Second Reformed Church

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Be Hospitable" Sermon: Philippians 4:21-23

“Be Hospitable”

[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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Be Content" Sermon: Philippians 4:10-20

“Be Content”

[Philippians 4:10-20]

November 16, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            Last week, we saw Paul urge the Philippians to be centered on the joy of the Gospel – that they would always have a reason to rejoice – no matter what their circumstances – because of the hope of the Gospel – that Jesus Alone accomplished our salvation through His work on earth.  That is our hope as we live our lives – as we run the race of faith – that in good times and bad, in times when we know exactly what is happening and in times when we are perplexed – Jesus is the Sovereign Savior of all of Creation.  Nothing can upset the victory that Jesus has won for all those who believe in Him.

            Because that is true – we endure suffering for the sake of Christ, we seek to be in agreement with our fellow Christians on the Gospel for the Gospel witness, we don’t sinfully worry – as though God were unable to provide for us, and we continually come before God in prayer with thanksgiving.

            And so, we focus on doing and being all those things which are spiritually excellent – we strive to do and be all that God has told us is right and pleasing in His Sight.  We watch other Christians and imitate them in the ways they imitate Christ.  In the ways we see others doing and being what Christ has called us all to be, we follow their example.

            In this morning’s text, Paul turns to thank the Philippians for the financial gift that they sent to him with Epaphroditus.  We will remember from the beginning of the letter that the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul in Rome with a financial gift from them – and that Epaphroditus had almost died on the journey, but was now returning with this letter, having become healthy again by the mercy of God.

            “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.”

            In thanking the Philippians, Paul tells them that through Christ’s strength, we are content in every situation.

            Paul rejoices in their concern for him and their willingness to give him this gift.  Remember that Paul is in prison in Rome at this time.  And at first, we might think Paul is disappointed with them for taking so long to send him the gift, but that is not the case.  What Paul is saying is that they had given him gifts in the past, and their concern for him had continued – theirs was a continuous loving friendship with the Apostle – but – for whatever reason – they had not had the chance in recent times to send him a gift.  It isn’t clear as to what the lack of opportunity was, but Paul is not putting them down – he is expressing his great thanks that they had supported him in the past, continued to be concerned for him, and now had the opportunity to give again.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

            However, Paul tells them that he was not pining away waiting for their gift.  There is no negativity in what he is telling them.  He wants them to understand that as much as he rejoiced in their gift, his contentment – his peace – his satisfaction – was not based on their gift, but something else.

            For example, it is a good and right and joyful thing that we support the work of the ministry in this church.  It should be a joy to each of us to be able to give financially for the continuation of the proclamation of the Gospel in this place.  It should give us joy to take part in financially supporting Second Reformed Church, because the Gospel is being preached.

            I surely rejoice when the ministry is affirmed through your faithful stewardship in giving generously to support the work God has for us here.  Understand, although there are bills to pay, our financial giving is an act of worship and thanksgiving.  We are not just taking part in paying the bills – much less rating the sermon – by our giving.  No, we are worshipping God by giving God back part of what He has given us in thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us.  We are showing God how much we are thankful – how much we trust Him – how much we believe His gifts to us are worth – as we give financially.

            But, the giving that we do is not the reason we as a church can be content – it is not the reason we can be at peace and satisfied with our condition.  As I mentioned last week – our giving is far below what our weekly expenses are.  Still, we ought to be content – not uncaring – but content.

            Paul probably benefited from the financial gift they sent, and yet, Paul says he wasn’t in need.  By that, he meant what I just said by way of example:  his being content was not based on their gift.  Our being content is not based on the offering plate being scant or overflowing.

Paul explains, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Paul tells them that he had experienced the extremes of life:  he had lived in poverty, he had lived with more than he needed, he had learned to cope with having plenty; he had learned to cope with not even having food.  He had learned the secret of being content everywhere along the spectrum from having nothing to having more than he needed.

Paul gives us an overview of his life as he countered the so-called “super apostles”:  “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, ESV).

As a Christian, Paul had endured more for the sake of Christ than most of us – he had learned to be content under trying circumstances.

What is the secret?  How can we be content in every circumstance?

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

This is probably the best-known verse of the book of Philippians, and it is often misused – and that is because we read the verse by itself and understand Paul to be saying that “nothing is impossible for me” – which is not what Paul is saying at all.

Paul is saying that through the strength of Christ, he is content in every circumstance.  He was always satisfied with his life because his strength was found in Christ – Christ was his strength to find joy and hope in every circumstance.

There is a philosophy called “Stoicism” which says that you ought not to allow anything to effect you – you just accept everything the way it is because it is the way it is – you never get happy, you never get sad, you always stay on an even keel.  That is not what Paul is saying.

Paul is also not saying that we ought to just accept things the way they are and not try to make them better.  As he has just said – we are to be focused on spiritual excellency.  If we are not employed and we need money and we can work – go work.  If we have more than we need – if we have been gifted in abundance – give away as much as possible.  Our hope is not in our things – we do not despair in the lack of things.  And we continue to strive to be holy and to steward everything we have – no matter how little or great it may be – to the glory of God.  We are to be striving to make everything as it will be in the Kingdom.

Paul is telling us that if we have more than we need, we should be content, not because of our things, but because of our salvation in Christ – the hope that He gives us for the future – the Power of the Holy Spirit working in us to make us more like Jesus.  And if we have very little – the same thing is true – and for wherever we are in between.  Our finances can change in an instant – if we are setting our contentment on our things, we will be tremendously disappointed – or worse.

Jesus told the parable: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16b-21, ESV).

And let us not think that if we are living on Social Security that we cannot be fools with our money:  you can have very little money and be greedy and put your hope in what little you have.  That makes you a fool.  Our hope and contentment is always and only in Jesus Alone.

For example:  if we only looked at the offering, we might despair about the future of this church.  But, if we are content in Christ, we will hold fast in faith to Him, believing that He will keep us here as long as He has work for us to do.  That is not to say that we ignore or be foolish about the money that is coming in.  We ought to look at our hearts and pray that God will make each of us a faithful and thankful steward of all God has given us.  Everything we have is His, and we are to steward it wisely.

So, Paul tells the Philippians how thankful he is for their gift, for their ongoing care of him, for the opportunity that allowed them to give to him again.  But, he stresses that his contentment is in Christ who strengthens him.  May we be content whatever circumstance we may be in through Christ’s strength.  May we be thankful and generous with the blessings God has given us.

            Paul continues:  “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

            Paul uses the language of an accountant to show the Philippians that there is a giving and receiving in the church.  We give our offerings in thanksgiving to God and God gives us His Grace through the Word and the Sacraments.  But we dare not think that we are paying for God’s Grace.  God’s Grace is freely given to us, and we freely give offerings of thanksgiving to God.  In fact, not matter how much we give to God in thanksgiving, He always gives more to us, because everything we have is His.  He has given us all we have on loan – to steward wisely for Him.

            So, Paul tells them that he was not looking for the gift – he was not seeking a payment to him for his service to them – just as our offering in the church is not a payment to me or the church for our service, but a thanksgiving to God.  And as we steward God’s gifts to us better, God sees the fruit and increases our credit.  That is, we do not earn our salvation, but we are called to holiness – to do the good works that God has set before us – to seek after spiritual excellence – and as we give rightly – as we steward rightly – those good works are credited to our accounts – God is pleased with what we have done.  The primary reason we as a church should be thankful for each other’s giving in thanksgiving is that we are maturing and pleasing God as we do so.

            Paul explains that it is right and expected that we as Christians will steward our blessings well: “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?” (1 Corinthians 9:11, ESV).

            And the author of Hebrews affirms this as well:  “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16, ESV).

            Paul tells the Philippians that they don’t owe him.  Not that they had paid him enough to balance their accounts, but that Paul was paid by Christ for his work as a missionary to the Philippians, and the Philippians responded in partnership in offering gifts to Paul in thanksgiving to God – and such giving in pleasing to God and a credit to our striving after holiness in the race of faith.

            Paul gives them high praise for their gift – telling them that it is “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”  Paul uses Temple language of the sacrificial system – where, when offerings were made to God and God accepted them, they were to God as a fragrant offering.  Other times, when the offering was not acceptable to God, we are told that it was “a stench in the nostrils of God.”

            We must keep these ideas together in our minds:  Our offering is in thanksgiving to God, when we steward well – when we truly show trust and thanksgiving to God in giving to God with a right heart – a right spirit – God is pleased and accounts it as good works according to what He has called us to do – He is pleased when we give to the church in thanks to God, when our motivation is right – when we give thankfully and generously, recognizing that all we have is God’s – finding our contentment and satisfaction in Him Alone – not our things.

            And, we must not look at our offering as paying bills or rating the sermon or the worship.

            When we give, we must give thankfully and joyfully, relying, not on our things, but on Christ Who enables us to endure poverty and wealth and everything in between.  The issue is not how much we have, but recognizing God’s provision and blessing and the fact that everything you have is God’s.  If we truly trust God – if we are truly content in God – we will be free with our things for the sake of God and the proclamation of the Gospel.

            God has given each of us certain amounts of stuff at any given time.  Are we content with what He has given us?  Are we so content that we give thankfully and joyfully and generously to God for the continued proclamation of the Gospel?  If we are not, we ought to pray that God would so convict us that everything is His and nothing is ours – by any means – that we would be humbled to find our contentment in Him and let go of our stuff for the sake of the Gospel.

            Are we showing true contentment, thanksgiving, and trust to God through our giving of His blessings to us?  If we are, it is to our credit – God is pleased with us – our good fruits are showing to God.  If we are not, we ought to prayerfully consider what the Gospel is worth to us.  What is it worth to us that God has saved us by Himself and for Himself?  And how thankful are we that we are no longer under His Sovereign Wrath for our sin?

            Paul ends this section by reminding the Philippians that God will supply our every need.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “give us this day our daily bread.”  We are asking God to give us what we need for this day.  We still ought to be wise about our future planning, but as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, we’re not to worry about tomorrow.  Today, we are to pray for what God knows we need for this day – to be the people He has called us to be for this day.

And we are told that God will give us everything we need for this day.  God is the owner of everything – and out of His riches in glory in Christ Jesus – He will supply us with everything we need for this day.

The problem we have is two-fold:  first, we confuse what we need with what we want, and second, we do not know what we really need.  So, it is again a matter of trust.  Do we trust the God Who holds everything in His Hands, and loves us, and sent His Son for us, and is pleased with us when we do all that He has set before us – in faith and thanksgiving and joy, and has promised to provide us with everything we need for each day to be His people?

Sometimes what we need is to suffer.

Sometimes we need it to be a sun-shiny day with all the clouds smiling at us.

God knows what we need and God supplies us with what we need – each and every day.  Do we believe Him?  Do we trust Him?  Are we content with whatever comes from His Hand for us?

Paul ends this section rejoicing in God – the God Who makes us content through Jesus in whatever circumstance we may be in, the God Who provides for us and rejoices in our faithful giving, the God Who is our Only Savior – Who cares for us and loves us and provides us with everything we need each day.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen?

To Him be the glory forever and ever.

            Find your contentment in Jesus, not in your things, little sheep.  And respond to Him in joy and thanksgiving.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, help us to be content in You.  Let us look to You, to the riches of Christ and His Gospel, recognizing that everything is Yours and even our giving is made possible by You Alone.  Help us to believe that You are the Sovereign God and all things come to us from Your Fatherly Hand.  Oh Lord, keep us from being rebellious children – let us be satisfied in You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Free Community Lunch

Please join us today for our free Community Lunch from 12 to 1 PM.   Join us to eat and have fellowship.  We are also giving away winter coats today -- come, take what you need!  See you soon.

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.