Stopping the Mouth of the World

Text: Romans 3:19-20

 

This sermon took me about three drafts to write. I filled up about ten pages with words, and I thought I was almost done for a minute, before I decided to throw it all away and start yet again. This text kept stopping me in my tracks. There’s a lot that you could say about it, and part of my problem was that I kept trying to say it all. So instead I decided to say just one thing. Shut your mouth.

This is Paul’s argument here in a nutshell. You cannot find justification in the law because the law will not even let you speak. You cannot defend yourself. You are a sinner, and when you call upon justice the first thing that is exposed is yourself. The law shuts your mouth, and you are left with nothing to say. All you can do is ask for mercy. And that’s exactly where God wants you.

The Law

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). In this text, the Apostle Paul is essentially telling the Jews and Jewish Christians alike to shut up. They have no ground for boasting in their standing before God, and they cannot appeal to their law-keeping as proof that they are somehow better than Gentiles. This is because the law which they are appealing to actually condemns them. It does not support their case at all but instead shows that God is righteous in judging both Jews and Gentiles to be sinners and under the curse of death. Continue reading

Why Justification by Faith Alone?

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This past Friday was the 497th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Saturday was All Saints Day, and so we celebrate both today. You might ask why we celebrate one, the other, or both. Well, the two days are historically united. They go together. Martin Luther chose the eve of All Saints Day to begin his public dispute. The date had symbolic relevance. He wanted to talk about what it means to be a saint and, really, how one is saved. Because of the power and success of the Reformation, the two days continue to be united in their theme. We are today celebrating the work of those Christians who have gone before us to proclaim the gospel and to bear witness to the power of Christ unto salvation to all who believe, including the Reformers. We celebrate both days because we believe that both days, rightly understood, proclaim the power of that gospel and the glory of God as He has been at work in history.

The Protestant Reformation dealt with lots of issues, but the main one, the only real bottom line, was the doctrine of justification. How a man is made right with God, and subsequently how he becomes a saint, are both answered by this doctrine. Protestants make their stand on this issue because the Bible makes its stand there too. “We have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). Justification by faith alone is a central and essential teaching of our faith because it points us back to Jesus, the cross of Christ as the exclusive ground for our acceptance by God. This truth underlies all other teachings on salvation, the church, and Christian living. John Calvin called it a lynchpin upon which all else turned. Martin Luther said it was the article of a standing or falling church. This is true, as we said, because it directly informs our understanding of God in Christ— not only Who He is, but How He works. It tells us how we can know Him.

But I wonder, do we still believe this doctrine is all that important or interesting or does it strike us as a little passé? It is probably true that some pastors have overcooked this topic. They parse every question and sub-question in order to show how their tradition has a unique and essential interpretation. Others spend all their time arguing that their opponents cannot be Christians. All in all, what ought to be a dynamic and powerful teaching on God’s power and grace turns into a graduate school course in abstract theology. The prime rib becomes beef jerky. And this is a great tragedy.

You see, justification by faith alone is not an end in itself. No it is a means to explaining several other things, the problem of evil, the sovereignty of God, the redemption of sinners, the doctrine of the church, the role of the moral law in the life of believers, and even the end times. The point is not to dot all our I’s and cross our T’s, but to see that God is here, really here, and that He works directly and immediately in order to bring about His purposes. Justification by faith alone is a call to believe. Continue reading

Communion in Giving

Text: Philippians 4:10-23

As we come to the end of our study of Philippians, it is interesting to note that we come back to where we started. In these final verses, Paul returns to his very first point—communion and real unity in the Spirit. All Christians share their lives together, including ministers, laypersons, and missionaries. This doctrine of communion sits before and after the letter’s central point of submitting to others and the mind of Christ, and there’s something to learn just from that. We can only properly submit to one another when we understand our unity. But here we also see a particular expression of Christian partnership, and it is a very important one. We share even in our finances. Our money is an extension of ourselves and our service, and that means it is involved in Christian communion. Paul is calling us to communion in giving. Continue reading

Miraculous Contentment

Text: Philippians 4:10-13

This morning we come to one of the most misunderstood verses in the whole Bible. Philippians 4:13 is definitely the favorite verse of Christian athletes everywhere, and a quick Google search will reveal it is also a favorite script for tattooing. The verse has even made its way onto Tim Tebow’s famous eye-blacks. But there’s only one problem. It’s almost always taken out of context and misused.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” does not actually mean that if Christians keep faith they will be able to win the basketball tournament, ace the final exam, or land that dream job. While it is true that God blesses hard work and faithful preparation, it is also true that He allows Christians to fail from time to time for their own sanctification. Suffering and chastisement is a somewhat ordinary aspect of the Christian life. So what does Philippians 4:13 really mean? If we read it in connection with the verses which come before it and with the argument Paul is making, we will see that he isn’t talking about great and fabulous achievements so much as he is talking about contentment. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content… I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound… I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When we read these verses together it becomes clear. The miraculous grace of Jesus Christ allows us to be content in whatever comes our way. Continue reading

Prayer and Meditation

Text: Philippians 4:8-9

About a week ago, one of my friends posted something on facebook that struck me as a profound piece of deep moral philosophy. It was a quote from Anne of Green Gables. In it, Anne said, “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will. Of course, you must make it up firmly.” This is an important bit of advice for young children trying out new things, but it also applies in all sorts of different ways to all of us. It isn’t only the case that you can enjoy things if you make up your mind, but you can also bear things if you decide to. You can typically talk yourself either into or out of a bad mood. This is also true, with God’s grace, when it comes to spiritual contentment and peace. What you set your mind to do is usually what you end up doing. The question, then, is what do you really want?

This concept ties directly into the topic of spiritual peace which we discussed last week. Last week’s conclusion had to do with prayer and meditation. We were able to discuss prayer in some detail, but meditation had to wait for this week, and that’s what we will be talking about today. Meditation means “to think on” something, but it also has the added connotation of “taking into account.” Before you pray, as you pray, and after you pray, you ought to think of God and His mighty acts, and you should take them into account when you consider your own situation. In addition to this, Paul here lists six kinds of things you ought to meditate on. The kicker is that if you do meditate on these things, then you will have peace and you will end up modeling that peace to those around you, giving them an example of how to pray and find peace. And so, very simply, what you think about matters. Your thoughts dictate your overall state of mind and spiritual disposition, and they always manage to come to the surface. When this happens, it shows the world what it is that you really believe and what ii is that is really in your heart. It shows them your gospel. Continue reading

Peace of God and Peace of Mind

Text: Philippians 4:1-7

Do you worry? There is so much to worry about, of course. The economy, foreign wars, a collapsing culture, your mother-in-law, his mother-in-law!—there’s no shortage of problems. How do you handle this kind of anxiety? Do you ever worry that you might be worrying too much? Anxiety is everywhere we turn.

Anxiety

Anxiety has been defined as “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety has been with us since the Fall, but the aspect of anxiety that is particular and noteworthy today is precisely that we have named it and identify it even among very privileged and otherwise comfortable people. It makes good sense, we say, to be anxious when running from wild beasts or struggling to find the next meal. It strikes us as odd to continue to be anxious when we have a steady a job, a family, and plenty of toys. Of course, this new twist really just shows anxiety in a clearer way. It isn’t simply an estimate of risk and probability. Instead, anxiety is a deep longing of the soul. It is the photo negative of romantic sentimentalism. Just as people can project all sorts of hopes and dreams onto the future, anxiety projects fears and dreads. And both anxiety and sentimentalism, being connected in this way, share the same problem. They look to find satisfaction for the soul in the wrong place. Instead of saying “In Thee, my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness” (Psalm 63:5), we find ourselves constantly seeking, searching for more, but with no idea of where to look. Continue reading

Citizens of Heaven

Text: Philippians 3:15-4:1

What do you think of when you hear the word citizenship? Is it voting rights, the ability to participate in civic and political activity, or perhaps loyalty in times of war? Perhaps you think of it more along the lines of values and ideals: the American way. In the ancient world there were various understandings of citizenship and different demonstrations and festivals to impart a sense of admiration of one’s city or state. There were those who viewed their citizenship as a mark of honor, virtue, or civilization. They were Roman or Greek rather than a barbarian. Aristotle even thought that the Northern tribes were incapable of civilization. Anyone with red or blond hair, and especially someone with freckles, was thought to be outside the bounds of reason and domestication altogether. You can’t work with those people. Other views of citizenship were more philosophical but they all shared the concept of uniting different people together as one. Citizens were all on the same team, so to speak.

Paul, understanding the importance of this theme, picks up on the idea of citizenship in Philippians, and he applies it to the church. The church, he says, is the gathering place of the citizens of heaven. Heaven was the true homeland, and wherever the Christians might currently find themselves was a sort of outpost or colony. This gave the church a new kind of citizenship ideal. They were to think of themselves as a community of friends with specific concepts of justice and mutual support. In a certain sense they were exactly backwards from the ways of the world, then and now, in that they were people who did not “stand up for their rights” but rather voluntarily relinquished those rights for the good of those around them. This is, again, what Paul calls the mind of Christ, and we can’t understand heavenly citizenship without first understanding the shared mindset that heaven’s citizens must have. Continue reading

When Jesus Lays Hold of You

Text: Philippians 3:8-14

This morning I want to talk about finding Jesus. I suppose this might sound a little bit like trendy spiritualism or even like that old time religion, and it might be a little of both, but it is, nonetheless, one of the most basic issues in any Christian’s life. We not only have to seek after Jesus, but we have to lay hold of him. We have to grab Him and never let go. But there’s a bit of a twist to this.

You see, woven into the Apostle Paul’s message in this section of Philippians is the somewhat topsy-turvy point that you don’t actually find Jesus. He finds you. In fact, what you find is yourself as Jesus finds you. Indeed, you find yourself in Jesus as He lays hold of you and brings you into the fellowship of suffering and conformity with his death. This is the mode of communion with God which we must all realize, and it is the necessary precursor to being able to obey Christ and walk according to His rule. Continue reading

The Righteousness From God By Faith

Philippians 3:1-11

This morning we appear to shift gears a bit. We have been talking about relationships within the church, like-mindedness, and the proper perspective on leadership. Here in the beginning of chapter three, however, Paul seems to revert back to the theological controversy which characterizes his letters to the Romans and the Galatians. He says that he is going to “write the same things to you” implying that this is a topic he has talked much about in the past and one that is familiar to the Philippians. And that topic is, of course, justification by faith alone. It is Paul’s chorus, and even here in this letter to the Philippians which seems to not be interested in theological controversy, the bedrock doctrine comes out.

Now, this observation itself is important. You see, justification by faith alone isn’t so much the center of an axle, with all other doctrines ultimately leading back to it. No, that way of approaching things, though popular in many Reformed circles, is actually a little too simplistic and tends to run roughshod over the particularities of much of the New Testament concern. Every verse isn’t actually trying to get back to that one doctrine, and Paul doesn’t literally repeat it all the time. But, nevertheless, justification by faith alone is a foundational doctrine. Continue reading

Shining Stars and Crooked Grumblers

Text: Philippians 2:5-18

Last week the Apostle Paul took us to heaven, and I’m not quite ready to leave it. You see, this whole section of Philippians is tied together by that magnificent description of Jesus Christ’s person and work. There is a lesson for us in this. Christian morality is always first doxology. We cannot hope to obey God in Christ until we first see God in Christ and worship Him. And what we find, when we do this, is that our obedience, the obedience we offer to Christ in response, turns out to be not really ours at all. No, as we will see, Christians are only able to be shining stars amidst a crooked generation because “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” And so today let us find God in us by finding Him in Christ.

The Mind of Christ Leads to Obedience

The mind of Christ which we are to have in us is the thing which leads us into obedience. Paul writes, “therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (vs. 12). The use of the word “therefore,” as we mentioned last week, connects this back to the preceding passage. We cannot hope to “obey” until we first have the mind which was in Christ Jesus. And that mind was ultimate humility, esteeming others better than ourselves as our witness to the cross. What’s also interesting about this verse, an often misunderstood verse, is that the obedience which Paul is asking for is the same thing as his instruction to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These are not two commands, but the same command. Continue reading