Text: Phil 1:27-30
The title for this sermon is “Just One Thing.” Last week, we talked about being a gospel partner. If you really believe in the gospel, then you will give your life in service of the gospel. The main point last week was to be a gospel partner. The text was Phil 1:21-26. Let’s reread it. [READ]
I made the statement that you can’t stop at v21. You have to read the verses about fruitful work. That’s a true statement. We can’t seek Jesus only and then tell everyone else, sorry, I’m busy trying to practice Phil 1:21 – living is Christ. I know you have questions and you need help, come back to me 50 years from now when I figure out my relationship with Christ. Of course, we can’t do that. We need to be engaged in fruitful work even as we are figuring out our relationship with Christ.
But… we mustn’t forget the order and priority and preeminence of what Paul is describing in v21–LIVING IS CHRIST. [REPEAT] Is your life about Christ? To know him, to love him, to abide in him, to be loved by him. Is your life about Christ? Living is Christ. Not living FOR Christ. We do live for Christ, but that’s secondary. That’s a result of a life that is all about Christ. Living IS Christ.
Preachers love to preach on John 21. It’s a popular passage for ordination services, and rightfully so. After Peter denied Jesus 3 times, he was a mess. Before Jesus had called Peter to be a disciple, Peter was a fisherman. And in John 21, you have Peter returning to his old boat and essentially, returning to his old life. He was ready to throw in the towel. That’s when Jesus meets him and asks Peter, do you love me? 3 times, Jesus asks that same question–do you love me? Each time, Peter says, yes, of course, I love you. Probably by the third time, Peter is hurt and wondering, why does Jesus keep asking me? In response to Peter saying yes, Jesus, I love you, Jesus commands, then feed my sheep.
Pastors love to jump to the conclusion–feed my sheep. Ministers love to talk about the Great Commission. And we should. But if we can’t answer the first question, do you love me, how on earth do we expect to feed God’s sheep? Without being filled with Jesus’ love for us and our subsequent love for Jesus, with what are we going to feed others? Without being a disciple of Jesus ourselves and knowing him ourselves and relating personally with Him, how can we disciple others? After all, the point of discipleship is to show others how to follow Jesus, but if we are not following Jesus day by day, moment by moment, what are we teaching? We might be able to feed people with information, with biblical principles as a professor would teach a lecture to his seminary students. But nobody is here because you want to learn some information or gain cool new insights. All of us are here to encounter the risen Savior.
Yet, why do we prefer working for the Lord more than connecting personally with the Lord? The answer is simple. Because work is visible and God is invisible. We can see the concrete fruit of our labor and we can see results of our efforts and results makes us feel good. For example, when it comes to weight loss, people are motivated to eat well and exercise only if they see results. If there are no visible results, you think, eh, what’s the point?
When you work hard at your job and meet a deadline, there is satisfaction when your boss tells you, good job! Here’s a raise. Take a few days off. You deserve some rest. You and I are excited by results because you put in work, and you get a result. We all want to be productive. As Christians, we want to make an impact for Christ. If we didn’t pray that God would reach as many lost souls as possible in Pasadena through our church, then why even bother assembling together and calling ourselves a church? If we didn’t exist for a purpose outside of ourselves, what’s the point? We should just close the doors and scatter to existing churches. For God, we want to work hard and make a visible impact in the lives of others.
When it comes to Christian life, I work hard. I work long hours and I have a hard time relaxing and I sleep only a few hours as I juggle ministry, part-time work through my consulting firm, family. I never come home and stop being a pastor. I can’t clock out from my job. The next sermon is always on my mind. I’m always aware that I am a pastor. But God impressed upon me strongly this week that before I am a pastor, when I come into God’s presence, I am not a pastor. I’m his child.
Hate to say it, but from a utilitarian perspective, children are not very useful. Elijah doesn’t do many chores around the house. He’s 4, by the way. He still struggles with his alphabet and he mixes up the letters in his name. So I can’t ask him to write emails for me. He can’t read or type so he can’t help with my sermon prep. He can’t drive so he is pretty useless when it comes to errands. I can’t give him responsibility. I just want him to flush the toilet and wash his hands. That’s about as much responsibility as he can handle right now.
Rather than lightening my workload, he creates more work for me. This week, he took my internet hotspot device that I use for my consulting work and I guess in his little devious mind, he thought it would be a game to hide it. I asked Jackie and the kids, have you seen the hotspot, everyone said no, except I noticed that Elijah hesitated in saying no. He looked guilty. So I asked Elijah directly, did you see that small black oval thingy? And he said, yeah, it’s in the van and he showed me exactly where he put it. He hid it in the secret sunglass compartment above the dash of the minvan. I was looking all over for that thing! Elijah does not lessen burden in my life. He adds burden. He does not produce. He consumes.
But there are important spiritual lessons I can learn from Elijah. Without fail, every night, Elijah asks mommy to sleep next to him. He only asks me to sleep next to him when mommy is not home. Mommy is a softie. I’m his father. I want him to grow up and be a man. And not become a mama’s boy sleeping next to mommy while holding a blanket and sucking his finger. I want him to be tough and responsible, to work hard, to be productive, to contribute to society and to grow up and make a difference in this world for Christ.
Jackie was out this past Thursday so I’m option #2 for Elijah in terms of sleeping next to him. Usually, I say, no, but this time I agreed. As I was lying down, I thought, well, I should be productive. Let me pray. And in my prayers, a thought came to mind that I believe was from the Lord. In the same way that Elijah wants mommy or daddy to sleep next to him, isn’t my Heavenly Abba waiting for me to ask him to lay down next to me?
To Elijah, I’m his ah-bbah (which is Korean for daddy). He wants nothing more than to be near his ah-bbah so that he can fall asleep peacefully. In the same way, we are children of God. He is our Abba Father. When is the last time, you asked God to lie down next to you? To be with you. To be near you. No agenda. No, petitions–God, I need this. Or, please help me with that. You just wanted to be near Him.
I think this is what Paul is getting at when he says, to live IS Christ or living IS Christ. Jesus is the goal. He’s not a means to an end. Jesus IS the end. He is the Alpha, the Omega, the beginning, middle and end is all Jesus. We shouldn’t misrepresent Paul. Sure, Paul was a hard worker. He labored to advance God’s kingdom. He was engaged in abundantly, fruitful work. But he didn’t have an employer-employee relationship with God. He didn’t work all week for Christ and then report to him on Friday morning. And hand him a status report–Lord, I preached and Lydia was converted, I am stuck and could use some help dealing with the demon-possessed slave girl, she’s really distracting, I’m working on the Roman jailer but he’s a tough nut to crack. We are not asking for advice here and there and then essentially doing the work ourselves. We are not employees who spend a few minutes checking in during the morning and then spending the rest of our day working for Him. That’s an employer-employee relationship, not a Father-son-daughter relationship.
Let’s reread Phil 1:21-23. [READ]
Far better. Far better. There is no contest. Christ is way up here and the work we do for Christ, by comparison, is way, way down here. For Paul, Christ, the person of Christ, was far better than the work we do for Christ. The accent is on Christ, not on the work. Living is Christ, not we live FOR Christ. Not we work FOR Christ. Living IS Christ. Am I communicating? We need to keep our priorities straight.
Where do you place the accent? On Christ or the work you do for Christ. On loving Jesus or feeding sheep. Loving God or loving neighbor. Both sides are related. One flows from the other, but we mustn’t forget the order. Christ is like the top of a snow-capped mountain. Christ is the goal, he’s the apex of the mountain, and from there, the snow on the mountaintop melts and the water runs down the side of the mountain and helps others at the base of the mountain as we are engaged in fruitful work.
Notice the goal of our fruitful work. Phil 1:25-26–
25 Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
What is the goal of our work? It is to help others grow in their confidence in Christ Jesus. We are back full circle. As people who are finding our own confidence in Christ, we are to work on behalf of others so that they, too, will find their confidence in Christ.
Don’t live your Christian life for the work. Live to know the Person of Jesus who will give you strength and joy for the work ahead. Don’t seek the gifts. Seek the Giver. Don’t seek answers to your prayers. Seek the Person to whom you are praying. Don’t seek salvation. Seek the Savior. Don’t seek fruitfulness in ministry. Seek Christ and He will bring fruitfulness by His power and grace. Abide in Christ and let him bear fruit inside of you.
I know you are hearing this and perhaps even agreeing with me in your head, but I fear that you are not getting this in your heart. Brothers and sisters, you got to hear me on this one. I have to remind myself over and over as a minister. To live is Christ. Living is Christ. Christ comes before the ministry. Don’t do the ministry. Be the ministry. Let Jesus through the Holy Spirit minister to your heart so that everything you do is an overflow of your relationship with Jesus.
Priority #1: living is Christ. Jesus has to be #1 in your heart. Have you allowed him to be #1? Have you laid down everything else? Your family, your studies, your research, your vocation, your dreams, goals and plans at the feet of Jesus? Even the ministry, have you laid it at the feet of Jesus and prioritized your relationship with Jesus ahead of the work you do for Jesus?