Open your Bibles to Psalm 4. Today we are continuing our summer journey through some of the Psalms. Today we are examining another Psalm written by King David. We have a lot of ground to cover, so lets get right to work by reading our text, praying, and then turn our ears towards God.
I thought the best way to approach this Psalm was to start with the problem that seems to be expressed. I believe the main problem is located in verse 2.
The Hebrew word for vain in Psalm 4 and Psalm 2 is “riq” which means empty, no purpose, worthless, vanity. Having said that, David takes it upon himself to define what he means by these vain words and calls them flat out lies.
For David, these vain, empty, worthless, lying words are causing for him distress and even anger. The reason there is so much strife in David’s heart over these lies is because people are tripping over themselves for this vain words and are actually seeking after these lies. People are pursuing and buying into the deception and worthlessness of what is being said. To use a phrase that I use way too much, the people of Israel are thirsty for and drinking the Kool-Aid.
Exactly what these vain, empty, lying words are, we are not sure. David does not tell us specifically, but we can get a sense of what it may pertain to by looking at verse 5.
Unfortunately, this problem of trusting in vain, empty, lying words was nothing new for Israel. This was the core of their problem since the beginning of their nation. From the moment they were freed from the slavery of Egypt, the people of Israel were easily persuaded to put their trust in something other than God, their Deliverer The people of Israel would begin to complain or give their opinion as to what Israel should do and these grumblings would spread like wildfire throughout the camp. At one point they bought into the lie that it would be better to be slaves in Egypt than to be God’s chosen people.
The pursuit of vanity was an ongoing problem for the nation of Israel. They were constantly chasing after things that were outside of God’s will. In my daily walk through the Bible this week I was in 1 Samuel 12 and I read these closing remarks by the prophet Samuel at the moment of transition from Judges to Kings. This is what Samuel warned the people about in 1 Samuel 12:21-22.
The Problem of Vanity Today
However, we should be fair, and recognize that we are no better. In fact, we may be worse. We are a people who frequently seek after vanity, who believe the lies, who turn aside after empty things. Things like spiritualism, humanism, materialism, and even nationalism. With each one of these “isms” comes a promise of peace, enlightenment, success, satisfaction.
Some of you in this room may say, “That is not me. I don't struggle with any of those isms.” However, I would bet that many of you are falling pray to some of these things without even realizing it. Many of this “isms” masquerade as angels of light, and each one of those “isms”, manifest themselves in hundreds if not thousands of different ways. For example, spiritualism: you may think that peace comes from yoga, simplicity, or being in nature. For humanism, you may believe happiness is success, wealth, comfort, or academic achievement. For materialism, you see shopping as an escape, or you spend most of your times dreaming about your retirement. For nationalism, you think the answers to America's problem lie in the right political party and you spend you nights watching fox news.
For each one of these “isms” there is a false belief that the pursuit of these things will satisfy us. But if there is one thing that history has proven to us, each one of these things is fleeting and none of them deliver. Buying into these things is the equivalent of buying snake oil. The sad thing is however, that instead of waking up from our drunkenness with the things of this world, we instead order another round, and buy into the next trendy thing, once again hoping that it will quench or soul’s thirst.
Vanity of Vanities
As I traced this idea of vanity through the Bible this week, I found it interesting how frequent I found it. I mentioned to you that Samuel spoke of it upon the transition to the first King or Israel, Sal. Then David speaks of it in Psalm 4. But it does not end there, for King Solomon took the idea of vanity to a whole new level. This is how he opened the book he wrote, Ecclesiastes:
Why did God allow Solomon to live like he did with no hindrance to his lustful desires? To show us that unlimited money, stuff, intelligence and sex does not produce in us happiness. Our hearts were wired for something better. So what is that something better? Turn with me to Revelation 3:17. These are the words of Jesus.
Jesus tells us plainly that trusting in the things of this world is foolish; for the true reality of who we are is that we are wretched, and nothing in this world is designed to remove our wretchedness, or satisfy our deepest needs. The answer is not found in the world, but found in the one who upholds the Word, Jesus Christ. At the core of who we are is our sinfulness. As David said in verse 1, our righteousness does not come from our 401k, it comes from God. We are called to reject, or repent, the vanity of materialism, and enter into communion with Jesus Christ, for this alone has eternal value for our lives.
Set Apart for God
For David this communion with Christ can be found in verse 3. It is found in those who the Lord has set apart for himself. The godly. It is those who through Christ, God has transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, and Kingdom that we long to live in.
Those who are in set apart, or holy, before the Lord are those who have been given salve for their eyes and they see the reality of the meaninglessness of the things of this world, and see the lasting treasure that is Christ, and cry out to Him. Thereby turning, and placing our trust in Him.
These are people like Disciples John and James who upon being called to follow Jesus we are told in Matthew 4:21 “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” And Matthew who upon being called to follow Jesus left his tax booth. And Peter who stated, in Luke 18, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.“ And Paul who upon his conversion on the Damascus road realized that all of his life he was pursuing futility and states in Philippians 1:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him.”
Each one of these followers of Jesus placed their trust in Jesus. They trusted in who he was, what he did, and what he promised. They were freed from the emptiness of this world, and saw through the lies of Satan and chose the only path that their hearts truly yearned for.
Set Apart for Joy
These men no longer sought the vanity of this world, but instead the renounced all that they had and followed Jesus. They were called out of the world, and set apart for God. Was this easy? No. There is a cost to following Jesus. Jesus describes it as picking up your cross daily. He describes it as dyeing to self, and laying down your life. The Christian life is a life of sacrifice. Each day you are called to throw off more and more weight and sin that clings to you. This was true for the disciples, and this is also true for you. Some would then say than what good is it to follow Christ. Look at verses 6 and 7.
We must see thee lies of the world for what they are…lies. We must not buy the snake oil of Satan when comes selling the vanity of this world. We must recognize the reality that the things of this earth will soon pass away, but our Kingdom in Heaven is a lasting one. We must see the foolishness of building bigger barns to store our unprecedented wealth, and instead use what God has given us to store up treasures in Heaven.
We must rid ourselves of these weights and seize the treasure that is Christ is eternal. It is only Christ that will give us peace. Understanding that we are made to find satisfaction in God alone. Until you have the eyes to see this you will continue to be deceived by the lies of Satan and the things of this world. You will wake up day after day after day unsatisfied, empty, without purpose, without meaning, without joy.
Let us not be Israel, who did not heed the warning of Moses, Samuel, and David, and who eventually found themselves enslaved once again. Let us trust in God, and live the life of freedom as his children.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on July 5, 2015
Open Your Bibles to Psalm 1. Today we begin our journey through the book of Psalms. We will be working our way through it for the next three months with periodic Sunday’s where I will step away and cover a specific topic. What I have decided to do is to preach the Psalms as they come. So today will be Psalm 1, next week Psalm 2, and so on and so forth. The reason I am doing this is to protect you from my sinful desire to cherry-pick. I believe cherry picking is one reason we have so many immature Christians today. They have not been taught the whole counsel of God.
It will be my intent to periodically preach from the Psalms in the years, and perhaps decades to come, God willing. This means that if we get through 10 Psalms this summer, my hope is in the next year or two, we will pick up where we left off, until we eventually work our way through 150 Psalms.
Before we begin I want to give you a road map of how today will go. First, I want to explain how I will preach the Psalms. Second, I want to give us some general insight into the Psalms. Third, with the time we have left we will examine Psalm 1.
First, how will I preach. There are two ways to preach, the right way and the wrong way. The wrong way is for me to use God’s Word as a vessel for my opinion. The right way is for God to use me as a vessel for His truth. True preaching is taking God’s Word, breaking it down, analyzing it, mining it for absolute truth, and then proclaiming IT by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what we call expository preaching, and this is when the Word of God has its sharpest edges, and God receives the most Glory. This is the way John MacArthur preaches, John Piper preaches, Matt Chandler preaches, David Platt preaches, etc. These reformed guys preach expositionally, and this is the way I hope to preach. For it is the right way to handle the treasures that are in this book, and we will see this as we study Psalm 1 today.
Overview of the Psalms
With that said, let us step into this amazing book. As we begin our journey we should first recognize what this book is. The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs. The Hebrew title for the book of Psalms is “tehillim” which means to make a jubilant sound or praise. The words “Psalms” comes from a Greek word which means the plucking of strings. So as we walk through these Psalms, we must recognize that we are studying God inspired worship music. This is interesting because these songs are abundantly rich in Biblical truth. In this day in age we have a tendency to think about songs as being emotional and separate from the mind and intellect, but that is not the case when examining the Psalms. In God’s book, deep knowledge of God and praise are inseparable.
So let us talk briefly about the book itself. As I said, it is a collection of 150 separate Psalms. This makes it the longest book in the Bible. Another odd fact is that it contains the shortest chapter, Psalm 117, and the longest chapter, Psalm 119. Another thing that is odd is that, depending how you define middle, the middle of the Bible is Psalm 118:8. The book itself is actually a collection of five books. Those who originally compiled this hymnal for Israel chose to break it into five parts. Perhaps some of you have noticed this as you read through the Psalms.
The psalms are written by a variety of men; the most prominent of those being David. Quite often it is referred to as the Treasury of David. It is believed David wrote nearly half of the psalms. Other authors include, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, the Sons of Korah, Ethan and Heman. In addition, some 50 psalms are attributed to no one. Because the book of Psalms is a collection of separate songs, written by separate men, its coming together took approximately 1000 years, from Moses (1400 B.C.) to the Babylonian exile (500 B.C.).
The last thing that I want us to understand as we begin is that the Book of Psalms is a book about Jesus. Jesus is the Word. Jesus says it himself in Luke 24 that all Scripture points to him, this is true for every book in the Bible including the Psalms.
The pointing to Jesus comes in two forms, prophecies and foreshadowing. Regarding prophecies, the book of Psalms contains more prophecies about the coming of Jesus than any other Old Testament book. More than 90 specific prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus. Regarding the general foreshadowing, we will need to be more intentional as we dive into the text, for shadows do not always catch our eye, unless we are looking for them, but it is interesting to know that the book of Psalms is quoted more by New Testament authors more than any other book in the Old Testament. It is referenced in one way or another approximately 112 different times in the New Testament. So with that, let us now read our text, pray and then unpack it.
In this text we see the comparison of two individuals, the righteous and the wicked. In these two descriptions falls every man. In the eyes of God, you are either one or the other. There is no such thing as a middle ground when it comes to your standing before God.
You see this reality mentioned a number of times throughout the Bible. In fact, last week we briefly looked at one of those text, Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the coming day of judgment. Jesus says that on that day he will separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep will come into the Kingdom of God and the goats are sent to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
We see it again in Matthew 13 where we see Jesus talking again about the final judgment and he uses the comparison of wheat and weeds, and he says this, “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30). Just a few verses later we see Jesus again talking about the final judgment before God in verse 47.
The word righteous as used in this passage, does not mean sinless. The reason we know that is also in the Psalms 14 and Psalm 53 it tell us that no one is good, no one is righteous. We know that it is only Jesus who is truly righteous in a sinless sense. The Psalmist in this text is not talking about being sinless, but by having a right position, or standing before God. So how is someone righteous in a Psalm 1 sense. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ. It is by believing in God, we can stand in the congregation.
The Psalm begins with the word “Blessed.” Interestingly, this is what Jesus called Peter in Matthew 16:17 after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Messiah, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”
It is how Jesus began the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the merciful…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” I do not think it is a coincidence that the book of Psalms begins the same way.
The word blessed in Hebrew is esher and if you were to look up the meaning in a Lexicon it would say happy. In fact, the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this verse as “How happy is the man…” Having said this, I think there is a reason why this word is commonly not translated to happy. Happy doesn't quite do this word justice. It doesn't have enough depth to it. For to be esher (blessed) is to be happy as a result of receiving. Esher is just not a feeling, it is a feeling that is produced by grace. This makes sense in light of how we tend to use it. If you were to ask me, how do I feel and I said “happy” that would be different then if I said that I feel “blessed.” By saying blessed I am saying, I am happy, but that my happiness springs from something unmerited.
So who is the blessed in our passage? The Pslamist starts with the negative, then moves to the positive. First he says that a blessed person is one, “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” With each one of these descriptions you can see an escalation of evil, or an increase in the hardness of ones heart, walk, stand, sit.
So what does it mean to walk in the counsel of the wicked? It simply means seeking advice from the fallen, broken, sinful world. Unfortunately, this is a common characteristic of most people, even Christian people. When in uncertain, where do you seek advice? Oprah, Dr. Phil, an unsaved Psychologists, celebrities, magazines, unsaved coworkers, and unsaved friends. Each one of these people, if they have not received Christ in their life, are spiritually blind, and have no hope in giving you Christ exulting counsel. Jesus said it well in Matthew 15:14 when he said, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Which leads to our next phrase “nor stands in the way of sinners.” This is the faliing into the pit in which Jesus spoke, for it is the implementation of the wicked advice. Another way to think about it is the taking the wide and easy path that leads to destruction that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7. Or the “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—“ that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2. It is standing against God and with sinners, those who miss the mark.
Lastly, the Pslamist says, “nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” This is the final act of rebellion. Not only does this person seek advice against God, and implement that sinful advice, but they then mock those who don't follow suit. They begin to teach others and ridicule those who do not accept their sinful opinion. They become a teacher and preacher of sin They want more wicked people to jump on their bandwagon of rebellion. This was the case for the Pharisees. Jesus said this to them in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
Regarding these three positions of walking, standing and sitting, I can't but help see the connection with the current status in America regarding homosexuality. Many self-proclaimed Christians, and self proclaimed Churches have sought counsel from the world, chosen to stand with the disobedient, and now they scoff at those who do not join in with their sinful ways. They mock those who have read and have accepted Leviticus 18, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1, and the dozens of other implicit scripture on the subject. The people who reject these text are like our psalmist says, chaff. They are blown about with the ever changing wind of this fallen and broken world. Today it is homosexuality, tomorrow it will be something else. As scripture clearly teaches, this is not the pathway of blessedness, it is not the pathway of happiness, love doesn't win. It is trampled on and destroyed. This walking, standing, and sitting with sinfulness leads to one destination...perishing.
No, the blessed ones are those who “delight in the law of the Lord.” What is the law of the Lord? The word used here is actually torah, which is commonly used to reference the first five books of the Bible, but torah in Hebrews means instruction. So a good reading of this text is to say “delight in the instruction of the Lord.” Which of course includes more than just the law, or the first five books of the Bible, but all of the Scripture.
For the man that is blessed this treasuring of God's Word causes him to think about God's instruction day and night. Reading the Bible is not about a check list. It is something that he soaks in, thinks through, works out, analyzes, and clings to.
As the Psalmist says, the man that is blessed has been planted next to the Word of God. He has made the intentional decision to live life in accordance to God's Word. It is his standard of truth. It is his sustainer. As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, this man is living “on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
And what is the result? Fruit. The man planted in God's Word is guaranteed to yield fruit. What kind of fruit? Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control”
Imagine if I came up to you and said, I have a sure fire way that you can have experience love and joy and peace and in every situation you will have he capacity to rise above it, and be outside the fray, would you want it? Of course you would. And folks you can have it if you want it. If you want to have a blessed life, the answer is not found on facebook, or magazines, or doctor Phil. It is not found in the counsel of the wicked. It is found in God's Word.
This is why we at Cornerstone are Bible people. This is the way that God has designed to pour his Grace out upon you, through His Word. And what is wonderful, is that each one of you have it in your hands in this moment. Spiritual prosperity is literally within you grasp, so make the intentional decision to be happy, and plant yourself in the living Word of God.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on Mary 10, 2015.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 4:4-7. We will spend two weeks in these verses because I think they are extremely important for your Christian walk. Let us get right to work by reading our text, pray that God would open our hearts and then will we work through what God has revealed to us in His Holy Word.
Blaise Pascal, a French Mathmetician, in the 17th century said this:
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
Do you agree with this? Our Founding Fathers did. In the Declaration of Independence are the famous words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
It is not only 17th century mathematicians and historical statesmen, but it is modern day therapy. Perhaps the most common question for social workers, psychiatrists, psychologist, and coffee shop counselors is “Are you happy?”
There is something hardwired in every human being that craves for happiness. Every decision we make is oriented to what we believe will achieve greater happiness. Even the decisions that are difficult, are still made with the hope that when all is said and done things will be better then if we hadn’t made that decision.
Unfortunately, because of sin, we seek happiness in things that will not ultimately produce happiness. I believe the parable of the prodigal son is a good illustration of this fact. The youngest Son requested his share of the inheritance and off he want into the world and “squandered his property in reckless living” until one day he found himself so broken to the point that he was coveting the food for the pigs. The youngest son’s pursuit of happiness independent of his Father left him ultimately broken and unsatisfied. This is a picture of all humanity in eyes of God. We are wired to seek joy, and absent Christ, we seek it in the troughs of pigs.
Chief End of Man
Changing gears, If I were to ask, according to God’s Word, what is the Chief end of man, what would you say? According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism the answer to that question is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Do you agree with this? Do you agree that, not only are you wired for joy, but God designed you to enjoy Him? Do you agree that you exist to have joy in God?
When we hear of read statement like the Westminster Catechism, or some creed, we should always ask, what is the scripture behind it? We don’t just want to accept this comment wholesale just because some theologians in 1647 said it was so. We should be like the Bereans in the book of Acts who searched the scriptures to compare what is said to what we know to be true, namely, the Bible. So let us look at some text.
For those who see a relationship with God as being joyless, I say this, you don't know my God, and I would encourage you to take a good long look in the Spiritual mirror and ask some difficult questions about your salvation. For true joy is only found in God, all other joys are counterfeit.
However, having said this, fullness of joy in God is not easy. Joy does not just show in at your doorstep with a little pink bow on it upon your conversion. To use a phrase from John Piper, we must fight for you, and you can see this in our text today.
Command for Joy
Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” First we must recognize that this is a command. Paul is commanding the Philippian Church to rejoice. If joy came naturally for all Christians, a command would be unnecessary. Paul's command for us to rejoice tells us that joy is something that must be intentionally chosen.
I wonder how often we think this way. Do you wake up each morning intentionally choosing to have joy in God. Do you implement practical things into your life that will produce joy in God? If not, why not? Most likely it is because you have never thought about it. You have never thought about Joy in God as something you work at. Most likely, you have wrongly believed that joy is based on circumstances, and you are just a passive in experiencing it. You see yourself as a victim of joy or joylessness. This is not how the Bible speaks of joy. Joy in God is something we must pursue.
Second, we must recognize that joy is not optional. As I said, this is a command. Paul is commanding that early Church to rejoice. In fact we find this command of rejoice in the Lord in the midst of other commands: stand firm in the Lord, agree in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, do not be anxious. A Christian life that does not have joy is a Christian life outside the will of God. Once again, let that sink in. Having no joy in the Lord is disobedience. We are commanded to love God. We are command to have joy in God.
So this leads us to how, how do we have joy in the Lord? This morning I want to suggest five ways to pursue joy. First, we must recognize that apart from the Spirit of God in our lives, we have no hope for joy.
For those who are Christians, we must recognize that but for the Spirit of God dwelling inside us, we will never bear the fruit of joy. We cannot capture joy in our flesh, only by the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us. Therefore, step one is that we ask for joy in God. James 4:2 says, “ You do not have, because you do not ask.” We need to ask for joy, not in this world, but in the Creator of the world. Having said that, once again, this does not mean that joy will be produced in us in a passive way. Each fruit of the Spirit must be pruned to produce more.
Second, we must have eyes to see Christ for who He truly is. Think about what produces happieness in your life. Is it not the value you see in something. I have happiness when I look upon my wife, for I see great value in her. I have happiness when I look upon my children, because I see great value in them. Likewise, we must see that true value of Christ. As we saw in chapter 3 of Philippians, we must see the surpassing worth of Jesus. We must stare into the face of Christ and be overwhelmed by the image of the almighty Sovereign God who hung the stars staring back at us.
Third, we must recognize what Christ has done for us. Some of you may have heard this story, but several years ago I prosecuted a vehicular homicide case. It is a charge that carries 25 years in prison. The case was somewhat complicated, but like all cases that go to a jury trial, there were issues. There a few moments in life when time seems to freeze. Jury verdicts are one of those times, especially when 25 years of liberty on on the table. I still recall the look on the defendant's face when the verdict came in saying “We the jury find the defendant...not guilty.” In that moment there was nothing that could steal his happiness. I could have burned down his house, and he would have cared less. Why? Because he escaped punishment. He was free. This pales in comparison to what Christ has achieved for us of the cross. We deserve, not 25 years in prison, we deserve eternity in Hell. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we escape eternal torment. We escape weeping and gnashing of teeth. We escape the unquenchable fire. We escape the out darkness. We escape the wrath of God. When we forget this, we undermine our joy.
Fourth, we must see what is waiting for us. In Luke 10:20, Jesus said this to his disciples he had just sent out to do expand the Kingdom, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Our joy is not built upon our circumstances, it is built upon our destiny. These names are written, past tense, in this book. This book of life will be opened on the last day, the day of judgment. And all those whose names are in the book, we be ushered into the presence of God.
So to summarize today. We are designed for joy. The source of of this joy is found only in God. As Christians we must not assume that this is automatic. We must fight for joy. WE must therefore, pray that God would help us see Christ for who he is, what he saved us from and what he saved us to. If we do this, I promise you that joy awaits.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 29, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 3:1-11. Today will be our second week in this text. In all honesty we could spend months examining these words of God found in Philippians, for there is so much truth packed into these verses. With that said, let us jump right in this morning.
As we discussed last week, Paul’s purpose in writing this section of the letter to the Philippians was to warn them about the dogs. Verse 2, “look out for the dogs.” We saw that these dogs were people who were known as judiazers. Judiazers were religious people who claimed to love Jesus, but they also claimed that in order to be saved, you had to be circumcised, or maintain the Jewish dietary laws, to continue to celebrate the Jewish festivals. Judiazers believed that Jesus’s perfect life, and perfect sacrifice, was not perfect enough. They believed Jesus didn’t really save anyone, but just got people close to being saved, and it was up to us to walk across the goal-line into Heaven. Judiazers believed that Jesus plus works equaled salvation.
Paul does not call these people Christians. He is not being inclusive. He is not being tolerant. He is creating a clear and important divide between those who trust in God’s grace, and who trust in their own ability. He calls these people dogs, evildoers, and mutilators of the flesh. Paul then goes on to say that true, real, born again authentic Christians put no confidence in the flesh. None. Zero.
So as to make this point abundantly clear, Paul lists his resume, and his resume is impressive: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” And what does he say about his resume? Verse 8, “rubbish.”
Paul says that everything he has ever done in his life is garbage. This word rubbish in the Greek is skubalon (skü'-bä-lon). This word skubalon is not a soft word. For it was the word for something that is worthless, detestable, refuse, and the excrement of animals. In fact, the King James Version of the Bible translates this word to dung. Paul uses this hard and graphic word, skubalon to convey his utter abhorrence of the false teaching that you have to add to the Grace of God in Christ.
Paul views all of his religion as rubish and he counts it as loss, and in fact he says that he counts everything as loss. This seems somewhat radical, does it not, to count everything in life as loss. Is this really what Jesus desires? Absolutely, for Jesus says the same words as Paul does in Luke 14:33.
So how does God do it? How does he give us the capacity to lay everything down to gain Jesus? Last week we started to unpack this and we saw that it begins with God. God must begin the work in you. He does this by His Spirit. The Spirit of God blows into your heart like a mighty rushing wind and births you into spiritual existence. The example we looked at last week in regards to this was Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rushed upon 3,000 people and circumcised their hearts and made them true worshipers, who worship in the Spirit.
Worth of Christ Jesus
However, is that it? Is becoming a Christian just about the Holy Spirit coming into your heart? What about Jesus? How does he fit into the conversion of a sinner? Doesn't he play a role? Absolutely. Lets look at verse 8.
So what did he do? He gives up everything so that he could grab hold of the treasure. He sells everything he has to purchase this jewel. And does he do it begrudgingly? No. He does it with joy. He is exploding with excitement about this treasure. There is no hesitation, he is all in immediately. Why? Why is he so full of joy in the giving up of all that he has accumulated in his life? Because he is exchanging all that he has for something exceedingly better. His sacrifice is no sacrifice because he sees the surpassing worth of the treasure.
Let me ask you a question. Is the man's behavior irrational? Why not? Because this the basic economics of man, is it not? This mode of behavior is what humanity has engrained in them. If you have $1 in your hands and you have a choice to exchange it for $100 do you do it? Of course you do. Why? Because we are designed to pursue what we believe to be the greatest value. This is the will that we have implanted in our hearts. Our will is to pursue what we see as having the greatest value to us. We are slaves to this will. It is not a freedom of will, it is a will that is bent towards certain things. For some your will is bent towards money, for some your will is bent towards sex, for some your will is bent towards security, for some your will is bent towards stuff, for some your will is bent towards sports, etc. You choose those things at the cost of other things because you see greater value in them.
So with this said, what is the treasure. What is this fine pearl of great value? It is Jesus Christ our Lord. When this man's eyes gazed upon the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ, there was nothing left to do but renounce all that he had and grab hold of Jesus.
And this is exactly what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:8 when he says, “ I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.“ Paul was the man in the field. He was the merchant seeking pearls. He was on the road to Damascus and his eyes were opened to the reality of the worth of Jesus. At that moment the pearls that Paul that were pearls were in fact rubbish in comparison to whom stood before him, the Son of the Living God.
This is exactly what happens at the point of conversion, at the point of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed in a sinners life and it is hidden fro their eyes. They do not see the value of Christ. Instead they believe that the pearls of this worlds are far better. They are blind, they do not have eyes to see. But then the Holy Spirit rushes upon them and gives them eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and they let go of everything to have Christ. Why? Because it is the only logical decision.
At that moment their will is going to pursue that which it believes to be the highest value, and because they now have eyes to see Jesus Christ and his surpassing worth, they choose Christ. He is for the first time in their life irresistible, and it was God who made the decisive move to give the sinner eyes to see His Son.
We See Dimly
The question we now have is this, if we as Christians have seen the beauty of Jesus Christ and have let go of all things so as to grab hold of Christ, is this passage relevant to us? I would say yes. The reason for this is that we are told in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It is true that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ we know the worth of Christ, but we only know his worth in part. Yes, we have eyes to see, but we see dimly. We do not see as clearly as we can. We have not seen the depth of the riches of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul prays in Ephesians 1:17, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him”
And if you don't believe me, just look at your life. How many times do you cling to the rubbish of this world, when you should be clinging to Christ? How many times to you run to the fridge instead of running to Jesus? How many times do you pursue the books of your business over the book about Christ? How many times to you stare in the mirror vainly attempting to make yourself beautiful instead of staring into the most beautiful face ever to exist, the face of your King?
Why do we do this? Because we don't understand the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. We don't understand that Jesus is better than everything. He is better than anything that this world has to offer. He is better than life itself.
The more we see this, the more we will let go. The more we will realize that what we thought were fine pearls are just worthless rocks weighing us down, and it won't be hard, we will drop these rocks with joy in our heart, for we know that Christ is far better.
Pursuing and Treasuring Jesus Christ
This leads us to application. First, let me talk to those of you who are unbelievers, for I know that there are some of you among us.
Your heart longs for treasure. You are designed to pursue what you believe is of greatest value. I can say this with full confidence, your journey to this point has left you unsatisfied. You have pursued the things of this world, and they have left you empty. Perhaps it is time that you stop looking in the world, and start looking at the one who overcame the World. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and see his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Now to those of us who have grabbed hold of Christ because he has grabbed hold of us. Your work is not done. We must work out our salvation and pursue the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must pursue the glory of Jesus.
How do we do this? Two ways, the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I realize that I am a broken record when it comes to this, but truth is truth. The way be which we see the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ is to read the book about Him. We must gaze upon these pages, and in doing so we will gaze upon Christ. Jesus is on every page, from beginning to end. You will see him as God and as man. You will see him as Prophet, Priest and King. You will see him as Lion and Lamb. You will see him as Savior, Lord, and brother. You will see him weep. You will see him work. You will see his zeal. You will see his compassion. You will see his light. You will see his love. A love that he has for you, and has always, and will always have for you.
And while we read, we dare not do it alone. We must be guided into all truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. His is our counselor, and we must let him counsel our souls. We must pray as we read that God would give us eyes to see the glory of His Son. If we read this book absent the Holy Spirit then we are no better than the Pharisees. It is the Spirit of God that illumines our hearts. It is the Spirit of God who writes the Word, capital “W”, upon our hearts.
If we do this; if we pursue the glory of Jesus Christ by soaking in the Word by the power of the Spirit we will see the surpassing worth of Jesus. It is inevitable. And when we see the surpassing worth of Jesus more and more, we will, with joy, lay down more and more of our lives for his sake. Why? Because Jesus is better than everything.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 1, 2015
Turn with me to Philippians 2:14-18. Over the last several weeks we have been unpacking what it looks like for Christians to progress in our faith. We began by understanding that our walk as Christians should be one that match the gift of our salvation. Meaning that we should outwardly display the reality within. Or to say it another way, if we talk the talk, we should walk the walk.
Last week, we examined how this progress in our faith is one that involves both our working, and God working within us. That we are to be actively pursuing Christlikeness, however our pursuit is driven from within by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. This process of transformation is what the Bible calls sanctification. The end of our sanctification occurs upon our death or upon Christ's return, for at that moment the Christian's work is done and we enter into the final rest of our Father and we be like our brother Jesus Christ.
Today we are going to get more specific regarding this process of sanctification. We are going to look at a specific sin, a specific purpose, a specific solution, and a specific result. So with that said, let us read out text, pray and unpack these four verses.
In verse 14 we see Paul exhort the Philippian Church to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” I think it is important for us to recognize that this statement is not disconnected with the first part of Paul's letter. Therefore you could say, progress in your faith without grumbling or disputing, or count others more significant than yourself without grumbling or disputing, or be obedient like Jesus without grumbling or disputing, or work out your salvation without grumbling or disputing. Pual has spent a significant part of his letter exhorting the church at Philippi, and his desire is that they do all these things, not as a burden, but with joy.
As I thought about this text this week, I have to admit that I felt the weight of my sin. I confess I am a grumbler. I wouldn't necessarily use that phrase. Instead I would call myself analytical or critical, perhaps I would even go so far as to admit that I complain about things, but those are just words. The reality is that when Paul is saying don't grumble or dispute, he might as well use my name right after his rebuking.
This week I have felt like grumbling about the weather, my work, my to-do list, the lack of progress in certain areas of my life, the gas tax, the apathy of others, my sleep habits, food, the list could go on an on. This is not to mention the constant sighs that I express throughout my day, as if I can't bare my circumstance one minute longer. The bottom line is that this week I have felt like one giant baby, whining about every little thing that comes up.
And this is the sad part, I was not rebuked one time for my whining. As I went about complaining and grumbling, the world joined in on the conversation. In fact, many times the more I complained the more worldly fellowship I had. People were mesmerized by my poisonous tongue. Why? Because people love the darkness. The world loves sin, and grumbling and disputing is sin.
Many of you, however, may be saying, really? Is it that big of deal to vent once and a while? Or perhaps you are saying, aren't I entitled to my opinion? Can't I stand up on my soapbox? Can't I express myself and let my voice be heard? The answer to this is no, you can't, at least you can't if you are a Christian.
I want to direct your attention to verse 15. Paul uses a phrase that is not arbitrary. He calls the world a “crooked and twisted generation.” This is not the first time this phrase is used in the Bible. It is used by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5 to describe the nation of Israel during the time they wandered in the desert.
For any of you who have read about those 40 years, which I hope that all of you have, you will know that there is one word that describes those people, complainers. No matter what God did for them, they whined and complained. They grumbled and disputed. This began almost instantly upon Israel's leaving of Egypt. They complained about being led to the Red Sea, they complained about the lack of water, they complained about food, they complained about not having the right food, they complained about Moses, they complained about the people who occupied the promise land. Complain, complain, complain. This was the display of their hearts after God led them out of Egypt. God had chosen these people to be His people out of all the nations of the world, and how did they respond, they grumbled and disputed.
What was God's response to Israel's complaints? Yes he did provide, but also He killed a fair amount of them. He sent a plague, he swallowed some up in the ground, he gave Miriam leprosy, and he kept all of the adults, including Moses, from entering the Promise land. Why was God so angry about their complaining? Because their complaining was a provocation towards God. Their complaining was an assault on God's Sovereignty. Their complaining was the exact opposite of what they should have been doing, trusting in God, having Faith in God. God desired to use them to display himself to the nations, but what they were displaying is discontent, disunity, and disobedience.
Why is this important to us? Why should we care about Israel of 4,000 years ago? Aren't we different as followers of Jesus? Yes, we are different, but that doesn't mean we are perfect and without sin. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2.
The Old Testament is not irrelevant. The nation of Isreal while wandering in the wildernss is not irrelevant. It is to be an example to to us. We are to take heed, lest we fall. We must recognize that grumbling and disputing kindles the wrath of God, it does not please Him. In fact, God killed his Son on the cross to pay for your sins, not just adultery and murder, but also grumbling and complaining.
Every time you complain about your food, your job, your circumstances, your life, you are complaining about God's providence. Just like Israel, you are questioning the Sovereignty of God as he unveils the plans that he has for you. This is what Paul is trying to get across to the people of Philippi as they work out their salvation, as they obey as Jesus obeyed. He wants the Church to sojourn with rejoicing and not with grumbling.
And don't forget Paul's condition as he writes these words. Paul writing these things while he is chained to a Roman guard. His circumstances are way worse than most of you will ever experience. In this letter do you see complaining? No you see Paul rejoicing, proclaiming, edifying, but you never see complaining. With each step Paul takes, no matter how difficult, he uses it for an opportunity to glorify God, not to grumble against God.
Shine as Lights in the World
Which leads to my second point. Our purpose as disciples is to shine like lights in the world. This is why you live in your neighborhood. This is why you work where you work. This is why you go to the school you go to. This is why you have facebook friends. Your responsibility, your call, your purpose is to shine with the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness that surrounds us.
When you grumble and complain, you are not shining. Instead there is a dark cloud that descends over your testimony. You look just like the world that you are sent to save. As Paul says, you are acting twisted and crooked. Instead of acting like Christ, you are acting like Satan. Do you think that your complaining is going to cause one of your friends or family members to say, “Wow, tell me about your faith. I want know more about the God that you seem not to trust.”
We as followers of Jesus Christ are to be radically different. We are to stand out. We are to be salt in this decaying and tasteless world and we are to be light in the midst of the darkness. And this is to be true in all circumstances, and especially true in difficult circumstances. For when your circumstances are the darkest, your light can shines more brightly. For example, think about the cross. It is the darkest day in all of human history. Creation is killing the Creator. This is the most depraved and wicked act imaginable. However, it is with this backdrop of darkness that we see the light of Jesus Christ shine most gloriously. Did Jesus grumble and complain and dispute with his father? No. He prayed “Thy will be done” and “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” For the Joy that was set before him Him endured the cross.
We are called to be like Christ. We are to be his disciples. We are to follow his lead. When our circumstances are not up to our standard of selfish entitlement, we need to check ourselves before we vent, before we give our two cents on God's providence, before we grumble about the circumstances God has ordained for our lives. So how do we do this?
Hold Fast to the Word of Life
Look at verse 16. What does it say? It says we are to “[hold] fast to the word of life.” What is the word of life? It is the gospel. It is the message of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the promise of God that through the death of His Son, your sins are forgiven and you will have eternal life.
I want you to feel the weight of this. You and I deserve to go to Hell. We deserve to have the wrath of God come crashing down upon us. But God, because He is love provides a way that the price of our sins can be paid and so that we can be reconciled to our Maker. That way is that he kills his Son Jesus. He did this for you! Instead of punishing you for your wretchedness, he punishes Jesus for your wretchedness. And if that was not enough, not only does he forgive you but he adopts you into his family and promises you that you will receive the inheritance of being a child of the Almighty God. And if that is not enough, you will get to enjoy this inheritance forever and ever. Meaning that in a billion years from now, you will still be enjoying the unlimited joy of being a child of God.
And if you have repented of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this is yours right now.
Paul is telling us that we must hold fast to this gospel truth. We must not be casual about it. We must cling to it violently. Never letting these promises slip out of our mind. E must keep our eyes focused to these words, and they must be the anchor of our life. We must hold it, as it holds us.
The question is, are you holding fast to the words of life? Are you clinging to the words of Jesus with white knuckles. Are you soaking, and meditating, and delighting, and cherishing the word of life?
This week I saw a quote from Charles Spurgeon that was somewhat aggressive. Spurgeon said, “There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers.” Does this describe you? Does your Bible sit on the shelf day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year with almost no attention? Instead of holding fast to the word of life, are you holding fast to facebook? HGTV? ESPN? Your business?
I echo what Paul says in verse 16, I do not want to stand in the day of judgment and realize that all of the labors of Cornerstone were vanity. That they were worthless. That my preaching and teaching has fallen on deaf ears. For we know that on the day of Judgment, everything will be revealed. At that time we will not have to look at the dust of our Bibles for God will reveal the dust on our cold dead hearts.
And it only makes sense, for those who who do not have the words of life implanted in their heart, of course they will act like Israel. Of course you will whine and complain and grumble and dispute with God. For that is your nature. You are a rebel, an enemy, an antagonist of God.
But this should not be true for real, authentic followers of Jesus Christ. We must heed the warning of Israel, for we have hope. The hope of eternal life through faith in Christ. And this hope should spring up into our joy.
Be Glad and Rejoice
And that is exactly what we see in verse 17 and 18, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.“
If God has begun a work in our hearts, and we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, and we trust in the promises of God, then first we should love to be reminded of these things. And each time we saturate ourselves in the good news of Jesus it should produce in us good feelings. Not feelings that are rooted in our circumstances, but feelings that are rooted in the cross.
This is why Paul could rejoice despite his imprisonment. This is why the Church in Philippi could rejoice despite the threats of their opponents, and this is why you should rejoice when the gas tax goes into effect next week, and when the temperature is negative 24, and when you get laid off from work, and when you get a call from the doctor with bad news. Because our joy is in the word of life.
Let us commit ourselves to stop complaining and start proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us work our our salvation without whining. Let us act like we have actually received the greatest gift ever imaginable. And Let us rejoice.