Shine as Lights in the World | Philippians 2:14-18

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 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. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Philippians 2:14-18 ESV

 

To quickly recap our studies so far, Paul began the letter by writing a greeting to the Philippians in which he expressed his thanksgiving for them to God and prayed for their continued growth in the Lord. He then reassured them that God was already using his imprisonment for the expansion of the gospel and that He would continue to do so. Finally, he commanded them to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel by humbly serving one another (Jesus being the supreme example of this) and continuing to work out their own salvation, knowing that God provides the ability to obey.

If verses 12-13 were a general call to obedience, within these verses Paul gives a specific call to obey. Particularly, Paul commands us to do all things without grumbling or disputing but to instead live as children of God without blemish, which of course is really another way of telling us to be citizens worthy of the gospel. He then concludes that such a life will make the gospel visible to those without it, while also encouraging other believers in the faith.

WITHOUT GRUMBLING OR DISPUTING // VERSES 14-16

After appealing for us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, Paul now gives us a specific command: do all things without grumbling or disputing. Since this is the key command presented here, we must take sufficient time to understand why the apostle would specifically target grumbling and disputing, especially since, if we are honest with ourselves, those don’t sound incredibly serious.

What then is the big deal about grumbling and disputing? We first need to consider exactly what Paul means by these words. Grumbling, which is also often translated as murmuring, is the act of unhappily complaining of something underneath your breath, and it reveals a hidden reluctance, a discontentment. Peter commands us show hospitality without grumbling, since grumbling is not the earnest love that should mark a Christian (1 Peter 4:8-9). Disputing might also be translated as complaining or arguing. With this, Paul is not suggesting that questioning and arguing are always sins; however, discontented nitpicking or even contentious quarreling is sinful because it can easily cause divisions within the church, which, of course, is antithetical to being of the same mind and love. Both, thus, are rooted in a heart of discontentment.

Yet still, why does Paul warn us about these two things specifically? In many ways, this section of verses closes out the thought that verse 27 of chapter one began. He is desiring to bring the idea of being citizens worthy of the gospel to close (even though he will return to it again in chapter three), and grumbling and disputing run counter to the unified vision that Paul has been urging. Our previous discussion regarding the danger of false humility returns into play again. What is, after all, grumbling if not a reveal of false humility?

But Paul is also closing out this section with a series of subtle Old Testament concepts and references. This is a means of grounding the Philippians (a Gentile-majority church) in the overall salvation plan of God. He is reminding them that the Old Testament story is their story. In Christ, the people of God include Gentiles, and the patriarchs of Israel are now our fathers as well (1 Corinthians 10:1).

This is especially important today. Quite recently a megachurch pastor declared in a sermon that Christianity needs to be detached from the Old Testament. Such a thought is disastrous because detaching from the Old Testament would force us to also detach from the New, since it is the fulfillment (not the abolishment) of the Old. The New Testament writers frequently appealed to the Old Testament for their arguments, and Paul is obviously reflecting the Old Testament here in order to deepen the impact of his exhortations. He is filling these words with the historical weight of God’s chosen people, thereby reminding the Philippians that they are a part of the story now.

Of course, in order to feel the impact of these references and allusions, we must have a reasonable understanding of the Old Testament. Gordon Fee elaborates on this point:

We should further point out that such a use of the OT presupposes (a) that as in all the Pauline churches these early Gentile believers were thoroughly acquainted with their Bibles, (b) that they would recognize this application of the OT texts to Paul’s and their situations, and (c) that they would do so because of the basically oral nature of the culture, in which the constant hearing of the same “stories” would reinforce them deeply into their memories. To put it bluntly, we may rightly assume that these early Gentile believers knew the OT infinitely better than most Christians do today. (18)

With this in mind (and to return to our previous question), grumbling and complaining were significant sins throughout the desert wanderings of the Israelites. In Numbers 17:10, God commands Aaron’s budded staff to be kept in view of the Israelites “as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Obviously, God considered grumbling and complaining about the one who saved them out of Egypt and was feeding them heavenly bread in the desert to be a serious offense. Thus, he is exhorting them not to follow after the example of the Israelites. Instead, the apostle wants them to be blameless and innocent. Paul’s desire for the Philippians to be blameless and innocent takes us back to his opening prayer for them to “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (1:10).

Children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation is a description of who the Philippians are as believers, one which goes hand-in-hand with being citizens of heaven. The saving work of Christ adopts us as children of God and naturalizes us as citizens of God’s kingdom. But this phrase is also a reversal of Deuteronomy 32:5, in which Moses declared: “They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation.” When the Israelites grumbled against God in the desert, He declared them to be a crooked and twisted generation and denounced their status as His children. However, Paul pronounces the opposite upon the Philippians. They are children of God. They are without blemish, not blemished. They are in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, although not a part of it.

How is it, therefore, that the Philippians were succeeding where the Israelites failed? Through Christ, the Philippians were recipients of what was only a promise in the Old Testament. Through Ezekiel, God declared, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Followers of Christ now have the indwelling Spirit, who enables us to call God our Father and to walk in obedience to Him. By the love of the Father, the atonement in Jesus, and the empowerment of the Spirit, we are children of God. This, of course, does not mean that the Old Testament saints were saved outside the saving work of Jesus. By no means! Just as we today look backward to the sacrifice of Christ, they looked forward.  Salvation still came only through Christ; however, the indwelling of the Spirit was not present, except for specific callings.

Paul now takes an evangelistic twist as he discusses how we are to interact with crooked and twisted generation around us. Among whom you shine as lights in the world is most likely an homage to Daniel 12:3: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Notice the evangelistic nature of both Paul’s thought here and the verse from Daniel, yet there are differences. Daniel seems to be using shine as a reward (future tense) for being wise and turning many to righteousness. Shining is thus tied to the resurrection into eternal life described in Daniel 12:2. Paul, however, writes of the Philippians as shining (present tense) in the midst of the world and its crooked and twisted generation. This is fitting since Jesus states: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Yes, our hope is in our resurrection from the dead, but eternal life does not begin then. Recall Jesus’ answer to Martha after the death of her brother, Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). Christ is Himself life everlasting, so those who are in Christ walk in eternal life now, even if we only see it in part. In the resurrection, we will receive glorified bodies, but we have already been spiritual raised from the dead in this life. The Christian, therefore, should be known by his or her spiritual resurrection that precedes our physical resurrection. The evidence of Jesus within us must be clear to the world. Our lifestyle of blameless and innocent lack of grumbling and disputing is a living display of the gospel to the world for the glory of God. Or as Jesus says it:

Matthew 5:14-16 | You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Given that holding fast to the word of life is elaborating upon the previous idea implies that this phrase is meant to be evangelistic as well. The Greek word here can mean both hold onto and hold forth (or to present). Thus, Paul is probably not commanding us to clutch the gospel to us as tightly as possible so that no one can take it from us. Rather, he is urging us to have the gospel in our arms at all time, ready to share it with any who might listen. Since the gospel is truly the word of eternal life, why are we not prepared constantly to share it? The sad reality is that most of us tend to be terrified of sharing the gospel because we rarely think of the gospel. We speak of the things that are most important to us. Our thoughts eventually become words. Perhaps if we followed the psalmist’s prescription of meditating on the Word day and night, we would be less frightened of holding out the word of life to the crooked and twisted generation around us.

Within the second half of verse 16, Paul presents his reasoning for the Philippians obedience to the previous phrases: so that at the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. To be honest, at first, this seems like a startlingly selfish reason. Wouldn’t it have been better if Paul had reminded them again of their completion at the day of Christ (1:6)? We must, however, keep in mind the deeply personal connection between Paul and the Philippians. Because of his great affection and longing for them, Paul also yearns for their continued faithfulness. The apostle’s joy, of course, was not tied to the Philippians; it was rooted in Christ alone. Yet if the Philippians fell away from the faith, it would have been a grievous wound upon him, and it would have meant that his efforts toward them were in vain. He desired their continued faith as an evidence and fruit of his work.

It is also worth noting that labor in vain is probably another Old Testament allusion. Isaiah 65:23 describes the new heavens and new earth in part as being where people “shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them.”

REJOICE // VERSES 17-18

The apostle concludes this section of text by calling the Philippians to be glad and rejoice with him. The command to rejoice is certainly one of the primary themes of the letter, but why is he telling them to rejoice here?

He first opens verse 17 with a conditional statement: even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith. A couple of remarks need to be made concerning this phrase. First, the imagery being used here is of the Levitical priest pouring out wine as a drink offering to the LORD; thus, it is not difficult imagine the wine being symbolic of blood. Indeed, our initial thought might be that Paul is referring to the possibility of his martyrdom, yet that does not seem to be the case. Recall that Paul was convinced that his imprisonment would not lead to death (1:25-26).

Second, since Paul probably isn’t referring to his potential martyrdom, it is more likely that he is speaking about his suffering in general for the sake of the gospel. Further evidence of this is Paul’s confidence that he would remain in the flesh for the Philippians’ “progress and joy in the faith” (1:25), while here is his poured on the sacrificial offering of their faith. He is, therefore, aiming that his manner of life, especially in the midst of his sufferings, would be a faithful example to the Philippians for the increase of their joy.

Third, if this is correct, Paul is poured out through living, not dying. As fearful as the prospect of dying might be, Paul understood that ultimately dying well was easier than living well. In death, he would find rest in Christ, but in life, he would continue to be the instrument of Christ’s work in others. Paul’s life was one constant drink offering before the LORD.

Let us take this to heart. The stories of the martyrs are both sorrowful and beautiful, but they are also easily romanticized. If we are not careful, we can treat the Christian life as one long wait for our big moment to prove our devotion to Christ in spite of the opposition. However, for the vast majority of Christians, that moment will never come. Instead, the regular moments that happen daily to every Christian knock at our door. Martyrdom is not the exclusive proof of devotion to Christ but rather each of us must take up our cross daily and actually be devoted to Jesus. Life must be an act of daily dying to self, a constant and living martyrdom. Do you want to prove your devotion to Christ? Read your Bible, even when you don’t feel like it. Pray, even when you don’t feel like it. Go to church, even when you don’t feel like it. Serve someone, even when you don’t feel like it. This is the life of death to which we are called. Death in life in order to find life in Christ.

Finally, Paul’s focus shifts to the Philippians at the end of verse 17: I am glad and rejoice with you all. Even in prison, suffering for the gospel, the apostle was glad and rejoiced with the Philippians upon the sacrificial offering of their faith. This seems to mean that Paul is rejoicing with them in the midst of their own suffering, which, as we should remember, is a gift of God alongside belief, and in 18 he calls them to rejoice with him in his suffering as well. To be clear, this is not Paul declaring his joy in the simple fact that the Philippians were suffering. Instead, he rejoiced in what God would produce in them through suffering, and he is inviting them to be similarly excited for what God is producing in him too. Likewise, we find joy and rejoice with others in suffering because we know that God will not fail to use it for His glory and our good.

Advertisements

Teaching (Making Disciples: part six)

Too often, we think of discipleship and evangelism as two entirely distinct enterprises, but they are, in reality, two sides of the same coin. 

Both are sharing, proclaiming, and teaching the gospel. 

They only differ in their audience. 

During evangelism, we share the gospel with non-Christians, and during discipleship, we share the gospel with Christians. 

Therefore, discipleship is evangelism for believers, and evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians.

The process of discipleship is important because our call to make disciples is not complete after someone becomes a Christian. 

Jesus did not command us to make converts; He told us to make disciples.

How then do we continue the process of discipleship after someone becomes a Christian?

Our Lord answered the question Himself in the Great Commission: by teaching them to obey all that He commanded us. We are meant to teach Jesus’ teachings to the next wave of disciples.

As with evangelism, God does give to some in the church the specific gift of teaching; however, each Christian is still called to teach in some capacity. Consider Paul’s charge to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul encourages Timothy to continue the process of teaching other men what it means to follow Christ.

But the process is not only for men. In Titus 2:3-6, Paul gives Titus these words for women:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanders or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Notice that Paul commands older women to teach and train younger women.

Both men and women are called by the Scriptures to teach those who are younger in the faith. I say younger in the faith because physical maturity is not necessarily indicative of spiritual maturity. A young man might be quite mature in Christ, while an older man is an infant in the faith.

Of course, this does not mean that younger believers have nothing to share. Just as we are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, so should we teach another the truths of God that we find in Scripture. (Ephesians 5:21) We should mutually build one another up in the Lord, teaching one another to continue walking faithfully with the Christ.

This process can be as intentional as meeting regularly with someone or a small group to study and discuss Scripture, or it could be as relaxed as two families eating together, discussing what God has been teaching them recently. The key is to actually discuss the Scriptures and what God is doing. If we meet with brothers and sisters in Christ without discussing the goodness of the gospel, what makes us any different than the world?

Evangelism (Making Disciples: part five)

To be honest, I never thought of evangelism and witnessing as two separate actions until recently. In his short (and free!) ebook, What Is the Great Commission?, R. C. Sproul writes:

Evangelism, on the other hand, is the actual proclamation—either oral or written, but certainly verbal—of the gospel. It is declaring the message of the person and work of Christ, who His is and what He has done on behalf of sinners like you and me.

That means there are several reasons that evangelism is not. It is not living your life as an example. It is not building relationships with people. It is not giving one’s personal testimony. And it is not inviting someone to church. These things may be good and helpful, but they are not evangelism. They may lay the groundwork for evangelism. They may allow others to relate to us, or they may cause someone to be curious about why we live the way we do. But they are not evangelism, because they don’t proclaim the gospel. They may say something about Jesus, but they do not proclaim the person and work of Christ.

Witnessing does not necessitate words, but evangelism must use words, either written or spoken. We see this thought from the word evangelism itself. It comes from the Greek word for gospel, which means good news or good message. Therefore, evangelism is gospelism. It is making known the gospel, and because the gospel is a message and messages must be expressed, evangelism is a verbal act.

Many Christians become incredibly fearful at the thought of doing evangelism, while others write it off as a special gifting for some Christians. While there are some Christians with the passion and gifting of evangelism, all followers are called to the task.

We see this principle in the book of Acts. Following the death of the Stephen, the first martyr within the church, the Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Roman Empire. Here is how Luke describes the act: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

As they fled from Jerusalem, they continued to preach the word wherever they went. They continued to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. They kept proclaiming the truth that God saves sinners from the consequences of their sins.

This powerful statement is only made more powerful by who Luke is describing. He is not merely writing about the original disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John. He is not talking about the newly formed church leaders, like Stephen’s fellow deacons. No, Luke is describing the Christians in general. Normal, everyday followers of Christ preached the word of God wherever they went, and the world was irrevocably changed.

Evangelism is the work of every believer, but please realize that this does not mean you need to have a PHD in theology. John writes that Christians overcome satanic forces “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)

You do not need to know the ins and outs of systematic theology in order to share the gospel; you only need to have experienced the power of Christ’s saving blood and be able to express how He saved you in words. If Christ’s blood and our proclamation of how He saved us is enough to conquer Satan, it is also entirely sufficient for delivering the gospel message to a heart that is dead in sin.

One more thought on evangelism before I move on. Your salvation was the work of God, not yourself. You were dead in sin, an object of God’s wrath, but Christ made you alive because of God’s great grace and love. Therefore, lay aside the weight of thinking that you will save people with evangelism. We can save no one. Even if we argue someone into Christianity, someone else can always argue them out.

We are simply called to share the gospel, proclaim the good news.

God does everything else.

As a farmer sows seed but God produces the growth, may we also be faithful to share His truth, knowing that God alone can bring the dead to life.

Sept. 30, 2016

Below are a few articles that I found beneficial this past week.

5 Ways To Not Suck at Sharing About Jesus

We mean well and want to share about Jesus with our friends, but an invitation without relational investment is a sales pitch.

7 Reasons Why Faithful Church Attendance Matters

“I love Jesus but not the church” is like saying to a new groom, “I love you but not your bride.” The Bible describes the local church as the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2 Eph. 5:24-27, Rev. 19:7-9, 21:1-2). It is impossible to maintain a thriving relationship with Christ while at the same time avoiding fellowship with a gospel-believing local church. When we commit to loving the church, we commit to loving Christ.

5 Practical Guidelines for Reading the Old Testament Laws

Let’s be honest. Certain parts of the Old Testament can seem just plain weird, “recurringly odd and unaccommodating,” as Mark Coleridge puts it. And no part of the Old Testament seems more foreign than those sections that detail God’s laws for Israel. Whether we read that the Israelites were not to wear clothing with mixed fabrics, or eat shrimp, or make a bald spot on their heads on behalf of the dead, we struggle to see what this has to do with us. I simply haven’t ever been tempted to “boil a baby goat in it’s mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 14:21)! Have you?

How to Pray a Psalm

So basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers.

9 Things You Should Know About the ESV Bible

As an “essentially literal” translation, the ESV most closely aligns with a formal equivalent translation philosophy in that is “seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer.”

 

Trained, Redeemed, Purified, & Zealous | Titus 2:11-15

Week 8 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13-14)

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Titus 2:15)

OPENING THOUGHT

As a guide for how to organize Cretan churches, Paul’s letter to Titus is also abundantly applicable to us today. We have already studied chapter one in which Paul presented his vision of leadership within the church. His idea of multiple pastors living above reproach lives was in sharp contrast to the false teachers that surrounded them. In chapter two, Paul brought the discussion to church members as a whole, encouraging them toward intentional discipleship and evangelism.

Thus far in Titus, it is easy to notice how many commands and exhortations Paul gives to us. Good works seem to be emphasized much by the apostle with little time spent on defining sound doctrine. These verses, however, give attention to the reason behind every command and work: the gospel. The opening word “for” ties our present text as being the motivation for living a life of discipleship and evangelism.

The reasoning behind God’s commands is never “just because”. He always has a plan and a purpose (even if we may not see it presently). Paul contends that we share the gospel because the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people. That God did not leave us condemned in sin is truly good news. That God offers that salvation to everyone is even better. We are not to share the gospel because God commanded it; rather, we must do so because God’s offer of salvation is too great to keep to ourselves.

Read verses 11-12 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul begins this section by stating that the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people. Does this good news mean that all people will be saved? Why or why not?
  2. How does the gospel train us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives?

Read verses 13-14 and discuss the following.

  1. In addition to being trained by the gospel to live godly lives, we are to also wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of Jesus, our God and Savior. Why is the second coming of Christ so important. Why is it called our blessed hope?

Read verse 15 and discuss the following.

  1. Just as the chapter began, Paul ends by urging Titus to proclaim the truth of God. From where does Titus’ authority for exhortations and rebukes come?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Share the gospel. Because this text provides the motivation for discipleship and evangelism, it is best to consider both how and why we do them. Our proper response to a true understanding of the gospel must be to share it with those we love.
  • God has given salvation by grace for all people; therefore, pray that those who do not know God’s grace would hear and receive it.

Living Evangelism | Titus 2:6-10

Week 7 | Study Guide & Sermon

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

OPENING THOUGHT

Because Paul wrote this letter to Titus to guide him in putting order to churches in Crete, the letter lends itself well to being a summary for a church should function and serve. In the first chapter, Paul dove into the method and theology behind church leadership. He urged Titus to appoint multiple elders in each church, while paying careful attention to the personal qualifications of each elder. Chapter two then led into Paul’s desire for each church’s members, which he began with a thought on biblical discipleship.

Having addressed the need for discipling one another in how to follow Christ more closely, the apostle now moves into a closely related area: evangelism. There is a clear reason for why discipleship and evangelism are brought up back to back because they are two sides of the same coin. Both activities are about sharing and living the gospel. Evangelism has us sharing the gospel with non-Christians in the hope that they will also follow Christ. Discipleship has us sharing the gospel with Christians in the hope that they will follow Christ in an ever deeper relationship. Evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians, and discipleship is evangelism for Christians. The two cannot be separated from one another.

That being said, like discipleship, most Christians feel the need for evangelism but are unaware of how to do it. Too many of us assume that before sharing Christ with others we must have a mastery-level understanding the Bible, be a minister or aspiring minister, or be supernaturally gifted in it. Though we should all aim for a great understanding the Bible, every Christian is a minister, and God does supernaturally use all of us for evangelism, the actual action behind evangelism are not so strange or complicated as we make them. Instead, Paul emphasizes our need to proclaim Christ with our lives before we ever open our mouths.

Read verses 7-8 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul urges Titus to be a model of good works in everything. How might our lives be a model for others?
  2. The teaching of a Christian is meant to be marked by integrity, dignity, and sound speech. What is biblically sound (or healthy) speech?

Read verses 9-10 and discuss the following.

  1. Paul addresses these verses to slaves working for their masters, but we can apply it today as employees and employers. How is being an employee similar and different to being a slave?
  2. The reasoning behind the Christian slaves’ good works is their desire to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. How do our lives adorn the truth of the gospel?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Consider particularly Paul’s words in verses 9-10. Do you, as an employee, live out those verses? Take time to plan for how to better obey Scripture.
  • Pray for God’s grace to live a life that adorns the gospel message.

 

As we steadily approach the finish line of our present sermon series through the seven letters of Revelation, the third to the last message has hit me full force. Jesus gives to the Apostle John a letter for the church of Sardis, and His words for it are terrifying. We’ve already heard Jesus rebuke the Ephesian church for having solid doctrine but no love and the Thyatiran church for having love but poor doctrine. We’ve already read Jesus threaten to war against the church of Pergamum if they did not repent of their conformity to society rather than the Scriptures.

But His message to Sardis takes everything to a new level.

To Sardis, Jesus claims that they have a reputation for being alive, but they are, in fact, dead. This means that by human standards Sardis appeared to be in decent shape. They were probably growing numerically as a church. The Scriptures were likely taught with a great degree of orthodoxy. They may have even been known for their love of the community around them. We simply don’t know what things they were doing well, but we do know that Jesus calls their bluff. Where men might have considered the church of Sardis to be growing and faithful, Jesus knew that they were flat lining.

The notion of a church appearing to be alive while, in reality, being dead ought to send shivers down our spine. This is the sort of church and the kind of members that we never want to be. So let’s take a moment to consider ways that a church might be dead with the appearance of life.

1. Prayerlessness

I don’t believe it’s possible to overemphasize the value and necessity of prayer. Because of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection, we are able to approach God’s “throne of grace” with confidence, knowing “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” from our Father (Heb. 4:16). What a privilege that we are able to speak to the Almighty God as His children with Him as our Father!

Yet it is not only a privilege but also a joy, an expression of having finally found a treasure that it worth losing everything else to possess (Matt. 13:44). Our hearts ought to be constantly (1 Thess. 5:17) in prayerful communion with God because all else is rubbish (Phil. 3:7) by comparison to His value.

In short, we pray because our hearts will be with our treasure (Matt. 6:21).

A prayerless Christian is no Christian, and a prayerless church is no church.

The lack of prayer indicates that God is not treasured. If God is not treasured, then He is not truly worshiped as God.

In fact, God opposes the prayerless. Both Peter and James tell us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6).” There is no greater expression of pride than prayerlessness. The act of prayer is humbling. It approaches God in His sovereignty, understanding our desperate need for His intervention, guidance, and love. A lack of prayer speaks that we do need God’s grace or aid. Prayer asserts our dependence, while prayerlessness proclaims our independence.

A church that is independent of God is a dead church. Jesus explicitly states that He will build His church (Matt. 16:18). Christ’s church is entirely reliant upon Him as the builder. With an utter independence from Jesus, the church is dead, even while it seems to live.

Jesus urges Sardis to wake up, to be watchful. This idea of wakefulness, watchfulness, and sobriety is at times used in relation to prayer.

“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

Isaiah 62:6-7 also describes those in prayer as watchmen on a city’s walls. We ought to pray with all the wakefulness and sobriety of watchmen who were able to glimpse an enemy in the distance and prepare the city accordingly. We must keep alert, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Eph. 6:18).”

A church can do any number of things and have any measure of growth, but without prayer, it is dead with only the semblance of life.

2. Lack of Discipleship

The primary mission that Jesus gave to His disciples was to make more disciples (Matt. 28:19). A church is composed of Christians (disciples of Jesus), and if those Christians do not seek to fulfill Jesus’ great objective, they are outside of His will.

Each of us are called to disciple others and be disciple by others. The church is a perpetual factory of passing on knowledge, skills, and ministries. The goal of every believer ought to be toward making the road a little easier for the next workers to expand the kingdom of God.

A lack of discipleship is evident in a number of ways.

First, the youth are neglected by the older men and women. The primary fashion that Paul seems to envision discipleship within a regular church congregation is older men and women training younger men and women. He tells Timothy to take what he learned from Paul and entrust it “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2).” And he urges Titus to have older women train “young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:4-5).” Negligence to raise up the next generation is a failure to disciple.

Second, resisting to train others in ministry is a failure to disciple. Each ministry of the church must be for the benefit of the church and the service of Jesus; therefore, a resistance toward training others in a particular ministry is a sign of selfishness. It is selfish because it places our desire to be needed above the betterment of the body of Christ. Our identity becomes entangled in our ministry rather than to Christ, so we refuse to let others into our work. The impact is only felt fully by the congregation whenever the person either leaves or dies without warning. The church is left trying to pick up the fragmented pieces because no one else was ever discipled on how to accomplish the work.

A lack of discipleship often results from an unhealthy fixation on the past. When in a perpetual state of remembrance of the good ol’ days, the congregation is not able to sufficiently invest in the future.

A mental resolution that the better days are behind us will ensure that they are.

Jesus made disciples so that they would expand the work of the kingdom of God beyond His ascension into heaven. The disciples made disciples so that the work would continue beyond their lives. Discipleship is about living for something bigger than ourselves. It is about living for Someone bigger than ourselves. It is about aiming to ensure that the message of the gospel goes on long after we have passed from this world. If we fail to do so, our church will die with us.

3. Lack of Evangelism

When Jesus looked upon the crowds of people that came to hear Him teach and be healed, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).” Jesus did not gaze at the world going to hell in a handbasket with distain; He saw them with tender love and compassion. Being God, Jesus does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”

The Great Commission’s call to make disciples is Jesus’ answer to this love of the lost. Christ commands us to go into all nations, making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them everything that He commanded us. In many ways, evangelism is the first stage of discipleship. Both are two sides of the same coin. Evangelism is bringing the gospel to non-Christians, and discipleship is applying the gospel to Christians. Discipleship begins with evangelism, and evangelism goes into discipleship.

A church without a love for evangelism is a church without a love for people and the gospel.

If we truly love people, we will desire to bring them the true of the gospel, regardless of the awkwardness of it. A doctor who refuses to inform his patient of cancer because it’s uncomfortable is a failed doctor. Likewise, we cannot claim to love others while letting them go uninformed and without Christ to hell. Or else, we cannot claim to truly believe the gospel as truth, while failing to proclaim it to others.

In this way, without evangelism, the church is either unloving or heretical. It either lacks love along with the church of Ephesus or lacks the understanding of truth like the church of Thyatira. Without a love to share the gospel with others, a church finds itself in clear danger of having its lampstand removed (Rev. 2:5) or being made into an example of Christ’s judgment for all churches to see (Rev. 2:22-23).

4. Toleration of Sin

In many ways, a toleration of sin is the only way to kill a church. Prayerlessness and lack of discipleship and evangelism are sinful behaviors. They are sins of omission rather than commission. James 4:17 puts it plainly:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Repeatedly the Bible associates sin with death—after all, sin brought death into creation to begin with.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – Romans 8:10

“But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” – Colossians 2:13

Sin kills. And tolerated sin kills fully. We, naturally, do not enjoy being rebuked for sin. It is never pleasant to be told that we are in the wrong; however, it is necessary. A kind admonishment is one of the most loving acts of kindness. Look at the Bible’s alternative to tolerating sin:

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20

“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” – Titus 1:13

“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” – Titus 2:15

Pointing out sin is never easy. In the Old Testament, the prophets were primarily used of God to rebuke the sins of Israel, and their lives were marked by suffering because of their message. When the sin that we love is attacked, the typical response is to retaliate against the messenger.

Yet we must understand that rebuking sin is the most loving action we can take toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Regardless of what sin (omission or commission) that Sardis found itself in, it died as a church because it did not “put to death” sin (Rom. 8:13).

And like Sardis, there are only two options for every church and its members: either let sin kill us by tolerating it, or put to death sin through repentance.