Sunday, November 23, 2014
"Be Hospitable" Sermon: Philippians 4:21-23
November 23, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Have you been content this week?
Not, has it been a perfect week for you? But, have you been content?
As we considered last week – have you found your contentment in Jesus – His Power in you – the leading of the Holy Spirt – the Truth of the Gospel? Have you found the secret – as Paul told us – of being content in every situation – the strength Jesus Christ has given us to be content in Him in every situation?
Have you found Jesus Christ and His Gospel to be enough?
Do you believe the Gospel?
That’s what life is all about – believing the Gospel, glorifying God, and finding joy in Him. Are you there? Do you believe?
Paul ends his letter with greetings – and we might quickly pass them by, but there are some things we ought to notice.
“Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.”
We are to greet our fellow Christians. This is not merely Paul saying, “Hey, if you see a fellow Christian, say ‘hello’ from me.” This is a command that we be hospitable to our fellow Christians – even more – that we engage with them in whatever way is beneficial – especially as it is beneficial to the progress of the Gospel.
Here we see how we can work with Christians of all denominations and traditions – if we are truly Christians, we are to be seeking that the Gospel be proclaimed to the whole Creation. We can join together with other Christians in finding ways to better get the Gospel out to the world. We dare not frustrate each other’s plans to present the Gospel because of our distinctives – because we are of a different denomination. Every Christian of every stripe is to be working to let all know that there is only salvation in Jesus Alone. And we can do that no matter what differences we may have – because the Gospel is the most important thing. Remember, Paul said he didn’t care if people hated him or were jealous of him, so long as they were preaching the Gospel.
Greeting also includes our helping each other in the race of faith – doing what is right to lift each other up and helping each other avoid and get out of sin. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load” (Galatians 6:1-5, ESV).
Question 107 of our Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way: “By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.” And this is even more so to brothers and sisters in the faith.
And let us notice that Paul says to greet every “saint in Christ Jesus.” Paul is not saying that we should greet those people who have been canonized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is he being sarcastic is calling those he greets “saints.”
All Christians are saints. What does that mean? In Jesus Christ – as believers in the Gospel – we are holy and set apart. How can that be, since we affirm that we are still sinners? We are saints in Jesus Christ – through the work that God did in the Incarnation – in living a perfect life under the Law – which He has imputed to us – He has credited His Righteousness to us – and through dying on the cross – suffering the punishment of Hell for all of our sins under the Wrath of God – we are seen by God – even as we are continuing towards holiness – in the race of faith – striving towards doing all things according to the Will of God and never sinning – we are now seen as holy – as saints – in the eyes of God. And, as we just said, we are to help each other become what we shall surely be through Jesus.
When we see each other – and all fellow Christians – we are to have a love and a fellowship with each other, since we all believe the Gospel – and we are to help each other to imitate Jesus Christ and become the holy people that we are and are becoming.
Greeting the saints is more than just saying “hi.” It is caring for one another, seeing each other as those Jesus has bought, working with each other, assisting each other in the faith – to imitate Jesus well and to turn away from sin.
“The brothers who are with me greet you.”
Here we need to consider who the brothers were that were with Paul. There was Epharoditus, Luke, possibly Timothy, and others. What is significant about this? Paul was a Jew who converted to Christianity. These others were Gentiles who converted to Christianity.
What we should gather from this is what Paul tells the Galatians: “ Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:23-29, ESV).
Paul is saying that being a Christian trumps race and culture and ethnicity and gender and any other barrier that might exist. In the first century, Jews looked down on Gentiles – non-Jews, and everybody looked down on women. Paul tells them – and us – that if we are Christians – everything else is irrelevant – we are brothers and sisters in Christ – whether we are black or white, or male or female, with a horrible past or an upstanding past, everything is irrelevant to our being Christians – brothers and sisters – following Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel – calling all people to repentance.
When I was first called to be the pastor of this church, there were some in our Classis who said I should not be allowed to receive the call because I am white and Irvington is an urban area. But I am a wretch – worthy of eternal Hell and maximum suffering – same as everyone else – of every color and background. The Gospel is not about color or race or gender or any of those things – it about God coming to earth to save a people for Himself – of which I am humbled to be one.
It’s true – I don’t know what it is to be black or a woman, or anything other than a white male – but I know what it is to be a sinner – a rebel without hope before the Holy God – and that is what I preach – that is what we preach – that is what joins us together – that is why I love you and seek and pray the best for all of us in Christ.
Salvation in Jesus Alone trumps everything else, and so we love each other to the Glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. May He be pleased with us – and pleased to use us for Him. Amen?
“All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.”
We remember that Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He was waiting to preach the Gospel to Caesar Nero and to see if he would be put to death or set free to continue his missionary work.
Paul tells the Philippians that there were saints – Christians – in the household of Caesar. These were probably members of the household staff, not relatives of Caesar, but there were Christians living before the ruler of the civilized world – witnessing the Gospel before him in action and, perhaps, in speech, as well.
This tells us that we ought not to dismiss our leaders – as it is so easy to do – they or those around them – may be Christians. We are to pray for our leaders – especially that they would believe the Gospel – but we also ought to pray and support those in leadership in government who are Christians – especially that they would live as Christians and make the Gospel known.
It also tells us that it is right for Christians to serve in the government. Christians can serve in most occupations to the Glory of God.
William Wilberforce was a member of the English Parliament in the late 19th century. He became a Christian, and came to the conviction that the slave trade was sin – it was immoral – and England should get out of it. However, he wasn’t sure if being in Parliament was the best way to get his message out – that the Gospel calls for the end of slavery. So, he went to his friend, the pastor, John Newton – a former slave trader, himself – author of “Amazing Grace,” and he asked him if he ought to leave Parliament and become a pastor. Newton was adamant that he should not leave Parliament – arguing that the world needs Christians in the government to lead it in ways that are pleasing to God. So, Wilberforce stayed in Parliament – and through his efforts – England abandoned the slave trade.
We can be Christians who promote the Gospel in virtually every employ. Luther said that cobblers should cobble shoes to the best of their ability and sell them at a fair price as a witness to the Gospel.
In whatever our employ – in whatever we do – we should evidence that we are Christians. People should not have to guess, but know through our actions and speech – rejoicing that God has given you your position in society as a witness to Him in whatever it is that you do.
There were members of Caesar’s household that lived the Gospel before him and joined in the love and care of the Philippians – and all Christians. Do we?
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
Similarly, this is not just Paul’s way of saying “goodbye.” This is a final prayer for the Philippians – and for all of us.
Paul is praying that the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – that the enabling power of the One Sovereign God and Master of all things and our salvation – would sustain us in the faith.
The Grace of Jesus is delivered to us through the reading and preaching of the Word of God and through the Sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. As we hear the Gospel again and again and see how it affects everything about our lives and all of Creation, Jesus enables us to be the people He has called us to be – He enables us to run the race of faith and meet Him at the finish line.
Paul tells the Romans: “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2, ESV).
This enabling that we have as Christians from Jesus is the only way we can stand as Christians. If Jesus were not persevering us in the faith – if He were not bringing us to the finish line – if God did not live in us and guide us and teach us – we would never be able to make it. We do not have the ability – in and of ourselves – to become holy. It is a work of God in us – and God has chosen that this work would be a process – a life-long process – which He completes at the day of Christ Jesus. We struggle and strive by His Grace – by His Power – and we are assured of the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting in His Kingdom, because this is God’s Work – and He will not let it fail.
As Paul told the Philippians at the beginning of this letter: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 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” (Philippians 1:3-6, ESV).
Paul began by thanking for the Philippians and stating his sure confidence that God would complete the work of salvation in them when Jesus returns. Now, as he ends the letter, he prays that God will complete His Will which began in causing the Philippians to believe – that He would give them His Grace that they would be completed on the last day – being truly – in fact – holy and glorified and made into the Image of Jesus.
That is the sure hope we have as well – as people that God has caused to believe in the Savior He sent. Jesus empowers us through His Grace, we are guided by the Holy Spirit, and God will bring us to the day of Christ Jesus when we shall be completed in Him and welcomed into the fullness of His Kingdom.
For now, we cling to that hope as we proclaim the Gospel against all false gospels and stand strong in the faith, striving forward by His Power and according to His promise.
And with Paul, we say, “Amen.” We say “Yes” to the Promise of God. It shall be so.
So, let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for the letter to the Philippians. We thank You for the encouragement to live as Christians proclaiming Your Gospel and seeking its advancement in all of our lives. Help us to rejoice in You and in our fellow Christians – working together and supporting each other to Your Glory, in the joy that You have given us in the Gospel. For it is in Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen, and Amen.