English Service on January 18 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title:“Giving Your Faith a Workout” Scripture:Philippians 2:12-18
1. We’ve been learning recently through the New Testament letter to the Philippians. We are thinking about “Rediscovering God’s Vision for Open Door.” Our vision grows out of our purpose. In our church constitution, we say that is “the living out of the Gospel of Christ, as detailed in ‘The Confession of Faith of Open Door Chapel’”（信仰告白に基づいてキリストの福音を実現する）. We often talk about God’s vision for us in the areas of worship, faith, community, service, and evangelism. His dream for us is that we be strong in all these parts of life. So as we go through this letter, we are usually focusing on one of these themes as we learn each section. But today’s reading does not fall neatly into any one of those categories. More, it includes all of them. So I’ll tell you quickly something it says about each. That can help us as we find our own best dreams for 2015 and always.
2. First, about worship. Paul writes in v. 17, “But my life might even be poured out like a drink offering on your sacrifices.” Paul is writing from prison. He has been put there for teaching Christ’s message, and he knows he could be killed for it. But thinking about the end of his life, he chooses to focus not just on how long he lives but how well and with how much meaning. If he has to die because of following Christ, he does not see that as just a waste, something to feel terrible about. Instead, he sees it as a kind of worship. In that, he finds meaning and purpose in what may happen.
3. He and his readers know the Old Testament Jewish system of animal sacrifices. People would kill an animal, then burn it on an altar. The smoke would go up to God as a prayer, for example of thanks or request to be made pure in heart. Sometimes part of the sacrifice would be to pour out a drink on the animal’s body as it burned. To us, it might look like a waste—taking some very nice wine and instead of enjoying drinking it, pour it out. But what gives that wine greater meaning? Is it one person’s enjoying drinking it? Or is it God’s enjoying it? He loves the feeling of seeing many people who use that drink as a way to say symbolically to Him, “My joy comes from you. Our strength and courage come from you. All we need comes from you.” Paul doesn’t really want to die, it seems, but he knows death will come sooner or later anyway. And he finds great hope and peace in knowing this: even if someone kills me, my life and death can have great meaning and purpose, thanks to God. If my life praises God, shows His goodness, is an example of His greatness, that is a life worth living. That is a reason to worship, to say to God, “You are wonderful. We love you.” Knowing that, Paul can honestly say (v. 17b), “I am glad. I am joyful with all of you.”
4. Second, about faith. These believers in the city of Philippi began following the teachings of Christ when Paul was there with them to show them directly how to do it. Now he tells them (v. 12b), “continue to work out your own salvation.” He is not telling them, “Work really hard doing good things so that you will be saved.” As we have learned here before, the Bible teaches to believers in Christ that (A) you have been saved, (B) you are being saved, and (C) you will be saved.
5. That is, (A) Christ’s death on the cross, once and for all, paid the price of our sins—100%. Thanks to that wonderful gift of love, no other payment is needed. When we believe and receive Christ into our hearts as Savior and Lord, that is enough. No more animal sacrifices or anything else is necessary to make us right with God again. You have been saved.
6. Then, skipping to (C), you will be saved. Christ opened the way to heaven for us when He died on the cross. That gave us the ticket. But in case you haven’t noticed, this world where we live is not yet heaven. We still are in a world with great darkness, deep sin. It is not only out there in the world but inside us. We who have welcomed Christ into our hearts have started the journey toward heaven with Christ and many brothers and sisters. We have God’s sure promise: we will reach that land some day. But in some senses, our salvation will never be complete until we see Jesus face to face. That world with no death, no illness, no tears, is coming. The promise of it gives us hope. But it is not here yet. So we work out our faith, preparing to be people who will really feel at home in heaven and enjoy being there with God forever.
7. That process of preparing is what Paul talks about in saying for us to work out our own salvation. As Pastor Ray Steadman said, “We will never be saved without God’s work, but it is also true that God will not save us without our cooperation.” He doesn’t want us to just sit here with a deep understanding of the cross and do nothing about it. He wants us to let that knowledge shape us into more loving, more peaceful, more understanding, more helpful, in other words more Christ-like people.
8. It is like the time my father taught me to drive a car. I was 14 years old, which was old enough in the U.S. state where I lived. Until age 16, I could drive if an adult with a license was sitting beside me. So my father took me out on Sunday afternoons for a while and helped me learn to drive our family car. I got confused once and almost hit a telephone pole. Another time I was going pretty fast around a curve and came very close to a large truck going the other direction. But I learned, and my father did not continue sitting beside me forever. He helped me work and save money, then when I was 16, I bought my own car. My father let me start driving on my own—with some “fear and trembling,” I am sure. But he knew that is the way driving works—if you keep giving too much guidance for too long, your student will never learn to drive. Somehow I made the habit of saying a quick prayer for safety whenever I get in the car to begin driving. And now I can say, thanks to God’s help, I have been driving for over 40 years with no serious accidents. Our Father in heaven likewise wants to help us grow into mature, adult Christians as we work out our own salvation.
9. There’s one key part of that process: obeying God. Paul talks about it all through v. 12. Some people have the mistaken understanding that religion is basically about being a slave to rules. You have to follow this teaching, must do this, can’t do that. If you don’t, God doesn’t love you and you should feel bad about yourself. If you do, you have earned God’s love, and you are then better than other people. Sadly, even some so-called Christians seem to have this misunderstanding at the heart of their faith.
10. Really, the Bible shows obeying as simply putting into practice good teachings in a real-life situation. For example, we apply the rules of electricity that we have learned. If Mizuno-san works with a car battery, he knows to connect positive cables and negative cables correctly. Because he does, the car has power and works well. If he didn’t, he could do serious damage to the battery, the whole, car, and anyone nearby. We don’t feel that the rules of electricity are unfair or taking our freedom from us. In fact, they give us freedom if we accept and use them with understanding and respect. We don’t see them as a threat or something that oppresses us. In the same way, the word of God may seem heavy, limiting, rigid to us at first. But as we come to understand it better, we begin to actually apply it to our lives in working out our own salvation. As we do, we can find that the word of the free, live-giving God also frees us and makes us more alive.
11. Third, about Christian community. Paul writes (vv. 14-15a), “Do everything without finding fault or arguing. Then you will be pure and without blame.” He has already told them, remember, in v. 2 of this chapter to agree with each other, that is, having the same love, spirit, and purpose. He warns them not to do things only to get ahead or to look out just for their own good or because of pride (vv. 3-4). Probably he is talking about problems that are already happening in the church, the two ladies he names in 4:2-3a who are having a disagreement. It is probably true of all human groups in all times on some level that we don’t get along well, right? But that does not mean it is OK with God when His children are doing things that tear down rather than build each other up. He tells us that all of His children need a family of faith. We don’t need to know God alone. He also wants us to learn to give and receive love in human relationships.
12. As we learn to do this, we can grow in the fourth and fifth areas of service and evangelism. These two especially often are not separate but mix together. When we find fault, argue, grumble, etc., people cannot see Christ in us. It ruins our witness, and that is what those around us need. They need to see Christ and come to know Him. They need to see something in us that is bigger than we ourselves are—something that cannot be explained except by the presence of God in us.
13. Last month, when we celebrated Jesus’ becoming a human, we were seeing both our model and our motivation for building good relationships with people. That means building strong church communities of faith, as well as helping people inside and outside the church in word and action. We serve God and people in His name because Christ has come to our world and shown us how to serve. He has also provided the power for service through His death, resurrection, and sending the empowering Spirit of God. When we put our faith in Him, we receive His call to follow Him in helping those around us who need our help. Our work grows out of our faith in Christ. As Paul writes in v. 17b, “. . . You serve because you believe.”
14. We lost a good example of that about two weeks ago. The gospel singer Andre Crouch was an artist whose work did a lot to make gospel music accessible and popular not only with African-Americans but people of many other ethnic groups. He is called “the father of modern gospel.” He died earlier this month at age 72 after a heart attack. His songs, such as “Through It All,” “Soon and Very Soon,” and “My Tribute” were very impressive to many in my generation, including me as I was growing up. He said something interesting about his work. He said gospel music was not something that would “drain out of me.” Instead, it was something that “God would pour into me” (Kelly). He understood what Paul tells us in v. 13. We don’t have to try and try to do something for God. Instead, “God is working in you. He wants your plans and your acts to be in keeping with his good purpose.”
15. Many gospel singers say that their songs don’t begin with them. They sing in response to God, His love, and His work. They sing at God’s leading and with His support and guidance. That can be true not only for gospel singers but all of us in the many different ways we work to help others. Music has a great power to heal and build relationships. That’s why we often at Christian churches use the words music ministry. I feel that I receive something good for my faith and life through the music of the Gospel Choir with us today. But whether it is through music or another form of help, we each have a work that God calls us to do for others, with Him, in His name, and to show His greatness.
16. Often we cannot help people effectively with words until we have first helped them with actions. But in the right time and way, God can lead us to say, or sing, or write, or whatever, the words He has for the people around us to hear. They might or might not receive them at that moment. But as God leads, He will bless His words and use the seeds we plant with them to bear fruit in people’s lives.
17. The key is the spirit we have in us from day to day, Paul shows. If we “do everything without finding fault or arguing,” for example, we are showing signs of being people “pure and without blame, . . . children of God without fault in a sinful and evil world” (v. 15). You only have to listen to the daily news to know now deep the darkness of sin in our world is. But we can live in hope with the knowledge that light is more powerful than darkness. Christ is the light of the world (John 9:5), and He says to His people the amazing words, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The name Hokusei comes from v. 15. Christ calls us to “shine like stars” as He fills us with His own light. If you are a star, you have light. You don’t have to stress and strain to produce it. You only have to be yourself. If you aren’t letting something cover it up or put it out, you will shine. And if you shine your light, no amount of darkness “in the heavens” around you can put it out. In fact, the deeper the darkness, the brighter your light will look.
18. We do not live in easy times. But I am glad to bring you a word of hope today. Christ is with us. As we open our hearts and let Him make them His home, He will fill us with His love and give us a song to sing as we find new ways each day to work out our own salvation. Let’s ask Him to help us do that today and every day.
19. Loving, saving God, thank you for the amazing gift of your Son, Jesus. Help us to receive the gift of life, of salvation, from Him. Forgive our sins. Free us from the things that stop us from being people of deep love and goodness and peace. Teach us to know you more and more each day. In Christ’s name, amen.
Kelly, F. (January 9, 2015). “Andrae Crouch, Who Moved Gospel into the 21st Century, Has Died.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio.
Steadman, R. (August 4, 1963). “God at Work.” Studies in Philippians. Peninsula Bible Church Message Library. Retrieved December 31, 2014 from https://www.pbc.org/system/message_files/14318/14317_2008.mp3