Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Advance the Gospel" Sermon: Philippians 1:12-18a

“Advance the Gospel”

[Philippians 1:12-18a]

July 27, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            What is the most important thing in your life?  Your health?  Your marriage?  Your children?  Your job?  Your money?  Your home?  Your friends?  Your stuff?  What do you most look out for?

            After Paul greets the Philippians in his letter and gives thanks for them and tells them the things that he yearns for them, he then turns to address their concerns about him.  Remember, Paul was in prison in Rome, waiting to appeal his case – and preach the Gospel – before Caesar, himself.

            In addressing the Philippians’ concerns, Paul tells them two things in this morning’s text:

            First, suffering for the Gospel advances the Gospel.

            Second, the advance of the Gospel is more important than the reasons people advance it.

            Paul had plenty of enemies from the Jews and the Romans and others for a variety of reasons.  And that does not surprise us, does it?  Jesus promised that Christians will be enemies of the world:

            “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18-21, ESV).

            Paul addresses the Philippians’ concerns about him regarding what seem to be two different groups of enemies.  Paul is so vague about them that the Philippians must have known exactly who he meant without his going into much detail.  We, however, can only safely conclude some basic facts about these two groups.

            And so, we consider Paul’s points:

            First, suffering for the Gospel advances the Gospel.

            In Paul making that point, we understand that his enemies – his detractors – were saying, “See, Paul is in prison for preaching the Gospel.  If he was really preaching what God said – if he was really a son of God – would God allow him to suffer at the hands of Rome?  No, the Christian life is one of victory over sin, the devil, death, and Hell.  If Paul is suffering, it is because he preached something that was not true.  Paul is suffering because the Gospel Paul preached is not true.”

            It’s not a terrible argument, is it?  Paul was preaching about union with Christ, the hope and joy of the Kingdom, the victory of Christ in the Resurrection, and here he was, being hunted, beaten, and some people were even trying to kill him.  That doesn’t sound right, does it?

            The only problem with their criticism of Paul and his preaching of the Gospel was that Jesus promised that anyone who follows Him will suffer at the hands of the world.  And the Scripture writers are in agreement about this:  follow Christ and you will suffer.

            As Peter wrote, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV).

            When we follow Jesus, when we proclaim the Gospel, when we advance the Gospel, we should be prepared to suffer.  The world hates Jesus and His Gospel.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised.

            And, understand, if you suffer for the Gospel, that advances the Gospel.  As Paul says in this morning’s text, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,”

            Paul explains two ways in which his imprisonment has served to advance the Gospel – how his suffering for Christ and His Gospel has served to advance the Gospel.

            Paul tells the Philippians, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

            The imperial guard of Rome – the Praetorian Guard – consisting of 9,000 praetoriani – 9,000 guards (O’Brien, Philippians, 93).  Paul told the Philippians that because he was imprisoned for Christ, word spread throughout these 9,000 guards that Paul was imprisoned for preaching that there is One Way to Salvation – through faith alone in God Who came to earth in the Person of Jesus and physically resurrected from the dead.

            “Because I am imprisoned in Rome, the Gospel has advanced – 9,000 soldiers have heard the Gospel!”

            And Paul tells the Philippians, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

            The Christians in Rome looked at Paul and how he was dealing with his imprisonment – continuing to preach the Gospel to any who would hear, and the Roman Christians took great confidence in his example.  Rather than dissuade the Roman Christians from proclaiming the Gospel, seeing Paul continue to stand for the Gospel and preach the Gospel in prison, served to make them more confident in the message and the truth of the Gospel – it served to make them much more bold in their preaching – they were preaching the Gospel without fear of what might happen to them – they were submitting to the rule of Christ over them and not worrying about what secondary powers in the world might do.

            As Jesus taught, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven”
(Matthew 10:28-33, ESV).

            “The Christians in Rome have taken my imprisonment and my example in prison to be an encouragement and an emboldening – they are preaching the Gospel all the more – and without fear of what the world might do to them.”

            Paul told them not to worry about the people who were preaching against Paul – and the accusations that his imprisonment showed that his preaching of the Gospel was defective – or wrong.  The results he was seeing was that the Gospel was advancing – the guards were hearing the Gospel preached – and the Gospel message was circulating among the ranks.  And the Christians in Rome were preaching all the more, with greater boldness and without fear.

            Remember, as we have noted before, we are not called to seek out suffering – we are not called to be obnoxious for the sake of the Gospel.  We are called to be prepared, because if we truly present the Gospel, suffering will occur.  Maybe you’ll be thrown in jail, maybe you will be thought less of, maybe your spouse will be murdered, maybe you’ll lose a promotion – or a job.  Are you ready to suffer for Christ and His Gospel – whatever that suffering may be – if it serves to advance the Gospel?

            It’s not an easy thing to consider, and it’s easier to say you will lose anything than to actually lose something.  So, we need to prepare for it – by getting our priorities right – seeing what is of true value and what we can let go of for the sake of Christ.

            We looked at a passage recently in Sunday morning Bible study, where Jesus said, “Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:18-22, ESV).

            Jesus told a scribe – someone with some authority and standing in the community – you must be willing to become homeless for the sake of the Gospel.  Jesus told a man whose father had just died that showing Christ the proper respect was a higher calling that honoring his father by being there to bury him.

            Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24b-27, ESV).

            Jesus tells those who follow Him, if it will advance the Gospel for you to be crucified, you must do it.  Because advancing the Gospel is the most important thing – making sure everyone hears the Gospel call to belief and repentance – is the most important thing – it’s the chief job God has given us.

            Second, the advance of the Gospel is more important than the reasons people advance it.

            “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.”

            A second group of people, who were against Paul, were preachers who were envious or jealous of him.  People who looked at him or heard him speak and thought, “I’m a better speaker than he is.  I dress better than he does.  My body is more buff than his.  Why should he have all the followers?  Now that he’s in jail, it’s my time to capitalize on what he was preaching and get the attention, the recognition – all the benefits that Paul was getting that I am certainly more deserving of.”

            The words that Paul uses here do not mean that these preachers saw what Paul had and wanted to have it for themselves as well.  What Paul is saying is that they preachers saw what he had and they wanted to have it and they wanted Paul not to have it.  They did not just want to be as popular and as admired as Paul, but they wanted to be as popular and as admired as Paul and have Paul no longer be popular or admired.  It is an insidious form of covetousness that says, “You have this thing that I want and deserve, and I want it and I want you to no longer have it.”


            Now, here’s the rub:  working out of insidious, envious, covetous, rivalrous motives, these people preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ rightly and truly!  Whether they really believed and received the Gospel themselves, we are not told, but they preached the Gospel Paul preached because they were envious of what they thought Paul profited by preaching this Gospel, and they thought they should have that profit and not Paul!  They were preaching the Truth of the Gospel – salvation in Jesus Alone – they were preaching for the wrong reasons, but they were truly proclaiming the Gospel.

“The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.”

There were preachers who preached, believing the Gospel, and believing that Paul was advancing the Gospel by suffering for the Gospel in prison.  Then there were these others who preached out of selfishness – hoping to hurt Paul’s reputation – to knock him off the top of the heap – to cause him competition in the Gospel-preaching game.

But Paul was not concerned about being the most popular or the best recognized preacher of the Gospel – as he explained to the Philippians:  “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

Paul said he didn’t care why people were preaching the Gospel, as long as the Gospel was being rightly preached.  If the Gospel was being preached – if it was being advanced – Paul was filled with joy – that joy that can only come through being satisfied with where you are in Christ Jesus.

            Would you be satisfied with being nobody – with having any recognition or awards taken away by someone else – if it advanced the Gospel?

            John the Baptist was talking with his disciples about Jesus and said, “John answered, ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease’” (John 3:27-30, ESV).

            John told his disciples that – at a wedding – the bride and the bridegroom are the center of attention – the friend of the bridegroom ought not to be seeking to be in the spotlight.  The best thing the friend of the bridegroom can do – if he is a true friend, is direct people’s attention to the bride and bridegroom.  So, the best thing we can do to show people Jesus and direct them to the Gospel is to get out of the way.  And if others want the “spotlight” of preaching the Gospel – directing people to Jesus – if they are rightly preaching the Gospel – rejoice!  There are more places for you to go and more people for you to tell.

            So Paul tells the Philippians that all is well, because the Gospel is advancing.  Yes, he is in prison, but the guards are learning why he is in prison – the message of the Gospel, and that message is spreading throughout the praetorium.  The Christians and Rome are looking at the way Paul is carrying himself in prison and being more confident and more bold in preaching the Gospel.

            And Paul tells them not to worry about people who are preaching the Gospel because they don’t like Paul.  The joyful point is that they are preaching the Gospel!

            Of course, heretics must be stopped, but anyone who is preaching the Gospel ought to be encouraged to do so.  Other issues – such as covetousness – may be addressed in other ways – but don’t stop the right preaching of the Gospel.

            So, are you ready to work hard for the advancement of the Gospel?  Are you ready to tell others about what Jesus did in history?  Have you made advancing the Gospel your priority?  Will you obey Jesus?  As we noted last week:  “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).

            Are you ready to suffer for the news of the One Way to salvation?  Are you ready to be looked down on, ignored, forgotten, and even despised?

            Brothers and sisters, true joy is found in Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  As Paul shows us in our text this morning – the advance of the Gospel is where we will find our joy through Jesus Christ. 

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we do not like to suffer, and we enjoy others thinking well of us.  Help us to keep Your Incarnation, life, crucifixion, and Resurrection before us that we would see the advance of the Gospel as worth more and more joy-filling for us, than having the world treat us well and think well of us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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.