Philippians: Living or Dying (1:18b-26)

Philippians 1:18b-26

Once again, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Philippians 1. In 1993, Bill Jeracki got his leg pinned under a boulder while fishing in St. Mary’s Glacier, Colorado. Snow was in the forecast, and he was without a jacket, a pack, or communication. In a desperate attempt to survive, he used his flannel shirt as a tourniquet, and then he used his fishing knife to cut off his leg at the knee joint! He used hemostats from his fishing kit to clamp the bleeding arteries. He then crab-walked to his truck and drove himself to the hospital! (Amazing!)

In 2003, Aaron Ralston had a similar experience. While hiking in Utah, a boulder fell and pinned his right arm. After various attempts to get free, he amputated his right forearm with a dull multi-tool on the sixth day of being stuck there. Exhausted and dehydrated, he then rappelled down a 60-foot cliff and hiked eight miles before finding a Dutch family who guided him to a rescue helicopter. He eventually made it to the hospital and survived. He wrote an autobiography titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place. (An appropriate title!)

There are a lot of things we can learn from these two stories, and one of them is that humans will do remarkable things in order to live. We will spend money on the best doctors, take up disciplined eating habits, move to particular climates, and even cut off body parts. But there’s a big question looming: WHY? What are you living for?

Chained to a guard and writing from a Roman prison, Paul tells us about the meaning of life and the glory of death. In short, he tells us about a life worth living and a death worth dying. Follow along with me as we read Philippians 1:18-26:

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 honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

“Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from Your mouth. Make us hungry for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.”

These verses packed a little more of a punch (for me) this week, as Stanley Myers, one of my Citadel classmates, died suddenly after finishing a routine morning run. Of course, one of the immediate questions that everyone wanted to know was the cause. But not for me. The first question I pondered was: Did he know Jesus. Think about it. For the person that just passed away, the cause of their death is irrelevant. Honestly, whether it was a tragic accident or a long-lived life, whether it was a heart attack or a decades-long battle with cancer, whether they were young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated – the cause is irrelevant for the deceased.

Dr. James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA said it this way, “You aren’t ready to live until you’re ready to die, and you aren’t ready to die until you’re ready to live.” Jesus is the only person that can prepare you for both. So, this morning, I want to begin by asking you to fill in the blank.

Fill In the Blank

Paul resolved that he would live for Christ. How would you complete that sentence, “For me, living is __________”? Let me tell you; I know that you just filled the blank with Jesus, but that’s only because you’re in church. That’s only because the pastor asked you the question. In reality – and this is true for me too – there are very few of us in here that uttered the name of Jesus to a stranger this week. Oh, sure, we might have attended Bible studies or small groups or even prayer groups and spoke the name of Jesus, but how many golfing buddies heard us talk about Jesus? How many of our neighbors heard us talk about Jesus? How many coworkers or employees did we stop and pray with on the spot? How many convenient store clerks or grocery store attendants or restaurant waitresses did we talk to about Jesus? See, in reality (and again, I’m with you), the blank often gets filled in with cheap substitutes: money, sexual pleasure, power, beauty, entertainment, even family.

But using the logic of this passage, notice what fills the second blank, “Dying is __________.” See, if we filled the first blank with anything other than Christ, then the second blank is utter emptiness. If you say, “Living is money,” then the second blank read “Dying is being broke.” If you say, “Living is sexual pleasure,” then you conclude, “Dying is having no more pleasure.” What about power? The second blank would be, “Dying is being powerless.” What about “Living is beauty”? The second blank must be, “Dying is rotting in a grave.” If you live for entertainment, then your gravestone would read, “Dying is having no more fun.” What about something more altruistic like “Living is family.” Again, if you follow the logic then “Dying is being alone.”

What are we living for? Because the answer to that question will determine the answer to the second – either we gain or we lose. What will you die for? Don’t misunderstand me – money, sex, power, beauty, entertainment, and even family – these are gifts from God, to be stewarded properly, but they aren’t our aims in life. They often turn into idols. Instead, you want to spend your life on something that not only matters now but will also matter in eternity: Christ. If you say, “Living is Christ,” then you can joyfully say, “Dying is gain.” Living for Christ not only takes the sting out of death but it also makes death gloriously attractive.

Let’s consider just two things then: Paul’s ambition and his vision. We see his ambition of honoring Christ in verses 18-20. He expounds his vision of being with Christ, specifically in verse 23, as he relates his win-win situation in verses 22-26.

The Christian’s Ambition: Honoring Christ

Paul provides three ways the Christian should seek to honor Christ: by rejoicing in Christ, by relying on Christ, and by representing Christ.

By Rejoicing in Christ Consistently (1:18b)
Paul concluded the previous section with “I rejoice,” but now he turns his eyes to the future, “Yes, and I will rejoice” (emphasis added). Paul’s plans for the future include rejoicing in Christ. He’s confident and joyful despite his situation because his sufferings can’t drown his joy. “So, what are your plans for the future?” Have you heard this question lately? Maybe you have great plans. Plans for a special trip. Plans to go on a drive in the mountains and look at the changing leaves. Plans to attend a ballgame with friends or family. Plans to go out to eat at that new restaurant. Plans to go over to a friend’s house or visit your children and grandchildren. Whatever it is, make this part of your plans for the future: “I will rejoice in Christ all my days.” Number one in honoring Christ is consistent joy.

By Relying on Christ Completely (1:19)
In verse 19 Paul speaks of the source of his joyful confidence. He’s relying on the prayers of the Philippians and the sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ. In fact, Paul sounds a lot like Job here. You might recall Job utters these amazing words in the midst of his own ordeal, “Though He [God] slay me, yet will I hope in Him… Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance” (Job 13:15a,16a, NIV).

But what exactly does Paul mean by deliverance? Does he mean release from prison? Or does he mean deliverance in the sense of final salvation? Arguments exist for both, but I don’t see any reason that it can’t be both. Paul believes that his current distress is only temporary. That’s the key. It’s temporary; that’s the point. It isn’t going to last. “I will be delivered from it. Maybe I’ll be vindicated at my second phase of the trial. Maybe I will be released from prison. Maybe I will go to heaven to be with Jesus Christ, and therefore be delivered in the sense of ultimate salvation. Maybe my well-being will be at last the issue.” Paul doesn’t know the specifics. He’s not God. Rather what he’s saying is, “I do know that what I’m presently going through is temporary, and the future holds my deliverance, whether it’s vindication in court, release from prison, well-being, or eternal heaven – I’ll be delivered out of this.”

We, too, will endure hard times and ultimately arrive at our final destination in the same way: by relying on the sufficiency of the Spirit of Christ. How can you honestly say, “For to me to live is Christ”? Only the Holy Spirit can bring you to a place of saying this and living this. Otherwise, you will live for something else. So, number one is consistent rejoicing, and number two is completely relying on Christ. Number three is courageously representing Jesus.

By Representing Christ Courageously (1:20-21)
Look at verse 20 again, “…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 honored…” When Paul uses the word “hope,” he doesn’t mean it the way we often mean it. “I hope the Braves make it to the World Series.” “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” Paul isn’t uncertain; rather, he’s confident that he will represent Jesus because of the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and the sovereignty of God.

His goal is quite simply to honor Christ. His desire is to represent Christ both in his living and in his dying. This is how you honor Jesus above all things: you care more about His glory than your own glory, and you live this way with courage. Again, imagine the scene. Paul is chained to a guard…

Guard: “Hey, Paul, we don’t like you and your Messiah. We’re going to kill you.”

Paul: “That’d be great! Dying is gain! Bring it on!”

Guard: “On second thought, we’re going to allow you to live.”

Paul: “Fantastic! Living means fruitful, joyous labor!”

Guard: “Well, we’re going to let you live, but we’re going to make you suffer.”

Paul: “Hey, guys, I consider the sufferings of this present world not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed. It would
fill me with joy to suffer for Jesus’ name!”

Do you see the power of this perspective? Kill me? I’ll be with Christ. Let me live? I’ll live for Christ. Make me suffer? I’ll experience joy and get rewarded by Christ. This is the unstoppable mentality of the apostle Paul, and it can be ours as well if we treasure Christ above all things. It’s all about Jesus – rejoicing in Jesus, relying on Jesus, and representing Jesus. It makes me think of the oft-quoted prayer of St. Patrick, an evangelist to Ireland, who represented and relied on Jesus in the fifth century:

As I arise today, may the strength of God pilot me, the power of God uphold me, the wisdom of God guide me. May the eye of God look before me, the ear of God hear me, the word of God speak for me. May the hand of God protect me, the way of God lie before me, the shield of God defend me, the host of God save me. May Christ shield me today. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen.

Is that your ambition? It was Paul’s. Now let’s close by considering Paul’s vision – being with Christ.

The Christian’s Vision: Being with Christ

It’s truly a win-win situation. He found a love greater than life itself, and this vision of being with Christ inspired him to endure. Let’s consider it in three parts.

Paul’s Dilemma (1:22-23a)
Look at verses 22-23. He’s torn between the options. Paul’s rhetorical question demonstrates the value of both. This is why he is “torn” or “pressured.” This is an interesting term. It’s used in a variety of ways to convey strong feelings, like the pressure of crowds, the controlling power of a fever, or fear (Luke 8:45; 4:38; 8:37), and being compelled by love (2 Cor 5:14).

If you’re a Christian, then you share in this dilemma (to some degree). Again, quoting pastor James Merritt, “Our desire to be with Jesus there [heaven] is directly related to the degree that we love Jesus here.” We know that life is about fruitful, meaningful, and joyful labor. But we know that death is better. That’s why it’s a win-win situation. It’s like saying, “Would you like a filet or a rib eye?” (Yes, please.) That’s Paul’s dilemma. Second is Paul’s desire.

Paul’s Desire (1:23b)
Ultimately, Paul desires to die because it meant being with Christ, and that was better. Paul doesn’t mention desire for reward, but for Christ Himself, who is the ultimate reward. That, by the way, is really what heaven is. Heaven isn’t a place as much as it is a person. The thing that makes heaven, “heaven” is Jesus Christ. Heaven isn’t heaven if Jesus isn’t there. And that’s why some people never desire heaven – because they’ve built a pretty comfortable life here without Him.

The Greek word for “depart” (v. 23) was a nautical term. It was used to describe a ship setting loose from its mooring. In that sense, death is like a boat; it takes you where you want to go. Have you ever been on a cruise? Setting sail from the port you see the skyline and the lights in the distance slowly fading away. You find yourself in the dark and before you know it, it’s time for bed. The next morning you look out the window and discover the amazingly crystal-clear blue water of the Caribbean and a beautiful island. Death is kind of like that – only better (if you’re a Christian).

The person dying sees the light slowly fading away, and then it’s gone. But the best is yet to come because when Christians die, they awake to see something more glorious than the Caribbean: they see the Galilean, Jesus! They experience the glory of God in a way that they have never experienced it. Paul knew death was better, but not just better – “far better!” It’s far better in every way. Do you long for this? Endure with hope, my friends. Soon the war will be over, and we will see Him. We will be with Him. That’s Paul’s desire. Let’s conclude with his decision.

Paul’s Decision (1:24-26)
Even though Paul knew that Christ’s eternal presence was better, he resolved to live out his days for the sake of the church. Even though
death is better, Paul decided that he should stay for the benefit of the body of Christ. He doesn’t tell us why he has this confidence.

On a human level, perhaps he knew that Rome had no real reason to punish him. From a spiritual perspective, he believed God had more work for him to do. There was a necessary and unfinished task, and part of that involved laboring for the progress and joy of the Philippians (v. 25) and for their boasting in Christ (v. 26). He must do these things before going to be with Christ.

With this in mind, let me ask you, are you serving others (v. 24)? Paul says that it is “necessary” for the Philippians that he stay alive. Is it necessary for you to stay at your church? If you left, would people really miss you? Please understand, Paul isn’t saying that the whole world will fall apart if he leaves, and the world won’t fall apart if we leave either. Jesus is Lord over His church, and we believe in the sovereignty of God. But I’m asking: are you serving others?

And then, are you serving for their progress and joy (v. 25)? This is why Paul wants to stay: so people can grow in their faith and grow in their joy. He says something similar to the Corinthians, “We are not bosses who tell you what to believe. We are working with you to make you glad, because your faith is strong” (2 Corinthians 1:24, CEV). What a wonderful way to think about ministry: striving so that others may rejoice in Christ. Can you identify? Do you think about living daily for the benefit of others’ progress and for the increase of their joy? This is another way we make much of Jesus.

Are you serving so that others may boast in Christ (v. 26)? The ultimate purpose of Paul’s reunion with the Philippians had to do with their growing in their confidence in Christ. Through his ministry, he wants them to make much of Jesus. Put this together. What’s life about? It’s about fruitful work. What does that mean? It means doing our part. It means helping people grow in their faith. It means helping people have more joy in Christ. It means ministering so that others glorify Jesus more and more. That’s why Paul wanted to stay around a little longer. He was willing to postpone ultimate joy for the joy of serving others.

How can you have this life? How can you have a life filled with meaning like this – honoring Christ by rejoicing in Christ, relying on Christ, and representing Christ? And how can you have a death like this – dying with the great joy of knowing you will forever be with Christ? How did Paul get this passion? He met Jesus and was changed. He was previously a religious person – an extremely religious person – but he didn’t know Christ. When he traded religion for the righteousness of Jesus and the new life that Jesus gives, he found life. Consequently, everything else was inferior to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

This is the good news. If you don’t have meaning in life, and if you don’t have this outlook on death, grace is available to you in the person of Jesus Christ, who came to us, as Philippians 2 says, and humbled Himself. He died the death we deserved, paying the penalty for sinners like us. Then He rose on our behalf, and He’s now reigning over all things. He says, “There is a righteousness that depends on faith not works – My righteousness. Turn away from your own efforts and trust Me alone; I will forgive you, give you My righteousness, and change your current passion and your eternal destiny.”

Everyone wants to live. And one day everyone will die. But there’s only one way to have a life worth living and a death worth dying, and that is to look to the One who conquered death, the One Paul desired to see above all things. If you see Him as He is, you, too, will say, “To be with Christ is far better.”

Philippians: Preaching Christ (1:12-18)

Philippians 1:12-18

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Philippians 1. So, a guy went to prison. And on his first day, he heard somebody yell a number out of one of the cells. He said, “43.” And the whole cell block broke out in laughter. He thought that’s odd. A few moments later, another prisoner yelled out, “75.” And everybody broke out in laughter again. And then “56,” and again, everybody broke out in laughter. So, he turned to his cellmate – a guy who had long been there. He says, “I don’t get it. What’s happening?”

His cellmate says, “Well, we’ve been here so long, and we’ve been telling the same jokes to each other repeatedly that we’ve just numbered them all. So now, all we have to do is yell out a number; we think of that joke, and we laugh.” So, the new inmate says, “Wow, can I try that?” He said, “Sure. Give it a shot.” So, the newbie shouted out “12.” Dead silence. Again, “12.” Dead silence. He says, “What’s up?” And the old guy says, “I guess some guys just can’t tell a joke.”

We’re in Philippians 1:12-18 and we encounter a happy prisoner. Now, that might sound like an oxymoron. Because we don’t normally associate happiness with being in prison. Prison is a place where joy is usually absent. It’s a place where life is unpleasant. It’s a place where dreams go to die.

In fact, this week, I was reading some articles and statistics on prison – as you know, we have a rather active contingent of men that volunteer in prison ministry – and one of the pieces I read said, “Most prisoners are unhappy. And many of them are unhappy all the time. Many contemplate or attempt suicide or self-mutilation. The suicide rate for American prisoners is between 5 to 15 times greater than it is for the general American population.” Now, the reason that I’m sharing that with you is because we are reading the letter of an unusual prisoner. Paul is a joyful prisoner. He’s been locked up for his faith in Christ. Let’s look at our verses this morning, and we’ll see what he has to say.

12 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 defense 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 pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

“Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts, which no unworthy thought can drag downward, unconquered hearts, which no tribulation can wear out, upright hearts, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O God, understanding to know You, diligence to seek You, wisdom to find You, and faithfulness that may finally embrace You; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Paul is a prisoner in Rome. These are not the best conditions that he has ever been in. Nor is this the happiest place he’s ever been. He’s physically bound, and his ministry is severely restricted. Nevertheless, he’s joyful. Remember, that’s the overarching theme of this book – JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself). This is a letter oozing with joy. Four chapters, 104 verses, and one of the major themes is joy.

So, he’s a prisoner. He’s incarcerated in a jail, and he’s saying, “Rejoice! Rejoice! I’m glad; rejoice!” Now, either he’s a nutcase, he’s been beat up one too many times and he’s a bit crazy, or, number two, he’s lying through his teeth. He’s putting on a good Christian face: “Christians are supposed to act this way, rejoice, smile.” Which is it?

Well, that leads me to give you a statement that I think encapsulates the whole book. And that’s this: spiritual maturity can be measured by what it takes to steal your joy. What does it take to snuff out the experience of joy in a believer to the point of inciting anger, bitterness, malice, or whatever it would be? Spiritual maturity can be measured by what it takes to steal your joy.

I found an article from Psychology Today that said, “people are unhappy because they view their lives as prisons. Many people feel trapped by aspects of their life, trapped in an unhappy relationship, or trapped in an unfulfilling job. Or they are generally unhappy with their life despite basic needs being met.” So, don’t you find it interesting that Paul is in prison, he’s not licking his wounds, he’s not sending out invitations to a pity party, rather he’s saying “Rejoice, with me.”?

In order to find out why, we need to follow the progress of his thinking in the first three verses. And we’re going to begin with his passion, move on to his problems, and end with his perspective. You have to understand his passion to really understand his problems, because one leads to the other. Then, we’ll end with his perspective.

Paul’s Passion – Godly Passion Is Commendable

The first principle that we see is that godly passion is commendable. Paul had a passion for life, but more importantly, Paul had a passion in life. That’s a rather popular question these days: “What’s your passion in life?” Paul had one. He had a master passion. If you know anything at all about the Apostle Paul, then you know he was a pretty determined guy. He had what we’d call a Type-A personality, highly motivated with a single focus. And generally, people like that are highly successful. They never quit. They never say die. They never give up.

Everyone has a passion. What drives you? What does your mind think about when you’ve got nothing going on – all the activities are gone. What’s the one thing above everything that you want, or seek for, or want to do more than anything else?

For some people it’s a career. For some of you it was your career. Everything else just seems to take a back seat to climbing the corporate ladder. For others it’s power. For others, maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s recognition or fame. Maybe it’s family – creating that perfect home. Maybe it’s fishing. Paul’s passion can be summed up in two words… the gospel. That’s what Paul lived for. It was his passion. How do we know this?

Well, look at verse 5, “because of your partnership in the GOSPEL from the first day until now.” Look at verse 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 defense and confirmation of the GOSPEL.” Look at verse 12, which we read just a moment ago, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the GOSPEL.” Check out verse 16, “The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the GOSPEL.” Look at verse 27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the GOSPEL of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the GOSPEL.” And that’s just the first chapter.

If you added up all of the times that Paul mentions the word “gospel” in his writings, it’s 72. “How are you doing Paul?” The gospel. “What’s up, Paul?” The gospel. “What do you want in life, buddy?” The gospel. “What are you doing for lunch?” The gospel. It was just synonymous with who he was. Listen to him in Romans 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Did you get that? I’m eager to preach the gospel. That’s what I want. That’s my life’s passion. Listen to Romans 15:20, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.”

Why is that his passion? Now, remember, this is the same guy who used to be passionate about snuffing out the fire of the gospel. This is the guy that would imprison Christians. Listen to Acts 8:3, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” And now he’s one of them. This is the guy that got special orders to go to Damascus for the sole purpose of killing and rounding up believers. Why is the thing that he used to hate now his passion? Simple… Because the gospel was the only thing that could change him. Nothing else could change him. In fact, nothing else did change him. Only the gospel. On that Damascus Road, when he saw the Light (literally), and heard the voice (literally), and he received Jesus, his life was never the same.

That’s important. Because until you’ve experienced the gospel’s power, you’ll never have a gospel passion. It’s only people who have seen, and felt, and experienced the power of the gospel in their own lives that it becomes a passion. William Booth, the guy who started the Salvation Army, said, “Some men’s passion is for gold. Some men’s passion is for art. Some men’s passion is for fame. But my passion is for souls.” Do you remember what Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Paul had seen its power, and now he had its passion. A godly passion is commendable. And that brings us to the second thing we see – Paul’s problems.

Paul’s Problems – Great Problems Are Inevitable

We go from Paul’s passion to Paul’s problems. And a godly passion always invites great problems. Because when you’re passionate about souls, you’re entering a battleground on which Satan has been fighting a long time. He’s got a lot of experience. So, when you say, “I’m passionate about the gospel. I want to preach. I want to save souls.” You’re painting a bullseye on yourself. You’re a target. Satan will be after you. It’s a war he’s been engaged in from the very beginning. So, the Great Commission will always bring great conflict.

In fact, even Jesus said, “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). So, here’s Paul. He’s got this passion for the gospel, then he says, in verse 12, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me…” [Stop right there.] Something happened to Paul. He’s making mention of it right here. What happened? Well, here’s where you want to write Acts 21-28 in your Bible. That’s the portion of Scripture that outlines the entire ordeal that Paul went through.

See, after his third missionary journey, he goes back to Jerusalem to try and preach to the Jews. He’s in the temple area with another fellow going through a ceremonial ritual. Some of the Jewish leaders spot Paul. They start a riot, and they attack him. A Roman soldier steps in an arrests Paul – not so much to punish him, but to protect him – takes Paul and has him beaten. Paul pulls out his Roman citizenship card and says, “Not so fast. I’m a Roman citizen. You can’t beat me.”

He’s taken from Jerusalem down the coast to Caesarea, where he spends two years in jail. He goes through three trials in two years. He stands before Felix. He stands before Festus. He stands before Herod Agrippa. And after two years, he finally says, “Enough! I’m done. This judicial process is crazy. I appeal my case to Caesar in Rome.” (Every Roman citizen had that right.)

They put him on a ship. It’s not a Princess Cruise or a Carnival Cruise. It’s a prison cruise. Ever been on one of those? (Is Clinch here today? I’m sure he could tell us about a prison cruise.) Anyway, they put him on this boat. And they send him to Rome. But on the way, the boat gets caught in a storm and sinks and he has to swim to shore. Finally, he gets to Rome and they put him in jail again.

All of that… All of what I just relayed is wrapped up in the phrase “what has happened to me” in verse 12. That’s what he’s referring to. And you got to believe that when you start speaking for Jesus, when you start sharing your faith, when you start encouraging your friends and loved ones to go to church, when you start challenging morals and ethics and values that are inconsistent with the Bible, then problems are going to come.

It may not result in actual, literal, physical imprisonment (although it could in the future) but incarceration will challenge your joy. Restriction of any kind is a challenge to your joy. Confinement of any sort will challenge your joy. Some of you feel chained to a job. It’s sucking the joy right out of you. Some of you may feel chained to a relationship or a set of responsibilities you didn’t sign up for. And because of that your passion is gone. It’s dried up. This is not what you had in mind.

I’m sure that Paul didn’t have all of his backstory in mind when he originally went to Jerusalem. I’m sure you didn’t have all of the difficulty and heartache in mind when you started attending church and your spouse resented you for it. I’m sure you didn’t have visions of trials and problems and setbacks when you took that job. But the person in the cubicle next to you found out you were a Christian, or your boss discovered that you’re not as “cut-throat” as he’d like. You’re too graceful and forgiving and patient and kind, so you get overlooked or you get mocked. Having a godly passion will always invite great problems.

But listen to Paul, because he’s about to say something very revolutionary. And that leads us to Paul’s perspective.

Paul’s Perspective – Good Perspective Is Essential

There’s a single word in verse 12. It’s the word “advance,” or maybe your Bible translates it as “progress” or “furtherance” or “spread.” He says, “[W]hat has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

Back to that word “advance.” The Greek word is prokopé. And prokopé means to advance or to make progress. But it means something very, very unique. It means a forward movement in spite of obstacles. In fact, like so many Greek words, it’s a compound word. It’s made up of the prefix pro (before) and the verb kóptō (chop or cut). It’s a word that was used of pioneers cutting their way through forests and jungles, cutting the undergrowth away, so you could advance. You get the idea. There’s always an obstacle involved.

So, what Paul wants them to know is that all the incarcerations, all the beatings, the mistrials, the further incarceration – none of that has stopped the advance of the gospel. In fact, it did the opposite. It cleared the way. The gospel progressed. And I want you to see how, and then we’ll be done. Look at verse 13. He’s going to give us three ways the gospel advanced in spite of the problems.

First, the gospel advanced via Roman soldiers. Verse 13, “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard.” The Praetorian Guard was the Secret Service for the emperor. There were about 10,000 of them in the Roman Empire. They were the bodyguards of the emperor and Paul was chained to a guard 24 hours a day in a rented house.

Imagine what that must have been like to be a guard chained to Paul for a 6-hour shift. That’s how it worked. Four guards, each taking a 6-hour shift. In other words, Paul couldn’t eat without being chained. He couldn’t sleep without being chained. He couldn’t… (you know) without being chained. Everything he did, all day (24 hours) was while being chained to a guard.

Can you imagine what it was like to listen to Paul? What do you think Paul brought up during those six hours? Hour 1: the gospel. Hour 2: the gospel. Hour 3: the gospel. Hours 4-6: the gospel, the gospel, the gospel. You couldn’t shut him up. Talk about a captive audience. And lo and behold, some of them got saved. Some of them believed the gospel. You gotta believe this is true. Quickly flip over to Philippians 4:22. As Paul is closing this letter he says, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Wink, wink.) Isn’t that great? Some of those soldiers who were unreachable got reached. And there’s only one way . . . by being chained to a Christian.

But there’s a second way the gospel advanced. Go back to verse 13, “so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest…” We’re told in Acts 28 that Paul was under house arrest. House arrest meant that there were certain freedoms the prisoner had. He lived in a house but chained to a soldier 24/7. He couldn’t leave the house. But people could come and visit him. Listen to Acts 28:30-31, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

Here’s the principle. Don’t miss this principle. The longest period of Paul’s incarceration was the greatest period of Paul’s impact. One commentator said, “Paul’s confinement was God’s assignment. That prison became his pulpit.” Here’s what I’m wondering. The next time you’re tempted to think, “Man, I’m stuck with this job. I hate it.” Or you think, “I’m shackled to this desk” or “I’m imprisoned by this person,” you could see it as an opportunity. Not an incarceration, but an opportunity – if, and only if, your passion is the gospel. I’ll guarantee you, if your passion is not the gospel, it’s just an inconvenience to you. It’s just a horrible bitter experience of suffering. On the other hand, with the right perspective, we could see it as a pulpit, as a way to get the gospel out. The gospel advanced via Roman soldier and via Roman citizens.

Finally, the gospel advanced via reluctant saints. Verse 14 says, “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” That tells me that people in Rome, Christians in Rome, were scared to say anything. They were timid. They were frightened to tell their family and friends and neighbors that they were followers of Jesus Christ. They were afraid and understandably so. Paul ended up in jail. They could too. But in watching and hearing about Paul being so bold and unhindered to soldiers and to people who visited him, they started thinking differently. “If God can use Paul in jail, then God can certainly use me out of jail.” And they became a little bolder.

Instead of seeing those prison guards as a nuisance, or those prison chains as a hindrance, Paul saw them as a furtherance, as an advance, as progress in the gospel. What a perspective.

As I close, let me ask you: “Where are you feeling imprisoned? How might you be imprisoned?” Let me encourage you with the example of Susanna Wesley. Susanna Wesley had 19 children. Do you think she ever felt confined? She was often feeling imprisoned in her own home. But she had two sons, John Wesley and Charles Wesley, who shook the British Isles with the gospel. One a preacher, the other a hymn writer. God used her imprisonment to advance the gospel.

Let me encourage you with the story of J.C. Penny, a Christian businessman, who felt imprisoned by what he did, but decided well, he could give the money away to gospel work. So, get this, he gave away 90% of his income to gospel efforts. He used the confinement of business success, so to speak, to get the gospel out.

Maybe you feel chained to a sick bed. Imprisoned within those four walls. Let me encourage you with the story of Charlotte Elliott, who was an invalid. Charlotte wrote 150 hymns. Some have become very famous. One, in particular, was sung at every crusade that Billy Graham ever gave – Just as I Am. “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, oh Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

Silly, I know, but perhaps this message is going to be read by a real-life prisoner. I mean our Kairos Prison Ministry will be going back to Tyger River in a few weeks, and who knows. If you’re a literal prisoner, then let me encourage you with the name of a 16th century monk named Martin Luther. He was imprisoned in the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany and translated the Greek New Testament into German.

Then there’s the story of John Bunyan – a fiery preacher in England. He saw great results, and they arrested him and put him in the Bedfordshire jail. Like Paul, he didn’t stop preaching. He shouted so loud that his voice could be heard over the walls. And people would gather outside the walls to listen to him. So, they put him in solitary confinement deep below in the dungeon. And he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress there – an allegory of the believer’s journey from sinner to saint. Millions of people have been inspired by that book.

Maybe, just maybe, you could be a happy prisoner with a passion to proclaim the gospel. I can’t do anything for your shackles of bad health. Circumstances may restrict you. They do for all of us at some point. Not a sappy prisoner. Not a woe-is-me, life’s-a-bummer kind of prisoner. Not a scrappy prisoner, where you’re fighting and lashing out at people. But joyful – with a perspective to see every situation as an opportunity in some way, shape, or form to preach Christ Jesus. It worked for Paul.

Philippians: Praying with Paul (1:9-11)

Philippians 1:9-11

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Philippians 1. We’re in our third week of a new series, and we’ve finally made it to verse 9. This morning, we’re going to pray with Paul. We will get the sum and substance of Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi.

Most people never associate prayer with pop music, but there’s an interesting country song that’s been around since 2010 by a guy named Jaron Lowenstein called Pray for You. It’s a song based on his bitter breakup with his girlfriend, and he puts an interesting twist on prayer. In a review for USA Today, writer and journalist Brian Mansfield called the song “a twisted novelty that combines country [music’s] fondness for spiritual themes and relational revenge.” Here are the lyrics for the first verse and chorus:

I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when.
Things were going great ‘til they fell apart again.
So, I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do.
He said you can’t go hatin’ others who have done wrong to you.

Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn
Let the good Lord do His job, you just pray for them.

I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill.
I pray a flower pot falls from a window sill.
And knocks you in the head like I’d like to.

I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls.
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls.
I pray all your dreams never come true.
Just know wherever you are, honey, I pray for you.

I think we can do better than that, and so does Paul. In fact, last week we read these words from verses 3-4, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Let’s continue to read Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi.

9 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.

“Again, our Father and our God, to You our hearts are open, our desires known, and from You no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Now, if you know anything about Paul, you know that in many of his letters he includes a prayer for his audience. For example, when he writes the book of the Ephesians, he includes a prayer. When he writes the book of Colossians, he includes a prayer. When he writes the book of Thessalonians, he includes a prayer in 1 Thessalonians. When he writes to his protégé, Timothy, he includes a prayer. When he writes his single chapter letter to Philemon, he includes a prayer. That’s just Paul’s life. He prayed for people, and he did it regularly, and he told them what he prayed for.

Interesting note of fact, when you read all of the various prayers that Paul wrote in his letters and epistles, you will never (once) read a prayer for anything physical. I’m not saying he never did. In fact, knowing Paul’s instruction and teaching regarding prayer – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6) – I’m certain he did pray for physical concerns. I’m just saying that you’ll never read a prayer that’s recorded in the Bible (by Paul) where he prays for anyone’s physical ailments.

The things that were on Paul’s heart and mind in his prayers were more significant, spiritual, eternal matters. And in this case, we find out that he prays for love. Now why would Paul pray for their love? Well because it’s the hallmark of their faith, right? He said, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, he prays for the most important expression of their faith and that’s love.

Dwight L. Moody once said something interesting. He said, “a man can be a good doctor without loving his patients, or a good lawyer without loving his clients, or a good geologist without loving rocks or science, but a man cannot be a good Christian without love.”

What I want us to see today are four attributes of mature love. As we go through these four attributes, what I’d like you to do is compare your own expressions of love to what Paul prays for. The first attribute that Paul prays for is that…

Our Love Should Be Plentiful

Look at verse 9, “and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more.” The word “abound” means to exceed the ordinary, to overflow a fixed measure. Now, it’s evident that they already loved one another because he says “more and more.” So, they were already loving, but he wants them to continue to do it, and to do it more. But how do you increase something that’s already overflowing? Well, it’s pretty easy. You just turn on the hose and walk away.

We’ve all made this mistake. We turned the water on to soak a new tree or water the lawn or fill a cattle trough, and forgot. (Okay, maybe you haven’t filled a cattle trough lately, but you get the point.) Two hours later it’s like, “Oh, my goodness! I forgot that I left the water on and now it’s running everywhere!” That’s the idea.

We’re quickly approaching the opportunity to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse. In fact, we just received the shoeboxes last week. And when you begin to read the testimonials from those that make deliveries all around the globe, it’s amazing that something so small can make such an impact. I was reading some of the marketing material that came in, and a few years ago one of the volunteers had flown to Baghdad, Iraq with over 20,000 shoeboxes. He wrote, “The most striking thing about that trip is what one of the Iraqi officials said to me. He said, ‘Up to this point, in my mind, I always thought, we always thought, that it was the Christian west that hated us. But I can see by this token of your love that it’s the Christians that love us.’”

Your simple shoebox expressions will be like overflowing love. But I wonder if Paul is praying for our love to abound more and more to people around the world, or if he’s being more specific – like loving those directly around us. It’s possible that Paul has a smaller focus in mind. Why do I say this? Because sometimes it’s easier to love the people you never see than people you live with. Right? It’s like a cartoon I once saw that said, “Oh I love the world. It’s just the people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to love people we never see, but loving the people we live with and work with, the people we go to school and church with, that’s another story.

Interesting, one of the early church fathers, a guy named Tertullian, made mention in his writings that when the church started growing rapidly in the Roman Empire, that the government sent spies into different congregations because they were afraid that this new group of citizens, these Christians, would be very disloyal to the Roman government. So, one of the spies went into a church and came back and wrote this report: “These Christians are very strange people. They meet together in an empty room to worship. They do not have an image. They speak of One by the name of Jesus, who is absent, but whom they seem to be expecting at any time. And my, how they love Him and how they love one another.”

If spies came to Mountain Hill, what would they say? Would they go back and report how well we love each other? Does your own love abound, does it overflow, does it exceed the norm for the person in front of you or behind you or beside you? Think about your marriage. Is your love toward your spouse an abounding love? Or in your home toward your children, or toward your parents, or among your friends? Would you say that “abounding more and more” is a good description of the love that you know and share? Are you the kind of person whose love just keeps growing and growing and abounding more and more?

You ask, “Is that even possible?” Well, yes, it is possible. It’s possible because in Romans 5:5 Paul said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The love of God has been poured out. It gushes out. There’s no limit to it at all. What that means is that we have an unlimited capacity to love. And if God’s love flows into your life, it ought to what? (Flow out.) If God flows in, it must flow through you to others.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist who once wrote, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis or any other disease, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love. That terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty, and disease.”

What all of this tells me is that if I have such a capacity that the Bible tells me that I have to love people, then nobody around me should ever feel love starved. Rather, they should feel love saturated, love soaked, but not love starved. Our love then should be plentiful. That’s the first attribute of a mature love.

Our Love Should Be Perceptive

Now watch what Paul does. He could have just said, “I pray that your love may abound still more and more” period. But he doesn’t do that. He goes on to say, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” Paul is now qualifying this overflowing love. He’s adding these parameters of knowledge and discernment. You see, Paul is not naive. He’s not throwing love out like some cliché that tolerates and accepts everything.

He says, “No, the overflowing love that I’m speaking about needs riverbanks. One riverbank is called knowledge, and the other riverbank is discernment.” Love needs to flow within certain boundaries to be safe. See, overflowing love sounds really great, but it’s like a river. If that water has the ability to flow freely without any direction or discretion, then it can kill people.

We have a new water feature on the mountain because of water that was out of control. The landslide from a few months ago was due to water not staying within its proper boundaries. Water is a blessing, but that much water that just flows wherever it wants to, can destroy people’s lives. And so too with love. If our love is just pure emotion without discretion or direction it can bring devastation. It needs the riverbanks of knowledge and discernment. Let’s consider them (quickly).

“That your love may still abound more and more in knowledge…” The Greek word epignosis is the word Paul used for knowledge, and it means an expert knowledge, a mature knowledge, a knowledge brought on by experience. If you know anything about Paul’s writing, you know that Paul will often take love and knowledge and combine them. Sometimes he’ll oppose them. He’ll show the difference between them.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, he says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” He’s contrasting love and knowledge. Or 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” So, he says, knowledge needs love. But he also says, love needs knowledge for that love to be responsible.

Remember when Paul spoke about a zealous group of religious Israelites? He said, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). He said, “It’s pure emotion but no knowledge.” And there are a lot of people that look at love this way. It’s pure emotion. No knowledge. Nothing guiding it. Nothing directing it. And that kind of love can become a little reckless.

Why do I say that? Well, you can feel out of love with your spouse and feel in love with somebody else. A parent can feel like they have to give their child whatever they want, because they feel that’s the loving thing to do. Well, that could be the worst thing to do. You may feel that love is letting another Christian do whatever he/she wants. That’s where we need knowledge. The knowledge of Matthew 18 where Jesus said, “sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to confront another brother or sister” (vss. 15-18, paraphrased).

So mature love is not sentimentality, nor is it emotion. It has banks and the first bank is knowledge. There’s another bank I want you to notice, also in verse 9, and that’s discernment. “That your love may abounds still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” Discernment is insight. It’s a sensitive moral perception. Allow me to explain.

We might have an affection for somebody else, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to express that affection any way we see fit. We need to bring discernment to bear. Every parent knows this. Love is expressed in different ways at different times to the same child. One day a parent will give a gift to a child. Another day a parent will spank a child. Both are legitimate expressions of love.

Another example is Jesus. Sometimes He’d heal a person, another day He would overturn the tables in the temple and drive out the money changers. Both are expressions of love but in two different contexts. One day Jesus would say to the crowd, “Blessed are you.” Another day He’d look at another crowd filled with Pharisees and say, you whitewashed tombs. Both are expressions of love from the One who is the author of love Himself (Matthew 21, Matthew 5, Matthew 23).

Our love should be abounding and plentiful, but it should also be perceptive – running within the banks of knowledge and discernment. The third aspect of a mature Christian love is…

Our Love Should Be Pure

Look at verse 10: “So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” See how the sentence begins with the words “so that”? Everything that follows is a purpose clause. Paul is saying, “Here’s the reason you need these two riverbanks of knowledge and discernment. Here’s why. Here’s the purpose for it. It’s so that you can approve the things that are excellent.”

The word “approve” was a word used in ancient times to test metals, to examine metals, to take a coin and determine how much real metal was in it. You would examine it, you would test it, you would approve it. We need to carefully examine every expression of our love in the light of God’s Word. No longer is it an issue of how do I feel, but it becomes an issue of what does the Bible say about how I feel? Does the Bible say this is a legitimate expression or not? Does the Bible prohibit this? Does the Bible encourage this?

The other day, a mom I know took her three-year old daughter to Walmart with her. Poor little girl was screaming and throwing stuff and complaining and yelling, and the volume just kept going up and up. This mom was feeling the urge to express her love with a spanking on the back side, right there in public. But instead, she said out loud, “Calm down, Lauren. It’ll be all right, Lauren. You’ll be home soon, Lauren.”

When she got up to the clerk, the clerk said, “Ma’am, I’ve just got to congratulate you on how patient you are with little Lauren.” And the mom turned to her and said, “I’m Lauren.” See, she was testing what’s the proper expression of her love. She was talking herself through. So, our love should be plentiful but it should also be perceptive.

Also in verse 10, “…and so be pure [sincere] and blameless for the day of Christ.” Look at that word “pure.” Your Bible might also translate it as “sincere.” You know what that is. When we say a person is sincere, usually we’re paying them a compliment. The word “sincere” comes from two Latin words: sine (“without”) cera (“wax”). That’s where we get the word “sincere.”

Now, let me explain the imagery behind what Paul is saying. In ancient times, a potter who was making a jar, or a bowl, or a plate, or a dish would turn it on his wheel; and then when it was completed, he would take it and fire it, bake it. Sometimes, because of some impurity in the clay, or some error in the temperature of the kiln, or whatever, it would come out with a crack. But, of course, a cracked jar, or pot, or bowl, or dish, would be useless. But because of the time and money invested in it, the potter would try to cover up the crack, and they would take a hard wax, and they would fill the crack with wax. Then they would cover it with whatever they were using to coat or to paint the pot or the bowl.

So, when a wise shopper went into the marketplace to buy a piece of pottery, they would typically hold the pottery up to the sunlight and rotate it to see if it was without wax, because the sunlight could shine through the crack and reveal the wax – which, of course, the first time anything hot was put in it, would melt, and render it useless.

A life, then, needs to be held up to the sunlight to determine whether it’s got any flaws that are being falsely covered over by the wax of hypocrisy. That’s the idea. Don’t let your love be phony. Don’t let it be mixed. Don’t let it have an impure motive. Sometimes our life, sometimes our love, sometimes our prayers can be insincere. There’s wax inside. Romans 12:9 says “let love be without hypocrisy.” Don’t just pretend to love, but really love.

The best example of insincere love is Judas Iscariot. Remember him? He betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and what was the sign, what was the signal to those arresting Jesus? A what? (Kiss – the supreme expression of our love for one another.) Jesus even said, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Matthew Henry, the great British minister and biblical commentator said, “Hypocrisy is to do the devil’s work in God’s uniform.”

Our Love Should Be Purposeful

We’ll close with this. Verse 11 concludes, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Paul basically says, “Look, a life of love, a life of excellence, a life of integrity, a life of good works – these things should be characteristic of every believer.” The fruit of our life is good works.

Don’t misunderstand me. We know that we aren’t saved by our good deeds. We aren’t redeemed by our good behavior. Our standing and relationship with God aren’t established by our works. But we ARE called and expected to show forth our new life in Christ by our good works and deeds. Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Verse 11 is the ultimate test to know if our expression of love is approved or not. And it’s simple. Does it glorify Jesus Christ? If it does, then everyone around us is going to be loved. We’re going to be like that early church where the spy came back and said, “My, how they love Jesus and my how they love one another.” Because people just don’t do that. When we love with a responsible kind of mature love, people feel loved, people are cared for, people are invested in, they feel secure, and God gets the glory.

Can I challenge us to pray for our love towards one another? There are observable realities in our physical world. We call them physical laws. For example, what goes up must come down. That’s a physical law. Well, the second law of thermodynamics is one of those observable realities and it basically says that all matter and all energy is subject to and in a constant state of entropy. We’re continually degrading, deteriorating and decaying.

There’s a parallel in our spiritual lives, as well. There’s a form of spiritual entropy that pulls us backwards. We call it sin. As we go through the day and through the week, we get pulled back to the values of this world, the ideologies of this world expressed in their music, their news articles, their messaging along the freeway, our friends. The only way to counteract that spiritual entropy is to be infusing ourselves with the love of God by prayer.

So, I’m praying for you. But I’m not praying for you like Jaron Lowenstein’s song. I’m praying for the long haul. That your love, that your expressions toward one another would be plentiful, perceptive, pure, and purposeful.

Philippians: Knowing Joy (1:3-8)

Philippians 1:3-8

As always, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Philippians 1. As you find your spot, let me ask you a question: What brings you joy? Notice that I didn’t say “happiness.” There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is often dependent upon circumstances. I am happy when my work is done, and I have some free time. But the work eventually comes back, and thus my happiness fades. You can be happy when money is in the bank, and the bills are paid. But when things get tight, and the money dries up, happiness leaves, and stress invades. We are often happy when we receive a gift, but the newness and the novelty of the gift wear off and the happiness subsides. Joy is different. Joy is more robust. Joy is deeper. Joy is stronger. What brings you joy?

The church in Philippi brought Paul much joy. In fact, of the 13 books in the New Testament that Paul wrote, 9 of which were written to churches, this is his most joyful. Not only is it his most joyful letter, but he doesn’t have to correct any bad teaching, he doesn’t have to rebuke any bad behavior, and he doesn’t have to address any bad situation. It is a totally positive letter. And I began to ask why? Why is it so positive. Well, of course, if you don’t have to do any of those other things, then it’s a reason for joy. But I also believe it is because the church members (themselves) were joyful.

Over the course of four brief chapters, the words “joy,” “rejoice” and “gladness” appear 19 times, and you begin to get the idea that this is what a church ought to look like. Churches ought to be marked by joy – both to the people on the inside (those that attend it) and to the people on the outside (those that don’t attend it). Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not suggesting that we won’t face discouragement and disappointment and even difficulty. But are we a people who know what it truly means to be joyful?

Cyprian of Carthage was an early 3rd century church leader and he wrote this to his friend Donatus:

This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from this fair garden under the shadow of these vines. But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see; thieves on the high road, pirates on the seas, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please the applauding crowds, under all roofs misery and selfishness. It really is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet, in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. . . . These people, Donatus, are the Christians, and I am one of them. (Christensen, Heroes and Saints, 18)

My question to each of us this morning is: Are you one of them? Are you a person who finds his/her joy in knowing Jesus and being known by Jesus? Follow along with me as we read Philippians 1:3-8,

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 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. 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 defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

“Once again, our Father, help us as we give consideration to Your holy Word that we may truly understand; that, understanding, we may believe and in believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I know the acronym is cheesy, but it’s helpful. The secret to joy is in keeping things in this order: Jesus, Others, Yourself.” J-O-Y. As you scan through this letter (which, incidentally, only takes about 15-20 minutes to read from start to finish), you will see that Paul is all about Jesus, and his mind is filled with concern for the Philippians. For example, when contemplating the glory of death, he says, “I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (1:25; emphasis added). Paul doesn’t pretend he has no real needs, but the glory of Jesus and the needs of others occupy his heart and mind. He lives out his own exhortation to “consider others as more important than yourselves” (2:3). And because this was the pattern of Paul’s life, he was truly happy, even though he was shackled to a Roman guard!

You are familiar, I’m sure, with the play on words “No Jesus? No joy. Know Jesus. Know joy.” It is true. If you find yourself always focused on your stuff, your problems, and your calendar, then you will lack joy. Even pastors, missionaries, and ministers can misplace their cause for joy. We can turn inward too.

When Jesus sent out the 70 missionaries, they came back “with joy” saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us” (Luke 10:17). But Jesus rebuked them and said, “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20). In other words, don’t derive your joy from your performance, your popularity, your gifting, or your accolades; rejoice in the fact that you have a relationship with God through Christ. Focus on Jesus and others, and you will maintain joy. And there are three things about the church in Philippi that I want to be true about the church at Mountain Hill.

Grateful When The Community Thinks About Us

Look at verse 3. The New International Version translates it this way, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” As a pastor, that is mind-boggling. I mean, come on. If am I honest, most of my interactions and memories of folks at Mountain Hill have been good and I can honestly say that I am thankful for most of the people that God has given me the privilege to pastor. But hey, I would be lying if I said that every memory is a good memory. Now, to be fair, I am sure that I could fill this room with people that were not too thrilled that I was their pastor. So, hey, I get it. This goes both ways. And frankly, I am certain that the way I remember some people is not the way they would remember me, and vice versa. You can have the same experience, but two different memories. Let me give you an illustration from Friday night. Some of us were celebrating Janet Fuller’s birthday and this came up in conversation.

I was standing with Janet and Kitty in the kitchen and they were talking. Janet said to Kitty, “Hey, I had a beautiful evening the other night. It was fantastic. How was yours?”

Kitty responded, “It was a disaster. Paul came home, ate his dinner in about 3 minutes and then went to bed. But I want to hear about your wonderful night.”

Janet said, “Oh, it was amazing. Steve came home and took me out for a romantic dinner downtown. Afterwards, we took a long walk down main street and along the river, and when we got back to the condo, he lit candles all around. It was a fairytale.”

Well, it just so happened that I left that conversation and walked into the living room and overheard Paul and Steve talking about the very same thing.

Steve said, “Hey Paul, how was your evening last night?”

Paul said, “It was great. I came home from golf. Kitty had dinner on the table. I ate, went to sleep, and woke up feeling wonderful. How about you and Janet?”

Steve said, “Oh, man, it was a disaster.”

Paul said, “What happened?”

Steve said, “When I came home from playing golf with you and the guys, there was no dinner on the table. They cut the electricity because when Chip moved out of the condo to his new house, we forgot to pay the bill. So, I had to take Janet out to dinner, which was so expensive that I didn’t have enough money for the Uber to get back to the condo. We had to walk home, which took an hour, and when we got back to the condo, I remembered there was no electricity and I had to light candles all over the house.”

So, you see, you can have the same experience, but you can remember it two different ways. And it is very rare that anybody has great memories about everybody all the time. And yet, the Apostle Paul makes this incredible statement, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). You put a smile on my face. You put joy in my heart. You put a bounce in my step. And that’s what I want people to say about our church – those who attend our church and those who don’t, those who know about our church and those who simply hear about our church.

I want to be the kind of church that – if we said “You know what, we’re just going to shut everything down. We’re going to sell this property. We’re going to go our separate ways” – that the entire community would mourn. I want people to say, “You can’t do that. We need you. We love you. You’re giving too much. We’re thankful for your ministry to the needy, your ministry to the hungry, your ministry to the community, your ministry to the schools, your ministry to prisoners, your ministry to the nations.” That’s what I want people to think about us. I want them to be grateful, and that only happens if we’re joyful.

Joyful When The Community Talks About Us

Look at verse 4, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (NIV). I can’t say that. I am just being honest. There have been times in my ministry where I’ve prayed, “Lord, it’s okay if that family leaves and goes somewhere else. No hard feelings.” But not Paul. Every time Paul prayed for this church, and every time he talked about this church, he radiated joy. By the way, remember that when Paul is writing this he is chained to a Roman guard or sitting in a Roman prison cell. There were not a lot of bright sunshiny days for Paul. But every time that Paul thought about THIS church, and every time that Paul thought about THIS people, his day was filled with beautiful rays of sunshine.

But that raises another question: what was it (specifically) about this church that brought such joy to Paul’s life? Well, it’s not hard to find. This church did ONE thing and it would make anyone who knew anything about this church to be joyful when they talked about this church. The answer is in verse 5, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

Now hang with me. The Greek word that is translated as “partnership” is a word that is normally translated as “fellowship,” but when we think about fellowship, we imagine meeting someone for a cup of coffee, or going hunting, or fishing, or playing golf, or taking a spa day – something like that. But in the 1st century, the term “fellowship” was a financial term, and it was related to commerce and business. Let me give you an illustration.

If two people decide they are going to go into business together – and let’s say they are going to be equal partners – once they decide they are going into business we don’t call it a fellowship, what do we call it? (A partnership.) Here’s the deal. This church knew that they had entered into a partnership. “Paul, we’ve entered into a partnership with you. We’ve entered into a partnership with one another. Lord, we’ve entered into a partnership with You.” And now we have to do two things: 1.) we have to give to the work of the gospel, and 2.) we have to work to spread the gospel.

Listen, the language that we use around our churches is a bit misleading. Every church does it. It’s natural. Some churches refer to folks as “attenders” or “visitors” or “guests,” and then there are “members.” But if you and I could read between the lines of Scripture, it would really be better if we saw ourselves as “partners.” Partners are fully invested. Partners “buy in” to the ministry. Partners put their time, talent, and treasure on the line. If you are a Christian, then when you leave in just a few moments and you go about the rest of your business and this coming week, whether you know it or not, you are a ministry partner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are advertising agents (in a sense) for Jesus. And listen, we’re all equal partners. It’s not like the law firm downtown or the accounting agency down the street. There are no senior partners or junior partners. We are all equal partners in the gospel.

Somebody says, “Pastor, why is this so important?” Let me tell you why. At the end of the day, the only thing that will keep this church together, the only thing that will hold this church together is the glue of the gospel. Think about how diverse our church is. We have men and women. We have young and old. Blue collar, white collar. Healthy and sick. Fit and flabby. Different races. Different incomes. Different levels of education. Different personalities. Different political parties. But if we are sold out to telling the story of and believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, then we will remain united.

When the community talks about our church, I don’t want them asking was that a conservative church, liberal church, Republican church, Democrat church – NO! I want them to think that’s a church that loves the gospel, that’s a church that’s centered on the gospel. That’s a church that elevates the gospel. That’s a church that shines the spotlight onto the cross of Calvary where Jesus died for you and me – to make it possible for us to be reconciled with the Father.

So, Paul said, “I’m grateful when I think about you, and I’m joyful when I talk about you.” But there’s one more thing…

Boastful In What The Community Trusts About Us

Look at verse 6, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (NIV). Now what was Paul talking about? He was talking about their salvation (their relationship with God). Paul said, “You know what I’m sure about? I may not be sure if I’m getting out of prison. I may not be sure about whether I’ll ever see y’all again. I may not be sure about tomorrow, but there’s one thing I’m sure about and it’s this: when God began that good work of salvation in you all those years ago, He will see to it that it is completed – not because of your goodness, but because of His grace.”

Let me go back and show you this. You might remember from last week that I told you to have your finger in Acts 16. That’s the narrative account, that’s the chronological and historical account of when Paul originally came to Philippi. And in Acts 16:14 we read this, “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (NIV, emphasis added). This might surprise some of you because you think, “Well, I decided that I needed to accept Jesus.” Yeah, you did, but how did that happen? See, you never start with God. God always starts with you. God always comes first. And you better be glad that He does, because what God starts, He always finishes.

How many of you have ever started something but didn’t finish? We all have, right. Maybe it’s the puzzle we never finished. Maybe it’s the room you left unpainted or the garage that’s unorganized. All of us have started something that we didn’t finish, but God never leaves a job half finished. He never leaves it three quarters finished. He never leaves it 99% finished. What God starts; God finishes! And that means when God saves a person, He saves that person:

Completely – There is nobody that’s half saved, or three quarters saved. You are either 100% saved or you are 100% lost. There is no in between, and when God saves us, He saves us body, soul, and spirit. He saves us completely.

Permanently – There is nothing temporary about it. There is no probation. There is no trial period to see if you’ll do your part, to see if you’ll live up to your expectation. NO! He saves people permanently.

Eternally – Paul said our salvation would be carried on until the “day of Christ Jesus.” When is that? That’s when time stops. That’s when Jesus returns. There’s coming a day when either you will stop living, and thus time will cease, or the Lord will return and the world (as we know it) will end. But if God has saved you, then your relationship with Him will never end. Because what God started in you, God will complete in you.

I was reading the results of a religious poll in America that was taken just two years ago (2021) and two of the comments that were made are these: more and more people find God believable, but the church unbearable, and more and more people find Jesus appealing, but the church appalling. Folks, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we finally make up our minds that we are sold out to the gospel and we buy into our position as full-fledged partners in the gospel, then the people outside our church will trust our message.

Let me end with this. Many historians believe that the turning point in the American Revolutionary War took place on Christmas Day 1776, when Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware River and surprised the British at what would become known as the Battle of Trenton. Here’s what a lot of people don’t know. Washington’s troops were at the end of their rope. The vast majority of the Continental Army was discouraged and depressed and about to pack it up and return to what was left of their homes and lives. And Washington was thinking about what he could do or say to help them press on. So, on December 23, 1776, Washington had his officers read the words of a pamphlet called The American Crisis written by Thomas Paine to all of his troops. And the one part of that pamphlet that he made sure was read is this:

These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Every man in the Continental Army stayed and fought and the rest is history. Our church – and indeed the universal church – is at a crossroads. More and more, we are seeing the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot shrink back from showing and sharing the love of Christ. But folks, God has placed each one of us here – at this place and at this time – to be gospel partners, to spread the Good News of Jesus, to build a kingdom of saints that brings Him glory. If/when we do that, people will be grateful when they think about us, they will be joyful when they talk about us, and they will boast in their trust of our message, because the God who began a good work in you (and them) will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.

“O God, our hearts are, indeed, filled with joy in knowing You and being known by You. It is a tremendous encouragement to our hearts and lives to know that what You began in us – in our salvation – You will complete, You will finish, You will bring to fruition on the day of Christ. Lord, help us to be a joyful people – not because it’s always sunny outside and there is money in the bank and our health is good, in fact, many of those things won’t always be true – but because we know You, we know the message of Jesus, we know that You are a God that will do a good work in us. Give us the courage and joy to share Your message of hope to others this week, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Philippians: The Beautiful Greeting (1:1-2)

Philippians 1:1-2

This morning we embark upon a wonderful new spiritual experience as the Lord speaks to us through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I trust that you have your Bible with you and that you will open it to the first chapter. And this morning, I desire to introduce to you this marvelous, marvelous epistle. Let me read verses 1 and 2, just as a starting point, as we endeavor to introduce Paul’s letter.

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Father, we do bless and thank You that we have a Bible to read. Bring Your Word to bear upon our hearts and minds, we pray. Stir us up that we might see our need of You and become more obedient followers of You Son, Jesus Christ. Encourage the disheartened. Pick up the fallen. Grant confidence to the wavering. And without any sense of selfishness, we do pray that You would make Mountain Hill Community Church a thankful, prayerful, joyful, partner in the gospel, not so that people would have occasion to commend us, but in order that we might have an occasion to commend Christ. For we offer this prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

As we look together at these opening verses of Philippians 1, you might also want to put your finger in Acts 16, because it is in Acts 16 where Luke gives us the record of the arrival of this small band of messengers, this motley crew of four miscreants, at least that is how Luke describes them in Acts 17:6 “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here,” (NIV).

Who are these individuals? Well, there is Silas and Timothy and Luke and, of course, Paul. Twenty years have elapsed now since the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth – just twenty years – the same way that you and I know twenty years: long enough to have a little one, bring them through the early stages of childhood, bring them through the process of education, send them off to university, and find out that they are now adults and twenty years have gone by.

And in these intervening twenty years, God was working out His plan of redemption. Jesus had said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to myself,” (John 12:32, paraphrase) and the apostles had gone out confidently and obediently to the command of Christ, and they had gone everywhere telling others of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. And here, on this Sabbath morning, in a very quiet, unassuming, unprovocative fashion, this little missionary team – a converted Jew and his cronies – walk into Philippi.

Now, Philippi was obviously a real place. I say that, not as an insult, but because I want to remind you that when we read the Bible, we are reading history and we are reading geography and we are reading science. And while the Bible is not primarily a history book or a geography book or a science book, nevertheless, it does contain history and geography and science and poetry and mystery and most importantly truth – after all, the Bible’s author is, Himself, truth. This reminder will frame and form our understanding of the world; it will give us a perspective on social studies quite like nothing else.

Philippi was founded in the middle of the 4th century BC. While the Old Testament prophets were still writing, Philippi was being founded. The city had some distinctives. First, since the time of the Phoenicians, it had tremendous gold and silver mines. And just like the California gold rush, when gold and silver were discovered in those hills, Philippi became a boom town. And people rushed to the area before there was even a city there. And due to the tremendous discovery of gold and silver, the place became a commercial center in the ancient world – a great trade center.

Second, its location is exceedingly strategic. It sits at the top of the Aegean Sea, right where Asia Minor meets Europe, right where East meets West, and all the major roads, including Rome’s mighty Ignatian Way, ran right through the city. It was a strategic site in Europe, a strategic site to build a city. The city itself was built by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. And the reason he built it was to command the pass – to command the road. One of the most decisive battles in history was fought there much later; it was at Philippi that Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius, and thereby decided the whole future of the Roman Empire – very strategic city.

Finally, it was a Roman colony. And to be a Roman colony was the very height of dignity for a town. Roman colonies had military significance. They were a part of the Roman settlement in order to create the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome. The way Rome founded Philippi was the way they founded most other cities. They would find a city that was strategic to them. It was already a Greek city, but they wanted it to be a Roman colony, so they would take about 300 soldiers, veteran soldiers near retirement, pack them and their family up, and have them go settle right in the middle of that city, and begin to govern that city and turn it into a Roman colony. And that’s what happened; some veteran Roman soldiers came with their families, perhaps some others as well, and settled there with Roman culture, Roman lifestyle.

The people in a Roman colony enjoyed three things. First, they enjoyed what the Latin language called libertas, which means self-government. They were not governed by Rome. They were governed by themselves. The Roman government gave them that privilege, having sort of ordained their government by settling with soldiers. Secondly, they enjoyed what the Latin language calls immunitas, or immunity. That meant they were never to be taxed by Rome. So, they were free from taxation, and they were free from the government of Rome (sounds nice, ehh?). Thirdly, they enjoyed ius italicum, the rights of Roman citizenry. They had all the rights of anyone who lived in Rome.

The city rulers were called praetors; we translate that word magistrates. And the police were called lictors, and they were the ones who took care of law breakers. They imitated the Roman style of life. They imitated the Roman culture in every sense. William Barclay says, “These colonies had one great characteristic: wherever they were, they were little fragments of Rome, and their pride in their Roman citizenship was their dominating characteristic. The Roman language was spoken. Roman dress was worn. Roman customs were observed. Their magistrates had Roman titles, and carried out the same ceremonies as were carried out in Rome itself. Wherever they were, these colonies were stubbornly and unalterably Roman. They would never have dreamt of becoming assimilated to the people amidst whom they were set. They were parts of Rome, miniature cities of Rome, and they never forgot it.” They were proud to be Roman citizens.

Now, in spite of all of that, that is not why it was famous. That didn’t permanently put this city on the map. Yes, it was a prestigious place; its official Roman name was Colonia Julia August Philippensis; it’s a pretty big name for a little place. Much honored, but that is not why it is well remembered. Some cities are well remembered because they were honored cities. Paul Rees wrote, “For continuity across the centuries, such is Rome’s distinction. For architectural glory and lavish elegance, such was Babylon’s bid for immortality. For cultural brilliance, such was Athens’s claim upon the world’s remembrance. For a distinctive quality in its citizens, such is the persistent fame of Sparta. For an extraordinary tradition of religious faith and devotion, such is the deathless repute in which Jerusalem is held. But in ancient Macedonia, not far from the western shoreline of the Aegean Sea, once stood a city that lives on in human memory for none of those reasons.”

So why does it live on? Because the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, went to that city and proclaimed the gospel and people came to faith in Jesus and created a little church, and that little church supported Paul, and partnered with Paul, and loved Paul. And when he was in a Roman prison, his memories of that little congregation came to his mind and he wrote this little letter and immortalized the city. That’s it.

Just stop and consider how many “life verses” are found in this little four-chapter book:

“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).

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).

“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, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (2:12-13)

“[My goal is] that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead… 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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:10-11, 13-14).

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20).

“[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13).

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

And I didn’t even mention the amazing Christ hymn in chapter 2:6-11. Many Christians have built their lives on these rock-solid verses from Philippians, and rightly so, all because Paul and his rag-tag bunch was courageous enough to share the gospel there. That’s how it was born. It was born in joy. Is it any wonder that Paul wants to write back to them and say, “Now, look, we started in joy, and I just want you to know we still have to maintain that joy, and I thank God for you, and I’m writing to you because I want you to know my heart and my joy.”

Well, that’s the introduction. Did you enjoy that? (Good.) Some of you are saying, “I thought that was the whole sermon. If he said it was the whole sermon, then I’d answer yes. But if it’s just the introduction, I’m not so sure.” Let’s begin by just looking at the first two verses. We’re not going to dig deeply and profoundly into the text. It’s such a simple text. But I would like to give you three things to notice: the servants, the saints, and the salutation. The servants and the saints are in verse 1, and the salutation is in verse 2.

Servants Of Christ

The first word is “servants.” In the Greek text it’s douloi. It’s a word that means “bond-servant” or more forcefully “slave.” It refers to someone that has no ownership rights of their own. Ironically, it’s used with the highest degree of dignity in the New Testament – namely, of believers who willingly live under Christ’s authority.

“Paul and Timothy, who are you? Tell me about yourself.”

“We’re servants of Christ Jesus.”

In other words, no long autobiographical introduction; no trumpeting of his creditable past or his peculiarities in the present; just simply, “Hey, it’s Paul and Timothy, the servants of Christ Jesus.”

This is characteristic of Paul; and it is characteristic of all who are truly laid hold of by God through the movement of the Holy Spirit. When Paul writes to the Corinthians – with their squabbling about this group liking Apollos and this group preferring Peter, and another person liking the preaching of Paul – he says, “Listen, listen, please! What, after all, is Apollos? What, after all, is Paul?” (1 Corinthians 3:5, paraphrased). He doesn’t ask who; he asks what. See, we’re preoccupied with who: “Who’s coming, and who’ll be there, and who is he?” Paul says, “What am I? I’m a servant.”

And when he’s writing his second letter to the Corinthians he says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for [Christ’s] sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5, NIV). The servant of God is a servant of the people of God. Or, to quote the late Scottish minister, Derek Prime, “It is the pastor’s responsibility always to remind his congregation of this: I will always be your servant, but you will never be my master.”

And that distinction is vital. It’s because of the absence of that distinction that you find autocratic tyranny on the part of some who fulfill the role of pastor. It reminds me of Jesus’ words to His disciples, “But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV). But it’s also because of a failure to make this distinction that you find congregations who constantly manipulate and squeeze and constrain their pastors with their opinions and positions, so that some pastors are afraid to say certain things because of their people.

One of the best stories of humility and service is that of a man who arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big moustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely.

Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one of the members of the reception committee told a reporter, “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.”

That’s Paul, that’s Timothy, that’s the situation, the servants.

Saints In Christ

What about the saints? Who are they? Verse 1 says, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” That wonderful word has been so fogged up by our sort of cultural understanding of it that we’ve really lost sight of what a saint is.

I heard about a pastor who was asked by a man in the community to do his brother’s funeral. Neither of the men had been churchgoers or showed any religious inclinations. The man offered to give $25,000.00 to the church if the preacher would call his brother a saint at the funeral. The brother had been a real sinner in the community and everybody knew it. A friend of the pastor asked, “You are not going to do it, are you?”

The pastor said that he was going to do it because the church needed the money. The word got out that the preacher had sold out to the family for money and the church was filled for the funeral. The pastor stood up and this is what he said, “The man we are burying here today was a liar, a cheat, and a drunk; however, next to his brother who is sitting here today, he was a saint!”

The fact of the matter is the word “saint” is a designation used in Scripture for all those who have new life in Christ; all Christians are saints. Acts 9:13 says, “Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man (talking about Saul or Paul) how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem.’” It’s synonymous with Christian. It’s synonymous with believer. There’s a saying among old Baptist pastors that I grew up hearing that said, “There’s only two kinds of people in the world, the saints and the aint’s,” and you’re one or the other. Now, the word “saint” means separated, unique, different, set apart. Basically, the word could be translated “holy.” Not dead martyrs, not canonized people, not super-pious people, just all believers.

Now, how do you define a saint? The saints “in Christ Jesus” – we are made holy by Christ’s salvation. We have been made righteous. We have been given the life of God. We are made separate, unique, and different from the rest of the world. We are saints in Christ Jesus. That’s a phrase that Paul absolutely adores. You never met a Buddhist who said, “I’m in Buddha.” He may worship Buddha, but he’s not in Buddha. You never met a Muslim who said, “I am in Mohammed.” You never met a Christian Scientist who said, “I’m in Mary Baker Eddy.” You never met a Mormon who said, “I’m in Joseph Smith – I’m in Brigham Young.” They may follow the teachings of some leader, but we alone are in Christ, fused together, with the same common life. That’s why we’re set apart. We were buried with Him by His death, and we have risen in Him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Our life is His life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). And we’re all tied together in one life, the life of Christ.

Salutation Owing To Christ

That brings us to the salutation and we don’t need to say much about it. Do you see it? “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s just a greeting. Grace, (Greek is charis,) peace, (Greek is eirene,) the Hebrew shalom“I wish you grace, I wish you peace.” Notice that grace comes first. That’s important because you’ll never know peace unless you know grace. Grace is the gift of God; peace is the result. Because of grace, we have peace. The source of grace is God the Father, the source of peace is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul used it in Romans 1:7, he gave it in 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Colossians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, Philemon 1:2 and 3. Is it any wonder that he used it so much – the gospel that he was sent to proclaim is the same one that we should proclaim: GRACE.

Paul knew about it. We’re going to read his biography when we get to chapter 3. Timothy experienced it through his mother’s teaching and life. The Philippians believed it when Paul, and Timothy, and Silas, and Luke came to visit with them and explained God’s plan of salvation in Christ. What about you? What’s your story? Are you in Christ? Is Jesus your King? It’s simply trusting that Jesus Christ lived the life we couldn’t live and then died the death we should have died. Confess your sin and receive God’s grace and experience the peace of Christ. You can do that now. Lydia heard and believed. The demon-possessed girl in Philippi heard and believed. The jailor and his family saw it, experienced it, heard it, and believed it. Will you?

Exodus: Journey to Freedom (33:18-34:9, 29-35)

Exodus 33:18-34:9, 29-35

Well, we made it. Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me (one final time) to Exodus 33-34. As you are finding your place, which ought to be worn out by now, let me ask you: Do you remember a time or an event when you needed to know God was with you?

Possibly it was when you were walking that final mile with a spouse or family member. You knew where things were headed. You knew the outcome. You needed God’s presence, strength, and assurance like you needed air to breathe. Or maybe you were the patient. Maybe you were learning how to walk again or recovering from a stroke or a major surgery and simply needed the strength to get out of bed. You needed to know God was there. You wanted desperately to sense His presence. Or it could be accepting a new job or position at work. The task of merging two corporations or leading a workforce of thousands and knowing that their livelihood and employment was, to a great degree, resting on your shoulders is just too much. Some of you have volunteered to lead Bible studies or taught classes and groups. Maybe you were asked to serve on a Board of Directors or as a Trustee for a non-profit organization; the weight and responsibility were just heavy, and you felt ill-prepared.

Whatever the situation, event, or scenario… you just prayed for, longed for, and desired more than anything to get assurance from God that you were capable, that you were doing the right thing, and that you would not be alone in this journey. That is what we are going to see this morning. Moses has received instruction from God to leave Mount Sinai and travel to the Promised Land. He knew the task before him was huge, and he wanted reassurance that God would be with him – and the Lord will be with you, too, if you will, but trust Him. Follow along with me as we read from Exodus 33, beginning in verse 18:

18 Moses said, “Please show me Your glory.” 19 And [God] said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

1 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And [Moses] said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O LORD, please let the LORD go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.”

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.

“O Lord, we acknowledge that Your Word is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. The Scriptures expose us for who we really are. So, with great awe and humility, we bow before Your Word. Speak to us, convict us, cleanse us, and equip us to obey Your will. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

We have been in this book and following this storyline since January. We have covered a lot of ground, read a lot of verses, and marked a lot of pages (hopefully). And like any good road trip, when you return home, you flip back through the photos you took along the way and reflect upon the memories that you made. It all started when a king rose up in Egypt who did not know Joseph and, more importantly, Joseph’s God. Consequently, the Israelites became enslaved to the Egyptians. Then, God met Moses in the desert and called to him from a burning bush – that he would lead God’s people out of Egypt. The LORD sent ten mighty plagues on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He judged them, yet He passed over those who had the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. He did it all to reveal Himself as the one true God and so that His people (the Jews) could worship Him.

We watched as God parted the Red Sea and delivered Israel and destroyed Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He provided physical nourishment in the wilderness by feeding them with bread from heaven and water from the rock. Israel saw God’s glory on the mountain, as He gave Moses the law and instructions for building the tabernacle. And we observed the Israelites wander into idolatry at the bottom of the mountain with their golden calf. Now, we find ourselves sitting beside Moses as he feels the weight of the task ahead. And there are three questions that I want to draw out for us this morning (before we close the pages of Exodus). The first is…

Do We Long To See God’s Glory, Or Have We Seen Enough?

Think about all that Moses had seen of God? It started at the burning bush. You would think that experience, that sight, that reality would have been enough, but not so. Then Moses got to see and experience all of the plagues that God brought against Egypt. He had a front-row seat for the parting of the Red Sea, and the manna from heaven, and water from a rock. He was invited to a dinner party with the 70 elders on Mount Sinai in the presence of God. He had talked with God face to face in the tent of meeting, and yet, he still had the audacity to say (in verse 18), “Please show me Your glory.” Charles Spurgeon, the great expositor, said, “Why, that is the greatest petition man ever asked of God” (A View of God’s Glory. Sermon #3120. Published November 26, 1908). Moses had already tasted God’s glory, but the taste only made him want more. Do you want to see more of God’s glory, or have you seen enough?

All of us know what it’s like to taste something for the first time and really like it. We like it so much that we go back for seconds and thirds. In fact, there are times where we are sitting in the living room watching something on television and the thought of that dish causes us to actually get up and make it.  We might even make an entire meal, for no other reason than we remember the taste and we want to experience it again.

If truth be told, we only say we want to see more of God’s glory, but we don’t really mean it. We are too busy and distracted to want to know more. We are satisfied with the introduction. We got saved one day. We met Jesus at camp. “I’m going to heaven one day, and I’m satisfied with an introduction.” Moses wasn’t satisfied with simply an introduction at the burning bush, or the fireworks of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. He wanted to see more. So, he took time, made time, and boldly said, “Then show me Your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18, NLT).

And just before you say to yourself (under your breath while the preacher is preaching), “Sure, I’d like to see more of God, but He’s not going to give it to me” notice that God responds positively to Moses’ request. No; it wasn’t everything that Moses wanted, I’m sure, but it was positive, nonetheless. God would pass by and cover Moses with His hand and declare His name (the LORD) as He walked by, and after passing by, He would remove His hand so that Moses could glimpse His back. God said, “I can’t let you see all of Me, because it would kill you. But I’m going to let you see enough of Me that you’ll know that I have so much more to offer.” Do you want to see His glory?

I believe this is the cry of every human heart, either consciously felt or not. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). We see God today through the eyes of faith, but later, we shall see Christ face to face. I love how Stephen saw glory in Acts 7. You remember Stephen, right? He was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin and the high priest and they couldn’t stand it, so they decided to stone him to death. And Acts 7:55-56 says, “But [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”

The psalmist said, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15). To see Christ is to behold God. Jesus told Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Paul spoke, in 2 Corinthians 4:6 of “God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” and in 1 Corinthians 13:12 he said, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” John, in his first epistle, wrote, “we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Do you long to see God’s glory displayed in the salvation of unbelievers – in your family, in your neighborhood, among the nations? In longing to see God’s glory, we are saying that we want to know Him intimately. This leads me to the second question.

Do We Know God As He Truly Is, Or Is He Fashioned In Our Likeness?

And if we want to see God’s glory and know God more intimately, then we better know God as He reveals Himself in the Bible, rather than the way we want Him to be, or the way we’ve decided He is. Look at Exodus 34:6, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…’”. Now, remember, this is God who is describing Himself. Some of you say, “Yeah, but Moses is writing it. So, this is Moses’ biased view of God.” I disagree, but even if I grant you the argument, then your position actually makes the case stronger and we’ll see why in just a moment.

It is no exaggeration to say that this verse is one of the most important verses in the Bible. It is repeated time and time again (Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2, to name but a few). In fact, this could be a sermon in itself, but let’s just consider the attributes of God that are listed here (briefly).

To those in need, God is compassionate (or merciful).
God cares about His children. David said, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13). We need a compassionate God. It is no surprise that when Jesus came along, Matthew said He looked at the crowds, and “He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Praise God that He is compassionate and merciful.

To those who cannot measure up, God is gracious.
Grace is undeserved favor. Many of you know the acronym for GRACE – God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense. There are a lot of verses that use the word grace and speak about grace, but there’s one, in particular, that defines it best, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s it. Praise God that Jesus has done the work for us and made us right with the Father – not because we deserved it, or because we did part of it and He agreed to do the other part, but because of His grace.

To those who are rebellious, God is slow to anger.
This speaks of the patience of God. Are you glad that God is slow to anger? Our world knows nothing about this. We are so quick to get angry, and even quicker to do something in our anger. Israel needed a patient God. Remember? They were a stiff-necked people. They murmured and complained and rebelled (kind of like us), but God was patient. Praise God that He is patient.

To the unfaithful, God abounds in faithful love and loyalty.
This speaks of the covenant nature of God’s love. God is loyal. God always follows through. He absolutely keeps His every promise. Israel needed a covenant-keeping God! They are forever going back and forth from faithfulness to disobedience – walking with the Lord one moment and then running in the other direction the next. Again, kind of sounds like someone else I know (me AND you). God remained faithful to Israel despite their fickleness. Praise God that He remains faithful to us in spite of ourselves being rebellious.

To the guilty, God is forgiving.
That word “forgiving,” in verse 7, means “to lift” or “to carry.” It describes what God does with our sins; He lifts the guilt off our shoulders and carries it away. And notice the three types of things that God forgives: (1) iniquity (which is guilt or blame – you’re only guilty when you’re at fault for a wrong); (2) transgression (it’s a word that means rebellion or revolt against a king); and (3) sin (it’s the most generic term for a moral failure). I don’t know about you, but I think that pretty much sums it up? Don’t you think?

But here’s why I said that if you take the position that Moses was describing his own biased view of God, then it’s actually an even stronger argument than God describing Himself (although I believe God is describing Himself in verse 7). See, if Moses is describing how he views God, then surely, he would leave off the justice part. Right? Just talk about the love of God and the grace of God and the forgiveness of God, but don’t muddy the waters and pour salt into the wound by talking about justice and punishment and accountability. But no, God is also described as just.

To the unrepentant, God is just.
Those who choose to reject God will be held accountable. Just because God is compassionate and gracious does not mean the guilty who remain unrepentant get a free pass. NOTE: I do want to clarify the latter part of this verse. The mention of God’s consequences on several generations does not mean that grandchildren will be punished for something their grandparents have done. It means that as sin continues from one generation to the next, so too, God’s justice

So, how do you reconcile His justice and His love? It is reconciled at the cross. There, God poured out justice and at the same time displayed love. Paul tells us that God was both the Prosecution and the Defense; “[God] show[ed] His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Don’t misunderstand this. God will judge and punish sin. Either Jesus received your judgment at the cross, or you will face God’s judgment on your own. Do we know God as He truly is, or have we fashioned Him in our own liking. And that leads me to our final question…

Do We Shine Forth God’s Glory, Or Is It Our Own?

When Moses came down from the mountain, he brought the new set of the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law with him. But he also brought a glow with him. Because he had been talking with God, he radiated the glory of God. In fact, it was so bright and distracting that he had to put on a veil until it faded. This happened every time that Moses met with God. In Psalm 34:5, David writes, “Those who look to [the LORD] are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

When we truly spend time in the presence of God, on a daily basis, we will shine forth His glory. Remember what the Pharisees and Sadducees said about Peter and John in the early days of the church? Luke writes, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Do people know that you have been with Jesus? Do you shine forth His glory or is it your own?

When people recognize the joy you exhibit, or the peace that you have, or your servant’s heart, or your patient demeanor, or the boldness and courage you display in sharing the gospel, or your extraordinary generosity and forgiveness, what do you say? Do you say, “Well, you know, folks always said my mom was a servant. Yeah, my old man had the patience of Job. I guess I’m just a happy person.” Do you humbly claim the glory for yourself, or do you use that as an opportunity to share the glory of Jesus. “Yeah, I was always restless until I met Jesus. Now, most of the time, I have a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). I climbed the corporate ladder for years, making more money with each job, then one day, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my idols and placing my trust in the wrong thing(s) and ever since then I’ve tried to be generous with what I have.”

In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul explained that because of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in the believer’s heart, the glory of the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant glory that Moses knew. He writes, “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” It’s through Christ and in Christ that we gaze upon the glory of God. As we behold Jesus, we’re transformed. This is the privilege that we share. Do we shine forth God’s glory, or do we shine forth our own sense of goodness?

Let me close with a story that’s told by author Paul David Tripp in his book Awe: Why it Matters to Everything We Think, Say, and Do. He writes:

I remember taking my youngest son to one of the national art galleries in Washington, DC. As we made our approach, I was so excited about what we were going to see. He was decidedly unexcited. But I just knew that, once we were inside, he would have his mind blown and would thank me for what I had done for him that day.

As it turned out, his mind wasn’t blown; it wasn’t even activated. I saw things of such stunning beauty that brought me to the edge of tears. He yawned, moaned, and complained his way through gallery after gallery. With every new gallery, I was enthralled, but each time we walked into a new art space, he begged me to leave. He was surrounded by glory but saw none of it. He stood in the middle of wonders but was bored out of his mind. His eyes worked well, but his heart was stone blind. He saw everything, but he saw nothing.

Do we long to see God’s glory, or have we seen enough? Do we know God as He truly is, or is He fashioned in our likeness? Do we shine forth God’s glory, or is it our own? As we close the pages on Exodus, may we not be surrounded by glory but see none of it.  Rather, considering all that we have experienced in our own personal lives and the stories of the Israelites, may we join Moses in proclaiming, “Please show me Your glory.”

Exodus: Journey to Freedom (33:1-17)

Exodus 33:1-17

Well, let me invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Exodus 33. Aside from praise and worship music, today’s country is one of my favorite genres of music. It’s a far cry from the country and Western music of my childhood (Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, George Strait, Johnny Cash, and others), but the songwriters still know how to harken back to the values and morals that many of us treasure.

For example, there’s a song by Luke Combs titled Even Though I’m Leaving, and he begins by singing about being a child and not wanting his dad to leave the bedroom at night because there are monsters right outside. And the chorus is his dad’s reassurance that he’s still with him. The second verse sees the little boy grown up and joining the military and he’s leaving for a deployment overseas. Sure enough, his dad reassures him that he’s still there. And the last verse is just before his dad dies and his father tells him again that he’ll be right there. Each time the chorus ends you’re left with the title of the song: “Even though I’m leavin’, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

How do you move forward in your faith journey when there’s been a transition? Maybe you’ve encountered a significant loss. Maybe you’re getting ready to relocate, or you’ve just relocated here. Many kids have just graduated and moved to new towns and campuses. Some of you are planning trips overseas. Like the chorus of the song says, “Just ‘cause you’re leavin’ it don’t mean that I won’t be right by your side… This morning we’re going to be reminded that the presence of God gives us great hope as we continue on life’s journey.

Follow along with me as we read verses 1-17:

1 The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to Him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.”

“Father, with our Bibles open before You, we ask for the enabling of the Holy Spirit to both speak and to hear, to understand and to believe, to obey and to walk in the pathway of Your choosing. So, accomplish Your purposes in us, we pray. In Christ’s name. Amen.”

In the previous chapter, we saw that the Israelites fell into the sin of idolatry despite the fact they had said they would do everything that God had told them. So, when we flip the page to chapter 33 and God tells them to go up to the land that He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – a land flowing with milk and honey – it seems like it’s good news. God’s anger and wrath have been turned away, but there’s a problem. God’s not going with them. Why? Look at the end of verse 3; because they’re stiff-necked people.

They were stubborn. They were obstinate. They were stiff-necked, like oxen that refuse to be moved. Have you ever tried to move a 3,000 bull that didn’t want to move? I have. You can slap that boy and lean into him and grab his ears, but if he doesn’t want to move, then you might as well be trying to move a concrete wall. Now, I know that none of you are stubborn. It’s just the person sitting next to you. (Look at the person next to you and say, “Stop being stubborn.” Some of you are sitting next to your spouse. It’s nice having the pastor’s permission to say that, isn’t it.) I know you don’t think the Old Testament has much to say to you, but you’re right there in verse 3.

And because of our stubbornness, notice the subtle changes beginning in verse 1. No longer does God refer to Israel as “My people,” but just “the people.” And in verse 2 it’s not “My angel,” but just a regular old “angel.” See, a distance was created when they worshipped the golden calf. God would still give them gifts, and a promised land, but He wasn’t going to go with them.

Thankfully, to Israel’s credit, they responded appropriately in the following verses by removing their ornamentation. These were the jewels and other items that God had allowed them to plunder from Egypt when they left. And God was testing them to see if they were truly sad about what they had done, or if they would just rebel again by continuing to wear them. This time they obeyed and, in fact, they left the jewelry off from Mount Horeb onward. (Mount Horeb is just another name for Mount Sinai.) Israel wanted to be right with God. They were desperate for God’s presence. And that leads me to the first point this morning.

We Have A Need We Cannot Overlook

The moment that Israel learned God wasn’t going with them, they realized that their greatest need was God (Himself). If you think about it, what God said to them when He said He wasn’t going is what a lot of people want. They want the benefits of God but they don’t care about having a relationship with Him. They want the blessings but not the Blesser. They want to go to heaven. They want to go to the promised land, but it doesn’t really matter if God is there. There are tremendous benefits in receiving the gospel, but may we never forget that the greatest gift we receive when we become Christians is God Himself.

Knowing God, having a relationship with our heavenly Father, and being in communion with our Creator is better than anything else. People that have a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus are naturally joyful, peaceful, kind, gentle, and gracious. No, not all the time. After all, we live in a fallen world; but the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control) is part of what comes when you know the Lord Jesus. The psalmist asked, “Who do I have in heaven but You?” (Psalm 73:25).

Let me ask you: do you want the benefits, do you want the blessings, do you want the promises of heaven without a personal relationship with God? “Do not be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:16-17, NIV). None of those things exist for you apart from knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. We have a need that we can’t overlook – a need to know God and be known by God. Do you know Him? Are you walking with Him?

We Have A Privilege We Must Not Neglect

When we get to verses 7-11, we’re introduced to this scene where Moses would leave the camp and go to his tent. Now, don’t confuse this tent with the Tabernacle. In terms of the narrative, in terms of the chronology, the Tabernacle hasn’t been constructed yet. See, we’ve already covered the instruction and building of the tabernacle in previous sermons, but as far as where we are in the story, the tabernacle doesn’t exist yet. So, this tent is Moses’ personal tent and he calls it the “tent of meeting” (v. 7).

Catch the scene: Moses would leave the camp and go to his tent. When he did this the people would stand. They would watch Moses go inside the tent and meet with God. When he went in, the cloud would come down and hover over the entrance. And Moses talked with God. Look at verse 11, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” This doesn’t mean that Moses could see God. Later on, in verse 20, which we’ll read next week, we’ll learn that “no one can see [God] and live.” So, what gives, pastor?

Well, John 4:24 tells us that “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So, this is a case of metaphorical language. It’s anthropomorphic. Talking face to face is another way of saying they talked intimately. Moses and God talked like friends. Jesus said the same thing to the disciples in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” While God said He wouldn’t go with Israel, at least God is talking to Moses. God is talking to their mediator, to their representative. There was hope for Israel, and there’s hope for you and me.

Think about the marvelous privilege we share today. How can we meet with God? We don’t have to go somewhere special. We don’t have to pitch a tent. In fact, the Bible tells us that our bodies, our very selves, are an earthly tent (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). Ephesians 2:18 says, “For through [Jesus] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, then you take your tent everywhere you go because God’s presence is in you as His child. In a spiritual sense, you’re the tent. We can talk intimately to God face to face, as it were.

In his book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, author Brennan Manning recounts the following true story of a man dying of cancer:

The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit.

“I guess you were expecting me,” he said.

“No, who are you?”

“I’m the new associate at your parish,” the priest replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”

“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?”

Puzzled, the priest shut the door.

“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass, I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally, I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’ “‘Here,’ says my pastor, reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk. ‘Read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’

“Well, Father,” says the man, “I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered, ‘for nothin.’ “I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you always.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’

“So, Padre, I tried it, and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact, beyond strange – kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”

We have the privilege of speaking with our heavenly Father as a man speaks to his friend, and we must not neglect it. Let’s nourish our relationship with God so that we might talk intimately with Him.

We Have An Assignment We Cannot Complete

Finally, in verses 12-13, Moses asks God for help in leading the people. Basically, what Moses said was, “We don’t have the resources to fulfill this mission.” Moses wanted to know God and His ways. Look at verse 13, “…please show me now Your ways, that I may know You…” Jesus would say, essentially, the same thing to His disciples in John 15:5 when He was talking about the vine and the branches, “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” And God answered Moses’ bold request in verse 14, “My presence will go with you.”

In our journey of faith, there will be times in which all of us say, “Lord, You are all I have.” It might be a difficult child. It might be a strained marriage. It might be the loss of a job or the diagnosis of a terminal disease or the death of a loved one. Whatever it is, in those moments, we realize that not only is He all we have, but He’s all we ever really needed. We have to have God’s presence in order to fulfill His mission. Think about it.

What distinguished Israel was not their land (they didn’t have it yet). What distinguished Israel was not their wealth (they had been slaves). What distinguished Israel was not their culture (it wasn’t fully developed yet). What distinguished Israel was not their righteousness (they had just bowed down to a golden calf, for crying out loud). What distinguished Israel was their relationship with God. They were His people. And the same is true for those who know Jesus, personally.

We don’t rely on methods and money and marketing (although we might utilize them), instead, we rely on God’s mighty presence. Mountain Hill has always relied on God’s presence to reach other nations, plant, and partner with other churches, care for widows and orphans and the unborn, parent our kids, live as godly husbands/wives, and everything else. We have to have God or these things will simply not happen. Tony Merida, in his commentary on Exodus, writes, “Perhaps the greatest problem with the church today is the attempt to do the work of God apart from the presence and power of God. We can get so good at ‘doing church’ that the ministry becomes mechanical and mundane.”

We have to join Moses and the Israelites and say, “Lord, we don’t want to go another step without You. In fact, we can’t go another step without You.” The Spirit of God working in and through people committed to Jesus was what made the early church so powerful. Let it be true of us as well.

Let me close with verse 17. God decided to be with Israel. Why? Because of their mediator. Israel was blessed because of Moses. And God has decided to be with us because of our mediator – the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father was pleased with His Son, and He confirmed His pleasure in Jesus by raising Him from the dead. If you’re not a believer in Jesus, may you turn to Him in faith today. You can, indeed, experience a relationship with God.

From valley to valley out over the hilltops,
From sunshine to fog like the darkest of night;
So, we follow the Lord down life’s winding pathway,
And walk much by faith and little by sight.

It would be easy to see were His presence like lightning,
And easy to hear if like thunder His voice;
But He leads in the quiet by the voice of the Spirit,
And we follow in love for we’ve made Him our choice.

The path that we tread by the cross is o’er shadowed,
And the glory at times by pain is made dim;
Temptations assail and the spirit grows weary,
Yet we’re ever sustained by the vision of Him.

The years of our lives be they few or be many,
Will soon pass away as dreams of the night;
Then we’ll step through the portals on eternity’s morning,
And greet Him in glory as faith turns to sight.

The Path We Tread (by Richard L. Baxter)

We have a need we can’t overlook. We have a privilege we must not neglect. And we have an assignment we can’t complete without the presence of God giving us great hope as we continue on life’s journey.

Exodus: Journey to Freedom (32:1-9, 30-34)

Exodus 32:1-9, 30-34

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and let’s go back to Exodus 32. Only two more weeks and we’ll be done with Exodus. I promised that we would be finished by the end of August and I’m sticking with it, even though there’s still so much more that we could cover. Of course, Exodus 32 is known to most of us as the story of the golden calf, and indeed that’s what happens at this point in Israel’s journey, but it’s more than that. Ultimately, it’s the story of every human heart.

Think about this for a moment. In the day-to-day comings and goings of life, there’s actually no such thing as atheism. There’s no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice is what we worship. And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of “god” or spiritual thing – be it Jesus or Allah, be it Jehovah, or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some sacrosanct set of ethical principles – is because pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you’ll never have enough. You’ll always want more. You’ll never find a sense of peace and contentment. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you’ll always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you’ll die a million deaths on your way to the grave. On one level, we already know this. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power and you’ll end up feeling weak and afraid, and you’ll need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you’ll end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They’re default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

To paraphrase the great reformer of the 16th century, John Calvin, “The human heart is an idol factory.” Os Guiness and John Seel, in their book No God but God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age, write, “Idolatry is the most discussed problem in the Bible… There can be no believing communities without an unswerving eye to the detection and destruction of idols.” Left to ourselves, we’ll worship something other than the living God. And that’s what we’re going to look at this morning.

But before we do, let’s pause and seek God’s blessing:

“O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire You with our whole heart, that so desiring we may seek and find You; and so finding You we may love You; and loving You we may hate those sins from which You have redeemed us; for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Anselm of Canterbury, Prayers of the Early Church & Prayers of the Middle Ages, Edited by J. Manning Potts, 1954.)

We’ve noted how there are these connections, these links between Exodus and Genesis, between the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle, well here’s another one. This is a story about another “great fall.” While Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions on the proper way to worship the living God, the people were back at camp taking a huge plunge into sin.

If you’re in the habit of taking notes in your Bible, then write 1 Corinthians 10, beside Exodus 32. That’s right; the Apostle Paul uses this exact story (and others from Israel’s years of desert wandering) to warn the church about the snare of idolatry. He says, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! [T]herefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12, 14 NIV).

If you’re still wondering whether or not there’s anything for us – New Testament, new covenant believers – to learn from the dusty, dark pages of the Old Testament, then wonder no more. In Exodus, the Israelites were tempted with their memories and experiences of the Egyptian gods. In Corinth, they were tempted with the local pagan gods. And the same is true in America 2023. The “gods” may look different but the principle is the same: we must avoid the idols of our hearts. So, let’s consider two challenges from Exodus 32, as they relate to idolatry.

Be Careful Not to Fall

Why did Israel fall into idolatry? For the same reason that we do. And I’m going to quickly give you six reasons directly from the text.

We Fall When We Disobey the Word of God (32:1a)
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us’” (Exodus 32:1a, ESV).What was given to the nation of Israel back in Exodus 20? (Ten Commandments, right). The next 5 chapters (Exodus 20-24) all recount God’s message to Moses and set forth some of His covenant rules. And when Moses finished telling the people everything, listen to what Exodus 24:3 says; “When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the LORD has said we will do.’” Yet, what do they do? They reject God’s word and make an idol.

They claimed to be worshipping “the LORD,” and they proceeded to give offerings, yet they made an image to do so. Perhaps they thought they were worshipping the real God, but they were worshipping in a way that clearly violated what God had said. We do the same thing. We’ve been given the word of God (the Bible) and many of us have said (and do say) that we will obey it, and yet, we fall when we disobey the very word that we have access to. So, number one, we fall when we disobey the word of God.

We Fall When We Fail to Trust the Purposes of God (32:1b)
“As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1b). That’s not true. They knew where he was. They just didn’t trust his involvement with God’s purposes. They were frustrated with his extended absence, and instead of trusting in God’s purposes, they moved on. Israel wanted to get on with their journey, but God had not told them the specifics, only that He would go with them.

The same is true for us. God hasn’t given us a script. There’s no special roadmap that gets handed out when you repent of your sin and follow Jesus that tells you everything that’s going to happen (when/where/how/why). But the Bible does tell us that “[He] will be with us even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Many people look at God’s promise to return and say, “Well, you know what, He hasn’t come back in 2000+ years, I’m just gonna move on too.”  Like Israel, we say “What about this man, Jesus? Is He coming back or not?  Must not, so I’ll just move on.”  Trust Him. Trust God’s timing. His purposes are good and best. So, number two, we fall when we fail to trust the purposes of God.

We Fall When We Forget the Grace of God (32:2)
“So Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me’” (Exodus 32:2). Do you remember, when we were talking about all of the materials and items needed for the tabernacle, where did all of that stuff come from? (Their plundering of Egypt, right?) Who made that possible? (God.) The gold came from God’s victory. It pictured His grace and His faithfulness. And yet Israel minimized God’s grace by giving it to an idol, rather than using it for His glory.

Psalm 106:19-21 says, “At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal. They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass. They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt.” The psalmist says it explicitly – they forgot the God who saved them.  Sometimes, we get so busy and preoccupied that we, too, forget the God who saved us.  When we do, we’re suspect to fall.  So, number three, we fall when we forget the grace of God. And number four is related to this…

We Fall When We Fail to Use Our Gifts to the Glory of God (32:3)
“So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:3-4). We should enjoy God’s gifts, be thankful for God’s gifts, and use His gifts to build the kingdom, not for idolatrous devotion. Think about it for a moment. Put the gold to the side. Think about all the time and skill it took to make this idol. Instead of using the gifts of time, talent and treasure to honor God, they used it for idolatry. How are we using God’s gifts? Are we using them to bring Him glory or are we using them to feed our idols?

Many people want to be forgiven of their sins and go to heaven, but they want to hold on to the idols of the world. It was God who had delivered them. It was God who had saved them. It was God who had redeemed them, and yet they forgot God and offered praise to an idol. May we never stop thanking God for His grace and living for His glory.

We Fall When We Distort the Worship of God (32:5-6)
“When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:5-6). This entire scene was a picture of distorted worship. They did what was popular instead of doing what was right with regard to worship.

Today there’s a whole church culture that reflects this story. We want to do away with what Scripture says about worship and do it our way. Consequently, we have people sitting in the pews that are nothing more than consumers of worship, being entertained by artists and led by Aaron-like folks who pander to their congregation. God’s way of worship puts the gospel of Jesus Christ on display. God-centered, gospel-saturated worship talks about the cross, it talks about sin, and it shows sinners how they can be forgiven and worship Almighty God. There’s a movement afoot in some Christian circles that claims Jesus’ death upon the cross is nothing more than, to use their words, “cosmic child abuse.” In other words, the substitutionary death of Jesus is no longer preached and believed.  Worship – whatever else it might involve – is ultimately about glorifying God, rather than gratifying ourselves.  And when we change the message and shift focus away from the cross of Calvary we’re distorting worship and we’re subject to fall.

We Fall When We Exchange the Glory of God (32:8)
“They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:8) Paul’s letter to the church in Rome always comes to mind when I hear the phrase “exchanging the glory of God.” Listen to what he writes:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)

When you worship the wrong god, you’re capable of all types of sin. Have you ever thought about this, sin problems are worship problems. Your porn addiction is a worship problem. Your anger problem is a worship problem. Your greed is a worship problem. Your gluttony is a worship problem. Psalm 16:4 says, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” Folks, let’s love creation, use creation, steward creation, but let’s worship the Creator, the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There’s another issue that arises when we exchange the glory of God and that’s imitation. We become like what we worship. That’s what happened in verses 7-10, but it’s also illustrated for us in Psalm 115:4-8, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

Israel became spiritually lifeless like their idol. They became corrupt and nasty like cattle. They also became “stiff-necked” and stubborn like unruly cattle. They had gotten out of control and had to be led like cattle. Interesting note here; I was reading one commentator that said that might have been why Moses ground up the golden calf and made them drink it – so that it could get digested and become unusable filth. So, what should we do to avoid falling? Worship God! 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Lo and behold, we resemble what we revere. We imitate Him who we worship.

See Our Need for a Substitute

We didn’t have time to read and study the entire chapter, but as you read it again, you’ll notice that Moses confronts Aaron and then he goes back up the mountain to intercede for the people. Verse 30, “The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’” Moses appealed to God. He didn’t minimize their sin. He said it was a “grave sin.” He sought forgiveness for their sin.

Then he said something amazing in verse 32, “But now, if you will forgive their sin – but if not, please blot me out of Your book that You have written.’” Moses offered to lose his own life for the sake of Israel – something that Paul would say in Romans 9:3-4, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers [and sisters], my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

Moses and Paul understood the nature of salvation: when people sin, they need a substitute. And here is a new approach. Rather than the priests offering sacrifices as the substitute, the representative of God [Moses] offers himself as the sacrifice. But God didn’t accept. God did grant mercy and agree to continue on with Israel: the stiff-necked people. But Moses couldn’t die because he too was a sinner.

This whole chapter, as much as it’s a warning against idolatry and the dangers of the human heart apart from God, points us to one greater reality: we need a perfect substitute. And praise God, we have One! He would come from THIS VERY people – the Jews. He would ascend to the cross and bear the punishment that we idolaters deserve. He took the punishment in our place, in order for our sins to be covered. Jesus would say, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And praise be to God, if you’ve trust in the completed work of Christ Jesus upon the cross of Calvary, then your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

If you’re here this morning and you’ve never done that, then let me invite you to do it today. You need to see Jesus as your substitute. He died in your place for your idolatry, so that you could be reconciled to God. You need a new life that can only be found in and through Jesus. Just trust Him. Just surrender your life. Repent of your sin. Acknowledge it for what it is – rebellion against a holy God. And accept the free gift of God’s grace in Christ.

To those of you that have trusted Jesus, you need to see your idols for what they are – dumb, unable to satisfy, unable to bring peace and joy and hope. Put your lusts to death daily (Colossians 3:5). “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God (Colossians 3:4). Remember that you’re a new creation. “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly” (Colossians 3:16). See all of life as an opportunity to worship Christ. Believe that He’s the best Master, the most intimate companion, and the most superior source of satisfaction.