Category Archives: Philippians

Philippians 1:12-30: What God wants us to know about death

Arthur Stace's "Eternity" lit up Sydney's Habour Bridge after a spectacular fireworks display welcomed in the year 2000 to Sydney January 1.

Most people, whatever their culture or religion, have a suspicion about ETERNITY. That there’s something MORE than this life. (MORE than what we can see and hear and touch.)

That we’ve been made for something MORE. Something ETERNAL. Something INFINITE.

Most people aren’t CERTAIN about it. But at the same time, there’s a LONGING for it. The writer of Ecclesiastes, in ch 3:11, puts it like this: “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.”

It’s there. Put there by GOD himself. That longing. That hunger. That suspicion.

And every culture and civilisation tries to SATISFY that hunger. To reach out to the eternal or the infinite in some way. That’s basically what RELIGION is. (Spirituality). Reaching out to a god, or gods, of various sorts in various ways. Trying to connect to whatever is OUTSIDE, or BEYOND our experience. To catch a glimpse of the ETERNAL.

It was this UNIVERSAL LONGING that slowly led the writer C S Lewis from Atheism to deism, and eventually to Christianity. In fact, as he wrote about it later in a book called Surprised By Joy, he said it was the HUNGER ITSELF that was a strong argument that there had to be something ETERNAL beyond this world.

Listen to what he said. It’s worth concentrating on.

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. IF I FIND IN MYSELF A DESIRE THAT NO EXPERIENCE IN THIS WORLD CAN SATISFY, THE MOST PROBABLE EXPLANATION IS THAT I WAS MADE FOR ANOTHER WORLD. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that THE UNIVERSE is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never MEANT to satisfy it, but only to AROUSE it, to suggest THE REAL THING. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for something ELSE of which they are only a kind of a copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself THE DESIRE FOR MY TRUE COUNTRY, which I shall not find till after death;

 I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to THAT OTHER COUNTRY, and to help others to do the same.” CS Lewis, Surprised by joy

And that’s the position of Christianity. That this world is full of lots of good things. And we can find SOME joy and fulfilment here. But this world isn’t ALL THERE IS. And that we’ve been made for A TRUE COUNTRY. An eternal home with GOD.

We can’t see it. But we’ve got a feeling that it’s there. We HOPE for it. LONG for it. Long to be with GOD HIMSELF.

And that longing’s been placed there by God himself. Because that’s our TRUE home. HE’S our true home.

But we’re not there yet. So God’s given us THE ROAD MAP to get us there. To bring us home to GOD. It’s his word, the Bible. He shows us what to expect as we travel. As we pass through death and heaven. And judgment and the new creation. And all that comes in between.

All given to us by the one who INHABITS eternity. God himself. The one who made US for eternity. And the one who sent his Son FROM eternity / into time and space. To die a criminal’s death, then to defeat death. And to win eternity for all those who trust him.

And that’s the point of this series on “Eternity”. So that we can know what to expect. And, ultimately, enjoy the eternity we were designed for.

Today, we’re looking at the FIRST STEP along that road. The doorway EVERYONE has to pass through. Death.

When someone we love dies, it leaves a dull ache. There’s EMPTINESS and LOSS.

Death’s A DARK CLOUD. Blocking out light and joy and purpose. It’s A CRUEL THIEF who, unexpectedly and cruelly, robs you of hope and joy. The HEARTLESS BULLY who pins you down, helpless and despairing.

Wynsten Hugh Auden captures death’s impact beautifully in his poem, Funeral Blues. It describes the despair of losing someone he loves.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

That’s the devastating power death has over us.

(pause) But at the same time, being touched by death can FOCUS you. Clarify your priorities. Help you weigh up what matters, and what doesn’t.

I’ve seen it in the eyes of people attending a funeral. As I stand up the front, next to the coffin of their loved one. And I try to speak what God wants them to hear. You can see them listening carefully to every word. Desperate for some comfort. Some reassurance. Some certainty about where THEY stand when it comes to death. Some certainty about ETERNITY, and how they fit in.

So what DOES God want you to hear, today, about DEATH? What does the Bible say?

Not the way it was designed

The first thing to say is that DEATH ISN’T THE WAY GOD DESIGNED things. Right back in Genesis 2. When God set up Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, he gave them A TREE OF LIFE to eat from. And as long as they ate its fruit, they’d LIVE, and not DIE.

In a perfect relationship with each other, and with God, all in a perfect environment. Forever. That was God’s PLAN.

But God’s plan ALSO included the right for Adam and Eve to MAKE A CHOICE. Gen 2:16.

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are FREE to eat from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely DIE.

And most of us know how THAT turned out. The snake tempted them, and they chose to EAT the fruit. And they DID receive the knowledge of good and evil. They knew sin by EXPERIENCE. Knew what it was to choose THEIR way over GOD’S way.

But the SECOND consequence, just like God WARNED, was that they DIED. Not straight away. But the process BEGAN. They were kicked out of the garden, so they couldn’t eat from the tree of life anymore. And so death began its relentless attack. Slowing up, wearing out, running down. Until it wins. Claims its prize. And people STOP. And return to the ground where they came from.

And it’s been the same for every one of Adam’s offspring since. Sometimes we go quickly, sometimes slowly. Sometimes confidently, sometimes kicking and screaming. Sometimes comfortably, sometimes painfully.

But everyone DIES.

Steve Turner, in his poem Death Lib talks about how Death is non-discriminatory.

The liberating thing about death

Is in its fairness to women

its acceptance of blacks,

its special consideration for the sick.

And I like the way

that children aren’t excluded,

homosexuals are welcomed,

and militants aren’t banned.

 Con men can’t con it

Thieves can’t nick it

Bullies can’t scare it

Magicians can’t trick it.

Boxers can’t punch it

Nor critics dismiss it…

The thing about dead

Is we’re all gonna be it.

So, you may not particularly LIKE my choice of topic this morning. But you can’t say it’s not RELEVANT. Because there’s no topic MORE relevant to MORE people. I’ve got complete confidence that this topic is relevant for 100% of people listening.

Jesus Defeats Death

And things were no different in Jesus’ time. People still died. And John chapter 11 tells the story of ONE of them. Lazarus, who we’re told was actually one of Jesus’ close friends.

Jesus finds out he’s sick, and even though everyone knows he COULD heal him, he deliberately stays away until Lazarus dies. Because he’s got a lesson to teach people. v11. They’re on their way to Lazarus.

“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his DEATH, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

Jesus is raising the level of difficulty. Because he’s come to do more than just fix up illness or disability. He’s come to defeat the greatest enemy of all – DEATH. And what’s about to happen to Lazarus will be the ENTRÉE to something greater that’s coming.

Which is the SECOND thing I want to say about death. That “Jesus defeats death”.

But let’s look at the story. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus’ sister, Martha, says to him, v21, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Still, I know God will give you whatever you ask”. She’s still holding out hope.

And Jesus doesn’t disappoint. “Your brother will rise again,” he promises.

Sure, she says. In the resurrection on THE LAST DAY. When EVERYONE is raised to life for judgment and eternity.

But Jesus has something MORE IMMEDIATE in mind. Look at his wonderful words in v25.

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

It’s a wonderful promise. It’s not a promise to somehow escape physical death. It’s a promise that even though someone might DIE, death isn’t the END. He can live into ETERNITY if he trusts the one who conquers death.

That’s his CLAIM. And to PROVE it/ he’s got something incredible in mind for Lazarus. The test-case. The down-payment. The preview.

Lazarus’ OTHER sister, Mary, comes out to meet him with the whole parade of mourners. And the entire mob are sobbing and weeping at the loss and the pain.

And Jesus’ response in v33 is one of my favourite paragraphs in the Bible.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was DEEPLY MOVED IN SPIRIT AND TROUBLE. “Where have you laid him? He asked. Come and see Lord,” they replied. JESUS WEPT.

Such a short sentence. But so comforting. He feels our pain. He HATES what death does. How it’s impacted the world. It was never meant to BE like this. And ONE day, it won’t be AGAIN.

And so he’s going to do something about it. For Lazarus. For Mary and Martha. But also FOR OUR SAKE. For those of us eavesdropping in on the conversation centuries later.

Because what Jesus does for LAZARUS/ is a demonstration of what he promises for ALL who trust him. Remember what he promised?

He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and WHOEVER lives and believes in me will never die.”

And Lazarus is the PROOF. The proof of Jesus’ POWER. Just as his TEARS are the PROOF of his compassion.

They go to the tomb. “Take away the stone,” says Jesus. And when they do, Jesus prays, then calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

We’re not sure why it’s a loud voice, but I guess wherever Lazarus was/ it needed to be loud to get his attention. Then look in v44 at what happened.

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy.

“Take off the grave clothes, says Jesus, and LET HIM GO.

LET HIM GO. Set him FREE from the hold of death. Jesus can SAY it because he’s got the authority. He’s the DELIVERER. And he says it for anyone who trusts in him.

Let him GO. This one trusts in me.

Let him GO. Death has no hold on this one.

Let him GO. The fear and the pain and the loss are finished.

Let him GO.

When to Die is Gain

And it’s this perspective ALL Christians can have. It’s what sets a Christian funeral apart. Of course there’s sadness and pain and loss. But there’s HOPE and JOY and FAITH.

And that’s the 3rd thing I want to say. When you’ve got THIS sort of perspective about death, it’s possible to say, with the Apostle Paul, that TO DIE IS GAIN.

We’re looking at his letter to the Philippians. Ch 1 v20. He’s writing from prison. And there’s every chance he’s going to be KILLED. And as he thinks about the future, he has THIS to say. V20.

20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have SUFFICIENT COURAGE so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY DEATH.

He’s not FOOLHARDY. He’s SCARED about the prospect of dying. So he prays for COURAGE whatever the future holds. Whether it’s life or death. Whatever happens, he wants Jesus to be honoured in his responses.

How often do YOU pray that sort of thing? That Christ will be exalted in WHATEVER life brings. Even your death.

But here’s what’s DISTINCTIVE for the Christian. V21.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and TO DIE IS GAIN.

His whole life is summed up in exalting Christ. To live IS Christ. But that’s not all. To die is GAIN. Life is GOOD. But to DIE is BETTER.

It’s an extraordinary thing to say! He weighs up the two options.

22 If I am to go on LIVING in the body, this will mean FRUITFUL LABOR for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two:(he can’t decide) I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is BETTER BY FAR (for ME); 24 but it is more necessary for YOU that I remain in the body.

From his point of view, it’s only positives when he thinks about the chance of dying. Being with Christ. The end of pain. The start of eternity. Paradise.

But in the end he realises he can make more difference on earth for heaven’s sake. So, he’s content to remain on earth until God’s time is up.

Imagine that! Seriously weighing up the options of dying or living. It’s only Paul’s servant-heart that makes him content to stay.

Christians need not FEAR death.

But Paul’s not being blasé and flippant about death either. Some people think it’s almost sinful for a Christian to be SAD when another Christian dies. Like a Christian funeral should be a PARTY.

But that’s not Paul’s position. Death is CRUEL. It’s PAINFUL. It’s AWFUL. There’s loneliness and separation. Down at the end of ch 2. He’s talking about his friend Epaphroditus. Who was so sick he nearly DIED. And look at Paul’s response. V27. He wasn’t throwing a PARTY at the prospect.

27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare ME SORROW UPON SORROW.

The loss of death is PAINFUL. It’s TRAGIC. Even for the Christian.

But at the same time, for the Christian who dies, it’s GAIN.

Not the way it WILL be.

That’s the third point. And the fourth and final thing I want to say is this. Death is not the way it WILL be. God’s plan is that ONE DAY death will finally be defeated. Not just by Jesus. Not just the hope and promise and expectation of defeat. Not just SPIRITUAL death – PHYSICAL death TOO. The complete and utter and eternal defeat of death. The final enemy.

I want to finish with a quick glance at a passage we’ll come back to more than once before the series is over. Revelation 21. Describing eternity. When the dividing wall between heaven and earth is gone. When God and his new humanity live together. In a new heaven and a new earth. And in v4 it says.

4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. THERE WILL BE NO MORE DEATH or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

At the MOMENT, we’re living in the OLD order. Where there IS crying and mourning and pain. And DEATH. Even for Christians.

But Christians long for that day. Trusting in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. And so they hope for LIFE, even though they DIE.

As YOU think about death. Perhaps as you go to your next funeral. How will you approach it? Will you use it to reflect on your own mortality? On your own trust in Jesus, or lack of trust?

Or will you suffer from death attention deficit disorder (death A.D.D.)? Will you be like those people at the funerals I take. Death catches their attention for a moment, but then something else quickly distracts them.

And the moment is GONE.

Or will you consider death? And cling to JESUS? The one in whom there IS life and hope and joy. So that you can say that to DIE is GAIN. It’s BETTER by far to die and be with Christ.

Philippians 3:1-11: Treasure worth losing everything for

How did you go in the Christmas present stakes this year? Did you make a list? Did you get the things you were hoping for? But let me ask you a more PERSONAL question. Are you ENJOYING your gifts? Do they measure up to your EXPECTATION?

This time of year’s often full of DISAPPOINTMENT. When presents you longed for start to lose their appeal. The new phone, or new clothes, or new toy. Perhaps they break, or they don’t do what they promise.

Or perhaps the problem’s with YOU. YOUR UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Maybe they work just the way they’re supposed to. But you’re quickly BORED. And they don’t satisfy the way you hoped. And you start skimming through the post-Christmas sale catalogues for the NEXT thing you hope will make you happy.

But it’s not just GIFTS. People have the same expectation. And disappointment. In LOTS of areas of life. Relationships, and work, and pleasure. Hobbies, and sports. Even RELIGION. Searching, striving, chasing something that will satisfy. Give them pleasure that LASTS. Make them feel good, or complete. That makes life worth living.

We see how it works in Ecclesiastes. Solomon searched for the purpose of life. He asked, “What’s to be gained from everything we do?”

And he tried everything. Work, pleasure, parties. He pushed the limits more than anyone else.

And here’s what he discovered. After all his chasing to GAIN things, he realized it was all MEANINGLESS. Empty. Futile. NOTHING was GAINED. Nothing SATISFIED. Nothing LASTED.

Some of you have met our dog Charlie. He loves to chase the water from the hose. It’s hilarious to watch. He’ll get so excited, and run around, as we spray the water in all directions. There’s lots of noise, lots of motion and energy. But no GAIN. He achieves NOTHING. He bites at the water, and then comes up with NOTHING. Except WET.

That’s what human life is like. Lots of noise, lots of activity. But, in the end, no GAIN. Nothing LASTS. It’s lost, or broken or stolen. Or else we die, and someone else gets it.

And nothing SATISFIES. It disappoints us. And we’re hungry for something more. Something beyond this life.

WE NEED A BETTER TREASURE.

And yet we all DO it. You, me, everyone. We seek to GAIN things. Our purpose is to build a life of STUFF and SIGNIFICANCE.

The businessman seeks to gain wealth and promotion. The student seeks to gain knowledge, and qualifications, and answers to questions, and tools for life.

The lonely person seeks acceptance and intimacy.

The party-goer seeks pleasure.

The sportsman seeks the ego boost of coming first.

The drug user seeks escape.

The lazy person seeks comfort.

The hard worker seeks approval and significance.

The control freak seeks the comforting illusion of control.

The fitness freak seeks physical health, or the attention and envy of others.

The do-gooder seeks to make a difference and to leave behind a legacy.

The religious person seeks acceptance by God, or entrance into eternity.

And we see it in Philippians 3. It’s the way the Apostle Paul used to live, too. His old life in Judaism. He chased after all sorts of things for his GAIN. Because he thought he’d PROFIT from them. That life would be BETTER. That the foundation for his confidence before God would be more SOLID.

See the list there in v5? The list of personal achievements he thought would make him right with God. Circumcised on the eight day – just like the law of Moses said. Of the people of Israel – God’s chosen people. Of the tribe of Benjamin – one of only TWO tribes to remain faithful. A Hebrew of Hebrews – he still read Hebrew and spoke Aramaic, unlike many Jews who only understood Greek. A Pharisee – keeping the strictest set of rules. A zealous persecutor of heretics. And his personal moral performance was faultless. He’d covered every base, and was top of every list.

And as his list of achievements grew. So did his CONFIDENCE. Confidence that if ANYONE was going to be alright at the judgment – it’d be him!

But that all changed when he discovered A BETTER TREASURE. A treasure that worked. That lasted. That satisfied. When he found JESUS. Or to be more accurate, when Jesus found HIM.

See there in v7?

7 But whatever was to my PROFIT I now consider LOSS for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a loss compared to the SURPASSING GREATNESS of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS. I consider them RUBBISH

When he met Jesus he realised all the treasure he was building wasn’t getting him further into CREDIT, but actually further into DEBT.

Why? Why was it all rubbish? And why was Jesus such a treasure by comparison? The answer’s in the very next verse. V9.

…that I may gain Christ 9 and be FOUND IN HIM, not having a righteousness of MY OWN that comes from the law, but that which is THROUGH the FAITHFULNESS OF CHRIST-the righteousness that COMES FROM GOD and is by faith.

Paul thought he was building his own righteousness. But once he met Jesus, God JOINED him to Jesus by faith. And then Jesus’ righteousness became Paul’s righteousness.

The problem with Paul’s list / was that it was DO-IT-YOURSELF righteousness. And when it comes to the crunch, DO-IT-YOURSELF just isn’t good enough. It’s just RUBBISH.

What you need is a Master Builder. In this case, Jesus. Whose righteousness was PERFECT. Every thought, word and action was pure.

I think the best way to translate the middle of v9 as “through the faithfulness of Christ”, rather than “through faith IN Christ.” Because that’s what’s being COMPARED. Paul’s FAULTY righteousness that comes from THE LAW. And Jesus’ FAITHFUL righteousness that comes FROM GOD. And then comes to US when we have FAITH.

It’s like a home renovation. You can either do it yourself. Or call in the experts. In some ways, there’s something attractive about Do-It-yourself. There’s the value for money. You get a lot more renovation for your dollar. And then there’s the PRIDE. The sense of achievement.

That is, until things start to go wrong. The wood on the railing warps. The shower starts to leak. Every squeak in the floor boards is a sign the brick piers you laid are about to fall over.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s the constant worry of whether you’ve done it WELL ENOUGH. Whether it will LAST.

And it’s the same with do-it-yourself RIGHTEOUSNESS. There’s always mistakes, and failures. And good things left undone. Your BEST is never good ENOUGH.

Even on your BEST days, there’s the constant worry of whether you’ve done enough. The lack of assurance. The constant threat of performance review. Of a building inspection. Have your GOOD deeds outweighed your bad deeds?

That’s the way it works in Islam. The Koran says “our deeds will be measured or weighed, and whosoever has more good deeds will enter the Gardens of Paradise and whose evil deeds weigh more than the good ones will be entered into the Hell fire.”

It’s the way it worked with the Judaism of Paul’s time. Which is why he gets so angry with the false teachers in v2. He calls them DOGS. MUTILATORS of the FLESH. Because they were teaching that Jesus wasn’t enough. To be really confident, you had to add CIRCUMCISION to what Jesus did. And so it’s not trusting Jesus at all. It’s a DO IT YOURSELF righteousness. Which NEVER works.

And most OTHER religions have a similar idea.

But not Christianity. The difference between religion and true Christianity is the difference between DO and DONE. Every other religion is about what YOU have to DO. Trusting THOSE THINGS makes you right. Hoping your GOOD deeds will outweigh your BAD deeds in the end.

Like people who want their baby CHRISTENED. Or to be married in a church. Or doing good works. Giving money to charity. Attending church. Or religious pilgrimages, or sacrificing so many times a week. Or giving confession.

That’s RELIGION. But Christianity is about… DONE. What Christ has already DONE. This isn’t some righteousness slapped together by a weekend handyman. It’s been assembled with perfect workmanship by the Master Builder himself. His faithfulness.

And it’s a righteousness that’s ROCK SOLID. Jump up and down on it all you like. The foundations aren’t moving anywhere. SURE, solid, reliable.

DONE, not DOING.

What a difference that makes to how you live! With confidence and joy and assurance. No wonder Paul calls the OLD way RUBBISH and LOSS.

That’s what we see in v1. Rejoice IN the Lord. Don’t rejoice because you’ve done your good deed for the day. Don’t rejoice that you’re more patient, or humble, or generous than the NEXT person. Or because you’re qualifications and talents are better.

Instead, rejoice that you’re IN Jesus, and that you have HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Rejoice that your relationship with your Creator is RESTORED. And that your eternity is CERTAIN. And that you can rest SECURE, because the work’s been DONE. And rejoice that God’s Spirit’s at work in you. And that he’s working all things for good in your life.

It’s a perspective that changes everything. That makes the things you USED TO think were important seem like RUBBISH.

And instead, you want to gain OTHER things. Look at the way it works for Paul. There in v10. Because he’s gained Christ, and wants to be found in him, (v10)

10 I want to KNOW CHRIST and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

He’s IN Christ. And so he wants to know MORE of him. To know ABOUT him, but also to KNOW him, more personally and intimately.

And that knowledge has two sides to it. The power of his resurrection. And the fellowship of sharing in sufferings.

The genuine Christian life has BOTH of these held in tension. So, on the ONE hand, it’s a mistake to expect, or promise, the Christian life as pain-free, trouble-free victory. There’s suffering and brokenness. We won’t experience perfection and paradise until eternity.

And, on the OTHER hand, it’s also a mistake to say the genuine Christian life is miserable, powerless DEFEAT.

When we’re IN Christ, we have the power of his resurrection available to us. But it’s not the power to come first, and to destroy enemies. It’s the power to put yourself LAST, and to ENDURE PATIENTLY. To rejoice DESPITE pain and disappointment and confusion and failure. Just like JESUS HIMSELF.

Paul’s already described, back in Ch 2, how that worked in Jesus’ life. He had the status and nature of God, but gave it up and made himself NOTHING. Obediently humbled himself to death. All by the power of the Spirit. That was ONE SIDE.

And because of that obedience, God EXALTED him, Raised him. And restored him to his rightful place at his right hand. That’s the OTHER side.

Jesus is the Lamb who was slain. AND the Lion of Judah.

THAT’S the Jesus Paul wants to know. The lion AND the lamb. That’s the life he wants to experience. Both obedient, faithful suffering. And victorious, long-suffering, overcoming POWER.

It’s really the logical outworking of being IN CHRIST. If we’re joined to Christ by faith. And have his righteous standing before God, then it follows that we’ll LIVE THAT OUT.

1 Peter 4:12 says

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But REJOICE that you PARTICIPATE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, so that you may be OVERJOYED when his glory is revealed.

Being connected to Jesus means you’ll experience the LIFE of Jesus. His sufferings AND his victory.

And Jesus himself promised it. John 15:20

‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

And when we do experience that persecution and suffering, and we keep trusting God, God’s purposes are served. We grow more like Jesus. See there at the end of v10?

…BECOMING LIKE JESUS in his death

The Greek word for “becoming like” Jesus has the idea of being MOULDED INTO THE SAME SHAPE as Jesus.

God’s method for making Christ-like disciples isn’t to make life EASY, and to give them everything they WANT. That doesn’t make them like Jesus. It makes soft, spoiled, independent  BRATS.

Instead, it’s to TRAIN them, and DISCIPLINE them. To knock out from under them every crutch and support and foundation. And teach them, by the power of his Spirit, patience and humility and prayerfulness.

And then, in the end, to raise us from the dead (there in v11). God raised JESUS, and enthroned HIM. And because we’re IN him, we’re guaranteed to be raised TOO. At the end of the age, when everything’s completed. Raised to rule WITH Christ, because we’re IN him.

That’s the SHAPE of Jesus.

The funny thing is it’s a life that might look, from the outside, pretty similar to the good works Paul was building BEFORE. (Paul the JEW compared to Paul the CHRISTIAN).

It might LOOK like the life of a moral, law- abiding non-Christian Aussie TODAY. But it’s a completely different life.

One is work you do to MAKE you acceptable to God. Or to justify yourself. Or just because YOU think that’s the way you should live.

The OTHER is work you do BECAUSE you’re already acceptable to God. It’s a different motivation. With a different power. For a different goal.

It’s a better life. A better TREASURE. A TRUE life.

It comes from being IN CHRIST, rather than from within yourself. It’s focussed on the glory of Jesus, rather than your own. It’s a power to endure suffering and to come LAST, rather than a human-centred power to come FIRST. It comes from God’s Spirit at work IN you, rather than your external works.

It’s about DONE, not DO. It’s a life of joy, rather than worry about do-it-yourself performance.

So get rid of the rubbish-life of DO-IT-YOURSELF. Building your own claims of right standing with God. And instead, rejoice in the work of the Master Builder, and be found IN HIM. And know him. Know the fellowship of his sufferings, AND the power of his resurrection. It’s a treasure to satisfy you forever.

Philippians 3: 40 Days of Purpose 4: Discipleship: Created to become like Christ

The City to Surf’s just been on again. 50,000 runners who all start in the City, and then head up Oxford St to Bondi.

 

And there are two sorts of competitors in the City to Surf. There are the SERIOUS runners – not necessarily trying to WIN, but still seeking their own sorts of victory. Perhaps it’s just to run a personal best time.

 

And, for them, it’s that FINISHING LINE AT BONDI that’s the focus. And that big digital clock over the line. And for the whole race, they imagine crossing the line, and raising their arms in victory. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FINISH.

 

And then there’s the Back of the Pack crowd. They’re called that because they have a different starting line. It’s BEHIND the serious runners. So they don’t get in the way.

 

And that’s where you’ll find the fancy dress. The party-goers. Those out for a good time. A laugh. Or just a pleasant Sunday morning stroll.

 

And for THESE competitors, it’s ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY. The finishing line, and their time, are really an after-thought. It means nothing to them if they stop for coffee for an hour along the way. Or do a spot of window-shopping. Or wave to everyone watching beside the road.

 

And, according to Paul, the Christian life is just like a race. And like a race, you can run it in one of two ways. You can be a SERIOUS runner – like Paul. His eyes are on the goal. He’s straining towards the line. To win the prize. The prize of eternity with Jesus.

 

Like v8 of Phil 3.

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

 

V10. 10 I want to know Christ

 

Or v13

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize

 

For Paul, King Jesus loved him. King Jesus had saved him. And so he’s going to give him EVERYTHING. His mind’s on HEAVENLY things. ETERNAL things. And he’s not going to get bogged down along the way by earthly distractions.

 

And although the race was TOUGH, Paul couldn’t imagine anything else. Because every struggle along the way was making him MORE AND MORE LIKE JESUS. Fitter and fitter for eternity. The race was tough, but the prize was WORTH IT. And everything else he’d given up was just RUBBISH in comparison!

 

That’s the serious runner.

 

And then there’s the OTHER type of runner in the Christian race. The BACK OF THE PACK SLACKER. They’ll tell you they’re in the race, but their mind is on everything BUT the race. Paul says their mind is on EARTHLY THINGS.

 

It’s the pretty trinkets along the way that grab their attention. The bright lights of Kings Cross. Or the expensive shop fronts of Elizabeth Bay. And all they can think about are their sore feet, or dry mouths, or empty stomachs. And they forget why they began the race in the first place. In fact, they don’t look much different from the spectators standing beside the road. Barely distinguishable.

 

When it comes to YOUR Christian race – which are you? A serious runner, or a back of the pack slacker?

 

We’ve come, today, to the THIRD purpose of your life. God CREATED YOU TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

 

First, he PLANNED you for his pleasure – that’s WORSHIP. Second, he FORMED you for his FAMILY – that’s FELLOWSHIP. And THIRD, he CREATED you to BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

 

You can see that’s what Paul wants, there in v10.

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 

Whatever hills you climb, or pain you endure as you run the race of your Christian life, God’s put them all there so you’ll BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS. He wants to SCULPT you into the shape of Jesus. Take on his attitudes. Take on his behaviour. His characteristics. Respond to situations the same way Jesus would. Love what HE loves. And hate what HE hates.

 

1. Sculpting you into the shape of Jesus

And the key to the whole thing for Paul is there in v10. “I want to KNOW CHRIST” You can’t be CONFORMED to Christ, unless you know what he’s LIKE. Unless you KNOW him.

 

That’s what DRIVES Paul. He’s already said it back in v8. There’s nothing worth MORE than KNOWING CHRIST JESUS HIS LORD. Everything else is RUBBISH.

 

He’s not saying that he DOESN’T ALREADY know Christ. Just that he wants to know him BETTER. Every Christian knows SOMETHING of Christ. But the goal of the race is to KNOW HIM BETTER.

 

The tool of TRUTH

Because Christianity ISN’T knowing about a BOOK. Or knowing a set of rules. Or words to songs. It’s about knowing a PERSON. A living, active, powerful person. It’s about thinking his thoughts. Experiencing his presence. Understanding more and more what MOTIVATES him.

 

Paul was lucky enough to have MET him. On the road to Damascus. But that was just the beginning. He ALSO spent plenty of time in his Old Testament working it all out again.

 

And even though Christianity isn’t knowing a BOOK. WE learn about Jesus by studying his book. The Bible is how we learn what Jesus is like.

 

And it’s the first tool God uses to sculpt us into the shape of Jesus. The TRUTH of his word. 2 Tim 3:16-17 says THIS

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting AND TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, 17 so that the man of God may be THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED for every good work.

 

God uses his Bible to SHAPE us. It’s the very reason he caused it to be written down. Teaching us, rebuking us. Adding bits here. Cutting off bits there. To mould us into people who are thoroughly equipped. People who resemble Jesus.

 

The Word of God is the SWORD of God’s Spirit. The scalpel and the weapon. The hammer and the goad. The medicine and the bright searchlight. The mirror.

 

It’s the TOOL he uses to do his work. In his people, and in his world.

 

So if the Bible is God’s TOOL to thoroughly equip us, then we need to PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO IT. Sometimes when you’ve been a Christian for a long time, the temptation is to SWITCH OFF when the Bible is read, or being explained. Because you’ve heard that passage BEFORE. And the words just WASH OVER you.

 

But the Bible is God’s TOOL. You can’t be SHAPED by it, if you not letting it DIG INTO YOU. And that takes EFFORT. And it can even be PAINFUL.

 

1 Peter 2:2 says

2 Like newborn babies, CRAVE PURE SPIRITUAL MILK, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,

 

Does that describe YOUR attitude to God’s Word? Think about how a hungry baby CRAVES a feed. Poor old Owen, fading away to nothing, sometimes looks like HIS LIFE DEPENDS ON IT unless he gets fed in the next minute.

 

God’s word is LIFE. We should crave it like THAT.

We must be HUMBLE enough to sit under its AUTHORITY. Not to think WE KNOW BETTER.

We must be COMMITTED enough to APPLY IT THOROUGHLY. To receive it, research it, remember it, and reflect on it.

 

The tool of trials

That’s God’s FIRST tool for sculpting us into the shape of Christ. His Word teaches us to know Christ.

 

But what IN PARTICULAR do we learn about Christ? Back in Phil 3, Paul goes on to give us SOME SPECIFICS. The two events in Jesus’ life on earth which DEFINE who he is. Look there at v10.

(Phil 3:10 NIV)  I want to know Christ and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION and the fellowship of sharing in HIS SUFFERINGS,

 

Jesus is BOTH the resurrected Saviour AND the suffering servant. He’s both the victorious God, and the weak and frail human being. He’s the mighty Lion of Judah who is ALSO the slain lamb.

 

And for Paul to KNOW Christ is to know those qualities in his OWN LIFE. To know Christ better means to EXPERIENCE the power of Christ’s RESURRECTION. AND to join in Christ’s SUFFERINGS.

 

To know “the power of Christ’s resurrection” means experiencing victory over sin. Putting to death the old attitudes and behaviours. It means experiencing the power of the gospel in his own life. And seeing how it changes the lives of people he witnesses to. And they’re all things Paul wants to know.

 

The power of Christ’s resurrection

 

What about “sharing in his sufferings”? Why on earth would Paul WANT a share in Jesus’ sufferings?

 

Because that’s God’s SECOND tool for sculpting you into the shape of Christ. TRIALS.

 

Have you ever watched the locksmith cut a new key using the OLD one? The OLD one was cut into the right shape using a super-hard cutting tool. They attach the old key to ONE side of the machine, and the new blank one to the OTHER side. Then they start that super-hard grinder spinning. And the cutting-tool passes back and forth over the blank, guided by the shape of the MASTER.

 

And by the end, you’ve got a NEW key, exactly the same shape as the MASTER key. Cut using the same TOOL.

 

And it’s the same with US being shaped into the likeness of OUR master. The reality is that God uses suffering – TRIALS – as one of his tools to sculpt you into the same shape as Jesus. Because that’s exactly what JESUS went through.

 

As the Christian follows Jesus through suffering, he becomes more LIKE him. The fruit of obedience is Christlikeness. It’s literally that we “share in the shape of his death”. We are moulded into the shape of SERVANTS as we follow THE SERVANT KING.

 

It’s false advertising whenever an evangelist promises that when you become a Christian, all your problems will be solved. If anything, the OPPOSITE is often true. Listen to what Jesus himself says. John 15 v20.

(John 15:20-21 NIV)  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. {21} They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

 

To follow Christ, means we WILL suffer. It MAY mean persecution for being a Christian. That certainly happens in many countries today. But it might just mean suffering the consequences of putting Christ first.

 

Missing out on a promotion. Or refusing to cut the corners, and not winning the contract. Or doing without the new car, or new clothes because you support that missionary.

 

You see, we don’t just share in ANY sufferings. We share in CHRIST’S sufferings.

 

Christ suffered because he put his FATHER’S will before his own. He lay down his life for his sheep. We SHARE in Christ’s sufferings when they flow from OBEDIENCE  like HIS. Obedience to the FATHER’S will. Which puts the needs of others first.

 

We are shaped like Christ when we RESPOND like him. When we show LOVE in the face of HATE. Patience in the face of short-temper. Peace in the face of anger. Hope in the face of cynicism and failure. Perseverance in the face of giving up. Obedience in the face of rebellion. Purity in the face of evil.

 

And they’re all things God wants to see in you.

So if you’re praying for any of these, look out!!

 

Tool of time (12-16)

That’s why Paul wanted to knowing the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Because it was TRAINING him for the race. Making him fitter and stronger to make it to the finish line.

 

And even though Paul can’t WAIT for that. He doesn’t make the mistake of thinking he’s arrived already. Look at v12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have ALREADY obtained all this, or have ALREADY BEEN MADE PERFECT.

 

I’ve watched some of Lachlan’s Cross Country races. 4 km this year.

 

And even though Lachlan’s not a sprinter, he’s got good endurance. And he knows not to worry if people sprint right at the start. They’ll run out of puff. He knows how far 4 km is. He knows how far to the finish line. So he runs his own race.”

 

And what normally happens is that when the gun goes off, 20 kids SPRINT for the first corner. Lachlan starts at a steady jog. They turn the corner, all bumping into each other. And a few of them slow to a trot almost immediately. After the first 200 m half of them are walking. And within half a km, Lachlan’s caught all but one.

 

It’s immature to pretend you’ve made it when you’ve still got a long way to go. But Paul’s not like that. He knows he’s still got a long way to go. That’s what maturity is.

 

But what’s he talking about? What’s the “all this” he hasn’t obtained yet? It could be his resurrection. But that’s a little obvious. Of course he’s not dead and resurrected.

 

It’s the complete knowledge of Christ, and complete Christ-likeness he hasn’t achieved. He’s not COMPLETE, or PERFECT, or MATURE, or perhaps even FULLY-EQUIPPED. The word for “perfect” can mean all of those things.

 

And you can see that Christ-likeness is what he’s talking about when you look at the second half of that verse. It’s tricky, but it’s beautiful. V12.

(Phil 3:12 NIV)  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that  FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of me.

 

In other words, I’m working towards the goal which is the very reason Christ chose me to begin with. My job-description is to be Christ-like. That’s why Christ chose me. And that’s what I’m working towards. Following him. Becoming like him. Living FOR him.

 

And then Paul goes on in v13.

13 Brothers, I do not consider myself YET to have taken hold of it.

 

I’m not there yet. But I’m GETTING there. And it takes TIME.

And that’s God’s THIRD tool for sculpting you into the shape of Jesus. TIME.

 

God’s got your whole life planned out so that by the END of it, you’ll resemble Christ. And you can be sure it’s going to TAKE a lifetime.

 

Nothing that happens in your life happens accidentally. God uses the WHOLE THING to SHAPE you.

 

He COULD do it INSTANTLY. But that’s not the way he MADE us. Like everything, shaping you is a PARTNERSHIP.

 

* It takes a lifetime because we’re slow learners. We’re quick to forget and slow to remember.

 

* It takes a lifetime because we’ve got a lot of bad habits to UN-learn. Often we’ve learned sinful attitudes and habits over YEARS. But we expect God to fix them overnight.

 

Taking off the OLD self. And PUTTING on the NEW self takes a long time. And anyone who says different, is fooling themselves.

 

* It takes a lifetime because GROWING HURTS.

 

One of Lachlan’s soccer team-mates had the whole of last season off because of growing pains in his legs. His bones grew so quickly, his muscles and tendons couldn’t keep up. And he couldn’t run without pain, or risking permanent damage.

 

He just had to be patient, and let everything else catch up to his bones. He’s back playing know, even stronger AND BIGGER than before.

 

So be patient, and don’t get discouraged if YOUR growing seems slow. God promises that you WILL get there. Because it’s not just YOU. He’s working WITH you. Listen to what Paul says about the Philippians in Ch 1:6.

6 I’m confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

He’s worked out everything else in your life. So you can be confident he’ll work out your Christlikeness.

 

Which doesn’t mean we sit back and do NOTHING. It’s not LET GO and LET GOD. Remember, it’s a partnership. In Phil 2:12-13 Paul put it like this;

work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

 

God’s DESIRE and his PLANS are behind you. So there’s no FRUSTRATION, no spinning wheels. No wrong turns. Everything is an opportunity for God’s plans to be worked out in YOU. So WORK AT IT steadily and conscientiously and consistently, and firmly and confidently.

 

Or as Paul puts it here in Phil 3, PRESS ON.

 

V12. Press on to take hold of THAT FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of you.” Take hold of Christlikeness. Take hold of a life which glorifies Jesus.

 

And it’s this reason for living which Paul is SINGLE-MINDED about. Look at HOW he presses on. V13.

(Phil 3:13-14 NIV)  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

One thing. Pressing on. And he does it by FORGETTING what’s behind. That’s failures AND victories.

 

Forget past hurts, and disappointments, and discouragements. They can sap the LIFE out of you. Make you BITTER. People who’ve laughed at you, or rejected you. Or perhaps even just IGNORED you. That can be worse. And you wonder why you’d ever bother doing THAT again.

 

But the way to press on is to forget what’s past. And keep your eyes on the prize.

 

And sometimes we need to forget THE VICTORIES TOO. Especially if they make us complacent and proud. And make us trust in our own abilities. And make us think we’re further along the race than we really are.

 

Don’t look back. Press on toward the goal. And keep your eyes on your prize.

 

What’s the prize? From the context it’s probably Christ himself. We know Jesus now only A LITTLE. But COMPLETE and INTIMATE knowledge is what’s waiting for us at the finish line.

 

That’s the prize. Eternal fellowship with Jesus. Resurrection. And turning up to the throne of judgment. And King Jesus is there. And he says, “Good friend. I’ve been waiting for you. I ran the race. And although it was tough, you followed after me.

 

God’s used the race to sculpt you into a shape just like me.

 

“Well done, good and faithful servant. I can’t WAIT to spend eternity with you. Enter into your rest. You should see the party I’ve got ready for you!” That’s a prize worth striving for!

 

Press on.

 

Take hold of the very thing which was the reason Christ took hold of you. Christlikeness. Knowing Christ. In his sufferings and power.

 

Forget the past. Strain forward to win the prize. It’s what you were MADE for. Created to become like Christ.

 

 

 

Philippians 1:3-11: Pursuing Excellence

“To PURSUE EXCELLENCE”. Google tells me that’s the motto, or mission, or duty of organisations as diverse as

  1. the Royal Australian and NZ college of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists,
  2. Canterbury Christ Church University
  3. Xiamen University in China
  4. West Point Military Academy
  5. The Hastings Police Department, Nebraska

To pursue excellence. It carries the idea of a single-minded commitment to achieving quality. Never settling for second-best. Of always throwing your whole self into a task – your energy, your concentration, your time.

Perhaps it’s a bit jingoistic, but let me ask the question, how does it fit with being a Christian? What part should PURSUING EXCELLENCE have in the CHRISTIAN life? As individuals, or as a church? I guess it depends on what your definition of EXCELLENCE is.

  • For universities, it’s excellence in EDUCATION AND RESEARCH.
  • For the college of obstetricians and gynaecologists, they say their goal is excellence IN THE DELIVERY OF HEALTH CARE TO WOMEN THROUGHOUT THEIR LIVES.
  • And for the Hastings Police Department, Nebraska, their mission (and I quote) is to “pursue excellence by working in concert through effective partnerships with our diverse community/ to improve the quality of life which provides a safe and clean environment to all our citizens and visitors”. Whatever THAT means.

So, what excellent things should A CHRISTIAN be pursuing? Fairly obviously, the EXCELLENT things are the things of GOD, the things of ETERNITY. Things that cause the name of Jesus to be honoured, that cause people to recognise their sin, repent, and live honouring him as king.

In his letter to the Philippians, we can see how PAUL pursued excellence. Like Ch 1 v20. The excellence of glorifying Christ.

20 I EAGERLY EXPECT AND HOPE that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always CHRIST WILL BE EXALTED IN MY BODY, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY .

Or into Ch 3 v7. The excellence of an eternal prize in heaven.

(If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more):

7 But whatever was to my PROFIT I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH, that I may GAIN CHRIST 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith….

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Pursuing excellence. Pursuing the things of God. The rich reward and eternal glory of heaven. It consumed Paul’s life. And, as we’ll find out, it was what he prayed that OTHERS would be doing too.

But unfortunately, I’m not sure PURSUING EXCELLENCE is how most of us describe OUR OWN Christian life.

Perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, life is just so busy, that the things of Christ – the excellent things – just seem to slip down our priority list. And so, if we even thought about it, our motto, rather than “to pursue excellence” might be more along the lines of ;

  • “To wander half-heartedly after mediocrity.
  • Or “to meander in the general direction of whatever’s most urgent and noisy”.
  • Or “to stroll nonchalantly after the easiest and most comfortable option. As long as there’s nothing to watch on TV that night”.

But that’s just NOT GOOD ENOUGH. And Paul won’t allow us that option. He prays for his Philippian readers. It’s only a short prayer – 3 verses, and he’s really only praying for one thing. It’s a prayer that their love will abound so that they can discern what’s BEST, and be pure and blameless. In other words, it’s a prayer to PURSUE what’s EXCELLENT.

But if we take it seriously, and if we begin to pray it for ourselves and for others, and as God answers it. It’s a prayer that will remove our lukewarm, black and white, faded, second-rate, half-hearted, poor imitation of a Christian life. And begin to make it one Jesus is PROUD of. Where we pursue the excellent things – the things of significance. The things that MATTER.

It’s one that will transform our attitudes and actions, our thoughts and our words. It will transform our church, and our families.

Now, that’s a big build-up. But I think it’s a big prayer that can measure up. So let’s turn to it now, and see what you think.

  1. May your love abound more and more

The first part of Paul’s prayer is fairly straightforward. There in v9. That the PHILIPPIANS’ LOVE MAY ABOUND MORE AND MORE.

He doesn’t say WHO the Philippians are to love. But he expands on the same idea when he prays for the Thessalonian Christians. 1 Thess 3:12

12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow FOR EACH OTHER and for EVERYONE ELSE

May this group of Christians be one who are CHARACTERISED by love. Towards EVERYONE. Christian, non-Christian. Insider/ outsider. Loveable and Unloveable. When people look at them, may it be their LOVE that’s the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus

Love that ABOUNDS is love that OVERFLOWS INTO ACTIONS. Into WORDS. Into the sacrificial service of God and for others. You can see the sort of thing Paul’s thinking about a bit further on into Ch 2. Paul pleads, v2, that they be

like-minded, having the same LOVE, being one in SPIRIT and PURPOSE. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES. 4 Each of you SHOULD LOOK NOT ONLY TO YOUR OWN INTERESTS, BUT ALSO TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.

That’s love that abounds more and more.

  1. Love in knowledge and depth of insight

But for Paul, it’s not just love in some sort of undefined, GENERAL sense. It’s FOCUSSED love. SPECIFIC love. Look at the next phrase in v9.

that your love may abound more and more IN KNOWLEDGE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT

That’s knowledge of God, of people. Knowledge about situations. About eternity. And depth of insight is to do with making wise, moral choices in the light of that knowledge.

You see, Paul’s not talking about love ON ITS OWN – which simply becomes SENTIMENTAL and SOFT and EMPTY. That can flatter, or spoil others. And in the end, it’s not in the person’s best interest. But it’s love that abounds in knowledge and insight.

Occasionally I get phoned up by people who WANT things. They phone the church number, looking for help. Sometimes it’s just food. They’ve had an extra bill this week, and there’s nothing in the cupboard. So, I bring them a few bags of groceries.

Other times people want MONEY. A of years ago, a guy phoned, and said he was stranded in Victoria at a Highway Road House, and needed money to buy a bus ticket back to Blacktown. He was getting back with his wife and kids, who were staying at her parents. He couldn’t let them know. He said the bus was leaving in an hour, and I needed to transfer the money into his account so he could buy the ticket.

I actually said I WOULD, but on the way, I dropped into the address where he said his wife and kids were staying. Guess what? They’d never heard of him. He phoned back asking about the money. He got quite angry and called me a liar when I told him I’d changed my mind. But he’d actually lied to ME.

To just hand over money shows love WITHOUT knowledge and insight. But Paul prays for love that abounds in knowledge and depth of insight.

He’s got in mind love that’s PERCEPTIVE. That can discern what someone NEEDS, rather than just WANTS, and does that INSTEAD. Love that’s willing to ask questions, and dig a bit deeper to find out what’s REALLY going on.

And it’s love that’s TOUGH. That can make difficult choices. It’s love that can go out on a limb, and risk causing offence. Risk being thought of badly. That can risk being a peacemaker between two fighting friends.

It’s love that knows when the right time to make the phone call is. And when a card would be better. Whether it’s right to bring around a meal, or offer help. It’s love that knows when it’s right to rebuke, and when it’s best to keep quiet. When it’s right to risk the friendship by bringing up Jesus, and it’s love that knows what to say when you DO.

  1. So that you may be able to discern what is best

You can see this is the sort of love Paul’s thinking about because of what he goes on to pray. It’s the THIRD part of his prayer – there in v10. His prayer is for love that abounds in knowledge and insight SO THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO DISCERN WHAT IS BEST.

In other words, so that you may be able to test or approve the things which are most excellent or valuable.

Apply the HEART of love/ with the HEAD of knowledge and insight, so that in a whole range of situations, you can DECIDE YOUR RESPONSE on the basis of choosing the things that are MOST EXCELLENT OR VALUABLE.

Pursuing excellence becomes much harder than a simple difference between right and wrong. For lots of decisions, it’s a choice between TWO GOOD THINGS. Which do you choose?

Let me give you some examples.

What’s the MOST EXCELLENT way to use your holidays? What brings most glory to God? How do you balance time for your family, time to refresh yourself, time to perhaps serve on a Christian youth camp, or go to something like CMS Summer school? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

Perhaps you’re finishing school – deciding on a career. What’s the MOST EXCELLENT career for you/ The one where God can use you for his glory the MOST? The one where you can show love for God and others, and use your unique gifts? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

What do you READ? In the last six months, you’ve probably read newspapers and magazines. But have you also found time to read any good Christian books. Books that will help you understand the Bible better, or improve your spiritual discipline, or broaden your views of God and his purposes? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

How do you use your MONEY? Are you using it on the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS? Things that will last into ETERNITY? Or is it all disappearing on things that will rust, and break down, and wear out? And perhaps more importantly, what’s your ATTITUDE when give money to support ministry? Do you do it GRUDGINGLY, or do you DELIGHT to do it, returning to God what’s his anyway, because you’ve got the wisdom and insight to recognise the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS.

And as we look forward into 2007, how are you going to fill it up? What things can you TAKE UP? What things can you STOP doing? They might all be GOOD things, but it takes discernment to know the MOST EXCELLENT THINGS.

Will you get trained to teach Kids Church better, or read your Bible better? Will you give up some WORK time to do some MINISTRY? Will you STOP spending on ONE thing, so you can support an EXCELLENT missionary opportunity? Will you give up one night of TV a week, so you can show hospitality? It takes knowledge and insight to know the MOST excellent things.

You can see examples of this sort of decision making in other parts of the letter. Like down in v14. Paul’s writing from prison. And when word of it gets out, the option for the Christians is to shut up shop. Keep quiet and play it safe. Or speak out, and risk being put in prison themselves.

But, they show love that abounds in knowledge and insight. And so they’ve worked out what the most excellent thing is. V14.

14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Or there’s Paul himself, down in v22 of Ch 1. He’s in prison, and his thoughts have turned to . It’s possible. And Paul can’t help looking forward to it. But on the other hand, there’s so much work for him to be doing among the churches.

Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

He needs knowledge and insight to know the most excellent thing. Look at his conclusion. V25

5 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH, 26 so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

The progress and joy in the faith of OTHERS. That’s what’s BEST. Better than Paul’s comfort or release from suffering. And so, that’s what he’ll spend his life PURSUING.

  1. Pure and blameless until the day of Christ, Filled with fruit of righteousness

And you can see the RESULT of this sort of lifestyle in the NEXT part of Paul’s prayer. When people start living like THAT –making the knowledgeable and insightful loving decisions that choose what’s MOST IMPORTANT, it results in them being (v10 &11)

pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ

That’s about EVERYONE being pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Those who are SHOWING the loving discernment, and those who are RECEIVING the love.

As YOU pursue what’s excellent, and show love to others, then YOU are showing the fruit that comes from being a disciple of Jesus – evidence of the right standing you have as God’s friend.

But you also encourage OTHERS to grow in maturity. Because their maturity and joy in the faith is the most excellent thing you can do for them, then THEY will be growing in those things that show the fruit of righteousness.

And notice it’s all to be done with one eye on the day of Christ. That’s judgment day. But I think Paul’s saying something MORE than just that they’ll keep doing these things UNTIL Christ returns. He’s not so much thinking of it like the HSC. The exams that hang over your head, like an omen making you work hard right to the end.

If that’s the idea Paul was trying to get across, he could have used the word â€%9 il”. Filled with the fruit of righteousness UNTIL the day of Christ. That’s what the NIV says. But Paul LITERALLY says “Filled with the fruit of righteousness INTO the day of Christ. Or TOWARDS the day of Christ.

I think he’s saying something much more attractive and compelling. His prayer is that Christians will so live/ that they recognise that their lives are HEADED TOWARDS the day of Christ. To the new heavens and the new earth, when the fruit of their lives will be ENTIRELY righteous. To recognise that the fruit they’re growing NOW is of the same type and flavour as the fruit they’ll, one day, show in perfection. The sweet first-fruits of a harvest to come.

They’re on the path towards a life that PERFECTLY reflects Jesus. They’re not there YET, but they’re ON THE WAY.

And living your life with that sort of perspective gives you the taste that builds your appetite for MORE. That seeks to grow more and more of the fruit of righteousness in ourselves, and in those around us.

And when Christians who view their INDIVIDUAL lives like that GATHER TOGETHER. Then church becomes a time-travelling outpost of heaven. An anticipation, a glimpse into the future where we see, and experience, even if in a clouded and dull way, the sort of love and character and flavour of perfect righteousness.

It’s the sort of pursuit of excellence Paul was consumed with. A future-oriented, determined and costly, single-minded commitment to discerning the most excellent things, and to work with all his strength to achieving them.

You can see that sort of desire in the way Paul treated his present life. Flip over the chapter 3 v12. We read it earlier. But I just want you to dwell on his words.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I PRESS ON to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I PRESS ON toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Make that YOUR declaration. Make it your prayer that OTHERS may be able to declare it.

Pray for yourself, and others, that

your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:1-11: Partners in the Gospel

It’s that time of the year again. A month before Christmas. And, for me, it lasts all the way to Christmas. The time to FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT WRITING CHRISTMAS CARDS. Do people still write Christmas cards? It seems to me there’s not many who DO. Even compared to ten years ago.  I still get a few. And it seems like there’s three sorts of Christmas cards. There’s the simple, efficient and quick card. “Dear David and family… from so-and-so. They’re nice.

Then there’s the card that has the pro forma family catchup letter inside. With all the news that’s happened over the year. What the kids have been up to, what renovations were done to the house etc. Which is all very interesting. But I reckon Facebook has made these letters largely redundant.

But the cards I LOVE to get have an encouraging, thoughtful message. Doesn’t have to be AN ESSAY, even just a few sentences. But it gets to the heart of what’s important, and rejoices in our friendship. I love to RECEIVE them. But they’re difficult to WRITE, aren’t they? We could all learn some lessons from how Paul writes to the Philippians.

These first eleven verses of Philippians chapter 1 are a great example to follow. Of depth of feeling, and warm encouragement, and JOY. He’s writing the words with a huge grin on his face as he thinks about them.

And there’s one phrase in the middle that gets to the HEART of it. And that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning. See it there in v5? PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL.

Partnership. Or FELLOWSHIP. The shared connection of relationship or purpose.

Even though Paul’s in ROME, and under house arrest. And they’re in Philippi, 1000km away in GREECE. But they’re CONNECTED – they’re FAMILY.

And what they SHARE is the most precious thing of all – God’s grace. The end of v7 uses a related word to partnership, when it says they “SHARE” in God’s grace.

And there’s HISTORY to the partnership. Which makes the connection, and the feelings, even STRONGER. They’ve been partners from the FIRST DAY UNTIL NOW.

10 years had passed since Paul first arrived in Philippi. You can read about it in Acts 16. Paul, Silas and Luke had only been there a short time. There was no synagogue to visit. But they’d found some God-fearers meeting down by the river.

And before long Lydia and her household had believed and been baptized. And they’d had their first church plant meeting in her home.

But it wasn’t long before they’d ended up on the wrong side of an angry mob. The magistrates had ordered that Paul and Silas be beaten, and then thrown into prison.

And even the PRISON SENTENCE had turned out well. Because there’d been an earthquake, the prison doors flew open, and when the prisoners didn’t escape, the jailer had become a Christian TOO. And he and all HIS household were baptized.

And by the time Paul and Silas and Luke left, there was a little church left behind. And they’d been supporting Paul financially ever since. Partners up to the PRESENT time. And so, when Paul remembers them WITH JOY. Why? For one simple reason – their PARTNERSHIP with him IN THE GOSPEL. See there in v5? Let’s spend a few minutes thinking about what that involves.

  1. Partners in the gospel are committed to each other

Firstly, partners in the gospel are committed to each other. It’s not hard to see what Paul thinks of the Philippians. He’s pretty transparent. In v4, he remembers them with JOY. In v7, he has them IN HIS HEART. This is more than just being committed to THE JOB. It’s the PEOPLE who excite Paul.  And in v8, he calls on God to back him up. “God KNOWS how I LONG for you all with the AFFECTION of Christ Jesus.”

And notice that it’s not just INDIVIDUALS, either – people he has things in common with, or finds attractive, or are easy to talk to. V3 – he prays for ALL of THEM. V7. It’s right for him to feel joyful about ALL OF THEM. V8. He longs for ALL OF THEM. It’s the WHOLE CHURCH he feels this joy about.

What about YOU? What do you miss about church when you’re not here? Is it a few individuals? Or is it the whole family? (Those who’re DIFFERENT from you AS WELL AS those you’ve got lots in common with) Are you committed to ALL God’s people?

And the commitment went the other way too. The Philippians were committed to Paul. They shared themselves with him. That’s part of what Paul MEANS by partnership in the gospel.

Over in Ch 4, Paul thanks them for the financial gifts they’d sent. Money to help Paul with his missionary work. Their commitment had “hands and feet”. It was concrete. Real. Not just good wishes. And the odd prayer for God’s blessing every now and then.

And they STUCK BY HIM. V7 says they shared in God’s grace with Paul when he was in chains, AND when he was defending and confirming the gospel. Whether he was on the sidelines, or out in the middle. Their commitment was the same. They were CONSISTENT. They weren’t FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS. Which is something WE can learn from. A sad fact s that missionaries’ financial support often drops off when they’re home on furlough. Perhaps because their supporters don’t think they’re doing the real work. But the reality is their expenses are often GREATER when they’re home. That’s not being PARTNERS in the gospel.

But it’s not like that with the Philippians and Paul. Through good times AND bad, they were committed to him. Partners in the gospel are committed to each other.

  1. Partners in the gospel are committed to Christ

And secondly, partners in the gospel are COMMITTED TO THEIR MASTER.

  1. servants of Christ

You can see it. Right there in v1. Partners in the gospel are committed to Christ. Look at what he calls himself and Timothy. SERVANTS. What’s it mean to be a SERVANT of Christ Jesus? For Paul, it meant doing whatever Jesus wanted him to do. Most of which Paul wouldn’t have CHOSEN. In 2 Corinthians, he describes his life. And the point is to show the extent to which a TRUE SERVANT is willing to go, compared to FALSE teachers. 2 Corinthians 11:12

Are THEY/ SERVANTS OF CHRIST? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am MORE. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. {24} Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. {25} Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, {26} I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. {27} I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. {28} Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Following Jesus – being a SERVANT – means DENYING SELF. Letting someone else call the shots. It’s not something most of us like to do. We like to be in control. To make the decisions. To set the course.

But from the moment Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life was turned on its head. And any plans Paul might have had for his future/ suddenly seemed completely unimportant. Career, friends, family, possessions, education, self-improvement. All seemed worthless.

And the only thing that mattered/ was serving his master. He’d been DAZZLED by Jesus. Awestruck. Jesus had given his LIFE for Paul. And so Paul would give HIS life for JESUS. He was his SERVANT.

And Paul can make that claim while he’s chained to two Roman soldiers. Caesar demanded the complete loyalty of his citizens. Their adoration – even worship – at the threat of death. Yet, for Paul, Caesar is not Boss – it’s only Jesus. It’s not your Prime Minister who ultimately calls the shots, or your employer, or your bank manager, or even your wife or husband! Only Jesus. He’s not just your SAVIOUR, he’s YOUR LORD. That’s what it means to be a servant of Christ Jesus.

  1. growing in fruit of righteousness through Christ

And Paul knows what that LIFE OF SERVICE will look like. Look at what he PRAYS for the Philippians. The sorts of things that are Jesus’ priorities. Down in v9.

And this is my prayer: that your LOVE may abound MORE and MORE/ in knowledge and depth of insight, {10} so that you may be able to discern what is best.

First, he prays that their LOVE FOR EACH OTHER might grow. It’s really what sets Christians apart. The miracle of how people who are so different/ can LOVE each other.

But it’s not easy. And it doesn’t come naturally. Which is why Paul PRAYS for it. Sometimes the BETTER you know someone, the HARDER it is to love them. Those annoying habits you used to overlook, now drive you crazy. What Paul prays for/ is that, as time goes by, their love would GROW. That the BETTER THEY KNOW EACH OTHER, the MORE they’ll LOVE. That the SHARED HISTORY would lead to DEEPER LOVE.

But it’s not just feelings and emotions either. (BLIND LOVE.) It’s DIRECTED love. Always with A PURPOSE. Look at the second part of the verse.   …that your love may abound more and more IN KNOWLEDGE AND DEPTH OF INSIGHT, {10} so that you may be able to DISCERN WHAT IS BEST

It’s love COMBINED with KNOWLEDGE AND INSIGHT that Paul’s interested in. Sometimes there’s no question that you LOVE someone. Just that you’re not sure HOW to help them. To know what’s BEST. How can you best show love to a drug addict? Or someone struggling with depression? Or someone who’s making bad relationship decisions? Or someone struggling to raise their kids? That’s where we need KNOWLEDGE and INSIGHT. Knowledge of God’s purposes. Knowledge of what’s best for that person. So we can SHOW love in the best way possible.

So what IS best for people? Paul PRAYS it down in v11. Love for people wants them TO BECOME LIKE JESUS. To be FILLED WITH THE FRUIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

That’s the goal as we LOVE those around us. To develop the fruit of righteousness in them. To lovingly PRAY for them and GUIDE them. Lovingly REBUKE them and ENCOURAGE them. Lovingly CORRECT them and TRAIN them. Until we ALL reach unity in the faith and become MATURE, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. That’s the way Paul puts it on Ephesians 4.

  1. secure until the return of Christ

And look at what THE ULTIMATE GOAL of that love is. Where it ENDS. It’s that we would all be held secure until the return of Christ. V10.   so that you may be able to discern what is best and MAY BE PURE AND BLAMELESS UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST,

That’s the target. All of us found pure and blameless when Jesus comes back. That’s the mountain top we’re all climbing for. That’s the GOAL of our love for each other. To keep following Jesus until he comes back. Not to slip. Not to fall away, or stumble. But to make it to the end.  Everyone. Like the creed of the US Army Rangers. “No man left behind”. That should be OUR motto TOO.

It takes determination and focus on OUR part – TARGETED LOVE. But at the same time, GOD’S AT WORK AS WELL. Which is what gives Paul every confidence that the Philippians will MAKE it to the end. Look back to v6.

…being CONFIDENT of this, that he who BEGAN a good work in you will CARRY IT ON TO COMPLETION until the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul’s seen the EVIDENCE already. He’s seen what God’s ALREADY DONE. He’s BEGUN the work. He’s forgiven them. And made them new people. And saved them. And they’re being filled with the fruit of righteousness. And so he’s confident that God will FINISH THE JOB.

Where’s Paul’s confidence? Is it in the Philippians? No! Which is just as well. Most of us aren’t good at SEEING THINGS THROUGH. Whether it’s saving for that house deposit, or losing those kilos. Or finishing that project – like restoring the table, or knitting the jumper.

And if we can’t stick at THOSE things, what chance would we have at sticking at following Jesus. That’s MUCH harder. It’s just as well God IS good at seeing things through. That’s who he is. That’s what he does. He doesn’t change. He’s faithful to his promises. And when he starts a job, he’ll FINISH it.

Paul’s confidence that Christians will see it through to the end comes from GOD and not from US. From beginning to end, partners in the gospel are those who are committed to EACH OTHER. And committed to CHRIST. They SERVE him, and serve each other. They’re growing in the fruit of righteousness through Him. And they’re held secure until he comes back.

  1. Partners in the gospel are committed to the task

And the third thing about partners in the gospel/ is that they’re committed to the TASK. When you’re committed to the MASTER, it’s ONLY NATURAL you’ll be committed to the MESSAGE of the master. When Jesus was raised from the dead, that changed EVERYTHING. It changed THEM, and they want to see that change OTHERS, TOO.

  1. from the first day until now

And Paul rejoices because their commitment is seen over the LONG HAUL. They were in the marathon. Not the sprint. Look again at v5.

(I always pray with joy) {5} because of your partnership in the gospel/ from the FIRST DAY UNTIL NOW.

Since the day they first accepted Paul’s message, and became Christians. Until the day Paul writes. They’ve been working WITH Paul in the cause of the gospel. To LIVE it. And to spread it. And grow it. And strengthen it.

When they FIRST became Christians, they were partners in the gospel. It excited them. (Energised them. Gave them hope and purpose and direction.) They didn’t let inexperience, or immaturity, or a lack of knowledge stand in the way. They had GREAT NEWS to tell people. They HAD TO tell them.

Are you as EXCITED about the gospel/ as you were when you first became a Christian? And that excitement and partnership continued until the day Paul writes. Paul might be in prison, while they might be free to roam the town. But they’re PARTNERS. Paul might be in Rome, and they might be in Philippi. But they’re PARTNERS. He’s shining his light where HE is. And they’re doing their part where THEY are. And that makes them partners. Partners in the gospel are committed to each other. They’re committed to their Master. And they’re committed to the TASK.

Which of those three are YOU having trouble with? Which one are you slipping away from?

  1. Perhaps it’s being committed to OTHER CHRISTIANS. You’ve become too focused on your own affairs. You’ve become hardened to the needs, and the ministries, of others.

How well do YOU support those doing gospel work? Are you giving GENEROUSLY to God’s work? Do you BIN those prayer letters that come, or do you READ them? Do you pray from them?/ Do you experience their VICTORIES?/ Do you cry at their failures and struggles?

If this is a struggle for you, then my prayer for you is Paul’s prayer – that your love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Pray that God will GIVE you the love and concern and generosity for these people.

  1. Or perhaps it’s being committed TO JESUS that’s the problem. You don’t really think of yourself as a SERVANT. Like most people, you’re busy making your own decisions about life. And Jesus has little say at all. He’s SAVIOUR, but not LORD. In fact, from the outside, most people would struggle to see ANY difference between you and your non-Christian neighbours.

Then Paul’s prayer is ALSO for you. It’s a prayer that’s FIXED ON JESUS’ RETURN. He wants his partners in the gospel to be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. Is that what YOU long for? Do you LONG to hear Jesus’ words “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

If you do, then start LIVING for him NOW. Be EXCITED by Jesus. And keep your eyes on that day.

  1. Or perhaps it’s being committed to the TASK that’s the problem. The gospel USED TO excite you, but it’s just seems too hard these days. And you’re TIRED.

People think Christians are intolerant. And arrogant. Society’s changed. And it’s much easier just to hang out with Christians all the time. That way you don’t have to feel guilty or uncomfortable.Then look to the Philippians. They were partners with Paul from the first day, until NOW. They didn’t drop off.  And look to JESUS, who graciously SAVED you to SERVE him. And look to GOD, who graciously BEGAN A GOOD WORK IN YOU. And who we can confidently EXPECT will carry it on to COMPLETION. And look forward to the DAY of Christ, to being presented pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness.

Philippians 1:12-26: Something worth dying for

Is there anything you’d consider DYING FOR?isis-ethiopian-christian-1

We’ve seen in the news this week the tragic story of refugees fleeing Libya. Their boat sank in the middle of the Mediterranean, killing around 800 people.

They risked their lives for the chance of freedom and safety. They thought ESCAPING THEIR SUFFERING was worth DYING for. Or to be more accurate, they thought it was worth the RISK of dying.

Or he’s another example. ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS can be pretty committed. None more so than two in Bonn, Germany. They thought ANIMAL RIGHTS were worth dying for. They were protesting the cruelty of an abattoir, and so they decided to free a herd of pigs waiting to be slaughtered. When they opened the gate, all two thousand pigs suddenly stampeded through the gate, and trampled the protesters to death.

Freedom from persecution? Animal rights? Causes people felt very committed to. But not enough to actually DIE for. They never CHOSE DEATH. It was an ACCIDENT.

Is there anything YOU would consider DYING FOR?

What about the life of people you love? We often hear of people who drown trying to rescue someone else in danger. Often it’s FATHERS trying to rescue their kids. Jumping into dangerous water. Even though they know they’re risking death themselves. Perhaps we’re getting a little closer here. Saving someone’s life – is that worth dying for?

Or what about the stories in social media in the last few days about ISIS executing Ethiopian Christians in Libya. All because they refuse to renounce their Christian faith in the face of murderous Islamic threats. Standing up for Jesus. Is THAT something you’d consider dying for?

For Paul, there’s no question. He’s prepared to DIE FOR SAKE OF JESUS. WHATEVER happens. Life or death. V20. His highest goal is that JESUS WOULD BE EXALTED.

There’s NOTHING he wouldn’t do/ if it meant THE MESSAGE OF JESUS WENT TO MORE PEOPLE. V18. He’ll put up with ANYTHING, as long as Christ is being preached. That’s his source of JOY.

And because that’s his top priority, he doesn’t mind not getting OTHER things. Like comfort and reputation and influence and money and success. Doesn’t matter that he’s stuck in PRISON, Christ is being preached. So he’ll REJOICE. Doesn’t matter that rivals are ruining his REPUTATION, and making things even more difficult for him. Christ is being preached. So he’ll REJOICE. Doesn’t matter that death is just around the corner! Christ is being preached. So he’ll REJOICE. None of those things are as important as Christ being preached. And because THAT’S happening, he can rejoice.

Be honest! What things are important in YOUR life? Family, comfort, health, leisure, employment, influence, prosperity. All things that make you rejoice. Where does SEEING JESUS EXALTED fit on that list?

That’s a key to JOY. Because if joy only comes when we get those OTHER things, what happens when we DON’T? When tough times come? When we SUFFER? What a secret we’d learn if we could learn to REJOICE in the face of difficulties like these!

If there’s one lesson to learn from the letter of Philippians, it’s THAT. To REJOICE. In EVERY situation. The key verse is over in Ch 4 v4. 4 Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. I will say it AGAIN: REJOICE!

  1. Trouble from the OUTSIDE advances the gospel

And as we look at THESE verses we can learn some lessons on HOW Paul’s able to rejoice.

The first lesson we learn/ goes against common-sense. How can he rejoice in the face of trouble? Because trouble from the outside ACTUALLY ADVANCES THE GOSPEL. Look at v12.

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to ADVANCE the gospel.

He’s talking about his imprisonment. Most people would think that prison would STOP the message. That’s certainly what the Jewish leaders had hoped back in Jerusalem when they’d first got him arrested.

But in Paul’s case THE OPPOSITE’s happened. Persecution actually serves to SPREAD THE MESSAGE.

And he goes on to describe how that works for both non-Christians AND Christians. Look at v13. That’s the non-Christians.

As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Paul was no ordinary prisoner. He wasn’t there for robbery, or treason, or kidnapping, or even JAY-WALKING. He was there because of Christ. And all the prison guards knew it.

Paul might have been stuck in one place, but he was making the most of his opportunities. Acts 28 tells us he was in Rome under house arrest for TWO YEARS. And that he boldly and without hindrance preached to all who came to see him. That’s a reason to rejoice!

And his time in prison also affected CHRISTIANS. Look at v14. Because of my chains, most of the BROTHERS IN THE LORD have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

What a miracle! Rather than Paul’s imprisonment DISCOURAGING everyone else. It’s actually done THE OPPOSITE. They’d been reminded of the IMPORTANCE of the message. The message of Jesus is LIFE OR DEATH. And Paul in prison, under real threat of DEATH, brought that home to them. Paul took the message SO SERIOUSLY, he was prepared to do ANYTHING to see it go out. How could THEY just sit back and not do anything with it? Paul’s situation focused their energies. And reset their priorities. Made them realise that following Jesus wasn’t just PART of life. (Something extra to be added onto family and work and social events and sport. Something else to fit into the week). Following Jesus WAS life. Paul says it down in v21. For me, to live/ IS CHRIST.

Following Jesus was WHO THEY WERE. It defined them. Gave them a purpose. And set their place in the scheme of things. And Paul’s imprisonment REMINDED them of that.

What about you? What defines you? What does YOUR LIFE say about WHO YOU ARE? What means more than life or death to you?

A radio station had a competition a while ago. A private detective followed someone around. And he gave clues about who the person was. If it was you, and you recognised yourself, and phoned in, you won $20, 000.

If a private detective was following YOU around. What would his video show? What would his report say? What would your activities say about you?

Is the gospel just an ADD-ON for you? Or is it central? Doesn’t it DEFINE WHO YOU ARE? Let Paul’s situation in jail REMIND you of the LIFE AND DEATH IMPORTANCE of the gospel message. Let it encourage YOU to speak the work of God more courageously and fearlessly.

The imprisonment of Paul advanced the gospel. And it’s worked the same way for Christians SINCE then. Governments down through the ages/ like North Korea or China or Syria have tried to wipe out Christianity. Yet the more they persecute the church, the stronger it grows. Tough laws don’t work. Hard labour camps don’t work. Brutal violence doesn’t work.

What a miracle – that trouble from the outside actually ADVANCES the gospel. Because God uses persecution to grow his faithful church.

  1. Trouble from the INSIDE advances the gospel

That’s the first point. The second reason Paul can rejoice is because trouble from the INSIDE/ ALSO advances the gospel.

It wasn’t just GOOD things happening for the Christians. There were some negative factors TOO. OTHER Christians were encouraged to preach the gospel, alright. But it wasn’t because they wanted to see people become Christians. They had the wrong motive. They actually quite LIKED the fact Paul was in prison. Look at v15. It is true that SOME PREACH CHRIST OUT OF ENVY AND RIVALRY,

And again in v17. (They) preach Christ OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION, NOT SINCERELY, supposing that they can STIR UP TROUBLE FOR ME while I am in chains.

These Christians wanted to succeed at Paul’s expense. They were AMBITIOUS. Paul’s downfall meant they could STEP INTO THE LEADERSHIP SPOT he’d left behind. And so they couldn’t believe their luck when he ended up in prison. And so they preached Christ for all they were worth. Any church who’d have them. Anything to make a name for themselves.

But that’s not all. They were actually doing it to MAKE THINGS MORE DIFFICULT for Paul. That’s what v17 says. To stir up trouble for Paul.

You see, the more noise they made, the more ANNOYED the Jewish leaders and the Romans would become. And the harder it would be for Paul. The more difficult to be acquitted when his trial happened. That’s what these vultures were thinking. How awful!

What sort of wrong motives do WE have when we do ministry? The desire to be noticed is a common one. (Doing things so people will think what a great person you are. How gifted, or generous, or compassionate, or patient.)

And even though we know we’re saved by grace alone. There’s always that little nagging voice. That God will accept us more, or love us more, if we just do a few more things for him. To pay him back. And that’s a wrong motive. Or do you do it for your own ego? Your self-esteem? To compare yourself more favourably to other people? How often do you find yourself measuring yourself against other people? And then there’s ambition. The desire for power. To get ahead.

Or how do you feel when another ministry FAILS? Do you WEEP that the kingdom of God has suffered? Or is there a bit of glee that you’ll come off looking BETTER?

Or when another ministry or church SUCCEEDS? When it’s BOOMING? Are you JEALOUS? Or do you REJOICE at what God’s doing through someone else?

How do I react when people say how much they appreciated Stuart Coulton’s talks at the church retreat? Do I REJOICE that God’s been glorified, and people encouraged? Or do I feel a little bit JEALOUS that he’s more gifted, or gets more attention than me?

Motives can be SO DECEPTIVE. And these people in Paul’s day had ALL SORTS of bad motives.

But despite their treachery, Paul has something amazing to say. Despite the fact that these people were dragging his good name through the mud. Despite the fact that it was dragging out his trial and imprisonment even longer. Look at what Paul is able to say in v18. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I REJOICE.

If the true message of the gospel’s being proclaimed, Paul doesn’t care WHAT the motives are. And he doesn’t care what TROUBLE it causes for him. Or how his reputation suffers. Because none of that matters. Christ is preached. And lives are still being changed.

Trouble from the inside STILL advances the gospel.

You see, Paul knows that God’s in control whatever happens. And the way that works with EVANGELISM/ is that God can still use blunt instruments to shape a wonderful project. He’s the master craftsmen.

Whenever I mess up a construction project, I blame the tools. The tape measure was wrong. The saw was blunt. The level was out. If I only had a table saw, or a band saw, or a thicknesser, then my work would be so much better. But it’s not like that with God. He can still use poor tools. Sinful people. With imperfect motives. And impure thoughts. And self-centred goals. To bring about his perfect and pure and God-centred plans!

And that’s great news for US! It means the success of our puny efforts doesn’t depend on our perfection. Or LACK of it!

Even bad motives, and poor skills, can cause Christ to be proclaimed. Don’t wait until you’ve got every piece in place. (Until you know the answer to every question, have just the right amount of enthusiasm and godliness. Until you’ve made sure you’ve had your quiet time, and prayed). That’s trusting in YOUR EFFORTS, rather than God.

Trust God. Do it even when you don’t FEEL like it. Do it even though you don’t feel as well-trained, or confident, or capable as you could be. Do it anyway.

This week our training course on EVERYDAY EVANGELISM starts. (How to speak up for Jesus wherever you are. In a way that’s natural to YOU). Are you COMING? Or are you going to use excuses?

The important thing in every situation. Is that Christ is preached! That’s why Paul REJOICES.

  1. A difficult choice:

And Paul didn’t just rejoice about what was happening in the present. Look at the end of v18. “Yes, and I will CONTINUE to rejoice.” V19 Because he’s confidently looking forward to his deliverance. His eyes were on TOMORROW. On the time he’d finally be set free.

Which sounds like he’s talking about getting out of prison, and getting back to work. But in v20, we see that the REASON he’s so confident, is because he’ll be set free WHATEVER happens to him. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, WHETHER BY LIFE OR BY DEATH.

He’s confident he’ll be delivered. It’s a 100% certainty. He’ll either be delivered by DEATH. Or he’ll be set free to keep LIVING. Either way, he’s delivered. And when he thinks about it, Paul’s got a hard choice deciding which he’d prefer. That’s extraordinary, isn’t it!

We talked about this at our Monday afternoon Bible study, which has got a good percentage of people closer to the END of their life than the beginning. Some of us had been through health scares where we’d seriously THOUGHT about the possibility of dying. And we all said, we weren’t that keen on dying just yet!

So, what does Paul know that WE don’t? I think the answer’s simple. He knows JESUS.

Paul has to have a GOOD LONG THINK / about which of these two good options he’d prefer. Look at v21.

Option 1: “To LIVE / is Christ”. He’s the centre of my existence. My purpose. My goal. My hope and joy. My master. My friend. Life IS Christ. LIFE would mean fruitful labour. More people hearing the gospel. And rejoicing in Christ TOO.

But on the other hand. Option 2. To DIE/ is GAIN. How much better would DEATH be? Because then I’d be with Christ in a much GREATER way.

He’s conflicted. And undecided. Because he knows Jesus so well. And loves him so much.

V22. “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know. I’m torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far,

In the end it comes down to the PHILIPPIANS. And other churches LIKE them. V24. “But it’s more necessary for YOU that I remain in the body” Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,

Seeing Christ exalted meant SO MUCH to Paul, he was prepared to LIVE to see it happen. That’s how important it is! He was prepared to WAIT FOR HEAVEN so more people would BE there to with him! What a claim!

How much does the gospel about Jesus mean to YOU?

That’s the question I started the talk with – is there anything you’d consider dying for? But for many Christians today, it’s not just a theoretical question.

If you were one of those Ethiopian Christians in Libya. And ISIS soldiers said to you, with a gun held to your head, or a knife to your throat, “Will you become a Muslim?” What would you say?

What do you LOVE SO MUCH? What gives you SUCH JOY that you’d be willing to DIE for it?

Will you be ENCOURAGED by the plight of our Ethiopian brothers and sisters, to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly?

Will you be encouraged by the imprisonment of PAUL to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly?

Do you have something worth dying for?

 

Philippians 2:1-11: What Do You Give The Man Who Has Everything? Christmas Day, 2005

What do you give the man who has everything?

It’s the age-old problem at Christmas, isn’t it? At least for MY DAD. What do you give the man who has everything.

He loves CHRISTIAN BOOKS. And he loves TOOLS AND GADGETS. So I COULD buy him THOSE for Christmas. But the problem is/ for the REST of the year whenever he SEES something he wants/ Dad just BUYS it. He gets the Koorong catalogue, or Bunnings catalogue, and he’s circled 3 or 4 things to buy. Then he just orders them – whacks them on the credit card.

So whenever I find something he’d LIKE, he’s normally already GOT it.

Last Christmas I bought him “Going the Distance” by Peter Brain. It’s a book about how to last the distance for a lifetime of ministry without burning out. We both started reading it over the next few days. It wasn’t until Dad had FINISHED it that he went into his office. And found that he’d bought the same book himself a few weeks earlier. But he’d FORGOTTEN.

So I ended up with Dad’s copy! It’s a GOOD BOOK!

What do you give the man who has everything?

I want to take a moment with you this Christmas morning, though, to reflect on the Man who really DOES have everything. That’s JESUS. And ask the question, what are we meant to give HIM for Christmas? And, after all, it IS HIS BIRTHDAY. So it makes sense to ask, what we can give JESUS for Christmas.

Because according to the passage we’ve just read, Jesus Christ is in fact… THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING.

It’s the point that’s made in verse 9, And it says this:

Therefore God EXALTED him to the HIGHEST PLACE and gave him THE NAME THAT IS ABOVE EVERY NAME.

You can get some PRETTY FANCY JOB TITLES. And often they make a boring job sound WAY BETTER than it really is.

A Subway food preparer becomes a ‘SANDWICH ARTIST’

A Street Sweeper becomes a ‘HIGHWAY COSMETIC MAINTENANCE TECHNICIAN’. And a window cleaner becomes an OPTICAL ILLUMINATOR ENHANCER’

But Jesus has the best JOB. AND the best job DESCRIPTION. He’s at God’s right-hand. And he’s KING of the UNIVERSE. RULING OVER IT.

If you took a street poll in Australia today, that’s not the answer most people would give. “Where’s Jesus NOW? What happened to him after he died?” Plenty of people would say that when Jesus died, his body was sealed in a tomb – AND THAT WAS THE END. And so Jesus is a powerless irrelevancy. A historical relic.

But that’s not the story of the Bible when it talks about Jesus’ . It tells us about A BEGINNING, not an END. A CROWN, not a SHROUD. A THRONE, not a TOMB. That’s the “highest place” it says there in v9. A king’s throne.

Eph 1 fills out the picture a bit more. V20.

God exerted his mighty strength in Christ when he raised him from the and SEATED HIM at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

There’s no-one who compares. No one who’s title, or job, or position, or power can measure up. No president, or queen, or sportsman, or diplomat, or major general, or CEO. He’s above them all.

Even in the SPIRITUAL realm. There’s no one who can hold a candle to him. Spirits, angels, Satan himself.

God raised him from the . And seated him on a heavenly throne. Which is where he is NOW. Ruling the Universe. Jesus really is THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING.

Which should have a HUGE impact on the way we live NOW. For most Aussies, who think Jesus is AN IMPOTENT IRRELEVANCY, they’re treading on very thin ice.

Gave Everything

He’s the king who rules over you and me. Over EVERYONE.

Perhaps it’s worth asking/ how do you GET a job like that? What do you need to DO to be appointed to that sort of position.

I’ve never really got into the show, but “The Apprentice” is about a group of young, hungry, ambitious business people who’ll do ANYTHING to score that top job with Donald Trump. To get that executive position at Donald’s right hand.

It apparently makes good ratings to watch them back-bite, and undermine, and out-perform each other. As they seek to lift their OWN profile and position. At the expense of those around them.

Climbing the corporate ladder, ruthlessly treading on those beneath them as they climb. All so they can hear the wonderful words from Mr Trump – YOU’RE HIRED! I really hope it makes them happy when they GET THERE!

But this passage turns that sort of thinking on its head. Because Jesus has got to the top spot – not by his RUTHLESSNESS – but by his humble service. In fact, it’s BECAUSE of his humble service, not IN SPITE of it.

It’s really the essence of the Christmas story, isn’t it? Humble beginnings. It’s kind of an ironic twist. The one who HAS EVERYTHING/ is the one who GAVE everything. Instead of grasping at power, he made himself nothing. Look at it there in verse 6. Jesus Christ…

Who, being in very re God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but MADE HIMSELF NOTHING, taking the very re of a servant, being made in human likeness.

The one who in his very essence, in his re was God… doesn’t clutch onto his position. But GIVES IT UP. And becomes man. But not just a man – not a ruler or a king… but a SERVANT man. Born in a filthy barn. Put to bed in an animal feed trough. In a dusty village. In a backwater of the Roman empire.

And then growing up to spend his life wandering around those dusty roads. Never earning money. Or building a career. Or an empire. But SERVING.

And it goes further. How low can you go? The next verse. Not just a servant man. Jesus humbles himself to … . And not just ANY . ON A ROMAN CROSS. The ultimate symbol of humiliation and shame.

Read what it says:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to – even on a cross!

And yet somehow it’s BECAUSE of that… that God raised him. And said “sit with me”. Your name is the name above every name. It’s all yours. It’s the word “therefore” at the start of verse 9… because Jesus made himself nothing and gave his life on the cross, God exalts him in heaven.

THEREFORE God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

The one who was infinitely humbled… is now the man who has everything. The greatest turn-around in history. The ultimate rags-to-riches story.

What YOU should give him

So the question. What do you give to the Man who has everything? After all, he doesn’t NEED anything. There’s nothing we can give to Jesus that’ll make him MORE COMPLETE. Add to his collection. Or accomplishments.

I’m not talking about your Christmas shopping list. He owns the Universe, so a few gifts or dollars isn’t going to cut it. I’m talking about what it would be appropriate for YOU… to give the most important man in the universe.

There’s an appropriate GIFT SUGGESTION in verse 10. And another we’ll come back to in the FIRST few sentences of the passage as well.

If you take the point that God has given Jesus the name above every name, here’s how we’re meant to respond. Read along into verse 10.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW… IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH AND UNDER THE EARTH, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.

What do you give to the Man who has everything? You give him your ABSOLUTE ALLEGIANCE. You say to him, hail to the chief. You bow the knee. Because God has taken him from the lowest place… born in a stable as a human being… the life of a servant… the d nailed on a cross. And put him in the highest place.

GIVE HIM YOURSELF. That’s the ONLY gift that Jesus wants this Christmas.

Is that something you’ve done? Is that something you DO? An attitude you take on everyday?

Giving Jesus YOURSELF means, in practical terms, taking on board the sort of attitudes in verses 1 to 5.

See, it’s a fascinating thought. What’s it mean to bow to the one who’s the master of humility? It means MASTERING HUMILITY YOURSELF.

And if you think about it, these sorts of things really hit home AT CHRISTMAS TIME.

Mastering humility means you’ll do nothing, verse 3, OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

So instead of looking out for number one, verse 4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

You’ll REJOICE when someone gets better presents than you. Because they DESERVE them. You really WILL enjoy GIVING more than RECEIVING. You’ll RUSH from the table to be FIRST to the washing up.

Because in the words of verse 5, “your attitude… should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who made himself nothing.”

Friends, can I put that to you as a Christmas challenge?

Jesus is the name above every name. And ultimately, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. And what do you give the one who has everything? You give him your own life… dethroning your selfishness. And learning to serve.

Learning what it means to actually look to the interests of others – NOTICING. I mean, it’s so obvious when you’ve got a need of your own. But how easily do you SEE the needs of SOMEONE ELSE. Look around. Take an interest. And do something about it.

Make helping OTHERS your new year’s resolution. Not SELF-help.

It’s easy to be driven by selfish ambition. Much harder in humility to consider others better than yourself. It’s a lot to give up. But in the end, that’s exactly what you’re called to give… to the Man who has everything.

Philippians 1:27-2:30: Working it out to the end

Before I went to college I spent some time teaching with a guy named Stuart. Stuart won a bronze medal in the shotput at the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. And he’s a man-mountain. He’s still competing, as well as being a chaplain to the Australian Athletics team.

And before he arrived, a friend and I had been lifting weights for about a year. Pretty regularly. But not setting the world on fire either. And we weren’t really IMPROVING.

It wasn’t long before Stuart joined us. He was the weights EXPERT. A real GYM RAT. And he said we weren’t getting stronger because our muscles were USED TO the workload. We’d been doing the same routine for too long.

If we wanted to improve we needed to FATIGUE the muscles. Work them BEYOND what they were used to. Shock them into building more muscle tissue.

And so he introduced us to PYRAMID SETS. The idea was you’d start with something light on the bar. And do as many reps as you could. Say – 15. Then two helpers would add some weight to each side. And you’d try again. This time you might get 8 repetitions. And they’d add some MORE. This time you might only be able to do 3. And again. And you’d strain to do ONE. Each time you were working your muscles to FATIGUE. Until they couldn’t lift any more.

But that was only HALF the pyramid. Then they’d start taking the weights OFF again. And you’d repeat the process. You might do three. Then 5. Then last of all, you were just lifting THE BAR up and down. It was hilarious to watch, because by this stage, you’re muscles were so exhausted, you’d be struggling and straining. Just to lift up this thin metal bar with no weights on it at all.

And the idea was to completely fatigue the muscles/ WORKING IT OUT. RIGHT TO THE END. Don’t give up. Keep it up. That’s the only way to make progress.

And we only had to look at Stuart for inspiration. He was about 6 ft 4. Had arms the size of my legs. Legs the size of my body. And a chest the size of a large gum tree. If it worked for HIM, then we could follow his example.

And we kept it up … for a while.

1. Working it out to the end – unity for the gospel (1:27-30)

And these verses from Paul to the Philippians have a similar sentiment. The same sort of encouragement. But this time to do with the Christian life. Working it out. Right to the end. Look at Ch 2 v 12.

(Phil 2:12 NIV)  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–CONTINUE TO WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING,

You’ve started on the journey. God has SAVED you. Given you a new life. A new purpose and direction and future. Now work it out to the end. Don’t give up. Don’t HALF do it.

The Christian life isn’t about ONE DECISION. Deciding to follow Jesus, and then continuing to do exactly what you USED to do.

Or putting your feet up because you know you’ve got ETERNITY worked out, so you can just take things easy…. Are YOU ever tempted to think like that?

If that’s YOU, then Paul’s got a message for you. If the gospel really IS true. Then God should have FLIPPED YOUR WORLD ON ITS HEAD. The gospel will have CONSEQUENCES. It’s going to mean changes. And you’ve got to WORK THOSE CONSEQUENCES OUT.

And when it comes to the Philippians, Paul’s emphasis is on THEIR UNITY. Or LACK of IT. The consequences of their salvation will be seen in HOW THEY GET ON WITH EACH OTHER.

That’s his theme right through these verses. Look back to Ch 1 v27.

(Phil 1:27 NIV)  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm IN ONE SPIRIT, contending AS ONE MAN for the faith of the gospel

When things are tough. And the world is beating you down. Your strength to stick at it/ comes from the strength of your relationships. The relationships you have with your Christian brothers and sisters.

And that’s a strength that people NOTICE. Look at how Paul continues. V28.

…contending as one man for the faith of the gospel {28} without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is A SIGN TO THEM that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved–and that by God.

Our strength and unity sends the message that WE’VE got something the world DOESN’T. We’re HEADED somewhere the world ISN’T. And we’ve got a TREASURE that’s worth MUCH MORE/ than an EASY LIFE in THIS world.

Do you KNOW that? Are you LIVING that? Is that the message YOUR LIFE is sending?

2. Expressing Unity Through Humility (2:1-4)

But Paul’s not saying we need to BUILD this unity. His point at the start of Ch 2 is that if you’re a Christian, you’re ALREADY UNITED with other Christians. Look there in v1 of Ch 2.

(Phil 2:1 NIV)  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

If you’re a Christian, then you’re ALREADY UNITED to other Christians. And he gives four reasons.

Firstly, because we’re all united with CHRIST.

Secondly, we all know the comfort of GOD’S love.

And third, we all experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

(It’s a bit like his benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians – (2 Cor 13:14 NIV)  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.)

Paul’s fourth reason is a bit harder to work out. “If any tenderness and compassion”. He could be talking about what we receive from God. Or about what we feel for each other. But I think he’s actually talking about the Philippians’ relationship with PAUL.

He’s saying, “You all know the compassion and tenderness I have for all of you, and vice-versa. Then make my joy COMPLETE. By doing what I’m asking.”

That’s four areas in which the Philippians are ALREADY unified. The encouragement of being in Christ. The love of God. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And their relationship with Paul.

And then Paul goes on. That’s the unity. It’s already there in STATUS. But it also needs to be there in REALITY./ Unity is there in IDENTITY. But it also needs to be EXPRESSED.

Take Dean, and Spence, and Mike Turner, for example. They’ve got something in common, but you couldn’t tell just by looking. They’re united in status and identity. But you’d never tell.

Until they all pulled on their Parramatta jerseys. And their beanies. And started making excuses about why Parramatta lost AGAIN.

The unity is there in STATUS. But it just needs to be EXPRESSED.

And that’s Paul’s point. Your unity as Christians is there already. Work out the CONSEQUENCES of that unity. Work out how to SHOW it. V2.

(Phil 2:2 NIV)  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Four areas in which unity is SEEN.

Just like there are four FOUNDATIONS to their unity in v1. So there are four EXPRESSIONS of that unity. Same MIND. Same LOVE, Same Spirit. Same PURPOSE.

Same mind doesn’t mean we should all be CLONES – think identically. It’s more about setting our minds on the same PRIORITIES. Think about the world in the SAME WAY. Have the same MINDSET.

And then there’s “same LOVE”. Give EVERYONE the same concern as you give yourself. No LEVELS of attention. Or concern. No VIP’s. SAME LOVE.

And same Spirit. It’s literally “together in soul”. Not just your mind, but your whole being. Pointed in the same direction as everyone else.

And that’s the fourth area. Same PURPOSE. Same priorities. And agenda. Paul’s saying don’t form cliques, or splinter groups. Don’t take sides. Don’t be divisive. Mend bridges, don’t break them.

But HOW? How can you GET that ONENESS? It’s all very well WANTING it. But how can you work TOWARDS it?

Those ideas are so huge, it’s hard to see any step-by-step process for improvement. But that’s just what Paul gives us in v3.

(Phil 2:3-4 NIV)  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

If the final goal seems too big. (Same mind, spirit, purpose) Take it a step at a time. Every conversation you have with your brothers and sisters. Every action. Every phone call. Every event.

Ask the question. “Am I doing (or saying or thinking) this out of SELFISH AMBITION? Is there CONCEIT? Am I considering others better than myself? Am I looking to the interests of others?”

In other words, don’t work to YOUR agenda. Don’t build YOUR OWN empire. Don’t assume YOUR idea is always the best one.

And forget selfish ambition. Don’t go on a committee, or accept a job / just because it will push you further up the ladder. Don’t take on extra work, or work back late/ just because that’s the way to be SEEN, and noticed.

Humility is the road that leads to unity.

3. An example to follow (2:5-11)

And Paul’s got the perfect example. The perfect training partner. To look up to. To inspire you.

Like my friend and I lifting weights. We needed an example to follow. An inspiration to aim for. Like Stuart.

And that’s just what Paul gives us. He points out the ultimate instructor. And it’s not Stuart, or your home group leaders, or me. The best example ever is Jesus. Look at v5.

(Phil 2:5 NIV)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

And then he goes on to describe what Jesus’ attitude was like. Firstly his attitude as God in heaven. Verse 6.

(Phil 2:6-7 NIV)  Who, being in very re God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, {7} but made himself nothing, taking the very re of a servant, being made in human likeness.

God the Son was equal with God the Father in every respect. He had every privilege. The ultimate position. The ultimate happiness in his friendship with his Father.

But he didn’t cling onto ANY of it. He was prepared to give it all up. Because his Father asked him to. He took off the royal robes. The jewels. He left the crown on the shelf. The royal sceptre in the closet.

And he became one of us. A limited, finite, vulnerable, frail human being. For the SAKE of human beings. For the SAKE of his Father’s glory.

Selfless, sacrificial, slavery to the extreme. That was the attitude.

But that wasn’t the end. That would be ENOUGH of an example to follow. But look at his attitude AS A MAN. Verse 8.

(Phil 2:8 NIV)  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to — even on a cross!

When you thought that was as low as God the Son could go. He went EVEN FURTHER. He was arrested and mocked. Whipped and spat on. He suffered one of the most painful s ever invented. Endured the shame and the ridicule of his own people. The lowest of the low.

Extreme, selfless, sacrificial, slavery. That was the attitude.

And that’s the attitude WE’RE to have. “Have the same attitude as Christ Jesus”.

4. A king to bow before:

And so, because he had this attitude. his Father gave it all back. He restored all the stuff he had before. With INTEREST. Look at v9.

(Phil 2:9 NIV)  Therefore God EXALTED him to the HIGHEST place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and EVERY TONGUE CONFESS that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.

So, not only is Jesus OUR EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW. But he’s also our KING to BOW BEFORE. Our LORD to SERVE.

But WHY should we do that? Why follow JESUS? There are plenty of GOOD MORAL EXAMPLES around. Like Mother Theresa. Or Billy Graham. Or Mahatma Gandhi. OTHER people to your behaviour on.

But noone who DEMANDS our obedience. Who DESERVES our imitation. Because Jesus is the ONLY ONE whose BEATEN . The only one the Father has exalted. And so, he’s EARNED our respect, and our allegiance.

Listen to how v12 follows on from 10-11. We sometimes miss the connection because of the headings.

(Phil 2:10-12 NIV)  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. {12} Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Follow Jesus’ example – not just because it’s a GOOD one, but because he’s WON your allegiance. He DESERVES it. He’s on the throne. Bow before the king.

Keep obeying. Keep building unity through submission to others. Keep confessing that he is Lord. Keep doing it. Don’t give up. Work it out to the end.

But I’ve had enough! I can’t do any more!

But you might be thinking “Imitating Jesus is an IMPOSSIBLE goal. How am I EVER going to measure up?”

Or perhaps you’re a bit further along. “I’ve been struggling along for years. I don’t seem to be making much progress. I’m not sure I can keep it up for much longer!” It all seems a bit pointless.

And yet if you’re struggling with your eyes on Jesus, I’m confident you WILL continue. Keep plugging away. Working out your salvation to the end.

Why am I so confident? Is it because of your brilliance and godliness? No! What about your excellent work ethic and never-say-die attitude? Nope.

Maybe it’s the support of your church family. Or your role-models? Or the excellent preaching you hear every week?

All of those things are of some use. But they’re not where my confidence comes from. It’s got very little to do with ALL of these things. And EVERYTHING to do with God.

You see, it’s not JUST you whose working it out. God works WITH the Christian to accomplish his plans. And he NEVER runs out of strength, or patience, or enthusiasm. V13.

(Phil 2:12-13 NIV)  …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, {13} for IT IS GOD WHO WORKS IN YOU to will and to act according to his good purpose.

God finishes what he starts by ENERGISING, or EMPOWERING us, to do his work. He doesn’t do it INSTEAD OF us. He works IN us. Through his Holy Spirit.

It’s His Spirit who gives us the strength to keep going when all you get is discouragement, or put-downs.

It’s his Spirit who takes away your desire for the things you USED to love, and replaces it with a joy you’ve never known before.

It’s his Spirit who takes off your filthy rags of anger and rage and lust and bitterness and selfishness. And gradually replaces them his fruit. Fine clothes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, humility, and self-control.

God works IN us and WITH us to achieve the beautiful music of a life lived according to his will and his good purposes.

I read a story about a mum who took her young son to a piano concert. He was just learning. and she wanted to inspire him. It was to hear a famous Polish pianist called Ignacy Paderewski.

After they arrived, mum spotted a friend and walked down the aisle to have a chat. The little boy saw his chance to explore. And off he went.

He eventually EXPLORED his way/ right through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.” When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered her son was missing.

Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway grand piano on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The audience gasped in horror.

At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, moved to the piano, sat down next to the boy, and whispered in his ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”

As the boy continued, Paderewski began filling in a bass part with his left hand. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and he added a harmony above the tune – a counter melody.

Together, the old master and the young novice worked some magic. They turned an uncomfortable situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.

That’s the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own may not be much. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music. But with the hand of the Master, working through his Holy Spirit, we can work out great things.

Next time you start to wonder whether you’ve got the guts, or the patience, or the enthusiasm, to keep going. Listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, “Don’t quit” “Keep playing.”

Sometimes all you’ll be able to hear is your own wrong notes. No matter how hard you try, nothing seems to sound any good. You just don’t seem to be making any progress. But that doesn’t mean God ISN’T sitting beside you. Playing along. Doing his stuff.

And with God’s power working in you, His purposes will be served. His glory will be seen.

And look at the wonderful picture of a group of people who are following Jesus’ example like that. Verse 15.

(Phil 2:15-16 NIV)  so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe {16} as you hold out the word of life…

Shining stars. Wouldn’t that be a GREAT description of us as a church?! Western Blacktown – shining like stars in the Western Suburbs. Holding out the word of life.

Shining the attitude of Jesus as you FOLLOW HIS EXAMPLE. As you SERVE HIM AS KING. And as his Spirit empowers you to WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION RIGHT TO THE END.

Philippians 3:1-11: Our Profit and Loss Statement

Weddings are pretty JOYFUL occasions. But sometimes people can take all the JOY out them – just by trying to HELP. DJ’s who play the wrong music. Or Uncle Bert who’s M.C at the reception, but who tells all the wrong sorts of jokes just to lighten things up a bit. Or the wedding photographer who bosses everyone around, takes over the ceremony and the reception. And ruins it for everyone.

Although I’m sure none of that will happen at any of the three weddings WE’VE got coming up.

Like Mike and Tracey. They’re getting married in November. And they’re busy making plans. And if the PROPOSAL is anything to go by, the wedding and honeymoon are going to be UNFORGETTABLE.

And even though I don’t know Mike’s MATES, my guess is that he’s not letting them have ANYTHING TO DO with the arrangements. Either the wedding. OR the honeymoon. Even if they ARE just trying to help.

Just imagine his workmates, or soccer mates, or even his old school mates. One says to another, “We all used to have such FUN. Wouldn’t it be great if we went on Mike’s honeymoon too? The more the merrier.

And the other one answers “Yeah, those were the days. I’m sure Mike would LOVE that. To spend his honeymoon re-living those experiences! Going out with the boys. Mucking around. Just like the old days.”

No way! When Mike decided to get married, he’s saying NO to all that stuff – even if it was fun at the time – because married life’s going to be so much better than all of that.

In fact, to KEEP holding onto those things, will actually make the honeymoon LESS special.

Imagine his mates turning up on the honeymoon. “Okay Biff, we’ve got a schedule worked out. Monday you can spend with Tracey – we’ve booked the honeymoon massage and facial package for you both. Monday night, you’re hitting the town with us. Tuesday is golf. Tuesday night you can have dinner with Trace – as long as it’s over by 10 pm. That’s when the all-night poker game’s starts.”

If Mike had anything to do with that, Tracey would out of there faster than a keg of Mike’s home brew disappears.

To get the MOST out of the NEW, (to REJOICE in it) he has to GRAB it with both hands. And LET GO of the old. In fact, to hold onto the OLD things will actually mean LOSING the NEW things.

1. New things, not old things (1-2)

And that’s the lesson that Paul’s learned. (New things, not old things) When it comes to his OLD way of life as a Pharisee. And his NEW life as a Christian. To hold onto the OLD things/ will actually mean LOSING the NEW things.

You see for most of his Christian ministry he’s been fighting against people who think just like those imaginary friends of Mike’s. “Just mix the OLD way of life/ in with the new, and it will make the new EVEN BETTER.”

They said you had to ADD something/ to faith in Jesus. FAITH -PLUS. It’s not JUST believing Jesus died for you. That’s all too simple, they’d say. You’ve got to ADD something. DO something.

These were Jews. Perhaps even believers in Christ. Who felt that faith wasn’t enough. You ALSO had to be circumcised. Obey the food laws. Only eat kosher. All the things a good Jew still does even today. Paul sums it up by saying they PUT CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.

And you can read about the fights he was having in Acts 15. (page 783). Listen to v1.

(Acts 15:1-2 NIV)  Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are CIRCUMCISED, according to the custom taught by Moses, YOU CANNOT BE SAVED.” {2} This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.

You see, Paul knows it doesn’t WORK like that. It makes him so angry when he hears that argument, his boils. Because that sort of thinking actually puts your whole salvation at risk. You risk trusting SOMETHING ELSE, rather than GOD/ for your salvation. Putting confidence in the flesh, rather than in God. And to grab hold of something ELSE, you have to LET GO of God.

And you can see how annoyed he gets by the language he uses. Look at v2. He’s talking about people like these Jews.

(Phil 3:2 NIV)  Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

Dogs. Evil-doers. Mutilators. It’s tough talk! And the word for mutilator is a PARTICULARLY nasty one. The Jews would CIRCUMCISE baby boys. And THAT word -peri-tome – literally means “around cut”. (I don’t think I need to explain anymore.)

But the word Paul uses for mutilator is kata-tome – to cut UP. Or slash. To make people’s salvation DEPEND on circumcision, or anything else that’s human for that matter, is actually HARMING the person. Not HELPING THEM. Because that’s NOT how you’re saved.

Let me be clear about this. Paul’s not saying there’s anything WRONG with circumcision. Only with the ATTITUDE that goes WITH it. The attitude that says you HAVE to do this if you want to be a Christian.

In fact, back in Acts, in the very next chapter. Ch 16. Paul comes across a young Christian named Timothy. And Timothy has a Jewish mother, but a Greek father. And when Paul decides to take Timothy with him on his missionary journeys, listen to what he does! Verse 3.

(Acts 16:3 NIV)  Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, SO HE CIRCUMCISED HIM because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

For the sake of the non-Christian Jews he’s preaching to, Paul has Timothy circumcised. It’s not important. Neither here nor there. (Although my guess is TIMOTHY might have had a few second thoughts about it)

Paul’s removing any stumbling block from people becoming Christians. Being ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN.

But it’s NOT because Timothy HAS to do it to become a Christian. He’ll fight to the to wipe out THAT sort of argument. The ONLY way we’re saved is to accept God’s GIFT. There IS nothing you can DO. Once you try to PAY for it. Or EARN it. It’s not a gift anymore. And you end up LOSING what you’re trying to GAIN.

It’s not the ACTION ITSELF that’s right or wrong. Just the self-confident ATTITUDE that goes WITH it.

And there’s plenty of things TODAY where people have that same attitude.

People who want their baby CHRISTENED. Or to be married in a church. Because they think THAT’s the way to get in God’s good books.

Or doing good works. Giving money to charity. Attending church. What could be wrong with that? After all, you’re just giving yourself a leg-up. Helping to grease the heavenly wheels.

You’ve only got to read the Obituaries in the newspaper. Full of all the good things the person did in their life. All the deeds they did. The people they helped. All reasons God should look favourably on them.

2. Internals not externals (3)

And they MIGHT be very good actions. Worthwhile, beneficial. The problem comes/ with the self-confident ATTITUDE that often goes WITH them. An attitude that’s focused on EXTERNALS. Rather than INTERNALS. On REAL change. A change that affects the HEART.

And it’s this INTERNAL change that characterizes TRUE Christians. Look at v3. Rather than being confident in the EXTERNAL sign of circumcision. It’s Christians themselves who ARE the CIRCUMCISION.

All the way through the Old Testament, God says “It’s the INTERNAL change I’m interested in. Not the PHYSICAL sign of circumcision. I want circumcision of the HEART. Repentant hearts. Changed attitudes. Undivided loyalties. Like in Jer 4.

(Jer 4:1-4 NIV)  ” O Israel if YOU WILL RETURN TO ME,” declares the LORD. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, {2} and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ then the nations will be blessed … {4} CIRCUMCISE YOURSELVES TO THE LORD, CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEARTS, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire

And it’s no different for the Christian church. In the New Testament. Like in Col 2.

(Col 2:11-13 NIV)  In Christ you were also CIRCUMCISED, in the putting off of the sinful RE, NOT with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,

Internals, not externals.  And as well as being the circumcision, Paul goes on to say that Christians WORSHIP BY THE SPIRIT. That’s worship that comes from desire and love, not from obligation. Worship that’s a DELIGHT, not a DUTY. A CHOICE, not a CHORE. Internals not externals again.

And Paul’s third description is that Christians are those who GLORY IN CHRIST JESUS. Rather than glorying in our own achievements. Our own worth. It’s thankfulness to Christ which excites us. Our boast is in Christ. Again – it’s concentrating on INTERNALS, not EXTERNALS.

And he sums it all up with the last phrase in v3. It is the TRUE Christian who puts NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH. In the externals.

But that’s the opposite of the FALSE TEACHERS. Who’re putting CONFIDENCE in the flesh. And that’s what gets Paul hot under the collar.

3. Look at me! (4-6)

But why does he take it so personally? Because that’s just what PAUL used to be. And so to prove his point. He uses himself as an example. Look at me! (Just like Kath and Kim – look at moi, look at moi!) V4.

(Phil 3:4 NIV)  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I HAVE MORE:

And then he LISTS them. All the boxes he ticked as he grew up as a fine, up-standing Jewish boy.

  • circumcised on the eighth day, TICK
  • of the people of Israel, TICK
  • But even better – of the tribe of Benjamin, TICK
  • a Hebrew of Hebrews; – had the language, and customs, and the regulations down-pat – TICK
  • in regard to the law, a Pharisee; – trained by the strictest and most academic professors – TICK
  • as for zeal, persecuting the church – I was no slacker – TICK
  • as for legalistic righteousness, faultless – no stone unturned, nothing left to chance –as THOROUGH as I was ENTHUSIASTIC – TICK.

One thing after another. Building up his heavenly bank balance.

And as his list of achievements grew. So did his confidence. Confidence that if ANYONE was going to be alright at the judgment – it’d be him!

4. Profit and Loss (7-8)

That is, until the HEAVENLY AUDITOR paid him a visit. Until he met Jesus. And he realised that everything he thought was getting him CLOSER to God. Was actually leading him further and further away.

What he thought was getting him further and further into CREDIT. Was actually getting him further and further into the DEBT. V7.

(Phil 3:7-8 NIV)  BUT … whatever was to my PROFIT / I now consider LOSS for the sake of Christ. {8} What is more, I consider EVERYTHING a LOSS compared to the SURPASSING GREATNESS of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS. I consider them RUBBISH, that I may gain Christ.

But why rubbish? It all sounded so attractive. A pretty impressive list. The answer’s in the very next verse. V9.

(Phil 3:9 NIV)  and be found in him, NOT HAVING A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY OWN that comes from the law,

The problem with Paul’s list / was that it was DO-IT-YOURSELF righteousness. And when it comes to the crunch, DO-IT-YOURSELF just doesn’t stand up. It’s just RUBBISH.

To begin with, there’s something attractive about DO-It-yourself. There’s the value for money. You get a lot more renovation for your dollars. Get a bathroom built for half the price. Or get twice the deck for your money.

And then there’s the pride. The sense of achievement. Food tastes so much better on a table you’ve built yourself. A beer tastes much better resting on a verandah railing you built yourself. A shower is much more satisfying in a bathroom you’ve TILED yourself.

That is until things start to go wrong. The legs of the table become wobbly. The wood on the railing warps. The shower starts to leak. Every squeak in the floor boards is a sign that the brick piers you laid are about to fall over.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, there’s the constant worry of whether you’ve done it WELL ENOUGH. Whether it will LAST.

And it’s the same with do-it-yourself righteousness. For a while, like Paul, you might be pretty proud. A full list of achievements. Things that will set you apart from everyone else when you stand before God.

But then something happens. Maybe a moral slip-up. Or you catch a glimpse of the white-hot perfection of the holiness of God. And you realise just how shaky your do-it-yourself righteousness really is. A wobbly, out of plumb, D.I.Y. stairway to heaven. That runs out of material along way from the top. You’ve got the measurement wrong. And come up short.

It’s the negative side of DIY. The constant worry of whether you’ve done enough. Have your GOOD deeds outweighed your bad deeds? The constant threat of performance review.

Andrea’s told me that Muslims have to do SEVEN TIMES as many good deeds as BAD. No WONDER you don’t see too many happy Muslims!

5. God’s righteousness (9b-11)

And it’s all of THAT / that’s Paul’s happy to leave behind. Because he’s got something MUCH BETTER INSTEAD. God’s righteousness. Look at the rest of v9.

(Phil 3:9 NIV)  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST–the righteousness THAT COMES FROM GOD and is by faith.

This isn’t some righteousness slapped together by a weekend handyman. It’s been assembled at GREAT COST. By the Master Builder himself. The MASTER craftsman.

God makes you RIGHTEOUS. Blameless. Faultless. Innocent. Through faith in his Son.

And it’s a righteousness that’s ROCK SOLID. Jump up and down on it all you like. It’s not going anywhere.

That’s GAIN. That’s PROFIT. That’s the SURPASSING GREATNESS of KNOWING Christ Jesus. And anything else is RUBBISH.

And that’s how v1 fits into his argument. Rejoice IN the Lord. Don’t rejoice because the sun’s shining. Don’t rejoice because you’ve done your good deed for the day. Instead, rejoice that the relationship you have with God is ROCK SOLID. Because it’s been built by Christ.

You see, there’s NO rejoicing in DO-IT-YOURSELF religion. Because you never know whether you’ve built well-enough. It’s only when we trust in Christ’s work COMPLETELY that we can TRULY / rejoice IN the Lord.

Because the relationship we have with God as Christians/ is like that of Christ himself. His righteousness has become OURS. God looks at us, and sees the pure, white goodness of Christ instead.

No wonder Paul said that everything else is rubbish compared to GAINING Christ, and being FOUND / IN/ HIM.

Listen to how he puts it in Colossians 3. Describing why the Christian rejoices.

(Col 3:1-3 NIV)  Since, then, you have been RAISED WITH CHRIST, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. {2} Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. {3} For you died, and YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD.

How wonderful is that!? How safe and secure and rock-solid is THAT! REJOICE in that. Rejoice IN the Lord.

Philippians 3:10-4:1: Keep on keeping on!

The City to Surf is on in a few months. 50,000 runners who all start in the City, and then head up Oxford St towards Bondi. And there are two sorts of competitors. There are the SERIOUS runners – not necessarily trying to WIN, but still seeking their own sorts of victory. Perhaps it’s to run a personal best time. Or to beat their brother, or mate, or Dad. Or to come first in their DIVISION. Or even just to run the whole way without stopping. They’re all worthwhile goals. And, for them, it’s that finishing line at Bondi that’s the focus. And that big digital clock over the line. And for the whole race, they imagine crossing the line, and raising their arms in victory. It’s all about the finishing line.

And then there’s the Back of the Pack crowd. They’re called that because they have a different starting line. It’s BEHIND the serious runners. So they don’t get in the way. And that’s where you’ll find the fancy dress. The party-goers. Those out for a good time. A laugh. Or just a pleasant Sunday morning stroll. And for THESE competitors, it’s ALL ABOUT THE JOURNEY. The finishing line, and what time they run, are really an after-thought. It means nothing to them if they stop for coffee for an hour along the way. Or do a spot of window-shopping. Or wave to everyone watching beside the road.

And, according to Paul, the Christian life is just like a race. And like a race, you can run it in one of two ways. You can be a SERIOUS runner – like Paul. His eyes are on the goal. He’s straining towards the line. To win the prize. King Jesus loved him. King Jesus had saved him. Even when he was persecuting him. And King Jesus will RESURRECT him, and bring him to GLORY. And so Paul’s going to give him EVERYTHING as he runs for that goal. His mind is on heavenly things. And he’s not going to get bogged down along the way/ by earthly distractions. And although the race can be tough, Paul couldn’t imagine anything else. Because the race of the serious runner is one of joy and purpose and progress and power. Your feet might be throbbing, your lungs aching, the muscles in your legs burning. But your focus is on the FINISH LINE. On the PRIZE. That’s the race of the serious runner.

And then there’s the OTHER type of runner in the Christian race. The BACK OF THE PACK SLACKER. They’ll tell you they’re in the race, but their mind is on everything BUT the finishing line. Paul says their mind is on EARTHLY THINGS. It’s the pretty things along the way that grab their attention. The bright lights of Kings Cross. Or the expensive shop fronts of Elizabeth Bay. Or the fun and parties along the way. And they can’t think about glory, and resurrection bodies THEN, because all they can think about are the distractions NOW. About pleasure and promotions and profit. Rewards that rust and break and disappoint. And they forget why they began the race in the first place. They lose sight of the finish line.

When it comes to YOUR Christian race – which are you? A serious runner, or a back of the pack slacker? How hard are you RUNNING? Whichever you are. Take the advice of Paul. And follow his example. Run with determination, keeping your eyes on the prize. There’s nothing HARDER, but there’s also nothing BETTER. Or more SATISFYING.

  1. Keep knowing Christ more (10-11)

And the key to the whole thing for Paul is back up there in v10. “I want to KNOW CHRIST” That’s what DRIVES him. He’s already said it back in v8. There’s nothing worth MORE than knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Everything else is RUBBISH. He’s not saying that he DOESN’T ALREADY know Christ. Just that he wants to know him BETTER. Every Christian knows SOMETHING of Christ. But the goal of the race is to KNOW HIM BETTER. Because Christianity ISN’T knowing about a BOOK. Or knowing a set of rules. Or words to songs. It’s about knowing a PERSON. A living, active, powerful person. To think his thoughts. To know his mind. To experience his presence. To understand more and more of his love and his power and his priorities. That’s what Paul wants. To know Christ more. And he goes on to give us some specifics. The two events in Jesus’ life on earth that DEFINE who he is. Look there at v10. I want to know Christ and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION/ and the fellowship of sharing in HIS SUFFERINGS,

Jesus is BOTH the resurrected Saviour/ AND the suffering servant. He’s both the victorious God, and the weak and frail human being. He’s the mighty Lion of Judah/ who is ALSO the slain lamb. And for Paul to KNOW Christ/ is to know those qualities in his OWN LIFE. BOTH of them. To know Christ better/ means to EXPERIENCE the power of Christ’s RESURRECTION. And to join in Christ’s SUFFERINGS.

I can understand wanting to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. Everyone wants to see a bit more VICTORY in their life. But what about “sharing in his sufferings”? It’s a big call, isn’t it, for Paul to say that he wants to know the fellowship of SHARING IN CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS.

The key, I suggest, is keeping the two sides together. Power of resurrection AND participating in sufferings. Not either/or. Some Christians like the FIRST phrase. For them the Christian life is all about VICTORY. Being in Christ is about SUCCESS and POWER. Powerful spiritual gifts. No excuses. No weakness. Victory over sin. Over sickness. Victory in witness. In relationships. Victory in wealth creation, or possessions. But that’s not knowing Christ.

Some Christians are more drawn to the second phrase. “Fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”. For them the Christian race is more about endurance than enjoyment. A miserable, world-weary, stoic, defeatist attitude. Slugging it out in the trenches. They see this life as a trade-off for heaven. They’re prepared to be miserable NOW, compared to eternal happiness. They live with little sense of Christ’s presence and power. Or the assurance and joy and peace he promises. But that’s not knowing Christ either. The key to knowing Christ is to keep the two together. In fact, it seems to me, that ONE is the key to the OTHER. It’s only by personally experiencing the POWER that raised Christ/ that Christians are ABLE to share in his sufferings.

Gordon Fee, in his commentary, puts it like this “Paul was so certain of Christ’s RESURRECTION/ and thus of his own, that he could throw himself into the present SUFFERING / with a joyful and thankful abandon – not because he ENJOYED suffering, but because Christ’s resurrection had given him A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE on present suffering / as well as AN EMPOWERING PRESENCE whereby the suffering was TRANSFORMED into intimate fellowship with Christ himself (Fee, 331)

You see, when we became Christians, God made us new people. And gave us His Spirit. And it’s His SPIRIT who gives us the STRENGTH to run a cross-shaped race. To run through suffering. A race that’s IMITATES what Jesus experienced. And imitates the way he DEALT with it. We run a cross-shaped race as we LISTEN rather than REACT to criticism and ridicule. When we show PATIENCE to keep our mouth closed. Or when we show SELF-CONTROL to say No to the immoral choice everyone else thinks is fine. The LOVE to put the needs of OTHERS before ourselves. The PERSEVERANCE to keep going in the tough relationship. All because we’re following the way of the cross. A cross-shaped life will show God’s POWER/ as we SUFFER for the sake of others, and for the sake of Christ. That’s what Paul wants resurrection-power for!

Listen to how Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 4. He’s talking about the treasure of knowing Jesus and the power of the gospel. And how it’s a treasure that’s found in modest, weak containers like us Christians. (2 Cor 4:7-11 NIV) But we have this treasure (the treasure of the gospel) in JARS OF CLAY to show that this ALL-SURPASSING POWER is from God and not from us. {8} We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; {9} persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. {10} We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. {11} For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

God’s POWER is revealed in the Christian/ as he SUFFERS like Jesus/ on the way of the cross.

And as the Christian follows Jesus through suffering, he becomes more LIKE him. Look at the logic of v10. I want to know … the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH,

As we take on the LIFESTYLE of Christ, we also take on the CHARACTER of Christ. The fruit of obedience is Christlikeness. It’s literally that we “share in the shape of his death”. We are moulded into the shape of servants/ as we follow THE SERVANT KING. As we pour out our lives in his service, and the service of others.

  1. Keep your eyes on your prize (12-16)

And just like, for Jesus, resurrection followed suffering. So too for Paul. V11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

The race might be about suffering, and following Christ. But the finish line is his RESURRECTION. He’s CERTAIN of it. He doesn’t know what turns the road will take, how many hills there are ahead (That’s what the “somehow” means). But he DOES know that his own resurrection is the finish line. When his aching, beaten, weary body will be transformed into something GLORIOUS.

And even though Paul can’t WAIT for the finish line. He doesn’t make the mistake of thinking he’s arrived already. Look at v12. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect..

I remember watching Lachlan run a Cross Country race a number of years ago. And even though Lachlan’s not a sprinter, he’s got good endurance. And I said to him before the start, “Don’t worry if people sprint right at the start. They’ll run out of puff. You know how far 3 km is. Just take it nice and steady. Run your own race.” And sure enough, when the gun goes off, 20 kids SPRINT for the first corner. Lachlan starts at a steady jog. They turn the corner, all bumping into each other. And a few of them slow to a trot. After the first 200 m half of them are walking. And within half a km, Lachlan’s caught all but one.

And the Christian race is like THAT. It’s immature to pretend you’ve made it/ when you’ve still got a long way to go. But Paul’s not like that. He knows he’s still got a long way to go. That’s what MATURITY is.

But what’s he talking about? What’s the “all this” he hasn’t obtained yet? It’s the complete knowledge of Christ, and complete Christ-likeness that he hasn’t achieved. He’s not COMPLETE, or PERFECT, or MATURE, or perhaps even FULLY-EQUIPPED. The word for “perfect” can mean all of those things. And you can see that Christ-likeness is what he’s talking about when you look at the second half of that verse. It’s tricky, but it’s beautiful. V12. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect/ but I press on to take hold of that / FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of me. In other words, I’m working towards the goal which is the very reason Christ chose me to begin with. My job-description is to be Christ-like. That’s why Christ chose me and took hold of me. And that’s what I’m working towards. Following him. Becoming like him. Living FOR him. And I do it as I live a cross-shaped life of suffering and service empowered by God’s Spirit – the same Spirit who raised Jesus.

Press on to take hold/ of THAT FOR WHICH Christ Jesus took hold of you.” Take hold of Christlikeness. Take hold of a life which glorifies Jesus. Aim to be more like him every day. In word and thought and deed.

And that’s a goal Paul is SINGLE-MINDED about. Look at HOW he presses on. V13. But ONE thing I do: FORGETTING what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, {14} I press on toward the goal to WIN THE PRIZE for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

ONE thing. Pressing on. And he does it by FORGETTING what’s behind. That’s failures AND victories. Forget past hurts, and disappointments, and discouragements. They can sap the LIFE out of you. Make you BITTER. People who’ve laughed at you, or rejected you. And you wonder why you’d ever bother doing THAT again. Forget past sins. God’s forgiven and forgotten them, so why are YOU dwelling on them? But the way to press on/ is to forget what’s past.

And sometimes we need to forget THE VICTORIES TOO. Especially if they make us complacent and proud. And make us trust in our own abilities. And make us think we’re further along the race than we really are. Don’t look back. Press on toward the goal. And keep your eyes on your prize.

What’s the prize? From the context it’s probably Christ himself. We know Jesus now only A LITTLE. But COMPLETE and INTIMATE knowledge is what’s waiting for us at the finish line. That’s the prize. Eternal fellowship with Jesus. Resurrection. And turning up to the throne of judgment. And King Jesus is there. And he says, “Good friend. I’ve been waiting for you. I ran the race. And although it was tough, you followed after me. “Well done, good and faithful servant. I can’t WAIT to spend eternity with you. Enter into your rest. You should see the party I’ve got ready for you!” That’s a prize worth striving for!

  1. Keep clear of bad examples (18-19)

And yet there are plenty of people who DON’T strive for it. Who DON’T press on. They’re too interested with the scenery along the way. The back of the pack slackers. And Paul’s HEART-BROKEN by them. They’re probably people who are known to the Philippians. They probably even call themselves Christians. Notice in v18 how Paul’s shed many tears for these people, and how he’s warned them many times before. And yet, Paul sees their Christian race differently. They think they’re in the race, just not TOO SERIOUS. Not TOO radical. Keeping some perspective. Taking time to stop and smell the roses. But Paul says they’re not SLOW COACHES in the race. They’re NOT EVEN IN THE RACE. Look at the end of v18. They’re “ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST”. And look at why in v19. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. Compare that to PAUL, whose destiny is HEAVEN, whose God is his Saviour, and whose glory is his resurrection.

And while Paul wants to KNOW CHRIST. Anything else BUT Christ occupies their minds– their minds are on earthly things. They’re headed for destruction. Self-satisfaction is the ultimate goal.

And the things they should be ASHAMED of, they GLORY in. I’m sure we’ve all experienced THAT. As we listen to workmates telling us how much they got back as a tax refund, and how they did it. Or about what they did on the weekend. How drunk they got. Who they slept with. Things they GLORY in – BRAGGING of – they should be ASHAMED of.

But there are even more SUBTLE things. Things that we Christians can glory in. They’re things that should be SECONDARY, but they’ve become PRIMARY. How much money they’re house is worth, or how much they spent on that new dress. How they can’t WAIT to get the partnership. How studying for that qualification becomes the most important thing. Or how proud they are of their son’s new job. Or sporting achievement. But when you ask how the son’s Christian walk is going. They becomes strangely quiet. Their glory has suddenly become shame.

What about YOU? Are you a serious runner like Paul? Or a back of the pack slacker? What do YOU glory in? Press on. Take hold of the very thing which was the reason Christ took hold of you. Christlikeness. Knowing Christ. In his sufferings and power. Forget the past. Strain forward to win the prize.

  1. Keep your perspective (3:20-4:1)

And if the glory of earthly things is distracting you, then shut your eyes, and imagine this final image. It’s how Paul finishes the chapter. Keep your perspective. Forget the glory of earthly things. Imagine instead the glory of resurrection bodies. As citizens of the new Jerusalem. With Jesus on his throne. The glory of no more crying or sickness or pain or death. Hope for the finish line. The heavenly city. V20 But our citizenship is IN HEAVEN. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, {21} who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Run for THAT prize. Pursue THAT goal. Live for THAT vision.