Investing toward Eternity

Sermon by Ed Hartman on May 26

Philippians 4:10-20

I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Philippians chapter 4. If you’re using the pew Bible in front of you it’s on page 982. Before we read the text before us, I want to say simply that whether you recognize it or not you’re investing your life right now towards something. You’re weary pursuing something. Most of us go to bed tired. The question is, “For what? What has drained you? What have you been working toward? What have you been stressed over? What keeps you awake at night?” We’re all investing toward something. The question behind that is, “What motivates that investing?” - not just investing our money, but our time, our energy, the gifts that God has entrusted to us, even our praying. You’re investing towards something. What motivates that investment. For many of us, if we’re honest, it’s going to be just our own personal comfort and security. We want to get ahead. We want to retire better and earlier. We want to be happy. We’re pursued and driven by self-interest. The question though, you see it in the title, is “In what way is your life investing toward eternity?”

I’m looking into the faces of about a hundred Twin Lakes staff and you’ve got some choices this summer. You can invest your summer toward having a great time, and you will, or above that you can invest in eternity. And the way you think about this will change everything about how your summer unfolds and what will last as a result of how you’ve invested. I’d like you to think about that as we work our way through this passage.

Oh, and I have to be honest too, I’m the mission pastor here and for the past five years we’ve had mission conferences and mission pledge drives where we’ve turned in cards like these. And every year, our mission pledges and our mission giving goes up and it’s been an encouragement to see that. Except for this year, I have no explanation for this, except to say a lot of people who’ve made pledges in past years didn’t make one this year. Consequently, we’re about a quarter million dollars behind in pledges for mission work for which we prayed even this morning, seeking to finish Christ’s mission that He’s entrusted to the church, and it’s going to take a lot of money. Every week we receive more and more requests for investment to take the Gospel to places where there are unreached people groups. And we could invest so much more aggressively and fruitfully, but it takes all of us investing resource into what has been entrusted to this session of our church in terms of investing in these ministries. So as we work our way through this passage, if you’ve not turned in a mission pledge, they’re in the pew racks. I’d encourage you to consider that as we think about what Paul has to say here in Philippians 4. We’ll begin in verse 10.

Paul writes:

“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Amen. This is God’s Word. Would you join me in prayer?

Holy Spirit, we come to You this morning asking for Your divine help, the miracle of Your opening blind eyes and opening hard hearts enabling us to see and shaping our loves so that our lives would reflect the wonder, the amazement, the gratitude that is ours as we behold the Gospel and the glory of the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.

Have you ever had the experience of needing a restroom and with joy, you see one there, and you make a beeline for it. And as soon as you walk in you realize something’s not quite right. If you’re a guy, you know there are supposed to be these porcelain things mounted to the wall but they’re not there. Instead, the whole room is filled with stalls and suddenly it hits your, “I am not where I thought I was!” And you look around real quick and you look for feet under the stall doors and you make a beeline for the door, hoping no one saw you walk into the wrong restroom. It happens, doesn’t it? And with startling astonishment, even embarrassment, you realize, “I am not now where I thought I was and not where I should be!”

I wonder if that picture is true of so much of our lives, particularly when we open God’s Word and we hear that He’s saying to us and we realize, “I am not where I thought I was. I am not where I should be. I am not where I promised I would be.” I think this passage is one of those places and the way that it sharpens our focus on that very title, “Investing in Eternity.” If we define the word, “investing,” it’s simply to commit time, money or energy in order to secure a future gain. Of course we do it with our money, we do it with our parenting, we do it with our athletics, our musical endeavors. We invest toward a certain end. Some of you are investing in the college or grad school that you’re pursuing right now. You’re investing toward a certain end, making sacrifices toward that desired end. Paul says it this way in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Do you remember when Jesus was speaking to those two sisters, Mary and Martha, and Martha was complaining to Jesus because her good for nothing sister was just sitting there while she was going all the work. And Jesus responds to Martha and says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” See here’s the point. It’s not just that we’re all investing towards something right now, but there’s coming a day when we are going to determine whether or not it was worth investing in. Some of the things that we’re working so hard to gain or to keep we’ll find have just slipped through our fingers. And in the end, we’ll look back and say, “Was it really worth it? Is that what I gave my life toward?” And the things that were most important, we’ll look back and we’ll say, “What was I thinking? Why did I not invest myself more aggressively toward what alone will last for eternity?”

And it’s with that unsettling potential conclusion that we desperately want to avoid that I’d like to point to you three basic principles from this passage that govern our investing in eternity. They’re very straightforward. They’re introduced here and they’re unpacked throughout the rest of Scripture. Principle number one - all that I have, all that I am, is God’s possession. It’s His. I’m His.

I Am His

You see that in the way Paul talks about what he’s received and what he does. Verse 13, he says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” He says, “My ability, all of my capacity, everything I do, everything I am, all that I stand for is because of Him who enables, equips, and strengthens me.” He doesn’t stop there. In verse 19 he says, “And my God will supply every need of yours, according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It’s not just his ability, but it’s also his substance. All that he has, all that he needs, all that he possesses is because of the gracious and kind and generous hand of God his Father. The psalmist unpacks this over and over again. Two examples. Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” It’s all his, including what you think is yours. Psalm 50 verse 10, God says, “every animal of the forest is Mine. The cattle on a thousand hills is Mine. I know every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is Mine and all that is in it.” And Paul the apostle takes all of that Old Testament teaching and encapsulates it in one phrase, 1 Corinthians 4:7 - “What do you have that you did not receive?” Is there anything about who you are, about what you have, what you can do, that isn’t a gift of your generous Father? Not for you to use for your own purposes, but for you to be a steward of. It’s all His.

One of my favorite summaries of New Testament theology is in the Heidelberg Catechism, question number one. It asks, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” It’s a long answer. I’ll only quote the first part. Here it is. At the end of your life, this is what you will want to know is absolutely true. “My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but I belong, body and soul, to my precious Savior, who with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins and has delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can call from my head, and even more, that all things must work together for my salvation.” The answer goes on, but I want to summarize here. Your only comfort, and mine, in life and in death is that we are not our own. We belong to the One who bought us with His own precious blood. You belong to Him. That’s your only rock-solid, unshakeable comfort, security, that nothing else in life will eclipse.

Now there is the obvious objection. Some will say, “I’ve worked hard for what I have! I’ve earned it! It’s mine!” And yet Moses himself answers in Deuteronomy 8 verse 17, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this well for me,’ but remember the Lord your God. For it is He who gives you the ability to produce and so confirms His covenant to you.” All that I have and all that I am is God’s possession. I am His. I belong to Him.

I Am a Steward

The second principle grows out of the first. It’s this - God has made me a steward of what rightly belongs to Him. You see that in verse 18. Paul says, “I have received full payment and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Now think about this. Paul has just received a financial gift that was a sacrificial turning loose from believers in the church in Philippi and Epaphroditus had brought that financial that financial resource to Paul who is in prison in Rome and Paul says, “Ah, I so needed that. That gift was acceptable and pleasing to me. It pleases me. Thank you!” You expect him to say that, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t say, “It’s acceptable and pleasing to me,” but look at it. He says it in verse 17 - it’s acceptable, “a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” You see, the principle is God has made you a steward of what rightly belongs to Him. The word, “steward,” is one that we don’t often use. That’s one who manages the property of another, not according to his own desires but according to the will of the owner.

When I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania I had a friend named Bob who had a very comfortable house in the city. Bob had a passion for duck hunting. He loved duck hunting, goose hunting; he did it all - waterfall maniac! But as you might imagine, there’s not a lot of duck hunting in Philadelphia so he looked for the best, the most pristine area to develop into a duck hunting camp. And boy he found it! He bought 1,000 acres, a farm on the Chesapeake Bay, on the main waterfall flyway. And he developed it into one of the best duck hunting places on the eastern seaboard. It was magnificent. The problem was, it was about two hours away from his home in Philadelphia. And while he hunted with some regularity, he couldn’t put in the time to plant everything and to flood things and take care of the big house that was there. He had to find a manager. So he hired Charles, a man who lived in the area. Actually, he moved Charles into part of the house that he owned there on the farm. And Charles and his family moved in. Charles wasn’t much of a duck hunter, but he knew he had been hired to please Bob, the owner, and so Charles learned everything he could about duck hunting, and he became a magnificent and meticulous manager of this duck hunting camp. And boy he did a good job. You know why? It’s because he knew Bob was coming to evaluate what’s going on. And every time Bob would come to hunt, he’d know exactly what Charles had been doing, whether or not he had been keeping up the activity and making it to be a great duck hunting hole.

My Stewardship Will Be Evaluated

Charles wanted to hear Bob say, “Man, you’ve done a great job managing my farm.” That’s what a steward does. He manages what rightly belongs to another according to the will and the desires of the owner, not his own will. Principles. Number one - All that I have is God’s possession. It belongs to Him. It all belongs to Him. I belong to Him. Principle two - God has made me a steward of what rightly belongs to Him. And principle three - My stewardship will be evaluated and judged. Just like Charles’ stewardship was evaluated by Bob the owner, my stewardship will be evaluated and judged.

You see that in verse 17. Paul says, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Or literally, “I seek the fruit that abounds, multiples, to your credit.” Another version translates it this way, that “Much more be credited to your account.” What Paul is saying is that there is a coming accounting and the record books, the accounts, will be examined and will be rewarded in accordance to our stewardship. Now when we talk about judgment, when we talk about evaluation, some of us find our hearts tightening up because we think, “Oh no, have I done enough?” to which the Gospel says, “No, you have not done enough. You could never do enough. Jesus has done it all for you.” If you are in union with Christ, if you belong to Jesus, the Gospel message says that your judgement day has moved from your future to your past. It’s done. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” He meant it. There’s nothing that remains to be settled for you to be put back right with the God who created you in His image. It’s done. That’s the Gospel and we will celebrate it for all eternity. “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God would die for me?” A stunning message.

And when you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation you realize that’s the message of the Bible. God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. But, or maybe I should say, and the Gospel reality can never obscure what the rest of the Bible teaches. And that is God will evaluate your stewardship and mine and He will reward your stewardship and mine. There is a crediting and a measuring, an evaluating of our stewardship. Jesus Himself says it this way in John 5:24 - “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from death to life already.” That part is done, but then the rest of the New Testament says this, 2 Corinthians 5:10 - “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” First Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time. Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time, each will receive his praise from God.” At that time, each will receive his praise from God. And Colossians 3:23, Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

Now let’s pause for a moment and think about this word, “reward.” Most of us think that a reward is something you get because you’ve earned it. Honestly there is no reward in the presence of Jesus that you will have earned. Every reward you will gain will be a reward of grace. At the same time, the Bible talks about reward as a motivation over and over and over again. Look at it some time. Just search the word, “reward,” and then look at all the times the Bible uses the imagery of reward with different words, like the crowns, the authority, the praise from God, the cities, being faithful with little, being entrusted with much. It’s replete in the New Testament in particular. There is a coming measuring, a giving account, for our stewardship.

Now the question is, “What is that reward?” I would love to give you a clear and specific answer, but the Bible doesn’t give us a clear answer to that question. It leaves it shrouded in mystery. But it does seem to indicate there are degrees of this reward. Some will receive a greater reward than others. Some will receive a lesser reward. All of attached to our stewardship and our faithfulness with what God has entrusted to our care. Now there are some who immediately object, and there is theological debate about this. Some will say, “Look, if I receive this much reward and you receive this much reward, when I see you will I not feel envy? And how can there be envy in the presence of Jesus? Would that not take away from the glory of heaven?” Well Jonathan Edwards, one of our brightest theological minds ever in this country, addressed that very subject. And he put it this way - this is too deep for me to swim in, but I’ll at least try. He said that the rewards that are ours are primarily a capacity to see and to delight in and to rejoice in the beauty and the glory of the Lord Jesus and to reflect that back to Him and one another. And he said there are vessels or containers of various sizes, directly connected to our stewardship. Some will be large containers, some will be much smaller containers, but they will all be cast into the ocean of God’s fullness. Every container will be completely full, though some will be larger than others.

Now if that’s a little foggy, let me read to you his direct quote. It’s just one sentence, a long sentence. “Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.” I’ve been reading about reward all week and you know most of us think that reward is mercenary, where you’re using God. “I do these things, I’m obedience, I sacrifice, I serve to get something from God.” But that’s not the idea at all because we serve faithfully to get God Himself, to enjoy of Him and to increase our capacity to find our deepest and greatest delight in Him. John Piper wrote an article not long ago. It was simply titled, “Do It for the Reward.” It’s not wrong to be motivated by a reward for more of Him and a deeper delight in Him; a capacity summarized by the psalmist who said, “Enable me to find my deepest delight in You. Satisfy me in the morning with Yourself.”

C.S. Lewis, in talking about reward - this is a well-known quote but you’ll see where it’s drawn from - Lewis writes, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires for reward not too great, but He finds them too weak.” Isn’t that interesting? Right now, the Spirit of God says, “Come on. Desire the reward!” He wants us to pursue Him for the reward of Himself and all that that means. This same C.S. Lewis who wrote that same statement came to the end of his life and as he lay dying, his friend, Walter Hooper, was with him. Not long before he died, Hooper writes that Lewis asked for some water. And when Walter turned to grab the pitcher and pour the water into the glass to hand it to Lewis, he heard Lewis struggling to sit up in bed. And when he turned around, he was sitting bolt upright in bed. It’s a man who’s not far from death. And Lewis was staring across the room at the opposite wall. And Hooper said, “I’d never seen this look on his face.”

Now pause. Remember, C.S. Lewis had written with such vivid imagination - allegories, stories of what it is to know Jesus using the imagery of Aslan the lion who represented Christ and Narnia, the kingdom, and what lies beyond the veil; and coming to the end of the books, The Chronicles of Narnia, he talks about the children being ushered into the kingdom and they go farther up and farther in and the glories that are to be revealed are not the end of the story, it’s actually the beginning of the real story. A man with such vivid imagination comes to this day just before he dies, and Hooper writes, “The look on his face was a look of wonder, astonishment,” his word, “enrapturement.” And Lewis’ words as he stared off into the distance, having an experience that some people you may know have had - the very end of their lives - the veil begins to open and the barrier between this life and the unseen reality thins and they begin to see. Lewis’ words, “Oh, oh, I would have never imagined.” This is what Walter Hooper writes about this man of imagination as he comes to the very beginning of the greatest story yet to be lived.

What are you investing your life in? You’re all tired. You’ll finish today tired, right? For what? What are you working hard to accomplish and will it last or will you find that in the end it slipping through your fingers wondering, “Why did I give myself to that? Why did I not invest in eternity in a way that would have filled me with wonder, astonishment at the very end?” I’ll let Jesus have the last word. Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys nor where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, would You fill us with wonder and amazement as we think carefully and deeply about who we are in our belonging to our Father in heaven because of Your finished work on the cross on our behalf. Forgive us for our apathy. Forgive us for pursuing our own self-interests, our comfort and security, thinking that we can earn something that will make our lives better than what we already have in Jesus. We’ve made eternally valuable things ordinary and easily dismissed, and we’ve made really temporary, insignificant things our primary preoccupation. Forgive us. Would You please reorient our loves, our passions, and then drive us forward as we live out of the desires You create within us. Fill us with wonder and then give us eyes that look forward to the day that we see Jesus face to face, for we long to hear His voice saying to us, “Well done, well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy, the joy of your Master.” All this we pray in Jesus’ precious and holy name, amen.

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