Second Reformed Church

Sunday, November 09, 2014

"Be Excellent" Sermon: Philippians 4:2-9

“Be Excellent”

[Philippians 4:2-9]

November 9, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            As citizens of Heaven, through Jesus, we now have the rights and privileges of Heaven.  Proclaiming the Gospel and living out the Gospel through the race of faith – striving to become holy – working out our sanctification by the Spirit – looking to Jesus as our hope and goal.  Being assured of the truth of the Gospel – being assured of our salvation in Jesus Alone.  Standing firm in the Gospel against all who teach otherwise.

            As citizens of Heaven we are called to live lives that are different – that reflect the Gospel and our sure belief in it.  We are to grow in the joy of living lives of faithful obedience to God with our whole selves – heart, soul, mind, and strength.

            Paul directs the Philippians in how to live lives of Christian excellence:

            First, for the sake of the Gospel, we must agree in the Lord.

            Second, we are to be centered on the joy of the Gospel.

            And third, we are to strive for spiritual excellence.

            All of this is a life-long work – which the Holy Spirit works in us.  Yet, we are able to quench the Spirit through our sin – we can fall back into sin – we can become less mature, rather than becoming more mature in the faith.  So, we must be watchful, first of ourselves, and then of our brothers and sisters – to help them, in Christ, as we are gifted.

            First, for the sake of the Gospel, we must agree in the Lord.

            “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

            Have you ever heard anyone say, “I don’t want to be part of the church – the church is full of hypocrites”?

            Have you ever heard the saying, “If you ever find a perfect church, don’t go there, you’ll ruin it”?

            One of the unique things about the Church is that we admit that we are sinners.  We continue to sin against our First Love – we continue to be disobedient to God and unfaithful.  Charles Spurgeon – the 19th century preacher – was once reprimanded by someone after worship – a woman told him the ways that she thought he was a bad person.  Spurgeon replied that she didn’t know him at all – he was a far worse sinner than she thought he was.

            The fact that we continue to sin against our Loving God and Holy Savior is not to our glory – we dare not pat ourselves on our backs for being sinners or even being willing to admit that we are sinners.  When we sin, we ought to experience deep anguish and regret – a tearing of our heart with tears – we ought to run back to our God with sincere repentance, begging for forgiveness for the Sake and the Merits of Christ, our Savior – striving not to sin again.

            Woe to us if we ever consider our sin a small thing!  We ought to be undone – unraveled to our deepest core – disturbed to where we can only find hope and forgiveness at the breast of Christ.  Woe to us if we think sin is not a big thing because our sins have been forgiven in Christ!  Shall we join in pounding the nails into the flesh of the Sinless One?  Shall we mock Him for His Love and Sacrifice?

            Two of the women in the Philippian church were at odds with one another.  Paul doesn’t say what the issue was – surely the church knew what they were arguing about.  Even if what they were arguing about was trivial, the disruption that their argument was causing in the church was sin.  So Paul begged them to reconcile for the sake of the Lord.  For the sake of their witness, the witness of the church, and for the unity of the brothers and sisters in the faith, Paul begged them to stop and reconcile as sisters in Christ – members of the One Body of Christ.

            God has saved people who are not the same – who have different preferences and understandings of some things.  But we are gathered together because we believe the one saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We have gathered together because our Triune God is worthy of our worship.  We have gathered together to help and support each other in the race of faith – to love each other, to grow together, to learn from each other, even to correct each other in matters of the faith.

            We have not gathered together to be the center of attention or to prove that we are right about matters that don’t matter to the Gospel – and where we do have differences on things in the Scripture, we are to treat each other with love – to bear with each other – to seek the truth together – in the Scripture – and as those who are called to herald the Word of God preach and teach, always submitting to the clear teaching of God’s Word.

            These women both agreed on the Gospel – they were sisters in Christ – but something had caused them to be at odds with each other – enough that it was disturbing the unity of the church.  So, Paul begged them to reconcile.  And Paul called on a close companion, who is not named in the text, to intercede and help them to reconcile.

            Sometimes a third party is necessary.  Sometimes we can’t see beyond what we think we are right about, and we need someone to help us get our priorities straight.  Jesus gives us this principle when He says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17, ESV).

            Understand, if intervention is needed between Christians to maintain the unity and peace of the church, the goal is reconciliation.  Paul saw that it would be difficult for these women to reconcile, so he told his friend to help them.

            It was of some additional urgency that these women reconcile because they were well-known – prominent members of the church.  Paul says that both of these women labored with him and Clement and the other workers in proclaiming the Gospel.  It was especially disruptive to the church to have such people at odds, because they were women who were more mature Christians who had helped others to grow in their faith.

            Paul gives a word of sharp comfort in telling them that they are written “in the book of life” – which means that they were Christians – they were not just playing church – as some people do – they were sound believers who had gotten caught up in something that they needed help resolving.

            We can be individuals, but we must be united in the things of Christ for the sake of the Gospel.  There is nothing more important than the advancement of the Gospel.  We must find ways to work with each other.  If you love Jesus – if you believe the Gospel – we must not let anything come between us that compromises our advancement of the Gospel.

            The world is looking at us – are they seeing us argue over non-essentials – or do they see us strangely united in telling others that Jesus Alone is the hope and salvation of the world?

Second, we are to be centered on the joy of the Gospel.

            “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

            Let’s face it; it is easy to become overwhelmed with our schedule, with all the things happening in the world and in our families.  It’s easy to get down about sickness and disability.  It’s easy to look at the church and the denomination and the evil pervading churches in our area and despair.  It’s easy to throw up our hands when we see Christians around the world being beheaded and imprisoned for their faith.

            But we ought not to lose hope as Christians.  As Christians we always have a reason to rejoice – Jesus and His Gospel.  No matter how hurt and confused we may be about what is going on, we have a loving Father who calls us to cast our cares upon Him and rejoice in what Jesus has done – looking forward to the end of our race when we are received into the fullness of the Kingdom.

            And so Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice – when there are disagreements in the church – when false teachers are trying to confuse them and lead them away – when the government and others are trying to put them to death – still I say, rejoice!

            And we are called to the same.  Now, that is not putting our heads in the sand and denying the problems that exist – the horrors and pain of the world and our lives, but to see that no matter what happens now – no matter what our struggles now – no matter if the Reformed Church in America should go apostate and try to shut us down, no matter if our government starts to outlaw Christianity, or investigate our giving, or demands to evaluate my sermons – with all that happens – we can still say – we must say – we rejoice in our God and Savior, because He will never betray us or forsake us.  We are safe and eternally His.

            Once when Paul was visiting Philippi, a woman who was possessed by a demon and made her captors money by giving “prophecies” – fortunetelling – began following Paul and his friends and crying out that he was a representative of the One God.  Paul cast the demon out of her and she was well, but her captors lost their way of making money, so they turned the city against Paul and his friends, beat them mightily, and had them thrown in prison.

Surely, their bodies were in pain, but they we centered on the joy of the Gospel.  They were suffering for their witness to Christ – and that is a good thing.  If people hate us and abuse us for believing the Truth of Jesus Christ – rejoice and give thanks to God!  Pray for those who persecute us and continue to proclaim your faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Listen to what Paul and his companions did after being beaten and thrown in jail:  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,” (Acts 16:25, ESV).

Are you so in love with Jesus and His Gospel that you cannot help but continue to rejoice in it – not matter what happens?  That doesn’t mean we won’t have times of sorrow, but, even then, we turn our hope to Jesus and what He has done to make us right with God.  That’s what Paul means by our “reasonableness” being known to everyone – that we have a reasonable hope, no matter what may occur – that we always have a reason to look to Jesus in sure hope.

The Lord is coming soon!  Jesus is returning and He will make all of Creation right again.  The battle is won.  We are saved in Jesus.  We are heading towards glory.  The end is near – no matter what may happen between now and then.

And that’s why we shouldn’t be anxious.

Now, we need to understand there is good anxiety and bad anxiety.  Good anxiety helps us to move forward and seek the completion of whatever is before us.  It helps us to strive forward towards Jesus.  Bad anxiety paralyzes us – it is a hopelessness that the Christian ought not to have – because ours is a faith of hope.

            Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV).  If you don’t know how something is going to work out, give that anxiety to God, because God knows, and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him – even horrible, terrible things –  and He loves us with an everlasting love, which sent His Son to make us right with Him.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

            “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:25-34, ESV).

            Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t be wise and plan for the future.  He is saying we are to do what is right and pleasing to God, receiving the provision of God, and trusting Him for the future.

            We spend about $2,500 a week to keep this church open, and we receive about $500 a week from all sources.  There is a good anxiety which asks what we can do about this.  How can we be faithful to God with our money and blessings and gifts and talents?  We are each called to be faithful – to give generously – if you believe the Gospel is being preached – if you believe in the ministry of Jesus Christ in this church.  There is a bad anxiety which says, “Oh, no, the church is going to close – all is lost.”  No, God will keep us here as long as He has work for us to do.  Let us trust Him and raise our prayers to Him, asking that He would search our hearts and give us wisdom.

            Paul tells the Philippians – and us – we are to be in prayer – both bringing our requests to God and thanking God for all we have been given.  And he tells us that we have this promise – if we bring our requests to God – seeking His Will – and bring our thanksgivings to Him – worshipping Him and glorifying Him for His great mercy to each one of us and this church – we will receive peace – the peace of God that says with sublime confidence, “I will be obedient and faithful to God and trust Him for my future and the future of this church and His Church worldwide.”

            And Paul says, God “will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Paul is using military language here – it is as though he said that God will post a bunch of soldiers around us to guard us – to keep us from sin and to lead us – in heart and mind – to be centered on the joy of the Gospel.  This is part of how God makes the way for us to escape from the temptation to sin that is always before us – God is guarding us – God has set up guards around us to keep us from having to sin – we cannot be forced to sin – we sin out of free rebellion against the One Who loves us.

            And third, we are to strive for spiritual excellence.

            “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

            Paul turns to urge the Philippians – and us – to focus on those things of spiritual excellence and to practice those excellences as we see them practiced in others.  We are to pay close attention to these things – to know them and be them and show them.

            “whatever is true,” – we ought to desire to know, to learn to speak, to experience all of God’s Truth in the Creation – everything that is real and lasting and pleasing in the sight of God.  We ought to desire to know what is true and how we ought to be – coming into conformity to the True of God – as found both in the Scripture and throughout the world.  We are to love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength truly – wisely – knowledgeably.
             “whatever is honorable,” – we are to focus on the things which are lofty and majestic – what greater than to focus on the attributes of God – Who God is – meditate on all those things which we are told God is.  Open your Bible and see Who God is and be awe-struck and prone to worship.

“whatever is just,” – whatever is in accord with God’s justice – we are to do that, to pursue that, to see that done among all people.  Let us know and fight to have God’s right on earth. When we see injustice done – especially injustice as God tells us what is right and wrong, we ought to stand up and object.

“whatever is pure,” – we are to be pure in thought and action.  We are to keep away from all those things that bring us down into the muck and the mire of sin.  We especially are to watch out for those things which engage our body in sin – we are to keep our body pure – saying “no” to sin.

As Paul wrote, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV).

“whatever is lovely,” – we are to admire those things which all people recognize as pleasing and beautiful.  That is not to say that we cannot have different aesthetics, but we should be able to differentiate between those things which are beautiful and those things which are foul.  We ought to hold up those things which are lovely – Christ being chief.

“whatever is commendable” – we are to be involved in those things which all people find worthy.  We are not to give offense to people by the things we choose to engage in.

“if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As we have noted before, when Paul uses the word “if” in this type of context, he is not saying that there might not be things which are excellent and worthy of praise – he is drawing attention to the fact that everyone – and especially Christians – recognize that there are things which are truly excellent and worthy of praise – these things are where we are to focus ourselves – we are to seek to be those things and know those things and keep away from things which are not excellent and worthy of praise.

A real impact is made when someone asks us to be involved in something and we say we can’t because we are Christians – we can’t because it is not the best way to honor God and Who He is.  Have you ever had the honor of telling someone you could not go along with them because what they were suggesting is offensive to God?

We have become callous and allowed the views of the world to numb us to what is truly excellent and praiseworthy.  We have engaged in filth and worthless pursuits.  We have cared more about our pleasure in the moment and how others will see us than what God – the One God Who has saved us – desires for us – what our loving Father desires for the sons and daughters He died to make right with Him.  We must become more sensitive – and we best do that, first, by knowing what God has said in His Word, and then by reading good Christian books – especially biographies, and from imitating men and women who are pursing what is excellent and worthy of praise.

We must meditate on the things we have learned from God’s Word, what we have received from the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, what we have heard about men and women who have pursed excellence and things worthy of praise, and what we have also seen in such people.

What will it take for us to stand firm in the faith, for us to agree together in the Lord for the good of the advancement of the Gospel, for us to trust the Lord and not be anxious – but really trust Him, and to purse those things which are excellent and praiseworthy – striving to become like them – like our Lord Jesus Christ?

What will it take?

Let us pray:

Most Beloved and Loving Father, we are full of excuses, but You desire great and glorious things for us – things that You will bring us to at the end of the age and desire to give us more and more even now.  Humble us and cause the fires of the Holy Spirit to burn strong within us so we will run hard after the prize of Jesus Christ – desiring to be like Him that You would be glorified and we would have Your joy – right now – in great measure.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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