We’ve been looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippian church
for a while now. There are good and bad
things about preaching a book series. On
the one hand, I love it because I always know where I’m going next. Preaching a book series gives you material to
preach from for a while. It also forces
you to preach things that you wouldn’t normally preach, so it makes you deal
with material that doesn’t usually get a lot of play. The downside, however, is that you can end up
wearing yourself out on a particular book.
I still love the letter to the church at Philippi. I think it has some incredible truth for us
to glean. But this is our ninth sermon
on the book of Philippians. We’ve got
one more next week and then we’re going to move on to other things through the
All that being said, I love Paul’s letters because, well,
they’re letters. They are specific
instructions written to a specific group of people. They are encouraging, difficult, frustrating,
condemning, uplifting, and full of wonderful truths. The other thing that’s great about Paul’s
letters is that they are usually very practical. The gospels and history books have a lot of
theology in them and reading about the life of Jesus is definitely inspiring,
but sometimes they’re lacking a bit in practicality. The epistles, however, were written to real
local churches about real issues going on in life. They have a flow and rhythm to them. Philippians is no different. Because of that and because of where we’re
going with the text today, I want to spend a few moments reviewing this letter
before we go on.
What we’ve been looking at in Philippians is very practical
theology, what the Christian life might look like if lived out faithfully. Some of this may seem rather radical at first
glance. To hear Paul talk about living
and dying the way he does makes it seem that possibly he is completely
uninterested in this life. Upon further
review, however, this couldn’t be less true.
Paul was intimately connected to the present life as well as the one to
come. The iconic verse 21 in the first
chapter, I believe, sets up the entire book for us. “To live is Christ and to die, gain.” Everything about life and death is bound up
in the person of Jesus. I understand
this seems unrealistic. After all, most
of our time is taken up with trying to live.
We have bills to pay, jobs to go to, families to take care of…on, and
on, and on. When would we find time to
devote our whole lives to Christ?
I submit that this sort of lifestyle, this “living for
Christ and dying is gain” sort of lifestyle is ridiculously radical if
salvation is simply a momentary thing.
Remember back to Easter when we talked about the two-fold meaning of
salvation. We said that the cross of
Christ represented being saved from
something. The fact that Jesus died on a
cross saves us from our sin, saves us from the second death, and saves us from
Hell and eternal separation from God.
But that in itself is an incomplete view of salvation. Salvation is not a momentary thing. Accepting the salvation of Jesus is bigger
Have you ever had to have a relationship defining
conversation? You know what I’m talking
about. This is the whole “where are we
going?” conversation. I once heard a
pastor give a message called “Define the Relationship.” In this sermon the preacher talked about the
question Jesus posed to his disciples, “who do men say the Son of Man is?” They gave him various answers, then he turned
the tables on them and asked, “but what about you? Who do you say that I am?” The pastor’s point was that in our Christian
lives often we stop with an incomplete definition of our faith. Often we stop at the cross of Jesus and say
“Thank you God that I’m saved!” That is
not, however, the whole of our salvation.
In fact, it is an incomplete, blasphemous view of salvation. We see the truth in Philippians 1:21. To live is
Christ. We must understand this going
forward. If not, we miss the whole point
of following Jesus. When Peter responded
to Jesus’ query he said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If Jesus really is the Christ, if he really
is the one who came to save the world, there can be only one response. If Jesus really is the Messiah, there can be
only one way to live. In light of this,
Paul’s claim isn’t radical at all; in fact, it’s normal.
Following the text into chapter 2 we see Paul spurring us on
toward humility, and not just any humility, not just thinking less of yourself,
but Christ’s humility, literally putting others before yourself, literally
thinking of yourself less. Having the
nature of Christ, we would not consider ourselves at all, but would give our
own lives for the sake of others, we would use up our lives so that others might
know and love Jesus.
This is all important because Paul is going to continue this
argument into chapter 3. The third
chapter is a brief biography of Paul’s past.
He does this to illustrate the point he has continued to make since the
beginning of chapter 1. It’s the same
point that carries him all the way through this letter. To live is Christ. In the third chapter Paul tells the
Philippians that all his efforts are focused on one thing…knowing Christ. Paul says he wants to know Christ as
intimately as possible, sharing with him in his sufferings, even becoming like
him in death. Paul wants to know Christ.
Several years ago a songwriter named Dennis Jernigan wrote a
song entitled “You Are My All in All.” I
think Paul would have liked the sentiment behind this song. The lyric goes like this:
You are my strength when I am weak
You are the Treasure that I seek
You are my all in all
Seeking You as a precious jewel
Lord, to give up I’d be a fool
You are my all in all
You are my all in all.
To live is Christ.
You can hear the passion in Paul’s voice at the end of
chapter 3. You can hear the angst. “I haven’t achieved it yet, but I want it so
badly. I don’t know Jesus as much as I
want to know him. I press on…”
Like I said before, I think this is vital for us to
understand before we can go forward. We
must get that living is all about Jesus.
We must understand that being a Christian is less about getting saved and more about being saved. This is not radical Christianity. This is Christianity.
It’s because of what Paul has been talking about for ¾ of
the letter that he can say what he’s about to say in this text. He’s spent so much time building up this idea
that our lives are about passionately pursuing Jesus that what he says next
isn’t ridiculous at all. Instead, it
makes perfect sense.
One of the things I love about Paul’s letters is the
intimacy with which he writes. In verses
2-3 Paul calls out a couple of women who apparently have some sort of
disagreement because Paul tells them basically to get along. “Agree in the Lord” he says. Isn’t it sad that so many people spend so
much time disagreeing? I’m guilty of
it. I’m perfectly capable of getting my
feelings hurt and disagreeing with brothers.
It’s foolishness. There is more
that unites us than divides us. And
Jesus is the most uniting power of all!
“Agree in the Lord.” Work
together as brothers and sisters for the cause of the gospel.
Then Paul makes a bold declaration. “Rejoice in the Lord always…Rejoice.” Why rejoice?
If Jesus is truly your all, if Jesus is really the only thing that
matters, then our lives should be filled with joy! There’s a beautiful hymn that exhorts us to
look to Jesus. Listen to this lyric:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will
grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and
If Jesus is the only thing that matters to us, then the
things of the world will become dim to us.
They will become foggy. They will
fade into obscurity. If Jesus is truly
what we live for, nothing else will matter.
So Paul can easily tell us to rejoice, because as Christians joy should
be our default.
I love this paragraph because it’s so pertinent to me
personally. It’s easy for me to not be
joyful. It’s a simple thing for me to
lose my focus and start to get discouraged by the world. I have a natural penchant for having a low
self esteem. I put on a good show most
of the time and I hide my depression behind a cloud of arrogance and pride, but
it’s something I fight all the time.
This passage speaks to me because if my focus truly were on Jesus at all
times, if my life really was about Christ, these things would be where I landed
Rejoice, Paul says.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. What does this have to do with anything? Reasonableness has to do with steadiness,
being thoughtful. Why does this
matter? Thoughtful people aren’t often
given to flights of emotion. Thoughtful
people generally don’t jump to ridiculous conclusions. Thoughtful people can more easily maintain
their joy because they aren’t always up and down, up and down. They are steady. I understand that this goes against human
nature a lot. We are an emotional
people, even those of us who aren’t “emotional.” Think about it. We tend to think that “emotional” people cry
all the time. This simply isn’t
true. We are all emotional. We are all driven by feelings, whether we
show them all the time or not. Why is
Paul including this here? Because joy
has nothing to do with emotion. Joy is
internal, dependant not on external influences, but our state of mind. Rejoice!
Don’t be driven to flights of emotion.
Paul goes on. “Do not
be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Do not be anxious. Don’t fret.
Why not? God is in control. Remember that when Jesus is our focus the
things of the world fade away. Don’t be
anxious, but instead pray. Take your
cares to God. Cast your cares upon
him. “And the peace of God, which
surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ
Doesn’t this paragraph sound good to you? Doesn’t this just put you at ease? With everything that Paul has been saying in
the previous three chapters this just makes me feel good. There are so many times in my own life when I
find myself not pursuing Jesus. There
are so many instances when I am not faithfully pressing forward to know him
better. I definitely do not maintain the
humility of Christ. So often I think
only of myself and not of others at all.
But in this paragraph Paul is reminding us that when we focus on Jesus
we can be filled with joy. We can lose
our anxiety. We can be at peace.
Let’s be honest.
There’s a lot about following Jesus that is terrifying. We can say that it’s not, but it makes us a
little nervous. You may not be nervous
about going on an overseas mission trip.
You may not even be nervous to speak in front of people. But following Jesus is scary. Why?
We’re afraid he’s going to ask us to do something we just don’t want to
do. We’re terrified that there’s going
to be something Jesus is going to ask us to give up that we just don’t want to
give up. When I read Paul’s letters I
feel so inadequate. I love the truth in
them. I love the theology. But I’m just not there yet. This paragraph makes me feel better about
following Jesus. It makes me feel better
because even though there are moments that are scary, even though there will be
times that are hard, Jesus is my peace and my joy. He is my hope and I no longer have to be
Paul closes this short passage in verses 8-9 with another
exhortation: “whatever is true, whatever
is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever
is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of
praise, think about these things.” As we
look at these words, probably many things come to mind. Having such a long list of things to think
about, our minds probably are filled with a plethora of mental pictures. As I looked at these words while writing my
sermon, however, I was struck by something.
What is the theme of this letter?
It seems to me to be “to live is Christ.” When I look at these words in sequence, then,
I come up with one thing to think about.
Look at this sequence of words: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely,
commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
To live is Christ. Have the
humility of Christ. I want to know
Christ. I think Paul may be giving
another encouragement to look to Christ.
Jesus is the focus. At
Cornerstone our theology is simple. It’s
Jesus. The world started with Jesus, it
will end with Jesus, and everything in between is all about Jesus. To live really is Christ. I would draw your attention to this chorus
one more time:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will
grow strangely dim
In the light his glory and grace