Second Reformed Church

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.

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