suffering

Hebrews 2: 10-18  “Perfected Through Suffering”

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10 It only makes sense that God, by whom and for whom everything exists, would choose to bring many of us to His side by using suffering to perfect Jesus, the founder of our faith, the pioneer of our salvation. 11 As I will show you, it’s important that the One who brings us to God and those who are brought to God become one, since we are all from one Father. This is why Jesus was not ashamed to call us His family… 14 Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death[i]—the devil— 15 and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.

16 So notice—His concern here is not for the welfare of the heavenly messengers, but for the children of Abraham. 17 He had to become as human as His sisters and brothers so that when the time came, He could become a merciful and faithful high priest of God, called to reconcile a sinful people. 18 Since He has also been tested by suffering, He can help us when we are tested.

 

I want to address two things this morning. 1) What did suffering accomplish in the life of Jesus? 2) What are implications about what suffering can accomplish in the life of a Christian?

Perfect through sufferings - This simply means that He had to die to make atonement for sin, and that was going to require suffering. It’s another way of saying his mission was completed or consummated. We see other places in Scripture that this same word was translated as “finished” or “accomplished.”

  •  ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’(Luke 13:32 ESV)
  • Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.(John 4:34 ESV)

Jesus’ death was the consummation of his life and purpose here on earth, and that death could not happen without suffering. It didn’t perfect Jesus’ nature; it perfected or completed God’s plan for Jesus to bring salvation and redemption.

And – this is amazing - we are the beneficiaries.

“And one great aim of God in salvation is that he have a great, unified family of children with Jesus Christ being both essentially different from, and yet deeply united to, his other human brothers and sisters, both really different and really like. But if all the brothers and sisters in the family have experienced suffering, except one, then the unity is jeopardized. And so, for the sake of a common spirit of unity and sympathy and camaraderie, even in suffering, Christ takes on human nature and he leads many sons to glory and into his brotherhood through suffering and death.” (John Piper)

SWAT or military personnel clearing houses use a term called the fatal funnel. It’s when you go through a narrow, confined area with no cover and you are exposed to the worst the enemy can throw at you. The first one through the door is at the most risk. We should all be the point in the spiritual fatal funnel of our lives, but Jesus moved us behind him, took the point, and took upon himself the death that we deserved.

This suffering is one reason Jesus is such a great High Priest, a concept that came up in this chapter but will come up later (and we will address it more then). Because God become one of us in the person of Jesus, we know that God understands what we are going through.

“Disease, sickness of body, poverty, need, friendlessness, hopelessness, desertion—he knows all these. You cannot cast human suffering into any shape that is new to Christ. "In all their afflictions he was afflicted." If you feel a thorn in your foot, remember that it once pierced his head. If you have a trouble or a difficulty, you may see there the mark of his hands, for he has climbed that way before. The whole path of sorrow has his blood-bedabbled footsteps all along, for the Man of Sorrows has been there, and he can now have sympathy with you. "Yes," I hear one say, "but my sorrows are the result of sin." So were his; though not his own, yet the result of sin they were. "Yes," you say, "but I am slandered, and I cannot bear it…" Drink thy little cup; see what a cup he drained. “ (Spurgeon)

If God allowed and in fact used suffering as a means for perfecting the ministry and purpose of Jesus on earth, we ought to consider that God will use suffering as a means of perfecting our ministry and purpose.

  • Remember the parable of the wise man who built his rock on the house vs. the sand? Something to note: they both went through the storm. It’s just that the one stood. The question wasn't ifthey were going to go through the storm; the question was
  • Even though God promised Jeremiah a fantastic ministry, he suffered, and ended up going into exile with the other Jews.Jeremiah claimed that God had tricked or seduced him into following God (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
  • Paul has a thorn in the flesh that God leaves with him (more on that later)

God seems to be content to let life be hard sometimes. So let’s talk about different kinds of suffering, and then how suffering can be used by God to perfect us. First, let’s clarify what we mean by suffering (“undergoing pain, distress, or hardship”).

  • Suffering for the sake of our faith.
  • Suffering because life is hard.
  • Suffering because Satan attacks us.
  • Suffering because we pursue sin.
  • Suffering because others sin against us.
  • Suffering as God prunes us.

I want us to at least wrestle with the idea that if suffering was necessary to consummate or perfect Jesus’ mission, suffering may be necessary to consummate or perfect our mission. So, what is our mission?

To glorify God. To exalt Jesus by our life and our words.

So how does our suffering play in to this?

1. It unifies us with Jesus.

“ For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God… the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:14-18)

I believe this passage is talking specifically about suffering for the sake of Christ. This could be literal persecution, but it can also be the hard work of surrendering our thoughts, loves, and desires.

“Conflict, not progress, is the word that defines man’s path from darkness into light. No holiness is won by any other means than this, that wickedness should be slain day by day, and hour by hour. In long lingering agony often, with the blood of the heart pouring out at every quivering vein, you are to cut right through the life and being of that sinful self; to do what the Word does, pierce to the dividing asunder of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and get rid by crucifying and slaying - a long process, a painful process - of your own sinful self. And not until you can stand up and say, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ have you accomplished that to which you are consecrated and vowed by your sonship - ’being conformed unto the likeness of His death,’ and ‘knowing the fellowship of His sufferings.’ (Maclaren’s Exposition)

2. It refines us.

  • "Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4) 
  • "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him...and when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 13:15; 23:10)
  • "The firing pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, so the Lord trieth the hearts" (17:3)
  • " I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross and take away thy tin" (1:22, 25).
  • " He shall purify and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (3:3).
  • "Thou O God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried" ( 66:10
  • "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).

I don’t think suffering in the life of the Christian is punative; that is, I don’t think God uses pain and suffering to punish His children in the New Covenant.[1] Jesus took that for us, his spiritual brothers and sisters, on the cross. Yet suffering has a role. Oswald Chambers once wrote: "Sorrow burns up a great amount of shallowness." A wise man once said, "I got theology in seminary, but I learned reality through trials. I got facts in Sunday School, but I learned faith through trusting God in difficult circumstances. I got truth from studying, but I got to know the Savior through suffering."[2]

3. It gives us the opportunity to display the sufficiency of grace.

“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12)

I read the following in an article by a Christian lady with polio:[3]

“Our culture disdains weakness, but our frailty is a sign of God's workmanship in us. It gets us closer to what we were created to be—completely dependent on God. Several years ago I realized that instead of despising the fact that polio had left me with a body that was weakened and compromised, susceptible to pain and fatigue, I could choose to rejoice in it. My weakness made me more like a fragile, easily broken window than a solid brick wall. But just as sunlight pours through a window but is blocked by a wall, I discovered that other people could see God's strength and beauty in me because of the window-like nature of my weakness!”

4. It unites us with others who suffer.

“The only way in which Christ could bring us to share in His glory was to submit to suffering and death. In no other way could He act as the Mediator of the Divine life to us who are His brethren. Similarly, if we would become the mediators of help and blessing to others, we also must be prepared to suffer…” (F.B. Meyer)

I suspect God uses our greatest trials and suffering to prepare us to minister more effectively to others who have gone through what we have gone through. Former addicts are best with addicts; former inmates are best with prisoners; people who have endured sickness are best with those who are enduring sickness. Be ready: God may well take your point of greatest suffering and use it for His greatest triumph in your life. And it won’t be for your sake, though you will benefit – it will be so you can comfort others.

2 Corinthians 1:4 (ASV) “He comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort by which we ourselves are comforted of God.

 

Some Recommended Songs

“The Perfect Wisdom of Our God” (Getty)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSnzYnOe6kI[/embed]

“If You Want Me To” (Ginny Owens)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaXxwFpavj4[/embed]

“Be Still My Soul” (Kari Jobe)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq59iE3MhXM[/embed]

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[1]I think the closest we get is “you reap what you sow,” but that’s not God actively sending us suffering as punishment. That’s just us experiencing cause and effect in this life as sin impacts the world.

[2]https://probe.org/the-value-of-suffering/?print=print

[3]https://probe.org/the-value-of-suffering/?print=print

[i]Him that had the power of death – “This is spoken in conformity to an opinion prevalent among the Jews, that there was a certain fallen angel who was called המות מלאך malak hammaveth, the angel of death; i.e. one who had the power of separating the soul from the body, when God decreed that the person should die. There were two of these, according to some of the Jewish writers: one was the angel of death to the Gentiles; the other, to the Jews. Thus Tob haarets, fol. 31: "There are two angels which preside over death: one is over those who die out of the land of Israel, and his name is Sammael; the other is he who presides over those who die in the land of Israel, and this is Gabriel." Sammael is a common name for the devil among the Jews; and there is a tradition among them, delivered by the author of Pesikta rabbetha in Yalcut Simeoni, par. 2, f. 56, that the angel of death should be destroyed by the Messiah! "Satan said to the holy blessed God: Lord of the world, show me the Messiah. The Lord answered: Come and see him. And when he had seen him he was terrified, and his countenance fell, and he said: Most certainly this is the Messiah who shall cast me and all the nations into hell, as it is written  Isaiah 25:8, The Lord shall swallow up death for ever." This is a very remarkable saying, and the apostle shows that it is true, for the Messiah came to destroy him who had the power of death.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary)

 

Jesus After The Resurrection: The Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35)

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing (reasoning) together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.  But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. (“gloomy, sullen, dark") Then one of them, named Cle'opas (probably Jesus’ uncle), answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?"  And he said to them, "What things?"

And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. ("to liberate from an oppressive situation, set free")

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. (“Nothing seems to make sense; astound") They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.

And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! ("Without, understanding or perception") Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (A corresponding OT word analogy literally meant “heavy.” Jesus was a heavyweight, a Messiah worth his credentials.) And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Jesus "made understanding possible"); and he vanished out of their sight.

They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!"  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

I want to talk today about what we learn about Jesus in this passage, how this encourages us, and how this challenges us (and they will probably all run together).

1. Life is hard, but Jesus joins us in our journey

Through Jesus, God entered a world He created in which grief and joy cross paths constantly.

  • Jesus goes from John’s baptism to temptation in the wilderness
  • He was praised for miracles and then walked into traps
  • He fed the 5,000 and was then pummeled by storms
  • Lazarus lived/Lazarus died/Lazarus lived
  • Peter walked on water - and then Peter sank
  • Crowds love him, but villages hate him
  • The triumphal entry was followed by crucifixion, then resurrection
  • Now, on the Emmaus road, there is despair followed by great joy.

The resurrected Christ did not demonstrate the fullness of His glory by removing all the uncertainty and turmoil from life – He demonstrated the fullness of His glory by entering into those situations and redeeming them. David talked about how God would be with him when he walked through the valleys, not if.

You may have noticed that Jesus has not removed all the turmoil and uncertainty from your life.  There are still valleys.

  • Friendships ride roller coasters…
  • Marriages overwhelm us one day with happiness and bury us the next day in frustration…
  • Jobs fulfill and crush…
  • Physical health comes and goes…
  • Freedom from temptation is followed by what feels like overwhelming temptation…
  • Death impacts all of us
  • Or, like those on the road to Emmaus, the way in which you sense God near – or far - can change dramatically.

Here is the encouragement of this story: Jesus walks with us spiritually like he walked physically with those on the road to Emmaus. He did not remove them from this tumultuous world, and he does not remove us - yet. One day He will. One day there will be no more sickness, no more dying, no more tears. One day all that is bad will be undone. Until then, Jesus joined them, and Jesus joins us, and His ongoing presence points toward our ultimate reconciliation with Him in Heaven.

2. Jesus is content to remain hidden at times even though He is always near.

We do this with kids all the time, right? When teaching them to ride a bike, that first time we let go of the seat we run right behind them as long as we can just in case. We watch them on playgrounds even though they don’t know; we may or may not read Facebook posts when they don’t log out. We are often hidden even though we are near. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s the closest human expression I can think of.

When Jacob was traveling (Genesis 28:11) he had a dream that he was in the presence of God. Jacob said, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” Scholars speculate that the Emmaus road revelation likely happened at the same place that Jacob dreamed he was visited by God.[1]  At the same place, the same thing happens to the travelers as happened to Jacob: “Jesus was in this place and we didn’t know it.”

God could have miraculously revealed himself to Jacob at any time. On the Emmaus road, Jesus could have instantly caught up and BAM, threw back his hood and said, “Guys! It’s me!”  But he let them peddle their spiritual bicycles and wobble for a while as he walked beside them, hidden to them.

Perhaps that is why we must walk with friends like you see in this account. It is much easier to keep going when you have a walking buddy. Many times we don’t sense God is near; one way to we find strength is by walking with others.  This is why we stress relationship at our church.  Nobody needs to walk their Emmaus road alone.

  • Ted ‘walked with me’ after my dad’s death
  • Scott and Karl have ‘walked with me’ for 18 years now through the ups and downs of life, which included that time
  • Paul and Jackie ‘walked with’ Sheila and I at a time when our marriage was really struggling
  • You all have ‘walked with me’ since my heart attack (very patiently and gently)

Those weren’t necessarily times when I didn’t sense God’s nearness, but they were certainly times when I had a lot of questions and uncertainty. There was something about the conversations, the time spent together, the laughter and tears, that stabilized me by giving me access to the ambassadors of God, the representatives of Jesus, in a way that I could experience.  Some of it was deep; lots of it was trivial. And yet it wasn’t. It’s nice to have pictures on our walls of Jesus with his arms around us to remind us of His love. It gets a lot more real when we are hugged by someone with the love of Jesus flowing through them.

We need each other. Perhaps others aren’t good at reaching out to you. Reach out to them. Maybe they are really clumsy in their attempts to walk with you. Offer them grace. Maybe you are really clumsy at it. Be honest about that to. I’m sure they noticed already.

Bearing each other’s burdens is one way we fulfill God’s command to love (Galatians 6:2). That means we must reach out for the burdens of others - and we must offer our burdens as well so they have the opportunity and the privilege of fulfilling this command to love.

3) Jesus will reveal Himself in His time

The two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road. Revelation was required. How does God do this?

A) He Reveals His Glory Through His Word. Jesus could have just revealed this without opening the book – the book is about Him after all. He could have just skipped that step and popped out. But they had the Scriptures, so He walked them through the Scriptures as the form of revealing Himself even though He was right there. We see this form of revelation consistently in biblical accounts.

  • Old Testament quotations and allusions are found in the Gospel of Matthew (which was written especially to convince Jewish readers).
  • Apostles' sermon material found in the Book of Acts constantly refers back to the Old Testament (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Psalm 2:1-2, 7; 16:8-11; 110:1; 118:22; Isaiah 53:7-8; 55:3; and Amos 9:11-12) as a means of revealing who Jesus is.
  • Once the New Testament was in place, that also became a foundational way of revealing Jesus to people.

If you are walking the Christian road, and you need to see Jesus…. read the Bible. This is the foundational revelation of His glory. Now, it was Jesus who made understanding possible to the travelers, and it will be Jesus who makes understanding possible for us, but it’s in the study of Scripture, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit inside of us, that Jesus is revealed, and we are strengthened and transformed. [i]

B) He Reveals His Glory Through His Suffering. Jesus tells them: “Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah suffer to reveal His glory?” Then Jesus showed them through the breaking of the bread:  At the Last Supper he had said, “Take, eat, this is my body ,broken for you.” Jesus wants people to see His glory. How will this happen? Through his suffering for our sins, and through our suffering for the sake of the gospel.

 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:17-18 (NIV)

While there are many kinds of suffering, the Romans passage we just read talks specifically about suffering for the cause of Christ. We are not being threatened with beheading or burning by ISIS, but we have significant ways in which we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ.

  • Jesus commands us to be pure, and we suffer in our struggle to remain pure in our thoughts and actions. Clicking the remote or turning off the computer can be a war. Saying no to sexual opportunities can be epic. But if I want to share in the glory of Christ’s purity, I must be willing to suffer the hardship of sexual restraint.
  • Jesus commands us to love people, and we suffer as we taken on the burdens of relationships with others. But if want to share in the glory of true Christ-like love, I might have to be deeply wounded and still come back for more if I want to share in the glory of Christ’s love.
  • Jesus wants us live lives of self-sacrifice, and generosity, and patience… and we can suffer as everything within us wants to be selfish with our time, greedy with our money, and impatient when things don’t go our way. But if we want to share in the glory of Christ, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow.  
  • You might suffer as you stand for the truth of Scripture, and because you love Christ so much you will not compromise on the gospel. And when you do this with truth and grace - when in the midst of opposition you increasingly reveal not just the truth of the gospel but the heart and mind of Jesus -  you are pointing toward and sharing in the glory of Christ.

Can we all agree the world needs to see the glory of Christ?  It will be seen when we pay a spiritual price for the cause of Christ.

 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (NIV)

He was known to them in the breaking of the bread. “Do this in remembrance of me.“ He will be known to us, and the world will see His glory, as we are broken too. Amy Carmichael, a missionary who worked in India for 55 years, once wrote (and I paraphrase):

‘Have you no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side or hand? I hear you described as mighty in the land: I hear them hail you as a rising star: Have you no scar? Have you no wound?  As the master is so shall the servant be.  Pierced are the feet that follow me; but yours are whole. Can you have followed far if you have no wound? No scar?’”[ii]

We share in God’s glory when we suffer for His sake. His glory fills us and then leaks through our scars as our lives are broken on his behalf, and for His glory. But we do not lose heart, because we realize:

1 Peter 5:10 (NIV) “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Life is hard, but Jesus walks with us. Sometimes He hides, but He always reveals Himself and His glory through His word, His life and His people. If you are willing to be spiritually broken and poured out for the cause of Christ, God will reveal His glory through you to a world that desperately needs to see Him.

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[1] “When Jacob was travelling the sun set…and he had a dream that he was in the presence of God. God spoke to him there. And the name of the place was originally known as Luz — in the Septuagint it is Oulammaus. In the Codex Bezae this is the name used for Emmaus in Luke 24. In an early reading of Luke (perhaps the earliest) the Emmaus road revelation happened at the same place that Jacob dreamed he was visited by God.” http://vridar.org/2007/11/17/the-logic-and-meaning-of-the-emmaus-road-narrative-in-luke/

[i] Check out The Bible Project at https://thebibleproject.com. They have a bible reading plan where you read in conjunction with very helpful videos they have on the website. Shirley Beadle also has a Bible Reading Plan available in the office here at church.

[ii] See also 1 Peter 4 and 1 Peter 2:21

True and Worthy Citizens of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-29)

So here is what I want you to do: conduct yourselves as true and worthy citizens of the Anointed’s gospel, so that whether I make it or don’t make it to see you, I will at least hear that you continue to stand, united in one spirit, single-minded in purpose as you struggle together for the faith in the gospel. Don’t be alarmed in any way by what your opponents are doing. Your steadfast faith in the face of opposition is a sign that they are doomed and that you have been graced with God’s salvation. And now, you have been given the privilege of not only believing in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, but being chosen to suffer for Him as well." (Philippians 1:27-29) Being a true and worthy citizen of the gospel sounds daunting to me. Why? Because I know me. “Worthy” is not a word that comes to mind in describing myself in relation to the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are plenty of days in which unworthy seems like the best fit. Yet Paul calls on the Christians in Philippi to conduct themselves as worthy citizens of the gospel, so this must be something we can accomplish with God’s help. God won’t ask us to do what His Spirit won’t empower us to do.

I realized that one reason this sounded daunting was that I was thinking I had to be worthy enough to become a citizen, but that is clearly not what Paul is saying. My righteousness – my self-earned worthiness – has been and always will be garbage (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). I am a citizen of the gospel because Jesus is worthy and He has covered my unworthiness on the cross. Paul is talking about what it looks like for a citizen to live in a way that ascribes worth to the one who granted us this citizenship. So this is not a question of salvation. It’s a question of discipleship, of following Jesus in an honoring way.

Last week we talked about how Paul did not just say, “to live is Christ” and then leave a vague phrase hanging in the air. He made it specific: serving Jesus through fruitful labor (1:22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (1:25). Fortunately, Paul does the same thing again when describing what it means to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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THE GOSPEL

By the time Paul had arrived, the cult of Caesar had become the state religion. The good news (euaggelion – what we call evangelism) for the Romans was about Caesar as a god, a savior and redeemer of the world. (You see on the screen a statue of Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus as Jupiter, from the time of Jesus and Paul. The coin that Jesus told people to “Give to Caesar” had Caesar represented as divine).

This announcement was specifically ‘good tidings’. If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s what the angels brought to the shepherds in Luke 2. Though it’s the same word, with Jesus it’s for all people, not just Romans, and it’s about a Savior who is Christ the Lord. It won’t just bring the Pax Romana (the Roman peace through conquest), it will bring peace on the entire earth for those on whom God’s favor rests. It won’t come through a sword that kills others, but through a cross on which Christ dies so that we might live.

When we talk about the True Gospel, we are talking about the truly good news if a saving and redeeming God revealed in Jesus Christ.

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CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

Paul is referencing the dual citizenship that the Philippian Christians have. The Philippians were both citizens of Rome and citizens of Heaven. In Philippi, it was just assumed that they were to conduct themselves according to the laws and customs of the state. That’s how you honored the emperor.

Paul is not introducing a foreign concept. They knew how to honor the emperor by observing their duties, and they experience the ‘good news’ of Caesar’s reign by taking part in the privileges that went with being Roman. Now they needed to apply what they knew to their citizenship in Heaven.

"Roman colonies were little bits of Rome planted throughout the world, where the citizens never forgot that they were Romans, spoke the Latin language, wore the Latin dress, called their magistrates by the Latin names, however far they might be from Rome. So what Paul is saying is, “You and I know full well the privileges and the responsibilities of being a Roman citizen. You know full well how even in Philippi, so many miles from Rome, you must still live and act as a Roman does. Well then, remember that you have an even higher duty than that. Wherever you are you must live as befits a citizen of the Kingdom of God.” (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible)

The Philippian people used to say, “Caesar is Lord,” and they took for granted that their lives would reflect their lord. The principle had not changed. The lordship had. Now they would say, “Jesus is Lord,” and their life would still reflect their Lord.

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CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL THROUGH UNITY, PERSEVERANCE, BOLDNESS, AND SUFFERING.

UNITY: Standing united in one Spirit

As the Holy Spirit unites our spirits in the service of Christ, we “stand firm,” a word that described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. There are at least two important clarifications concerning Christian unity:

We are united by the Holy Spirit of God, not by our spirit or our effort. I promise you, if you stay here at CLG long enough, things will get tense. You will be offended by what someone says or does. You will “butt heads” instead of “rub elbows.” You will find there are people who are sooooo different from you that you have trouble making small talk, or people whose personalities just clash with yours.

This will happen at any church. But the Holy Spirit works within us to unify us around the person and work of Jesus Christ and result in something that goes beyond merely liking other people. It’s genuine Christian love – the agape, selfless service for and honoring of others. When this type of community happens, it showcases the power of God at work. “Really? You all go to church together? I wouldn't have expected that…” Right. We are united by the Holy Spirit in the cause of Christ.

This isn’t unity for the sake of unity, because people can unite around false or evil things. It is clear throughout Philippians and Paul’s other writings that false teaching and hypocritical people undermine the gospel, shipwreck the faith of many, and destroy unity within the church. So this isn’t a feel good, “why can’t we all just get along” kind of avoidance that looks like unity but actually undermines it. Paul is talking about the unity we experience while struggling together for the message and the cause of Christ. This brings us to…

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 PERSEVERANCE: Striving Together for the Faith in the Gospel

 The word for "striving" is another army word. (Remember, Philippi was largely populated by ex-military, and this language would have resonated with them.) ‘If united’ describes their purposeful formation, striving describes the activity. Soldiers fought as this unit. Maybe today, when we think of ‘together in a united front,’ we think of the iconic pictures from the civil rights movement when people linked arms are marched in the face of opposition, or (on Superbowl Sunday) we think of teams united in a common cause in the face of great difficulty.

As Christians, we are part of a team that perseveres to defend, proclaim, and live out the “glad tidings” that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

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BOLDNESS: Faithfulness through Opposition

The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible. In Classical Greek, it referred to timid horses startled by something unexpected, perhaps even to the point of stampeding. Paul tells the Philippians not to get spooked. Be bold!

Note why boldness is required. When biblical writers say, “Don’t be discouraged or scared,” they are not saying that there is nothing discouraging or frightening in the Christian life. They’re saying the exact opposite. We are apparently going to experience times that will draw us toward these things, but we are to resist. God promises presence and comfort to His people during these times - and that’s exactly what Paul is passing on here.

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SUFFERING: Privileged to Suffer for Christ

The word ‘privileged’ or “granted” (echaristhe) is from the Greek word for “grace” (charis). We get our term Eucharist from this word. Its use other places in the New Testament gives us an idea of the tone or the mood associated with the word.

  • Luke 7:21, Jesus gave sight to the blind
  • Romans 8:32, God will freely give us all things
  • Philippians 2:9, where God gives Jesus a name above all names
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12, where the Holy Spirit helps us know the things given by God

With all those wonderful things in mind - we have been granted (or graced) the privilege of suffering for Christ. This is not about suffering for being obnoxious or suffering because of sin. This is suffering because our commitment to faithfully following Christ has put us in situations that we could have avoided had we turned out back on our faith –but we didn’t, and we suffered for it.

. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed… rejoice that you participate/share in the sufferings of Christ so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. ( 1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12ff)

Around the world, Christians are giving their lives. In more and more countries in the Western world, Christians are losing businesses and facing fines and jail time for standing on the truth of God’s Word. What would Paul and Peter say to us? Don’t be surprised. As hard as it seems, rejoice. This is an opportunity for your faith to be refined, and in that refinement “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) will be revealed.

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So what does it mean to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel?

  • It doesn’t mean you need to be perfect.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to never offend (though we try not to), or always says the right thing at the right time (though we try to do that too)or never overlook anyone (though it would be nice to always get that right too).
  • It doesn’t mean you need to meet everyone’s expectations, or never have a bad day, or have no regrets, or have skills our culture values.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to be a Christian superhero.

A true and worthy citizen of the gospel stands firmly united by the Holy Spirit with other Christians while persevering and even suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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I owe a lot in this entire series to Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians, by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Keith Krell’s “The Bottom Line” at bible.org; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….