Holding Out the Word of Life (Philippians Sermon 11 of 24)
December 07, 2003 | Andrew Davis
Introduction: The “Burden of Bearing the Light”
Okay, we're looking this morning at Philippians 2:14-18. And as you're turning there, I just want to tell you of something wonderful and remarkable that's going on in my family. For two years, we've had a kind of a mute observer in our home. His name is Calvin. He's been watching us, he's been observing. And now, he's ready to talk about it a little bit. More and more every week as a matter of fact. Just before I came up here, I asked my wife, I said, "Where's he at in his speaking ability right now?" And she said, "Well, he says, 'Mommy, have a question.'" So that means, "I have a question.'" I don't know what questions come after that, but he always has questions and he's thinking. But this is the amazing thing, what's remarkable, my wife and I were missionaries overseas in Japan, and we had the burden of learning the Japanese language. We had flash cards, we had grammar books, we had a tutor, we had exams, we drilled ourselves, and at the end of two years we were barely, I mean barely, conversational. And now it's all gone like the morning mist. I can remember how to greet, I can say a few other things but it's gone. This little kid, Calvin, a year from now will probably be conversational, no flash cards, no textbooks, no grammars, no audio tapes, no special tutoring sessions, nothing, just living.
The Magnificent Gift of Language
Because God has granted to us the gift of language. And his language will be English probably, I think it's going to be English. But he's not unusual, there's nothing striking about him. I'm not standing and proclaiming that my son is a super genius, he's not. But he's going to be probably conversational, if not fluent in English a year from now. And so will your children if they are at that same age and so will children all over the world in the corresponding languages that their parents are speaking to them, because God is a lingual God, He's a God of language, a God who speaks, and He has given to us the gift of language, the gift of words. Now, to me that's a phenomenal thing. Some of the best things in my life have come to me through words. If you think about history, you think about the great moments, like Abraham Lincoln speaking the Gettysburg Address and just understanding what that battle was about in just a few words. A Winston Churchill, inspiring a downtrodden nation to hope and courage at a low point. Speaking words into a microphone that just blessed. Or the poetry of John Milton, sonnets of Shakespeare. I think about these, this is high and lofty speech.
But then there's the beauty of everyday language, of a husband complementing his wife for a wonderful meal made, or wife complementing her husband for the good job that he does in providing a family. Simple words of thanks and encouragement that go from one to another. Common goodness, and that's every day goodness, every day blessing. Then there's the higher forms of speech that we're called to as Christians. The speech of prayer, being able to talk to God, to speak to Him. To memorize Scripture and be able to recite it, to speak the words of God. Be able to read Scriptures, we've heard done several times this morning in the worship service. To be able to speak the words of God after Him. Well, that's high speech, isn't it? And a great joy. And then there's just worship, being able to sing to God as we've done this morning. Being able to just communicate with God through words and say, "You are a mighty God and we love you". To speak words of thanksgiving and benediction, words of blessing. It's a great gift, that's language at its best. And perhaps the highest call concerning words is the call to preach the Gospel.
As it says in our text today, to hold forth or "hold out the word of life" in a dark and a crooked and depraved generation. To hold out the words of the Gospel. My salvation and yours are dependent on words, isn't that incredible? The words of the Gospel, it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. And so this is language at its best and highest but, words can also turn bad, can't they? Words can be used to devastate, to poison a relationship between a husband and wife, between good friends. Words can be used to ruin a church fellowship. Words can be used to rip and to tear and to destroy in so many ways. This is speech gone bad. And it's also mentioned in our text today.
Look at verse 14, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." Those are two of the worst forms of speech. And they're so familiar to us that we just kind of almost, kind of laugh. "Oh yes, complaining my old friend, were constant companions complaining and I." And then there's arguing as well. But this is generally speech gone bad, truly. This is not what our mouth was made for. Now what's fascinating to me is that some of the weightiest things in life have no mass at all. Words have no mass and yet they're weighty and significant.
Light has no mass but it's weighty. And we have the weighty burden of bearing the light. As Michael Card put it in one of his songs, "This burden of bearing the light" to a lost, a dark generation. Of sharing the Gospel. And there are times I think, to me, it feels like an overwhelming burden. To think of the darkness that surrounds us all the time and to think that we have the only hope, the message of the Gospel. And that it's up to us, under the power of the spirit to go out and share that Gospel, it feels like a burden. And it is a burden. It's a great burden that He has given to us.
II. The Internal Journey: Working Hard by God’s Power
Now we've seen, in the Book of Philippians, two eternal or infinite journeys. An internal journey of holiness and sanctification, whereby we grow more and more like Jesus Christ, little by little. And, also, the external journey of salvation, whereas we are preaching the Gospel. We're communicating, sharing the Gospel to the ends of the Earth making disciples. Now, we've seen recently and been focusing on the internal journey, that working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Look again at verse 12. It says, "Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
We've seen that salvation is a process. We don't get it all at once. We don't. We get justification at the beginning, by faith alone. Apart from works, we get this. And that is, full forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God, standing in the righteousness of Christ, that beautiful robe of righteousness, perfect righteousness. Positionally, we get that, apart from works, as a gift. Well, that's wonderful, but salvation isn't finished yet. God intends in the end that you be every bit as perfect as Jesus Christ. Perfect in your emotions. Perfect in your thinking. Perfect in your will. All of the internal parts of you, in what you delight in and what you hate. He wants you to be just like Jesus. And He wants you to be perfect externally, as well. And that is, physically, He wants you to have a perfect body.
And so your salvation will be finished when you are perfect inside and out. And until then you're not finished being saved yet. Now, you can't be any more justified than you are today, if you're a Christian. You can't be any more forgiven. You can't be any more loved. You can't be seen any higher by God, but your salvation's still not finished. And so we have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, that internal journey of holiness that we've been talking about. We've seen that it comes from God's greater work in us. Verse 13: "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me you can do nothing."
And so we work because He first worked in us. And that's what we've talked about the last few weeks. Well, how does that relate to do everything without complaining or arguing, which is the very next verse? Well, I think they're intimately related. They're directly connected. The Philippian Church were having conflicts. They were having arguments. There was dissension. They were not living, in Philippians 1:27, up to the calling of the Gospel. They weren't living up to what the message that they were preaching. And so you cannot hold forth the word of life, if you're arguing and bickering among yourselves. That's how they join together. The internal journey of holiness meshes together with the external journey of worldwide evangelization.
III. The External Journey: Holding Out the Word of Life to a Lost World
In the juxtaposition of these two sections, Philippians 2:12 and 13, tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And then in verse 16, it tells us to hold out the word of life to a dark and dying world. They go together. And so He wants us to make moral progress. He wants us to be more like Jesus. He wants us to stop arguing and to stop complaining so that we can more effectively hold out the word of life. That's how they work together.
Now, verse 14. "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure." Now, complaining is really a very great sin. I know we don't think of it as a great sin. We think of murder or adultery, or embezzlement, or some of these other great sins as great sins. But complaining is a great sin. It's a great wickedness because God created us to receive blessings from Him.
Job put it this way, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart." So we are just in a total beggar position before God. Everything of value comes as a gift of grace. And so all of the things that come your way come from God. Complaining means, "I'm not satisfied with what you've given me." It really is anti-worship. It's exactly the opposite of worship and thanksgiving. We should be worshipping. We should be giving thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. But instead we're complaining.
We Complain About Everything
We complain about the weather. It's too hot, too cold, too foggy, too dewy. I don't know. I mean whatever. There's just something wrong. Too muggy. Too ice-ish a year ago. I mean just something to complain about. I saw a cartoon about this a number of years ago in which this little kid who's just nothing but a tyrant. It's Calvin and Hobbes. And this kid's sitting in the tub and his mother draws the bath for him, and he complains and says, "It's too hot!" So she fix it. He says, "Now it's too cold!" So she fixed it again. "Now it's too hot again!" So she fixed it again. "Now it's too deep."
But that's us. That's the way we are no matter what God does. If you have a disposition toward complaining, that's going to be you. It's too this or it's too that. We complain about our finances we don't make enough money. Complain about our job. Our boss doesn't see all that I am and all that I could be if I would just get that promotion. We complain about our vehicle, our car, it needs repair again. Complain about our spouse. Complain about our children or our parents. They don't really see me properly the way I should be seen. They don't treat me the way I should be treated. Complain about everything. Complain about our church.
It's a great sport of complaining about your pastor. It's a great disease. And I'm not just talking about... But it's endemic all over Christendom to complain about your church. We complain about everything. Now, we have great predecessors in this, Israel. The Israelites were great complainers. They really refined it to an art. Those of you that have been studying with us at night in Exodus, almost every sermon, it's about the same thing. What are they going to complain about today? Either it's water or it's food, or it's the Red Sea problem or it's some other thing. There are issues and they're constantly complaining. And they would not through... Because of their unbelief, they would not enter the promised land and so God condemned them to wander for 40 years in the desert and thereby, he condemned them to eat manna for 40 years too. Now, it's better than starving, it's better than dying. But they got tired of it, manna, morning, noon, and night for 40 years. Now, you probably would've gotten tired of it too, but it still was a great sin to complain, and so they did complain. In Numbers 21:5, it says, "They spoke against God and against Moses and said, 'why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There's no bread, there's no water, and we detest this miserable food.'"
Well, you know what the miserable food was they were detesting? Miraculous bread from heaven. Manna, they detested it. God responded by sending poisonous snakes into their camp and many of them died, and so someone once said, "God threatens terrible things if you will not be happy." And it's true. God wants us to be content and happy.
Two Reasons for Complaining
Now, what is the root of complaining? I think two things. Number one, we forget what we truly deserve. Number two, we forget who it is that gives us everything in life. Those are two things and they're theological. We forget what we truly deserve, namely eternal condemnation in hell. Just picture yourself standing before God on Judgement Day and saying, "God, just give me what I truly deserve and nothing more. I just want what I deserve. No grace, no mercy, no handouts, just what I deserve." Do you want that? No. So, we forget. We forget what we truly deserve. One pastor has made a habit when asked, "How are you?" Or, "How are things going?" He always answers the same way, "Better than I deserve." What a thankful spirit that promotes. It's better than I deserve, no matter what is happening to me, it's better than I deserve.
We forget that, we think we deserve better. "I deserve to be seen by this person better than they're seeing me." No, you don't. "I deserve better clothes than I... " No, you don't. "I deserve a better situation. I deserve better health. I deserve better health for a loved one." No, you don't. No, you don't. No, you don't. We deserve hell. And the irony is that that thought is the root of great joy and happiness in life, isn't it? Because you think that way, you just accept everything as better than you deserve.
Secondly, we forget from whom we get everything. We forget that God is a king providentially ruling over everything that comes our way. He has chosen this arrangement of circumstances for you today, much like a chef will choose what's on the plate that he sets before you. Some of those things will be sweet to your taste and some bitter, but God is the wise one who's chosen. And when we complain, we forget Him, we forget how much He loves us. So, we must do everything without complaining.
Why Do We Argue?
And what about arguing? Now, I know only some of you argue, but I'm going to speak to those of you that argue, okay? Those of you that argue, why do you do it? Is it because you have forgotten perhaps that the person you're arguing with will someday be as glorious as Jesus Christ? That someday, if you're Christians, that you will be perfectly one? Have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten the weight of glory? C. S. Lewis said that, "If you saw that person as they will someday be, you'll be as tempted to worship them, as John was to worship the angel that brought him the Book of Revelation." I know it's hard for you to think of your spouse that way, but think just with me for a moment. Think of your spouse as glorious and think of this person that you're having a hard time with, that there's broken fellowship, that someday they'll be glorious in Christ. They say, "Well what if they're not a Christian?" Well, do you realize there are far weightier issues then, than your little argument with that person?
You need to be holding out the word of life to them, not arguing with them. Do everything without complaining or arguing. And why? So that we can put moral purity on display. So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe. Thus, the internal journey of sanctification makes the external journey of evangelization possible. Pure and blameless. Now, this doesn't mean perfect. You're not called to be perfect in this world. We're called to be, but we won't be. You're not expected to be, because God has not removed from us our flesh. In the end, when God separates us from the body of death, we will be pure and blameless. But these are I think provisional words somewhat like when we're speaking of Zechariah and Elizabeth, that they were blameless keeping all of God's commands, that you can in a very conspicuous way be living up to God's standard.
Life a Life Worthy of the Gospel
Now, this is what you were chosen for before the foundation of the world anyway. Ephesians 1:4 says, "In Him, we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight." And so, we are called on here to live up to the Gospel that we're holding forth. That was the whole problem with the Philippians. They were under the pressure of persecution. They were called on to be witnesses for Christ. And so in Philippians 1:27, look back for a minute, it's just maybe on the same page. But 1:27 it says, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ." Live up to your message. That's what it's saying. Live up to your message.
Now one of my great heroes from church history that I just love is John Huss, and I mentioned him this past week or Wednesday mission study. But John Huss was a great man of God. And as he was about to be put to the torch, he was going to be burned at the stake in the 15th century, about 100 years before Luther, he was offered an opportunity to recant and he said, "What I have taught with my lips, I now seal with my blood." Isn't that great? What I've taught with my lips, I seal with my blood.
Well, most of us probably are not going to be called to be martyrs, probably not going to be called to seal with our blood what we teach with our lips. But this Scripture here teaches us that what we teach with our lips we are to seal with our life. We're to live up to what we proclaim. Unbelievers can sniff out hypocrisy, can't they? They can kind of tell. I mean, here you proclaim a God of love and look how you treat your spouse. You proclaim a God of love and I've been to one of your church conferences. You proclaim to be preaching a sovereign God who's a king and yet you're complaining about your circumstances. It doesn't make sense. And they, I don't think, can articulate it but they just can smell hypocrisy. They know, and they'll tell you it's one of the main reasons they don't come to faith in Christ. "Churches are full of hypocrites," they say.
And so our lives must match our message or we'll make no progress in evangelism at all. We must also understand our generation. It says that we live in a crooked and depraved generation. Now they can smell our hypocrisy, but let me say back to the crooked and deprived generation. We Christians live constantly surrounded by the stink of their rebellion against God. We're infected by it every day. They pour forth stuff that lures us away from Christ, and we have to understand that that is the generation we're living in and it's always been the case.
It's the same every generation, crooked and depraved. Not essentially good, basically good. No, crooked and depraved. Crooked means they don't live according to the straight path, the righteous path that God has ordained. Depraved means or perverse means wicked to the core. Romans 1:28 says, "They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" That's the crooked and depraved generation we live in. Oh they need the Gospel. They need the Gospel. And we are called on to give it to them. Our lives therefore must match our message. We must live up to the message that we preach. Jesus said, " "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."
And so we're called to be stars, that's what the text says. Stars really. Mariners used to make their way across the ocean by star navigation. They'd be able to discern their position by looking at Polaris for example, the pole star that never moved. In the same manner, God is calling on Christians to be a fixed point of reference that doesn't move. We're just consistent. Our integrity speaks of truth that doesn't change. Or another illustration, the slaves before the Civil War used to work out in the fields and they would sing a song that contained code language for how to escape, "When the sun comes back and the first quail calls, follow the drinking gourd, for the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom, follow the drinking gourd." What's the drinking gourd? Well, it's the Big Dipper up in the sky and the handle pointed the way north. And there would be a guide in the Underground Railroad if they would follow the drinking gourd, if they would follow the line of the stars, they would know how to get north at night, and I think we're called to be that way. We're called to point the way to the truth by the way that we live so that people who are slaves to sin may find freedom in Christ.
Hold Out the Word of Life
Verse 16 it says, "As you hold out the word of life." Now here's the thing folks. I've been talking about living up to your message, but your lifestyle will save no one from their sin. I'm not meaning to be insulting. I'm not meaning to say you really won't do a good job. If you could just live better, people would get saved. I'm just saying no one will get saved by watching how well you imitate Christ. It's not God's way. God, rather, has ordained that the word of truth, the word of life will save. The Gospel message itself must be proclaimed. And so the lifestyle is really just the table setting for the real meal, and the real meal is the message of the Gospel. And so your lifestyle is the linen table cloth and it's the silver forks and knives and the best plates and goblets and all of these things set for the feast, and what is the feast? The feast is the word of God. People get saved as you hold out or hold forth the word of life. Now, there's something about holding forth in that.
The guy who led me to Christ, a guy named Steve, he shared the Gospel with me through great persecution, great persecution for 18 months. I abused him, I was rude to him, I insulted him and he never gave up. He just kept sharing the Gospel. He kept holding forth the word of life. That example of perseverance and communication convicts me. So often I think, "Well, I shared once with him, that's it." Check the box, co-worker, somebody that... And you had a sharing opportunity, it didn't go well and say, "Well, at least I shared with them." Well, it's true and something's been done there. But is it done? No. We're to hold forth the word of life. I mean, consistently hold it out, say, "Here is the way, walk in it. Here is Christ." Consistency, a willingness to reach out with the Gospel. Now Paul was an example of this. He talks about his own example.
He says, "In order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing," and then he says, "Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering, on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I'm glad and rejoice with all of you." He's putting himself forward as a role model.
IV. Paul’s Example of Joyful Suffering (vs. 16-18)
Now, today I just want to touch on this lightly because it's a big theme in Philippians and it's better spoken of at 3:17. And there he says, "Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you…" A pattern of Christianity. But here he says, "See my example. I have run the race with endurance. I have labored and now I am willing to be poured out like a drink offering."
The image is, there's a good picture on the front of your bulletin there of just a pitcher of water being poured out. Drink offering is sacrificial language, and the priest would take a cup of wine probably, and poured onto the hot coals of fire of the sacrifice, and whoosh, up it would go. The fire here is the sacrifice and service coming from the Philippians faith. He said, "Even if I'm dying to help you grow more, I'm willing. I'm glad. I'm willing to die. I'm rejoicing." Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in effect said, "Though he slay me, yet will I obey him."
But Paul here says, "Though he slay me yet will I rejoice in Him." And that's our calling too. Verse 18, so you too should be glad in the same way and rejoice with me, be willing to be poured out for Christ, be willing to be poured out so that others maybe saved.
Now what application can we take from this? Well, first, my theology professor is talking about some of the difficulties and the depths of Scripture and how hard the Scripture can be to understand, and it can be. It's a very deep book. But he said, "I found the real problem with Scripture is not that it's too complicated, it's that it's too simple and I don't want to do what it says." [chuckle]
Look at verse 14, is that complicated? Do you have a hard time understanding verse 14? Do you need somebody like me to come explain the Greek or to get to a deeper level of exegesis? Do everything without complaining or arguing. You know what complaining is, and you know what arguing is. What do you complain about the most? Think about that. You don't have to speak out. We could have a time like that, but we're not going to do that. But what moves you to complain the most? Maybe it's financial issues, maybe it's health issues, maybe it's family issues, maybe it's the church, something. We need to repent from that sin.
Think of how sweet our fellowship would be with God if in the middle of one of those trials we choose instead to worship, just like Job did, instead may the name of the Lord be praised. May he be praised. I deserved hell, and God has chosen to give this to me and I will worship Him. I trust in Him. For me, I think it's the car, the automobile. I know there's not going to be any cars in heaven, or if there aren't there, they're not going to break down and cost $750. It's just not going to happen. Or if they break down and cost $750, they'll be right there, every time, and never a lack. But something better than the situation we have here. Right? I have to resolve the next time my car breaks down significantly, I'm going to trust in God and not complain. I'm not going to speak any negative words. I'm just going to trust Him. That's hard to do. And arguing, I don't want to do it anymore. It's an act of the will to not argue to say, "Our fellowship's too important for this."
Now, that doesn't mean we don't work through issues with the truth. You know I believe we do that, so we can come to a genuine unity, but we're not going to argue with each other. And then finally, hold out the word of life, hold it out, come with us to the outreach today. Maybe you're teetering on the edge. You weren't sure whether you're going to come. Come, if you can. Come, hold forth the word of life. But today's outreach isn't the issue, it's seven days a week. D. L. Moody resolved that he would not go to bed every day without witnessing to somebody that day. Now that's a challenge. If you don't think it is, try it. Try it for a week. Say, "For the next seven days, I will not complain, I will not argue, and I will witness to at least one person a day for seven days." Now that's a challenge. It's a challenge.
And finally, to you who are sitting and listening to me and you don't feel inside your heart that you are Christians, I can do nothing better than just hold forth the word of life to you today. It doesn't matter how much sin you've committed. It doesn't matter what you did last night. What matters is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Paul says, "Of whom I am the worst". And that is a trustworthy saying. He came to save people like you because He suffered and died on the cross for sins that were not His own, as a substitute, that we might have eternal life. Trust in Him today.