Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 10 (“Pressing On”)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 10 (“Pressing On”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 09 June 2019)]

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.3:8-21- (ESV) ~ “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”

  • INTRODUCTION:

August 1992. Derrick Redmond from Great Britain was favoured to win the 400-meter race during the summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, but as he powered around the backstretch, his hamstring snapped. Redmond tried desperately to finish the race, but he still had half the distance to go. Because he couldn’t walk, he began to hop. Jim Redmond (Derrick’s father) had to get to his struggling son. He doesn’t remember all the steps down from Section 131, Row 22, Seat 25 of the Olympic Stadium. He doesn’t really remember leaping over the railing or pushing off security guards who were too stunned to stop him. He was not just a spectator at the Olympics anymore; Jim Redmond was a father, and he had to get to his son. “Dad,” Derrick said, “Dad…Get me back to lane five. I want to finish.” And leaning on his father, Derrick Redmond made his way around the track as the crowd, with the whole world watching, rose to their feet cheering.

  • EXPOSITION:

Our outline for today’s teaching is as follow:

  • Paul’s Past (3:1-11);
  • Paul’s Present (3:12-16);
  • Paul’s Future (3:17-21).
  • PAUL’S PAST (3:1-11):

The previous time we looked at Phil.3:1-11, we learned that, this paragraph is one of the most profound and theologically rich passages in the Bible. There we have a clear description of the doctrine of justification based on the fact that we receive imputed righteousness from Christ without doing any good deeds of the law. 

We also saw in the previous paragraph (i.e. Phil.3:1-11), one of the harshest and most serious judgments and condemnations on false preachers found in the Bible. Paul judged false preachers and teachers and calls them dogs and evil workers. These false preachers were Judaizers who did not openly deny Christ but who said that salvation by Christ was not complete. They claimed that salvation must be supplemented or completed by the believer’s efforts (i.e. works) as well as the act of circumcision. 

Circumcision of the flesh in the Old Testament was designed as a sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham. It physically signified that a man was a natural descendant of Abraham and a member of the nation of Israel (i.e. God’s chosen people). The problem was that the Jews had perverted the physical symbol of circumcision and made it a sign of God’s eternal favour and blessing as if to say that it was an automatic sign of salvation and of being a child of God. God sent them prophet after prophet to show them the error of their ways pointing them to Christ for eternal salvation. These false prophets in Philippi were promoting false teaching based on works. Therefore, Paul calls them the “false circumcision.” 

Believers however, are the “true circumcision.”Paul speaks of an inward, spiritual circumcision of the heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s elect which is the fruit and effect of Christ’s righteousness. It takes place when a sinner is born again by the Spirit of God (Rom.2:28-29). A true child of God is one who has been born again. This includes regeneration by the Spirit of God who immediately then brings the regenerated sinner to faith in Christ and repentance in the preaching of the Gospel (2 Thes.2:13-14). A person who has been circumcised spiritually knows that physical circumcision has nothing to do with salvation or any part of it (Gal.6:12-16). He knows that Christ and His righteousness makes the only difference between saved and lost, holy and unholy, fit and unfit, certain blessedness and certain destruction (Col.3:9-11).

Paul also makes it clear in Phil. 3:1-11 that the righteousness which is our only ground of salvation is no inherent or imparted righteousness. It is nothing we do, it is a righteousness imputed to us by God and which we receive by God-given faith.

What exactly is this righteousness? It is the entire merit (virtue and worth) of Christ’s whole work of satisfaction to God’s law and justice by His obedience unto death for God’s elect, given to Him before the foundation of the world. 

  •      PAUL’S PRESENT (3:12-16)

In verses 12 -16 Paul talks about things that he has not obtained yet and pressing on to make this mysterious thing or things his own – what is he talking about?

When we look at the context of our Scripture reading for today, Phil.3:10 draws our attention to and gives us an answer to what these “things” are, that he has not yet obtained ~ “…that I may know Himand the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death.”The four things mentioned in 3:10 are:

  • Knowing God;
  • Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection;
  • Sharing in Christ’s sufferings’ and
  • Becoming like Christ in His death.

Though Paul was a spiritual giant in the eyes of the Philippian saints, he wanted them 

to know that he had not yet attained the goals stated in 3:10. According to 3:12b, he was still actively pressing on toward these goals, in other words, he had by no means reached the final stage of his “sanctification.”

What is “sanctification”? The Greek word translated “sanctification”(ἁγιασμός[“hagiasmos”]) means “holiness”– to sanctify therefore, means “to make holy.”In a sense, only God is holy (Is.6:3). God is separate, distinct, the other. No human being or thing shares the holiness of God’s essential nature. There is only one God. Yet Scripture speaks about holy things. Moreover, God calls human beings to be holy – as holy as He is (Lev.11:44; Matt.5:48; 1 Pet.1:15-16). 

A believer grows in holiness (sanctification) by living according to his or her new identity – his identity in Christ Jesus. Before being “in Christ”the believer was “in Adam”(Rom.5:12-21). To be “in Adam”is to be spiritually dead. A spiritually dead person is separated from God, and as such a person who is in Adam is standing in a relationship with the world, the flesh, and the devil, which is damnable. 

In 3:13 we see that Paul emphasises the fact that he is not sitting back and waiting for the day when he will meet his Lord. No, he is doing two things:

  • He’s not looking back – he forgets about what lies behind.
  • He is stretching forward to what lies ahead.

Why is he not looking back and to what is he not looking back? Here he refers to 3:1-9, where he said that he cannot base his salvation on previous credentials (things that he achieved) or good works, but only on grace and faith alone… ~“…the righteousness from God that depends on faith”(3:9).

There is another reason why we must not look back and that is to ponder on our past sins, hurts and unwise decisions and acts. If we have confessed our past sins and wrong doings and forgave people that hurt us, etc., then we must believe that Christ has forgiven us and freed us from those sinful and hurtful things. We should not keep on thinking back to it. The problem with that, is that such memories are a motion of no confidence in God’s grace and forgiveness – saying, “Lord., I don’t think You have forgiven me.”

Thinking back of past sins and unwise decisions and acts, are also like playing in drift sand. The longer you play there, the deeper you sink into the mud and eventually you cannot get out of it. If you keep on entertaining negative thoughts, you will not and cannot progress in your faith and sanctification. We must always remember that we who are saved; are new creatures; we are forgiven; we are washed in the blood of Christ.

Instead of pondering on the past, Paul knew that he was forgiven, he fully accepted that and was pressing on towards the end goal when he would receive his crown of glory… ~ “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”(1 Pet.5:4).

Paul wasn’t perfect in his walk with the Lord, but he looked toward that day when he would be in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. This fact must encourage us. While we know that perfection is not possible in this life, we should strive for spiritual maturity, like Paul did.

3.3       PAUL’S FUTURE (3:17-21):

In 3:17 Paul gives two imperatives (i.e. commands/instructions):

  • The first thing that they had to do, was to be imitators of Paul. Is this, Paul’s Jewish achievements?  No! It was his self-denying and self-giving acts. He said in 1 Cor.10:33-11:1 ~ “…just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”It was his willingness to suffer for others ~ “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate”(2 Thes.3:7-9). It was Paul losing everything for Christ while also imitating Christ (Phil.3:5-9). This refers to Paul’s desire to follow Christ as it was described in Phil.3:7-14.
  • The second thing that Paul told the Philippian believers to do, was that they must alsofollow the example of other exemplary saints. Paul did not say here, “Follow me and only me.”Instead he reminded the Philippians that in addition to the example of his own life, there are others who arealsowalking the right path that Paul had instructed. Paul wants the Philippians to follow his example while also looking to other people who are walking on the right path. This right path is the path that Jesus walked while He was on earth.

On the other hand, in 3:18 Paul warns his brothers in Philippi that they must be careful who they follow, because there are many people who are “enemies of the cross”– people who are not worthy of following. On the contrary, these people will lead them astray. 

There is something else that the readers of Paul’s letter can learn from in this verse. Paul’s broken heart and his tears for these enemies of the cross – because of their lost state. Paul has a zeal for the Gospel and at the same time he has a deep zeal for lost souls. The end destination of these enemies of Christ, is “destruction”[ἀπώλεια -“apoleia”]which literally means, to destroy or kill (e.g. in battle), by means of torture (Matt.2:13; 27:20; Mk. 3:6). This same loss applies to the soul of the enemies of Christ – their final destination is eternal damnation in hell ~ “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matt.7:13).

The words in 3:19 is a reflection, of Paul’s words to the Galatian believers in Gal.6:7-8 ~ “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”  

We see in 3:20-21 the motivation and reward for pressing on (3:14). Together with him, the Philippian brothers are citizens of heaven and need therefore, to press on to the end – to the finishing line. A great prize awaits them, namely the “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,”which means an eternal life with a transformed body without any scars or pain. A “glorious body”which will be transformed by the same power that raised Christ from death to life, by the almighty King of this universe – the only living and eternal Triune God! 

  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

What are you living for in your few fleeting years here on this earth? Anything other than fame, wealth, or influence?

When Thomas Naylor was teaching business management at Duke University, he asked his students to draft a personal strategic plan. He reported that “with few exceptions, what they wanted fell into three categories: money, power, and things— very big things, including vacation homes, expensive foreign automobiles, yachts, and even airplanes.”This was their request of the faculty: “Teach me how to be a money-making machine.”

That’s not what Paul had in mind when he encouraged his brothers to ~ “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”Paul’s overriding ambition was totally different. His consuming desire was to know Jesus and become increasingly conformed to His holy example (Phil.3:10). He wanted to serve Him by proclaiming the life-changing Good News of God’s grace.

What is your highest goal? Do we only want to make money, which can never buy lasting happiness? Or do you want to become more like Jesus, which results in ultimate satisfaction? 

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Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 09 (“Prerequisites for Knowing Christ”)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 09 (“Prerequisites for Knowing Christ”)

 [Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 26 May 2019)]

  • INTRODUCTION:
The past couple of years, the synod of the largest Afrikaans church in South Africa went astray and became more and more liberal. Last weekend, their synod in the Western Cape started talks on allowing cohabitation amongst church members. This is what happens when, as Paul calls them, dogs and evildoers are allowed in the bosom of a church denomination or individual church - such a church becomes rotten to its core and if the Lord does not intervene, such a church or denomination will become totally corrupt and Biblically alienated from the Word of God and will “mutilate the flesh” as Paul calls it in Phil.3.
This tendency is however nothing new and happened all over the world, even since the time of Paul and we must be vigilant and on the lookout for similar influences amongst ourselves.
  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.3:1-10 (ESV) ~ “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

  • EXPOSITION:

We will be looking at our passage for today under the following three headings:

  • Paul’s Warning (3:1-2):
    • Paul’s Credentials (3:3-6):
    • Paul’s Advice (3:7-11)

3.1PAUL’S WARNING (3:1-2):In this last part of Paul’s letter to his beloved brothers in Philippi, he begins by saying that he realises that they are familiar with the things that he is about to say.

He also knew that they will not mind hearing it again, on the contrary they should be glad to be warned about devilish threats and be reminded of the Truth of the Gospel on a regular basis. This reminds us of the words in 2 Pet.1:12 where Peter said the same thing to the recipients of his letter ~ “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.”The apostle clearly felt it necessary to repeat some of his teachings and some of his previous warnings, because his brothers were confronted on a constant basis with all kinds of misleading messages by all sorts of people. 

Paul knew that there were people with devious (Afrikaans: onderduimse) and clandestine (Afrikaans: agterbakse) messages (Afrikaans: verdraaïïngs) about the Truth of the Gospel. In our day we will call it Post-modern and Liberal theological viewpoints. He warns his friends in Philippi against these people and he calls them “dogs.” Unlike today’s domesticated pets, dogs in first century Philippi were generally wild pack animals (almost like our African Wild dogs). They were aggressive scavengers, thieves and devoured whatever food they could find (Matt.7:6). False teachers, like those Paul describes, are looking for their own interests. They are not truly part of the family of faith, but are seeking to take whatever they can get from others.

One particular group that Paul cautioned against were the “Judaizers” (2 Cor.11:13). They were teachers who claimed that faith in Christ was not enough for salvation. These people added the requirements of the Old Testament law on top of the Gospel. 

They insisted that Christ’s kingdom could be entered only through the gate of Judaism. Only circumcised converts were fully accepted by God. They appeared quite early in the history of the Church, and are those referred to in Acts 15:1 ~ “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Paul was the object of their special hatred and abuse. They challenged his birth, his authority, and his motives. 

You may say that it is harsh and inappropriate to call other people “dogs,” but even the prophet Isaiah referred to Israel’s irresponsible leaders as “dogs” in Is.56:10-11 ~ “…His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all.” 

Paul also warns the Philippians against “evil workers,” but that is just another name that Paul gave to the Judaizers ~ “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”(2 Cor 11:13). 

3.2PAUL’S CREDENTIALS (3:3-6):With an interesting twist to his warning, Paul starts talking about himself. He does this in order to drive home a specific point and we will get to that point in a moment.

He tells his brothers that they (together with him) “are the circumcision.”In order to understand this expression or title, we must look at Rom.2:29 ~ “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” 

The word “circumcision” means “cutting around.”This rite was appointed by God to be the special badge of his chosen people, an abiding sign of their consecration to Him. Circumcision was adopted by God as a physical sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Gen.17:10–14). Thus, all descendants of Abraham became known as “the circumcision”(Acts 10:45). Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision”(Eph.2:11). It is also the sign and seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Rom.4:5).

In compliance (agreement/accordance) with the divine command, Abraham, though ninety-nine years of age, was circumcised on the same day with Ishmael, who was thirteen years old (Gen.17:10 -27). Slaves, whether home-born or purchased, were circumcised (Gen.17:12-13). And foreigners had to circumcise their males before they could enjoy the privileges of Jewish citizenship (Ex.12:48).

According to Jewish custom, our Lord was circumcised at the age of eight days. It was usually performed by a “mohel”(a Jewtrained in the practice of the “covenant of circumcision” or circumcision)in a ceremony called a“brit milah”(or “bris milah”), which means “Covenant of circumcisionin Hebrew. According to Jewish law, the foreskin should be buried after a “brit milah.”

The circumcision is something that every good Jewish family does with their new born son. In spite of the fact that circumcision ceased as a rite (ritual) amongst the Christians, when the New Testament times began (Gal.6:15; Col.3:11),Jesus’ circumcision is significant to every Christian for many reasons. I just want to mention three reasons why He was circumcised:

  • It reminds us that our Lord is a Child of the Covenant
  • It reminds us that our Lord is fully human.
  • The circumcision was a foreshadowing of our Lord’s sacrifice. That is why we read in Col.2:11 ~ “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.”Christ’s circumcision therefore,refers to His death on the cross. 

Believers are now circumcised through their identification with Christ; Paul speaks of it as “the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”(Col.2:11).This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer. It should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col.3:5). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil.3:3). 

With this in mind and the threat of the Judaizers spreading misleading messages about circumcision and promoting adherence to the Torah [The Torah refers to the five books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The Torah was written approximately 1400 BC. Traditionally, the Torah is handwritten on a scroll by a “sofer” or “scribe”]as part of Christianity in Philippi, Paul refers to faith in Christ as “the true circumcision.” 

Paul reminds the Philippians that they are “the true circumcision”and don’t need circumcision as demanded by the Judaizers and therefore don’t have to trust in circumcision to be saved, because they, as we’ve previously seen in Rom.2:29, are circumcised in their hearts.

What Paul is saying, is that no-one has to expose himself to all kinds of outwardly-, fleshly things in order to be saved. If outwardly things were necessary, he would have been saved without a doubt. He was circumcised on the eighth day according to Jewish prescriptions. 

Apart from Paul’s circumcision, he was also part of the “people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Jews belonging to the 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. After the Assyrian conquest of 721 BC, they were known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” The Benjaminites however, in the southern kingdom of Judah, was part of the more powerful tribe of Judah. 

Paul also says that he is “a Hebrew of Hebrews.”Biblical scholars use the term Hebrews to designate the descendants of the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)- i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (also called Israel [Genesis 33:28]). 

A more thorough bred Jew, a Benjaminiteanda Hebrew could hardly be found amongst the Jews, than Paul.

He goes further and says that he is also a Pharisee (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”). The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety; their acceptance of oral tradition in addition to the written Law, and their teaching that all Jews should observe all 600-plus laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification.

Lastly, Paul tells them that he was, prior to his conversion, a persecutor of the church, which qualified him as an excellent Pharisee. To the Pharisees, Jesus could not be the Messiah, since He was crucified and therefore a curse, not salvation – they expected an earthly saviour and how could their earthly saviour be a dead saviour? Saul’s motivation for persecuting the church before his conversion, was to correct the “false teaching”of the Gospel within Judaism, using the synagogue punishment system itself.  He most likely saw himself as a reformer, working for the high priest. Their goal was to deal sharply with the followers of a condemned Rabbi.

3.3PAUL’S ADVICE (3:7-11)When it comes to the Jewish law he was almost perfect and therefore blameless. BUT, Paul states it loud and clear in 3:7-11 that all his credentials won’t help him or anybody else for that matter, to be saved. He therefore, see all these credentials as rubbish – “as loss,”because none of these things from his past can be compared to what he gained when he was converted. In 3:9, he also stresses the fact that all these credentials did not save him – no good works in other words. Only God’s righteousness that was imputed into him through faith in Christ could save.

Paul’s salvation led to a desire to know Jesus better. He then explains what he means by “know Him.”Knowing Jesus means knowing “the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.”Paul does this by becoming like Him in His death. The only other place in Philippians where Paul urges the Philippians to become like Jesus in His death is in 2:5-11. Paul is saying that the way to know Jesus is by seeking the good of others with the same mindset that Jesus had in His incarnation and death. This is the same mindset that Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus had as they continue to work for the advance of the Gospel.

Phil.3:10 starts with the word “that”and the implication of that is that the rest of 3:10-11 is the result of something prior to 3:10. So let us briefly look at the result and then the prerequisite.

  • The results:The results are clear:
  • 3:8 ~ “…the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord;”
  • 3:8 ~ “…in order that I may gain Christ.”
  • The prerequisites:If we want to receive knowledge of Christ and gain Him, there are certain prerequisites that we must adhere too. Look carefully to the preceding versus of our paragraph (3:1-9), we see a repetition of a specific word(s) and/or idea, namely “loss,”or “counted it loss”:
  • 3:7 ~ “…whatever gain I had, I counted as loss;
  • 3:8 ~ “I count everything as loss;”
  • 3:8 ~ “For his sake I have suffered the lossof all things;”
  • 3:8 ~ “…count them as rubbish.”

The only way that these “results”can become part of Paul (3:9) is… ~ “…through faith in Christ.”And we find the culmination of all these results in 3:10: 

  • 3:10 ~ “…(so) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share His sufferingsbecoming like him in his death.” 

Not only does this all result in knowing Christ as Person, but also knowing Him in the power of His resurrection and knowing Him in His sufferings.

  • CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Beloved, we cannot know Jesus Christ really, if we don’t share His sufferings and become like Him in His death. We must get new credentials. 

Paul cautions us too. Evil workers are common in our day, but we hesitate to expose them.We must continue to keep in mind why Paul wrote this paragraph in his letter. The reason being that there were false teachers going around like dogs. In order to experience Christ’s righteousness, they had to focus on Jesus and not on material stuff. We as church should not focus on previous credentials; nor on status, or whatever may come between us and the Lord. If we persist in our faith in Christ and lay all these other things aside, we will know Him personally and this will include knowing “Him and the power of His resurrection.”

Where do you stand brother and sister when it comes to counting things rubbish for the sake of Christ?Once, Paul was confident that all his previous credentials would save him, but now he realises (through gaining knowledge of Christ), that the only way of salvation, is through the power that is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of His resurrection is the power of salvation. It has the power to deliver us from our sins and miseries and it is only in Christ and through Christ’s power that we can be saved – the power that was needed to raise Christ from the tomb of death – no other power is powerful enough to bring us out from our spiritual death than the merciful almighty power of God the Saviour.

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Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 07 (“Striving for Humility”)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 07 (“Striving for Humility”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 12 May 2019)]

  • INTRODUCTION:

Like most people today, people in the Greco-Roman world often lived in anxiety about the future. Would they be victims of disease, famine, war, and an untimely death? Into all this the Gospel brought the “encouragement”and “comfort”that a loving God created and controlled the world. It brought the Good News that God had shown His love through Jesus Christ, who in “tenderness”and “compassion”healed the sick and raised the dead. This was in anticipation of a day when disease and death would disappear. The preaching of the Gospel also established a “fellowship” of believers who, if they followed Jesus’ example, would help one another in the troubles of life until that final day.

Although the church at Philippi was exemplary in many respects, and Paul had occasion to commend the saints warmly, yet there was an undercurrent of strife. Amongst possible other differences and disunity, there was a difference of opinion between two women, Euodia and Syntyche (4:2). It may be unfair to centre the problem on Euodia and Syntyche, but they were at least involved. 

It is helpful to keep this in mind because in chapter 2 the apostle is dealing directly with the cause and cure of contentions among the people of God.

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.2:1-18 (ESV) ~ “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so 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 beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

It is said that boxer Muhammad Ali was once on a plane when the stewardess came by and asked him to fasten his seatbelt. Ali said, ”I’m superman and superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The stewardess replied ”Superman don’t need no airplane either, please fasten your seatbelt.” 

Ali wasn’t known for his humility but it’s humility that Paul is talking about in today’s Scripture reading.

  • EXPOSITION:

We will be dividing our text for today, under the following three headings:

  • The Essentials in Humility (2:1-4);
  • The Example of Humility (2:5-11)and
  • The Exhortation to Humility (2:12-18).
  • The Essentials in Humility(2:1-4)

When we look at Paul’s words in 2:1-4, it is clear that there is a specific problem in the church in Philippi. It is really appalling to see that even a difference of opinion between two women was a very serious situation and Paul had to address this issue urgently. This is something that we as a church must seriously and urgently take notice of. We cannot and may not allow even such a minute thing (according us)to exist amongst us. In this modern age that we live in, a difference of opinion can be seen as something from Satan, trying to disrupt unity. Discord also grieves the Holy Spirit and therefore can be seen as a serious sin in the church.

This difference of opinion and seemingly disunity in the Church, breaks Paul’s heart. The “if”in this verse ~ “So ifthere is any encouragement in Christ” (2:1a) is not the “if”of doubt but of argument. The verse lists four great considerations which should draw believers together in harmony and cooperation. The apostle is saying, in effect: “Since there is so much encouragement in Christ, since His love has such a tremendous persuasiveness, since the Holy Spirit brings us all together in such a wonderful fellowship, and since there is so much tender affection and mercy in Christianity, we should all be able to get along in happy harmony with one another.” 

It is clear that the apostle is making an appeal for unity based on common devotion to Christ and common possession of the Holy Spirit. With all that there is in Christ, the members of His Body should have unity of purpose, affection, accord, and sympathy.

Paul’s point is simple but direct: his joy in Christ would be fulfilled by only one thing -the unity of the Philippian church. The leaders and members of a church usually have joy in Christ, but their joy can be fulfilled only if unity exists between them. Joy is always disturbed when there is criticism, dissatisfaction, grumbling, murmuring, cliques, opposition, and a host of other divisive negatives. 

We are to worship, plan, organise, finance, minister, etc. and serve in the joy of Christ. But the only way we can do that is to be likeminded (lit., “minding the same thing,” or to be “fellow-souled”); to have the same love; to be of one accord and to be of one mind. Paul says in Rom.14:17 ~ “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”And in 1 Cor.1:10 he tells the church in Corinth ~ “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

How can we pursue humility?

  • Mutual love: Believers (we) should possess a mutual love. Inasmuch as all were indwelt by the same Spirit (2:1), love as a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22)ought to be demonstrated in every one.
  • Set minds on oneness: We should set our minds on oneness “in spirit and purpose.”These words repeat what was said in 2:2 and reinforces the conclusion that there was a problem of disharmony within the congregation, as already mentioned.
  • Avoid selfish ambition:Believers should avoid “selfish ambition” and “vain conceit” and consider others above themselves (2:3). Paul himself had experienced adverse effects from selfish ambition among some unworthy preachers at Rome (1:17). Persons who seek to advance themselves usually enjoy glorying in their own success. Our attitude should reveal itself in “humility,”a concept not highly regarded among the Greeks. Believers should be humble toward one another, mindful of their spiritual brotherhood and their ultimate subjection to Christ. In their exercise of humility, they should “consider others better than yourselves.”This does not mean that we must have false or unrealistic views of our own gifts as compared with those of others. Rather, our consideration for others must precede concern for ourselves ~ “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom.12:10). This will go far toward removing any disharmony.
  • Look to the interests of others:Believers should be looking not only to their own interests but also to those of others (2:4). The self-centeredness that considers only one’s own rights, plans, and interests must be replaced by a broader outlook that includes the interests of one’s fellow Christians. Paul calls for a Christian concern that is wide enough to include others in its circle of interest. When each member of the Christian community exercises this mutual concern, problems of disunity quickly disappear.
  • The Example of Humility (2:5-11):

We must keep in mind that Paul wants to teach us humility and his teaching will mean nothing if he has not an example to illustrate his point. The only way to do this, is to refer to a perfect example in order for us to strive to become. The only perfect and complete example is Jesus Christ. 

We read the following in 1 Pet.2:24 ~ “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”and in 1 Pet.3:18 ~ “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…”Jesus Christ is the supreme example of humility. These verses tell us that Jesus Christ is God, yet He humbled Himself and became Man. Jesus Christ is the Person who dwelt in all the glory of perfection, but He humbled Himself and came to this corruptible world that knows little else other than selfishness, greed and death. Just imagine the enormous step down that Jesus Christ had to take to become a Man. It is utterly impossible to grasp the humility it took. Yet, this is exactly what He did and it is what we are to do.Even though He was God, He did not cling to His rights as God (2:5-6), on the contrary, He laid aside his glory (2:7a).He took upon Himself the nature of a human servant (2:7b). He humbled Himself (2:8a)and He became obedient and died on the cross (2:8b).

Beloved, we are to be humble – to walk in humility before each other – to go to the extreme of humility, even if it means humiliation before each other. Why? So that the church (we) can be unified. Unity is to prevail among us. We are to live and breathe unity. There is to be no discord in God’s church; no divisiveness; no grumbling; no murmuring; no criticism; no jealousy; no personal ambition; no self-seeking; no prejudice; no negative truth; no downing of others; no air of superiority. 

The only way we can ever know such unity is to let the mind of Christ captivate our mind. We must study, think, and learn the humility of Christ. We must let His humility flow in and through us.

The Exhortation to Humility (2:12-18)

In verses 12-18, Paul returns to the exhortations which he began earlier in verses 2-4. We find the word “therefore”at the beginning of 2:12 and this word “therefore”connects (as always) the following verses with what immediately precedes them.

We saw in the previous verses that Christ obeyed the Father and carried out His plan even to death on the cross (2:8). The Philippian Christians needed to obey, to follow Paul’s instruction which was drawn from Christ’s example – we need to obey and follow.

It is commonly understood that this exhortation relates to the personal salvation of the saints at Philippi. They were told to “work out,”to put into practice in their daily living, what God had worked in them by His Spirit. They were not told to work fortheir salvation but to work outthe salvation God had already given them. It was however, evident that some of the brothers and sisters in Philippi were not doing their work selflessly and with the interests of others ahead of their own (2:3–4)., therefore Paul’s admonition. 

Paul tells his friends that God must perfecton them His salvation (2:12-13). He emphasises that obedience is intentional and purposeful. Paul’s point is that salvation, once received, must be put into practice through obedience. This “putting into practice through obedience”can only be obtained if they do that in “fear and trembling.”

Pauls says in Phi.2:12 ~“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”This verse is often misused to instil or to create fear into people, warning them that it means that they can lose their salvation. What does it mean to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Paul can hardly be encouraging believers to live in a continuous condition of nervousness and anxiety. That would contradict his many other exhortations to peace of mind, courage, and confidence in the God who authors our salvation. The Greek word translated“fear”in this context can equally mean “reverence”or “respect.”Paul uses the same phrase in 2 Cor.7:15 where he refers to Titus as being encouraged by the Corinthians’ reception of him“with fear and trembling,”that is, with great humility and respect for his position as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul himself came to the Corinthian church in “weakness and fear, and with much trembling”(1 Cor.2:3), mindful of the great and awesome nature of the work in which he was engaged.

The Greek verb rendered“work out”means “to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition.”We do this by actively pursuing obedience in the process of sanctification, which Paul explains further in the next chapter of Philippians. He describes himself as “straining”and “pressing on”toward the goal of Christlikeness (Phil.3:13-14). The“trembling”he experiences is the attitude Christians are to have in pursuing this goal – a healthy fear of offending God through disobedience and an awe and respect for His majesty and holiness. We work out our salvation by going to the very source of our salvation – the Word of God – wherein we renew our hearts and minds (Rom.12:1-2), coming into His presence with a spirit of reverence and awe (see “GotQuestions.org”).

In 2:14 Paul says that all things must be done without “grumbling or disputing.”In pursuing humility, Paul tells the Philippians not to imitate the ancient Israelites (Ex. 15:24; 16:7-9; 1 Cor. 10:10). Unlike God’s ancient people, believers in Jesus are indeed God’s “children,”not “a crooked and twisted generation.”Amid their sufferings from external opponents (1:28-30), the Philippians may have grumbled against church leaders as the Israelites did against Moses (Ex.16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13).

Instead of grumbling, Paul encourages them to be as “beacons of light in a dark world,”or“to let their lights shine in this world”(2:15). And in 2:16 he tells them how they can be “shining lights”“…holding fast to the word of life.” This refers to the Gospel as a declaration of the saving significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to the life-changing teachings founded on the saving work of Christ, which we find in the Word of God (1:27; 4:8, 9).

We see in 2:17-18 that the Philippians and likewise us, must “rejoice with Paul in his sacrifice.”We are to work out our salvation by following the example of sacrificial labour. Very simply stated, Paul had offered himself as a sacrifice to serve men. The picture is that of the sacrifice and offerings made by people to the heathen gods. Paul had taken his body and offered it as a sacrifice and service for people. He lived for nothing else except to hold forth the Word of life to people. His body was totally sacrificed for that purpose and that purpose alone. Paul was obedient to Christ ~ “And he said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”(Luke 9:23). And he practised what he preached ~ “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”(Rom.12:1-2).

  • CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Why does the Lord want us humble? Why is this an important topic? What is the point? Here are some reasons God’s Word identifies for our being humble.

  • That He may exalt us in due time ~Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time”(1 Pet.5:6).
  • So that we may learn, because only the humble are teachable ~Take my yokeupon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt.11:29).
  • That God can use us in His service. He cannot use the prideful ~The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, you will not despise”(Ps.51:17).
  • To receive more grace “He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble”(James 4:6).
  • To enter His presence ~“Thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit…” (Is.57:15).
  • To be saved and enter the Kingdom~ “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt.18:3-4).
  • That our prayers may be heard ~ He does not forget the cry of the humble”(Ps.9:12).

If humbleness is this important, let us briefly look at a couple of points that could help us to cultivate humility in our lives:

  • Minute me: Look around at the billions of people. You’re just one of them. Look above at the jillions of stars. You’re sitting on one small planet circling one humble star. They’ve been around for eons, while you have only a few more years of life here. If that doesn’t humble you, you’re not paying attention.
  • The Holy Spirit: Be truthful and obedient to Gal.5:22-23 – The fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, humility...”
  • Affliction, hardship: You shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you…”(Deut.8:2-3).
  • Failure: Scripture cites so many instances of this, it’s hard to know where to start. God let Israel fail to conquer the tiny city of Ai to humble them because of sin in their camp. He let Samson fail because of his headstrong ways. Same with Nebuchadnezzar. Time and again, God allowed foreign nations to conquer Israel and dominate them until they humbled themselves and cried out to Him.
  • Criticism: Nothing drove Moses to stay so close to the Almighty like the constant carping of the Israelite people. Many pastors have had to stand in the pulpit and deliver God’s message to people who were looking for flaws and eager to pounce on any mistake he made. It’s an awful way to live, but God can use this in his life to build character and deepen his commitment to Christ.

The war to remain humble must be fought on many fronts every day of our lives. Even then, pride will slip up on us and enter from our blind side. Before we know it, we will start sounding as though we deserve more from God and others than we are getting, like we have been mistreated in life, as though the universe was built for our comfort and our being deprived of anything ranks is a great injustice. 

As followers of Christ, we cannot expect our path to be one of ease. Salvation by grace is totally free, but that does not mean there is no personal cost (Luke 14:28). God is at work, but there is strenuous work for us to do as well. And yet the strain of living for Christ cannot overshadow our joy. Jesus’ sacrifice was done in joy, without complaining, and we likewise are welcomed in the glad service of Christ and others. The Gospel that calls us to sacrifice also calls us to rejoice. The redemption into which we have been swept up is too great to be lukewarm (tepid) about. Reflecting on God’s grace to us, the very “children of God”(Phil. 2:15), our hearts are softened once more. What a Gospel this is!

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Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 05 (“God is Above Our Circumstances”)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 05 (“God is Above Our Circumstances”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 28 April 2019)]

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.1:12-20 ~“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.”  

  • INTRODUCTION:

Paul has ended his prayer for the believers in Philippi and now wants to convey news about his own circumstances (1:12–30). Significantly, however, this section of the letter tells more about the progress of the Gospel in the midst of Paul’s circumstances than about the details of his health, the conditions of his imprisonment, or his strategy for defending himself at trial. He does this by expanding on three headings:

  • EXPOSITION:
  • Paul’s Appointment(1:12-14);
  • Paul’s Focus (1:15-18);
  • Paul’s Confidence (1:19).

3.1      Paul’s Appointment (vv. 12-14):

To believers outside Paul’s current “accommodation” (remember he is under house arrest in Rome)it must have been a terrible disappointment that Paul was not available to spread the Gospel and to visit his brothers and sisters in churches all over Asia Minor, in fact Paul was facing a possible death sentence for proclaiming the Gospel. However, as someone once said, Paul removed the prefix in the word “disappointment”and came to recognise his imprisonment ashis“appointment!”Instead of focusing on what looked like disappointmentto the saints at Philippi, he set his mind on the things above. He was enabled by the Spirit to recognise his appointment!Paul’s, Christ centred and Gospel centred mindset allowed him to turn a potentially bad and depressing situation, into an excellent Gospel opportunity! 

Paul gives us a wonderful example to follow. It reminds us of his words in Phil.3:17 ~ “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”  We need, like Paul, to be continually filled with the Spirit who enables us to maintain an eternal perspectiveby keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus ~ “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”(Hebr.12:1-2). We need to note that Paul’s approach to his adverse circumstances is to focus on God’s sovereign will. He could have easily cried “Woe is me!”His letter to the Philippians could have gone on and on about how bad the prison food was, how the chains rubbed on his wrists, how horrible it was to be chained to a Roman soldier so despised by the Jews, and so on. But not Paul! Instead of fixating on his adversity, he makes a Spirit filled, conscious choice to focus on Christ and the Good News about His salvation by grace, through faith

Paul took a divine perspective and so he encourages the church at Philippi that their prayers and contributions were still yielding eternal dividends by telling them that his imprisonment is helping rather than hindering the advancement of the Gospel. 

The Greek word for “advance” [προκοπή(prŏkŏpē)] literally means a gradual improvement, or growth, or development of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What Paul is therefore saying, is that it does not matter whether he is in jail or not, because the Gospel is still advancing.

In the Roman world, imprisonment was rarely a long-term punishment. Most prisoners were awaiting either trial or execution. The length of imprisonment depended on the swiftness of a trial. Conditions of imprisonment were closely linked to the status of the prisoner. Non-Roman citizens, even of high status, were often harshly treated. In contrast, house arrest was typically for Roman citizens and more comfortable for the prisoner, who was usually physically chained to a guard but could still host visitors. 

Because Paul was a Roman citizen, he was under house arrest. He was a respected prisoner and allowed to stay by himself ~ “And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him”(Acts 28:16). Paul’s Roman citizenship also meant that he was eligible for a daily food allowance, but Paul depended on his friends and fellow believers to supply this food. While under house arrest, Paul was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the elite Praetorian Guard. 

While in house arrest, many beloved brothers visited Paul on a regular basis – men like e.g. 

  • Luke (author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts); 
  • Aristarchuswho was a Jewish convert from Thessalonica (Acts 27:2; Col. 4:10-11). He joined Paul on the apostle’s third missionary journey and afterwards he was a regular traveling companion for Paul.
  • Timothy (who was probably closer to Paul than any other person on earth).
  • Epaphraswas from Colossae and church planter – churches like Colossae (Col. 1:7), and perhaps Laodicea and Hierapolis as well (Col. 4:13).
  • And many others.

Just imagine for a moment. What would the conversations entail between Paul and these brothers – they would definitely not discuss the previous Saturday’s games in the Colosseum and how big the bears and lions were that killed the Christians, or how scared anyone was of Nero’s rule over the empire and what he was capable of doing to them as Christians. No, they would’ve discussed the Gospel and the advancing of the Kingdom of God and all this happened while Paul was chained to a Roman soldier. Guess who was the actual prisoner? 

We can also be sure of the fact that Paul witnessed personally to the soldiers that he was chained too. At least four soldiers per day had to listen to him, because of the six hourly shift changes by the guards. Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the Empire! It was not long before some of these soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel into the elite Praetorian Guard, something he could not have done had he been a free man. These conversations and the Gospel specifically, became known… ~ “…throughout the whole imperial guard…(Phil.1:13). 

One of the more amazing circumstances reflected in the book of Acts is the manner in which Paul endeared himself to a wide variety of Roman officials. Almost without exception, these dignitaries came to respect God’s ambassador to the Gentiles.

While Paul was under house arrest, the Gospel still penetrated deep into the heart of Rome and its people. Through Paul’s example, the majority of the Roman Christians were… ~“…much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Phil. 1:14). What exciting times these must have been.

3.2      Paul’s Focus (1:15-18):

While under house arrest, there were however, also disappointments. Unfortunately, some members of the Roman congregation apparently did not like the notoriety (Afrikaans: “bekendheid”) Paul had generated. They were characterised by envy – a feeling of displeasure caused by the success of Paul. As a result, they stirred up “strife” through their selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15). These were not heretics, like those in Corinth whom Paul severely denounced; nor were they Judaizers, like those of Galatia who preached another gospel. These were third-rate preachers who, out of sheer jealousy and enmity, took advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to draw attention to themselves.

Fuelled by these sinful attitudes, this renegade group went forth “preaching Christ.” The content of their message was not the true Gospel and it was their intention to elicit (Afrikaans: “ontlok”) Paul’s rebuke. They were insincere and pretentious.

But what was their goal? Incredibly, they hoped “to raise up affliction”for the already-burdened Paul. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario. They might have proclaimed that Jesus Christ is “King” – a point very sensitive to the Roman authorities. This was something that was against the law of the day, because the only one to be worshiped was Caesar (Acts 17:7). 

When interrogated by the officials, these antagonists might well have suggested, “You can take this matter up with Paul, the prisoner. He is the most prominent leader of our movement.” Can anything more wicked be imagined?

These people were driven by jealousy and envy. Envy [φθόνος(phthŏnŏs, fthon´-os)]“describes pain felt and malignity conceived at the sight of excellence or happiness.” It means not just wanting what another person has, but also resenting that person for having it. It is an attitude of ill-will that leads to division and strife and even murder. When we envy, we cannot bear to see the prosperity of others, because we ourselves feel continually wretched. The English word “envy” is interesting, as it is derived from the Latin in = against and video = to look, “to look with ill-will,”etc., toward another, and obviously is an evil strongly condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

To “envy”is to feel a grudging discontent aroused by the possessions, achievements, or qualities of another along with the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another. To “envy” another is to show spiteful malice and resentment over another’s advantage. 

To “envy” is to possess a discontented feeling that arises in one’s selfish heart in view of the superiority of another, and being nearly tantamount/equivalent (Afrikaans: “gelykstaande”)to the expression of jealousy. The one who envies possesses a malignant passion that sees in another qualities that it covets, and can even degenerate into hatred for their possessor. When we feel “envy” towards others our basic desire is to degrade them, not so much because we aspire after elevation, but because we delight in obscuring of those who are more deserving. It follows that “envying” while seemingly just an “innocent” sin is in fact one of the most odious and detestable of all vices.

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary on Envy – Sin of jealousy over the blessings and achievements of others, especially the spiritual enjoyment and advance of the kingdom of Christ freely and graciously bestowed upon the people of God. Old Testament examples of the sin of jealousy include the rivalry of Joseph’s brothers over the favour that Joseph received at the hand of God (Gen.37:12-36; Acts 7:9), and Saul’s animosity toward David for his physical and spiritual prowess (1 Sam.18). Envy inevitably leads to personal harm and debilitation, affecting one’s physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being (Job 5:2; Prov.14:30). Unchecked, it gradually leads to a destructive and remorseful way of life (Prov.27:4), and ultimately, to estrangement from God (Rom.1:28-32). 

In spite of all this heartache, however, Paul could still sing and rejoice and we see that in Phil.4:4 when he writes ~ “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice.”As unpleasant as his circumstances sometimes were, he could affirm that the things which had happened to him had worked for the progress of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12).

In spite of these opponents of Paul and their sinful attitudes and motives, Paul is still confident that God will even use their message to advance the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. In Afrikaans we say: “God slaan reguit houe met kromstokke,”meaning that God will and can use any way and any “crooked man”to accomplish His will. That’s because, as the Hebrew writes says in Hebr.4:12~ “…For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”The Word is alive, and when it is quoted, it accomplishes its work – to bring faith to the hearer ~ “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Paul’s attitude was one that says, “It makes no difference what happens to me, just as long as Christ is glorified and the Gospel shared with others.”Paul rejoiced in spite of his circumstances, because his circumstancespromoted the furtherance of the Gospel and in that, he rejoiced.

3.3     Paul’s Confidence (1:19-20):

Looking at Paul’s situation, he could easily become distressed and depressed, but Paul had the same attitude as that of Corrie Ten Boom (author of the book: “The Hiding Place”)many years later ~ “Look around and be distressed. Look inside and be depressed. Look at Jesus (our Joy)and be at rest.” In fact, as we’ve already seen, Paul is rejoicing. Why does he rejoice? It is because Paul sees worldly obstacles, like his imprisonment, as divine opportunities.

Paul also knows that he will eventually be delivered. The question is whether Paul is referring to a physical or spiritual deliverance.The word he uses here for “deliverance”is σωτηρία (sōtēria), which is generally translated “salvation”and usually refers to the final deliverance of believers at the last judgment when they stand vindicated before God. Paul was confident of this ultimate deliverance, whatever Caesar decided to do with him. The same confidence was expressed from prison by Paul to Timothy at the end of his second letter to his young assistant ~ “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom”(2 Tim.4:18). 

But, whether Paul referred to a physical or spiritual deliverance, he knew that one way or another, either temporally or eternally, God would deliver him. Why?  Because God delivers the righteous.  That’s an Old Testament principle.  Job knew it because it was the truth about God, even before the Old Testament was written.  Paul knew it, and Paul is identifying with Job, who is a righteous man going through very difficult times who also said, “I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance.”And Paul quotes Job because he takes security in the precepts of the Lord, the truth of the Word of God. Thus Paul was entirely confident in his ultimate deliverance… ~ ...whether by life or by death”as 1:20 says. 

  • CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

Is Christ dear to you? Do you live for Him? Is the one passion and aim and purpose of your nature to glorify Him? Can you say: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?”

God is telling us – through His servant Paul – that we must work toward experiencing prevailing joy in life. We must set our thinking on the right things in a time of trial. We must raise our attention above the mere circumstances of our trial, or even above how that trial is making us feel; and set our thinking instead on the sovereign God who is above our circumstances, and on the ways that He is working through our trial to bring about His good purposes.

We must do what Paul did, and have our theology right. We must think Biblically about our trials in the light of sound doctrine. We must fight the natural course of our thinking in a time of trial; and affirm, as Paul did in Romans 8:28 ~ “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

One of the consistent themes of Scripture is that when life turns ugly, God is still good! Consider the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. His brothers intended to harm him, but God used it for good to accomplish the saving of many people. The same was true for Paul. The same is true for us. The chaos of our lives can be used for God’s Gospel good. Always!

Posted in Advancement of the Kingdom, Church, English, Gospel, Paul, Philippians, Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Sermons (English) | Leave a comment

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 04 (“Paul’s Pastoral Prayer”)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 04 (“Paul’s Pastoral Prayer”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 21 April 2019)]

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.1:1-11- (ESV)~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

  • INTRODUCTION:

Quite often we hear people say, that God has a wonderful plan for your life, most of the times, meaning that God will help you achieve your dreams. When we however, look at the Word of God, we will discover that life for a believer has nothing to do with your earthly, materialistic dreams – because it is in the end all about, the “unholy trinity, me, myself and I”and God is definitely not interested in those kind of dreams, on the contrary, God wants us to focus on Him and Him alone ~ “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile”(Jer.29:13-14). 

Moses says in Ps.91, that when we hold fast to God, He will do great things for us, but first and foremost, the focus is on God and holding unto God… ~ “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honour him”(Ps.91:14-15). We must never focus on ourselves; we must focus on God, without having expectations of Him fulfilling our dreams, etc. The Word of God is full of promises that when we hold on to Him, we can and will experience hardship – we will experience trials. Moses prioritises the fact that we must first focus on God and “…hold fast to Him in love,”and then, and only then will He deliver us, etc. 

Exactly this (and more) is what Paul is praying for his fellow-saints in Philippi when we look at 1:9-11 and this will also be the text on which we will focus today ~ “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

  • EXPOSITION:

Our outline for today’s teaching is as follows:

  • Filled with Love (1:9);
  • Filled with the Spirit of Discernment (1:10);
  • Filled with the Fruit of Salvation (1:11).
  • FILLED WITH LOVE (1:9):

We see in 1:9a that Paul’s prayer to God, is that the love of the Philippian believers would abound more and more. What is interesting is that Paul does not specify the object for their love, in other words, he does not say to whom their love must be directed. Must their love be directed towards God? Towards their fellow-brothers? To the lost world? Towards themselves – so called “self-love?”Who has Paul in mind here?

It is as if Paul intentionally left the object for their love undefined because he wanted them to love both God and one another. Kent Hughes writes that the old Latin commentator Bengel said, “The fire in the apostle never says, ‘It is enough.’” To which Hughes adds, “Paul is passionate here – more love, more love!”

For Paul, it is common sense and, I believe it was also common sense to the Philippian believers, that they as believers must love God, as well as their neighbour. This conviction was based on what Jesus said in Matt.22:37-39 ~ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

When Paul then prays ~ “that your love may abound more and more,”it implies that the object of their love must be God and their neighbour. Who was their neighbour? Modern man, is mostly inclined to think that the neighbour is simply one’s fellow-man. But this is not in accordance with what the Bible teaches. When Jesus wanted to send a dramatic and memorable message out about “who is my neighbour”, he used a Samaritan to display neighbourly love. Our neighbour doesn’t only mean our next door neighbours. It could mean the stranger you give a helping hand to, the person you give an encouraging word to, the one who hates you should be the one you pray for.  Jesus also gives us the answer in Luke 29, after a lawyer asked Him who our neighbour is, by telling the man a parable ~ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 29:27-37).

Jesus fulfilled the Law by saying that not only should we love our enemies, like the Samaritan, but also pray for them.

Paul prays that their love must abound andthe word“abound”in the Greek [περισσεύω(pĕrissĕuō)],meansto exceed in something. In this case, an exceeding knowledge of a spiritual or moral nature such as awareness of one’s sinfulness (Rom.3:20), or knowledge of God(Col.1:10) and His Truth (Titus 1:1).

“Abound”also means to grow.Their love must therefore, grow more and more, but it must abound (or grow) with knowledge and discernment. What is knowledge? The meaning of “knowledge”[ἐπίγνωσις(ĕpignōsis)] is tohave full insight of something. In this case then, “abound”generally refers to an exceeding knowledge of a spiritual or moral nature.

Their love must grow by feeding, or by being fed by knowledge of a spiritual or moral nature such as awareness of one’s sinfulness (Rom.3:20)or knowledge of God (Col.1:10)and His Truth (Titus 1:1).By growing in awareness of sinfulness and the knowledge of God and His Truth, the love of the saints in Philippi will grow.

How do we grow in the knowledge of God and His Truth? 

  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a fuller appreciation of his Godhead. We must make a study of God’s attributes (e.g. God is Infinite – He is Self-Existing, Without Origin; God Is Immutable – He Never Changes;God Is Self-Sufficient – He Has No Needs; God is Omnipotent – He Is All Powerful; God Is Omniscient – He Is All-Knowing; God Is Omnipresent – He Is Always Everywhere; God is Wise – He Is Full of Perfect, Unchanging Wisdom; God Is Faithful – He Is Infinitely, Unchangingly True; God Is Good – He Is Infinitely, Unchangingly Kind and Full of Good Will; God Is Just – He Is Infinitely, Unchangeably Right and Perfect in All He Does; God Is Merciful – He is Infinitely, Unchangeably Compassionate and Kind;God Is Gracious – God Is Infinitely Inclined to Spare the Guilty; God Is Loving – God Infinitely, Unchangingly Loves Us; God Is Holy – He is Infinitely, Unchangingly Perfect; God Is Glorious – He is Infinitely Beautiful and Great).
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a clearer sight of His humanity; mission/calling to this world and the accomplishment of that mission.
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a more discerning and full persuasion, that He was fore-ordained to be THE Redeemer. Christ was the person pitched upon from eternity to be the Saviour of the elect of God ~ “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of youwho through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”(1 Peter 1:20-21).
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a greater insight into His sufferings – It is not without reason that the history of these is so largely penned by all the four evangelists.
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a more fruitful understanding and acceptance of his resurrection and going to His Father ~ “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”(Phil.3:10-11).
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies greater satisfaction about His imputed righteousness – the righteousness that He imputed into us.
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a better understanding for His role as High Priest and the pity and compassions of Him that intercedes on our behalf.
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies being better acquainted with His great power, and continual presence with His church which is so nearly related to Him.
  • Growing in the knowledge of Christ implies a more earnest looking forward to wards His second coming ~ “For, Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37). And Col.3:4 ~ “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
  •   FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT OF DISCERNMENT (1:10)

Why must the saints in Philippi’s love, abound more with knowledge and discernment? 1:10 gives us the answer ~ “…so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

How can one grow in love if the knowledge that he gains and feeds his love with, are contaminated with worldliness and/or unholiness? He must be able to discern between what is good and right and holy. 

According to the Greek, “discernment”[αἴσθησις (aisthēsis)]is the mental ability to understand and discriminate between relations. This isespecially acquired through experience. It is the ability to rightly and accurately judge well in light of God’s counsel. 

Paul prays that the Philippians might have knowledge and insight, enabling them to choose what is best from the various moral options that confront them. If they do this consistently, they will be “pure”and“blameless”on the day when the Messiah returns.

The implication of all of this, is therefore, that if their lives are filled more and more with knowledge and discernment, their hearts of love will grow. We see then that love and knowledge and discernment must grow – the more knowledge and discernment, the more love they will have. Or, if you want, their love must grow and the food for that growing process is growing knowledge and discernment. 

How can we develop our discernment? Some people think that discernment is a mystical ability, like even when you see someone for the first time you already automatically know them. You know what they think, who they are, and what they do. Although God is capable of revealing one’s heart issues to a prophet, the gift of discernment should not be confused with psychic mind-reading, which is false.

There are also some who think of discernment as a gift that can be instantaneously received through an encounter with God. People who think of discernment in this way usually spends too much time asking God for it, but don’t read and obey the Bible enough. That is also wrong.

Discernment is a gift, one that is developed through a deep relationship with God. It is characterised by a disciplined adherence and dependence to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.”

Here are some ways you can develop discernment:

  • Build Yourself Up in the Word of God. When we study the Word of God, it becomes the basis for which we judge all other things. Hebr.4:12 tells us ~ “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
  • Pursue Intimacy with God.Developing an intimate relationship with God requires that we pursue holiness ~“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”(Hebr.12:14). When we are able to build an intimate relationship with Him and seek Him and His plans, He will guide us and reveal to us things that only He knows. Hebrews 4:13 tells us ~ “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
  • Train Yourself to Know the Difference:Another way to develop discernment, is through basic application of God’s Word in everyday circumstance. When we apply God’s Word, carefully testing if something is true (from God or not), we will be able to develop discernment ~ “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil”(Hebr.5:14). 

Paul prays that the Philippians’ love will grow with knowledge and all discernment, so that… “…you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”(Phil.1:10). The motivation for growing and having discernment, is to be able to approve what is excellent. Without writing it, Paul implicates that, that which is NOT excellent, should be resisted and rejected. The reason for this, being to be pure and blameless when Christ returns and we will stand in the presence of God on the Day of Judgment ~ “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor.5:10).

  •   FILLED WITH THE FRUIT OF SALVATION (1:11):

Paul says in 1:11 that we must be… ~ “…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”With these words, Paul does not want to tell us that this is a third thing that we must be filled with (i.e. to be pure and blameless, as well as possessing righteousness)on the contrary, no one can be filled with purity and be blameless, if he does not possess righteousness. Righteousness is to have a righteous stand before God, which means that you are justified, declared righteous, because you have had your sins cleansed by Jesus ~ “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”(2 Cor.5:21).

Possessing Christ’s righteousness must and will result in producing fruit for God. Such inner qualities, partially described in Gal.5:22–23 (a.k.a. “The Fruit of the Spirit”), will be evident to others. So, a life that exhibits such traits is to the glory and praise of God.

Paul also says that this righteousness only comes from God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross at Calvary.

The Christian life is intended to be fruitful not only in activity, but in character (Gal.5:22–23 – “The Fruit of the Spirit”), and 1:11 reminds us that the means to this is the living Lord Jesus Christ and the goal is nothing other than the glory and praise of God (cf.Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

Having analysed Philippians 1:9-11 and Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, we see that this prayer is Gospel-centred. His petitions before God was so designed to advance the Gospel in the lives of the PhilippianChristians.

Dear brother and sister and friends, let us be reminded today that we have been commemorating the death of Jesus on Friday and today, His resurrection! He is the only One who possesses perfect love and discernment. He is the righteous One! Praise be to His Name for imputing that righteousness to His chosen ones. We are therefore called to pray, first and foremost for our love to abound more and more; for our love to be more knowledgeable, and for us to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. 

Let us put the priorities of the Gospel at the centre of our prayer lives for ourselves, and also for others. 

When was the last time you prayed for someone that hated you, despised you, and wanted to do you harm?  That is what Jesus expects of those who are His own and those who are Jesus’ enemies He desires that they repent and trust in Him.

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Did Jesus Go to Hell After He Died? (Logos Bible Software Blog)

Did Jesus Go to Hell After He Died?Posted: 19 Apr 2019 10:15 AM PDT“Christ’s Descent into Hell,” by Follower of Hieronymus BoschSome versions of the Apostles’ Creed say Jesus descended into hell. Did he?For centuries, Christians have proclaimed, “… he [Jesus] descended into hell…” Other versions of the creed say “the grave.” Why do we say those words at all, and what are the implications of one versus the other?This brief post is only an introduction to the matter. I’ll present the main relevant biblical texts, a brief overview the primary interpretations, and a note or two about how I used Logos to find this information. Finally, I suggest resources for further study. Bible verses about Jesus’ descent into hellThe main texts are Acts 2:31, Rom. 10:6–7, and Eph. 4:9:Acts 2:31[The patriarch David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.Rom. 10:6–7 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).Eph. 4:7–9But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,      “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,      and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?)Related texts are 1 Pet. 3:19 and 1 Pet. 4:6, which speak of Christ proclaiming the gospel to the spirits in prison (3:19) and the dead (4:6). There are several interpretations on these passages, some holding that the spirits in prison are not the same as the dead, but are actually “hostile angelic powers” to whom Christ proclaimed victory upon his ascension.1Various interpretations Louis Berkhof, in his 1938 Systematic Theology, conveniently summarizes the dominant positions on the creedal expression “he descended into hell” (the last being his own): (1) The Catholic Church takes it to mean that, after His death, Christ went into the Limbus Patrum, where the Old Testament saints were awaiting the revelation and application of His redemption, preached the gospel to them, and brought them out to heaven. (2) The Lutherans regard the descent into hades as the first stage of the exaltation of Christ. Christ went into the underworld to reveal and consummate His victory over Satan and the powers of darkness, and to pronounce their sentence of condemnation. Some Lutherans place this triumphal march between the death of Christ and His resurrection; others, after the resurrection. (3) The Church of England holds that, while Christ’s body was in the grave, the soul went into hades, more particularly into paradise, the abode of the souls of the righteous, and gave them a fuller exposition of the truth. (4) Calvin interprets the phrase metaphorically, as referring to the penal sufferings of Christ on the cross, where He really suffered the pangs of hell. Similarly, the Heidelberg Catechism. According to the usual Reformed position the words refer not only to the sufferings on the cross, but also to the agonies of Gethsemane. (5) Scripture certainly does not teach a literal descent of Christ into hell. Moreover, there are serious objections to this view. He cannot have descended into hell according to the body, for this was in the grave. If He really did descend into hell, it can only have been as to His soul, and this would mean that only half of His human nature shared in this stage of His humiliation (or exaltation). Moreover, as long as Christ had not yet risen from the dead, the time had not come for a triumphal march such as the Lutherans assume. And, finally, at the time of His death Christ commended His spirit to His Father. This seems to indicate that He would be passive rather than active from the time of His death until He arose from the grave. On the whole it seems best to combine two thoughts: (a) that Christ suffered the pangs of hell before His death, in Gethsemane and on the cross; and (b) that He entered the deepest humiliation of the state of death.2R. J. Bauckham’s takes a similar view in his entry “Descent into Hell” in the New Dictionary of Theology: that the verses in question simply amount to saying that Christ “truly died,” and are not concerned with whether Christ descended into hell or not.3Charles Hodge argues similarly in his systematic theology, saying that the word translated “hell” is one and the same as “grave”:From the original and proper meaning of the Greek word ᾅδης, and the corresponding English word hell. Both mean the unseen world. The one signifies what is unseen, the other what is covered and thus hidden from view. Both are used as the rendering for the Hebrew word שְׁאוֹל (probably from שָׁאַל to ask, or demand), the state or place of the dead; the orcus rapax of the Latins. All the dead, the righteous and the wicked, alike go into the invisible world, or, in this sense, “descend into hell.” Hence to be buried, to go down to the grave, to descend into hell, are in Scriptural language equivalent forms of expression. (emphasis mine)4So what’s the answer? There are certainly traditions that hold that Christ somehow descended to hell in the sense of going spiritually to the underworld, but those are not without major objection (see Berkhof’s fifth point).In fact, those theological challenges lead many interpreters (and from my brief study, it seems most) to hold that the verses and creedal confession affirm simply that Christ truly died and went to the grave. It is also worth noting that this particular phrase wasn’t introduced into the creed until the fourth century, “and then not as a separate or distinct article, but as merely explanatory. ‘He was dead and buried,’ i.e., he descended into hell.”5Think long enough about this doctrine, and you will see that it is shrouded in mystery, difficult to grasp “with reason and the five senses.”
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Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 03 (“He Who Began a Good Work in You”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 14 April 2019)]

  1. INTRODUCTION:

Death is inevitable; death is a reality; death will eventually catch up with all of us! Even non-Christians experienced it and will experience it in the future. Let us just look at a few death-bed sentences of well-known people (whether they were saved or not I cannot say):

 This was Jimmy Hendrix, an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter’s last words:“The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again.” 

Charlotte Brontë was an English novelist and poet (Author of “Wuthering Heights)– “Oh, I am not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so happy.” 

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian polymath, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was an American distiller and businessman, best known as the founder of the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery and his last words were: “One last drink, please”

 (https://www.ranker.com/list/dying-words-last-words-spoken-by-famous-people-at-death/notable-quotables)

John Piper, in one of his “Labs,” says that, God didn’t get His people part way out of Egypt or halfway through the Red Sea. No, our God always completes what He begins. These words are very important for us, and we must keep it in mind as we are going to look at Phil.1:6 today ~ And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”When looking at this verse, we will also break up the sentence and look at some of the Greek words in short, so please bear with me and work with me from your Bibles. 

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.1:11- (ESV) ~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus ChristIt is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

  • EXPOSITION:

I would like us to look at 1:6 under the following three points:

  • He HAS saved us (PAST – regeneration);
  • He IS saving us (PRESNT – sanctification)and 
  • He WILL save us (FUTURE – glorification).
  • HE HAS SAVED US (PAST – regeneration):We must remember that in writing this letter to the Philippians, Paul was in actual fact writing a prayer to them – a prayer that he is praying for them and while praying, a great confidence gripped him. 

Paul starts off in 1:6 by saying… ~ “And I am sure of this…”The Greek word for the expression ~ “And I am sure,”is πείθω(pĕithō), which is a verb and literally means, to be persuaded or sure of the truthfulness or validity of something. Paul is in other words absolutely convinced and sure of something, which he refers too, after the word “this.”

The word “this” is followed by the words ~ “…that he who began a good work in you…”

The Greek for “began” is ἐνάρχομαι(enarchomai), which means“to begin to lay one’s hand to a plough; to take the first step or steps in carrying out an action.”

Paul is therefore absolutely convinced and persuaded of the fact that God always carries out an action with which He started. We must immediately ask ourselves who is this “he” that Paul is referring to, and with what kind of action did he start?

First, it is quite obvious that he refers to God, because he starts his prayer in 1:3 with the words ~ “I thank my God”He is thanking God for various things and here in 1:6, for the fact that He (i.e. God)started a specific action in the lives of Paul’s brothers.

The fact that it is God who began this action implies to Paul that there is no, absolutely no possibility that this specific action will be interrupted or terminated – God started this action and He will complete the action. 

This reminds one of the words in a poem by Augustus M. Toplady, author of the hymn “Rock of Ages” and a major Calvinist opponent of John Wesley:

The arm of His strength will complete;

His promise is Yea and Amen,

And never was forfeited yet.

God is a God that always finishes what He started – this is one of His attributes. The apostle John reminds us of our God who never ceases to complete what He started. Beloved this fact is a crucial truth that we must always keep in mind, especially when we experience hardship. Hardship that we as believers experience in our Christian walk – this is exactly the heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians – guaranteed hardship for believers, BUT…. and we will see that shortly! 

God always finishes what He started ~ “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”(John 4:34). “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”(John 19:30) and then the most convincing verse in this regard can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans ~ “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom.8:29-30).

The next phrase that we must look at, is a “good work.” The word “good” refers to the Greek word ἀγαθός(agathŏs) which literally means something that is of moral excellence. 

In what do Paul’s assurance lie? Of what is he sure? What is it that God will do (remember this is part of God’s character)? Paul is here referring to those believers in Philippi that is saved – those who received salvation ~ …if you confesswith your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believein your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom.10:9). He is assured of the fact that God started a new work in them. What is this new work? First, we conclude that Paul is sure of the Philippian saints’ salvation or regeneration.

The Philippian’s salvation is the “work,”the “good work”that God started in them. The Greek for “work” in this case, is ἔργον(ĕrgŏn). This says exactly what the English word is saying. Merriam-Webster defines “work,” (I only mention three definitions) “…to perform or carry througha task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations,”and “…to function or operate according to plan or design,”or (I like this one) “…to get (oneself or an object) into or out of a condition or position by gradual stages”

Why do I say that God is the One who saves – that He is the One who is doing the “good work”? The SOLA 5 Confession of Faith says: “God calls all men to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and freely promises to all such people that they will be redeemed from sin and inherit eternal life.”We read in Is.55:1 ~ “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”Eph.2:8-9 reads as follow ~ “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rev.22:17 ~ “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”Joh.6:37 ~“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out”(also see 2 Tim.1:9; Acts 4:12 and many more).

When Paul says in 1:6 ~ “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you,”it might sound as if he is hinting to know who are saved in the Philippian church, or even that all are saved. Then, the question arises whether anyone can be certain of the salvation of others. Paul is not speaking of himself but of the Philippians. On this question, John Calvin says,“We must understand that the assurance which we as individuals have for our salvation, comes from the Holy Spirit to us personally, but it is totally different from what we can have of others people’s salvation, because we have no testimony about other people’s salvation(or for that matter lostness),except for the outward efficacy of the Spirit; that is, in so far as the grace of God manifests itself in them and through them to us by the Fruit of the Spirit”(“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” – Gal.5:22). We cannot for certain say that anyone is saved or not and therefore, Paul does not imply that the whole congregation is saved, but he’s talking to/praying for those who are saved (in general in other words). In fact, he is referring to those brothers who have been saved (some a couple of years before, others shortly before the letter was read by them).

Paul says therefore, in this opening part of vs.6: He is assured of the fact that God started a good work by saving them(or at least, some of them). This was the start of a new work – their salvation – their regeneration. 

3.2HE IS SAVING US (PRESENT – sanctification)Theologians often refer to “The already, but not yet.”principle. We find a good example of this in 1 Joh.3:2a the following ~ “Beloved, we ARE God’s children NOW, and what we WILL be has NOT YET appeared…”(emphasis mine). 

Keeping this tension firmly in hand helps us not only to draw a realistic picture of what we can expect here and now – both from ourselves and God, but it will also help us to see what HAS happened (our past salvation), what IS happening now (sanctification), and WILL happen in our spiritual lives in the future (glorification). Jesus is Lord of all. Past, present and future. And we need to look to Him in all.

Apart from the fact that Paul says that God saved the believers in Philippi by means of a good work, he is also sure of something else, i.e. that God will bring this salvation of them to completion. 

The Greek word that’s been used here for “completion”is, ἔργον(ĕrgŏn). Here we have to do with an ongoing process. If they have been saved in the past and this salvation will be brought to completion, it clearly suggests that the “in between period”(between salvation and completion), is an ongoing process.

Remember, we said in the beginning, that what God starts, He will complete. This means that God will perfectly complete all saints’ salvation. But what happens in the meantime – between salvation and glorification, during the “in between period”? The answer,“He IS saving us”and what does that mean? “So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day”(2 Cor.4:16). Our inner self is being renewed day by day.

The Greek for “inner self”is ἔσω(ĕsō) indicating achange to a previous, preferable state, specifically referring to the renewal, the restoration and the bringing back of the soul, understood especially as immaterial. “Being renewed”is ἀνακαινίζω (anakainoutal), meaning to be or become re-established in a like-new and often improved manner. Therefore, for the inner self to be renewed, means that a believer will be re-established in a new person. 

We call this process a process of sanctification. Sanctification involves a progressive or growing in experience of greater holiness and less sinfulness. It expresses God’s will and fulfils the purpose of God’s salvation call ~ “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness”(1 Thes.4:3-7).

Sanctification includes one’s responsibility to participate in continuing what God’s Spirit began in salvation ~ “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work”(2 Tim.2:21)and Rev.22:11 ~ “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

It is clear therefore, that sanctification is the process in which the believer is conformed into the image of Christ, that process has a definite beginning at the regeneration of the sinner. The fact that regeneration implies the cleansing of sin, but also the receiving of a new heart implies the cleansing of sin, but also the receiving of a new heart ~ “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rule”(Ezek.36:25-27). 

Thus, when the Spirit imparts spiritual life into the soul of the dead sinner, opening his eyes to the filth of sin and the glory of Jesus, man’s nature is sanctified – transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life – he then is a new creation ~ “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God” (2 Cor.5:17). 

Although the believer enjoys forgiveness of sins, his heart and life is not totally purified. Therefore, sanctification that begins at regeneration, will necessarily continue throughout the entire life of the Christian and this continuous aspect of sanctification is called progressive sanctification and this progressive sanctification in the life of a Christian calls for holiness on the part of the believer, that is why Paul says in Rom.12:2 ~ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”The Hebrew writer says in Hebr.12:14 ~ “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”Progressive sanctification is an ongoing process on the side of the believer, ‘till the end of his life and the goal is to glorify God through a holy life ~ “…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’”(1 Pet.1:15-16). Christians are constantly exhorted in the Word of God, to pursue holiness in their Christian life.

  • HE WILL SAVE US (FUTURE – glorification):Just as sanctification has a definite beginning at regeneration and increases throughout one’s life, it will also at some point in future, be brought to completion – namely, at the end of the believer’s life – He WILL save us and we will be glorified.

We read the following in 1 John 3:2 ~ “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”The moment Jesus comes back, all believers (dead or alive at that stage)will instantaneously be glorified.

The perfection of sanctification (i.e. glorification)for those who have died in faith before the return of Christ, comes in two stages: this soul is fully sanctified at death, while the body awaits its perfected sanctification at the second coming of Christ. When believers pass from this present life, their spirits are separated from the bodies ~ “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”(2 Cor.5:8).

  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

Beloved,“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil.1:6).

The author of Ps.116:15 writes ~ “Precious in the sight of the LORD [is] the death of his saints.” 

In the beginning we looked at a few “last words” of well-known persons. Let’s conclude with the last words of some other well-known people:

The comedian Charlie Chaplin also had a serious side on him, he said this, after a priest read him his last rites and said “May The Lord Have Mercy On Your Soul” on which Chaplin replied –“Why not? After all, it belongs to Him.”

Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb: “It is very beautiful over there.”

Dwight Lyman Moody (Feb 5, 1837 – Dec 22, 1899)American evangelist and publisher, woke from sleep shortly before he died and said: “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” On which Moody’s son said, “No, no, Father. You’re dreaming.”And Moody replied, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”

John Bunyan, one of my Puritan heroes (November 28, 1628 – August 31, 1688) was an English Christian writer and preacher, famous for writing “The Pilgrim’s Progress”– said on his death bed: “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receives me, though a sinner. We shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy.” 

 

On her deathbed, Queen Victoria(Alexandrina Victoria; May 24, 1819 – January 22, 1901 – Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837, and the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1 May 1876, until her death) told those around her that she loved God and she was His little child, so she was ready to die. Then she called for the hymn to be sung: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”

 

And Jesus’ last words: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).

May I conclude with the following by C.T. Studd: 

“Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

What will your last words be?

Posted in Death, Drie Riviere, Glorification, Salvation, Sanctification, Sermons (English), Sin | Leave a comment

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 02 (“Paul’s Praise of the Saints at Philippi”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 07 April 2019)]

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.1:11- (ESV) ~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

  • INTRODUCTION:

The Letter to the Philippians is a beautiful expression of gratitude for the love and gifts of the Philippian saints to Paul. He is a prisoner in Rome with possible death before him, but in everything that he writes to his brothers in Philippi, there is a note of joy. He hopes to be set free and to see them again. He also wishes to address some other issues in his letter, like the likelihood of further persecution the church will face and an exhortation to work together. As much as the Philippian church (probably made up of several house churches)loved Paul, its members were divided among themselves; therefore, the recurrent exhortations to unity (1:27; 2:2, 14)and mutual service (2:3–11). At least part of the division revolves around disagreement between two of Paul’s fellow labourers, possibly leaders of separate house churches (4:2–3).

  • EXPOSITION:

There are four big ideas in this opening section of the Letter to the Philippians: 

  • Last week we looked at the first part and that is Paul’s greeting which extended grace and peace(1:1-2). 
  • Next, and this will be the first point that we will be looking at today, is Paul’s praise for the Philippian saints’ constant witness(1:3-6). 
  • Then, Paul’s praise for the Philippian’s concern for the Gospel(1:7).  
  • Thirdly we will be looking at Paul’s praise shown by his love for the saints in Philippi (1:8). 
  • Praise for their Constant Witness(1:3-6)Paul starts to thank God for whom He is and then praises the saints in Philippi for their constant witness, but even before praising them, he thanks God for whom He is.
  • His God:He thanks God for His supremacy in the advancing of the Gospel. But note also, that he calls God, “my God”– God is very personal to him. God is his God. By stating his thanks to “my God,”Paul also reveals his personal devotion. This was no stereotyped formula, but the natural outflow from the heart of a deeply spiritual man.

Paul is also thanking God for the fact that his brothers in Philippi are assisting him in the advance of the Gospel – both, while he is in prison and out of prison.

  • Frequently Praying:He prays frequently for the Philippians. It is not a once off action or prayer. They are his brothers – there exist a deep and genuine relationship between him and his brothers in Philippi. They are very close to him, in fact for a long time and since the beginning of the existence of this church, they were involved in his ministry by supporting him with money and other gifts.
  • Filled with Joy:Whenever Paul thinks of his brothers, he is filled withjoyand prays with his heart filled with joy.Why? We find the answer in 1:5 which starts with the word “because” ~ because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”The word that Paul uses for “partnership”(1:5)is the Greek term “koinonia,”often translated “fellowship.”Used six times in Philippians (1:5, 7; 2:1; 3:10; 4:14-15), here in 1:5 and in 4:14-15 it includes the idea of working together for the advance of the gospel (this includes financial support for his ministry).
  • The Day of Jesus Christ:There is however, a much more important thing that Paul praises his brothers for and he mentions this in 1:6 ~ And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”Paul refers them to the fact that God, through Christ Jesus, saved them and now sanctifying them for a very special day when they will be glorified.

Now, what do “sanctification” and “glorification” mean?

  • Sanctification: To sanctify someone or something is to set that person apart and to be used for the purpose God intends. People are therefore, sanctified when they live according to God’s design and purpose. As we’ve already seen last week, the Greek word translated “sanctification”[γιασμός(hagiasmos)]means “holiness.”To sanctify, therefore, means “to make someone holy”in order for that person to live according to God’s will and to be set apart to be used by God for the purpose God intends.

It is very important to take note of the fact that human beings ultimately cannot sanctify themselves. The Triune God sanctifies. The Father sanctifies (1 Cor.1:30)by the Spirit (2 Thess.2:13; 1 Peter 1:2) and in the name of Christ (1 Cor.6:11). Yet Christian faith is not merely passive. Paul calls for active trust and obedience when he says ~ “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Cor.7:1). No one may presume on God’s grace in sanctification. Peter reminds believers to be diligent in making their calling and election sure ~ “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall”(2 Pet.1:10). This is exactly what the saints in Philippi did, they confirmed their calling by being witnesses for the Gospel of Jesus Christ ~ “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”(Matt.28:19).

  • Glorification:What does “glorification”mean? “The short answer is that “glorification” is God’s final removal of sin from the life of the saints (i.e., everyone who is saved)in the eternal state ~ “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”(Rom.8:18).At Christ’s return, the glory of God(Rom.5:2)– His honour, praise, majesty, and holiness – will be realised in us; instead of being mortals burdened with a sin nature, we will be changed into holy immortals with direct and unhindered access to God’s presence. We will enjoy holy communion with Him throughout eternity” (Got Questions). 

Apart from the fact that Paul wants to praise them for their constant witness, he also wants them to understand that God always finishes what He begins, this includes the good works in their lives ~ “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”(1:6). That which began as a good work is the work of sanctification in the saints in Philippi (and our) lives and then will come to glorification, “at the day of Jesus Christ.”This is another expression that we have to look at… – “…the day of Jesus Christ.”

  •             The day of Jesus Christ:The day of Jesus Christ will without any doubt, be the most crucial and important day in the lives of mankind. We read in John 5:26-27 ~ “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority (and then these words…) to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”Judgment was handed over to Christ – Judgment on who? On the enemies of God – on those who did not believe in Christ – those who had no fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul writes in 2 Thes.1:7b-9 ~ “…the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven (i.e. on “the Day of Jesus Christ”)with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destructionaway from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

There is however, wonderful news for those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow Him as disciples. We read in 2 Tim.4:8 the following ~ “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day (i.e. “the Day of Jesus Christ”), and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”On the “Great Day of the Lord,”believers will be saved – 2 Thes.1:10 ~ “…when He (i.e. Jesus)comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

God calls believers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling ~ “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”(Phil.2:12). This is exactly what the believers in Philippi did and for that, Paul is praising them.

3.2 Praise for their Concern for the Gospel (1:7):Paul writes in 1:7 ~ It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.”When he speaks of a partnership (“partakers”), he is speaking of the practical hospitality and material help that the Philippians had given to him ever since he first met them. The first Philippian convert, Lydia, had invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house during their visit to the city (Acts 16:15). When Paul left Philippi and went to Thessalonica, the Philippians more than once sent him gifts to help him in his work.We read in Phil.4:15 the following ~ “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”

Even after he left the province of Macedonia, they and they alone continued to help him in practical ways (4:15). Although poor, they also contributed generously to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-5), and as we’ve seen in the opening verses, they had also sent Paul both money and the companionship of Epaphroditus (2:25; 4:18). It is no wonder that he longed for this beloved congregation (1:8; 4:1). They indeed shared a deep concern for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He also praises the saints in Philippi for their help and material contributions, and for their partnership with him in the Gospel. He could not teach and preach in Philippi as well as to the saints in the other churches in Asia Minor if it wasn’t for their partnership and provision. He could not travel and share the Gospel in synagogues all over the Roman Empire if it wasn’t for their partnership.

Paul is also praying for them, because they believed the Gospel – they were “partakers of the of grace.”They have put the commands of God in Jer.6:16 into action and did not do what the Israelites did… ~ “Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  In order for anyone to walk in the good way, and to find rest for their souls, they need intercessory prayer and that is also why Paul prayed for his friends; his brothers; the Saints in Philippi, so that they will persevere till the end ~ “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt”(Hebr.6:4-6). Paul has also put into practice what he told the Ephesians to do in Eph.6:18 ~ “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”

To the apostle, the Philippians are very dear. He calls them partakers with me of grace.

Being a partner in grace means that such a person is also a Christian – saved by grace alone and he is absolutely sure about the fact that God… ~ who began a good work in (them) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil.1:6).

  •   Praise shown by his Love for Them(1:8):Verse 8 is a very interesting verse. Paul says ~ “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all…”There is a link between Paul’s “yearning” here in 1:8 and his “holding in my heart” in 1:7. In other words, Paul has a yearning love for his brothers in Philippi and he says that only God really knows how much the saints in Philippi mean to him. He is not swearing or taking an oath in the name of God here, it is rather a way of saying, “my brothers, I miss you so much and I love you so much, but I cannot really express it in words, only God really knows how much I’m yearning to you and how much I really love you.”

In an indirect way, Paul expresses his praise for them based on the love he has for  them, because if someone is not dear to you; if someone is not praiseworthy, you will not love them with a deep yearning love – if you love them with a yearning, you love in a different way than when you love your neighbour or your enemies. 

Paul even goes a step further when, in the last part of 1:8, he says ~ “…with the affection of Christ Jesus.”Not only does Paul love them, but he says that Christ also loves them in and through Paul! Christ loves them because they are partakers of His love and partakers in the furthering of the Gospel. 

  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

It might not seem so, but this is a very confrontational message.

  • Constant witness:Are you a constant witness for Jesus Christ in behaviour and conduct? Would Paul be able to praise you for furthering the gospel?

Concern for the Gospel: are you involved in your concern for the Gospel by being hospitable? The Philippians, although poor, contributed generously to Paul. Paul could not continue with his ministry if it wasn’t for their contributions. Do you wait for others to contribute or do you make it a priority to pray about and then contribute?

  • Love:Do you love (really love)your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you live in such a way that God can love others through you?

To those of you who do not yet follow the Lord Jesus Christ; those who are not sanctified; who are not yet set apart for the glory of Christ; you must know today, that you won’t be glorified by Christ. You don’t have access to His presence and you will not be able to enjoy eternity with Him.

Please hear the gospel today and turnto Jesus. May the Holy Spirit urge you to do so!

Posted in English, Paul, Philippians, Sermons (English), The Letter to the Philippians | Leave a comment

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – 01 (“Servants of Christ Jesus”)

[Message: Kobus van der Walt (Three Rivers Baptist Church – 30 March 2019)]

  • INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND:

In approximately A.D. 61 the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome and while there, he received a love gift, or a care package, consisting of supplies gathered by the believers in Philippi which they sent to Paul by the hand of one of their own, a man named Epaphroditus. In turn Paul wanted to send a letter to the church in Philippi for this love gift, but before he sent the letter back with Epaphroditus, the young man, beyond the call of duty, first served Paul. While serving Paul, he became seriously ill and, in fact, almost died. After a while however, God graciously granted him health, and Paul sent his friend back home with a letter. 

The city of Philippi is currently called Filippoi, and was part of the region of East Macedonia in the present day Greece.

It was at Philippi, which Paul visited on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12), that Lydia and the Philippian jailer and his family were converted to Christ. Now, some years later, the church was well established, as may be inferred from its address which includes “the overseers and deacons” (1:1).

There are 5 key verses in this letter:

  • Phil.1:21 ~ “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
  • Phil.3:7 ~“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
  • Phil.4:4 ~ “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
  • Phil.4:6-7 ~“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 
  • Phil.4:13 ~ “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

The Letter to the Philippians can be called, “Resources Through Suffering.”Paul experienced severe suffering throughout his life and this letter is about Christ in our life, Christ in our mind, Christ as our goal, Christ as our strength, and joy through suffering.

  • SCRIPTURE READING:

Phil.1:1-11 (ESV) ~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

  • EXPOSITION:

In today’s message, we will look at our topic according to the following three main points:

  • Sender (1:1a).
    • Recipients (1:1b).    
    • Greeting (1:2).

As with many of his letters, Paul warned the new believers in the church of Philippi to beware of the tendency toward legalism which continually cropped up in the early churches, because there was a constant effort on the part of the Judaizers to draw the saved Jews back to the teaching of salvation by works. But Paul reiterated that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and branded the Judaizers as “dogs”and “men who do evil.”

In particular, the legalists (legalism = noun. strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spiritand it is a doctrine that teaches that salvation is gained through good works)were insisting that the new believers in Christ should continue to be circumcised according to the requirements of the Old Covenant (Gen.17:10-12; Lev.12:3). In this way, they attempted to please God by their own efforts and elevate themselves above the Gentile Christians who did not participate in the ritual. Paul explained that those who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb were no longer to perform the ritual that symbolised the need for a clean heart.

  •       Sender(1:1a):

       The first verse of the letter to the Philippians start in the same way as all the other letters of Paul to churches, namely with an introduction of him as the author of the letter. Usually he greeted his readers with the words ~ “Paul, an apostle”(Gal.1:1a). Paul would introduce himself as an apostle, meaning “a sent one by the risen Jesus Christ,”in order to emphasise his authority. In other words, his words came from the Lord and not out of himself, or as he explains in Gal.1:11-12 ~ “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”He therefore says that the Lord only speaks through a prophet  – that was during the New Testament times, shortly after Christ’s ascension and before the Bible was written or compiled. We see that Paul emphasises this fact in 1 Cor.14:37-38 ~ “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognise this, he is not recognised.”

In Gal.1:15-16 Paul says that he did not become an apostle by appointing himself as an apostle or a church or a group of believers appointed him as a servant of God – no, God Himself called him as an apostle ~ “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone”(Gal.1:15-16). No man would appoint himself as an apostle if we look at how much and what kind of suffering these apostles experienced through their lives. Except for one apostle (i.e. John), all of them died as martyrs – Both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was killed when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers. Phillip was cruelly put death. Some of the oldest reports say that Matthew was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. Bartholomew died as a martyr. James the son of Alpheus, was stoned and then clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god. Matthais (the apostle chosen to replace Judas)was burned to death.

Suffering would be a Part of Paul’s Christian Life ~ “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name”(Acts 9:15-16). Paul describes his suffering in 2 Cor.11:23-31 ~ “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman—with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Why am I mentioning these things that happened to the apostles and especially to Paul? Because suffering lies at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Paul describes his feeling of being defeated, of temporarily losing hope because of the terrible conditions and circumstances he endured.

Although Paul knew that life is never truly hopeless and that God is able to rescue us from any trouble, he was also a human being; he had weaknesses just like ours. And the truth is that sometimes knowing and trusting in God’s sovereignty isn’t enough to keep us from despair. Even Paul struggled. Even Paul wanted to give up. Even Paul felt abandoned.

Paul was not absolutely sure what would happen to him. On the one hand, he knew that his death was a real possibility, and so he tried to prepare his friends in Philippi for the worst. On the other hand, he had some level of expectation that he would survive, and so he encouraged them to hope for the best. But whatever the future held for him, at the time he wrote this letter he was suffering greatly, so that he struggled with sorrow and apprehension.

Paul wants to encourage his friends in Philippi (and us) to persevere to the end despite hardship and discouragement.

Back to 1:1. We now understand that Paul writes with the authority that God gave him, but why does he refer in 1:1 to himself as a “servant”instead of an apostle as in other letters? 1 Cor.7:22-23 ~ “For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.”For being called and saved is to become a bondservant and a bondservant is not free to live as he likes – free to sin as he like. We are saved and bought by the Blood of Christ and therefore we belong to Christ – we are His bondservants. 

We must understand that before our salvation, we were slaves of our own flesh – of sin ~ “…For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification”(Rom.6:19b). But after our salvation, we became slaves of Jesus Christ – so, either way, we are slaves. When we are bond slaves of Christ it implies that we aresubservient too, and entirely at the disposal of our Master.” 

In Roman times, the term bondservant or –slave could refer to someone who voluntarily served others. But it usually referred to one who was held in a permanent position of servitude. Under Roman law, a bondservant was considered the owner’s personal property. Slaves essentially had no rights and could even be killed by their owners. According to Paul, we are therefore the property of Christ and we have no rights. The only right we have is to serve Christ in obedience and if we are not obedient to our Master, we could be killed spiritually.

Paul in 1:1 says therefore, that he and his co-worker Timothy are bond slaves of Jesus Christ and in that capacity, he wants to greet his co-slaves in Philippi.  

Paul includes Timothy’s name in his greeting, because Timothy was well known to the Philippians(Acts 16:3, 10–12), and he was now with Paul. Not that Timothy had any share in writing the Epistle; for Paul presently uses the first person singular, “I”42 times and the word “me,”40 times in this letter and not “we”(1:3). The mentioning of Timothy’s name implies merely that Timothy joined in affectionate remembrances to them. It also refers to Timothy as an example of what Paul is saying to the Philippians, namely that they should also be bond slaves of Christ like the man who is currently with him (Timothy).

How do we know that Timothy acts like a slave of Christ? It is because Timothy serves other people – the Philippians specifically ~ “…he has served with me in the gospel”(1 Tim.2:22). 

Timothy is a slave in serving in the Gospel. We also see in 1 Tim.2:19 that Timothy carries the brothers in Philippi’s welfare on his heart – he puts their welfare before his own ~ “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”

Paul’s aim in writing this letter to the Philippians is to produce people like Timothy. It means people who are not only servants of Christ but also take care of the interest of others and not just for the interest of themselves.

  •       Recipients(1:1b):

       In the second part of 1:1, Paul greets the “saints”in the church in Philippi, as well as the overseers and the deacons. Paul uses the word saints 40 times in his letters. The root word for “saint” is “holy” and Paul always uses this word, “holy” or “holy ones,”to refer to all people chosen by God to be His disciples. 

Why is a “saint” (or a Christian)called “holy”? There are several references in the Word of God that will supply us with an answer ~ “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saintsin Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:1). Here the word “saint” means “holy” or “holy ones,” or “holy servants in Christ.” 

A second question, how can believers, or Christians, or saints, be called holy? We are called holy, because we are called by God to be holy – Eph.1:4 ~ “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…”Col.3:12 ~ “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” Peter, in 1 Pet.2:5, 9, is very clear about the fact that those of us who have been called to be holy are holy ~ “…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…”(vs.5 ) and vs.9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…”Because we are saved and therefore elected to be holy, means that we are holy ones – “saints”therefore.

That is the reason why Paul’s letter is directed to all the saints; all the believers; the holy ones in the church in Philippi and they are saints, because they are planted into Christ Jesus  – they are born again or saved in others words ~ “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in himwho is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life”(1 John 5:20). 

Apart from the saints, Paul also addresses his letter to the deacons and the overseers. In Acts 6:1-6 we see that the deacons to whom Paul directs his letter, are saints described as “helpers.”And we see in Acts 20:28 that the overseers were appointed to watch over, guide, and protect the believers ~ “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Mentioning the elders in the church makes clear to us, that there was an established leadership structure in the church in Philippi. It is not really clear why Paul added the words “overseers and deacons” and there exist three theories why he might have done that:

  • First, Paul addressed these leaders, because they were responsible for organising the gifts sent to Paul and he thus wished to give attention to them for their fine work in the Lord. 
  • Another theory is that Paul wants to endorse their authority to deal with those whom the apostle refers to as “dogs,”“mutilators of the flesh”and “enemies of the cross of Christ”(3:2-3, 18). 
  • Other scholars argue that it is because there was friction among the leaders themselves (4:2-3), and the mention of the leaders in a greeting which focuses on servanthood and humility suggests that Paul wants to remind them of their need to be unified. 

All three of these suggestions have at least some merit in the text of the epistle, but all of them lack for any positive proof and therefore we can’t tell for certain why Paul added the elders and deacons to the addressees of his letter.

  •       Greetings(1:2):

       The greeting that we find in 1:2(“Graceto you and peacefrom God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”)is identical to that found in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians and Philemon and has thus become a standard for Paul. 

In the greeting, we have three words or phrases that need to be looked at. Let us first look at the word “grace”:

  • Grace:Paul uses the word “grace” approximately 100 times most of which express the unmerited favour of God toward undeserving sinners like the Philippians, and by extension you and me as Christian believers. Paul also uses this word in Eph.2:8-9 to express that salvation is totally the work of God on behalf of the believer and comes not through any human effort (i.e., “not by works”). Grace was at the heart of Paul’s Gospel. For Paul, the grace of God is a primary motivator toward a holy life, for it is God’s unmerited favour that teaches believers to… ~ “…renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”(Titus 2:11-12). When saying “grace to you…”When saying “grace to you…”Paul was in actual fact praying that the saving grace and unmerited favour of God might rest on them and that they will renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.
  • Peace:For Paul, there is no peace in the heart, no sense of well-being and wholeness, no tranquillity before God and in the storms of life, until a person has entered into the grace of God by faith. Then, and only then, can he have the peace of God in his heart. A person enters that peace by personally trusting in Christ as Saviour.
  • God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: With the words “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,”Paul wants to stress the fact, that grace and peace do not come from him, but form God and God alone.
  • CONCLUSION & APPLICATION:

What can we learn from today’s message?

  • That we will experience suffering because it is part and parcel of being a bond slave of Jesus Christ.
  • That our salvation is a work of God and we must be thankful for His unmerited favour!
  • That the peace of God that transcends all understanding will, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
  • Before our salvation we were slaves of our own flesh, the devil and the world, BUT now we are bond slaves of Christ bought by His precious blood to live in obedience to our Master! 
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Jesus’ “I Am” Statements – 08 (“I Am the True Vine”)

Jesus’ “I Am” Statements – 08 (“I Am the True Vine”)

 (Message by Kobus van der Walt, Three Rivers Baptist Church – Sunday, 24 March 2019)

  • 1. INTRODUCTION:

During the previous 7 Sundays, we’ve been looking at seven “I AM”statements by Jesus, namely:

  • “Before Abraham, I AM”
  • “I AM the Bread of Life”
  • “I Am the Light of the World”
  • “I AM the Door,”
  • “I AM the Good Shepherd,
  • “I Am the Resurrection and Life,”
  • “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

This brings us to the eighth and last “I Am”statement, namely, “I Am the True Vine.”

The last verse in John chapter 14 tells us that Jesus and the Disciples are about to leave the upper room. They are heading to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus will pray His great High Priestly prayer and, then later be arrested by the mob led by Judas. Apparently, Jesus spoke the words which make up chapters 15 and 16 on their way to the garden. Let’s listen to what He said in chapter 15:1-11.

  • 2. SCRIPTURE READING:

John 15:1-11 (ESV) ~ “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

In today’s message, we will look at our topic according to the following three main points:

  • The Personality of the True Vine (15:1-3);
  • The Purpose of the True Vine (15:2-8);
  • The Promise of the True Vine (15:7-11).

Down through Jewish history the vine became the symbol of Israel. During the Maccabees period of history, the symbol of the vine was on the coins of Israel. It was over the main doors of the synagogues, etc. The vine is used right through Scripture as various symbols, e.g. Is.5:2 where Judah is described as a vineyard that would be destroyed ~ “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”Here Isiah, in the form of a song, pictured Judah as a vineyard on a fertile hillside who was planted by his Loved One, i.e. God. God has removed the stones and planted the best vines. He even built a watchtower, a stone structure from which to guard the vineyard. And He made a winepress in anticipation of producing good wine. However, only poor grapes grew on His vines and therefore, God would destroy it – Judah would be destroyed. 

Jesus also used the vine as an example to convey the truth and fact about His character and calling, when telling them that He is the “True Vine.”  It was mid-April when Jesus and His disciples walked to the Garden of Gethsemane and the grape vines would begin to blossom with the promise of a fresh harvest, so Jesus probably stopped by one of these, to use it as a visual aid in preparing His disciples for a new era after His ascension that would take place within a couple of days. He was preparing them to continue the work of the Lord and if they were to carry on that work, they needed to know how to produce the correct kind of fruit in their own lives.

As we already know, it was not only expected from “the eleven”to carry on the work of the Lord, but all of His disciples, throughout the ages  – as an example we can quote Acts 1:8 ~ “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Jesus’ eighth “I Am” statement is therefore, all about becoming a genuine Disciple and about how to bear fruit for the glory of the Lord and becoming more like Him.

  • 3. THE PERSONALITY OF THE TRUE VINE (15:1-3):

Jesus says on 15:1 ~ “I am the true vine,” or literally: “I am the Vine, the real,”implying He is the only true Vine. He is the true Source of real life and fruitfulness. The fruit produced by a branch is only as good as the life (sap) flowing into it and through it, which is only as good as the original vine stock. Other sources that you cling to will fail, but if you are joined to Jesus you will produce good fruit in your character and life (work). If Jesus is not your Source, you cannot bear good fruit. 

In the second part of 15:1 Jesus says ~ “My Father is the Vinedresser.”The Father is the expert Farmer (or Gardener), who personally inspects and tends to all the branches to ensure they are as fruitful as possible. This task is so vital, that He does not delegate it to an angel. He is inspecting your life, expecting to see fruit! 

While describing the function of each part of the vine, Jesus cleverly compares the vine to the Trinity. In 15:1 we see that Jesus, the Son, is the vine. The Father is the Vinedresser or the Gardener and the Holy-Spirit is the Life-Sap, flowing out of Jesus Christ into branches and according to 15:2, the branches are the believers (15:5), who are in Christ– united to Christ by the new-birth. Upon believing, we were put (baptised) into Christand were regenerated as a new-creation ~ “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”(2 Cor.5:17). Upon believing, we are made one spirit with Christ ~ “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”(1 Cor.6:17). We are in Him and He is in us. Through Christ Jesus and in Him, we are connected and united with God, with His life now able to flow into us!

  • 4. THE PURPOSE OF THE TRUE VINE (15:2-8);

It is clear from these opening verses of Jesus’ last “I Am” statement, that the Father is the vinedresser who is involved in everything that has to do with the Vine. 

He has two specific “duties” and we need to be deeply involved in it:

  • Protection:  The Father (Gardener) provides care and protection for the Vineyard ~ “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov.15:3).
  • Purification:The Father (Gardener) desires fruit from the vine”, which is mentioned eight times in this chapter.We can see a clear progression in our text – in 15:2, He mentions “fruit.” Then also in 15:2, He speaks of “bearing more fruit”and in 15:5, 8, He refers to “much fruit.” uses two primary methods of purifying His vineyard. But, He then goes on to be very explicit about His second “duty”:
  • Cleaning: The Gardener also removes things from the branch that weakens the branch from its vitality and strength. Things like sucker branches, useless buds, misdirected shoots, spots, discoloured leaves, etc. Anything that consumes life and prevents more fruit must go! This means that when we get to a place in our Christian lives where we tend to become unfruitful and barren, the Lord will reach into our lives, disturbing our slumber and prune us, thereby challenging us and shock us to growth. There are times when the Lord can only accomplish this through chastisement. Which, if responded to with repentance, will help us to be fruitful for His glory. 

How is this pruning accomplished? By the Word of God ~ “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr.4:12)and James 1:23-24 ~ “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”

Apart from the fact that fruit-bearing proves to the world that we are disciples of the Lord, 15:8 reminds us that if we take these words to heart we will stay firm in our relationship with Jesus. We will continue to bear fruit and, in doing so, glorify the Father. This ought to be the burning desire of every child of God. That is, to live our lives that every waking minute is bringing glory to the Father in Heaven ~ “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”(1 Cor. 10:31). There is something wrong in any life when there is no desire to bring glory and honour to the God who loves us; sustains us and cares for us. 

We must however, keep in mind that fruit bearing only requires from us, to abide in the Vine (i.e. Jesus Christ) – if we abide in Him, He will produce the fruit – we are not required to do anything but abide. It is the Vine’s responsibility to produce His fruit in our lives. That frees us from having to work and labour to get His approval. If we will yield, He will live through your life and mine! This also applies to the quantity of fruit that we deliver. We don’t have to work or produce fruit ‘till “we drop dead.”This is not the responsibility of the branch. Some will produce much, some will produce little. Which depends upon the will of the Vine. Our duty is to abide in Him – that must be our priority!

However, it is also clear from our passage, that God anticipates a steady progression in the level of our fruitfulness. I’ve already mentioned the progression in 15:2, 8 – no fruit, fruit, more fruit, much fruit! The closer we abide in the Vine, the more fruit He will produce through our lives.

We find a stern warning in 15:4. If a branch does not abide in the Vine as it should and it is fruitless and withered, four certain things will happen to such a ‘fruitless” branch:

  • Cutting: A branch that bears nofruit is obviously dead. Therefore, like Judas, it is cut off. Every year in Palestine gardeners prune their vines. They cut off the dead wood which has no life in it and trim the living branches so that their yield will be greater. This means that every person who professes to be Christ’s disciple (a ‘branch’) is not necessarily a true follower.
  • No Fellowship:If the branch however, does not start anew, drawing “life giving” sap, he will surely be cut off and cast out and the chance to start drawing sap at a later stage again will be over for ever. Such a person will forever loose the privilege of enjoying fellowship with the Father. 
  • No Reward:When this life is over, there will be many who name the name of Jesus and were unfruitful. They will experience the loss of every reward ~ “…each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:13-15).
  • 5. THE PROMISE OF THE TRUE VINE (15:7-11):

Jesus, in sharing His eighth “I Am”statement with His disciples, had good news to those who abide in the True Vine, because they can rest assured of certain precious and sure promises!

  • Effectual Prayer (15:7):In 15:7b Jesus promised His disciples that they can… ~ “ask whatever (they) wish, and it will be done for (them).”This promise is a repetition of the promise in 14:13 ~ “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it,”also 16:23 ~“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

This astounding command and promise is not without conditions and limitations. There is a prerequisite – 15:7a ~ “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you.”Asking whatever they wish and receiving it, involve however, such an intimate union and harmony with Christ that nothing will be asked out of accord with the mind of Christ and so of the Father, because such a believer will always ask in the spirit of… ~ “…not my will, but thine, be done”(Luke 22:42), and in complete harmony with all that Christ has revealed concerning Himself, i.e. the person that abides in Christ will always ask “in Christ’s name.”

Apart from answered prayers, abiding in Christ has three more glorious results:

  • Glorifying God (15:8):Jesus gives His disciples a second promise if they would “abide in Him”and that is that they will bear much fruit. I have already expanded on this point and therefore I would just like to add the following. These fruit that Jesus spoke of, is obviously spiritual fruit – the spiritual fruit of the Holy Spirit as mentioned in Gal.5:22-23 ~ “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”Those disciples of Jesus will become more Christ-like. 

The ultimate goal for the disciples of Christ, is to glorify God the Father and Jesus tells His disciples that when they abide in Him, they will bear more fruit and when bearing fruit, believers will glorify God.

  • Abiding in Christ’s Love (15:9-10):Jesus declares in 15:9-10 that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love. Many Christians have been so frightened off by the idea that obedience is works righteousness that they fail to understand what keeping commandments are all about. It is wrong to try to keep God’s commandments in our own strength – such a person will inevitably fail (just as the Jews did when they went about trying to establish their own righteousness). On the other hand, Jesus regularly commands us to obey Him (as He does in our text for today). We must follow the Scriptures in the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit and do what we are told to do.

Abiding in Christ’s love is to be controlled by Christ’s love. Paul says in 2 Cor.5:14-15 the following ~ “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Colin Smith says (© Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org), …to be controlled by the love of Christ means to be energised by this love and moved into action and directed by it. To be filled with the love of Christ would mean that you enjoy this love.  But to be controlled by the love of Christ means that others are touched by this love through you. Here is something marvelous.  This is at the height of what can happen in the life of a Christian believer in this world – to be controlled by the love of Christ.”

  • Experiencing Fulness of Joy (15:11):The Greek word χαρά(chara)that is used in 15:11 is one of the glorious results from abiding in Christ. If we look at the meaning of the word “chara,”we see that it is often used to express the feeling and experience of people, experiencing God’s presence by the Holy Spirit. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit’s presence and work in the lives of believers (Gal 5:22). Joy enables believers to endure trials and suffering of the Christian life. The Thessalonians received the Word ~ “…in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit…,”which probably means joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thess.1:6). At the same time, believers are to count their difficulties as joy ~ “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (Jas 1:2), and God gives joy along with patient endurance (Col 1:11). 

Furthermore, joy is connected with and is evidence of faith ~“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith”(Phil 1:25). For example, Peter tells his audience that though they do not see Jesus Christ, they believe and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet 1:8). Paul experiences joy when he prays for believers (Phil 1:4). Jesus teaches that, one who finds the kingdom of God will, with great joy, give up all of one’s possessions to gain it (Matt 13:44). “Chara”thus refers to both an internal, emotional response and an action that one does. 

  • 6. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

The question this morning is this: Has the Lord been speaking to you through His Word? If so, you have to obey and listen to the call from the Lord? I challenge you to allow the Lord to prune your life with His Word. If that is not accomplished, He will take further and far more drastic measures.

I want to ask the following to those who are saved: Do you experience effectual prayer? Is your love for God, glorifying Him? Are you abiding in Him? Do you experience joy, even in difficulties?

For those who are not sure of salvation, I want to say that you are not in the vine and that you are not abiding in the vine and you are not bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the True Vine. His desire is to live through your life so that you might bear fruit unto the Heavenly Father.

You must ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you “in the Vine”? Have you ever been saved and grafted into Jesus?
  • Are you “abiding in the Vine”? Are you drawing your strength from Him so that He is able to produce His fruit through your life?”
  • Are you bearing His fruit today? Where do you stand with Jesus today? 

If God has revealed areas in your life that need to be pruned back or otherwise dealt with today, then I challenge you to come to Jesus and let Him take care of your need. If you have never been saved, please come and let me show you how you can be placed into the Vine and become a child of God. Is there a need? If so, Jesus is the supply! You come if the Lord has called you!

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