The Lord's Day Morning
February 15, 2009
“A Mission Worthy of the Gospel”
Dr. Edward Hartman
What a pleasure it is to hear the choir sing, to hear this congregation sing (and that in English!)…what a delight. I pray that you never tire of worshiping in that way in this place. You have no idea what a gift it is to be here.
I want to extend to you our team's thanks, my family's thanks, for your faithful and generous investment in the ministry that the Lord has opened up before us in Romania. We could not be there without you. We could not remain there without your continued praying and standing with us in a place that's very difficult simply to live in, let alone to minister the gospel. But the goal is what the choir just sang, that people in all the world in every corner would sing, “My God and King.” This is why we are gathered this morning. This is why we worship. It is why we live, isn't it? So thank you. Thank you for the privilege of being able to open the word of God before you. I trust that the Lord will minister to us together, and that leaving here we will be even more firmly committed and deeply delighted in His presence and in the privilege of being His, and representing Him to a watching and listening world.
To that end, I'd like to invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter one. I should say as you’re turning there that I'm well aware that your Senior Pastor has preached through the entire book (finished last June, I believe). I recognize that on this short passage that we're going to look at this morning, he's preached five sermons! And so I'm a little bit reluctant to even venture into this territory knowing what I've read. I've read all of his sermons, and was convicted, challenged, encouraged and blessed by what I read. You are a well-fed congregation. My desire this morning is simply to take an ordinary approach to Paul's fundamental thought, I believe, in this passage, and to look at this passage from the perspective of two words. One is worth. What is the worth of what we're looking at here? And the other word is risk. As a result of the worth, the surpassing worth of what is ours in Christ, what risks are we taking that reflect that worth?
With that in mind, let's read together verses 27-30 of Philippians 1.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Amen. This is God's word. May He add His abundant blessing not only to our understanding, but to our loving and our living out of His truth. Let's pray together.
Our Father, Your word tells us that this Your word is alive and powerful; that it's sharper than any two-edged sword; that it pierces even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow; and, that it's able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of our heart. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. Because this is true, may You by Your Holy Spirit cause us to hear Your voice, and hearing to be stunned, amazed, struck; and then, find ourselves growing more deeply in love with this One whose truth is proclaimed this day. We pray all of this in Jesus' name. Amen.
One of the ministries that the Lord has opened up before our team in Romania is that of translating and publishing solid Reformed and covenantal works into the Romanian language. The book that has just come to us, back from one of our main translators, and has now entered into editing is John Piper's newest book, Finally Alive. It was released last month by Christian Focus Publications, and in it he talks about the new birth. What does it mean to be born again? His argument is that we've said a great deal over the last several years about justification, the legal declaration of being made right before God: the righteousness of Christ legally, judicially applied to our lives so that we now have right standing not just as people who are forgiven, but are perfect and received as holy before God through Christ — a great and necessary doctrinal understanding. But Piper's argument is that we have put so much of an emphasis on that part of our understanding of the faith that we've almost set to the side the reality, the necessity of the gospel actually changing us, transforming us from one degree of glory to another. That's what regeneration brings about. It's what sanctification carries out for the rest of our lives. And Piper's argument is this. The gospel does not simply come to us with a new set of tasks to perform; rather, it comes to give us a new heart that has new treasures. It doesn't come to us simply to give us new duties, but it changes our hearts so that we have new delights and new desires; that our whole understanding of what is worth something is transformed by this gospel that is at work within us. It is all the result of the new birth, isn't it? I commend to you the reading of that book. It will have a profound mark on your life.
But that's what really lies at the background of what Paul is saying to us in this passage. He says if you rightly understand the gospel, it will change how you assess worth in your life. And in the process, it will change how you assess risk for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of Christ. And that's really our outline this morning. It's rather simple.
We’ll begin with worth. How do you assess worth? And we've very familiar, particularly over the last several months, with the idea of net worth…because for many that concept has really changed of late, hasn't it?...a mathematical equation that adds up what I have and what represents my life, what I've invested and saved, and that's my net worth. And we cling to that idea, don't we? In Romania, one of the things we go back to regularly is the worth of a dollar, because every time we invest in a new book or project, we don't spend dollars. We actually spend euros or Romanian lei, and the value of a dollar is different every day, so we have to ask the question when will it be worth most so we can make our currency go father? Worth is something we deal with regularly because it changes so often.
The question though is what is unchangeable in terms of what we value. Or, specifically in terms of what Paul is setting before us, what is the worth of the gospel? Really that's the question that lies behind what he says in verse 27: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Worthy of the gospel…this is a concept, a phrase that Paul uses over and over again in the New Testament. Listen to just a few references to that. Colossians 1:10, he says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord;” I Thessalonians 2:12, “Walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory;” Ephesians 4:1, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called;” II Thessalonians 1:5, “That you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God.” Even Jesus himself uses this imagery from a different perspective, saying this (Matthew 10:37):
“Whoever loves his father, or his mother, or his son or his daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me, and whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
This is where Paul begins: Walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Now before we go any farther, I think we need to look more carefully at the word worthy, because when that word is used it either refers to merit or it refers to value. I'm going to try to illustrate the first possibility. When I meet someone in Romania, the question they’re going to ask me is, “??????” which is to say, “How are you? How's it going?” Normally the answer is,
“xxxx” which is, “Good…well enough” —pretty similar to how we would have that brief interchange. I've learned early on to change my response to something that almost always opens up opportunities to get to matters of the heart. My answer is “xxxx.” The last word, xxxxx, is the word merit. What I tell them is, “How am I doing? Way better than I deserve.”
Is this the way Paul is using this word worthy, talking about merit? Live…only let your manner of life be worthy…deserve the gospel? Merit the gospel? If this is what he's saying, we've lost the whole truth of the New Testament gospel because what we're told clearly is that we never merit or deserve the gospel. Instead, what Paul is very clearly saying is let your manner of life express the profound worth and value of the gospel. Let the way that you live, the choices you make, the way you spend your time, the way you spend your money, the things you get angry about, the things that irritate you, the things that you’re willing to fight for, even sacrifice for…let your manner of life express and display the surpassing worth of the gospel.
Paul says it similarly in Philippians 3:7. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Why? Because of the very next phrase. “Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.”
Let's take a little pause here. How's it going? Look at your schedule for the last week. What have you expended yourself toward? What's made you tired? Where has your money and time gone? What have you invested yourself in, even sacrificed yourself for? Has it displayed the profound worth, value, of the gospel? “Whatever I counted gain, I now count as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” Would that be evident of your life? I suppose I could ask it this way: What is your great treasure? When your mind goes into neutral, what do you think about? What do you worry about most? What is the sine qua non of your life? The “without which, nothing”? If I can't have this, I cannot receive life joyfully. What is that?
There's a man by the name of Adolf Merckle who answered that question very clearly last month. Adolf Merckle was one of Europe's wealthiest men. Forbes magazine reported his wealth as being somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.2 billion. But toward the end of 2008, he discovered that a large number of his investments were unprotected, and his wealth was very rapidly and irretrievably slipping through his fingers in spite of everything he was doing to the contrary. On January 5, 2009, just over a month ago, he discovered that he could not stop the loss. He left his home, and instead of going to his office he walked to the edge of town and waited for the express train that was headed toward Munich. At the last moment, he stepped in front of it and with his blood answered the question: This is worth most to me, and without this I cannot receive life joyfully.
What's your treasure? Does your life reflect the worth, the surpassing worth of that treasure?
How you assess worth is going to lead to a second assessment, and it's the assessment of risk and what you’re going to see from what Paul tells us is how you assess worth. Whatever is your greatest treasure will define what you’re going to expend your life toward, what you’re going to risk your life toward and for. Paul introduces that idea in verse 27…really, the first word of our passage. He says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The New International Version translates that “Whatever happens, let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel.”
He's spent the previous fifteen verses talking about the range of possible outcomes. He's in prison in Rome, writing to his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ in Philippi, and he says, ‘I don't know what's going to happen. I may be convicted, condemned and executed; or, I might be released. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. To die is better by far. That's the worth, but I don't know how it's going to turn out.’ He says whatever happens, only this…. His point is simple. It doesn't matter how the next day or weeks or how the next months unfold. The truth in the calling doesn't change, does it? Our life is all about worth and the expression and the pursuit of what is our greatest treasure, our greatest worth. Whatever holds that place of greatest worth will define what you’re going to risk and expend yourself for.
Paul spoke of Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:30…really verse 29. He says,
“Honor men like him, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
Risking his life…now let's be honest. My suspicion is that it's unlikely that you or I are going to be called upon to risk our lives anytime soon for the sake of the gospel. We may yet, but I don't see that on the horizon just yet. I know that across the world there are people right now, this very moment, who are risking their lives for the sake of the gospel. But whether that's on your radar screen or not really is irrelevant. The fact is you will be asked to risk your reputation for the sake of the gospel. At bare minimum, you’ll be asked to risk your sense of convenience and comfort the sake of the gospel. You’ll be called upon to risk your rights (or better, the giving up of your rights) because really that's what lies at the core of living a life that reflects the worth of the gospel.
In Philippians 2, you find a profound illustration of what that actually looks like, as Paul talks about “Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider it robbery to claim being God, but instead made himself nothing…took on the form of a servant, humbling himself even to death on a cross.” There's your illustration of what it means to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. Because, you see, whatever you treasure not only will motivate what you work for and strive for and expend yourself for and risk yourself …risk your life, risk your comfort, your rights, for; Paul says it will also determine what you’re willing to suffer for, even joyfully. Look at it. It really begins in the second half of verse 27 [chapter 1]. He says,
“So that I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction but of your salvation, and that from God. For…”
[Here it is; he gives his reasoning; this life marked out by expressing the surpassing worth of the gospel comes to this]
“…For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”
Now the first part of that verse 29 we would agree with, with a resounding “Amen.” Yes, believing in Christ is entirely a gift of God's grace, isn't it? We believe that no one comes to Christ unless the Father who sent Christ draws that person, as Jesus said in John 6:44. It's impossible for anyone to say “Yes, Lord” unless there is a work of regeneration that precedes his response to the gospel. Believing in Christ is entirely a gift. God grants us the gift of repentance and faith so that we may then follow Him. We agree, and resoundingly say “Amen.” But the second half of that verse tells us the same grace that gave you the gift of believing also grants you the privilege of suffering. One is inseparable from the other, and the amen chokes in our throats. Because the truth is most of what we're praying for right now as we deal with our own lives and the people we love is a pleading with God to deliver us from the suffering — deliver them from the suffering — that He very well may have given them as His gracious gift. Have you thought about that? Some of the things that you may be praying for right now that God would deliver us from...He may have said that this is My gift to you.
In the house in which I grew up, my mother — far and away the most godly person I've ever known — would listen often to my pouring out my heart of places where I was struggling, suffering — the big sufferings and the little sufferings. And she would listen patiently. And invariably, at the end of my talking about where I was wrestling and where I felt things were unfair and not right, she would look me in the eye and very graciously say, “Ed, have you thanked God yet for this suffering He's given you as a gift?”
The psalmist himself spoke of this, didn't he, in Psalm 50:23, when he said,
“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors Me, and prepares the way that I may show him My deliverance.”
When is thanksgiving a sacrifice? When the kids are all gathered around the Thanksgiving table with a meal that's cooked to perfection, everyone runs down their list of all the things they’re thankful for? We say, “We offer You this sacrifice of thanksgiving.” That's not a sacrifice. Thanksgiving becomes a sacrifice when there's nothing within us that feels thankful; when it's through tears that we say with Habakkuk, “Though there are no grapes on the vine, no cattle in the stalls, no sheep in the fields…;” though it's absolutely empty, and I look around and I say, “What has happened? It wasn't supposed to be this way!” We turn to our gracious Redeemer and we say, “Yet I thank You.”
Why is it a gift to suffer for the sake of Christ? It's really quite simple. In this short lifetime, nothing like the way we respond to suffering reflects what we really value. And if Christ is our greatest worth and treasure, and when He brings suffering to our lives and we say, “Yet will I trust You,” the worth of the gospel is proclaimed more vividly and more beautifully than any song we could sing, any treatise we could write. Even without words being spoken, the truth is proclaimed: “This is the greatest value. This is the great treasure.” Is that true of you?
I've been reading a doctoral dissertation over the last month written by Josef Tsone. Josef was a pastor in Romania under Ceausescu's regime. He was repeatedly arrested and was tortured…suffered a great deal for his ministry. Eventually he was exiled and currently is living in Oregon with his daughter. But for twenty years in exile he was working on his doctoral dissertation. He titled it “Suffering, Martyrdom, and Rewards in Heaven.” Five hundred pages. The history…nineteen centuries of the people of God entering into places of loss and hardship, pain and cost, and suffering and martyrdom, all for the sake of the gospel, motivated by one thing: the supreme and surpassing worth of knowing Christ. And that worth not only being treasured by ourselves, but being claimed and sung by people in every corner of this planet. Josef Tsone said that one of the great deficiencies in the current church is that we've lost a sense and a measure of the worth of the eternal rewards that are yet to come. We wrestle with the idea of rewards simply because we think if it's a reward it has to be merited; and if it's merited, it's earned; and therefore it can't be of grace and that can't be a part of the gospel. And yet if you read the New Testament, time after time after time after time you read the language of eternal reward. Was Jesus, and were the biblical writers, kidding? I don't believe they were. The truth is that the rewards will be so much greater than any small, feeble, and struggling, fearful faithfulness we offer in this life, that they won't even be able to be corresponded as “this in response to this; I got this because of this.” The rewards will all be of grace, but they will be rewards. It will be as C.S. Lewis…I recently re-read his Weight of Glory. I commend it to you. He talks about the rewards being so much greater than anything that we can imagine; that if we understood the rewards, our assessment of worth in this life would change radically.
Josef Tsone picks up on this and takes it one step further and says if we understand the rewards, if we understand what God has prepared for those who love Him, no risk will be too great. And we will be people marked out not by fear, but a boldness and courage that as Paul says will be “a sign to unbelievers of their destruction, and to us a sign of our deliverance,” and a whisper of what is yet to come. This is the worth of the gospel, isn't it? What else would embolden the people, our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before across the centuries to live lives of courage and risk? As I speak of them, I shudder.
I've been reading again John Paton's autobiography, the missionary to the New Hebrides — what is now Vanuatu. I'm stunned every time I read that history. Imagine a man believing that he's called to minister to people on the other side of the planet who a short time earlier had taken the two white men who had gone as missionaries to minister the gospel to them…they take a long journey by ship…they drop anchor…they take a small boat to the beach, and within minutes of their arriving there they are killed by cannibals and then are cooked and eaten. Now this young man — brilliant young man — believes he's called to the same people to minister the gospel to those who have just killed the previous missionaries who have gone. When he announced his intentions, an old man in the assembly where he was gathered said, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” John Paton responded,
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms. I confess to you that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether my body is eaten by cannibals or by worms.”
The worth of the gospel requires it, commands it, draws it from us, does it not? Because you see, at the end of the day when it's all said and done, we're going to look back and we're going to say something like this: “That was really, really hard. It was painful. It was costly. It was difficult. But it was worth it, wasn't it?” Don't you want to say that with a smile? That was hard, but it was worth it — eternally worth it.
If I could just take a few more minutes….John Paton took his wife, newlywed, not on a honeymoon but on a ship to the New Hebrides, and arriving there they began their work. She became pregnant, gave birth to a child, and shortly thereafter was stricken with an illness that a few short weeks later would take her life. And as she lay dying with this less than three-week-old infant at her side — an infant that with her clear-headed thinking she knew would also die because it could not survive without her — her husband asked, “Do you wish we had done it differently?” Her answer was, “I do not regret leaving family and home. If I had it to do all over again, I would do it with even more pleasure. Yes, with all my heart.”
What motivates that kind of risk? What motivates that kind of willingness to say cost doesn't matter? Answer: It's the worth of the gospel. It's the worth of knowing Christ. It's the glory into which we are now being transformed from one degree of glory to the next, and the glory that will be perfectly revealed in us and through us on that day when we see the Lord Jesus face to face. The Apostle John says it so plainly. He says in I John 3,
“Therefore, beloved, now we are children of God, but what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know this, that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
If you get that worth, what risk is too great?
Last year at the Mission Conference at Bethlehem Baptist Church, John Piper said these words:
“At the heart of true biblical mission is the willingness to die to the cravings that prosperity preachers exploit. At the heart of true biblical mission, both for the goer and the sender is an eagerness to live simply and to give lavishly. And at the heart of true biblical mission is suffering, not merely as a result of proclamation but as a means of proclamation; a means of making the saving sufferings of Christ known to the world.”
And then John Piper quoted Josef Tsone, whom I quoted earlier:
“Josef Tsone said this about the suffering into which you and I are invited. He said, ‘We suffer because Christ suffered. The servant is not greater than his master. We've been called to take up our cross and follow.’ But there's a difference between Christ's suffering and ours. Christ's suffering had a vertical dimension: it was for propitiation. It was to put us back right with God; it was to deal with the wrath of God against our sin. And Christ's obedience (His active obedience and His passive obedience) going to the cross satisfied all the demands of God's justice so that righteousness (not just forgiveness but righteousness) could become ours. Propitiation was accomplished through the suffering of Christ. That is done. But the suffering continues. Why? Because our suffering is not for propitiation, but for propagation.”
It is through our entering into the suffering of Christ willingly, even joyfully, that the worth of the gospel is clearly seen and the watching and the listening world whom we long to say, ‘My God and King…your God and King has become mine.’
It's why we do mission, isn't it? The watching world whom we long to enter into that great chorus with us will say, ‘Wow. [Not what a great person, but] what a great Redeemer it must be for you to willingly enter into that kind of suffering. .What value it must hold for you, for you to be willing to risk this.’
How's it going? Where's your great worth? What's your great treasure? If you don't rightly assess the worth, you’ll never take the risks. And if you don't take the risks, you’ll never know the joy.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light momentary troubles are achieving for us [preparing for us] an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Would you join me in prayer?
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