Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Twenty-Second Sunday After Trinity

As we near the end of the church year, our readings begin to focus on the end times, but notice that they aren't all about the moon turning to blood and the sky rolling up like a scroll.  They are about being ready for the end, because it will come like a thief in the night, and although we, as Christians, don't know the day or the hour, we will still be prepared for it, when it comes, because Christ has given us everything we need to know in his Holy Word.  In Paul's letter to the Philippians, his words are filled with joy as he appreciates the Philippians for their steadfast faith.  He prays that their faith and love will increase more and more.  What does this have to do with the end times?  Well, the period of time between our our conversion and our death is a period of sanctification.  This is a time where we increase in faith in God and love for our neighbors, so that we can make a good showing at the end, like finishing a race.  Sanctifying works are not related to God's wrath or hell.  Salvation from God's wrath and hell has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ's death on the cross and has been applied to us by the Holy Spirit in our conversion.  As justified sinners, we no longer fear hell.  However, the life we live afterwards is a constant striving against sin and a continual doing of good works for our neighbors.  This is Christ's righteousness, imputed to us, being lived out in us, more and more as we become more sanctified, until the end comes.  This is Paul's prayer for the Philippians, and it is his prayer for us as well.

Remember, we are still sinners, and failing to do good works during our sanctification doesn't mean we are suddenly "unsaved," but not trying to live a Christian life may mean that we were never saved in the first place.  Antinomianism, or an anti-law philosophy, says that since we have been saved, we don't have to do good works, and--more importantly--if we try to do good works, we are not really saved, because only unsaved people try to do good works.  This is false.  Pre-salvation works are like filthy rags to the Lord, but post-salvation works are merely the righteousness of Christ shining forth in the believer.  Let's look at Paul's first thoughts in his letter to the Philippians (1:3-11):

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 from the first day until now. 

So, one of the aspects of the Philippians' sanctification is their partnership in the gospel, which means that they immediately began to spread the gospel after conversion.  Let's flip back to Acts 16 and see it in action:

So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul and his assistants found the place of prayer, and they sat down and spoke to the women there.  Women would have been shunned by pre-salvation Paul, but women are equal under the new covenant of grace.  It seems that only one woman, Lydia, is regenerated out of all.  The text says, "the Lord opened her heart to pay attention."  Is this conversion?  Yes, because the next sentence says that she was baptized, which is the outward visible sign of the inward invisible grace of the Lord's regeneration.  Also, her household was baptized, too, to reflect the grace that God bestowed upon the whole family.  Even if some don't quite yet believe, God is faithful to continue to grow faith in the family of a true believer.

An incident in the marketplace lands Paul and his group in prison.  Here comes the next conversion and addition to the Philippian church:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

God seizes the Philippian jailer with fear, bringing him to his knees.  God gives him the initial seed of faith to believe in Jesus, and this faith is extended to the jailer's household!  Paul and Silas water the seed by preaching to the household, and then the jailer responds with a good work for new brothers in Christ--he begins washing their wounds.  He and his whole family were then baptized.  The jailer feeds his pastors and the whole household rejoices at God giving him the power to believe.  So, two entire households were the start of the Philippian church.  And, according to Paul, they have remained in partnership in the gospel until now, the writing of the letter.

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. 

Now, we have the other side of the Christian life, the other bookend. Paul prays that their sanctification will be brought to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.  Let's look at what that means by reading 1 Thessalonians 5:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 

We may not know when the day of the Lord will come, but our sanctification makes us prepared for it.

But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 

The end won't surprise us, because we are living in the day.  Paul's prayer for the Philippians is essentially a prayer that they live continually in the day, so that they will be prepared for Christ's return.  Living in the day also means that we are doing the works of the Lord, because good works are done in the day.

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Note that Paul says that "God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."  This is just more proof that our salvation is solely a work of the Lord.  We watched as God gave Lydia and the jailer saving faith, and we watched as God extended that salvation to their households.  Note in the rest of Paul's words to the Philippians how not only our salvation but our sanctification is a work of 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 in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 

Not only are the Philippians partners in the gospel, but they are partakers of grace.  They are partakers in Paul's imprisonment, even though they are not there with him.  How is this so?  Because the Christian life is full of persecutions.  Even though they are not physically in jail, the Philippians--as well as all true Christians--experience tribulation.  This is the Christian life.  If you are having your "best life now," you need to be worried. Note that Paul doesn't say, "sorry that you're going through trials."  No, he rejoices in tribulation.  Persecutions and trials are actually signs that the Lord is working in our sanctification.  Now, getting into messes because of secular reasons does not count as Godly tribulation.  Acting like an unbeliever and getting immersed in worldly trials like an unbeliever is not the same thing.  This is why Paul attaches "defense and confirmation of the gospel" to "imprisonment."  The persecutions within our sanctification come with our defense and confirmation of the gospel, not only with our lips but in our lives.

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 

Even the affection that Paul has for fellow believers comes directly from Jesus Christ.  Remember, Paul is a fruit-bearing branch on the vine of Jesus Christ, just as the Philippians are.  He isn't a special vine in his own right, with his own religion, his own righteousness, and his own set of rules.  He is a fellow partaker in the righteousness that Jesus bestows on all his children.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Here Paul reaffirms that the purpose of our sanctification is so that we can be presented pure and blameless (or as pure and blameless as possible for justified sinners to be) for the day of Christ--for that final judgment day.  He also reaffirms that the fruit of righteousness, the good works that come out of our sanctification are through Jesus Christ as well.  Jesus is our justification and the source of our sanctification.  And all of this is to the glory and praise of God.  When the end comes, eternity with Christ begins, which consists entirely of glory and praise to God.

Going back to 1 Thessalonians 5, we can see Paul confirm this:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Some of the most comforting words in the whole of scripture: "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."  He surely will.  You have nothing to fear, because not only is God alone capable of sanctifying you, but he is faithful to do it, too.