Here’s something I know about you . . . at some point in your life you have thought to yourself “Oh boy, I have messed up bad . . . what am I going to do now?”
And sometimes it’s just a mistake, sometimes it’s something we thought was going to turn out well, but it didn’t, sometimes it’s because we made some really-poor choices, and sometimes it’s because someone else made a poor choice but we have to deal with the consequences.
We’ve all been there and none of us like it!
What’s interesting is that we handle this in a lot of different ways; sometimes we try to hide it, sometimes we try to fix it, sometimes we try to justify it, sometimes we compare ourselves to others and think “well at least I’m not that messed up”, sometimes we seek counseling, sometimes we try to medicate and numb it, and sometimes we dump it on others by lashing out or making it their problem.
But what I want you to hear this morning is that it’s these very mistakes and mess ups and problems that we hate so much about ourselves that brought God near.
The most famous verse in scripture is John 3:16; “For God so loved the world that he sent his son. Whoever believes in him will not perish but have ever lasting life” . . . That stuff will preach!
But right after this verse is a verse that doesn’t get as much attention but it’s just as important; “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”
In other words, Jesus didn’t come into the world to get in your face and say, “Do you realize what you’ve done? You have made a complete mess of your life; you should be ashamed.”
But, God, through Jesus, came into this world to engage in our lives and to rescue us from ourselves.
And as he is engaging in our lives, he surrounds us with other people . . . called the church . . . to listen to you, pray with you, and walk with you.
What that means is that you can wake up every morning, regardless of what you’ve done or how you feel about yourself and know that God loves you.
The risk we run as followers of Jesus is thinking that the relationship between us and God is dependent on us not messing up. But following Jesus isn’t about avoiding something, it’s about becoming something. This is what I want to talk about today and it’s my hope that you would get a much bigger, broader view of what God wants to do in and through your life.
Let’s listen to our text this morning . . . READ Philippians 1:3-11
So, God uses this really-bad dude to teach us this lesson. Paul steps on to the pages of history as a one-man wrecking machine and his mission in life was to destroy the Christian church because he saw them as a knock-off of Judaism that distorted the law.
And as you know, God got his attention and he becomes a fanatical Christian and begins planting churches around the Mediterranean and one of those churches was in the city of Philippi and he loved this church. But his call was to plant churches around the known world so after he planted that church, he continued traveling; teaching and planting other churches.
Ten years later, he finds himself in prison in Rome during the time that Nero was emperor. Nero made Paul look like a light weight when he came to persecution. He tortured and killed Christians for sport. So, if you’re a Christian imprisoned in Rome and Nero is the emperor, this is not going to go well for you.
And as Paul is sitting in prison, he writes this letter to the church in Philippi to encourage them and to instruct them.
You see, they were learning how-to live-in community with one another and with God . . . and they were really struggling with it. Paul describes their struggles in chapter 2 as divisions, conceit, self-ambition, arrogance and pride, and only looking after your own interests.
So, he writes this letter to give the church in Philippi a much broader view of what God wants to do in and through their lives.
He starts with this, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Now he hasn’t seen them in 10 years but every time he thinks about them, it brings him joy . . . even when he is in prison. He’s able to set aside his own troubles and be thankful.
And here’s why he’s thankful . . . he says, “from the first day until now, being confident of this” . . . in other words, I am absolutely sure this is going to happen . . . “that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day Jesus returns.”
When you became a Christian, when you began to follow Jesus, God began to do something in you. And what God is doing is changing you. He is growing you. And growth takes time. It’s an on-going process.
You plant a seed, you water it, you nurture it, and you wait for that seed to become something beautiful. And Paul is saying, “I am absolutely confident that God is growing something inside of you that is beautiful but it’s going to take time.”
What that means is that Christianity is not behavior modification. It’s not about staying out of trouble. And it’s also not about making the same mistakes over and over and over and asking God for forgiveness over and over and over. Certainly, forgiveness is a big part of Christianity.
Paul is saying, it’s about allowing God to work within us, to renew our hearts and minds to bring something out of us that is beautiful and brings him glory.
So, when a person says to God, “I don’t understand what’s going on, I’ve found myself in an horrible place and I feel completely broken and consumed by it and I have no idea how I’m going to get out of it but I’m going to lean heavily in to you because I believe that you’ve begun something in me that you want to complete” that person becomes more mature.
And the bonus is that person becomes more secure because they begin to move from finding their identity in their all-consuming troubles . . . those things that can cause you to think only of yourself, things that Paul described as self-ambition, arrogance and pride, and only looking after your own interests, to their creator who planted something with in them that is beautiful.
Paul continues and he says, “Because I am confident God is growing something within you, this is how I’m going to pray for you . . . that your love may abound more in knowledge and depth of insight.”
This is at the epicenter of what God is doing. He’s growing love within us.
Paul is praying that our love for God, expressed through our love for one another, will get bigger and better. So that we may be able to discern, figure out, what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day that Jesus returns.
I want you to learn and discern, and learn and discern, how to get better at loving people.
That is the essence of Christian maturity, when a person can love another person, not just those who are easy to love but also those people who are very difficult to love . . . you know who that person is for you.
When that happens, you are making progress. When a person can move beyond their own troubles and move beyond seeing people for what they did to you or how they contributed to your troubles, and instead begin to see them through the eyes of God and respond accordingly . . . that is a mark of spiritual maturity, and that takes time.
And that is what Paul is praying for and it is also what Jesus challenge his followers to do.
When Jesus engaged people in their failings, and mess ups, and troubles and challenged them to move beyond them, he raised the bar and he said, “You want to know how you’re doing in your walk with God . . . look at how you treat one another”.
One day Jesus stood on a mountain and preached to the masses and one of the things he said is . . .
“If you’re going to church and bring an offering to God to make things right with God because you messed up . . . again. And you get there and the sun is hot and your standing in line and waiting and waiting and waiting for your turn and if you get right up to the front of the line and remember a disagreement or a relational challenge with someone else, you need to leave your offering right there and go make things right with that other person before you try to make things right with God.”
And when Jesus said this, everyone in the crowd would have been thinking, “What is he talking about, is he suggesting that we put people before God?”
And Jesus would have said, “No, that’s how you put God first.”
Later in his ministry, Jesus told a parable about when the king returns and when he gathers everyone together, he separates them, some on his left and some on his right.
And to the group on his right he said, “Come take your inheritance . . . for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
And they asked, ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
And the king replied, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’
And to the group on his left, he said “you don’t get an inheritance because whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.”
This is what Paul is saying . . . “I am confident that God is growing something so beautiful inside of you that I’m going to pray that in the midst of your mistakes and problems and troubles, that you will lean heavily into what God is doing within you and that it begins to express itself in the way you love others.”
Following Jesus is not primarily about doing what’s right. It’s not about fixing your problems or not making them in the first place, it’s about letting God engage you in them and allowing him to work within you to complete what he has begun, because ultimately God is trying to move you beyond you.
It’s not easy to do. It will take time. But be confident that God wants to complete the work he began in you. Following Jesus isn’t about avoiding something, it’s about becoming something.
This morning, I have invited my friend Lindsay from Love Inc, to share with us a little bit about a partnership opportunity.