Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word:

Come Holy Spirit, come reveal Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,

Amen

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, Amen