Sermon: Philippians 1:21-26
A Sheep, A Coin, A Harvest . . . And a Party for the Ages
March 26, 2017
I’ve titled my sermon for this morning, “A Sheep, A Coin, A Harvest, and a Party For the Ages.” So, what do those things all have to do with each other, you may ask? Well, combined together, they make it very difficult to come up with an effective title slide, that’s for sure.
I am going to tie those things together, but first, let’s look at the scripture passage for today. It is from Philippians 1:21-26. I’m reading from the NKJV.
Philippians 1:21-26 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine challenged something that I said carelessly in a moment of frustration. I'm grateful that he had the courage to challenge me about this, in love, because it truly did make me stop and think about where my heart was at. It caused me to dig into the scripture, and seek God's Truth in prayer, because unless I have my heart right in this matter, all of the sermons you hear me preach are nothing but clanging noise. I have seen pastors who are pastors in title only. Their business card says "pastor", but their heart says, "I have a job."
So, what was this thing that I said that sparked our conversation? I can't remember the exact phrase, but it was something like, "Man, what I wouldn't give for a rapture right now." I’d had a rotten week at work, and equipment was broken down at the farm, and it felt like I was on offence and the rest of the world was on defence. "Stop the world, I want to get off!" "Beam me up, Scotty!" I just... wanted... a break.
The point of my message is that in that moment, I wanted something for me. Relief. I wanted Christ to come and take me to Heaven and administer justice to everything and everyone who had conspired to make my life miserable at that time. I think we all feel that way from time to time.
But my friend wanted to know what was really in my heart. Did I really mean that, or was I just being careless with my words? If I got what I was asking for, did I really understand the implications? Was I really willing to let the lost be doomed forever so that I could have a moment of peace?
Let’s be honest. Who, here, wouldn't want to be in Heaven this very day, sitting at the feet of Christ in Paradise? I know that's where I want to be. But what if we knew that if we could endure another day, another week, another decade of suffering, or HOWEVER long we have… what if we knew that during that time we continue to suffer that thousands of people who are currently lost would be found?
What if it was just one? Would we be willing to wait? As we watch the news, we ask ourselves, "How can God let this continue? He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah... were they really that much worse than what we see in our society today? How is it that God hasn't ended this yet?"
Psalm 130:8 says The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
2 Peter 3:9says, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
I think that's the answer to why God hasn't put an end to all this yet. His ways aren't like my ways. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. He is waiting..... waiting..... waiting for as many people as will come to Him to come to Him before He closes the curtain on history.
In fact, He's not just waiting. He's searching.
Listen now to Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
I think we are in that moment in time where God is searching for that one lost sheep. The time of rejoicing will come soon enough, but now is the time for searching.
Immediately after telling the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus reinforces His message with the Parable of the Lost Coin. Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Again, the time of celebration will come, that is certain. But it will come at the right time, for now is the time for searching.
So, let's go back to the sermon text again. "To live is Christ, and to die is gain."
To live is Christ. What does that mean? I've struggled a lot with that over the years because I got hung up on the grammar. Grammatically, it doesn't make sense. The word "Christ" is a proper noun. It can't be used in this sentence any more than my name or your name can be used there. "To live is Bob." That doesn't work! We have to be able to substitute something else in there.
Let's look at the word, "Christ."
First of all Christ is not Jesus' last name. If Jesus had a driver's license, it wouldn't say "First name: Jesus. Last name: Christ." Instead, Christ is actually his title. “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed one” or “chosen one.” This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or “Messiah". We know that the Jews were waiting for a Messiah to come and deliver them. They thought it would be deliverance from the Romans through military might, but instead it was actually deliverance from sin through the death of Jesus on the Cross.
So, one way to look at the phrase, "To live is Christ" is to say, "To live is to be delivered." For us to live, we must be delivered! We cannot deliver ourselves. We must BE delivered. But we do have the CHOICE to accept that deliverance, or to reject it. Deuteronomy 30:19 says, I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
In Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.”
Folks, it us up to us, individually, to accept or reject the deliverance. It's not up to the pastor, or our parents, or our spouses, or our circumstances. It's on us.
But what about those of us who have already made that decision to accept Christ? Are we done? Is our work complete, and now we are just impatiently waiting for Heaven? To die is gain? Or do we also need to fix our attention on the “To Live Is Christ” part?
I think that Jesus gives us the answer to that when He teaches us about the harvest. When He is speaking about the harvest, He's really speaking about those who are ripe in their faith, ready to be delivered. Ready to be redeemed. Ready to accept Him as Saviour, and Christ, and Messiah.
In John 4:35, Jesus says, Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”
And in Matthew 9:37-38, He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Who are the laborers? Let me tell you that God doesn't really need laborers to do His work for Him. The God of Creation can handle this all by Himself. But for our benefit, and as a gift to us, He has made room for us to come alongside Him and work with Him where He is working. WE are the laborers whom He wants to send out into His fields to gather in the harvest. WE are the ones who are to find the lost sheep. WE are the ones who are to find the lost coin.
Not just Pastor Dennis and Donna, but all of us. "To live is Christ" is to go out into the fields and gather in the harvest in the service of our master.
Now we come to the fun part! Going back to the parable of the lost sheep, once the sheep was found and brought home, what did the man do? What did he do? He called together his friends and neighbors and invited them to rejoice with him!
What about the woman who found her lost coin? What did she do? She called her friends and neighbors, and they, too, rejoiced.
And what about the story of the Prodigal Son? The son comes home, broke, and broken in spirit. He's covered in filth. His clothes are rags. He's probably unshaven and ungroomed. He probably stinks. He's probably sick. He probably fits the profile of every homeless person that we see in our inner cities. But he came home, and the Father was beside himself with joy! What did he do? He rejoiced! He cleaned him up, and put the best clothes on him. He decked him out with jewellery, and then had a banquet with the best food they had. And he invited everybody to come.
That's what it means when Paul says, "To die is gain."
Do I want to be free of pain? Yes.
Do I want to get away from the insanity of the world we live in? You bet.
Do I enjoy the death and suffering that exists in this fallen state. Not one bit.
And in the weakness of my flesh, I want to go home. Paul wanted to go home. He said For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
Paul knew that the right thing to do was to stay in this life on earth and serve for as long as he was able, because that is where the work was. He kept his eye on the prize, but he knew that he still had to run the race. Should we be any different?
In 1983, Wayne Gretzky learned that the work has to come before the celebration. Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers lost the Stanley Cup Final to the New York Islanders in decisive fashion. They got blown out. As Gretzky was walking past the Islanders' dressing room after the game, he was expecting to see a wild celebration. As Gretzky puts it, however, “We walked by their locker room in the corridor and saw after they won they were too beat up to really enjoy it and savor the victory at that moment. We were able to walk out of there pretty much scot free." Make no mistake, the Islanders did celebrate, but as an experienced team, they knew that the hard work comes before the celebration.
And for Christians, what a celebration it is going to be! In Matthew 22, Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a wedding feast! We know what that is like. Joy and laughter. Great food, and lots of it! Celebration and friends. And that's just our earthly understanding.
Revelation 21:4 says that "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Revelation 22:1-5 gives us a further glimpse of what awaits us. And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4 They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
1 Corinthians 2:9 says, But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Folks, we are not capable of even imagining the joy that awaits us in heaven. No wonder Paul wrestled with his dilemma about whether he wanted to go to heaven or stay here and work.
But for every single one of us here in this building today, that day has not come yet. Drawing from Revelation 3:7-8, God opens doors that no one can shut, and He shuts doors that no one can open. But He says, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name." Folks, until God calls us home to the feast, we still have an open door to do His work, to find lost sheep, and lost coins, and lost sons, and reap a harvest. And that is where our focus must be.
To sum up everything I'm trying to say today, I'm going to close by quoting a chorus from Steven Curtis Chapman's song, A Little More Time To Love. I'm hoping we get to introduce this song to you in an upcoming Sunday.
There’s a day that is coming
A day that never will end
There in the light of His glory
Everything broken will be whole again
And this will be the celebration
All of creation longs for
And while we’re waiting for that day to come
We’ve got a little more time to love.
Let's go out and show the world just how much God loves them.
Sermon: 1 John 4:7-21
The Necessary Love of the Christian
March 19, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
Remember that I have been telling you that in the outline of 1 John, there are three themes that are repeated three times throughout the letter. And also as a reminder that his stated purpose for the letter was that his readers would have their joy made complete and that they would know that they have eternal life. If that is the case, then these three themes are keys to our joy in this life and to our having assurance of eternal life.
So today we return for the third time to the theme of “loving one another.” We have seen John consistently use the language of testing, and this is the test of love – John Stott calls it the “social” test – in which “genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each other.” The call to love one another has been mentioned in eight verses already previous to our text for today! Obviously John has no problem with often repeating himself. Don’t you think that all that repetition is significant? Repetition is a literary device to grab our attention. Do you think that God is trying to tell us something here? Loving our brothers and sisters is a key aspect of the Christian life, and is a means by which we can have assurance of eternal life! It is a love that is necessary to be truly a Christian.
Since this is the third time we’ve visited this theme, there is going to be some repetition in some of the ideas in this message. But in this section, John expands and roots the call to love one another in the very nature of God. We can learn from this passage that: We are to love one another because God is love and because he has shown His love for each one of us through His Son. That John wants to drive home this theme of love is clearly evident in the fact that the word “love” and its derivatives are repeated 27 times in these verses – there is no missing what message he wants his audience to understand!
First: Why should we love one another? (vs. 7-12). The opening section of our passage for today provides an argument for the necessity of loving one another. John seems concerned that we understand fully what inspires that love. What is the connection between love and God? Why should we love one another?
A. Because it is the evidence of a relationship with God. John begins with an exhortation, “Dear friends, let us love one another.” Why? – Because love comes from God. He is the source and origin of love and everyone who loves demonstrates that they are related to God. Those who love reveal that they are born (again) of God – they are his children – and that they know God (intimately). When we love each other, we are producing evidence/fruit of a relationship with God who is the source of love. If “love for one’s brother ‘comes from God’; it is evidence of our being ‘born of God.’” On the other hand to fail to love is to reveal that we don’t really know God. This is a bit of a frightening statement – if we consistently fail to love our brothers and sisters we are producing the evidence that we really do not know God.
Remember that the love that is being talked about is not feeling based, but action based. If we claim to know God, or to be born of God, then our actions should demonstrate that relationship by acting in ways that are consistent with the character of the God we know. Do you want to determine whether you love your fellow Christians (family)? Remember the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. Ask yourself are you characteristically patient with them, kind towards them, humble towards them? Are you boastful; are you rude, do you keep a record of wrongs? Do you put your desires and needs before others? Are you quick to anger? These are the kind of questions that help us to know whether we truly love our fellow Christians. “And determining whether you truly love your fellow Christians will help you determine whether you actually know God.” (Marty) Where’s the evidence?
B. Because “God is Love.” God is not only the origin and source of love; it says at the end of verse 8 that “God is love.” This means that love is a part of His essential being – his very nature. John “is not saying that ‘God is loving’ (though this is true). Nor is he saying that one of God's activities is ‘to love’ us (though this is true as well). John is saying that God is love, that "all of his activity is loving." Love is the essence of his being.”
The NT gives three other statements concerning God that reveals His essence and nature. He is “spirit”; He is “light” (1 John 1:5); and He is a “consuming fire” ( holiness). Here we are also told that love is at the very center of the nature of God. The argument given is plain. Those who don’t love don’t know God, because He is love at the very core of His being. How can you claim to know him who is the essence of love and refuse to love your brother?
C. Because God revealed his love for us through his Son. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we should love through him.” God’s love came first, and provided us an example of love by sacrificing the most precious thing he could in order to gain our freedom. True love is defined as: “the commitment to sacrifice one’s most beloved possession for another’s gain.”
God’s love was manifest in action. He did not wait for us to clean up our act; he acted in love towards us first - “while we were yet sinners.” “The key point here is that just as God’s act of love for us was not contingent on us first showing love for Him, so our love for others should not be contingent on their behaviour towards us.” We are to love others because God has revealed to us through his Son his great love for each of us. (Stott) “No one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness.” Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
D. Because in loving others his love is made complete in us. This is an astounding statement. It suggests that if we love one another his love is perfected in us. It also suggests that when we love one another, we are manifesting the highest form of God’s love. While God cannot be seen visibly, he can be seen to be abiding in us when we love other believers.
Second: We can know He lives in us and we in Him (13-18). In this section, John moves from exhortation to affirmation. Three times he uses this basic phrase pattern: lives in us and we live in him (vs. 13, 15, and 16) (abides: that we nurture our relationship with him and choose to live for his glory). In this John is affirming God’s indwelling of his people.
The first way that we are affirmed that God abides in us and we in him is because He has given us his Spirit. Romans 8:16 says: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Do you have that inner assurance? It is by the Spirit that we come to know God and it is by the Spirit that we are enabled to love. It is the Spirit who also produces the spiritual fruit in our lives, of which love is the first. Producing fruit is the clear indicator of the Spirit’s transforming power at work in our lives. Are you producing fruit – as the years go by are you producing more and more fruit?
The second way we are assured that we are abiding in him and he in us is in confessing (acknowledging) that Jesus is the Son of God. We dealt with this important issue in my last message from 1 John. Those who make that confession are in a right relationship with God and have the Spirit living in them. (Quote: Marty) “Confessing Jesus, however, is not merely saying, ‘I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.’ Rather, to ‘confess that Jesus is the Son of God’ is to give him our unqualified allegiance. It involves committing our lives to Jesus as Messiah and rightful Lord of all. It involves surrendering our will to his will, so that we now live to please him and not ourselves. And it will inevitably be revealed in our love for one another.”
The third way we can be assured that we are abiding in Christ and he in us is that we “live in love.” (Read vs. 16bf) This is the most distinguishing and necessary mark of a Christian. Since “God is love” those who claim to know him must also live in love. By living in love, love is “made complete” (perfected - matured) in us, and as we are transformed by that love, we will be confident on the Day of Judgment. There will be no fear in us as we stand before the Lord, because love has cast out our fear of be judged by God. One of the crucial tests of whether we know God is whether we love one another. If we habitually fail to love our fellow believers we are deceiving ourselves and may face the judgment of God. “The only reason to fear judgment is if God’s Spirit is not within you empowering you to love other believers.” (Marty)
Third: The command to love one another (19-21). John concludes his final plea to love with strong language and with a command. He begins by saying, “We love because he first loved us.” Remember, God’s love was first; he was the initiator. All true love for him is a response to his love for us, and even our ability to love does not come from ourselves.
The language again gets blunt. The word “liar” is a common term used by John, and for each of the three themes of this letter, he exposes the pretenders with this label: - “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (2:4) – Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ (2:22) – If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” John goes on to argue, if you can’t love your brother who you can see and observe, you can’t love God who you have not seen. If we are unable to love the person standing right in front of us, how can we claim to love God who is invisible?
This section ends with a direct command – a command not from John but from God. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (Quote) “One cannot claim to love God without also loving those God loves – brothers and sisters within the community of believers. To refuse to love those loved by God is to deny, in effect, one’s love for God.”
Sally took a seminary class taught by Professor Smith, who was known for his object lessons. One day, Sally walked into class to find a large target placed on the wall and several darts on a nearby table. Professor Smith told the students to draw a picture of someone they disliked or who had made them angry — then they could throw darts at the person’s picture. Sally’s friend drew a picture of a woman who had stolen her boyfriend. Another friend drew a picture of his younger brother. Sally drew a detailed picture of Professor Smith, including the pimples on his face. She was quite pleased with her effort.
The class lined up and began throwing darts. Some students threw with such force that they ripped apart their targets. But before Sally had a turn, Professor Smith asked the students to return to their seats so he could begin his lecture. As Sally fumed, the professor began removing the target from the wall. Underneath it was a picture of Jesus. A hush fell over the room as students saw the mangled image of their Savior with holes and jagged marks covering his face. His eyes were virtually pierced out.
Professor Smith said only these words: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.”
Maybe there’s someone in this room this morning that you’d like the opportunity to heave a few darts at their picture – maybe another Christian from another church. Remember who you are throwing at.
We are to love one another because God is love and because he has shown His love for each one of us through His Son. We have a clear command to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a necessary love because it comes from the heart of God. It means that someone who loves God must love his brother. We have an obligation. It’s as simple as that. Period!