becomes his treasure.
And look at what Paul beautifully stresses this in verse 9. Notice three things that he says.
First, the treasure comes from God (v. 9). The righteousness that he needs in order to experience the greatest treasure (fellowship with God), does not come from Paul, it comes from God.
Second, it is a righteousness which comes through faith in Christ.
Third, the righteousness is not Paul’s own. It’s not your own. He says this explicitly: “I want to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own….” This righteousness is not righteousness in you; this is not you cleaning yourself up a little bit and getting better. It’s a righteousness that has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, which is now being offered to you.
You see how radical this is. Could Paul make free grace any clearer than he does here?
If you are struggling with your assurance, start here in Philippians 3:9, because it simply tells you this: your hope, your confidence, your assurance is not based on anything in you at all. It’s based on something outside of you, in Jesus, which has been offered to you and which you simply receive by faith in Him. There’s no more glorious message in the world than this message.
II. How Paul lives.
But then Paul, having told us how we receive this treasure, tells us how we’re supposed to live. Paul is pursuing the prize now – not trying to earn it, because the treasure has been given to him – but he has not yet experienced the fullness of that treasure. It’s kind of like Hebrews 11, God has given them a city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. But, Hebrews 11 says, they haven’t occupied the city yet. Not until we occupy that city will we have tasted the prize in all its fullness. So now, Paul’s heart is now set on a treasure, which he cannot fully experience until the day of resurrection.
Paul pursues that prize by resurrection power. He needs pride-humbling, sin-conquering, Christ-exalting power at work in his life. That power comes from the power by which God raised Jesus from the dead: resurrection power. If someone has resurrection power at work within him, he cannot be comfortable in sin. The free grace of God has led Paul not to be lazy, but to be passionate, pursuing the prize in resurrection power because God is at work in him.
And then Paul says something absolutely shocking: he wants to know Jesus Christ and share in His sufferings. Christians have a radically different view of suffering because of the hope that is set before us. We know that a day is coming when suffering will be no more. We know that even in suffering God loves us and is near to us.
Paul is telling us that for the believer, suffering is part of God’s design to make us like Jesus. If Jesus, our great high priest, learned obedience through that which He suffered, then we also are made like Him through suffering.
Paul furthermore says “…if by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul is never going to be satisfied in this life with what he is, he’s never going to reach perfection here, because he is looking for is something that’s never ever going to be completed in this life. It’s only going to be completed when we all stand before God on the Last Day.
Is that how you think about the Christian life? Paul says in verse 17 that he has been recounting all of this so that his readers can emulate him. Do you? Are you comfortable in your sin? Are you lazy in your growth? Are you surprised by suffering? Are you longing for the resurrection? Paul is never ever going to be satisfied with yesterday’s growth, because he’s waiting for the day when Jesus has eradicated all sin from him and there is a new world. Are you waiting for it?
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 3:50 PM
Thursday, June 23, 2011
In this passage, Paul lays out these three benefits that every Christian has in Christ: as you trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you receive the benefit of justification, the benefit of sanctification, whereby the Spirit more and more makes you to be like Christ, and one day the fullness of perfection in glorification, when all sin is banished from you. And in your body you will see the glory of the Lord, and you will commune with the risen and ascended and reigning Lord Jesus Christ forever and ever.
This passage helps explains the gospel to us so that we understand and embrace it more deeply and tells us how we go about sharing the gospel with others.
This world thinks that religion – and all things – is simply a means to an end, to help us get what we want. That is not the gospel. This passage helps us understand just how radical and comprehensive the gospel is, and it will help us to share the gospel with a world that is not only confused about the way of salvation, but about the greatest treasure in life.
Sometimes when we are sharing the gospel, or preparing to share the gospel with someone, we think that people’s fundamental problem is that they are seeking the right thing in the wrong way. For instance, we may think that they’re seeking God, seeking heaven, but their problem is they’re seeking it by their own works and they need instead to seek it by grace, to seek it by faith. But the truth is, people are not seeking heaven or God, because they’re seeking their own pleasures and self. If we try to approach folks as if they’re seeking the right thing in the wrong way, we will miss how deep their problem is and how glorious the gospel is.
What’s your ultimate goal, what’s your end, what’s your purpose in life? Paul in this passage says it’s to - in the resurrected body - stand and see the Lord of glory with his own eyes, ruling and reigning and publicly acknowledged to be the king of the world, and fellowshipping with Him, knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s not what the world is aiming for. But Paul shows you how to share the gospel with those types of folks.
Paul’s ultimate goal is to be raised again from the dead, so that in his body – body and spirit together – he is standing justified on the Last Day in order to gain Christ! Jesus is not just his ticket to get something else, Jesus is the thing that means more to Paul than everything that he has lost; the thing which is more valuable than everything in this world is Christ himself. Jesus is God’s provided means whereby Paul experiences the ultimate reason for his being created: that is, to be in face to face communion with the living God through Jesus Christ, in his own body.
To see God has been the hope of believers in all ages, but we cannot, and the reason we can’t see God is because we’re sinners, and God is too pure to dwell in the presence of sin, and sin cannot abide Him. Moses’ earnest desire was to see God’s glory, but he couldn’t because he’s a sinner. But there will be a day when sin will be purged from us.
Job says in Job 19, “Though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh I will see God with these eyes, and not another.” Paul’s saying the same thing here: “I want to attain to the resurrection of the dead so that in a perfected body, my soul and body together, I will see the king of glory, see Him reigning; and I know Him, and I commune with Him, and I’m found in Him, and I gain Him, and I fellowship with Him. That’s my desire.
As Christians, Jesus is our treasure, and that’s one way that we distinguish the gospel that we’re preaching from what the world around us hears so often from people claiming the name of Jesus Christ. Those people hear those preachers say Jesus is your ticket to get what you already want. What you already want is more: more stuff…more pleasure in sin…more self…more of your own ambition.
That’s hardly a radical message, it’s simply taking worldly desires and plugging in Jesus as the means. That’s a worthless system. The world looks at that and says, ‘I can get all that without Jesus. What’s radical about the gospel?’
The gospel, however, is a radical message because, when you are down in the desolation and you’ve lost the things that are dearest to you, and you still stand up and you say, “It is well with my soul, because all these things you can take from me, but you can’t take Jesus! You can take everything away from me…you can take my life from me, but you cannot take Jesus from me, because when I was saved I was justified and sanctified, and I will be glorified, and in this body and with these eyes I will see Him. Because He’s not just my ticket, He’s my treasure.”
That’s how we can handle every heartache and loss, because, it was worth it to see God in glory, when finally He’s getting the glory due His name! And if that’s not what you’re hoping for, let me say this: If you will come to Jesus, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and trust in Him, He will give you rest.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:39 AM
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
We’ve been looking at this passage for a little while now, and this week I want to direct you to how Paul describes and defines Christians in this passage. There are four phrases in particular, which characterize four ways that Paul talks about being a Christian: “to know,” “to gain,” “to be found,” and “power.”
I. To know Christ.
That is an incredibly intimate phrase, and it is utterly unique in all of Paul’s writings. Never again anywhere else in the New Testament do we find Paul using the phrase “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In John 10, Jesus describes the difference between Him, the Good Shepherd, and those who were thieves and robbers and hirelings He said, ‘My sheep hear My voice. They know My voice, and when they hear My voice they follow Me. When the thief and the robber come, the sheep know they’re not the shepherd! But when My sheep hear My voice, they know it’s Me.’
When you turn to John 20 where John is describing the resurrection morning, and Mary going to the tomb to apply the precious myrrh and incense on Jesus’ body. But when she got there, He wasn’t there. And you remember Mary is deeply, deeply concerned about this, and she says to the ‘gardener,’ “Sir, where have they laid my Lord?” And you remember the interesting conversation. He asks her, “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” It’s a fascinating exchange, she doesn’t realize who it is who’s speaking to her. And finally, John says, He turned to her and He said, “Mary.” And immediately she knew the voice of her Lord. And you remember the first thing she says to Him? “My Master – Rabboni.” Not just a master; my Master, my Lord. Because…why? Jesus had said, “My sheep hear My voice and they know Me.” And here she is saying, “My Master, my Lord.”
This shouldn’t surprise you; Paul met Jesus in a very different circumstance than Mary in the garden. On the road to Damascus to kill Christians, and the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to Paul, blinding him with brilliant light. And Paul, on his face, groveling in the ground, heard the Lord Jesus speak to him and say, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul’s first words to Jesus are, “Who are You, Lord?” The first words out of the converted Saul’s mouth is an expression that Jesus is his Lord. This is why when people were baptized in the book of Acts and in I Corinthians the adults would confess what as their vow, “Jesus is Lord:” Christians know Christ Jesus as Lord.
And how do we express the lordship of Christ? We listen to His voice. He speaks to us by His Scriptures, and His followers – those who trust in Him – hear His voice speaking to them in the Scriptures, and therefore they don’t cut and paste. We listen when there are tender words of promise and we listen when He makes us uncomfortable with His commands, because it’s the voice of the Lord speaking to us.
II. To gain Christ.
Christians know two things. That everything that they had apart from Christ and before they had Christ is nothing in comparison to having Christ; and they know they want Christ even if they can’t have all those things. As William Guthrie said in The Christian’s Great Interest, “Less will not satisfy than Jesus, but more could not be desired than Jesus
Many of the church fathers speculated that Paul was the “rich young ruler,” because this passage looks like the mirror opposite of what happens when Jesus has the conversation with the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler was so rich that when Jesus says, ‘Sell everything that you have and come follow Me,’ what does he choose? He chooses all things, not Jesus. Paul has realized that everything he thought was worth living for was rubbish compared to gaining Christ.
III. To be found in Christ.
You remember that after Adam and Eve had rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden (in Genesis 3) that when the Lord came to walk in the garden to commune with them, they hid themselves and covered themselves with fig leaves But God still found them, and they had nothing to cover themselves in their shame and sin and disobedience.
Well, here’s the Apostle Paul thinking to himself, ‘How do I want God to find me on the Last Day? With my little fig leaf: I tried to be a good person, I tried to keep the Ten Commandments, I helped the poor??’
‘No,’ Paul says, ‘I want to be found wrapped in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, which I have gained not by my doing, but simply by faith.’
That’s a Christian. A Christian wants to be found in Christ and in His righteousness.
IV. To know Christ in His resurrection power.
He’s talking about the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and he’s saying that Christians long to see the power of the Spirit, the power of Jesus’ resurrection, at work in them…because before we knew Christ, apart from Him, we were dead in trespasses and sins. But now we are a new creation, and we are being renewed by the Holy Spirit by the power of the resurrection of Christ, and matured. Not just as forgiven people, but people in whom the power of sin is broken.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:24 PM
Monday, June 20, 2011
Paul is preparing to conclude his letter, but along the way he gives some important doctrinal exhortations and warnings about false teaching. False teaching undermines our assurance and robs us of the joy that we ought to have in the salvation given to us by Jesus Christ.
I. Be on guard against false teachers.
He calls the Philippians to think carefully about the teaching they’re receiving, and to be on guard for teaching which is not according to Paul’s teaching, which is according to what Jesus taught and told Paul to teach, and which is in accordance with all of the apostles’ teaching.
Paul is countering the claims of the Judaizers, followers of Jesus the Messiah who think that all Christians – especially Gentile Christians – are required, in addition to believing in Jesus as the Messiah to keep the Law’s ceremonial requirements if they are truly going to live as the people of God in this world. And Paul turns the tables on these teachers.
First, he calls them “dogs,” a common term in first century Palestine for Hebrews to use about Gentiles. Paul says to these circumcised Jewish followers of the Messiah who want to require of all Christians that they follow the ceremonial code, “You’re the dogs! You’re not part of the true circumcision!”
Second, he calls them “evildoers”. To go back to the Old Testament ceremonial law is to suggest that Jesus’ finished work is insufficient is evil, because it adds to something that’s already perfect. And to add to Jesus’ perfect work is to call into question its perfection, and anything that calls into question the perfection of Jesus’ work is sin. Even though they think that requiring Christians to fulfill these rituals is right and good, it is actually evil because it adds to Christ’s work.
Third he says, “those who mutilate the flesh.” Of course, one of the things that they wanted is for all male followers of Jesus the Messiah to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. And Paul says, ‘You have turned circumcision into a pagan ritual. You’re just like the nations around you who practice circumcision. They’re mutilators of the flesh. You’re superstitious, pagan, ritual worshipers.’
Paul is directing his focus on these Judaizers, but what Paul says here applies to anyone who suggests that you do one of two things: either that you put your confidence anywhere else but Christ or put your confidence in Christ plus anything else.
This kind of teaching is all around us in the world. You can even hear this teaching in churches. Paul is pleading with us to recognize that false teaching will rob our joy! It will kill us, because God’s truth nourishes faith and humbles pride, and brings joy and exalts Christ and promotes assurance, and establishes grace. But false teaching kills! Look out for anyone who tells you “Believe in yourself,” or “Believe in something other than Jesus, because there are many ways to God,” or “Believe in Jesus plus something, and you can have hope and confidence and assurance.” This is why he goes into the doctrinal exhortation, because if you put your confidence in the flesh, it will kill joy.
II. Remember who you are.
The Judaisers were saying to the Philippians, ‘If you want to really be the people of God, it’s Jesus plus circumcision and ritual law.’ Paul counters by reminding the Philippians who they are.
Paul insists, first, ‘We are the true circumcision! Don’t you understand that? You are the recipients of God’s promises to Abraham in Christ alone! You’re already the recipients of those promises. You’re the people of God, you’re the true Israel as you trust in Christ alone.’
Second, We worship by the Spirit. This calls to mind John 4, Jesus is talking about a time is coming when the Temple will no longer be the place where God manifests His presence amongst His people, but wherever people gather in Jesus’ name they will worship God through Jesus in spirit and in truth. And the Apostle Paul is saying that we worship by the Spirit, not under the old ritual.
Third, We glory in Jesus Christ. If you say you need Jesus plus something, you’re not glorying in Jesus Christ. Paul says that all Christians glory in the fact that Jesus has paid it all.
Fourth, We put no confidence in the flesh because He is sole and sovereign and sufficient in His salvation.
And in those four phrases, Paul just describes what a Christian is: A Christian is the true Israel, who worships by the spirit, glories in Christ, and puts no confidence in the flesh.
III. Remember who I was.
‘If this stuff really worked that they’re trying to sell you, it would have worked for me!’ Paul recounts all the reasons that he had for confidence in the flesh, for reasons he should have had joy because of who he was, but that didn’t work for Paul. Paul gained no joy or salvation or glory from that confidence. Believers glory in Christ, and they put no confidence in the flesh, you can’t be a Christian and think that Jesus is not enough or that He’s unnecessary.
The Christian knows Jesus is more than enough. He’s sovereignly sufficient, and that is the foundation for a life of joy. Because they can take everything else from you, but they cannot take that from you, because He will not let them.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 1:21 PM
Several of you have asked for a copy of the prayer I read before the morning services on Sunday (June 19, 2011). Here it is:
teach me to seek you,
and reveal yourself to me
when I seek you.
For I cannot seek you unless
you first teach me,
nor find you unless
you first reveal yourself to me.
Let me seek you in longing,
and long for you in seeking.
Let me find you in love,
and love you in finding.
- Ambrose of Milan, c. 340 – 397 (HT: Trevin Wax)
teach me to seek you,
and reveal yourself to me
when I seek you.
For I cannot seek you unless
you first teach me,
nor find you unless
you first reveal yourself to me.
Let me seek you in longing,
and long for you in seeking.
Let me find you in love,
and love you in finding.
- Ambrose of Milan, c. 340 – 397 (HT: Trevin Wax)
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 11:48 AM
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Paul has been going through doctrine of the Christian life, and then he comes to this practical exhortation: “Rejoice in the Lord.” He’s preparing to conclude his letter with a final exhortation to these hard-pressed, impoverished, persecuted Philippian Christians. Now what would you say to a group of Christians who are hard-pressed, impoverished, persecuted? Here’s what the Apostle Paul says to them: “Rejoice!” But that’s not all he says, is it? He says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” Paul is calling the Philippians, and us, to the delightful duty of joy in the Christian life.
Paul is not calling us to fake joy, where we smile our plastic smiles and pretend like our lives are not falling apart. He is not saying ‘Rejoice, because your trials aren’t real.’
There are a lot of people who want to give you the message “Rejoice,” by doing one of two things. Either they want you to pretend like your problems aren’t there, or they want you to rejoice because your problems aren’t that big.God never asks us to have that kind of unrealistic joy, because He knows personally what this world is like and He doesn’t want His people to have a fake joy that is based upon pretending their problems aren’t there.
I’m so glad that Paul is not looking out at this congregation of Philippians and saying, ‘Be happy! Nothing’s wrong. Rejoice! Everything’s fine.’ Instead, Paul is saying, ‘As real as your problems are, as deep as your heartbreaks are, as justified as your fears are, rejoice in the Lord because you are the recipient of a bigger truth than the truth of your problems, and you are the recipients of promises that are greater than the sum total of all your fears and heartaches.’ His message is “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Jesus and Paul just do this continually. They do not ask believers to have comfort in this world because things are hunky-dory, fine and dandy. They ask us to rejoice because there is bigger truth in God’s promises to us in the gospel than there are in the sufferings and sorrows and anxieties of this world.
Paul is telling you how you go about fighting for joy in the Christian life, you just don’t fall over on your sofa and have joy. It’s a fight for joy in the Christian life. Paul wants to give them weapons to fight for joy, so that when those losses and crosses and real anxieties and sorrows and trials come into their lives they can fight against them, not by saying ‘Oh, they’re not so bad,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s not happening to me. I won’t think about it,’ or by singing “Que sera, sera” and thinking about it tomorrow like Scarlett O’Hara.
Instead, you stack all your troubles up right at the foot of the cross, and you see a bigger truth that is a cause for joy than the greatest of your problems are cause for discouragement. It is not joy through denial, it is a joy through a greater truth, and that’s going to be Paul’s argument in this whole section. He wants us to behold that big truth and not just see it with our eyes, but believe it with our hearts, otherwise we are unarmed in this fight for joy.
In the rest of the passage, Paul will warn them of teachers that are going to come to the Philippians and tell them, to gain joy by confidence in their own works or by becoming a better person. And Paul is saying, ‘If you fight for joy that way, let me tell you what’s going to happen: You’re going to have no joy; put no confidence in the flesh! Only the shoulders of Jesus Christ and His free justification can hold you up under the burdens of this world filled with sin and misery.
If you are looking for joy by putting your confidence in yourself, not only will you not find it, but on the Judgment Day, you’re going to be in the line of people who are lining up to tell God that Jesus didn’t need to die for you, that you can handle this on your own.
But perhaps you are trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation and you’re not putting confidence in the flesh for your salvation, but you have not yet experienced and expressed in your life the joy that Paul knows, Jesus shed His blood for you to experience joy here just as much as He did shed His blood that your sins would be forgiven. What did the Lord Jesus say to His disciples? “I came so that your joy would be complete.” And Paul is saying to the Philippians that he’s not going to let off of pursuing them until by God’s grace they are experiencing in some measure that joy.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:54 AM
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
We spent a little while studying the center of Philippians in which Paul urges us to live like Christians. In Philippians 2:18-30, he gave us personal examples of two godly men who live out Paul’s exhortation.
Today we see Paul summarizing the heart of his gospel teaching, in which he reminds them to rejoice in the Lord.
Paul explains in verses 1-11 how they are able to rejoice in Christ in their circumstances: when you embrace Christ, the joy of the Holy Spirit will flood your life, and though your sufferings, hardships, trials and even your poverty won’t go away, you’ll be able to rejoice in the Lord anyway, not only in spite of it, even because of it. This so because you know Christ savingly.
I. To know Christ savingly is more valuable than anything in this world.
I do not mean knowing about Christ, but to know Him personally, in your trusting Him, in your loving Him, in your delighting in Him, in your treasuring Him, and in your worshipping Him. To know Christ is to know Him in all His benefits and in all His work. And therefore, if you know Christ, you know how valuable He is and you count everything else in your life as rubbish.
II. To know Christ in the power of His resurrection
Paul there tells us that to know Christ savingly is to know him in the power of His resurrection. That means, first of all, to know the forgiveness of sins. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, justified. By Christ’s perfect life and full obedience and by His death on the cross, God has judged and sentenced and condemned and punished all the sins of all those in this world who believe in and trust on Jesus Christ and credited Christ’s righteousness to them. The resurrection that displays this verdict of God: ‘not guilty,’ sins forgiven.
That’s not all Paul is saying. In this whole section, Paul is talking about sanctification. He’s talking about our being changed into becoming more like Jesus Christ. He is also pressing home the truth that to know the power of Christ’s resurrection is to know the power of new life in us. Look at what he says in verse 10—“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and may share His sufferings becoming like Him in his death.”
And this is what Paul is saying when he says that he wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection: the saving, changing, maturing, growing effects of the Holy Spirit applying the power of Christ’s resurrection to his life so that the he is increasingly more like Christ.
Paul is also saying that this leads us to embrace the suffering and hardships of this world as God’s school of Christ-likeness. We are living in a fallen world, filled with sin, we're going to experience trials and troubles, tribulations and hardships, sorrows and suffering, but don’t look at the sufferings apart from the power of Christ in the gospel. God intends those sufferings to produce Christ-likeness.
Knowing Christ savingly in the power of his resurrection is to know forgiveness, growth in grace, and being ready even to face trials with a view to becoming more like Jesus Christ.
III. To know Christ savingly is to long for His power to be perfected in the day of His coming
The Apostle Paul is saying here is that he recognizes that in this life, despite the fact of the power of Christ’s resurrection is already at work changing him to make him more like Jesus, though that process is never ever going to be completed until the day of the resurrection when Jesus comes, but until that day he is going to continue to have to fight the fight of faith against sin in him.
Paul, just like Jesus and just like the Old Testament, makes it clear that there is going to be one general resurrection, but only those who know Christ savingly will be raised to glory. Those who do not know Christ savingly will be raised to judgment and condemnation.
If you don’t know Christ savingly in the forgiveness of your sins, in that you long more than anything else in this world to be like Him and you treasure Him more than anything else in this world, and the power of His resurrection even in your sufferings, then you are yet awaiting the resurrection to judgment. The only way to escape that judgment to come and to know the joy that Paul is teaching us about here is to know Christ, to treasure Him more than life, to put all of your hope in Him, and for all who trust in Him, there yet is a resurrection to glory and to hope and to joy.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 11:33 AM
Monday, June 13, 2011
Paul had been urging you to live in such a way that your life fits the gospel, and now he’s back to telling what’s been going on with him and about two men that the Philippians had sent to him. He draws attention to aspects their respective character and service as examples of what he has been exhorting us to do from 1:27 to 2:18. First, Timothy’s selflessness and focus on serving the interests of Jesus Christ in the church and then Epaphroditus’ bravery and his willingness to die for the sake of the gospel.
Even though he’s giving the Philippians a missionary report, he’s doing two other things at the same time. One, he’s letting them know how he is in order to set their hearts at ease. Two, he’s giving an example of living the life to which he’s exhorting the Philippians.
In the course of this missionary report, there are four very important truths about the Christian life.
I. Joy does not mean the absence of trial.
He is making it clear that the kind of gospel joy that he has and the kind of gospel joy that he wants the Philippians to have, he really does want it because he says, “I’m willing to stay here on earth rather than go to be with Jesus in glory in order that you might have joy.” He needs us to understand that this joy is not going to mean an absence of trial.
In verse 27, he’s telling you how glad he is that God spared Epaphroditus’ life. He doesn’t just say that he would have been sorry if Epaphroditus had died. It would have been sorrow upon sorrow.
In verse 28 he says he’s sending Epaphroditus back to them so that Epaphroditus can take them word of Paul, and so that word can be sent back to the Paul that the Philippians are doing “ok.” He’s worried about the petty divisions in the church about people in the church that are looking out for number one instead of being concerned for others in the congregation.
If you look back in verses 20 and 21 he talks about Christians who were there with him at the time of his imprisonment other than Timothy and Epaphroditus. He says that he couldn’t send any of them to the Philippians because they wouldn’t look out for the Philippians’ best interest, but only for their own!
Paul says these things and they are not inconsistent with his experience of gospel joy. Your experience of gospel joy does not mean that you enter in this life into a blissful state. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t hard things. And yet, trials and sorrows are no impediment to gospel joy. That’s a huge message to learn in the Christian life. Paul’s so realistic about this, he wants you to experience gospel joy, but he knows that troubles are not going away in this world, even in the church.
II. The Christian life is a life of companionship.
The Christian life was meant for company. God intended us to need, to depend upon one another, and to minister to one another as we walk through this world on the way to the new heavens and the new earth. The Christian life is a life of companionship.
Paul, who met Jesus face to face on the way to Damascus, whom Jesus personally taught, who was vested with all of the authority of Jesus so that he could raise people from the dead, could heal people, could prophesy by the Holy Spirit, could speak in tongues and interpret and give words of knowledge. And yet, here he is describing to the Philippians how he needed Timothy and Epaphroditus.
III. Christians always seek the interests of Christ.
Third, Paul draws your attention to Timothy who alone among the circle of disciples with Paul in his imprisonment, who alone of whom it can be said he did not seek his own interests but he sought the interests of Christ.
Do you think that way about the church? Can you think of a decision that you have made in a time when you thought, you know this would be good for me personally but I’m not sure it would be good for the church as a whole. Therefore, I’m not going to do it, I’m going to do what’s best for the church. Paul is commending Timothy to you as a person who did think that way.
IV. Christians are ready to die for Christ.
Paul commends Epaphroditus who was ill and nevertheless, risked his life for Paul’s sake and for the sake of the Philippian church because, he thought that his life was of less value than the work in the kingdom of Christ.
Are you ready to die in the work of Christ? That’s what Paul is holding before the Philippians and before us as an example of being like Jesus because Jesus Christ was not only ready, but He did die for us.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:21 AM
Thursday, June 09, 2011
Paul has been exhorting us here saying, “Don’t just claim to be the sons of God. Live like you are the sons of God. Live out what it means to be the children of the living God.”
Jesus himself commands this to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul is just picking up on that theme in with those three exhortations in verses 14-15 from last week.
In verses 16-18, he’s continuing the exhortations about Christian living telling us four things here following up on what he’s already said in verses 14-15.
I. Live the Bible…practice the truth.
This little phrase is actually completing a sentence that he started at the end of verse 15 “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life”.
Paul is saying, “Don’t just say that you believe the Bible, live the Bible.” He’s saying, “Don’t just honor God’s Word with your lips, honor it with your lives or you’re not honoring it at all.”
In Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales there are some hypocrites, but one of the characters that Chaucer clearly respected was the man that he calls “The Poor Parson.” He says this:
“He gave this noble example to his sheep that first he practiced and then he preached.”
And that’s exactly what Paul is exhorting the Philippians to do – practice what you preach. Practice the truth.
II. The principle of delayed gratification
He goes on to say in verse 16, “Do this so that in the day of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
Paul is saying to the Philippians, “My mission will not have failed if you walk by faith and live by faith and grow in grace and bear a witness to the world. If you do that on the last day, I will not be put to shame, but the Lord Jesus will say, ‘Look, Paul, look at the fruit of your ministry in the life of these people.’”
Paul is saying, “I’m not living life for short term gains.” Paul is teaching the Philippians the principles of delayed gratification.
Delayed gratification means passing up a short term gain for a long term reward. Paul is teaching them that our real rewards await the coming of Jesus Christ. And so, he doesn’t particularly care that he’s in prison as long as they grow in grace because as they grow in grace and live the Christian life, on the last day the Lord Jesus will reward him saying, “Well, done good and faithful servant. Enter into the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
What a huge message that is for us! Our society measures success by what happens in the next five minutes, but Paul is saying, “That’s not how it is with me, Philippians. I’m waiting for the final judgment and then my success will be measured.”
III. Sanctification is expensive.
He says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I’m glad!”
Drink offerings were a part of the total sacrifice that would have been offered in either the Jewish temple or in a pagan temple. You would have slain an animal whose blood would be sprinkled on the altar and then the carcass of the animal would be consumed by the fire on the altar.
In other words, Paul is saying, “If my life simply becomes a component of your living to God for His glory, it will all have been worth it. And I’ll be more than happy, in fact, I’ll be rejoicing.” Paul is teaching the principle here of how expensive our sanctification is.
In order for us to grow in grace, God throws gifted and godly ministers and pastors and elders and Christians into the service of our growing in grace and they live and they bleed and they ache and they die all so that we’ll grow in grace.
Now, Paul didn’t contribute a thing to their being accepted by God. Christ did all of that, but Paul was part of God’s plan for them to mature them as disciples.
God cares about our growth in grace when He gives gifted and talented faithful ministers and elders and pastors and other Christians to us so that we will become more like Christ and causes them to live and bleed and die so that we will grow in grace.
Do you realize the cumulative investment that God has now made in your sanctification? He sent Augustine, Athanasius, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John Murray and every other saint into the world for your sanctification.
He sent Jesus into the world for your justification. He sent Jesus into the world for your sanctification, too, but to that great work of the Lord Jesus Christ, He has gathered around a cloud of witnesses to urge you on in growing in grace.
IV. Learn to rejoice in the self-giving of others.
Paul wants you to rejoice and be glad with him.
Paul is saying, “If you don’t rejoice as I’m poured out like a drink offering and as my life ebbs away and as I’m executed on your behalf and for the sake of the gospel. If you don’t rejoice in my gospel self-sacrifice, you just don’t get it yet. You don’t realize how valuable what we have in Jesus Christ is and how that changes the whole of life.
We need to learn the importance of gospel rejoicing because when we rejoice in those kinds of sacrifices, it says to the world that we’re not here to delight in what you have to offer because you don’t have anything to offer to us. We have everything that we could possibly need or want in Jesus Christ and this world can take none of that away from us. And it can offer nothing to us to augment it.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 8:30 PM
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
We said yesterday, as we looked at this passage, that Paul is reiterating his exhortation to live a life “worthy” of the gospel with emphasis to how it relates our purpose in life (Phil 1:27). Paul is saying that your purpose in life is to congregationally — together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gathered into one local church, living and ministering together — you are to do congregationally what Israel failed to do.
We also said yesterday that we’d look at three things in this passage. We looked at the first: that we are not to grumble and sinfully question the leaders of the church. God has placed leaders over us, and instead of undermining them we are to live together in peace and unity, unlike the people of Israel in the wilderness. We display glorious and joyful unity that only Christ can give to a watching world.
II. Be the children of God.
In verse 15, he says be the children of God. Look at his words: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning,” in order that “you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.”
Now, we’ve already said that if you are saved, you are the child of God. He’s saying that you show your adoption by your life. You show whose child you are by your behavior. You show who your father is by your obedience, by your deeds.
Jesus once encountered a group of Jewish people who were opposing His teaching, and they said to Him, “We are of our father Abraham.” And you remember what Jesus said to them? “No you’re not. You’re of your father, the devil, because you do the deeds of your father, and you’re not doing the deeds of My heavenly Father, the God and father of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You are doing the deeds of the devil.”
Paul is saying to these Philippians: be the children of God, show whose children you are.
III. Shine as lights in the world.
In verse 15, he says, “shine as lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Paul is saying your life is to be a witness to the world. Not just your life individually, but your life together, the way that you express and experience the grace of God in your lives together as a congregation, is a witness to the world.
Israel was supposed to be the children of God, who by their light, let shine to the nations the glory of God so that they became a blessing to the nations and so that the nations glorified God. But Israel didn’t.
Paul in this verse is drawing on Deuteronomy 32:5, in which Moses says, “They” (the wilderness generation) have dealt corruptly with Him;” (God— the wilderness generation has dealt corruptly with God) “they are no longer His children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.”
Jesus uses that same phrase all the time in His teaching to describe the unbelieving generation to which He was preaching.
In Deuteronomy 32, Moses is saying they were to be the children of God, and to witness to the unbelieving and perverse generation of the Gentile Canaanites around them. But they showed that they weren’t the children of God and became a perverse and twisted generation.
And then the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:14-15 says, ‘You be the children of God without blemish, and you be a light to the wicked and perverse generation in which you live.’
Paul is saying do what Israel didn’t do. That’s your purpose in this world. Now that’s awesome, and it’s humbling. Paul is saying, ‘Christian, you be and do as a congregation what Israel failed to be and do. You be a light in the world. Show your sanctification in your living. Show your doctrine by your life. Let your sanctification, holiness, Christ-likeness, your pursuit of godliness serve as a witness to unbelievers. Let your life together testify to the reality of gospel grace.’
In fact, Philippians 2:15, sounds a lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men so that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Paul is saying, Christian, together, without grumbling, questioning— without petty rivalry and disrespect towards the spiritual leaders that I’ve given to you— do what Israel didn’t do. Be the children of God. Be a light to the world.
God, in the Bible, tells us that His purpose is to one day sum up everything under the headship of Jesus Christ, and His strategy to do that is the Church. He intends, by gathering together men and women, and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation into his family, his house, his church— to bring all things into subjection to Jesus Christ. And His strategy for us living out a witness to the world is the local church, congregations living in biblical fidelity and faithfulness to the Bible, living together in mutual love and accountability, living out his gospel. This is his plan for witness to the world. That’s His Plan A.
And let me let you in on a little secret— there isn’t a “Plan B.” That’s it. His plan for bringing all things under the headship of Christ is you doing congregationally what Israel failed to do. And that means that the most important thing for the future course of world history that will happen this year will not happen in Washington, D.C. It will not happen in the state capitol or in the city hall. It will happen in our living with one another in our mutual growth and grace, in our joyfully pursuing godliness, and it will be used by God for a witness to a watching world for the salvation of sinners and for the glory of Christ. It’s absolutely mind boggling. God has called us to do what Israel didn’t do. And for that we need His grace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 6:51 PM
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Paul, in this passage is reiterating an exhortation that he has been making since Philippians 1:27. He is exhorting us to obedience in the Christian life. Now he relates this to our purpose in life in this passage. All around us people are desperately searching for purpose in life, and very often they are looking for it in unhelpful places. The bestseller of a few years ago, The Purpose Driven Life, testifies to the fact that people are looking for purpose out there.
One of the glorious things about the Bible is it tells us what our purpose is, and it is wrapped up in the glory of God, and it is only experienced by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul, to summarize, here says that you are on earth to do as a congregation what Israel didn’t do.
God wants us to understand our purpose in life. That’s clear, because He tells us what our purpose in life is in so many different, striking ways repeatedly in the Bible. Paul is saying that your purpose in life is to congregationally — together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ gathered into one local church, living and ministering together — you are to do congregationally what Israel failed to do. Paul is talking in this whole passage about how our obedience and our sanctification play into God’s great purpose for our lives. Paul is telling us that God wants us to obey from the heart in the community, and in doing so to experience a fullness of joy.
I want to look at three things for us in this passage, but we’ll only look at one today and save the other two for later today, Lord willing.
I. Christians are not to grumble and sinfully question.
Look back at verses 12 and 13, there he has asked us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because God is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. And we said there that what Paul is getting at is that in our sanctification— in our change, our becoming mature in grace— we are to live out the salvation which God has given and we are to work out the sanctification which God is at work in us working by His Holy Spirit in such a way that we pursue godliness. In verses 14-15, he is specifying how he wants us to pursue godliness: first: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.”
That language comes from Israel in the wilderness, in Exodus 15 and 16. God has brought them miraculously across the Red Sea on dry land. He has spared them from their enemies. He has liberated them from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh and they come to this place where the water was bitter. They name it Marah, because of the bitter waters, and then in verse 24, “ the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” They grumbled about the bitter water, and they questioned Moses and the elders, who were God’s appointed spiritual representatives to them.
And then in the next chapter, Exodus 16:2-3, Moses says about the whole congregation: “The whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” They grumbled, and they questioned.
God is not saying that His people don’t have the right to ask Him a question, but He is saying that sinful questioning is wrong. Questioning that disrespects the authority that God has established over them, which does not trust in God’s kind and loving, beneficent, sovereign providence over his people is sinful questioning of God.
Paul is saying to the Philippians: “don’t do that.” Israel grumbled against God, and they questioned their spiritual leaders, and it brought about dissention in the congregation.
In Philippians 2:1-4 Paul had been talking about petty rivalries, squabbles in the congregation, divisions, and broken relationships. And what’s he saying to the Philippians? Don’t do what Israel did. Don’t grumble. Don’t sinfully question.
He’s really drawing out two things about the kind of obedience that he wants the Philippians to express that the children of Israel didn’t. He’s talking about obedience from the heart, and he’s talking about obedience in the community. The children of Israel would have said, “Yes, we are God’s people. We are the nation that God has chosen.” But their grumbling and their questioning showed that in their hearts they were not submissive to God.
Paul is addressing that in Philippians 2:14. He’s saying, God wants you to obey Him. He wants you to embrace His commands. He wants you to pursue godliness from your heart— not grudgingly, merely outwardly, grumbling all the way. He wants you to obey from the heart, and He wants you to do it in the whole congregation— in your relationships with one another. He wants your obedience to be experienced and expressed in the community, unlike the children of Israel did in the wilderness, where some started grumbling, and what happened? It was like an infection, and it spread to the point that in Exodus 16 that Moses says, “The whole congregation grumbled.” And Paul is saying not to do that. Don’t be like Israel. Only by God’s grace, with Him working within us to “will and to work His good pleasure” can we do this.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 7:36 AM
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Earlier this week as we looked at Philippians 2:12-13, we said that this was the main point that the Apostle Paul wanted us to appreciate about sanctification: because God accepts us freely, change is possible.
This week the point is going to be related, but slightly different. Because the other thing that Paul stresses so clearly in this passage – and you see it in the end of verse 12 – is that God is the one at work in us, working to change us.
The whole passage is about sanctification. It’s not about justification, it’s about sanctification, becoming like Christ, God changing us.
That is important to recognize because of what Paul says in Philippians 2:12: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul does not mean that you must somehow save yourself from God’s judgment by doing good works or by your efforts, or your goodness. He’s talking about those who have already been converted and accepted by God.
He’s telling them how to live like Jesus. How to grow in their Christian life. And so when Paul says work out your salvation, he is in effect talking about your sanctification: show the fruits of God’s saving work for you in the way you pursue godliness.
And that means that he’s stressing here that if we’re going to pursue godliness, it’s because God is at work in us for godliness.
Philippians 2:12-13 is, in the final analysis, an encouragement. We said last week, in this passage Paul is not teaching us here that God accepts you, and therefore no change is necessary in your life, but that God accepts you and therefore change is now possible in your life.
Because God is at work in you, you work in hope. We’ll look at Paul’s exhortation in four parts: “Continue to obey,” he says; “Work out your salvation…in fear and trembling…because God is at work in you.”
I. Continue to obey.
Paul is not like a coach saying to a team that is not getting his point, “You knuckleheads! Stop doing it wrong! Do it the way I told you to do it!” No, Paul is actually saying, “You got it! You’re doing exactly what you ought to be doing! Keep on doing what you’re doing.” It’s like he stops practice, blows the whistle, and says, “Yes! Just like that! Keep it up!”
This is an encouragement. He’s not bashing his team, he’s encouraging them. He says, ‘You know what? You not only obey when I’m there with you, you obey when I’m not there with you. Keep it up. That’s exactly right.’
Boy, is that important for us to hear! Because what Paul is telling you is, as he commends them for obedience.
The first principle is simply this: Obedience is a natural, vital, and necessary part of the Christian life.
II. Work out your salvation.
He is saying be active in pursuing holiness and godliness in the Christian life. And that leads us to the second principle that we learn here: we are to be active in living the Christian life. We are not passive in growing in grace.
Recall when earlier in Philippians 2, we emphasized that Paul’s call to Christian unity, unity does not just happen. Yes, God has united us to Christ, and He’s united us to one another, but if we’re going to express and experience that unity, we are going to have to contribute to it. Why? Because we are going to sin against one another. If we think that unity is just going to happen, we are living in a pipe dream! We must be intentional in promoting that unity, especially when we have been offended in the context of the body. Paul is just saying here you’ve got to be active in living the Christian life. It’s not sitting back on the hammock and swinging back and forth on the porch; it’s active commitment to growing in grace, if you are going to experience and express all that God has for you.
III. Do this before God in reverent awe and humility.
He means that we’re to do all of this in reverent awe and humility of God, because God’s at work in you. It’s an awesome thing. When you see yourself not only wanting to do what the Bible tells you to do, but doing what the Bible tells you to do, you are seeing that the living God who made heaven and earth is at work in your life. And it ought to cause you to tremble just a little bit, because the Almighty God is at work in you. Everywhere you see yourself wanting to follow the Bible, and following the Bible in your life, that is evidence that God is at work in you.
The third principle: We are to be humble and God-fearing in our living of the Christian life.
IV. Live this way because God is at work in you.
The fourth principle is Paul tells you that God is at work in you to encourage you. Thank God that He did not say, ‘OK, you’re forgiven. Now you’re on your own.’ Because I can testify that it’s hard enough to pursue holiness with His help. I can’t imagine pursuing it without Him. So he’s encouraging you: ‘God Himself is at work in you, so be encouraged by that.’
But the fifth principle that we learn from the passage is that God’s work doesn’t lead us to say ‘I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to work.’ But rather, it leads us to work in hope. You see, the logic of sanctification goes like this: God is at work in you, and therefore everything that you do matters to grow in grace. It’s so important to understand that that operates everywhere in the Christian life. God is at work in you; therefore everything that you do matters as you seek to grow in grace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 10:02 AM