The Lord’s Day Morning
“Progress, Joy, Confidence”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one. Today we’re going to be looking at verses 25-26. We’ve been in this section of Philippians for over a month now, and I want to remind you again of the outline of the passage before us. Though our concentration today is going to be on verses 25-26, it will be helpful to you, I think, to remember again the outline of the passage that we gave last week as we worked through this word.
First of all, in Philippians 1:21, we said that the Apostle Paul gives a life declaration. He says, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” And this declaration is in effect saying, ‘Christ is more valuable to me than anything in this world. The world has nothing to offer me that is more valuable than Jesus Christ. In fact, my whole life is wrapped up in the enjoyment and glorifying of Jesus Christ, and so if you took all of the rest of my life away and left me with only Christ in death, it would be more than I have now because I would have more of Him in death: more of His immediate presence, more of His love, more of His fellowship in death; and, therefore, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ It’s a life declaration from the Apostle Paul.
And then Paul begins to share out loud an inner argument that he’s been having in his heart while he’s been in prison, while he’s awaiting sentencing, while he’s on his way to the conclusion of his trial. He begins to share that inner argument in verse 22:
“If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor to me. I do not know which to choose.”
And last week we said this was a dilemma a little bit different from the typical dilemma. Typically we speak about dilemmas as those situations when you are caught between two equally unsatisfying and repulsive options. That’s not what Paul is talking about, however. It’s a delightful dilemma, in a certain sense: I live, and I get to serve Christ, get to glorify and enjoy Christ; I die, and I get to enjoy Christ more. Which do I do? Do I live a life of fruitful service in which I live out and out for Christ, in which I get to see Him transform lives, in which I get to see Him work the love of God deep into the hearts of believers through His Holy Spirit, where I get to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth? Do I do that, or do I die and enter into the immediate presence of Jesus Christ and enjoy everlasting fellowship with Him? Which of those do I do? And so Paul is asking aloud in verse 22, ‘What do I pray for? What do I long for? What do I want?’
And then in verses 23-24, he breaks that dilemma down. He analyzes that delightful dilemma:
“I’m hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
So there he breaks it down: I go, it’s better for me. I stay, it’s better for you. And last week we said the minute you hear Paul analyze it that way, you know what the answer is going to be…I go, it’s better for me…I stay, it’s better for you…you know because he has been made so much like his Savior through the Savior’s work of grace in him, he’s going to take the answer that the Savior would have taken: If to go is better for me, to stay is better for you, then stay it is. And that is in fact where it ends up in verses 25-26 in the resolution of that delightful dilemma.
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all.”
There’s his resolution. It’s a no-brainer, as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned. If to go is better for me, and to stay is better for you, I will stay and labor for your joy in the faith. That’s what I’m going to pray for, and I know that’s what the Lord is going to do in this instance in my life. And we said that the truth that we deduct from this glorious inner wrestling that the Apostle Paul shares with us in verses 21-16 is simply this: that the gospel gives us a joy that allows us to be selfless and to seek the joy of others. It happened in Paul’s life. He, though he had been a very religious man, was a joyless man. He thought that the greatest way he could glorify God was through persecuting and killing Christians. And then Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and radically transformed his life and gave him a gospel joy that enabled him to endure persecution himself—enabled him to endure beatings himself, that enabled him to endure discouragement and trials of various sorts himself—because he wanted to see others experience that life-giving, self-freeing joy that only the gospel can bring. And so he himself is a walking advertisement for the reality of this gospel joy that only Jesus can give.
The world longs for joy, we said, and it seeks for joy. But it seeks for joy in all the wrong places. It seeks for a personal joy at the expense of caring for others. It seeks for that joy in places that cannot give it that joy. And we said in response to this that the Christian message to those people who are seeking their own joy at the expense of the well-being of others is not ‘Forget about your joy, be good, and do good to other people.’ That is not the gospel message. The gospel message is God, in the gospel of His Son, gives you a joy that allows you to be selfless and to be concerned about the joy of others. He frees you by giving you something that you cannot get for yourself, and it is a joy that is so fulfilling, so deeply satisfying, that it allows you to stop being focused on yourself and look out of yourself at the glory and blessing of God in the joy of others.
Now that’s the argument of verses 21-26, and I want you to see especially in verses 25-26 that what the Apostle Paul is giving us here is virtually a declaration of his philosophy of ministry. Paul is telling you what makes him tick, as far as his ministry to the local church. What is it that he wants to stay here and do? If he’s not going to go and be with Jesus, what is it that he wants to stay here and do amongst Christians and amongst congregations? He tells you in verses 25-26, so be on the lookout for it. It’s three things, and you see it in the sermon title. There’s your outline: Progress; Joy; and, Confidence. Progress, joy, and confidence – that’s what he wants to produce in local churches if he’s going to stay here.
Let’s bow before the Lord and ask Him to bless us as we read His word.
Lord, this is Your word. Teach our hearts by it deep truths about the gospel joy that only Christ can give. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word:
“And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
If the Apostle Paul were standing here today and he announced before the service that he was going to tell you what he was staying in this life for, wouldn’t you be interested to hear his answer to that question? Well, in effect he’s saying to the Philippians ‘I’m not going to heaven, because I want to stay here to pursue three things.’ Wouldn’t you be all ears at that, if the Apostle Paul were saying that to you? He is. He’s saying that to you in God’s word, because ultimately this isn’t Paul’s word, it’s God’s word through Paul to you. And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘This is why I’m staying here, because this is what I want to happen in local congregations in local churches, amongst Christians gathered together in assembly – the church family. This is what I want to see happening. I’m staying on this planet for this reason, willing to be imprisoned and beaten and abused for this. I have one holy ambition.’ And it’s not a cheap ambition, remember! This is an ambition that is going to cost the Apostle Paul dearly.
Just flip over in your Bible and take a look at II Corinthians 11:24-27. This is what the Apostle Paul is willing to endure in order for this ambition to be realized. He’s not going to die and go to be with Jesus. No, instead this is what is going to happen to the Apostle Paul (II Corinthians 11:24-27):
“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes….”
[Go read a medical description of what thirty-nine lashes with a Roman scourge would do to you. Five times the Apostle Paul will receive this. And he’s not going to go be with Jesus, he’s going to receive thirty-nine lashes five times, because he’s so concerned for this to happen in local congregations.]
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
And all of this he does because of the ambition he’s about to announce in verses 25-26. Are you interested?
Because, he says first, I want to see progress in your Christian life. I want you to grow as believers, he says. I’m willing to not go be with Jesus; I’m willing to go through all of that, if only you will make progress as Christians, if you will grow as believers. Listen to what he says in verse 25:
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress....”
There’s the first thing. I’m willing to stay and go through all of this because I want to see you grow as believers. I want to see you knowing more of the truth. I want to see you loving more of the truth of the Scripture. I want to see you reflecting in your character the truth of God’s word. I want to see you living out this truth before the world. I want to see Christians gathered in congregations, and they’re not meditating on all the delights of the world…they’re meditating on the glory of the imputed righteousness of Christ to them. And they’re saying, ‘Lord, if You have granted me that kind of mercy in Jesus Christ, what ought that to produce in my character, and how ought I to live in the world, and how ought I to bless other people, and how can I bear witness to Jesus Christ? I want congregations that are obsessed with these kinds of things. They’re growing; they’re progressing in their Christian life because the gospel has taken root in them. And I’m willing to not go be with Jesus, and I’m willing to endure beatings and shipwrecks and dangers so that churches will progress in the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul is dead serious about that. Absolutely dead serious about that.
Does our appetite for, our interest in, our enthusiasm about growth in grace match that kind of commitment to us from the Apostle Paul?
Secondly, the Apostle Paul says to us – and this is huge, this is controlling. We pointed to it, we hinted at it last week, but I really want to land on it. In fact, next week we’re going to unpack the first of these things, because what’s the very next thing that Paul’s going to say in verse 27? “Walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.” It’s all about that first point, progressing in the Christian life, growing in grace, growing as a believer. That’s what he’s going to get to, but this is what I want to land on right here:
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your joy in the faith.”
The Apostle Paul is saying, ‘I’m willing not to go to be with Jesus; I’m willing to stay here and be beaten and abused and persecuted for your joy in the faith. I want you to get so much joy because you have trusted in Christ, because you have realized the supreme value of Christ…I want you to get so much joy from Christ, in Christ, that you are ready to sing with Martin Luther
“Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also.
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abides still.
His kingdom is forever.”
I want you to be people who have discovered the secret that real joy comes from Christ, is found in faith in Christ alone and nowhere else, and no other joy is real joy except joy that is experienced in saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a gospel joy. It requires the incarnation, it requires the crucifixion, it requires the Holy Spirit’s work of new birth in you.’
In other words, this joy is not generic joy. It’s not joy as in ‘That was the best meal I’ve ever eaten.’ It’s not joy in ‘You know, I’ve got the nicest house in the neighborhood.’ It’s not joy in job, it’s not joy in wife, it’s not joy in children, it’s not joy in money, it’s not joy even in watching the beauty of the sunset. It’s joy in Christ. It’s gospel joy. It’s joy that required God to come in the flesh into this world. It required the Son of God to die on the cross and be dead and buried, and to be raised again from the dead for you. It requires the Holy Spirit to renew your heart so that you are born again in order to experience this joy. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘It is worth it to me. It is worth it to me, Philippians…it is worth it to me, First Presbyterian Church/Jackson, not to go to be with Jesus, but to stay here to work for your joy.’
Real joy, gospel joy…and it’s dangerous joy, my friends. It’s dangerous joy. It’s not just dangerous to Paul in trying to convey this joy to you; it’s dangerous to you. You see, the Apostle Paul is in effect sitting before your pulpit committee and saying, ‘Look, you need to understand. If I come to your church, here’s my goal: I want you to be happy. Now be careful, because that’s very dangerous. I want you to be so happy in Jesus that you’re ready to die for Him. I want you to be se happy in Jesus that you are ready to say, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” I want you to be so happy in Jesus that nothing else in this life measures up to Him.’ This is a radical, dangerous joy that Paul is talking about.
I want you to understand how utterly different this is from something that we see going on in the world around us today. The practitioners of Wahhabi Islam are saying, ‘God is so great that I will die for him blowing up infidels. God is so great, I will die for him blowing up infidels, and I will be a martyr for God.’ You understand how radically different what Christianity is calling us to. You’re not a martyr when you blow other people up for God; you’re a martyr when you’re persecuted to death by other people because you want their joy. You’re not blowing them up because they’re infidels; you’re ready to die for them because you love them with a love that God has loved you with in Christ, and you long for their blessing and joy. You’re not out there blowing them up—you’re ready to be blown up for their blessing! It is utterly different than what is happening in Wahhabi Islam around the world, and it’s far more powerful…far more powerful. It’s far more radical. And I think that if we just understood this one thing, it would change so much of the way we look at life.
A third thing. Paul says that he wants to work for their confident joy in him in Jesus Christ. Listen to the language that he uses:
“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, so that (verse 26) your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”
Now, it’s difficult to know exactly how to translate this. Does Paul mean “so that your proud confidence in me may abound” or does he mean that “your confident joy in me may abound”? I’m not quite sure, but here’s what Paul is getting at. Paul is saying, ‘I want you, Philippians, to get joy from me in my coming in Christ.’ Just to make that clear, let me break that into two parts. He’s saying ‘I want you to get joy from me in my coming again. You’re all worried, Philippians,’ [he’s saying] ‘that I’ve been sidetracked – the gospel has somehow been sidetracked because I’m in prison. And I just want to be there when I come again to you, to see your faces and to give you joy that God is sovereignly in control of me in my life, in your life, in the progress of the gospel; and I want you to see that your fears were ill-founded, and that the Lord of heaven is still the Lord of heaven and earth, and if He’s ruling all things by His word and Spirit for the good of His people, I want to see the joy on your faces when I come to you again, and I want to be a blessing to you.’
And here’s what he’s really getting at. Here’s the second part. He wants Jesus to get the glory for this. Notice what he says:
“So that your confident joy in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming again to you.”
In other words, Paul wants Jesus to get the glory for his coming again to the Philippians. The point is not their confidence in Paul; the point is their confidence in God for bringing Paul to them again. They’re going to be more confident about Jesus. They’re going to be more confident about God’s providence. They’re going to be more confident about the sovereign overruling work of God in Paul’s coming to them again.
And so he wants a church that’s growing in grace…growing as believers. He wants a church that knows real joy – the joy which is in the faith, the joy of the faith, the joy that only comes from Jesus Christ; and he wants them to glorify Christ even in their joy in him. And he’s saying, ‘I’m willing to stay on this planet to work for these things.’
Do you think they’re important, then? These things are not added extras to the Christian life. These things are essential: growing in grace; coming to value Christ so much that nothing else contends with Him for first place in the affection of you heart, so that everything else that is enjoyed is enjoyed in Him, but nothing else is enjoyed as much as Him, and nothing else that is enjoyed is enjoyed apart from Him, and nothing else that is enjoyed is enjoyed without the realization that it comes from Him, so that He is our central joy. And our battle, my friends, is that we have so much that it’s easy to just think totally apart from Christ, totally apart from His incarnation, from his crucifixion and from the new birth, ‘Life is good! Life is sweet!’ The Apostle Paul is saying ‘I’ve come to realize that life is not good, life is not sweet, apart from Christ. And therefore I have come to the point where I can have a lot or I can have nothing, and it does not matter…because Christ is what I want, and nobody can take that from me, and nobody can give me more than Him. And, therefore, if I have a lot, I don’t feel guilty about it, but I don’t worship it. My joy is in Christ. And when I have nothing, I’m not bitter about it, because I’ve still got Christ, and so I’ve got everything! And I want you to have that kind of joy, too, because that kind of joy frees you from this endless pursuit to fill yourself up, to fill up whatever that empty part in you is, because there isn’t any empty part in you any more when you’ve got this joy. And then when you’ve got this kind of joy, you can get out of yourself and start caring about other people…start caring about them enjoying this joy, and start using everything that you have so that they would enjoy this joy.’
This happened, by the way, to the Philippian Christians. Just take a look at II Corinthians 8 and 9. This happened to the Philippian Christians. You remember how Paul says it there? He says that God’s grace came to the Christians in Macedonia. Where is Philippi? Macedonia. And what happened? In the midst of their poverty, generosity overflowed. God’s grace came to the Christians in Macedonia and in the midst of their poverty, generosity overflowed so that the Macedonians are giving Paul money (when they are dirt poor) so that he can go share the gospel to the filthy-rich Corinthians. It’s glorious, isn’t it? This worked in this church! And it can work in this one. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, it boggles our mind that the Apostle Paul would have been willing to forestall his entrance into heaven and lasting fellowship with the One that he loved more, valued more, cared about more than anyone else in the world, so that we would grow up and treasure Christ and glorify Christ, being confident in His providence over us. But that is precisely what Paul tells us here. And it’s in Your word, so we believe it. But we very quickly acknowledge that it will only be by the work of Your Spirit that we will experience any of this truth. So come, Holy Spirit, and give us this dangerous joy. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Christ, of All My Hopes the Ground]
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