Tuesday, November 4, 2014

When You Suffer, Press On (A sermon based on Philippians 3:12-21)

What do you do when you suffer? Do you give in and throw in the towel? No! When the going gets tough... well, we rely on God and his strength. We rejoice that our eternal victory is already won for us! Then certain of our eternity, we toughen up and get going. We keep pressing on to grow in our faith, to mature in our Christianity, and to do all we can to make sure we obtain the eternal prize that Jesus won for us. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon (or watch the entire service at www.GraceLutheranKenai.com/webcast) based on Philippians 3:12-21 and be encouraged to press on!

When You Suffer, Press On
A sermon based on Philippians 3:12-21
Sunday, November 2, 2014 – Pentecost 20A

He sat in a cold, dark prison, chilled to the bone, by the wet and musty air. It smelled of mildew and rot. He was chained around both ankles and both wrists. Though the shackles didn't break the skin yet, they felt like they might any minute. The rest of his body ached all over too from the vicious beating he'd received earlier that day. He hadn't eaten in days and what he was given last was so full of mold and bugs it made him sick to look at, let alone to eat. Though he was hurting and scared, imprisoned like this in a country not his own, he didn't give up hope. He was an American citizen. And he knew American's did not abandon their own. Surely they would come for him. So he pressed on…
Now, you and I aren't prisoners of an enemy country, but in a certain sense we are in the same situation. While we may not be chained or starved we do face problems and struggles of our own in this sin-filled life. We hear the threats of a collapsing economy and wonder about our savings and investments. We feel the effects of collapsing relationships and hurt worse than if we'd been physically beaten. We see the world collapsing around us and start to despair.
But we have a different hope than that prisoner because our citizenship is in heaven. We have a better hope because we don't think that maybe possibly we might be rescued from our suffering. Instead we know that we will be delivered from all the effects of sin when our Savior takes us to our heavenly home. And so we don't give up.  When we suffer, we too press on. Listen to the words that Paul wrote from prison encouraging us to press on toward maturity and to press on toward eternity. Philippians 3:12-21…

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

I.              Certain of Eternity

The city of Philippi was a Roman colony known as a Rome away from Rome. As such, most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens, a privilege that was highly prized by all who had it. Roman citizens could hold office, could appeal to Roman courts, and had protection anywhere they went in the empire, even if they weren't in Rome itself.
But we have a much better citizenship. Our citizenship is in heaven. Can you imagine if someone said "I don't care about my US citizenship and all the benefits it gives. I don't want it." Can you imagine if someone were to say, "I don't care about my heavenly citizenship. I don't want it."
The sad truth is that many do. Paul said, "many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things."
The sad truth is that often we who have this heavenly citizenship often live as if we did not. We often live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Don't believe me? Let me ask you a few probing questions: Can you say to your friends, "Follow my example and live like I do," the way Paul does? Or would you be embarrassed if they knew all the things that you do? Or which upsets you more? Missing your favorite TV show or a big game? Or missing Bible class? Which is a larger line item in your budget? Entertainment? Or offerings? Which concerns you more? The Dow Jones dropping a couple hundred points? Or hundreds of people dropping off without knowing the gospel?
You see, we too all too often have our minds stuck on earthly things. We too make gods of our stomachs and worry more about appeasing our sinful natures and their appetites than serving our God. And we too glory in things of which we ought to be ashamed. And for these times that we act like enemies of the cross we deserve to be rejected by Jesus and be banished from his heavenly kingdom with eternal destruction as our only destiny.
But that's not what happens, is it? We don't get what we deserve. Why not? Because like he did for the apostle Paul, "Christ Jesus took hold of [us]…" He died for us. And made us his own. He made us citizens of his kingdom. Paul says with all confidence: "Our citizenship is in heaven." And just think of all the blessings we enjoy as such! As members of God's kingdom, we live under his protection anywhere we go. We can appeal directly to him in prayer with any need we might have. And we can even hold an office—serving as his ambassadors. What privileges we have as citizens of heaven!
And what did we do to get these privileges? Nothing at all! My boys love going to the library to pick out new books to read. And what does it cost them? Nothing at all! The government buys the books that are lent to them for free. They pave and repair the roads that lead there. And Becky and I even pay the taxes it cost for them to enjoy such benefits. And we pay for the vehicle and the gas to get them there. Our children don't pay a cent.
And like children who receive all the benefits of the government without paying a thing, since their parents pay for them, we receive all the blessings of our heavenly citizenship because Jesus paid the price for us. Jesus lived a perfect sinless life, on our behalf. His stomach was never his god, nor anything else. He served the true God perfectly all the time. His glory was in doing the Fathers will. His mind was always on heavenly things. And that perfection he gave to us, taking our sins of selfishness, gluttony and greed on himself. And suffering hell on the cross, he paid the price for us to become citizens of heaven. He saved us from the eternal destruction that was our destiny. No wonder we call him Savior!
And we eagerly look to him and await his coming when he returns from heaven to make our lowly earthly bodies, like his glorious heavenly body. We eagerly await that day that he takes us to heaven, our true home, to be with him forever!

II.            Press On Toward Maturity

But in the meantime, we don't treat this foreign land, in which we're but strangers, as a waiting room. Instead, it's a gym where we get a spiritual work out to grow stronger in our faith. It's a place where we can exercise that faith in the way we live our lives.
Even though Paul knew he had the heavenly prize he said he would struggle hard to make sure he obtained it. He would press on toward maturity. He said, "12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
If the apostle Paul said he hadn't yet attained the full measure of maturity that he was working toward, how can any of us claim to have arrived? We will never be fully mature in our Christian faith this side of heaven. We will never be done learning the Word of God or done thanking him by our acts of service. So if we can't ever be perfect, why bother trying? In thanks to Jesus, and to make sure we claim the prize won for us.
Imagine if you won the lottery, but had to go down town to claim your winnings. What if someone said, "Nah! Forget it then. That's too much of an effort." How ridiculous! Christ won the prize of heaven for us. But now we "press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us]…" we "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus." Your faith is either growing or it's dying; there is no staying the same. So we do all we can to make sure that's it's growing to make sure that we claim that prize. 
How do we do that? First, we forget what's behind. Forget the earthly pursuits you once chased after—the bigger bank accounts, the newest clothes or gadgets, the earthly glory—and forget your sins. They've all been removed, erased, gone! And "Forgetting what is behind… [strain] toward what is ahead…" The picture Paul paints here is stretching out as far as you can, leaning forward, to reach what's just beyond your grasp. That's how we strive toward a greater understanding of the Word and a greater maturity in our faith. We press on with endurance in this race of life, pushing hard to stay ahead.
One way Paul says that could be done was to follow his example. Sound arrogant? It's not. Paul admitted he wasn't perfect. But he did follow Christ's example as he pressed on toward a greater maturity. Follow the example of godly men and women who are committed to being in the Word and to growing in their faith. Surround yourself by good Christian influences. (That's one of the key purposes of our fellowship activities, by the way, to foster such friendships.) And let them help you to forget what's behind and press on toward what is ahead.
And we all need that help especially when we're suffering and in pain. We need help to keep our focus on the cross, to fix our gaze heavenward as we eagerly await the return of our Savior from there. And then the suffering and pain we experience in this life, won't stand in the way of our maturity, but will help it along.
When you stub your toe, you'll be reminded that there will be no pain in heaven and rejoice that you'll never experience the pain of hell. When you're your heart is broken, you'll remember that there are no tears in glory and you'll rejoice that your Savior will never disappoint. When you lose your job or your wealth, when you feel depressed or things don't go your way, you'll be able to press on, because you'll know that you already have the prize in Christ and will soon be wealthy and happy beyond imagination. And you'll press on to take hold of it.
You know, when you watch a movie you usually know that no matter what happens to the hero, no matter how bleak the situation may seem, somehow, before the credits roll, he'll win. He'll prevail in the end. While we get no such guarantee in this life, we know that though Christ we will prevail in the end. After the credits of this earthly life roll, through Christ and his work for us, we will win in death. Because our citizenship is in heaven we're certain of eternity and can press on toward maturity. Remember dear friends, that…

[You're] but a stranger here; Heav'n is [your] home.
Earth is a desert drear; Heav'n is [your] home.
Danger and sorrow [may] stand Round [you] on ev'ry hand.
[But] Heav'n is [your] fatherland; Heav'n is [your] home. Amen.

CW #417 – I'm But a Stranger Here

In Him,
Pastor Rob Guenther

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
47585 Ciechanski Road, Kenai, AK 99611
(907) 690-1660

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