2/26/2012

The PRIMACY of God in Faith and Suffering (Philippians 1:29-30)

Php1christocentric

We have taken 5 weeks to complete Philippians chapter 1. Thank God. We will go on to the meat or center of Philippians in chapter 2 when Paul focuses on the utmost importance of unity and humility. Stay tuned.

The title of my sermon this morning, "The Primacy of God in Faith and Suffering," might seem odd and unusual. But I like the phrase "The Primacy of God," because it emphasizes that God is ALWAYS primary in everything, never man. "Primacy" means "the fact of being primary, preeminent, or more important." When we see God as the primary mover, God enables us to be theocentric (God-centered) and Christocentric (Christ-centered). Otherwise, we become anthropocentric (man-centered).


So, another reason I like the phrase "The Primacy of God," is because we tend to study the Bible anthropologically, a recent new "favorite" word of mine. We study the Bible by emphasizing man, rather than God. We emphasize what man must do, rather than what God has done or is doing. We emphasize through preaching and teaching that man must believe, which is biblically true. But the Bible shows us that a man believing in God is not/never primary. Rather, a man believing in God is always secondary to God giving him the gift of faith--the ability/power to believe in God. Phil 1:29 says, "it has been granted to you...to believe..." This simply means that we believe because God gave us the gift of faith. Thus, my title is "The Primacy of God in Faith." The same is true in regard to suffering for Christ. We do not necessarily choose to suffer (do you?), but that God gave us the gift of suffering. Thus, "The Primacy of God in Suffering."

Indeed, God gave us 2 very special gifts. We like gifts, don't we? What are these 2 very special gifts? As mentioned above, they are the gift of faith and the gift of suffering. Please think that faith is not just me believing in God, but that it is a gift from God. Please think also that suffering is not simply my/your choice, but that it is a gift from God. Let's think about the primacy of God in these 2 most special gifts from God: faith and suffering.

Philippians 1:29-30; Key Verse: Phil 1:29

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him."

One sentence sums up Phil 1:21-30: "Die is gain, yet I live a life worthy of the gospel to believe and to suffer for Christ."
  1. Die is Gain (Phil 1:21-24).
  2. Yet I Live (Phil 1:25-26).
  3. A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27).
  4. To Believe and to Suffer for Christ (Phil 1:28-30).
I. Die Is Gain (Phil 1:21-24). Phil 1:21 is a short, catchy verse. But what does it mean? It is to:
  • Live for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), not for my own benefit.
  • Want to know Jesus (Phil 3:10), by reading/reflecting on the Bible regularly (Ps 1:2).
  • Love God (Dt 6:5), not the world (1 Jn 2:15-17).
  • Tell others about Jesus (Mk 16:15), no matter what the cost or sacrifice.
  • Look forward to death, because it is "better by far" (Phil 1:23).

II. Yet I Live (Phil 1:25-26). No Christian can be happy/victorious without progress, joy and confidence. Paul is not inward focused on himself, but he wants to live an outward focused life for others. Specifically, he wants to live for:

  1. The progress of their faith (Phil 1:25; 1 Tim 4:15).
  2. The joy of their faith (Phil 1:25; Jn 15:11; 1 Th 5:16).
  3. Their confidence/boasting/glory/joy in Christ because of him (Phil 1:26, 6, 3:3; Job 27:6; Acts 24:16; 1 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 1:12, 4:2 1 Jn 2:28, 3:21).
III. Gospel Life: A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27)

Phil 1:27 is an ethical exhortation or imperative. How can a Christian live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ? This is the ABCDE of living a life worthy of the gospel:

  1. Attitude: Live as a citizen of the kingdom of God.
  2. Behavior: Blameless (Tit 1:6). Above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). No fear (Phil 1:28).
  3. Character, constancy, consistency, Christ-like: Integrity.
  4. Doctrine: To live in accordance with the gospel we must know what exactly is the gospel.
  5. Ethos, expression, experience: Who are you at your very core?
Do you live a Gospel Life? Is the gospel just head knowledge? Is your heart grounded in the Gospel? Does the Gospel define who you are and inform all areas of your life, including your emotions? Do you live a life worthy of the Gospel?

IV. To Believe and to Suffer for Christ (Phil 1:28-30): The Primacy of God in Faith and Suffering

In Phil 1:29 Paul clearly teaches us the primacy of God in that faith in Christ and suffering for Christ are gifts from God.

I. Faith is a Gift from God (Eph 2:8; 1 Jn 4:19, 5:1; 1 Cor 3:6, 12:3; Jn 6:44; Ac 16:14; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 Pet 4:11). These 9 verses all point to the primacy of God in faith (and in all of life):

  • Eph 2:8: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."
  • 1 Jn 4:19: "We love because he first loved us."
  • 1 Jn 5:1: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God..."
  • I Cor 3:6: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow."
  • 1 Cor 12:3: "...no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."
  • Jn 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them..."
  • Ac 16:14: "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message."
  • 2 Cor 3:18: "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
  • 1 Pet 4:11: "If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen."

II. Faith is a Necessary Responsibility (Mk 11:22; Jn 14:1-2; Heb 11:6; Ac 16:31; Mt 11:28).

    • Mk 11:22: "'Have faith in God,' Jesus answered."
    • Jn 14:1: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me."
    • Heb 11:6: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
    • Ac 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
    • Mt 11:28: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
    How does knowing this gospel paradox that faith is both a gift and a responsibility help me? (In light of the primacy of God, how do we teach the Bible and how do we help our friends to come to believe in Jesus?) Knowing that faith is a gift leads to:
    1. Assurance. It gives me assurance that God is doing his own work. It helps me overcome fear (Phil 1:28).
    2. Dependence. It moves me to depend on God, since no one can make anyone else believe.
    3. Responsibility. In God's sovereignty God uses my responsibility for his glory and for my good.
    III. Suffering is a Gift from God

    What is the biblical view of suffering for Christ, and for suffering in general? Whenever we encounter any form of suffering, it is important to deeply acknowledge that God is the one who is in charge and in total control of any suffering that we may be experiencing (Rom 8:28).

    To Paul, suffering was explicitly stated as a gift from God (Acts 9:16). Paul did indeed suffer (2 Cor 11:24-27). Suffering as a Christian is never a mistake or an accident, but always part of God's plan to sanctify us (Gen 50:20). John Piper says that all suffering is "intended by Satan for the destruction of our faith, and they’re governed by God for the purifying of our faith."

    The Bible does speak of many different kinds of suffering in the Christian life, and of suffering in general. Here is just a short list from Ligon Duncan:

    1. The suffering of justice. The view of Job's friends.
    2. The suffering of discipline (Heb 12:5-6).
    3. The suffering of fellowship (Acts 9:4).
    4. The suffering of witness (John 9:13-34).
    5. The suffering of eternity in hell (Rev 21:8).
    6. The suffering of substitution (2 Cor 5:21).
    7. The suffering of discipleship (1 Tim 4:7).

    It is a given that the Bible absolutely teaches that man must be responsible (Gal 6:7-8). If man is irresponsible, God WILL judge him and hold him accountable for his irresponsibility. Despite the utmost importance of man being responsible, the Bible declares repeatedly the sovereignty of God and the primacy of God in all of life. When we believe and trust in God, and when we suffer, God is the one who gives us these special gifts. May God give us grace and sanctify us as we see and feel and experience all of life in the reality of the primacy of God.

    Questions:
    1. What does it mean "to live is Christ"? "To die is gain" (Phil 1:21; Jn 10:10b; 1 Cor 2:2)? How revolutionary is this? Who experiences this (Phil 1:3:8-10; Gal 2:20)? How do we live as if to live is Christ (1 Cor 10:31; Ex 20:2; Dt 6:5)? What is the gain of death (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:8; Rom 7:24, 8:35,37; Jn 14:2)? Do you believe this like Paul that death is gain? Are you prepared for the day of death?
    2. Following Paul's thesis, core belief, truth claim (Phil 1:21), what is his dilemma (Phil 1:22)? Why is this a delightful dilemma? Why is he torn (Phil 1:23-24)? How did he resolve it (Phil 1:25)? What 3 things does Paul want for them, for us, for churches (Phil 1:25-26, 5, 3:3; 1 Tim 4:15; Jn 15:11)? Is Paul saying, "Don't seek joy, be selfless, be good, and do good to others"? What did Paul "gain" by staying (2 Cor 11:24-27)?
    3. Why is the imperative of Phil 1:27 be daunting (2 Cor 2:16)? What is significant about whether or not Paul comes (Phil 1:27: 2:12)? What does Phil 1:27 mean (Mt 5:16)? Explain "the gospel." What does Paul want to see about their tenacity, activity, unity and mutuality of the gospel (Phil 1:27-28, 2:12, 3:14)?
    4. Does the Bible say that there is nothing to be afraid of (Phil 1:28)? What are 2 gifts of God (Phil 1:29)? Is faith a gift (Eph 2:8; 1 Jn 4:19, 5:1; 1 Cor 3:6, 12:3; Jn 6:44; Ac 16:14; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 Pet 4:11)? A responsibility (Mk 11:22; Jn 14:1-2; Heb 11:6; Ac 16:31; Mt 11:28)? What does it mean that suffering is a gift (Phil 1:29; Acts 9:15-16; Heb 12:5-6)? Why does God give us such a gift (Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4)?
References: 2 Sermons by Ligon Duncan
  1. Not Only to Believe, But to Suffer (Phil 1:29-30).
  2. The Gift of Suffering for Christ's Sake (Phil 1:29-30).

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2/03/2012

The Delightful Dilemma of Death (Philippians 1:21-30)

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Is death really a delightful dilemma? It was for the Apostle Paul. He expressed clearly and in detail why his dilemma as to whether he lives or dies is such a happy process (Phil 1:20-24). Whenever we have 2 choices, one often seems better than the other. Should I marry a pretty girl? Or a homely girl? But Paul's dilemma is that one choice is the best in the world, and the other choice is even better than that! Won't we all like to have 2 such choices in life where you can NEVER EVER make a bad choice and lose? It is not just a WIN-WIN situation, but a WIN-BETTER THAN WIN situation.

Philippians 1:21-30; Key Verse: Phil 1:21,22


"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.....what shall I choose?"

Let us think about Paul's happy dilemma in this one sentence: "Die is gain, yet I live a life worthy of the gospel to believe and to suffer for Christ." Let us divide this 1 sentence into the following 4 parts:
  1. Die is Gain (Phil 1:21-24).
  2. Yet I Live (Phil 1:25-26).
  3. A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27).
  4. To Believe and to Suffer for Christ (Phil 1:28-30).
I. Die Is Gain (Phil 1:21-24)

Phil 1:21 is such a short, catchy and "likable" verse if one is a Christian. Everyone who is a Christian will want to agree with it. But because it is short, catchy, likable, and easy to memorize, it is also just as easy to not reflect on what it really means. In order to examine Phil 1:21, perhaps a few simple questions are good:

  1. The 1st question is: As a Christian, do I live as though I truly believe that to live is Christ?
  2. The 2nd question is: Do I truly believe that to die is gain?
If I truly want to personally assess whether for me to live is Christ, related questions are:
  • What do I really want in life? Love in life? Care about in life? Delight in?
  • What do I look forward to in life?
  • What do I spend my life and my time thinking about?
  • What really drives me and gets me motivated and excited?
  • If you're single, will you romantically "like" a non-believer?
  • What is my first and central aim in life?
If I truly want to know whether I believe that to die is gain, related questions are:
  • Do I cringe with dreadful emotions whenever I hear news of the death of a friend, or a loved one?
  • Do I have unhappy, heavy, gut wrenching feelings if I think that I have only a few months to live?
  • Do I really feel that death is a gain, a benefit, a positive thing, and not something horrible that I have to face?
  • Is my death and thoughts of my death different from that of a non-believer?
Asking questions such as the above hopefully may probe our hearts to find out what is there. Here are more questions:

Is to live is Christ only for mature Christians? There might be some thought that Christians who live as if to live is Christ are only for the older, mature, "advanced" Christians. But "to live is Christ" is basic, foundational, ABC, 101 level Christianity. We do not live as if to live is Christ only when we are mature Christians. We live as if to live is Christ when we become Christians by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. This was what Paul was saying to the Philippian Christians. Paul was not saying that to live is Christ is only for a "super-Christian" like himself. Rather, he is saying that all Christians should live as if to live is Christ.

How do I live like Paul who lived as if to live is Christ? In a sense the whole Bible is the answer! The 10 Commandments is the answer (Ex 20:2-17). The sermon on the Mount is the answer (Mt 5:1-7:29). If one lives as if to live is Christ, then, according to Paul, "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). So, it is good to ask myself, "Who am I doing this for?" "Why am I doing this?" Even when we are studying, preaching, teaching the Bible, serving others, doing ministry in the church, these questions are still pertinent. Anyone Christian knows that it is so easy to serve God and others, not for Christ, but for myself (Phil 1:15,17). When we serve God, we do gain lots of selfish benefits: human glory, recognition, praise, commendation, honor, respect, hero worship. Therefore, just because I am serving God and others does not automatically mean that for me to live is Christ. I can just as easily serve God as if for me to live is for my own honor and glory as a Christian.

What does it mean "to live is Christ"? In 1 sentence, we could say: "To live as if to live is Christ is to regard all of life as loving Jesus, enjoying Jesus, delighting in Jesus, serving Jesus, glorifying Jesus, honoring Jesus, being with Jesus, communing with Jesus, fellowshipping with Jesus, being intoxicated with Jesus." It means that anything that is worthy of the word life is completely in fellowship with Jesus. This does not mean that there is nothing else in life to be enjoyed by Christians. But it does mean that all of our enjoyment in life is subordinated to our prime delight in Jesus. If not, we are an idolator.

Practically...we want to:

  • know Jesus, more than knowing anything else (Phil 3:7-11). How? Read the Bible (Ps 1:2), reflect on his words (1 Th 5:17).
  • be like Jesus in every way (Gal 5:22). How? Know that it is not up to us, but up to grace, to God working in us (Phil 1:5;2:13).
  • tell others about Jesus even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). How? Happy and willing to make any sacrifice for this end.
  • enjoy Jesus more than enjoying anything else (Ps 37:4). Never do anything to jeopardize our enjoyment of Jesus.
What does it mean to die is gain? How do we live as if to die is gain? Paul expresses this as he speaks out loud the glorious dilemma that he is experiencing in Phil 1:22-24: "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: 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." Paul's point is that as great as "to live is Christ" is, death is even better than that (Phil 1:21,23). What is the gain of death for a Christian? To "be with Christ" (Phil 1:23). To be perfected in holiness (Rom 7:24-25). To pass into glory (Jn 14:2) and to our eternal everlasting rest (Heb 4:9), where nothing can ever disturb or distress us ever again (Rom 8:35,37).

The movie  Of Gods and Men, is a true story about a small group of French monks in Algeria who lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors until civil war broke out in 1996. The monks, aware of the dangers, had opportunities to flee, but opted to stay. 7 were later kidnapped and beheaded. The monastery leader pens what he believes will be his last words: "Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure …. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder …. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me na├»ve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father's and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them."

John Paton, is a 19th century Scottish missionary (1800’s). He left his family, his father, and his home, and sailed to the New Hebrides, where he became a missionary to cannibals. By the end of his missionary work – over 30 years – the entire island had been converted to Christ. Here’s the story from his biography of him leaving to go to the mission field 50 years earlier (Listen for how much he was willing to give up and how much the father was willing to give up so that his son could tell others about Jesus.):


I started out from my quiet country home on the road to Glasgow. Literally…about forty miles had to be done on foot, and thence to Glasgow by rail. Railways in those days were as yet few, and coach traveling was far beyond my purse. A small bundle tied up in my pocket handkerchief contained my Bible and all my personal belongings. Thus was I launched upon the ocean of life. I thought on One who says, "I know thy poverty, but thou art rich."


My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my mind and in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and the tears are on my cheeks as freely now as they were then. For the last half mile or so we walked together in almost unbroken silence, -- my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand [because he was praying; he didn’t want to pray with his hat on his head, and so he carried his hat in his hand, praying for his son], his long, flowing yellow hair streamed like a girl's down onto his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain. We halted on reaching the appointed parting-place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said to me, "God bless you, my son! Your father's God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!"


Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and I saw him still standing with his head uncovered, just where I had left him -- gazing after me. Waving my hat adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke, looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return -- his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me.


I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and often, by the help of God, to live and act so never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father as we parted, -- his advice, his prayers, and tears -- have often, often, through all of my life risen vividly before my mind, and they do so now while I am writing, as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian angel. It is no Phariseeism, but deep gratitude which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by God’s grace, to keep me from my prevailing sins, but they also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes. And in all my Christian duties that I might faithfully follow his shining example.


II. Yet I Live (Phil 1:25-26)

III. A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Phil 1:27)

IV. To Believe and to Suffer for Christ (Phil 1:28-30)

Questions:


  1. What does it mean "to live is Christ"? "To die is gain" (Phil 1:21; Jn 10:10b; 1 Cor 2:2)? How revolutionary is this? Who experiences this (Phil 1:3:8-10; Gal 2:20)? How do we live as if to live is Christ (1 Cor 10:31; Ex 20:2; Dt 6:5)? What is the gain of death (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:8; Rom 7:24, 8:35,37; Jn 14:2)? Do you believe this like Paul that death is gain? Are you prepared for the day of death?
  2. Following Paul's thesis, core belief, truth claim (Phil 1:21), what is his dilemma (Phil 1:22)? Why is this a delightful dilemma? Why is he torn (Phil 1:23-24)? How did he resolve it (Phil 1:25)? What 3 things does Paul want for them, for us, for churches (Phil 1:25-26; Jn 15:11)? Is Paul saying, "Don't seek joy, be selfless, be good, and do good to others"? What did Paul "gain" by staying (2 Cor 11:24-27)?
  3. Why might the imperative of Phil 1:27 be daunting (2 Cor 2:16)? What is significant about whether or not Paul comes (Phil 1:27: 2:12)? What does Phil 1:27 mean (Mt 5:16)? Explain "the gospel" (Phil 1:27). The tenacity, activity, unity and mutuality of the gospel (Phil 1:27, 2:12, 3:14).
  4. Does the Bible say that there is nothing to be afraid of (Phil 1:28)? What are 2 gifts of God (Phil 1:29)? Is faith a gift (Eph 2:8; 1 Jn 5:1; 1 Cor 12:3; Ac 16:14)? A responsibility (Jn 6:44, 14:1-2; Heb 11:6; Ac 16:31; Mt 11:28)? What does it mean that suffering is a gift (Phil 1:29; Acts 9:15-16; Heb 12:5-6)? Why does God give us such a gift (Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4)?
References: 12 Sermons by Ligon Duncan
  1. Phil 1:21 (4 sermons).
  2. Phil 1:21-26; 25-26 (2 sermons).
  3. Phil 1:27-28 (4 sermons).
  4. Phil 1:29-30 (2 sermons).

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