A High Standard
December 22, 2019
When I was in seminary, my favorite professors were the ones who would fail me. Sometimes I did fail. I never failed a class, but I’ve failed plenty of assignments. I respected these men because they made me learn the material. They wouldn’t let you get by with just coming to class and doing some homework assignments. They viewed their job as learning enforcers. I would learn the material whether I like them or not. They didn’t really seem to care much about my self-esteem regarding the class. They had high standards, and they demanded that I meet those standards.
God is kind of like this. God has high standards for us as Christians. God has extremely high standards, exceedingly great standards, eternally pure and glorious standards. These standards are based upon him. God is the greatest conceivable being. Nothing rivals him. Nothing stands in competition to him. He is the Sovereign Kind of the universe, who reigns in love. He is eternally good, eternally true, and eternally beautiful. His is our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Friend. His glory fills the heavens. As a result of who he is, his standards mimic him. Just as he is exceedingly high and lifted up, so also his standards, his rules, his commandments are exceedingly high.
This morning we will look at one of the exceedingly lofty standards that God has for Christians. Go ahead and turn with me to Phil 1:27. We will just cover the first portion of this passage. Although it is small, it is packed with tremendous theological truth. It reads,
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ
What a passage this is. I will break it down into three points.
The Infinite Worth of the Gospel
The first point is this: “The infinite worth of the gospel.” Paul tells us in this passage that Christian are to live in a manner that correspondence to worth of the gospel. Well, we must first answer the question, “How worthy is the gospel? What is its value? What is its worth?”
The way we answer this question is with the phrase “the gospel of Christ.” Let’s break this down. First, we start with this word “gospel.” In its most basic definition, the word “gospel” simply means “good news.” We all like hearing “good news.” This time of year the “good news”might come in the form of a raise at work, a good harvest, family members flights arriving on time, or a sale on some Christmas gift you’ve been wanting to buy. We love hearing good news.
However, not all good news is extremely important. There are plenty of “good” things that we hear about that do not really have much bearing on life’s most important issues. Like I mentioned earlier, sales might save you some bucks but they won’t save your soul. We need good news that has implications for our souls. We need more than just “good news.” Look how this word “gospel,” or “good news” is modified in Phil 1:27. It’s not just “good news,” it’s “the good news of Christ.” Those two words add a whole new layer of meaning for
us. How are we to understand them?
The word “of” is important here. It is referring to the content of the “gospel.” What is the gospel about? Well the gospel is about what comes after the “of”—Christ. The gospel is a revelation of Christ. The gospel is about Christ—his person and his work, who he is and what he has done. Christ’s Person First, then, who is Jesus? Put succinctly, Jesus is both God and man. This is one of the most basic confessions we cane make as Christians. Jesus is both God and man. This time of year we often refer to Jesus as Immanuel. Immanuel means “God with us.” Jesus is “God with us” he is the God-man.
Look with me at Phil 2:5. I will read through v. 6. Paul writes,
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.
What I want us to focus on here for understanding who Christ is, is the phrase “though he was in the form of God.” This statement “form of God” refers to Jesus’ deity prior to his incarnation, prior to his birth. The Son of God existed before he was born as the person of Jesus Christ. He existed as God. That statement refers to his deity.
Now look at v. 7 through the beginning of v. 8.
But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form
Here Paul refers to Jesus’ humanity. In v. 6, Paul mentions Jesus’ deity—he existed in the form of God. Now, in vv. 7 and 8, Paul mentions Jesus’ incarnation, his taking on of human flesh. Paul says that Jesus “emptied himself.” Well what’s that mean? It means that he “took the form of a servant.” What form of servanthood did Jesus take? He became a person, a biological male. Paul says, “And being found in human form.” The Son of God became a male through Mary’s womb.
So, who is Christ? He is the eternal Son of God who humbled himself by becoming a human person.
What did he do? The most precious, most holy, greatest person who has ever lived suffered and died for sinners. Look at v. 8,
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus lived to be obedient. It’s through his obedience that Christians are saved. We could not earn for righteousness for ourselves. Jesus did. Jesus lived to give to us the righteousness that we can’t earn.
His obedience extended to the point of death, the passage states. Jesus was faithful to live for us up to his very last moment of death. This wasn’t like you die in your sleep. From the perspective of the Roman Empire, the cross was the most heinous form of punishment, one that was reserved for slaves. That’s exactly what Christ was, though. He was a slave. He came to serve and to give his life. The perfect God-man, after of life of obedience for us, what does he do? He suffers the punishment that we deserve. He dies on the cross—alone and under the wrath of his Father. He died not for his sins, but for ours. As Charles Wesley wrote,
“Amazing love! How can it be that though my God should die for me?"
Did the Father live Jesus in the grave? No, no, no. Look at v. 9.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is alive! The Father has exalted him. Jesus has been exalted by his father because of his obedience and death for sinners to the place of cosmic Lord. His power is so tremendous that Paul says every human person will bow their knee before him. Either through force or persuasion, all humans will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. Not Caesar, not Trump, not Obama, not me, not you, not any other political force. Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord.
That is the worth of the gospel. It is of eternal value. Jesus Christ is the eternal King of the universe. It’s impossible to compute it’s worth. It exceeds all computation. Eternity is an impossible concept to compute. Infinity is impossible to understand. That is the gospel’s worth. It is of eternal value.
Our Response to the Gospel
With that in mind, let’s look again at our verse.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,
What Paul is saying here is that we must live in a way that accurately reflects the worth of the gospel. This is truly an incredible commandment. As I mentioned in the introduction, God has very high standards. Eternally high standards. God wants us to live according to his high standard. Here I am transitioning to my second point. Write this, “Our Response to the Gospel.”
The better understand this point, I want to focus on two words here. The first is the word “only” that begins the verse. What does Paul mean here by this word “only?” The word “only” here is functioning to draw our attention to the commandment. Notice how in the previous section Paul was talking about himself. In our section, he transitions to give a commandment. Crazy to believe it, but this is the first command Paul has given in Philippians. You might respond, “Pastor, then why have you’ve been telling me to do a lot?” Well, I’m not Paul. So, bear with me. The “only” here indicates a transition and a reoriented focus. Paul is saying, “Okay, I’ve got something to tell you. Listen up. This is what I want you to do.
Let Your Manner of Life
Now we break down this “let your manner of life be.” That phrase comes from a single Greek word. This word is hard to interpret. Most translations say as the ESV does, “let your manner of life be.” Another way that some translations translate it as are “conduct yourselves.” I don’t think these are the best translations. The Greek word behind these English words is saying something more than what these English translations say.
Turn with me to Phil 3:20
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
You see that English word “citizenship?” That Greek word is the noun form of the Greek word that occurs in Phil 1:27. The word “citizenship” in 3:20, the passage we just read, is the noun form of the word that occurs in 1:27. What Paul is saying in this passage is the Christian’s real identity is found in heaven where Christ is. We are secondarily citizens of this world. Primarily, our identity, our belonging, our citizenship is in heaven. What does this mean for how we interpret Phil 1:27?
Well, I think Paul is using this word in 1:27 in a similar way to how he uses the noun form of it in 3:20. What Paul is saying in Phil 1:27 is this, “Live out your heavenly citizenship in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Or, “As citizens of heaven, live as citizens of Philippi in a way that is worthy of the gospel.”
We’re passing through in this life. We are pilgrims, headed towards the Celestial City. As we make our Pilgrimage, we attain certain identities. One of those identities is our national citizenship. However, our primary identity as Christians is Christ. He is our life, Colossians says. He is our identity. So, as we live here on this earth, as the Philippians lived in Philippi, we and they are called to represent the Kingdom of Heaven in our respective kingdom of mankind. We are called to be faithful citizens of heaven during our time of pilgrimage here on this earth. We are to faithfully execute the obligations we have from heaven here on earth.
To what degree of obedience is Paul calling Christians to here? Going back to our previous point, Paul is calling Christians to be obedient to the degree of the gospel’s worth. As I’ve argued, the gospel worth is infinite. The gospel has eternal value. That is a very high bar. There’s not higher bar. So, if the bar is that high for the gospel’s worth, then what type of Christianity does this produce? Does it produce a lukewarm Christianity? A Christianity that is purely cultural, half-hearted, and fair-weather? The kind that says, “I’ll come to God when I need him.” No, no, no. The type of Christianity that the value of the gospel demands of us is no half-hearted and fair-weather. It’s radical, total, sold-out, all-in, complete, and passionate. That is what the
gospel demands of you.
This raises this theological point. The gospel is free. It’s totally free. We can add nothing to it. We do nothing to deserve it. Jonathan Edwards rightly said,
You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.
That’s true. As the song goes, “Jesus paid it all.” Did Jesus pay it all. Amen?
Now what’s the next line of that song?
Jesus paid it all; all to him I owe.
The gospel is the most tremendous gift God can give to us. He has given it to us in Christ. While it is free, it is also tremendously demanding of your life. Jesus is not content with half-hearted obedience. He wants it all. He demands your whole life!
Jesus is like an invasive house guest. Jesus knocks on the door. This house is our life. We open the door, and we see Jesus. We see that he is the worthiest houseguest we could ever have. He says that if we let him in, he will fill our house with joy forevermore. We say yes. Jesus, come in. He comes in. He’s delightful. He’s good. He’s infinitely loving. We visit with him in the living room. But Jesus says to us, “Can I have a look around.” We ask, “Why, Jesus? Can’t we just stay here in the living room where I am comfortable?” You see, there might be some rooms in the house that we don’t want Jesus going into. We love Jesus but we’re not totally sold out. There are some parts of our life, some rooms in our house that we don’t want to let Jesus see. These rooms change from person to person. Jesus isn’t content to allow us to lock certain rooms and keep him out. He’s not content to just stay in the living room and let us lock him out. When we keep him out, his response to us, “Am I not worthy? Did I not come from heaven to live, died, and rise from the dead for you? Am I not worthy?”
Jesus demands it all from us. He is worthy. Give him what he wants from you. Our response to the gospel must be total because the gospel is worth it. Jesus calls us to sold-out form of Christianity. Dear friend, are you sold out for Christ? Are you all-in for him? Or, do you have rooms in your house, do you have parts of your life where he is not welcome? Let him for he is worthy.
Our Response to Failure
This passage raises a certain objection, one that I felt as I’ve prepared this sermon. The objection is not explicit in the text but it arises as a consequence of the text. So, as I’ve been arguing, Paul states here that the Christians response to the gospel corresponds to the worth of the gospel. Because the gospel is of eternal value, Christians, therefore, should respond with complete, total, radical obedience to Christ. That’s what I’ve been arguing. That’s what this passage teaches. I maintain that.
However, no matter how radical we live for Christ in this life, our lives will never accurately reflect the worth of the gospel. We will always fail. We will never align with how great Jesus Christ is. Further, there might be some of you who are genuine Christians and yet have a nagging sense of guilt, or despair, or depression since you do not live up to Christ’s standard. You might have a reoccurring sin problem. You might say to me, “Pastor, I want to obey this passage. I do. The deepest confession I can make as a Christian is that I want Christ in every room in my house; I want him to be my total Lord. I keep failing, though. Every week I fail and I have a looming sense of failure. I don’t have joy. What do you have to say to me?”
Remember God’s Faithfulness
I have two passages to share with you. Turn first to Phil 1:6. It states,
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
For that dear Christian who feels constantly defeated, discouraged, and depressed because of sin, look at this verse. This is a promise. This passage of Scripture is more real than your very own experience. God promises to those in whom he has begun the work of salvation that he will complete it. Bank your whole life in this promise, dear Christian.
Remember God’s Work through Desires
Second, go to Phil 2:12–13. I’ve referenced this passage several times. How does God fulfill to his people what he promises Phil 1:6? Look at Phil 2:13.
For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
God produces two things in a believer in this verse. The ESV reads that God produces “the willing and the working for his good pleasure.” These fruits in us occur at the level of desire. God produces in us the desire to glorify him. Another translation renders it this way, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.
The idea is that God produces in people at the level of the affections the desire to obey him. Notice, though, that this passage refers to the level of desire, what goes on inside your heart. It is not referring to the actual victory over sin externally.
In the Christian life, there is this paradox that we want to honor God or that we want to want to honor God and yet we still don’t. I imagine that many of you feel this way. You want to honor Christ and yet when the times comes you fail to. In this life, total and complete victory over sin will not happen. There is a certain inevitability of sin and failure in this life. So long as we live, we will sin. Total victory is in the next life. That is coming. We will have victory in this life but it will always be partial.
What is promised and what God does work in us is the desire for total and complete victory. You will never live a life that accurately reflects the worth of the gospel. You can desire it, though. When we fail Christ, look to the desire that we must not fail him. That desire is God’s work. God is at work in his people even when they sin and fail. He works in us through desires.
Now look with me at Phil 2:12. It says,
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
The inevitability of sin in this life is not an excuse for not seeking holiness. God calls us to work out our salvation. This is hard. This is tough. But it is what God calls us to. We must labor with him—with every ounce of energy that we have. We must love, we must hope, and we must be thankful. Seize upon every ounce of desire that God gives you to glorify him. Seize it and use it to live for him and have victory over sin.
I really enjoy listening to music. I’m not musically inclined (my wife can attest to that) but I do enjoy listening. There’s one Christian group who a dear brother in Christ had got me hook on. The group is called CityAlight. There from Australia. They have some wonderful music. In one of their songs, I think they sum up very well what I’ve been saying this morning. We have unbelievably high calling from God. We will fail but we must press on. His grace will accomplish this in our lives. Here are the lyrics:
With every breath I long to follow Jesus. For He has said that He will bring me home. And day by day I know He will renew me. Until I stand with joy before the throne. To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus. All the glory evermore to Him. When the race is complete, still my lips shall repeat: Yet not I, but through Christ in me!