One of my earliest sermons while in seminary was on Philippians 2:1-11. Paul urges the believers: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (verse 3). The basis for humility is Jesus’ humility. The Philippians were to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” (verses 5-7). Jesus didn’t grab at position, He grabbed a towel (think John 13:1-17). Christ humbled Himself through the lowest levels of servant-hood and obedience and even to death on a cross. Paul concludes: “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (verse 9).
In my study for that sermon I read a great commentary with a killer illustration. The author described a u-shaped curve and how Jesus, being God, was at the top, then descended to the lowest part through death, and then was exalted by God to the top again on the other side. I spoke through the whole sermon talking about the great “pair-a-bowla” of Christ. A friend mentioned to me afterward that it sounded a lot like the word parabola.
Mispronunciation or not, remember that Christ’s descent was for you and I. He came down to get us. That’s not because we were great. Then He would have needed to come up. He came down, but He takes us back with Him. There is happiness in humility, and also honor. God sees to it that those who follow the example of Christ get encouragement in Christ.
Jesus cuts the will with an incisive question near the end of His sermon. As Luke recorded it, Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” (6:46) He follows the question with the famous illustration, and favorite kids’ song, about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the wise man who built on the rock. The foundation matters.
What is the foundation in the story? It is not Jesus Himself, though that is true when we sing “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” It is not Jesus’ word, though that also is true when we sing “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in His excellent word.” The foundation in Jesus’ illustration is obedience. One comes to Jesus, hears His words and does them. Another hears and does not do them. Disobedience is sand. Obedience is rock.
We usually emphasize the foolish man and his destruction. When the stream breaks the ruin and fall of his house is great. We observe the fool to avoid becoming foolish. That’s why Jesus Himself wonders why a man would call Him Lord and not obey. But let us also remember the blessing. When the flood comes and the stream breaks the house of the obedient cannot be shaken.
God promises great things to those who hear and do His word. Are you hungry for that blessing? Are you building so your house will stand, that is, so your life will remain upright? If not, confess it. That’s laying solid footings for a firm foundation of obedience.
Paul provides well-known instruction in 1 Corinthians 6 that Christians shouldn’t take other Christians to court. It ruins our witness before those who have no standing in the church (verse 4) and it doesn’t make sense since we’re to judge angels (verse 3). In other words, we should be wise enough in Christ to handle our disagreements. Even more, we should be mature enough in Christ to “suffer wrong” and “be defrauded” by a brother (verse 7). Unrighteous men give place to their grievances against others. Righteous men don’t.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, ESV)
We’ve been bathed in Christ. We are saints. We will inherit a common kingdom. We will judge angels. We can enjoy communion together and the basis is the washing of our sin in Christ, a washing that all of us needed and that none of us deserved.
Being washed changes our eternity destiny, yes, and it severs our ties to temporal things in the world. It also changes our relationships with one another now. Being washed shapes what we expect from each other. Being washed influences how we resolve our disputes. We’ve been washed and our grievances against one another should go down the drain with the rest of the dirt.
Who taught you that when you come in for dinner, you don’t need to take a shower, you need to wash your hands? Your parents probably passed that lesson on to you, but where did they learn it? It’s not necessarily common sense but it does belong to how God made things to work. Imagine what laws today’s germaphobes might make if we didn’t have a couple thousand years’ worth of hand-washing success? How different would your day look if before handling any food you believed that a full body wash was necessary?
We know that’s not required and let’s not take that knowledge for granted. Similarly, what a great revelation from God to men that saved sinners don’t need to be saved again. We do not lose our salvation, we do not need to be regenerated again and again and again. Instead, we confess daily sins and Christ forgives and cleanses us. How different would your day look if after every sin you believed that a new conversion was necessary?
Every believer has been fundamentally washed in Christ. We were completely filthy, soiled by sin. Christ bathes us and clothes us in His righteousness. When–and it is when, not if–we sin again, we do not go back to dead. We do not need another bath. We need Him to wash up the dirty parts. If we drive the car into the curb we need to take it in for an alignment, we don’t need to trade it in for a new car.
This both comforts us and reminds us. We get comfort knowing that Christ’s work isn’t undone by our sin. We are also reminded that Christ continues to undo our sin and that we ought to keep coming to Him. In this process our consciences remain tender without being terrorized. Imagine what dread the legalists could lay upon us if after every sin we needed new salvation. God’s judgment against our sin is complete in Christ, and the Father calls us to confess any sin based on it.
In Titus 2:9-10, Paul instructs slaves about being submissive to their masters in everything. He ends his counsel to them as follows: slaves should be “showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”
Adorn is clearly the key word. To adorn means to put something in order, to decorate it, make it look good. In this case, slaves don’t make the doctrine good; the doctrine is good. But they can and should live in such a way as to make it look good. If slaves live by faith, they show the beauty of the truth about God our Savior.
What does adorning the doctrine do? It makes it look good. But why does that matter? Because we want other people to want it. Showing that something is attractive should attract. An appealing life draws others in.
By way of application, our worship of God the Savior should be attractive as well. The way we sing should make others pay attention. The way we feast from a good meal of God’s Word should make them hungry. The way we fellowship around the Lord’s Table should make them want in. This is a built-in feature when we worship well.
The jealous and the zealous are related. Our English word jealous comes down to us from a Greek word, ζῆλος (zealos, meaning strong desire or zeal. Middle English and French chewed this Greek word and gave us a pair. We usually clothe jealousy with dark colors, referring to someone with a strong desire for what someone else has. It describes a man who is envious of his brother’s good fortune or suspicious of his resources. The jealous want another’s possessions or position or popularity.
James wrote, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14). There are visible consequences to this sort of zeal: “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there will be disorder and every vile practice” (verse 16). He describes jealousy as “earthy, unspiritual, demonic” (verse 15). It quickly leads to quarrels and fights and wars (4:1-2).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous (Acts 7:9). The High Priest and other Jewish leaders arrested the apostles because they were jealous (Acts 5:17-18). Solomon asked rhetorically, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” (Proverbs 27:4). In other words, who can surf Pinterest and not be drowned by the wave of envy?
That said, God also revealed that He is jealous for His name (Ezekiel 39:25); His very name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). He is jealous for His people (Joel 2:18; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2). It’s appropriate for husbands to be jealous for their wives.
What makes jealousy either demonic or divine? Our hearts. What are we afraid to lose? Are we zealous for what is right or are we zealous to define what is right? Do we want what we want because we want to conform to reality or because we want to conform reality to our perceived rights? One is heavenly, the other hellish, and we need to confess any wrong we find before battle breaks out.
A lot of things happened when the sun went down Thursday evening of Passion Week. Too much, in fact, for the disciples to process until after the resurrection. They were caught in the whirlwind. Yet Jesus planted an unmistakable reference point when He wrapped a towel around Himself in John 13.
We don’t believe that foot-washing is an ordinance such as baptism or communion. Jesus commanded His disciples to follow His example to serve one another and washing the Twelve’s feet was an illustration, not the institution of a formal ceremony. Yet we rarely consider that the context of the Lord’s Table is when the Lord got up from the table to do the servant’s work.
When we eat and drink, part of us should object, just as Peter initially objected to the Lord washing his feet. It’s not right for the Lord to die for us. That’s not His place. He’s too good for that. We’re right in one way, and yet we’re called to live and die and serve and love others just as He did.
While He lived, the Lord served those He loved. When He died, the Lord loved those He served. He condescended to our weakness. He overcame our pride by His humility. He spent His mortality to purchase our eternal life. Though He is the only-begotten Son of God, He wasn’t grabby about His position, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, in order to bring many sons to glory.
We’re part of His family now, so we must use all that He has given us to serve others. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together reminds us how to do it.
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18, ESV)
One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.
This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)
It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.
When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.
It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.
The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.
My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.
In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.
I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.
I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.
Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.
Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.
So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.
Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,
love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)
Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.