Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Baptized Into Death" Sermon: Romans 6:1-4

“Baptized Into Death”

[Romans 6:1-4]

July 20, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            This morning, we intend to baptize Samuel Hastey.  As we do so, we do well to prepare ourselves with an understanding of what is going on – what we expect to happen in and through the Sacrament of Baptism.  We call it a sacrament because it is one of the two symbolic events of the Gospel that Jesus told us to do:  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

            So, part of the “why” of baptism is that Jesus said to do it.  Therefore, we should do it.

            Yet, the question remains, why do we baptize infants – babies?

            For three reasons:

            First, baptism is the formal entrance of the child into the believing community.

            Second, baptism is a sign – it is symbolic – of what God has done in Jesus for salvation.

            And third, baptism is a seal for the person who makes a profession of faith.

            Involved in this whole idea is the concept of “covenant” – that God has made an agreement – a contract – between Himself and all those who will ever believe.  We understand contracts – agreements – in our culture, as well:  we hired a company a couple of weeks ago to repair the entrance stairs to the church.  If they did the work, they would get paid; if they did not do the work, they would not get paid.

            We understand that the Covenant between God and the children of believers continues from the Old Testament through the New Testament.  In the Old Testament era, male children were circumcised as the symbol of the Covenant; in the New Testament era, children are baptized.

            As we consider baptism, let us also note two wrong understandings – two things we do not believe that the Scripture teaches:

            Baptism does not save the child or anyone – baptism does not remove sin – baptism does not make the child a Christian.

            And, baptism does not do nothing.  Something really happens during baptism that cannot be wished or imagined away.

            On the TV show, “All in the Family,” Archie and Mike were discussing baptism, and Mike said that he had renounced his baptism years earlier, and Archie responded, “Try to renounce your belly-button, buddy-boy.”  In other words, something real occurs during baptism, but it does not make the child a Christian.

            So, what does happen?

            First, baptism is the formal entrance of the child into the believing community.

            We look back at the institution of circumcision to see the parallel:

            “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant’” (Genesis 17:9-14, ESV).

            Here we see that circumcision was the entrance into the believing community in the Old Testament.  The sign has changed – and now all children – not just male children – are received into the community through baptism.

            Bringing a child to be baptized is the parents’ and the believing community’s way of acknowledging that the child was born or adopted into the believing community and the parents and the community – the Church – pledge to do everything within their power to raise the child in the faith – to teach him the Truth of what God has said in His Word and to impress upon him the understanding of the necessity of receiving and professing the One Way of Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.

            It is the child’s responsibility – taken on for him by the parents and the community – to respond to the call to receive and profess faith.  Just as baptism does not make the child a Christian – the parents and the Church’s promise to raise the child – to diligently instruct the child in the faith – does not make him a Christian.  The child – enabled by God – must receive the Truth of Jesus as Savior to become a Christian.

            Second, baptism is a sign – it is symbolic – of what God has done in Jesus for salvation.

            Baptism is one of the two visible representations of the Gospel that Jesus gave to us – the Lord’s Supper being the other.  As we baptize, we are symbolically showing what happens in salvation – what Jesus has done to save all those who will believe.

            In the Old Testament, we are told that circumcision is symbolic – it is a sign of what God does in salvation – in this way:  “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6, ESV).

            We understand that the physical circumcision that occurred to baby boys was not of their hearts.  That physical sign was to symbolize what God did in the heart – how God changes the heart – circumcises the heart, so a person will believe and receive the Gospel – God’s Way of Salvation.

            Paul most clearly explains that baptism is the New Testament version of this symbolizing of the Gospel, when he writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12, ESV).

            Just as circumcision of the flesh was symbolic of God’s changing a person’s heart, so baptism with water is symbolic of spiritual union with Jesus in His death, burial, and physical Resurrection.

            You see, the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – is a response to the fact that we have all sinned against God – and God – since He is Just – must punish sin.  But, if God punished us justly for our sin, none of us would survive – we would all suffer God’s Eternal Wrath.  So God, in love, made One Way for anyone who believes to be saved – that is the Good News.

            The Gospel – the historical facts which we must believe with our minds as true and receive in our hearts – are the historical facts of Jesus:  God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His Throne.

            If we truly believe those facts as true and receive them in our hearts – then we are united with Jesus – He has changed our hearts – we have been united with Him in His life, so we are seen as having kept God’s Law, and we are united with Him in His death, as He took on God’s Wrath for our sins, and we are united with Him in His Resurrection, so we can live eternally with Him in His Kingdom.

            Our text this morning, which comes in the context of those who were arguing that if God is gracious to us when we sin, we ought to sin more, so God would be more gracious, Paul tells the Romans – and us –

            “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

            Paul explains that baptism symbolizes the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – that Jesus died, was buried, and physically rose from the dead.  Samuel with be “under the water” – as though dead, but he will live.  Baptism is a symbolic representation of what Jesus did for all those who will believe.

            So, we see that baptism really does something:  it formally welcomes the child into the believing community, it engages the parents and the Church in the raising of the child in the faith, and it symbolically portrays the Gospel message of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection, which must be believed, if anyone will be saved from the Wrath of God and welcomed into His Kingdom.

            Yet, baptism does not save – it does not make the child a Christian.

            Third, baptism is a seal for the person who makes a profession of faith.

            What occurs today is the welcoming of Samuel into the community of faith, the pledging of his parents and the Church to raise him in the faith, and a symbolic presentation of the Gospel.  But Samuel will not be saved from the Wrath of God unless he professes faith in Jesus Christ – unless he believes in his mind and receives in his heart the facts of the Gospel – the history of Jesus.

            If Samuel does one day profess saving faith in Jesus, and please God he will, then this baptism that he receives today will become a seal on him.  Then it will be a reality for him that God has changed out – circumcised – his heart – that he has been united with Jesus in His life and death and Resurrection, and He will be the adopted son of God, who will forever live in the Kingdom with Jesus.

            Anyone can receive the sign of baptism, but as we have said, baptism does not save – it symbolically presents the One Way of Salvation – and those involved swear to raise the child in the faith, but the child must one day make a profession of faith – believing the Truth of the Gospel in his mind and receiving it in his heart.  Then, the baptism received prior to conversion – belief – becomes a seal.  At the point that he truly believes, he will have the assurance of God’s Eternal Love for him.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for giving us Your Gospel in history, in word, and in symbols.  As we prepare to baptize Samuel, we ask that You would change hearts and seal baptisms long ago received that some who see this Sacrament administered would, for the first time, truly believe and receive Salvation through Jesus Christ Alone.  We ask for strength and wisdom for Joshua and Rebekah and all who will be in contact with Samuel in his instruction in the faith – that they would be a profound light of the Gospel to Samuel – and that You would bless their efforts – that all of their lives would point to the Truth of You.  And we ask that You would be willing to raise Samuel to new life through Jesus Christ Alone that he would be saved by You and remain forever with You in Your Glory.  And we ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Free Community Lunch

Come join us on this beautiful day for a free lunch from 12 to 1 PM.  If you are able to come early to help rpeapre and serve and/or stay on to clean up, it would bee much appreciated.  Come enjoy the food and the fellowship!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"I Yearn" Sermon: Philippians 1:8-11

“I Yearn”

[Philippians 1:8-11]

July 13, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we began our look at the letter to the Philippians, and after the salutation, we saw Paul give thanks to God for the Philippians care and love of him, for their participation in the proclamation of the Gospel, and for the promise that God will persevere them to the day of Christ Jesus – that God will not allow His work to go unfinished – all we who believe in Jesus savingly will be made holy and glorified on the last day – made into the Image of Jesus.  For now, we noted that knowing what the truth is must lead to living that truth out – belief must lead to action as an evidence of that belief.

            At this point, Paul does something a little unusual – he takes an oath – calling on God to witness – to back up – what he is about to say:  “For God is my witness,”

            What is interesting about this is the word that is used for “witness.”  If we just read over this, we would think that this was an appeal to God in the way that a witness appears in court to testify to the truth of someone’s actions or statements, but that is not what is going on here.  The word that is used here is the word “martyr” – “For God is my martyr” – literally.

            What Paul is saying is that what he is about to tell them is something for which God – in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Only Savior – died to make a reality.  The truth of what Paul is saying is not based on Paul, but on the Sacrificial Death of Jesus for the sins of all those who would ever believe.

            Paul tells the Philippians that this is what he “yearns” for them:  “how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”  Literally – “how I yearn for you all through the bowels of Christ Jesus” – Paul is expressing his great longing – his great affection – for the Philippians – and he again stresses that the Gospel will not bear fruit through following Paul – through getting to know Paul – through understanding everything Paul said – the Gospel bears fruit as we plumbs the very depths of God in Christ Jesus – as far as we can possibly plumb as finite human beings.  And that might sound a little gross to us, but Paul was getting at the point that through the death of Christ Jesus all believers are able and God wants us to plumbs the depths of the Gospel and Paul wants the Philippians to plumb the depths of the Gospel – and, truthfully, I want you and me to plumbs the depths of the Gospel in obedience and through faith to the One Savior Jesus Christ.  Paul wanted – and I want for us – that love of Jesus the martyr – to be our greatest desire and the very core of our being in all that we do and that we would want to know Jesus as much as possible – and understand the Gospel as much as possible – in this lifetime.

            That’s what my doctoral work was all about – arguing that having more people is nice and having more money is nice – but true growth in Christ and His Gospel is becoming more faithful and more obedient to Christ – and that is where our emphasis must be in “church growth” – and then, perhaps, we will have the faith to be obedient and God will bless us by continuing to use us in this place – or elsewhere.

            Paul longed for the Philippians to grow in the Gospel – and, truth be told – I long and pray for our growth in the Gospel.  There are times when I ask myself, “Were they all asleep?”  “Did I fail so greatly in delivering the Word of God?”  “God, will you not unclog ears and give hearts of flesh?”  And then I turn to myself and I wonder how God can forgive me of the same sin over and over and over.  I wonder if I am stewarding my time inappropriately – am I truly spending the time I need in the preparation of the sermon for all of our sakes?

            The good news is that God can use a sinner and a poor sermon to deliver His Word – not that that is an excuse – it’s not.  But the Spirit moves as He wills.  Yet, I need to grow up – I yearn to grow up – I yearn for you to grow up – Paul yearned for the Philippians to grow up.  Understand, Paul is not saying that they were not Christians – they – like all of us – had room to mature in the faith and in our obedience – and there will continue to be room to mature until Jesus descends on the clouds to bring us into His Kingdom, and then we will be like Him.

            So, we see in this morning’s text that Paul yearns for them:

            First, Paul yearned that their love would more and more abound.

            Second, Paul yearned that their love would be grounded in knowledge and discernment.

            Third, Paul yearned that they would grow in holiness.

            Fourth, Paul yearned that this growth would produce righteous fruit.

            “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more,”

            First, Paul yearned that their love would more and more abound.

            This is not what the Beatle’s sang about when they sang, “All you need is love, dum, da, dum, dum dum…”

            Paul is yearning that their love of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – would abound more and more as they grew in faith and obedience and that that love would be evidenced in their earthly lives.

            When Paul says that he yearns for their love to abound more and more, he is talking about their love of God:  He yearns that their theoretical love – their doctrinal love – their Scriptural love – would about more and more.

            Paul wanted them to look to the Scripture to know God in His Three Persons and know God more and more by the continuous, diligent study of the Word of God – and that their love of God – Who He is and what He has done – would abound and overflow – that in knowing God for Who He is and what He has done as He has revealed Himself in the Scripture, they would love Him more and more – that they would love to read the Scripture and hear the Scripture read and preached and that they would study it as a vital need like breathing.

            Do you love to breathe?

            A few years ago when I had partial lung failure and ended up in the hospital, gasping for air – you know, I realized how much I love to breathe!

            Do you love to breathe?

            Do you love the Scripture and the God it reveals to us?  Do you want to know Him better and love Him more?  Are you spending time in the Word of God – reading it and meditating on it?  Do you desire to study the Word of God to better understand it and know this God Who has given you salvation?

            “Oh, but Pastor, that’s what you’re for.  We can’t understand the Scripture – we need you to explain it.”

            If you care to know what I have gleaned through my study and as the Holy Spirit works through it – that’s great – but most of the Scripture is straightforward.  Try it!  There are parts that may seem tedious or confusing – but most of it is not – and if you love God at all – don’t you want to know what He wants to reveal to you about Himself?  Don’t you want your love of Him to grow?

            “Oh, but Pastor, we haven’t the time to read the Scripture.”  Raise your hands:  do any of you ever watch TV, movies, DVD’s, go on the Internet?  Brothers and sisters – why are we willing to throw away the Word of God for lies, scandal, and other entertainment, so called?

            I yearn for us to desire to be in and under the Word of God and studying it with each other.  Do you know we have Bible study at 9 AM each Sunday morning? 

            “Oh, but pastor, 9 AM is so early; Sunday is my only day to sleep in.”

            The Almighty God came to earth to save you to His Glory – don’t you want to know Him and love Him and experience joy more fully to the point of overflowing and abounding?

What keeps you from working to grow your love of God as revealed to us in the Scripture so that it abounds?

I used to have a friend who told me – on her seventieth birthday – that she didn’t need to go to Church any more.  She knew all that she needed to know – it was nothing to her any more.

            There is also a practical side to this yearning:  as we know God in His Word better, we will love Him more and we will show that love in the way that we live – we will love our brothers and sisters in Christ more – we will desire to help each other to grow in faith and obedience more – we will desire to let others know about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ more.

            So, as we know God more, we will love God more, and as we love God more, we will love each other more, and show the love of God to each other and all those we come in contact with – so our love with God and with each other and others will increase towards completeness and the intimacy of we who are One Body with Christ and all those who may yet come to faith and as a witness of the Gospel and God’s Love to those who never will.

            “with knowledge and all discernment,”

Second, Paul yearned that their love would be grounded in knowledge and discernment.

This follows, does it not?  Paul yearend that the Philippians’ love would – more and more – be grounded in knowledge.

No one can believe in Christ if they have never heard of Him – if they know nothing about Him.  As Paul wrote, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15, ESV).

Now, knowledge of Jesus is not saving – the devil knows Jesus very well – he knows Who Jesus is and what He has done and that He is the Only Way to salvation – but he will be cast into Hell.  Knowing about Jesus – the facts – are the place we must begin, but that knowledge must become a complete, saving knowledge through a heart recognition and reception of Jesus as Savior – and then that knowledge grows, by the grace of God.

You who have ever been married – did you know everything about your spouse when you first got married – or has your knowledge – your intimate, fulfilling, joyful, recognition of the person you have married grown?  And, as you have known your spouse more fully, hasn’t your love grown?

Now, human marriages are not a perfect union like the union between Christ and His people – humans are sinners and there are things we will find out about our spouses as time goes by that we wish we not true, or didn’t happen, or would change.  That is not the case with Christ – as our knowledge grows in completeness and recognition of all that He is, our love for Him will grow as well, as we begin to plumb all of Who He is – as Paul exclaims in joy and wonder:  “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’  ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36, ESV).

And, Paul yearns that their love be grounded in discernment.  What he means here is that they would focus on the truly important things and be united and grow in love over those things.

Now, understand, Paul is not saying that we should never disagree on matters of the faith – or that anything we disagree about is unimportant.  Paul, in fact, affirms the necessity of divisions at times:  “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:18-19, ESV).

What Paul is saying is that as we grow in love and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must be united as Christians in proclaiming those things which are essential to salvation – and we must discern them – we must know what they are:  God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, He lived a perfect life under God’s Law, He died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and then physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.  That is the Gospel – that must be believed if a person is a Christian.

There are important things to discuss that Christians disagree about:  is the King James the only accurate translation of the Bible, should we only sing Psalms in worship, is it right to use instruments in worship, do the Sacraments do something or are they just memorials, and so forth.  However, as we join together to spread the Gospel – and all Christians ought to be able and do this – we preach Jesus Christ and His Gospel Alone – the other issues are important, but secondary.  Discern between saving knowledge and everything else.

“so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,”

Third, Paul yearned that they would grow in holiness.

Paul yearned that the Philippian’s love would abound, that it would be backed up with true Scriptural knowledge, that they would be able to discern between the Gospel – through which the knowledge of salvation is found – and all other doctrines – teachings – of the Scripture.

Why?  So they would lead excellent lives – holy lives.  That they would be looking forward to the Second Coming, sincerely holding to the faith, striving against sin and towards holiness, living lives in the unwavering work of striving towards sanctification – holiness.

Jesus put it this way:  “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV).

And the author of Hebrews wrote, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).

And here, we must reach back to the beginning of this section, because to be holy – to be perfect – means that we are without sin and have kept all of God’s Law, which we have not done and do not do, even as we pursue and progress towards holiness.  The only way this is possible – the only way we can be saved – the only way we will ever see the Lord, is through the bowels of Christ Jesus.  And we will be holy on the Day of Christ Jesus – the Second Coming.

We see more of how this works in the next phrase:

“filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ,”

Fourth, Paul yearned that this growth would produce righteous fruit.

A tree without roots – a plant without roots – will not grow – it will eventually die.  The only way we can avoid death – and the wages of death for our sin is to be part of a plant with good, healthy roots.

Paul yearns for the Philippians that as their love abounds, as they know Christ with greater intimacy, as they grow in union with Him by His Work, as they know the saving Gospel more fully, and discern between it and all other teachings, as they strive to live lives of holiness by obedience to God in all things – Paul yearns that the Philippian’s righteousness – which they receive from Christ – He kept the Law and died for our sins, crediting us with His Righteousness  -- Paul yearned that that righteousness would abound with fruit.

Jesus explained it this way:  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:1-11, ESV).

Jesus says that He is the life and the vitality of the Christian – it is not possible to bear fruit – to do works that are good in God’s sight except through Jesus.  God the Father removes dead branches – that don’t bear fruit – and He prunes us – disciplines us – that we might be more productive fruit-bearers.  God is glorified as those who believe in Jesus savingly do the good works we have been called to do.  The Father loves the Son, the Son loves all those who believe savingly in Him, and if we truly love the Son, we will obey His commands – to the end of bearing fruit – doing those good works which glorify the Father.

Make sense?

Jesus loves Christians; Christians love Jesus.  Christians prove their love for Jesus by pursuing holiness – complete obedience to Jesus in all things.  As we strive to be obedient – by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us – we do those good works that we have been called to do – we become more like Jesus as we respond, “Your Will be done, not mine” – as we say “yes” to everything God has commanded and do it – as we open our mouths and say, “Come hear what God has to say!  Come hear the Gospel – the Good News – of Jesus Christ!”

I yearn that for us – I yearn that we would be so in love with Jesus – so desirous of Him – so full of joy about Him and through Him that He is our meat and drink – that we desire obedience to Him and bearing fruit for Him to the Glory of the Father – more than breathing.

I hope and I yearn that the Holy Spirit is stirring up your spirits right now and you are asking yourself, “How do I do this?  How do I grow and abound in love and knowledge and discernment, approving what is excellent, so I will be pure and blameless when Christ returns, having been a Christian who has borne the fruit of righteousness in abundance?!”

If you’re not a Christian, then believe the Gospel and repent of your sins.

If you are a Christian, read your Bible every day, study the Bible yourself and with other Christians, and sit under the right preaching of the Scripture.  There is something devilishly wrong when most Christian’s Bibles are covered with dust.  This Holy Book – the Word of God – is a closed book to most of us – simply because we don’t open it.

And then pray, receive the Sacraments, join together in fellowship and hospitality, and evangelize – tell others the Gospel.  Tell them, “Our pastor says that the Gospel is not the top five tips for how to lead your best life now – come hear what is being preached – it actually comes from the Bible!”

I yearn – as Paul yearned for the Philippians – that our love through Jesus Christ would grow, with knowledge and discernment, approving what is excellent, striving for holiness as we await the Day of Christ Jesus, working hard to be obedient that we would abundantly bear the fruit of righteousness – all those good works He has called us to do, “to the glory and praise of God.”

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we are a slow and lazy people, full of self-importance and entitlement.  Humble us and raise up in us an overwhelming desire to know Jesus Christ and His salvation to the fullest extent possible.  Cause the Holy Spirit to be with us and urge us to read Your Word.  Help us to understand Your Word and to strive for obedience.  And fill us with the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  And may Your receive all the glory.  And we ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Anglican Wisdom

On Philippians 1:8

"It is not Paul who lives within Paul, but Jesus Christ, which is why Paul is not moved by the bowels of Paul, but the bowels of Jesus Christ." -- J. A. Bengel quoted in Peter T. O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 72.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

"I Thank" Sermon: Philippians 1:1-7

“I Thank”

[Philippians 1:1-7]

July 6, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Today, we begin a look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

            Philippi was an important city in northeastern Greece when Paul visited during his second missionary journey around 50 A.D.  It had become part of the Roman Empire which was interested in it both as a location of gold and as a key link in the ancient trade route.

            With a history as Greece and as part of the Roman Empire, as well as being along the trade route, there was a variety of religious beliefs in the city – the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods – along with others – were worshipped there.  A unique absence was there was no Jewish presence in the city – no synagogue in Philippi.

            We read of Paul’s journey to Philippi beginning in Acts 16.  Without a synagogue to preach in, Paul went to the river, where the women gathered to wash their clothes and talk.  There Paul preached and Lydia, a seller of purple clothes, and others, came to faith in Jesus Alone for salvation.  After this, Paul cast a demon out of a woman who prophesied by the demon, and she believed.  And, perhaps most famously, while he was in jail, Paul preached and the Philippian jailer and his whole family believed and was baptized.  They were the beginning of the church at Philippi.

            Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi around 60 A.D., while he waited in jail in Rome to appear before Caesar – which would end in Paul’s execution.

            Paul begins his letter with a typical salutation:

            “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,”

            Paul, along with his travelling companion, wrote to the Philippians, and Paul begins by stressing the fact that they were servants of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ was their Master – they answered to no higher power than Jesus, Himself.  This was important to emphasize as Paul did not know whether his request to speak to Caesar would end in his death.  He wanted the Philippians to understand that he placed his hope in Jesus and not in the rulers of this world.  Paul was ultimately subject to the Will of Jesus, not Caesar, nor any other human authority.

            “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:”

            The letter is addressed to all of the believers – all the Christians in Philippi – with the church leadership.

            “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

            The opening salutation ends with Paul’s blessing and hope that they would receive grace and peace from God.  Specifically, that they would more fully understand, hold to, and defend that the Gospel as freely received by grace and not by works, and that they would more fully understand what is the full nature of the peace they now have with God through Jesus Christ.

            After this opening salutation, Paul turns to give thanks.

            Here we see:

            First, Paul thanks God for their love and care of him.

            Second, Paul thanks God for their proclamation of the Gospel.

            Third, Paul thanks God for God’s promise to persevere them.

            Fourth, right belief evidences itself in right action.

            “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,”

            Notice in the first three points we are making this morning that Paul thanks God for a number of things.  Humans do not tend to be a thankful people.  We think we are deserving of this and that blessing and honor and gift.  But Paul gives us the right example that we are to thankful for anything and everything we receive, because everything and anything we receive – even through others – is by the Hand of God.

            One of the problems of the unbelievers in that they do not thank God for all they have received – as Paul explains:  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, ESV).

            Paul instructs the Thessalonians:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

            Humans tend not to be a thankful people – and we in the Church tend not to be any better – to our shame.  Do we not have reason to be thankful to God for all things at all times – we for whom God came to earth and died?

            I use to have a friend who complained constantly.  One day I asked her if she did not have anything to be thankful for.  She screamed:  “I have nothing to be thankful for!  Everything I have, I worked for myself!  No one has ever given me anything!”  I found that attitude heartbreaking.

            James tells us, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:16-18, ESV).

            Yes, we have bad days.  Yes, we do not always receive the recognition we believe we deserve from people.  Yes, people lie to us and cheat us and steal from us.

            But, if we are Christians, the Almighty God came down off His throne and reconciled us to Himself that we would not have to suffer His Wrath for our sin – by living and dying and rising in our place!  Our Loving Father has adopted us as His children out of His Own Sovereign Good Pleasure!  We do not merit forgiveness.  We do not merit adoption.  We do not merit eternal life. 

            But God promises this will be the end for all those who believe:  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).

            Brothers and sisters!  Strike us blind, deaf, mute, unable to smell or taste, take away our memory, kill off all of our family, put us out on the street, give us terrible diseases, and we have reason to give thanks, because God, our Father, has chosen us to be His children and live in His Kingdom forever!

            Are you alive?  Are you breathing?  Do you have food?  Do you have shelter?  Do you have clothes?  Do you have enough money to get by?  Are you here among brothers and sisters in Christ to worship our God and Savior?  Has Jesus saved you to His Glory?  Then you have more than enough to give thanks for – don’t you think?

            We ought to be thankful towards each other – and towards all the other humans who participate in our lives – even though they may get on our nerves now and then – but our thanks should always be first to God from Whom all things come.

            And so we see, Paul first gives thanks to God for the Philippians love and care of him.

            Every time Paul thought of the Philippians, he gave thanks for them.

            He gave thanks to God for them as fellow Christians – believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Are we thankful for all those that God has called to Himself in salvation through Jesus?  Are you thankful for the Christian beside you or behind you or in front of you?  Do you thank God for him or her?

            He gave thanks to God for them as people who came to him in prison – sending emissaries to him to make sure he had what he needed and to send support for him while he was under house arrest.  Are we thankful to God and do we take the opportunity to be in contact with those who are in need – sick, shut-ins, people who are down, people who are in prison or suffering in some other way, people who are struggling with addiction to sin – to inappropriate sexuality, to gambling, to alcohol, to drugs, to food.
            He gave thanks to God for their financial gift to him – we will see more about this later.  The Philippians gave to Paul financially – as a missionary, as a brother in need.  Can we be counted on to give financially to those in need – to those who are serving in the ministry of Christ?  When was the last time you heard of a financial need – especially in the Church – and rather than reluctantly giving your spare change, spent time in prayer – not asking yourself how little you could get away with, but how much you could possibly give to support the Work of Christ and His servants?

“because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

Second, Paul gave God thanks for their proclamation of the Gospel.

The Philippian believers did not just receive the Gospel and sit back and wait for the Second Coming.  No, the Philippians got off their pews and went out and told their friends and families and strangers about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  They had a passion for wanting people to hear and believe in Jesus for salvation.

If you are a Christian, do you care that there are millions of people going to Hell every day?  Do you care about those people you know who do not believe in Jesus savingly?   Do you desire them to believe and repent and be welcomed into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?  Have you told them?

Jesus has commanded us to go:  “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark 16:15, ESV).

Paul knew it so important to be willing to be executed:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).

Peter preached the urgency of the Gospel:  “And there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, ESV).

And some of you may be thinking, “That’s your job.”  And you’re right, in the sense that I am a Christian and am to be proclaiming the Gospel – and, pray God, I do.  But this is for you, too.

Paul explained, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV).

Did you hear that?  Paul says that the church leaders were given to equip you to become mature in the faith and go out and build up the Church – to proclaim the Gospel – to tell others about Jesus!

And when we do that – when God brings people to belief and repentance – I thank God – you thank God – all the beings of heaven thank God!  Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

Are we thankful that God uses us to proclaim the Gospel?  Are we thankful to God that He brings people to belief and repentance through us by the Holy Spirit?  Do you ever get giddy when an opportunity presents itself to tell someone that God has a made the Way to be right with Him through Jesus?

Let me plead with you – if you are not telling others about Jesus – in whatever way God has gifted you – we are not all evangelists – pray that God will show you how and give you the joy and wisdom to tell others.  Pick up the book on evangelism that is available in Freeman Hall.  Ask God to make you thankful for the command to tell others – for the fact that God will even use you to His Glory – and for knowing that it is God’s work to save, not ours.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Third, Paul thanks God for God’s promise to persevere them.

God commands us to be faithful and obedient – holy, as He is holy.  How’s that going for you?

Paul writes to give thanks to God for His promise that He will bring the Philippians – and all believers --  to perfection – holiness – transforming them into the Image of His Son, Jesus, just as He promised.

Paul describes the life of the Christian as a striving, a race, and a boxing match – listen:  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).

And he tells the Philippians later:  “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained” (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV).

We are striving towards holiness, faithfulness, obedience, and we do better or worse from one moment to the next – that is not what Paul is giving God thanks for – Paul gives thanks to God that the time of striving will end one day – one day we will no longer have to fight against temptation – one day the struggle towards holiness will come to an end, because when Jesus Returns, we will be glorified, like Jesus is.  The struggle in this life is worth it for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of Jesus – because it will one day come to an end – thanks be to God!

And God will not let us ever fall completely away.  If God has elected you to be His, you are His and will be His for all of eternity – though we struggle through this life.  God has promised He will persevere us – He will bring us to the end for which we were created – to glorify and enjoy Him through our complete salvation through Jesus Christ.

David writes, “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8, ESV).

And Isaiah describes us as God’s work:  “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8, ESV).

And Paul puts the promise again this way:  “ For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).

We are God’s workmanship, and God will bring us to completion – to the end for which He created us.  God will not get frustrated and throw us away – but He will work in us and through us and transform us into what we shall become. 

On those days when we are down on ourselves for giving into sin – on those days when we don’t know how God can love us – how God can use us – how we can continue in this deceitful, broken world – hold fast to the promise that God is working you and me into the men and women He has called us to be – that is the promise that He has made – He will not allow His Work to be frustrated.  It will be accomplished – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, ESV).  Thanks be to God!

“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”

Fourth, right belief evidences itself in right action.

Paul tells the Philippians that he is right to thank God for their love and care of him, it is right for him to thank God for their proclamation of the Gospel, it is right for him to thank God for His promises to persevere them, and because it is right for him to give thanks to God for them, he holds them in his heart – and he remembers them every time he goes to prayer and prays for them – because their belief has evidenced itself in right action.

They were partakers with Paul of grace – they believed in Jesus Alone for salvation by faith alone by grace alone – their belief was right – they held onto Jesus Alone for their salvation.  They were brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ as is everyone here who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation.

And they evidenced their belief in two ways that he mentions:

They partook with him of the Grace through the Gospel in his imprisonment – they supported him in his imprisonment by visiting him, sending him money and other things he needed, and they prayed for him and his witness to the Gospel while he was in prison.

Jesus explains that the Grace of the Gospel shared with brothers and sisters in this way:  “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV).

Paul was really in prison and they tended to his needs – but this participation in the Grace of the Gospel extends beyond that to all those who are in any type of prison – as we have already noted – people who are hungry, sick, in prison, needful of basic supplies, shelter, deliverance from addition to gambling, alcohol, sexual immorality, food, and every other kind of addiction or imprisonment.

Do you know of a fellow Christian who is struggling – striving towards holiness – but trapped in one way or another?  Is there anything that you can do to help that brother or sister for the sake of the Gospel?  What have you done?  What do you know you need to do?  Do you pray for those who you know are imprisoned in one way or another?

And they partook with him of the Grace through the Gospel in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel – they proclaimed the Gospel and showed why it is true and the only Way to salvation.  They lived lives that showed they were striving towards all obedience to God in the love of Jesus Christ.  People looked at the way they acted and what they said, and they recognized them as Christians and saw that they were trying to follow Jesus in all that He said and did.

The question is sometimes posed, “If Christianity was outlawed, would there be enough evidence to arrest you?”

Are you known as someone who defends the Gospel with your mouth and confirms it by your actions?  Do others know that it is your joy to talk about Jesus and His salvation?  Do people look at your life and see that you are striving with all your might and by the Power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of obedient holiness to Jesus?

Paul opens his letter to the Philippians by thanking God for them, as brothers and sisters in Christ who care for him, who proclaim the Gospel, who hold fast to the promise that God will bring their striving towards holiness and obedience to fruition – that they would be – at the coming of Christ – holy, glorified men and women – transformed into the Image of Jesus.  And he tells them that he is confident in his thanks because they were a people who lived out what they believed – ministering to him and others in prison and defending and confirming the Gospel as a witness to Who Jesus is, what He has done – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let us be a thankful people – especially to God for what He has done and continues to do in and among us.  Let us live out the Gospel that we say we believe – telling others, showing the reasonableness of it, and acting like Christians are called to act.

Let us pray:

Almighty and Most Blessed God, Giver of Salvation, we thank You for the witness of the Philippian Church – for Paul’s thanksgiving for them and their living lives that bear witness to their being Christians.  We thank You that each moment has been ordained by You and You are bringing us closer to the day when all we who believed will be glorified and our struggle with sin will be no more.  Glorify Yourself in us – use us to Your Glory – Magnify Your Name through this people – that the world would hear Your Gospel and believe and repent and live obedient, joyful lives.  We ask these things in accordance with Your promises and Your commands to us, confident that the Holy Spirit Who lives in us will bring all that You have willed to pass.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.