Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Fruitful Labor of the Believer - Philippians 1:22-26

The Fruitful Labor of the Believer - Philippians 1:22-26
Pastor Lee Hemen
March 15, 2009 AM

How does a person measure their life? Some do it with the number of years they live, while others do it through the personal achievements they made during their lifetimes. Still others measure their lives through their financial success, the gathering of wealth, or material possessions. Some measure their lives by the family they have. While some of these are quite important, for the Christian there should be a different criteria in how we measure our lives. How do you measure your life? This is a incredibly crucial question for the Christian to consider in contemplating the conclusion and contentment of their continuation! It was for Paul and he mentions this to the Philippians!

We find that fruitful labor for Paul was not measured in the number of notches he had on his witnessing belt nor was it found in the final tally of the bodies he registered through the doors of the churches he helped to establish. Paul’s measurement of his personal life was seen by him in the fruitful lives his disciples lived in Jesus Christ. It became a dynamic choice for Paul as he sat in prison and wrote the church at Philippi. He was torn as to what the labor of his life would reflect not just about himself but for those he influenced as well. What then should the labor of a believer’s life be measured by? Let’s learn what Paul considered the fruitful labor of the believer…

READ: Philippians 1:22-26

Growing up literally in the middle of an apple orchard helps one learn just how important certain tasks are. In fact it taught me to realize very quickly that the life of a farmer was not for me! The reason? No matter what, you had to take care of your crop. In season and out of season it demanded one’s constant personal attention. If the weather was bad, holidays were forgotten in order to make sure the trees were protected. Birthdays, vacations, or weekends went by the wayside if the trees needed pruning, fertilizing, or watering. Just as a farmer learns that a farm takes personal sacrifice, so the believers does as well. In fact, Paul taught that…

I. The fruitful labor in the believer’s life demanded personal sacrifice! (Vv. 22-24)

1. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) In coming off the comment where Paul boldly declared that “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” he now writes that “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” What does Paul mean by this? He wanted his readers to fully understand what a Christian’s life should be measured by. If Paul, the pastor, was to continue to live his life for the Lord, it meant “fruitful labor” for him. Some think that Paul had reached, by this time, a kind of a fatalist view of his life. They think he saw that his life was going to be cut off soon, so he was now resigning himself and his readers to his ultimate fate. His imminent death. This is hogwash! For Paul it was not resignation but rather a real conflict to glorify God: “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!” What a difference between believers of our day and Paul’s attitude! He was actually “torn between the two” choices of whether to continue to live his life for the Lord here or to be present with the Lord in heaven! “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;” he related, “but it is more necessary for you (Philippians) that I remain in the body.” Paul was willing to sacrifice whatever he personally desired for God’s plan for his life. Going home for Paul meant being with Jesus and no longer having to face persecution, hardship, and the loneliness that ministry often brings. Paul’s selfless and sacrificial attitude is exposed here by his placing this church’s needs and God’s will above his own desires. This is why he could boldly tell others to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship!” (Romans 12:1) Fruitful labor for the believer comes when the Christian understands that life demands personal sacrifice!

EXAMPLE: In a March 2008 study by ZDNet they discovered that 51% people said they would not give up their cell phones and in a March 2009 survey by the German broadband company Bitkom they discovered that Germans between 19-29 would rather lose their partners or their car before they lost access to the Internet, and 97% said they couldn't live without a mobile phone! The Catholic Church in Italy recently asked teens to give up texting for the 40 days of Lent. Most have refused. The down turn in the economy has not yet affected private broadband subscriptions or cell phone contracts. It seems that even during tough times, folks are unwilling to let go of their texting and Internet. Another study showed that 51% would forego intimate relationships with their spouse rather than give up the Internet! WOW! No wonder Christianity hits a brick wall when asking folks to sacrifice some of their time, talent, or treasure for God’s kingdom. Far too many want spiritual “sacrifice” on their schedule or not at all. However, we have learned from Paul’s writing to the Philippians that fruitful labor in the believer’s life demands personal sacrifice. Are you willing to sacrifice?

We have all heard the old adage that “It does not matter whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game,” but let me tell you the real truth of this little saying: It does matter if you win or lose and it does matter how you play the game. Salvation is not the end to the believer’s life in the Lord, they are to also continue in Him. Just as planting apple trees is not the end of the orchardist’s duties! The farmer knows they have to prune the trees, tend the trees, and then pick the apples from the trees. But their work is still not done! It begins all over again for the following season! You have to be willing to see it through to its conclusion year after year or you do not benefit from your labor! Paul understood this and wrote that…

II. The fruitful labor in the life of a believer demanded staying power! (Vv. 25-26)

1. “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:4-6) Paul knew what was “necessary” for the Philippians and being “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith!” He did not do it for himself, he decided to sacrifice whatever he desired in life for them. He wanted to see them “progress” in the Lord. He wanted to see his young disciples in the Lord realize the “joy” of their “faith!” Can you imagine such a demonstration of love and devotion to Jesus to see others grow in Him? WOW! In our day we find far too many that are more concerned about the “bottom line,” numbers through the doors, or how popular their church is rather than glorifying God and wanting to see individuals grow spiritually. But not Paul! He knew that if it was God’s desire to free him he would see them again and “so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me!” Do you realize what Paul is saying here about himself? He is saying: “I will keep on keeping on, not concerned about myself, but that only until your joy in the Lord ‘overflows’ on account of what God is doing through me!” That is staying power! We find churches that go through congregations like cookies and pastors like peanuts. Spiritual snacks to be gobbled up until the crowd is selfishly sated. Pastors jump from one prospective church or “job” to another not in the least concerned about the ungodly spiritual wake they leave behind. We find cultural Christians who jump ship at a moment’s notice because they become dissatisfied with the sermon, the recreational activities, the Sunday morning show, or how they think things should be done to personally please them. Fruitful labor in the life of a believer demands staying power whether it is from a pastor or a church member.

EXAMPLE: I find it humorous when politicians do not want to accept the blame for the really stupid decisions they make. But what do we expect? Few today want to take the blame for any mistakes they make or the sins they do in life. Financial wizards steal their investor’s money; sports stars make excuses for drug enhancement; and the Hollywood elite say they are misunderstood. All of this reflects a spiritual shallowness that has infected our entire society. We have become a nation of excuses where we do not expect things to last, whether it is someone’s promise or what we buy from Wal-Mart. Therefore, when we read the Apostle Paul telling the Philippians “I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,” we cannot comprehend the immense personal sacrifice involved. We want it, we need it, and we expect it from others, but just not from ourselves. Yet, Paul makes it very plain that fruitful labor in the life of a believer demands staying power! Do you have what it takes?

Conclusion:
How do you measure your life? This is a incredibly crucial question for you the Christian to consider in contemplating the conclusion and contentment of your continuation! For Paul the fruitful labor in life demanded personal sacrifice and the fruitful labor in life demanded staying power!

This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Expectations - Philippians 1:18c-21

Expectations - Philippians 1:18c-21
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 8, 2009 AM

Expectations can be far greater in life than what is in reality true. Take circuses for instance. We all expect fun when entering the big top and yet, like the baby on the e-Trade commercials, we did not consider the creep factor of clowns! We’ve experienced this with the recent Presidential elections. Many expected “change,” not realizing that’s all that would be left in their pockets! Just as a nation cannot spend its way into prosperity, neither can people think themselves into the kingdom of heaven. Ignoring a problem or throwing more money at a crisis is not the solution. If it were I could charge my way out of credit card debt and expect my life to get better, but the reality is that it places me more in debt! Disregarding your sin will not get you into heaven either. You can be as nice as possible and you will end up nicely in hell! What you expect in life can be truly disappointing when “the chickens come home to roost!”

Paul understood this as well, yet he also knew what to expect and why he could depend on the expectations he had. Why? Paul understood what was important in life and what he could depend upon when times got tough. His expectations were firmly fixed in his faith in Jesus Christ. As he wrote to this little church in Philippi, Paul wanted them to have realistic expectations that were based on their faith and nothing else. Paul knew expectations in life can be far greater that what is in reality true, but when expectations are based in Jesus Christ, you can depend on them when nothing else makes sense. Let’s see why Paul could write such a thing…

READ: Philippians 1:18c-21

What is the most important thing in life for you? Friends? Family? Fame? Fortune? The future? Faulty faith finds fear in focusing on forces we cannot influence! The other night, I confess, I had a panic attack. Cold sweats, heart beating fast, and an overwhelming sense of fear. And no, it was not brought on by the anguish over Britney Spears’ new concert tour! Rather, it was over the general state of the nation right now. But as quickly as it occurred it went away. The reason? I know the One who is control. Paul did as well. This is why he could write, “But what does it matter?” We find that…

I. Paul’s expectations depended upon what he had confidence in! (Vv. 18c-19)

1. Because “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:12) Do you have confidence during uncertain times? You can. Remember where Paul is writing from. He was imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel. However, Paul was confident in his imprisonment! Why? First, Paul believed the gospel he preached! He had been changed by it. So much so that he no longer put any stock in the world or what it had to offer. He considered it trash! Secondly, Paul knew that the prayers of God’s people had a powerful impact! These are not the namby-pamby good time rock and roll feel good for a moment prayers of the world. You know what I mean. The kind of prayers mouthed by people who want you to think they care when in fact they don’t, but they want to seem “spiritual.” The phony prayers of the political pundits, the Hollywood haughty, and the spiritually shallow who do not actually believe in anything and yet appear like they actually do. Paul knew without a doubt that the prayers of righteous Godly Jesus-believing Spirit-filled folks would make a difference. For Paul prayer was not some escape hatch he desperately relied on when all else failed! Paul knew that when others like him spoke with God on his behalf God listened and responded. It was through these folk’s prayers that Paul could face any imprisonment. And finally, Paul had the help given by the Holy Spirit. Paul was empowered by the promised parakletos, counselor, of the Lord! Paul knew that the personal comforter in his life made it possible for him to face anything that came his way, even if it was death. He knew that at the moment of salvation the Holy Spirit lived in him and the power of God was always embracing him, with him, and guiding him! Paul’s expectations depended upon what he had confidence in! Does yours?

EXAMPLE: Uncertain times call for a unswerving confidence in the face of disaster. The only way you can experience this kind of confidence is if your expectation is grounded in what you have placed your faith and trust in – Jesus Christ! Have you been changed? Prayer is not the pathetic platitudes of the general population. It is the spoken confident conversations of the Christian saint speaking with his Savior and Lord. A life that has been changed through the power of the Holy Spirit relies on the empowered presence of God living through your life! Far too many of us have swallowed the worldly lie that we should not expect too much in life so as to not be too disappointed when it does not happen. But my dear friends in the Lord, I expect a whole lot from the promises of God! It is time that His church, that is called by His name, act like they expect great things from a great and mighty God as did Paul! Paul’s expectations depended upon what he had confidence in, does yours?

The novel by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, is the story of the orphan Pip, writing about his life from his early days of childhood until adulthood and trying to be a gentleman along the way. He goes through four “expectations” in life and learns from each of them what it truly means to be a real gentleman. We all have expectations in life but they do not always come true. We dare not, the Bible teaches us, live in the past nor worry too much about the future. How is this possible? Paul wrote the Philippians about this very thing. We find that…

II. Paul’s expectations were founded in faith! (Vv. 20-21)

1. And “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see!” (Hebrews 11:1) Notice that Paul’s outlook on life was totally different from the world’s view of things. He wrote, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed.” And Paul could have had a lot to be ashamed of in life because he had once persecuted and killed Christians! But what he was more concerned about now was being a good witness for the gospel! He did not want anyone to be ashamed of him nor the gospel he preached. He goes on to write that his desire was to “have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death!” WOW! Can you imagine being so concerned of your personal witness that your only desire is to be courageous even in facing death so that Christ would be exalted? This kind of attitude flies in the face of a selfish worldview! We live in a day when all we can think of is ourselves. We have gotten sidetracked as a “country of Christians”. Wake up American Christians! We have reduced the gospel message to personal pastime of pleasure, a happy hour, a slap and dash Benny Hinn extravaganza! The gospel message is not about you. Surprised? If you are, something is drastically wrong with what you believe. The gospel is the good news of Jesus, not some Dr. Phil self-help therapy group! Talk about a reality check! Paul’s main reason in living was to glorify Jesus. Jesus was the essence of Paul’s life, and this is why when he bluntly writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” that it is such a startling statement for us! We do not comprehend that kind of devotion. In fact, we often laugh at it and call it “fanatical,” but it was not! Paul knew that if he were killed in Rome, Jesus would be glorified through the testimony of his own death! And Paul knew that he himself would benefit in ways no one could comprehend because his death would result in his being in the presence of his Savior and Lord! Paul’s expectations were founded in faith! Are yours?

EXAMPLE: I am continually amazed at the fact that each day brings me something new and different. When I go to sleep at night I do not know what will occur when I wake up tomorrow or even if I will wake up tomorrow. Therefore I am always so grateful when my eyes open and I begin a new day. In fact, I do not remember a thing about being born and so death has never been that fearful of a thing for me. All of it is part of my life and when I discovered that a biblical writer expressed what I felt about all of this, I was truly amazed and excited! This guy wrote, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it!” Guess who it was? PAUL! (1 Timothy 6:7) The same dude that wrote to the Philippians, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:20-21) Stop holding onto the ungodly worn out worrisome things of life as if by doing so you can change what happens in your life. You cannot! Live a life of godly expectation like Paul did instead, whose expectations were founded in faith!

Conclusion:

Paul’s expectations depended upon what he had confidence in and Paul’s expectations were founded in faith!
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This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Christ Was Preached - Philippians 1:12-18b

Christ Was Preached - Philippians 1:12-18b
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 1, 2009 AM

What do you do to advance the gospel in the world around you? It seems that every day Paul looked at what he was going to do that day to see how he could do just that. When you read his letters you also get the idea that Paul looked to see how his future plans advanced the gospel as well. And, as we look at Paul's life, as reflected in his letters and the book of Acts, we discover that advancing the gospel for him meant far more than what a lot of comfortable American Christians think it does!

There are those who actually believe that just by thinking about Jesus or having a holy thought, that this is advancing the gospel. There are those who allow others to take the risks, while they sit safely at home, and these too think that this is advancing the gospel. We have come to believe that any holy thing we do, whether it is giving a few bucks, a quick prayer, or having happy thoughts about Jesus is advancing the gospel. We discover that Paul was sitting in a prison cell because he dared preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, Paul related that this “advanced the gospel” because Christ was preached. Let’s discover what Paul knew…

READ: Philippians 1:12-18b

There are many ways to “preach Christ,” but all of them center and focus on the main message: Jesus is the only means of salvation. Over the course of history we find men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in their witness of this gospel message. Paul is one such individual. When we look at his life, we find that Paul was willing to suffer any loss of personal dignity, comfort, or freedom in order to have Christ preached. In fact, we find that…

I. Christ was preached in chains! (Vv. 12-14)

1. The testimony of our lives in Christ should be that we shared the gospel! Paul wanted to sooth any fears on the part of the Philippians for himself or how he might be suffering. This is why he related, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” He knew their concern would be for him, but his concern was always for the “advancement of the gospel.” Paul could excitedly relate that what he desired was actually coming true: “As a result,” he writes, “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Can you imagine that? Paul’s own captors were listening to the gospel message because of his chains! What a difference between Paul and many who claim Christ in our day and age! We tend to be more concerned about what others would think about us rather than sharing the only hope of eternal salvation with someone else! But notice that Paul also related that “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” WOW! Paul’s example not only caused his captors to want to know about Jesus, it caused his fellow believers to share their faith as well! The “chains” a believer wears because of their faith in Jesus Christ should always inspire other believers to share their faith and nonbelievers to come to know the Lord! Each link forged should reflect things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” A judgmental spirit has no place in the church of the Lord. Christ should be preached in chains!

EXAMPLE: When folks look at your life, what do they see? Do they see the chains of your own making or the chains you wear because of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ? I am reminded of the old Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol,” where Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley, his old business partner, who comes to Scrooge shackled and bound by chains of his own making. Each link he forged in life was through greed and selfishness. His whole life was focused for the wrong motives and he was suffering because of it. Paul’s chains were a means whereby the gospel message was shared. I am also reminded of an old Monty Python skit where the Knights of the Round Table on their quest for the Holy Grail meet a fierce little white rabbit. They think it will be easily killed but it turns out to be quite a fighter and these “bold” knights run away as fast as they can. This is kind of like how some Christians also portray themselves to their fellow believers and the world. Kind of like harmless little bunnies, yet when folks get to know them, they discover just how mean and ornery this sweet little “holy hand grenade” of a Christian truly is and all they want to do is “run away, run away!” Is this the verdict of the chains you wear for Christ today? I pray not.

It is interesting why people do what they do. A whole study has been founded called psychology in order for us to understand human nature and why we do what we do. Some folks do things for personal recognition, for the feelings it gives them or out of a sense of duty, and there are still others who do what they do out of pure vanity, meanness, or selfishness. As far as preaching the gospel message, Paul did not care what people’s motives were as long as the message of the gospel got out! We discover that…

II. Christ was preached out of envy and goodwill! (Vv. 15-18b)

1. The main thing in life is the gospel message being preached! Paul was a realist. While some of the folks brought him grief, the gospel brought him joy! He wrote that while “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry,” there were “others” who did it “out of goodwill.” Can you imagine that? There were those who actually claimed Jesus who were preaching the gospel out of “envy and rivalry” with Paul? They felt that they needed to be in competition with Paul or that they understood more than Paul did about Jesus! Paul understood what motivated folks and he realized that “The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.” I wonder how many guards would have listened to Paul if he had continually complained to them about his competition or if he continually called them “carnal pagan heathens”? Never forget that Jesus told the sin-weary world, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Paul knew that “The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” Paul understood that there will always be those who do not appreciate their leaders and are jealous of them. Rather than being supportive, they sought to thwart Paul and the church of Jesus, but it did not work. Paul dismisses them by writing, “But what does it matter?” Paul knew that these people’s true motives would be found out and that “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached!”

EXAMPLE: There is a difference between being judgmental or judging someone’s life in Christ. A pastor mentor of mine once asked me a very clarifying question after I had became frustrated with another brother in the Lord, “Do you want him to be what you desire or what God desires?” He went on to explain that “If he becomes what you desire, then aren’t you kind of like a mad scientist who wants to implant his will on an unsuspecting subject, rather than a loving God who desires only the best?” I protested that this is exactly what I wanted as well! He responded by saying, “What if what you desire is not what God thinks is best? Your task is not to mold people into what you think God desires, it is to help them see what God truly does desire.” Paul realized that there were those who preached the gospel for different reasons, and he would go toe-to-toe with some of them over their ulterior motives, but he wanted the Philippians to rejoice in the all important fact that Jesus was preached, whether out of envy or goodwill! What is your desire?

Conclusion:
What do you do to advance the gospel in the world around you? Paul preached Christ in chains and he rejoiced that Jesus was preached out of envy or goodwill.
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This article is the copyrighted 2009 © property of Lee Hemen and may not be copied or reproduced in any way shape or form without using the full text of this entire article, and getting the permission of its author.