DEVOTION: Growing with God (Philippians 1:3-11)
Now the reason that I ask that, is because those questions define a contemporary problem within the life of the church. The problem of the church in a state of decline. And one of the reasons that has occurred, is because people stop learning, people think that they know enough, and as a consequence for many people, going to church ceases to have any relevance.
Of course, complicating all this, is the issue of the modern life cycle. Because life, these days, is often considered in terms of cycles. There’s our birth and early years. That is then followed up by a period of growing up and learning. Then there’s our adult life and the everyday experiences where we grow in knowledge and experience. And after that is retirement.
And depending where you are on the life cycle, will invariably reflect your attitude to life. So, for example, those in the growing cycle don’t always consider the implications of their actions for the future. So they can take great risks without considering the consequences. On the other hand, those in the retirement cycle can often look longingly at the past, and in doing so gloss over many of the negative things that have occurred.
The advantage of thinking in terms of a life cycle, however, is that it makes it easier to put things into perspective. Unfortunately, it can also colour our thinking, with the danger of excluding the things that are really important.
As a consequence, the young may not always be ready to face the realities and responsibilities of life, let alone the Christian faith. And, those in the retirement cycle, may end up retiring from more than just paid work.
So, having said that, is retirement from the faith really an option?
Well not according to the Apostle Paul, for the Apostle Paul argues the exact opposite. Indeed, Paul argues that the most important thing in life, is for us to get our relationship with God right. Furthermore, he states, that as far as God is concerned, the most important thing is for us to have a good and healthy relationship with him. God wants us to pursue a good and healthy relationship with him.
And how we do that? Well there are some clues in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. A letter Paul wrote to a group of people who were Christians and who were actively involved in the church at Philippi. Indeed, more than just involved in the local area, they were considered partners with Paul on his missionary journeys. In other words they were heavily involved in the Christian faith (which included church life). And this is what Paul said to them.
Firstly, he thanked them for their faith and participation as a church in the life of mission. He then encouraged them to continue the mission work—even after he had died. Not just for a few years, then, but until Christ came again. In addition, he encouraged them all (without exception) to become much more deeply involved in the faith and in their relationship with God.
As far as Paul was concerned, faith wasn’t something where you could reach a particular point and that was it. It wasn’t something that you could pursue, but only so far. It wasn’t even something you could pursue outside of the church, outside of the community of faith. Rather, it was something that had to be worked at and pursued no matter where one was in the Christian faith. Indeed, there was always more to learn, and a deeper relationship with God to pursue. Faith and commitment to God’s church for Paul were inseparable, and not something you could retire from at all.
So, as you can see, Paul’s attitude and teaching are in stark contrast to the attitudes of many people today. For many people today get to a certain stage in their Christian journey and then that’s it. It’s like there’s no need for any further effort. And, sadly, it is those kinds of people who tend to fall away. In contrast, the biblical reality is that there is no such thing as retirement from the Christian faith. On the contrary, the Bible expresses the need for people to be spurred on, and to pursue an even richer and deeper relationship with God.
Paul taught there is always much more that we can do. Indeed, each time we reach one step, there is always another step we can take. There is no retirement from the Christian faith. And there is no retirement from a commitment to God’s church. That’s how God works.
Fortunately for us, he usually asks us to take only one step at a time.
Posted: 28th September 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Harmony in the Church (Philippians 2:1-4)
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in chapter one, he indicates that the world is divided, hence him being in chains. He then turns his attention to the problem of a divided church—a situation which he said would be counterproductive. So to avoid the problem of a divided church, Paul suggested an alternative. And he principally spoke about four things:
That is, the need to build a harmonious church, full of encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion; the need to promote unity, being like-minded, of the same love, and one in spirit and purpose; the need to avoid selfish ambition and instead treat others as worthy of preferential treatment; and the need to have a concern for others.
In other words pursuing one’s own interests is fine, but only if there is equal concern for the interests of others.
Now does that sound like a tough task? Well it is. And multiply that out by the number of believers and the number of churches and the number of denominations, and the task gets a whole lot harder. Nevertheless, the principles that Paul sets down for a harmonious church are still ones of which we should take special note.
The church at Philippi was but one congregation, and even so there was some evidence of disunity. So today, not everyone will agree on everything that is said or done in the church (and each church will have its own special needs). But the principles regarding the need to maintain harmony, and to look beyond the needs of the individual to the needs of all, is still very important. Indeed, as Christians, it should be at the forefront of everything we do.
Posted: 19th June 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: What Made Jesus Tick (Philippians 2:5-11)
1. What Makes Someone Tick
One of the issues of great interest today, is the issue of what makes someone tick. Indeed we are bombarded with biographies, documentaries, and other television programmes, where questions are asked of a variety of people, in order to work out what makes, or what made, someone tick.
Questions are asked to work out what is important to the person concerned; what their background was; what influences they may have had; why they chose certain manners of behaviour, rather than others; and who their role models were.
Indeed, we seem to be obsessed about establishing frameworks in which people live (or lived); in trying to understand where they have come from; and, for those still living, trying to work out where they may be headed too.
2. What Made Jesus Tick
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about our obsession with other people. Because it’s not just a modern phenomenon. Indeed, even in the bible there are examples of that kind of curiosity. And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the topic is not just about anyone, it’s about none other than Jesus himself.
Indeed, in a section based on what could have been an early first century hymn, we have Paul’s version of what was it that made Jesus tick; what it was that Jesus had in mind when he chose to be born to live an earthly life; what it was that was important to him; and what it was that Jesus cherished.
B. THE MIND OF CHRIST
So what was it that, according to Paul, made Jesus tick?
1. The Eternal God Becomes Incarnate (5-7)
Well Paul’s starting point is the concept of Jesus before he was even born as a baby in this world. Indeed, he identifies him as Christ Jesus in heaven, being truly God and, at the same time, co-existing with the Father. He then goes on to state that Jesus, using his own free will, chose to empty himself—to deprive himself of his proper place—so that he could be born into this world.
Now, that is a mind-boggling statement. And unfortunately Paul does not give us the details of what Jesus emptied himself of. But he does describe what Jesus emptied himself to become. And that is he became an ordinary human being—just like you and me. And within that, he took on the role of a servant—a role that he deliberately consigned himself to—knowing full well where that role would take him.
Now one could easily ask, “Why would anyone to do anything like that? Why would the Son of God voluntarily put aside his position, power, and authority in the triune God, and come to live on earth with us—insignificant beings in comparison? After all, we are just part of the universe that he had helped create, and a very small part at that. So, why would he do that?
And here we get the first clue of what made Jesus tick. Because Paul quite clearly tells us that the Son of God did it because he believed that being obedient to the Father was more important than anything else. He might have had position, power, and authority, but they were nothing in comparison with doing what his Father wanted.
Now we can speculate that life would have been far more comfortable for the Son of God if he’d stayed in heaven. But as far as Jesus was concerned, absolutely nothing was going to get in the way of his relationship with his Father. And that meant that disobeying God’s will and pursuing his own self-interest was not an option as far as Jesus was concerned. As a consequence, whilst Jesus was not compelled to do God’s bidding, he freely chose to follow his Father’s leading, with whatever hardships that would come his way.
2. The Incarnate Becomes a Curse (8)
Now, of course, the idea of the Son of God coming to earth, could quite easily have meant the birth of a baby, but a baby who could use all his godly powers in this world too. But Jesus didn’t do that either. Indeed, even with the miracles that Jesus performed, he showed remarkable restraint in the use of any godly powers.
Yes, he was tempted to use them on a number of occasions. But Jesus restricted himself to the powers that were available through the Holy Spirit, that the prophets and others had demonstrated before him. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm. But then Moses had parted the Red Sea and got water from a rock. Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. But Elijah and Elisha had done exactly the same things before.
There was only one thing that Jesus did that had not been done before, and that was to heal the blind. But then that was traditionally believed to be a sign that only the Messiah could do. And as a consequence was one of the proofs of who he really was.
And, as a consequence of his restraint, Jesus not only acted as a human being but was seen to be a human being too. Indeed, in his home base at Capernaum, the people said: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55).
Now the fact that he didn’t use his own godly powers for his own benefit is significant. Because it meant that he had to face the world as we face it—with all the greed, self-interest, and all its troubles and faults. And most significantly he had to face the one thing that the heavenly Son of God should not have had to face—death.
Jesus, the Son of God, could have used his divine powers, just as the devil tempted him to do in the wilderness. He could have used his immortality, proper to God alone, to avoid being sacrificed upon a cross. But he didn’t. Instead, he put his divine nature aside; he faced life as we face it; and he submitted himself to something which otherwise would have had no control over him—death itself.
And why did he humble himself in such a way? Why did he so totally submit himself to the task in hand? Well, it was all a matter of obedience to God. Nothing else mattered. The only thing that mattered to Jesus was doing God’s will. Nothing more, nothing less. And as far as he was concerned, no price was too high to pay in the carrying out of God’s will.
And the fact is there was a high price to pay. The Old Testament sacrificial system worked on the basis of a transfer of sin and guilt, from those who were guilty to the sacrificial victim who was innocent. But the Old Testament sacrificial system was incomplete, for no uncomprehending, unconsenting animal could really represent people, only a perfect man could do that.
So here we get the second clue of what made Jesus tick. Because Jesus recognised that only he could be that sacrificial victim. The sacrifice had to be a human being, and it had to be one who had never sinned. As a consequence, in an act of total obedience to God, and submitting himself to the horror of death, Jesus became that sacrificial victim.
Now people who died by hanging on a tree—or crucifixion—were recognised as being cursed (Gal 3:13). And Jesus’s cry of dereliction on the cross, shows the extent of his momentary rejection by God. Nevertheless, as a result of what Jesus did, he made it possible for people everywhere to transfer their sin and guilt on to him; for them to begin their lives again with a clean slate; and to enter into a full relationship with the Father, without the barrier of sin getting in the way.
When Jesus was in heaven, he had looked at himself, his father, and us. And he had decided that there was a much more cherished purpose for his existence than simply clinging on to what he was and what he had. Consequently he chose to be obedient to his Father and come to our rescue; he decided to take what he had—what was best, greatest and most desirable—and he abandoned it all freely. In short, he humbled himself in order that we could be saved.
3. The Curse Becomes Exalted (9-11)
What made Jesus tick, then, was his recognition of his need to be totally obedient to his Father; and his recognition of the fact that only he was able to save his Father’s creation.
And because Jesus recognised those things—because of the sacrifices that he made for a greater cause than his own comfort—God rewarded him. God the Father took that emptied and broken man off the cross and exalted him to the highest place of honour—a place where at some stage every person who has lived, is living, or will live, will acknowledge his position, authority, and power.
Jesus didn’t resurrect himself. He couldn’t, he needed God the Father to do that. And why did his Father do that? Well, not because Jesus had gone through the motions; not because he had mechanically done certain things at certain times. But, rather, because of the sort of person that Jesus was. It was the way Jesus looked at things; the values that he cherished; and the principles he observed. Because Jesus did not insist on holding on to the things that were his or even his glory. Indeed, he was willing to give up everything, to be obedient to his Father, for what he saw to be a greater cause.
And because Jesus humbled himself—because he did all these things—he showed obedience to God the Father, and a love of God and his creation to the uttermost degree. The very things that the Father prized the most highly.
Now can you think of anything that is more mind-boggling than what Paul has described?
Having said that, however, Paul did not set down his insights into Jesus just to satisfy our curiosity. He did not write them down so we could simply look at the historical figure of Jesus and see what made him tick. No! Paul’s intention was more than that. What Paul intended was for his insight in to Jesus to actually help in transforming lives.
Now in a sense thinking about what Jesus has done may well do that. But Paul wanted to be sure that our part in Jesus’s story wasn’t missed too.
Which is why, in the very opening sentence of this passage Paul begins: “Your attitude should be the same as the attitude of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5a). And that of course should get us asking, not just “what made Jesus tick?” but “what are the things that make us tick” too?
1. Obedience to God
Because if the Son of God’s primary aim in life was to be obedient to God—and that was his one overriding goal—can we say that the same goal is on top of our agenda too? In other words, do we always put God first in our thinking, in the way that we organise our lives, and in the things that we do.
Because, you know, there are many other things that we can be tempted to put on the top of our agendas. There are many things that we may find to be appealing, attractive, tempting . . . Or even that we may be encouraged by others to do.
So when it comes to us—and what makes us tick—can we confidently say, without hesitation, that God—and doing what God asks—is our number one priority too. Indeed, are we confident that we allow nothing, absolutely nothing, to get in the way of fulfilling that priority?
2. Rescuing God’s Creation
And if the Son of God’s aim was to give his all for the benefit of God’s creation—and that included sacrificing his own life in order for others to be reconciled with their God—is that something that is part of what makes us tick too?
Because there are many alternate ways that we can live. And it can be very easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are helping others when, all the time, our hearts are really into helping ourselves.
So when it comes to us—and what makes us tick—can we confidently say that we are genuine in our want to reconcile those around us with their creator God?
3. Willingness to Serve
And, if the Son of God sacrificed everything that he had—his godhood down to his human life, willingly—can we also say that we commit ourselves to the total devotion that is required to serve God and our fellow man? And that we do so voluntarily, of our own free will.
Because being embarrassed into helping others, or feeling obligated, is not the same thing. So are we willing and eager to help, and help no matter what the cost?
4. Exalted by God
Now, of course, if we can answer all those questions in the affirmative, we, like Jesus, can expect to be exalted by God. But not because we are motivated by the prize (because that shouldn’t be the case), and certainly not because we deserve it. Rather we will be exalted by God simply because we embody the things that he prizes the most highly. And because as a consequence, he has seen something inside us, that in his eyes, is very special indeed.
The question of what makes someone tick, what influences them, and what motivates them in life, then, is something that is often asked. And that is particularly true regarding well-known and influential people. And in the letter from Paul’s to the Philippians we have Paul’s reflection on Jesus himself.
But, as I’ve said, Paul did not set out his insight to simply satisfy our curiosity. Rather the insights that he gave were intended to transform lives.
Paul’s intention was to let the members of the Philippian church know—using the example of Jesus—what it was that should make them tick. Consequently we have a picture of what should make us tick too.
For any believer, then, far more important than anything else should be: an acceptance of the need for obedience to God—putting God first before anything else; an acceptance of the role of helping one’s fellow man—in their need for reconciliation with their creator God; and a willingness to do both, voluntarily, and without compunction—and to do so, no matter what the cost.
These were the marks of the Son of God as he considered being born into this world as a baby; these are the things that made Jesus tick. And these are the marks that should be seen in all of us today.
Posted: 12th February 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Jesus Fully Human (Philippians 2:6-7)
And yet we read in the Bible that Jesus being in nature God, made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7); that he was born (Luke 2:1-7); that he grew up (Luke 2:40); that he had a family (Matthew 12:46); and that as the eldest son he took responsibility for the care of his mother (John 19:27). Furthermore he was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11); rejected (Matthew 13:53-58) and persecuted (Luke 20:20-26). And even on the cross was totally dependent upon God the Father to come to his rescue (Luke 23:46).
Yes, the miracles show that he was special. But even Moses parted the sea (Exodus 14:21-22); Elijah raised the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24); and Elisha fed 100 men with enough bread to a feed only a few people (2 Kings 4:42-44). However, there is one miracle that was distinct, that only the Messiah was expected to do—and that was to heal the blind. It was something anticipated by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35:5), and one for which Jesus was noted (Matthew 11:1-6).
Of course we can ask, “Why is it so important that Jesus was fully human?” But the answer is, “If he was only pretending to be human, or even half human, his sacrifice would have been for nothing.” The sacrificial system required the sinner to pay for their sins, with something that was costly, with their own lives. But an animal without defect was substituted for the sinner. The sacrificial system looked forward to a time when someone who was fully human would make the perfect sacrifice. And only Jesus, fully human, but in total harmony with the Father, could do that.
Posted: 16th June 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Role Models (Philippians 3:17-4:1)
With news of organised crime, mass murder, terrorism, and the like, there are two basic concerns. Firstly, for the people that become involved and affected by the events themselves and, secondly, that others will get ideas and start copying what they have heard, seen, and read. And this why there is a growing reluctance to report every single detail in case others should get ideas.
Of course modern concerns—about people copying other people’s behaviour—are fuelled by the ready availability of information. If something happens on the other side of the world, we no longer have to wait months to hear about it. Indeed, all it now takes is a click of a button. But modern concerns have also been heightened because we are constantly reminded of the world situation, with the desperate situations that many people face, and with the desperate solutions that many may think are necessary.
Now there is nothing new in people copying other people’s behaviour. But unfortunately, it seems to be at the forefront of pour minds, these days, and for all the wrong reasons. Which is a shame, because while we may not want to encourage people to copy bad behaviour, there is much to be said about copying good behaviour. And we don’t want to lose the positive side because of fear of the negative.
B. IMITATING OTHERS
And one of the people who was aware about both was the Apostle Paul. Indeed, he was well aware that people copied other’s examples, subconsciously, if not deliberately. And as a consequence, in his letter to the Philippians, he pleaded with them not to copy people unthinkingly, but to imitate everything that was positive in the things that they saw when it came to the Christian faith.
And Paul argued his case from a very interesting perspective. Because he lay side by side worldly ways with godly ways, and he then challenged the people to choose which path they should take.
1. The Negative – The Enemies of the Cross (17-19)
And in regard to the worldly ways, Paul identified four different types of people that others often imitated:
Firstly, there were those who were anti-Christian, or who found the pull of the world too strong. And he included those who were not only antagonistic to anything Christian, but those who had no room for anything religious as well.
Secondly, there were those who recognised no authority outside of their personal satisfaction. Indeed, they believed that they had it in themselves to cater for their own needs. They were dependent upon no-one and needed no outside help whatsoever.
Thirdly, there were those who gloried in things of which they should have been ashamed. In other words, these were people who highly prized things that debased their own lives and whose practices debased others.
And fourthly, there were those whose horizons were totally earthbound and set on earthly things. People who were consumed with the acquisition of wealth and material possessions.
And with all these four different groups of people, Paul stated, there was one common factor to them all. All four excluded the presence of God in their lives. And as a consequence, the result of following any of them would result in the rejection God. They would then be enemies of the cross, and their only reward would be eternal destruction.
2. The Positive – Christ Our Hope (20-21)
But as an alternative to those negative and worldly ways, Paul gave one alternative model to imitate. And whilst he didn’t claim to be perfect himself, he did recognise his responsibility as a role model, and the responsibility of the other church leaders to be role models as well. And the model that Paul proclaimed was that of a true Christian. And this time he mentioned three distinctive attributes—not alternatives—and all part and parcel of the same.
And the first attribute was the possession of godly values that reflect not only a belief in the importance of things eternal, but the importance of Jesus’s crucifixion as the basis of Christian living.
Secondly, as a consequence of that, it was that life was to be lived in the expectation of Christ’s second coming. In other words, it involved a longing for the time when the new heaven and new earth would come and our bodies transformed ready for the eternal journey.
And, thirdly, it was that life was to be lived in the expectation that the second coming was not only certain, but imminent. In other words, to live a life where there was no time for idleness, where there was work to be done, where there was a concern for people who didn’t know Jesus; and where there was a need to share with others the message of eternal life.
3. The Logical Conclusion (4:1)
Then having outlined all the worldly ways —in its four different forms—and the alternative of Christianity—all models that could be imitated and copied from others—Paul gave the challenge, “which will you choose?” One of the four negative ways which lead to eternal destruction, or the one positive way—with its three different attributes—which leads to eternal life?
To which Paul naturally concluded that there was only one logical choice. And that was that his readers should stand firm in their faith, against whatever odds they were facing, because the rewards for being faithful to what they believed would be theirs if only they stood firm.
C. TWO CHALLENGES
Now in the light of the current trend to discourage people from imitating extreme negative behaviour, Paul’s example shows quite clearly, there is good behaviour that can be copied as well as bad. We should be concerned, therefore, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Nevertheless, to just blindly follow the example of someone else is always a bad idea, no matter who they are. Which is probably why Paul put the alternatives side by side—bad behaviour first, followed the good. So that way his readers could not claim to be ignorant about the consequences.
And as a consequence of that, Paul gave his readers (and us) two challenges:
1. Consider the Alternatives
And the first challenge is the obvious one: Have we considered the alternatives?
Are we the anti-Christian or just too wrapped up in the world? Do we live as though we are self-sufficient and need no outside help? Do we do things of which we should be ashamed? Are we consumed with earthly things?
Or do we imitate the beliefs and behaviour of people like Paul, in adopting the Christian faith. Where our beliefs are characterised by a distinctive set of godly values; where we live in expectation of Christ’s second coming; and where we live with the urgency that that expectation bring?
The first challenge then: Have we considered the alternatives?
2. Being Role Models Ourselves
And the second challenge is: If people like Paul were role models for us, what kind of role models are we?
Whatever decision we make regarding how we want to live our lives, whether we like it or not, in some way we are all role models. And the lifestyle we live, will be the kind of lifestyle we broadcast to others.
Those involved in organised crime, mass murders, terrorism, and the like are all role models. They attract people who want to adopt their ways. And people who are Christians, or who claim to belong to a church, are role models too. Because others see us and mould their lives on what they see just as much as what they have heard.
Indeed, if we proclaim the faith in a casual manner—i.e. in a manner inconsistent with Paul’s description of the Christian faith—then that is the kind of message that we will spread to others. And no matter what we say, people will learn from our behaviour.
If we’re erratic when it comes to the expression of our faith—in our morals, in our standards, in the way we hold ourselves, and in our priority of the Christian faith—that is what people will learn from us—and copy from us—and even conclude that faith is an optional extra.
If we’re a bit hit and miss when it comes to going to church, then that is what others will adopt. They will conclude that worshipping God as a community, that caring for one another, and that supporting one another is not important either.
Indeed, if we are causal in our faith, we should not be surprised when the gospel is misunderstood and new people just don’t come through the church door.
But if we proclaim our faith in the manner that Paul described, if we are vibrant and excited about our faith, and if we look forward to and work towards that day when Jesus comes again, well . . . imagine how much that excitement will rub off on others. And imagine a church where it is not just us who are active in the faith, but where the new people who have come in—following our example—are very active too.
D. UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES
Now that would be very exciting indeed. But it would involve a dramatic change in attitude in many of churches today.
In the meantime, we should the underlying principles behind Paul’s message, because these principles underpin the whole of Paul’s argument that he addressed to the Philippian church.
And these principles, briefly, are:
1. Holding the Truth in High Esteem
Firstly, that believers need to hold the truth in high esteem. That means they need to live lives which accord to the truth about the cross (18) and the second coming (20). Because only when we have truly grasped those truths—and taken them into ourselves—will they be the motivation on which we should live our lives.
In other words, the integration of what we say and do will only happen when we have fully accepted the truths about the necessity of Jesus’s death on the cross. That is, the realisation of what Jesus has done for us as, and the acceptance and looking forward to the fulfilment of Jesus’s promise to come again—to gather his faithful people and to judge the rest of the world.
2. Marrying the Truth to Love
The second principle is that we should always be actively concerned about the future welfare of others. Knowing what will happen at the end is one thing but keeping that knowledge to ourselves and not letting others know of their impending doom is contrary to the Christian way.
Paul may have been engaged in many a controversy because he taught the gospel. But he was not a detached, disinterested teacher. He not only encouraged believers to stand firm but actively encouraged non-believers to review their error. And, indeed, he wept over those who were mistaken.
3. Balancing Individualism with Pastoral Care
And the third principle is that just as we might be concerned with our own spiritual progress—with the development of our own personal relationship with God—so we should be concerned with about the spiritual welfare of others. Indeed, the Christian should be ready at all times to help others and to bear each other’s burden.
A Christian may at times feel as though others are holding them back. But helping a weaker brother or sister is just as much part of a Christian’s journey. And a very important part it is too.
So who do we imitate, and what kind of role models are we? Are we a good role model or bad? Because even the Apostle Paul knew about role models. And even though many of them were negative, he was able to outline one positive model too—the life of a true Christian.
But which one do we choose? Because there were four that led to eternal destruction, and only which led to eternal life.
The questions we need to ask ourselves today then are: firstly, what option—what role model for life have we chosen? And secondly, what kind of role model do we present to others?
Paul’s preference—the model he described for any true believer—was for the need to possess a godly set of values, to live in expectation of Christ’s second coming; and to live as though the second coming was imminent. But is this the model we have chosen for ourselves?
Because like it or not, how we live says much about our beliefs. And, like it or not, others will copy what we do. And that gives us a huge responsibility to not only get it right for our own sake, but for the sake of others as well.
Posted: 6th January 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Our Inner Resources (Philippians 4:4-7)
1. Outward Resources
When someone has a particular project in mind—something they’ve set their heart on doing—one of the first things that they need to do is to identify the things that they need to do and check the resources that are available. And those resources may include: a book on how to do the job; the equipment and tools needed to do it; advice from someone who has expertise in the area concerned; and the personnel needed in order to complete it.
When someone has a health problem—something that requires some assistance—one of the first things they need to do is to assess the sort of help required. They can then refer themselves to the appropriate body. And that could include: a doctor; a counsellor; a psychiatrist or psychologist; a podiatrist; or any one of a number of other helpers that might be available.
For whether one has a project, a health issue, or whatever, the resources that are available today—to help people through—are amazing. There are so many people, places, and organisations where one can go to get advice, help, or whatever one needs. So much so, that it can seem that if there’s a problem of any description, it’s just a matter of identifying the sort of help that is available and making the appropriate arrangements.
Having said that, it might seem, sometimes, that some take things just that little bit too far. For example, we have the ridiculous extreme of some people—particularly in the United States—where unless one has a personal therapist, one just hasn’t made it in the world.
2. Inner Resources
Nevertheless, outward resources—getting help from outside sources—can be very helpful and help us to achieve many things.
But they are not the only resources that are available. They are not the only thing on which we should depend. Because we also have inward resources—things we can call on from within. Resources like skills, abilities, intuition, common sense, and the like. And for those with faith, the Bible teaches us, we have a number of additional inner resources as well.
B. FOUR INNER RESOURCES
Because in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul outlined some of the inner resources that are available to Christians generally. And he did so in the context of a church that was under the hammer. They felt the world was closing in on them. They were being persecuted for their faith. And as a result the church was falling into disarray.
And it’s from that context that Paul indicated to them that they had the resources—inner strengths if you like—to face up to such attacks. And the list of resources makes some very interesting reading.
1. Being Joyful (4)
Because the first of these resources was joy. Rejoice Paul said, despite everything rejoice.
Now Paul wasn’t being naïve; he didn’t want people to go around with fake smiles and false optimism. And he wasn’t talking about everyone being naturally optimistic either. No! What Paul was saying was that inside ever believer should be that feeling of joy—the natural result of having faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul’s appeal for joyfulness was founded on an appeal to their faith. Because despite whatever hardships they faced, the fact was they had accepted Jesus as their Lord and saviour. They had acknowledged that Jesus had indeed died for their sins.
And so, because of their restored relationship with God and their knowledge that they indeed would inherit eternal life, joy and rejoicing in God their saviour should be the natural result. Indeed, nothing they faced should compare with the excitement of their journey with God, which was theirs as a result of their decision for faith.
2. Being Outward Looking (5b)
The second resource that was available to them was the ability to be outward looking. If they were to be a joyful people—and they did have something to get excited about—then that joy should rub off on others.
Rather than be inward looking and preoccupied with their own interests, Paul said they should be full of enthusiasm with what they had already accepted for themselves. Indeed, should be only too willing and ready to spread the message to the world.
3. Being Gentle (5a)
The third resource, Paul said, was the ability to be gentle. Because despite everything, despite even persecution, despite whatever “ringers” they felt they were being put through, they still had it in them to be gentle and fair-minded in their dealings with others.
Oh, yes, some people might give them a hard time, some people might even threaten them. But despite whatever people threw their way, the joy—the heavenly joy that they should feel—meant that they should not lash out and retaliate against those who opposed them, but that they should treat them with a spirit of graciousness. And a graciousness that, without faith, they would not otherwise have been able to do.
4. Being Confident (5c-6a)
And the fourth resource was the ability to be confident in their faith. Because despite whatever opposition they faced, they should know that Jesus would come again to vindicate their cause.
Indeed, they should have the confidence where they weren’t trying to vindicate themselves against opposition, but rather that at the end of the world judgement would take place and all wrongs would be dealt with. Then all who opposed God and rejected the Christian faith would be punished and get their due. There was a time and place for vindication, Paul said. And the fact that people would be judged should have a bearing on their present situation.
In summary, then, Paul said that there are four inner qualities that are within every Christian—four qualities that every Christian can draw on. And they are: being joyful; being outward looking; having a disposition of gentleness and fair-mindedness; and having confidence that God is very much in control. And as a result of that, Paul exhorted his readers to use the inner resources that were available, which were theirs only through the grace of God.
C. THE NURTURING OF THOSE INNER QUALITIES
Now I don’t know about you, but it appears to me that many Christians today do not always reflect the four inner qualities that Paul described. The reality is that some Christians are not as joyful, as outward looking, as gentle, or as confident as Paul described that they should be. In fact many Christians are not only hard to get on with, but are inward looking, and have nothing of the joys of life that faith should bring. And in one sense it is difficult to see how these four inner resources could apply to everyone who has faith.
And that’s probably why Paul, having raised the issue of these four resources—which were freely available to every Christian—then went on to talk about how to nurture these very things. And he mentions two things that were necessary to develop these inner strengths.
1. Prayer (6b)
And the first is prayer. Because rather than people getting bogged down and inward looking, Paul said that believers should come to God, to communicate with him generally, and make their specific requests.
2. Thankfulness (6c)
And the second is the need to be thankful. That any requests to God need to be presented with a thankful heart. Indeed, believers need to thank God for their relationship with him, with the things that he had done and continues to do. And they need to thank God in all circumstances—in both the pleasant and adverse situations in life.
3. The Peace of God (7)
And through the practice of doing these two things, Paul was able to conclude, that then and only then would God’s people experience and appreciate the peace of God on which the four inner resources depended.
For the Philippians, yes, they may have been concerned about the security of the church and its members in a hostile environment. But what Paul was saying, was that despite that, they still had the resources to cope in such a situation. Indeed, they still had the means to be joyful, to be outward looking, to be gentle, and to be confident. And they didn’t need to withdraw, be insular, or retaliate as they might otherwise be tempted to do.
Now obviously, the Philippians were going through a pretty rough time, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But despite that, Paul encouraged them to draw on their faith, and to use the inner resources that God had given them. And if that could make a difference to the church at Philippi, then think about what it could do for us today.
After all, what kind of church are we? And do we reflect the four inner resources that are available to every Christian?
1. The Four Inner Qualities
a). Being Joyful
In other words, are we a joyful church? Do we exude the kind of rejoicing that should come through faith?
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to be a church that bounces up and down to particular church music. Nor does it mean that we have to puts on a fake smile when we are feeling the exact opposite. But are we the kind of church that is enthusiastic? Are we convinced of the necessity of what Jesus has done, and have adopted it for ourselves? Are we people who live and express joy knowing where we’re going when we die?
b).Being Outward Looking
Are we an outward looking church? Do we continually look to the world outside, wanting to share the things we have learned and accepted for ourselves?
Not, are we a church that continually looks inwards to issues of survival and all that that entails. But one that wants to share the excitement that we have with others. A people who wants to tell others about God, Jesus, and salvation—no matter who they might be.
c). Being Gentle
Are we gentle and fair-minded in our dealings with other people—even with those who are determined to give us a hard time?
Not, do we lash out and retaliate against those who are against us—against those who oppose our views. But do we treat everyone with a spirit of graciousness, even in a hostile environment?
d). Being Confident
And are we confident, that despite what comes our way, we will be vindicated at the end?
Not, do we worry about things over which we have no control. But do we live knowing that whatever happens all wrongs will be righted, and they will be righted by God come judgement day?
Joyfulness, being outward looking, being gentle with others, and living lives confident in God . . . Is that the kind of picture we have of ourselves and our church? Because it should be. And if it isn’t, we probably need to do some soul searching; we need to think again. Because if these are the inner values that Paul said were available to those in the embattled church at Philippi, then think what those qualities could do for a church like ours today.
2. Nurturing Those Inner Resources
And it all begins with prayer, and with the need to express our prayers with thanksgiving.
3. The Peace of God
Then if we use those inner resources, if we use the whole package that comes through faith, we too will experience the peace of God in our lives. Indeed, we will live in the secure knowledge that our relationship with God is secure. And what a difference that would make.
Now, in the world today we can do many things. And there are a variety of resources that we can call upon for help. If we’re doing a project, we can get plans, materials, advice and even some outside help. And if the issue is of a more medical nature there are a lot of options available too.
And yet while there is an abundance of outward resources available, there are also inward resources available as well. Not least of which are the spiritual resources available for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.
Now the Apostle Paul was well aware of the inner qualities that faith could bring. And so, writing to a church in trouble. he was able to spell out what they needed to ensure their continued faith and survival. And the resources he suggested to the Philippians are the ones that are available to us right now too.
Being joyful in the Lord, being outward looking, being gentle and fair-minded, and being confident in God . . . These are four inner resources available to every believer. And with prayer and thankfulness, we can experience them in our lives and in the life of our church. And when we do, the end result will be, that even when we are facing all sorts of dilemmas, we too will be able to live knowing the peace of God in our lives.
Posted: 12th January 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis