Part 2 of The Rebel’s Guide to Joy
Pastor Mark Driscoll | Philippians 1:1b-11 | October 14, 2007
Father God, thank you so much that, though we have sinned and separated ourselves from you, that you’ve pursued us for relationship and you have given us a means by which we can have, not only reconciliation with you, but also reconciliation with one another through the person and work of Jesus. So, we ask that you would send the Holy Spirit. That as we study the words which he inspired to be written, that we would understand them, and apply them, and experience the life that Jesus intends for us, as we ask this in his good name. Amen.
Well, here’s our topic. Our topic is out of Philippians 1. It’ll be a long introduction, then we’ll begin in Chapter 1:2. And the theme that we’re looking at is loneliness. And Paul is a guy who is experiencing, at the time of the writing of this Book, profound loneliness. In jail, all by himself. Separated from his friends. Writing them a letter speaking about how much he misses them, how much he has enjoyed them, and how he may never see them again by virtue of the fact that the facing the potential of being put to death in prison.
And his issue of loneliness really is interesting because, in our day, it’s, essentially, an epidemic. That people are disconnected, isolated, lonely. And that’s just the way the world is. And so, statistically, we’ll look at a few different ways that this bears itself out culturally. The first set of statistics I’ll share with you come from the book called, Bowling Alone. It’s authored by a professor at the Harvard Business School, and he traces a decline in friendship and relationship, and an increase in loneliness and isolation over the course of the last 25 years, roughly. So, you’re looking at a transition from how one generation of people had life together to how we experience it. And he has statistics such as playing cards together is down 25 percent in 25 years. And, usually, playing cards is not necessarily about playing cards. It’s about hanging out with your friends, enjoying one another’s company. He has other statistics such as, an evening with the neighbors is down 33 percent. And many of us don’t even know our neighbor, right? We don’t know who they are. You’re just, “That’s weird guy. That’s loud guy. That’s medical marijuana guy.” We don’t even know who they are, you know?
And we tend not to know our neighbors. The Bible says we’re supposed to love our neighbors and practice hospitality. We tend not to know our neighbors. Tend not to invite ‘em into our home. They tend not to invite us into their home. And so, wherever you live, dorm, condo, townhome, apartment, tent, wherever residence you reside in, often times, you don’t even have people over. And what I see in my neighborhood, it’s weird. Every time somebody puts their house up for sale, all of the neighbors go to the open house. They have no intention of buying the home. They’ve just never been in the home and they’re curious. So, they just go to the open house.
We actually opened our home and did a party a few years ago. We invited all the neighbors and they were totally freaked out. I had people ask me, “Why? Why do you want me to come over?” Like, “I’m gonna kill you, and eat you, and put part of you in the fridge.” Like, you know, what a – just weird questions. I had one guy, “Like, are you a Jehovah’s witness?” I’m like, “No.”
Another guy, “Do you sell Amway?” I’m like, “No, I don’t sell Amway.”
“Just shut up and come over. I mean, you know – or don’t.” You know, I don’t know, but it’s almost a mistrust and a distrust. And the – “You wanna talk to me. Why? What did I do?” “You didn’t do anything. You can come over to my house. I’ll give you chicken wings and we could be friends, maybe.” But, that’s down 33 percent. Down 33 percent.
As well, family dinners are down 33 percent. Families don’t get together for dinner. They tend to eat food cooked by a high school kid, you know, ordered through a clown and inserted through a car window, as they’re off to the next sporting event for Johnny and Buffy. As well, having friends
over is down 45 percent. How many of you, you really haven’t had a party in a while where you brought all your friends over? Or, your friends haven’t invited you over to their house? And we’re not talking about, you know, getting drunk, breaking commandments. We’re just talking about hanging out. You know, a bite to eat, pay for the ultimate fight, stuff that Jesus would do. That’s what we’re talking about –
− is down 45 percent. Additionally, the readiness of the average American to make new friends is down 33 percent from 1985 to 1999, which means a bunch of people are socially isolated, lonely, wanting relationship and unwilling to try and have one. So, it’s a bunch of people looking at each other like, “I would like a friend.” “I would like a friend, too.” “Really, I would like a friend, too.” “Me too.” “Okay, who’s gonna go first? Not it.” And that’s the way it goes.
And so, just a bunch of lone – and some people have even come to church and they expect to others initiate, and everyone expects that, and then, everyone leaves disappointed.
Additionally, a recent issue of The American Sociological Review, a very sort of academic study, looked at social isolation in America. And it has a few statistics that are worth noting on this issue of loneliness. The average American has only two close friends, which is down from three since 1985. I’m not sure what that other guy did, but he got voted off the island, apparently.
At two close friends, and you think about it, there’s billions of people on the earth and only two of them like you.
That’s really sad.
And it’s going down, so that means like in what? Another ten years, it’ll be one. And then, it’ll be just you all by yourself. Listening to country western music or The Cure, trying to get by.
Additionally, 25 percent of Americans have no one to confide in, meaning, “Life is hard. There’s no one to talk to. I need counsel. There’s no one to ask. I’m struggling. There’s no one to help me.” I think this helps to explain, in part, the rise in therapy, and counseling, and psychology, not that that’s always bad. Sometimes, it’s really helpful, but, sometimes, it is paying someone to do what a friend used to do and that is listen and be sympathetic and empathetic.
Additionally, 80 percent of Americans only confide in their family, meaning they just don’t have anybody to talk to. Now, if you only confide in family, and they’re the ones drive you nuts, you’re in a real dilemma because you’re either gonna be divisive and split the family, or you’re not gonna have anyone to talk to. The result is, then, that people move on and they discuss their loneliness, and their isolation in culture and it manifests itself in culture. So, talk radio shows, and television shows, and chat rooms, and blogs, and online communities tend to all be centered around this issue of, “We’re lonely. We wanna connect with people.” And I’ll give you some examples of how this plays itself out.
Psychology Today, this huge issue of loneliness made the recent cover story where, apparently, this gal had a boyfriend, but he dumped her and now she’s garbage. She’s sitting in a garbage can. That’s the visual message that is being sent.
Additionally, if you’re longing for a human connection in community, you can always go to craigslist. ‘Cause when I think people that I wanna give my life to, I think craigslist.
And if you go to craigslist, under casual encounters, which means, “We break commandments” –
− it’s a euphemism for pervert.
Over 1,000 people in Seattle every day post under casual encounters. Unbelievable. Additionally, this one is particularly troubling and I share it with you because many of you are college age. This is from one of the most insightful journalistic resources called Seventeen Magazine –
− that – I’m telling ‘ya, if you’re looking for insight, there’s a shortcut. You’re welcome.
And in Seventeen Magazine, the target audience is teenage young women, 17, 18, 19. And this article is about young women going to college. Not knowing anyone, where would you go to meet new people, have relationships, cure your loneliness? “Aha, frat party primer. Frat party primer. How terrifying is that? How many 18 year old gals show up on campus and say, “I would like to meet people. I’ll go find large numbers of drunk boys and they will be my friend.” No, they won’t. They’ll be your felon, but they wont’ be your friend.
Okay, and what it says is, “You can party with cute guys like these.” Now, I’m not all that discerning as to what constitutes a cute guy, okay? And I’ll say that as a matter of personal gladness, okay? I – as a dad, though, what I find cute in a boy is a Bible and a job. That’s what I find cute. These boys are not cute. And this one on the right is particularly troubling because he’s concealing his identity.
Let me tell you this, ladies. If you go to a party and it’s late at night, and guys are wearing sunglasses, it’s because they intend to break the law – − and they’re trying to conceal their identity. And I can’t think of anything more frightening than Larry, Curly and Moe with my daughter.
I can’t think of anything more frightening than that. We’ll keep going.
This was a story that was in The Seattle Times. I pulled it up a few years ago and kept it. And it talks about Seattle has unleashed this weird phenomenon on the world called the coffee shop. And the coffee shop, thanks to Starbucks, is the place where socially isolated, lonely, needy people gather together to ignore one another.
That is so weird. So, all these people who are lonely go to the coffee shop to open their laptop, and to drink their burnt coffee, and to put in their ears their iPods so they can ignore one another in community.
Very bizarre. Additionally, some people just give up on human beings altogether.
They just punt. They just, “That’s it. I’m done with people” and they move on to the world of pets. And I like dogs, but this is weird, okay? Dogs and taxes, the battle to claim your buddy. It’s a cover story. “Hey, parents of children get a tax deduction. What about us dog owners?” “That’s not a person.” “It’s my baby.” “Your baby is very furry.”
It’s weird. And what’s even weirder, you open it up. There’s – I don’t even– I don’t even make this up. “Dogs deserve real diamonds.”
“That’s unbelievable. I mean, there are kids who are starving.” “Well, but the dogs. They need the diamonds. I mean, you know, they deserve the diamonds.”
“Okie dokie.” Now, you think about doggie wrapper bling. I mean, it’s just a bit much. There is, actually, a movement underway today in our city and other cities around the country that people are fighting to bring their doggie to eat with them at the restaurant, “because the doggie is my best friend and I need to eat with my best friend”, to which I respond, “Your friend licks himself.”
Additionally, then, what happens is that some people then, turn to church and religion, thinking, “I’ll go to church. I’ll meet nice people. I’ll get into Bible study and I won’t be lonely. I’ll make some friends.” And various magazines sort of promote this. I’ll give you one example here. Marriage partnership. The assumption is, “Hey, get married and then you’ll be happy. You won’t be lonely anymore. You’ll have somebody to hang out with.” And marriage is good. We encourage that. And here, it deals with an even more pressing issue. Children. Issues of infertility. “We want children, God. Facing the Spiritual Test of Infertility.” And I got five kids, but some people are infertile. They can’t have kids. They really want the loneliness to be cured through marriage and children. And we say marriage is good and children are a blessing. We’re for it. But, what about if you don’t get married? What about if you’re unable to conceive? What if you’re unable to carry to term and you struggle with miscarriage? Some statistics say that one quarter, perhaps, one fifth of all pregnancies end in miscarriage?
My wife and I have five kids. She also had a miscarriage; otherwise, we’d have six. And somebody’s missing and, honestly, I grieve that. I’m missing one of my kids. A friend of mine had 13, his wife did, 13 miscarriages. They’re great people. Just the heartache with that, that if you say, “I will cure my loneliness with marriage and children”, sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way.
Additionally, I was reading some women’s Christian magazines, which has never happened before, and I hope never happens again, but, anyways, I was reading them and what I found was even in the Christian women’s magazines, women who are Christians, involved in churches and Bible studies, still have a propensity to experience loneliness. Here in Today’s Christian Woman, a poll they took revealed that 42 percent of respondents said that, “They often or constantly feel lonely.” This is Christian women.
Additionally, this last piece is from Spirit Led Woman, and the story is Crying for Community and the subtitle is, There is More than One Kind of Poverty. Many Believers are Hungry For the Sense of Belonging that Genuine Fellowship provides. A very sad picture of a woman who is lonely, and isolated, and, apparently, crying for community. All of this is to simply illustrate the fact that people are disconnected. They’re isolated. They’re lonely. They’re hurting. And it’s epidemic. It’s in the culture. It’s in the church. And some of you, it’s in your own life.
And so, what we’re going to deal with in Philippians 1 is how Paul responds to those same circumstances, personally. Theologically, to get you to understand why we’re in this state, I’ll briefly summarize for you the Bible’s teaching of why isolation, loneliness, is our state. And that is, to begin the character of God. That God, by definition, according to Scripture, is Trinitarian in nature. One God, three persons. Father, Son, Spirit. Mysterious? Indeed. But, the Bible says that within the very character of God, there is love, community, respect, relationship. Some say that God made us, some religions do, because he was lonely. The Bible doesn’t say that. The Bible says that, “God had sufficient relationship in and of his own essence and nature.” The Bible does say, however, that God made us in his image and likeness.” What that means, in part, is that we – we’re built for relationship, for communication, for contact, for knowing others and being known by others. We desire that. So, that is a good thing.
The Bible says that everything is very good that God makes in Genesis 1 and 2, before sin enters the world with the exception of one thing. God says, “It’s not good for us to be alone”, okay? Because we’re made for relationship. We’re Trinitarian in the fact that we’re image bearers of God. And so, God takes the first man, creates for him the first woman. Adam and Eve are married. They have children. The loneliness is cured through not only relationship with God, but within one another, through family and children. And there is no loneliness until Genesis 3. They sin. Sin separates them from God and they hide from God. Sin separates them from one another. They hide from one another. And the dual effect of sin is it disconnects us from God and one another. It leads to distrust with God and one another. And that’s why we experience loneliness. We’re separated from God and one
another by virtue of sin. That’s why the world has such an ongoing battle with loneliness. It’s one of the effects of sin entering into the world.
The question, then, is “Well, how do you cure that loneliness?” And both in the culture, and in the church, the answer is often given that you need a friend. And so, that friendship is the answer. Let me tell you this. I don’t think that friendship is the answer to loneliness. I think that’s why people are constantly disappointed in their friendships and lonely, in spite of the fact that they are seeking out working on friendships. I believe that friendship, as I will define it, is often time, not really a deep, meaningful relationship, but it’s based upon proximity and affinity; proximity meaning, we’re near one another. We live near one another. We go to school with one another. We work with one another. Physically, we find ourselves in the same place frequently.
I’ll give you an example. Many of you are students, but some of you have graduated from high school. How many of you who have graduated have gone back to read your annual following graduation? And therein, you find the most winsome, insightful life advice.
“Rock on.” “Never change.” All of that just amazingly insightful. It’s almost extra Biblical, it’s so inspiring.
And you read it and people will say things like, “You’re my best friend. We’re gonna be close forever.” And then, you ask yourself, “Who is that?”
You can’t remember. So, then you look at the photo and you’re like, “I still have no idea who that is.” It’s because you had the illusion of a friendship. You sat next together in class. You went to the same school, but you really didn’t have a deep, meaningful relationship. You had proximity; or affinity, meaning we like the same band. We like the same club. We like the same sports team. We enjoy the same hobby. We’re in the same social network. There’s something that connects us together. We both have trench coats and no jobs.
And our mom tucks us in at night. Like, we have something in common that brings us together, okay? A bunch of the guys didn’t laugh. Ladies, don’t date those guys, okay?
“That’s not funny. He’s talking about me.”
Yes, he is. Now, “Stay with me, Johnny. We love your Star Wars sheets and your mom. Just stay with me.”
And so, what happens is that we’re bound together, knit together by affinity, but when life changes, our hobbies change, our interests change, our address changes. When our proximity or affinity changes, the relationship dies or becomes so diminished that it’s no longer really that significant. And some people then lament at that point, “I’ve lost my friend.” Well, maybe you overstated the relationship. Maybe it really wasn’t much of a friendship. Maybe it was affinity. Maybe it was proximity. But, it really wasn’t that deep, abiding, ongoing, heartfelt connection that you were, perhaps, hoping for.
So, what is the answer to the question of loneliness? Paul’s answer today will be Gospel partnership; gospel, meaning that Jesus is the center of the relationship between you and someone else. This could be a friend, a parent. This could be a spouse. That Jesus is between the two of you because sin will come between the two of you and sin leads to spiritual death, disconnection from God, physical death. We actually die. And relational death. It separates people.
And so, Jesus dies to forgive – take away sin. Now, we can have a reconciled relationship with God and with one another. And so, Gospel is the good news of the person and work of Jesus, who is our God, who takes away sin and makes reconciliation possible.
I’ll give you an example. When I officiate a wedding, I have the groom and the bride face one another in front of the congregation. I make them hold hands, and I always say this. “There are only two major problems with this relationship. The man and the woman.”
Other than that, this thing has huge potential.
And what will happen is that they are sinners, so they will sin against one another. They’ll do what they shouldn’t do. They won’t do what they should do. They’ll say what they shouldn’t say. They won’t say what they should say and sin will come literally between the man and the woman. And sin leads to death and it’s gonna kill this marriage or these people are gonna kill each other. That’s what happens; or, they will trust Jesus, who died for their sin, so they need not kill each other, and they need not kill their marriage. And a Gospel based partnership is that kind of relationship where Jesus is at the center and he can take away the sin. And it’s a partnership in that both people agree, “We’re going to do our life together as Christians.” What that means is, “We will treat one another as God has treated us. When we sin, we will repent”, right? That’s what happens. We sin against God. He convicts us through the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, Christian friends, and we repent. We say, “God, you’re right. I am wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” And then, God forgives us and we’re reconciled. And so, we agree in this Gospel partnership to deal with sin the way that God, through Jesus, deals with our sin. “When I sin against you, you feel free to tell me that I’m in sin. And then, I will repent. And then, you will forgive me. And then, we will be reconciled.” That’s a Gospel partnership.
It only works if both people are willing to commit to it. That’s why you gotta define these relationships. Sometimes, I think we assume much of our friendships. We are waiting for them to act in a Christ-like way, but we haven’t defined whether or not it’s a Gospel partnership. It means, “We’re both gonna read our Bible. We’re both gonna walk as Christians. We’re both gonna confess our sins. We’re both gonna forgive one another. We’re both gonna let Jesus be the one who keeps us close.” Gospel partnership is like friendship, but it’s much deeper. It’s much more enduring and it knows what to do with the sin problem and this is the gift that Christians have in their relationships. They know what to do with sin. Non-Christians don’t. People who don’t practice the Gospel, they don’t know what to do with sin. And so, sin leads to fracturing, divorce, disappointment, despair, discouragement, isolation, loneliness, hurt, pain, grief, sorrow and so much of what we experience emotionally as the result of sin, is felt practically in our relationships.
Now, that being said, Paul is going to have a number of things to say about Gospel partnership. Here is a guy who should be, by all accounts,
absolutely depressed. Here’s a guy who should be absolutely without hope. He has nothing that you and I would seek to cure our loneliness. He has no wife. No kids. No grandkids. No home. No hometown. No home church. He’s not in proximity with people. His friends are far away in a town called Philippi. He’s writing a letter to them. He has not a lot of affinity with these people. They’re married. He’s single. Many of them have children. He doesn’t. They are going to work. He’s going to jail, right? They’re really at different phases of their life.
And he writes them a letter, as a friend, and he talks about how much joy he has because of their Gospel partnership with him. We’ll read it all beginning in verse 2-11. “Grace to you”, Paul says, Philippians 1:2, “and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel – ” that’s the bell we’re gonna ring in this sermon. Gospel partnership – “from the first day until now 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. It is right for me to feel this way about you all because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and the defense and confirmation of the Gospel.” That’s the good news about who Jesus is and what he’s done. That’s the Gospel. “For God is my witness. How I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and old discernment so that you may approve what excellent so you can be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and the praise to God.”
He’s sitting in prison, facing death, lonely, hurting. He is hungry. He is broke. He is beaten. He is probably sick, and he writes a letter to his friends. And he opens with this word to explain to the depth of the relationship that they have in their Gospel partnership. He opens with this. “Grace to you.” Grace. This is, perhaps, the best word to summarize what we believe about God as Christians. That we are sinners, but that God is gracious. That unlike other religions, Christianity does not teach that you need to pay God back through reincarnation. Paying off your karmic debt. Going to purgatory. Dying and going to hell. Suffering in this life. That God is a God of grace. That we sin and God convicts us, but as we repent, God is gracious with us, undeserved favor, unmerited love. God is not obligated to us in any way, but he has given grace to us in every way because he is such a great and good God. That our relationship with Jesus is absolutely tethered by grace. That God is a God who gives grace. And what that means is that we are to receive God’s grace humbly and we are to share it gladly. That if you sin against me, and you repent; well, I’ve sinned against God and I repented. How did God respond to me? With grace. You know what that means? You get grace too. That we are grace receivers. That we are grace givers. And, as Christians, grace is the demarcation of how we work.
Now, let me say this as well. That God gives grace to the repentant. If you never repent, you don’t get to live forever with God in Heaven. You get justice, not grace. Grace is contingent on repentance. And so, in our relationships, we can’t just keep saying, “Hey, you’re a Christian. Give me grace.” We must say, “I’m also a Christian. I must repent.” And as I repent, and agree with you, and apologize, and change, you give me grace and you forgive me, and you love me, and give me another chance. But, too many people want grace without repenting and the two are inextricably connected. And I would submit to you that repentance is a form of grace. It’s a wonderful gift that God gives us.
The result of that is his next point that it results in peace. “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That you and I are not, by nature, at peace with God. And God is not, by nature, at peace with us. That God is holy, righteous, and good. That we’ve sinned against God. Scripture says elsewhere, “We are by nature, objects of God’s wrath.” Scripture says on more than 600 occasions that God’s wrath actually exists and is against us. It includes hell, which Jesus speaks of more than anyone else in the Bible. And so, we are, by nature, objects of wrath. But, when we repent of sin, and Jesus Christ extends to us grace, which takes away our sin. There is now no condemnation. There is salvation. There is not anger. There is love.
God is not against us; he is for us. And that grace enables us to have a relationship with God that is marked by that great word of peace. That in sin, we’re at war with God, but in repentance, receiving grace, we’re at peace with God. God is for us. God loves us. God cares for us. And that peace changes everything. And we experience this, as well, in our human relationships, which are to be patterned after a relationship with God. When we repent, and grace is given, there’s peace. Some of you don’t have peace in your relationships. It’s because there has been sin without repentance and grace. But, when there is sin with repentance and grace, there’s peace. You don’t feel that knot in your stomach when they call, send an email, or you see them. You don’t try to ignore and avoid them, and cease all contact ‘cause they’re driving you crazy.
I’m a guy who, really, has experienced this in his own life. I turned 37 last week. I’m officially coming up on the halfway point of life, right? The band’s getting ready to take the field, right? I’m coming up on halftime for Mark Driscoll. The first 19 years were as a non-Christian. The last 18 have been as a Christian. About half my life is Christian and non. And to be honest with you, sin killed a lot of relationships. It led to a lot of difficulty, and only as a Christian have I seen the ability of grace to bring peace in relationships. That’s it.
I met my wife. Her name is Grace. It’s God’s irony with me. It’s the lesson I keep learning. I met her when I was 17. We’ve been together almost 20 years. March 12th will be the 20th anniversary of our first date, my high school sweetheart. And what I can assure you of this, is that apart from Jesus, we’d be divorced today. And it’s not that I don’t love her and it’s not that she doesn’t love me. It’s not that we actually don’t fit. It’s that sin would have killed us, but because of Jesus, when we sin, we’re able to have to have a grace based partnership where we confess, repent, forgive, reconcile, give grace, and the result is peace. The result is actually peace. And this week, my wife and I, we had a little skirmish. Not a huge deal on the Richter scale of marital complexity. It wasn’t a ten; it was a one. But, for a few days in my home, there wasn’t a lot of peace. Didn’t sleep well. It was a little awkward trying to work this thing out with my wife.
In the end, we repented of our sin, forgave one another, received grace from Jesus, extended grace to one another. There’s peace in my home.
I wanna go home and see her ‘cause we’re reconciled and there’s peace in our home and I get to enjoy her company and it’s all because of God’s grace and God reminds it to me ‘cause my wife’s name is? Grace. I tell ‘ya, it really makes a difference, practically, in the relationship. Grace, peace, then leads to memories. He says in verse 3, “I thank God in my remembrance of you.” If you don’t have a Gospel based partnership that has grace and peace that’s centered in Jesus, many of your memories are gonna be painful and bitter.” You’re gonna remember people who sinned against you, and hurt you, and betrayed you, and abandoned you, and disappointed you, and lied to you, and neglected you, and you’ll be this angry, bitter person. But, if it’s a Gospel based partnership, you have the opportunity to redeem those memories and, as Paul says, “thank God for the memories you have, where not only where there was sin; there was repentance, and there was forgiveness, and there was reconciliation. There was grace and there was peace.”
And it’s wonderful to see that. I’ve seen people who were divorced get remarried and make new memories. The sin killed the marriage and then Jesus actually resurrected the thing, and they got remarried and made new memories. I’ve seen God do the most amazing things in human relationships. New memories. Memories, not just of sin, but forgiveness. Not just memories of pain, but of redemption. Not just memories of disappointed, but life change so that people stop doing that and they start living in a humble and servant way. Paul says that, “Gospel based partnership with Jesus at the center of the relationship is something that is centered on grace, results in peace, and leads to new memories.” He goes on to say that, as well, in verse 4, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy.” It leads to joy. And here’s a guy sitting in prison, looking at dying. He has no money. He has no friends in proximity. He has no wife, no children, no grandchildren; but, he does have joy.
He writes in Philippians of joy, rejoice, derivatives thereof, 14 times, more than any other book in the New Testament that Paul, the Apostle pens. And the question, then, that begs to be answered is how could this guy speak of joy? I don’t know about you. I wouldn’t be speaking of joy in his circumstances, unless I knew something that the rest of us simply do not know. And if you forget everything I tell you, remember this. Joy is not as much an emotion as it is a lifestyle. If joy is an emotion, then when times are bad, you have no joy. And that would mean in this moment, Paul should have no joy. He shouldn’t say anything about joy. He shouldn’t, certainly, write a whole letter about joy because he doesn’t have anything that is enjoyable. He’s miserable. He should be miserable.
But, here’s the wonderful thing. Paul understands that joy is not just a feeling, it’s a lifestyle. Some of you need to know that. Some of you believe that Christians should always be happy, so you’ve been taught the Christian art of faking it, which is lying and the breaking of a commandment. So, when someone comes up to you and say, “How are you doing?” You could be honest and say, “Yesterday was horrible, and today’s worse, and tomorrow’s gonna be worse still.”
“I know it. I see it coming.”
“How are you?” “I’m depressed. I’m sad. I have a rash.” Tell the truth.
Tell the truth. Right? Tell the truth. Now, when you tell the truth, what you’re not doing is faking your happiness and joy. The Bible says that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and we should weep and mourn with those who weep and mourn. It says in Isaiah that Jesus was a man of sorrows. It’s okay to be bummed out, right? The majority of the Psalms are songs of lament, people who are bummed out. Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time for weeping, and sadness, and sorrow. It’s okay. You don’t need to fake happy. Joy is a lifestyle that includes sorrow, and grief, and pain, and poverty, and loneliness, and death. All the stuff that Paul’s gonna write about in Philippians. Because joy is a lifestyle that celebrates the forward progress of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I need you to get that. So, Paul is saying, “I’m suffering, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m hurting, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m lonely, but the Gospel’s going forward. And I’m dying, but the Gospel’s going forward and my joy is in the forward progress of the Gospel. It’s not all meaningless and vanity, that it’s meaningful and people are seeing the difference that Jesus is making in my life and it’s encouraging them to investigate Jesus, and people are becoming Christians and their lives are getting changed, and sin is being forgiven, and relationships are being reconciled. And people are receiving hope and new life. And I rejoice in the forward progress of the Gospel.”
And for you and I who are Christian or those of you who God would make a Christian today, here’s what’s so great. Everything is an opportunity for the forward progress of the Gospel. So, nothing, even the most dark, hard and painful situations in life, is without merit or purpose and in that, there’s joy because it’s all for the Gospel. That people will meet Jesus and experience the same love and transformation that we have. So, it is grace centered, peace giving, memory making, joy inducing. What we’re talking about here is Gospel partnering that is perseverance enabling. Verses 5 and 6, “Because of your partnership in the Gospel” – again, a Gospel partnership. That’s the kind of friendship we’re speaking of – “your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, 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.” What he’s saying is that you and I, if we are truly Christians, we will have a life that is marked by spiritual perseverance.
Chapter 1:6 of Philippians is, in some ways a succinct definition of what a real Christian is. They persevere. A guy like Judas hangs out with Jesus for a while, betrays him, walks away. Not really a Christian, never was. Did not persevere. There’s something called Calvinism, the fifth point of which is perseverance of the saints. We believe that as a church, that if you really are a Christian, you’re gonna keep walking with Jesus. It doesn’t mean you don’t sin. It doesn’t mean you don’t struggle. It doesn’t mean you don’t stumble, but it does mean you repent and you give back to Jesus, and his people, and his Word and his church, and you just keep on keeping on. You keep moving forward ‘til you see Jesus. That means you die or he comes back. One way or another, faith becomes sight and you and Jesus are finally fully reconciled.
Some of you are here. You’ll ask questions like, “Well, but a friend of mine or a family member said they were a Christian, but they’re not really walking with God today. Did they lose their salvation?” No. It’s not that we lose our salvation because Jesus never loses a Christian. Were they really a
Christian? I don’t know. Look, Jesus ultimately decides in the end who’s in and out of Heaven. But, I’ll tell you this for you personally.
By persevering, by continuing on, by walking with Jesus, that is the only way to really have true, abiding, deep, confidence and assurance in your salvation. If you’re walking with Jesus yesterday, you’re walking with him today, you’re walking with him tomorrow, you don’t have anything to worry about because you’re persevering. And the reason you can persevere is that he’s persevering with you. You began a work, he’ll finish it. He doesn’t start something he doesn’t intend to finish. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He won’t give up on you. His relationship with you is marked by grace, which means you didn’t deserve it in the first place, so you’re not gonna do something so bad that you don’t deserve it ‘cause you didn’t deserve it in the first place. If you didn’t deserve it, and you still don’t deserve it, then it’s all of grace and he’s not going to give up and I know some of you are here and there’s sin in your life and folly, and you’ve walked away from God, and there’s rebellion and stupidity. And there’s all kinds of nonsense. And you are wondering, “Has God given up on me?”
Here’s the answer. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. Promise.” God loves you and he’s not done with ‘ya. And you may wonder if you have worn out his grace, and the answer is no. You should repent and continue with Jesus. He is that good and he is always that good. The result is that understanding this character of Jesus is both heart changing for us, and prayer compelling. It changes our heart toward people. We’ll become more merciful, and compassionate, and concerned, and more prayerful. We intercede for them, asking Jesus to do in their life what he’s doing in ours; and asking Jesus to change our heart that we would have his heart for people. He says this in verses 7, 8, and 9. “It is right for me to feel this way about you all because I hold you in my heart.” That his heart’s changed. He cares about people. He understands how much God has cared for him, and now he’s compelled to be a compassionate man.
“For you, are all partakers with me of grace?” What he’s saying is, “I’m not the only person that God’s giving grace to. He’s giving grace to many of us, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. For God is my witness. How I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” And he goes on to say, “And it is my prayer”, and he speaks often here of prayer. What he’s saying here is that when you understand how much Jesus has loved and cared for you, how he endures and perseveres with you, it changes your heart. And when you meet other Christians, your hope and prayer is that you could be of an encouragement to them and that you could carry them in your heart and that you could be in prayer for them. All of a sudden, you go from being a narcissistic, self-centered person to a person who understands that they’ve received much grace and now they have much compassion for others. And you become someone who likes to pray for people.
Some of you may struggle in your prayer life. The way to not struggle in your prayer life is realize that all the things that Jesus has done for you and all the grace that he’s given you, and then look at all the other people who need that grace, and that will compel you to be in prayer for them because prayer moves the hand of God. He hears and answers prayer, and prayer also changes our hearts so that we’re more compassionate and loving, and understanding, and enduring with people.
I would tell you this. Gospel partnerships are not held together by proximity. Sometimes, you’ll be apart. They’re not held by affinity. You may not have a lot in common. But, one thing that will keep you close, grace and prayer for one another. Prayer for one another. Sometimes, people can’t help you. They don’t know what to say. But, they can pray for ‘ya and that’s a huge encouragement and help.
And Paul tells his friend, via letter ‘cause he can’t be with them, “I’m praying for you.” And I would say in the age of email, voicemail, and text message, those things are not bad, but we can’t lose the art of letter writing. This is a letter. This is a letter. Paul wrote down and said, “I love ‘ya, and I’m praying for ‘ya, and I’m concerned about ‘ya, and I miss ‘ya.” Some of you need to be writing those letters to encourage your Gospel partners. And when people receive those letters, they tend to keep ‘em. How many of you actually have letters like that that you’ve kept from someone you love and someone who’s loved you?” That, sometimes, we pray for people, but we don’t tell ‘em we’re praying for ‘em? What I love is that Paul not only prays for people, he tells them he’s praying for them so that they would know because it matters.
That’s what Gospel partnership is. It’s prayerful intercession and loving concern for people. He goes onto say that the result of this Gospel partnership with God and others is both love increasing and discernment creating. It expands our capacity to love people, and it increases our discernment in regards to who is trustworthy. He says it this way at the end of verse 9 and into verse 10. “That your love may abound more and more with knowledge and discernment so that you may approve what is excellent, and so to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Here’s what he’s saying. “The longer I walk with Jesus, the more loving I become.”
And I would tell you this. I tell you this honestly. I know it’s gonna be shocking. I am not naturally all that loving. I know it seems incredible with all the sarcasm and mockery that I dish out.
But, “Mark, you’re not a hugger?” I’m not really a hugger. I’m not a hugger, a crier, a card sender. I’m just not that guy. I’m not naturally most huggable. Not that guy. And what I’ve seen is, by Jesus loving me and pouring his love out upon me, that it actually has helped me to become increasingly more loving. Love that abounds and abounds. “As Jesus’ love abounds to me more, and more, and more”, Paul says, “my love is able to abound more and more to others.” You know what? Jesus actually changes people. He really does.
My wife, I met her, like I said, almost 20 years ago. I love her more today than I did when I first met her. It’s not ‘cause I’m a great guy who’s got this huge, you know, capacity to love. It’s ‘cause Jesus keeps loving me. And then, with that love, I share Jesus’ love through me to my wife. And in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years, when we’re still married and still love each other, I promise you this. I’m fully convinced that I’ll be able to tell you that I love my wife 60 years from now more than I love her today, which is more than I loved her 20 years ago, because the love of God abounds, and abounds, and abounds. More, and more, and more. I’ve seen it for 20 years. I trust it for 60 more because we have a Gospel partnership and the love of Jesus is what holds us together.
And he says it leads to greater knowledge. You understand the Bible. You understand God more, which leads to discernment, which means you can read people. It means you know that people are sinners and some of you are too naïve, and you’re too trusting, and you’re too gullible. You trust people too quickly. You give your heart away too swiftly. In a dating relationship, you say, “I love you” far too quickly. You trust people with secrets that you need to be more discerning and discretionary and prudent about. Proverbs says to, “Guard your heart. It’s the wealth spring of life.” Song of Solomon says, “Not to arouse or awaken love until it’s time.” As you become more Biblically knowledgeable, what you realize is that the love of God is sufficient and then you have more knowledge of how people are. That means you’re more discerning with who you trust. You realize that not everyone is telling the truth. Not everyone is trustworthy with a secret. Not everyone is trustworthy with a confidence. Not everyone has great advice. And not everyone has your best intentions or Jesus’ glory at stake. Some people are really harmful. They’re really not worthy of trusting. You have to be careful.
As your pastor, with all honesty, I will tell you that I am concerned for some of you. That out of your loneliness, you just trust people. You need to have Jesus’ love, be satisfactory. You need to have Biblical knowledge be your goal and discernment be your lifestyle. It’s not that you don’t trust anyone. You’re just careful. You’re prudent. You’re wise. A little more safe. I would say especially for you young ladies. And I hate to use the dad tone at the late service, but I’ll use it.
Some of you are lonely. You give your heart too quickly. You lack discernment. Keep reading your Bible, walking with Jesus, enjoying his love. It’ll give you discernment as to who you can and cannot trust.
The result of all of this is righteousness as a lifestyle. He says it this way in verse 11. “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” And I love this and I’ll tell ‘ya what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna go down a theological excurses and I’m gonna hammer a little bit of systematic theology. I don’t think you’re dumb. I think you can handle it. And if you can’t, just fake it and nod your head. Okay, just hang in there.
And here’s what he says, “Righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.” This is an enormous issue that is at stake theologically. People are debating it, and arguing over it, and fighting over it, and to me, it’s inextricably connected to the Gospel and what the grace of God means. And the issue at stake is this. It’s called the doctrine of justification. Paul uses this word elsewhere and the doctrine of justification answer this question. How can I, as a guilty sinner, who is unrighteous, stand before a holy and righteous God and not be condemned to hell? How can that happen? God is perfect. I’m in imperfect. God is good. I’m bad. God is sinless. I’m a sinner. God is righteous. I am unrighteous. How can I possibly stand before God and expect anything but condemnation, wrath and hell? That’s the issue of justification. How can a guilty sinner be declared just – righteous, rather – in the eyes and presence of a just and good God?
The answer is right here. “Righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.” Here’s the answer. Jesus Christ is God. He comes into history. He lives the life I cannot live. He lives the life without sin. He dies the death I should have died, the death for sin. And then, he rises to give the grace of salvation that I could not afford. The result is that Jesus takes my sin and give me his righteousness, okay? The Theologians will use the word imputation to define this act. You can call it gift righteousness, grace righteousness, imputed righteousness. It all is, essentially, declaring the same truth.
Martin Luther, the reformer, called this the great exchange. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him” – that is Jesus – “who knew no sin, perfectly righteous to become sin” – that would be my sin – “so that in him, I might become – we might become – the righteousness of God.” So, here’s what that means. On the cross, my sin was imputed or reckoned to Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness was imputed or reckoned to me. That’s the great exchange.
So, back to my initial question. How can I, as a guilty, unrighteous sinner, stand before a perfect, holy, just, righteous God and be declared righteous when I’m unrighteous? The answer is, “Righteousness comes through Jesus Christ.” That’s what he says. I stand before the Father and I say, “I am guilty, but Jesus has taken my sin, suffered and died in my place, paying my penalty. And so, my sin has been imputed, reckoned to Jesus, and Jesus has imputed or reckoned to me his perfect righteousness.” Therefore, I can be justified, declared righteous in the presence of God, by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ alone.
This is amazing. Most of you don’t even comprehend this. The result is that you get trapped in religion, thinking that if you try harder and do better, then God will love you. If your good deed outweigh your bad deeds. If you pay back God for all you’ve done, then maybe God will love you. You know what? It’s just Jesus. You give him your sin. He gives you his righteousness. You’re justified, declared righteous in the sight of God, not by anything you have done, but purely of grace, through Jesus. It’s wonderful.
In addition to that, and that is the basis of your legal standing before God. In addition to that, you receive imparted righteousness. There’s imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness. Imparted righteousness is not just for your legal standing or justification, but for your lifestyle, an ongoing sanctification where you get to be more like Jesus by the grace that he gives. Here’s the cool thing with imputed righteousness. And he calls it, “The fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” I would say that the imparted righteousness, that’s the fruit of righteousness. Imparted righteousness is this. You receive a new heart, a new center, a new nature. God changes you from the inside out. You’re a new person. That’s why we use words like born again. You start over. Paul uses words elsewhere like new creation in Christ. Everything’s different. New from the inside out. And your new nature, your new heart, has new desires. You don’t wanna sin anymore. You wanna live for God. You don’t wanna do the stupid things you were doing. You wanna change. You have new desires.
Not only that, you have a new power through the Holy Spirit that enables you to act on your new desires out of your new heart. And you’re not doing this alone. You have a new community in the church. And you are no longer led by lies. You have truth now, so you have new instruction to guide your new journey with God’s people. To live out your new nature. To obey your new desires, all of which is the fruit of the righteousness that has been
imparted to you through Jesus.
I know it’s late. I know I’m nuts. I know I’m annoying. Like, I get all of that, but this is really great! Okay, and for both of you who believe this, this’ll change everything, okay?
You can stand before God, legal standing of righteous because of Jesus, and you can live a lifestyle right now that isn’t just white knuckling against sin and fighting against your desires. New desires. New power. New nature. New community. New truth. New destiny. New Lord forever. This is Christian life. You guys are impossible!
I know you’re all indie rockers.
“Uh, we’re really cool, Mark. We don’t – I hope nobody’s looking.”
Man. And it results, he says, to the glory and praise of God, which is worship. You get excited. You get passionate. You get to live a new life. You get to be a new person. You get a new power. You get a new joy. It’s all of grace. It’s all of Jesus. And it’s life that is actually worth getting out of bed for.
And so, in conclusion, who am I gonna tell you about? Tell you about Jesus, right? ‘Cause the answer to every question is Jesus. I’m a band with one song. That’s what I am.
I’ll just tell ‘ya about Jesus and Paul does that. In the first 11 verses, he mentions Jesus 7 times. Jesus, Jesus. He’s talking about Jesus. So, let me summarize all of this with Jesus. Let me bring it all back to Jesus. And I’ll start with Hebrews 4:15, which says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us.” I love that verse. I would tell you to meditate on it for the rest of your life. It’s that good.
Unlike other religions where the God stays far away, and doesn’t have anything to do with this earth, would never enter into it to suffer, and be lonely, and hurt, and die, our God’s humble. He’s wonderful. His name’s Jesus. He actually comes into this world and suffers as we suffer and is betrayed as we’re betrayed. And hurts as we hurt. And dies as we die. And you know what? That’s why Jesus is amazing because no matter what we’re going through, we can talk to Jesus and prayer. And you know what? He sympathizes. Unlike every other religion and their false demon god, who knows nothing of life on this earth, Jesus can say, “I’ve been there. I totally understand. I relate. Not only that, I can help you and I will because I’m good.”
On this issue of loneliness, can Jesus really sympathize with you and with us in our loneliness? Can he? Did Jesus ever experience loneliness? He surely did. Matthew 4 and Luke 4 says that, “He was led by God, the Holy Spirit, into 40 days of loneliness.” Sometimes, God will lead you into loneliness. Sometimes, loneliness is the result of your sin. You won’t repent. You’re really difficult and people are just sick of you. You repent and then you’re reconciled. But, sometimes, it’s not because of sin. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit just leads you into a season of loneliness to get you alone. To work on your character. To mature you. To grow you. To change you. That happened to Jesus.
Additionally, Jesus experienced voluntary loneliness. The Bible says that, “He often withdrew to lonely places to be alone with the Father.” Some days, you’re gonna voluntarily choose loneliness. Not that you’re alone, but you need to get away and get some time with God.
Jesus also experienced involuntary and very painful and grievous loneliness. His family sort of denied him. Judas, his friend and disciple betrayed him. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before he was crucified, Jesus’ own friends failed him. They went to sleep when he had asked ‘em to pray. Some of you know this. Your friends, when you need ‘em most, they just weren’t there for ‘ya.
Additionally, Jesus, on his way to the cross, saw all of his friends abandon him, some of them even deny him, and Jesus went absolutely alone to the cross. And there, on the cross, he was actually abandoned by God, the Father. He says, “My God, my God”, as he’s being crucified, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And in that moment, God the Father, turned his back on God the Son, and Jesus felt the full weight of the consequence of sin. And his unbroken, perfect, eternal relationship with God the Father was momentarily severed. And in that moment, Jesus tasted a loneliness that none of us can or will ever experience. And Jesus Christ was utterly alone. He tasted physical death as a consequence of sin. He tasted spiritual death as a consequence of sin. He tasted relational death as a consequence of sin. And he is a high priest who can sympathize.
And then Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” There is reconciliation and in that, we are, likewise, who are in Christ, reconciled to God through Jesus. And then he says, “It is finished.” And that is shout of triumph and all of the work is done, and all that is left is for you and I to trust in him, to be reconciled to God, and to have Gospel partnerships with fellow Christians, that we seek and define those kind of relationships with, so that we, too, can live a new life together as God’s people.
And I’ll close with this. Hebrews 12 sort of summarizes this. It says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” – Gospel partners – “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us be repenters. Let us name our sin and give it to Jesus and start afresh. Let us, therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us keep looking to Jesus. To be author and the perfecter of our faith. The one who begins the good work and sees it through to completion.”
It’s amazing that the answer is, “Keep looking to Jesus, who, for the joy set before him – he uses Paul’s word – “endured the cross.” It was lonely. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning it’s shame and sat down at the right hand of the Father, reconciled relationship. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men that you do not grow weary and lose heart” – to use Paul’s word – “that you might persevere.”
You either need to become a Christian tonight, give your sin to Jesus and receive his righteousness, or you need to come to him humbly in repentance,
thanking him for his grace and continuing to persevere with him because there is no other life.
Loneliness. We all experience it, sometimes even a crowded room where we are reminded that we are not known, pursued, or loved. To not think about our loneliness we gravitate toward endless hours of mind numbing entertainment such as reality television shows featuring people hanging out with their friends while we sit on our couch alone listening to old Cure songs in the dark. Sound familiar? Preaching from Philippians 1-11 Pastor Mark Driscoll explains how the rebels guide to joy is to be found amidst loneliness according to the apostle Paul who was sitting alone penning the truth from his cold, lonely, and dark jail cell.