“Standing Firm in Difficult Days” (Philippians 4:1-3)

So: this year we’ve had COVID, and a devastating winter storm, and now the eye of a hurricane pass right over us. Add to that all of the personal and family trials we’ve each had, and I know some of us are going, “I don’t even want to know what’s next!” right? These are difficult days in which we live. But thank God, we are “not like those who have no hope”! We have an anchor for our lives in the Lord.

So in these difficult days, God tells us here in Philippians, “stand firm.” “Stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” He starts off this passage with the word “Therefore.” Now, nobody just starts off a conversation with “Therefore”! You use it to refer back to something that has just been said. (We saw that in our Sunday school lesson this morning in Philippians 2). Here in Philippians 4, the “therefore” points back to what he had just been talking about at the end of Chapter 3, about how we should not live just for this world, but for heaven, for eternity.  He had said, remember, our citizenship is in heaven; Jesus is coming to take us there, and He will change us, and give us eternal bodies, so that our best days will always be ahead of us forever! So then he says here, “THEREFORE — because of all that — STAND FIRM in the Lord, my beloved.” You’re going to be tempted to live for this world; DON’T give in to it. Keep your Christian testimony & convictions in this morally & spiritually decaying society.  He’s saying, live for the Lord. Live for heaven. “Stand firm”! And he shows us in the next verses, several specific ways in which we can do that:

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“Enemies of the Cross” (Philippians 3:18 sermon)

A few weeks ago, this July, a large cross that stood at the top of Mt. Tzouhalem (zoo-HAY-lem), a popular lookout spot on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada, was cut down overnight, and removed from the area. No one claimed responsibility for it, but many people shared the picture of the vandalized area on social media, and applauded the removal of the cross. One man tweeted that the cross had been removed, and simply commented, “Cool.” 

You might look at the perpetrators of that crime, or at other groups which have lobbied or sued in court for crosses to be removed from public places, and say, These people are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” And in some sense they may be. But the most important issue is not what you do with any physical “cross” made of steel or wood, but what you do with the doctrine of the cross: the Biblical belief that it is the Jesus’ death on the cross that saves us from sin. That is what Paul is referring to in 

Philippians 3:18, where he writes, 

“For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.”

When he calls them “enemies of them cross of Christ,” Paul is not saying that these people are going around removing crosses from public places. He is talking about people who are the enemies of the doctrine of the cross; that the death of Jesus alone which saves us entirely from our sins. Let’s look at several ways that we can be “Enemies of the Cross.” 

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“Which World Are You Living For?” (Philippians 3:18-21 sermon)

Bill Borden was the heir to the Borden milk fortune. When he graduated from Yale, he was offered multiple well-paying positions on boards of directors of major corporations, and he had, materially speaking, everything that a man could want. But instead he gave his money to missions. And he left to go overseas as a missionary, to an unreached Muslim people group, the Kansus, in China.  One the way, he stopped in Egypt to do some language training, and while he was there he caught spinal meningitis. Within a month, Bill Borden was dead. 

Thousands of people in America knew of Bill Borden, and the sacrifice he had made of his fortune to go on mission. And they tell us that when the news of Borden’s passing was made known in America, there was an outcry from the general public, and that outcry was: “What a waste.” What a waste of a life; of what he might have had, as the heir to the Borden fortune, to give it all up and die in a lonely Egyptian desert. “What a waste,” they said.

Was it a waste? I guess it depends on how you look at it. It depends, I would say, on which world you are living for. If all that matters to you is what you own and possess and enjoy in this life, then what Bill Borden did was indeed a waste. It was foolish to throw it all away. But on the other hand, if you’re not just living for this world; if you believe that there is a world to come, a world which will last for an eternity, compared to which the longest life here on earth is but a speck in time, then Borden’s life was not a waste. It all just depends on “which world you are living for.” 

Our passage this morning really divides up into two sections, in which we see two entirely different mindsets represented:

— it shows us that there is one type of person who “sets their minds on earthly things” (the end of :19)

— and then it shows us in :20 that there is a second type of person who says “our citizenship is in heaven.”

The question each one of us needs to consider today is: Which group do YOU belong to? “Which World Are You Living For?” 

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“A Christian Example” (Philippians 3:17 sermon)

“The morning of August 14, 1821, 200 West Point cadets … who were touring New England, marched out from Boston to parade past the house of John Adams, who had been President of the United States 20 years before. Flags were flying, and bands were playing. They said half the town turned out for it. Adams watched from his front porch, and provided breakfast for the cadets at his own expense. When they lined up before him, Adams made a brief speech, his old voice very faint at first but growing stronger as he went on. And what did he tell them? He said they needed to keep the example of the character of George Washington before them at all times. Imitate him. 

You know, I think one of the big problems we have today, is the lack of examples of good character for our young people today like George Washington was for his generation. People need an example to follow. To whom today can we point people to pattern their lives after? Surely not many of the characters they see in the news, and in the movies. But who? Who can they pattern their lives after? Surely the Lord Jesus. But are there living, human example around us that we can imitate now? The Biblical answer is, “Yes!” 

Last week, we talked about the Christian attitudes of humility, and forgetfulness, and ambition. How can we learn these things? Jonathan Edwards wrote there’s 2 means of Christian learning: one is by “precept;” teaching it. The other is by example. Both are commended in Scripture, and our passage for today commends this second: the importance of Christian example.  Paul writes:

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

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“Three Christian Attitudes” (Philippians 3:12-15 sermon)

A week after he returned to Washington from his famous speech at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln was sick. It was actually a mild form of smallpox, so like a lot of people today with COVID, most people were being very careful about staying away from him. But one Congressman, Owen Lovejoy, came to see Lincoln anyway, and he saw a door open just enough to see Lincoln in a dressing gown. Lincoln said, ‘Lovejoy, are you afraid?’ He said, ’No, I have had the small-pox,’ and he walked in to visit with Lincoln. He asked the President how he was doing, and he said: ‘Lovejoy, there is one good thing about this. I now have something I can give everybody.’”(Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 448). Well, that was a surprisingly good attitude from Lincoln; a pretty positive way to look at it.

Attitudes are important things, aren’t they? A person’s attitude can make a BIG difference in their own life, and in their relationship with other people. And God tells us that as Christians we are to display certain attitudes.  

We have spent the last two weeks looking at some very important teachings about salvation: emphasizing that salvation is NOT of our works, but through faith in Jesus ONLY. We focused on that pretty strongly for two weeks in a row. Now the scripture here moves on just a bit, to the kind of attitudes that a person is to have who IS a Christian, who HAS this faith in Jesus only. He says in :15, as many of us as are “perfect” — the word “perfect” here really means “mature” — he’s saying if you are a mature Christian, you should “have this attitude.”  What attitudes is he referring to here, that we as mature Christians should have? We see several of them here in this passage: 

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“4 Things That Won’t Save You (and 1 That Will!)” (Philippians 3:4-11 sermon)

In ancient times, they believed that when you were sick, they needed to get the “bad blood” out of you, so they would employ certain treatments they thought would accomplish that. One (which is so gross to many of us today) was to put leeches on the sick person, so that the leeches would suck out the “bad blood” and the illness. Another procedure they used was called “bleeding” — they would surgically cut the person, and just drain their blood, thinking that would make better. Of course, losing all that blood, when they were sick, often had the opposite effect and made the person much worse.  From time to time I’ll be reading some history or biography, and come across a scenario where a person who is sick, and the doctor is going to come in to give them leeches or “bleed” them, and I just want to say: “NO! Don’t do that! That is not going to do what you think it will; it is not going to save them!” 

The same thing is true in the spiritual world. From time to time you come across people who think that doing certain things will get them to heaven, and you want to say, “NO! Don’t do that! That’s not going to save you!”  That is basically what Paul does here in the next verses of Philippians 3. We saw last week where he said in :3 that real religion “puts no confidence in the flesh” but only “glories in Christ Jesus” and what He did for us. Then starting in :4, Paul gives us examples from his own life of what he means by “putting no confidence in the flesh.” He begins listing “good works” and attainments in his life — the kinds of things that he knew that many people in his generation thought would save them — but that he knew would NOT get them to heaven. 

Now, you may look at some of the things on this list and say, “Well, none of US would trust these kinds of thing to save us today” — but you might be surprised. The truth is, many people today do trust the same kinds of things Paul mentions here to make them right with God — and these things will NOT save them! They are as ineffective for your spiritual health & salvation as leeches would be for your physical health & salvation. Let’s look at what Paul talks about here, and make sure you aren’t putting your trust in any of these “Four things that won’t save you.”

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“True Religion” (Philippians 3:2-3)

There are some things on this earth, that it just doesn’t really matter that much what you believe about them. It’s just not that important. For example, you may believe that pecans are God’s gift to humanity. But I myself am honestly just not that fond of pecans. Cheryl loves them; I don’t. But you know: what you believe about pecans doesn’t really make any meaningful difference in this world, does it?

But what you believe about religion DOES make a difference. Now, there are people who say that it DOESN’T matter what you believe; that one religion is just as good as another. But let me tell you: that is a foolish outlook. Religion deals with the nature of the reality of the universe; of what kind of God made all this, and how He deals with us, and how we can know Him — and whether we will live forever in heaven, or in hell. There is nothing in this world more important in life than getting your religion right. I hope you have given some serious, serious thought to it. 

Our passage for today, Philippians 3:2-3, warns us against false religion, and admonishes us to follow the one true religion. Let’s look at what God’s word tells us today about true religion — and make sure that you have it!  

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“Rejoice In The Lord” (Philippians 3:1 sermon)

John Newton, the former slave ship captain who later became a Christian, is best-known for writing the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” But he was also a pastor for about 20 years after his conversion, and he had an extensive counseling ministry through letter writing to people all over England. To one particular couple who was dealing with a difficult situation, Newton wrote: “If the heart be set right, submissive to the will of God, devoted to please him, and depending upon his faithful word, we may be happy in a prison; and otherwise we must be unhappy in a palace.” (John Newton to Mr. & Mrs. Coffin, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 394)

Newton was right: if you’re walking with the Lord, you can be happy in a prison; if you aren’t walking with God, you can be UNhappy even in a palace!    Today we are returning to our study of the book of Philippians, and we come to one of the most well-known commands in this book, Chapter 3:1, where it says:  “Finally, brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.”

“Rejoice in the Lord.” This command is repeated in Philippians; and it is considered by many to be the theme of the book. Let’s look at what it does and does not mean to “rejoice in the Lord”, and how we can have that joy in every situation we face: 

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“Brother, Worker, Soldier” (Philippians 2:19-30 message)

Those of you who are on social media know that often a person will put on their home page a brief description of themselves, often with just a series of words, saying something like, “Christian, mother of 3, blogger”, or  “Husband, father of two, director of multi-billion dollar corporation” — or whatever brief description they want to give of themselves with a few words.

We see something similar to that occasionally in scripture, especially in the letters of Paul, where he will refer to a person, and give just a little, 2,3,4 word description of who they are — often from a spiritual perspective.  One of my favorite examples of these is here at the end of Philippians 2, where Paul refers to a couple of his ministry partners, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Most of us are familiar with Timothy — but fewer would say they know much about Epaphroditus — but what Paul says about him here is very important, and should cause us to evaluate our own spiritual commitment to the Lord.

First of all, just very quickly, let’s look at what Paul writes about Timothy. Timothy is a living example of the kind of selfless attitude that Paul was writing about earlier in Philippians 2. He says in :19 that he hopes to send Timothy shortly, and then he says in :20 “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare, (:21) for they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.”

What a statement!  Remember what he had written in Philippians 2:4; he had said “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” We talked about the importance of being able to lay aside our own self-centeredness and selfishness, if we are going to keep unity and power in the church. Paul said Timothy didn’t just “study that in his Sunday School lesson;” he really lived it out. He really did put other people ahead of himself, and that’s why he could trust him to send him as his representative to the Philippians.  

Many of us know something about Timothy through our studies over the years, bur far fewer of us know of the second man Paul refers to here, Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus is one of the great Bible names! You can’t get your graduate degree in New Testament studies unless you can both pronounce AND spell “Epaphroditus”!  But in all seriousness, Epaphroditus is one of the best men in the New Testament that most of us probably don’t know anything about! But what Paul tells us about him here challenges us, and causes us to measure of our own spiritual commitment.

Let’s look at the series of words Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus:  

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“God’s Providence in America” (Sunday, July 4, 2021)

For the last several years, I have made a personal “tradition” of reading David McCullough’s book, 1776 on the 4th of July. (Hey, you choose your holiday fun and I’ll choose mine!)  The book is a marvelous retelling of that pivotal year 1776 in the story of America. But as I read this book, a repeated theme that impressed me was the number of “miracles” that contributed to the birth of the United States — or to be more accurate, maybe not “miracles” as such, but what theologians would call works of “The Providence of God” — a number of circumstances, which, had these “circumstances” gone the other way in one or more of these cases, our country may have never come to pass. 

So what is this “Providence of God”? I want us first of all to look at the Biblical concept of the Providence of God, and then see how it was evident in God’s raising up our our country — and some ways we should apply our knowledge of God’s Providence today.

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