A few years ago, former “first lady” Barbara Bush was being interviewed on television. As best I can recall, the interviewer was Barbara Walters. The sage Barbara Bush candidly answered a number of questions. From time to time, Barbara Walters would tempt Barbara Bush to say something critical about one of her husband’s most famous political rivals. Each time Mrs. Bush would pause, consider the possibility, and then pass it up without comment. Finally, after continual prodding, Barbara Walters struck a nerve with one of her questions, designed to evoke a critical response concerning her husband’s rival. This time Mrs. Bush considered her response, and then with a twinkle in her eye replied, “I just love to hear that man whimper.”
I must confess, I found her response amusing. Having confessed this, I must also go on to say that no one really enjoys hearing anyone whimper, not for very long anyway. Whimpering is a most unbecoming behavior. Nevertheless, we find a great deal of whimpering in the Bible. Some very famous biblical characters were world-class whiners. I’m thinking of Jacob, for example (Genesis 37:25; 42:36; 43:6, 14; 47:8-9; contrast Genesis 41:50-52; 50:20). Naomi seems to have been a whiner as well (see Ruth 1:12-14, 19-21). Elijah also was a whiner (1 Kings 19:4, 9-10, 13-14). Job started well in dealing with his sufferings, until he was “comforted” by his wife and friends. It took a rebuke from God to get him back on track (Job 38ff.). Asaph was crying his eyes out in the first verses of Psalm 73, and it was not until he had encountered God in worship that he began to think and act correctly (Psalm 73:16-28). The trophy for longest and most sustained whining goes to the nation of Israel. They grumbled their way from Egypt to Mount Sinai, and for almost another 40 years in the wilderness.
If you and I were honest, we would probably all have to admit that there is a great deal of the whiner in us as well. I think that in one way or another we have found ways to justify our griping and complaining, and sometimes even to “sanctify” it as though it were spiritual. (If my reader wonders how I can speak with such authority here, it is because I am a world-class whiner.) What we will find in our text is that grumbling is sin, a serious sin (is there any sin that isn’t serious?), and one that often occurs when times get tough. In our study, we will find that Paul gives us some very clear instruction regarding whining, and he we will also tell us the cure for whining.
If anyone had an excuse for complaining, it was the Apostle Paul. Ever since his conversion from Pharisaism to Christianity, he had been hounded and opposed by unbelieving Jews. At Philippi, it seems to have been Gentile businessmen who opposed Paul, angered by the fact that he and Silas destroyed their profitable business venture (when he cast the demon from their slave girl who was a fortune-teller). Later, Paul took a generous gift from the Gentile churches to the saints in Jerusalem. While he was there, he sponsored several young men who went to the temple to offer sacrifices. There he was observed by Asian Jews who falsely accused him of bringing Gentiles into a forbidden area of the temple. This provoked a riot and led to a very long legal process, ending up with Paul’s appeal to Caesar.
Paul writes this Epistle to the Philippians some ten years or so after his first visit to this city. The Philippians stood with Paul as he went forth preaching the gospel. They alone financially assisted him in his defense and proclamation of the gospel. The eyes of all were on the Apostle Paul as he awaited trial before Caesar. Most continued to remain loyal to Paul and to stand with him in his defense of the gospel. A few chose to take advantage of Paul’s incarceration as an opportunity to attack Paul’s credibility, while enhancing their own standing at his expense (1:15, 17). How painful it must have been to have your own brethren “stabbing you in the back,” while awaiting a trial necessitated by unjust accusations and political cowardess.
Was this not the perfect opportunity for Paul to do a little whining to the Philippians? They, of all people, would be sympathetic to his whimperings. Yet the Book of Philippians is one of the most triumphant and joyful books in the entire Bible. Paul begins by expressing his deep love and concern for the Philippian saints (1:3-11). He then describes his present circumstances, and why he can rejoice in them (1:12-18a). Indeed, even if his trial should end in death, he finds this outcome something to rejoice about (1:18b-26).
Paul turns from his personal circumstances, attitude, and conduct in 1:1-26 to the Philippians in 1:27ff. He conveys his desire that their attitudes and conduct will adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like him, these saints are beginning to suffer for their faith in Christ. Like Paul, they need to recognize their suffering as a gift from God, just as their salvation was a gift of God’s grace (1:29-30). Paul desires that the Philippian saints maintain the same love and unity towards one another as he has shown towards them (1:3-11; 2:1-4). The basis for Christian unity is humility, that humility which purposely sets the interests of others above our own. The ultimate example of this kind of humility is our Lord Jesus Christ, who although equal with God, set aside His privileges as God and humbled Himself by adding sinless humanity to His undiminished deity. He subordinated His interests to those of the Father, thus accomplishing the work of Calvary, which will result in the universal acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus Christ to the glory of God (2:9-11).
12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with humility and dependence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 16 by holding on to the word of life so that I will have a reason to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I have joy and rejoice together with you. 18 And in the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice together with me.
Having set out the conduct that the gospel requires in general terms, Paul will speak in more specific terms in 2:12-18. In these verses, Paul gives very specific commands, using the imperative form44 of the verbs: “work out” (verse 12), “do” (verse 14), “be glad,” and “rejoice” (verse 18).
Before we begin to look more carefully at verses 12-18, let me make some general observations. First, notice that Paul introduces his instruction with the words, “my dear friends,” thus emphasizing that these are his beloved friends. How different the tone is here from books like Galatians, where Paul is dealing with heresy. This intimate friendship and bond of love permeates the entire letter to the Philippians (see 1:3-11, 12; 2:20; 3:1; 4:1, 10). Second, Paul is urging his beloved friends to persist in what they are already doing. He begins by indicating that they have a history of obedience. He is not calling for repentance, as we see him doing with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:9-10; 12:21), or as our Lord does in Revelation (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19). They are to “keep up their good work.” Third, they are to flesh out their faith in imitation of our Lord, as His incarnation was described in verses 5-11 of this chapter. Finally, they are to flesh out their faith by their obedience, humility, and joy.
Paul urges the Philippian saints to “continue working out your salvation with humility and dependence” (verse 12). Several things need to be said about this command. It is a command given to Christians, urging them to “flesh out” (incarnate, live out) their faith. It is not a command to “work for” their salvation. We should not even consider this as an option, because we know how dogmatic Paul is about the fact that men are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, apart from works (Romans 3:19-30; Galatians 2:20-21; 3:1-29; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-7). Paul expects his readers to understand that while we are not saved “by our works,” we are saved “unto good works” (Ephesians 2:8-10). “Working out our salvation” means living out the faith we have in Christ. It is virtually the same thing as “conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Working out our salvation is a life-long process, as can be seen by the present tense of the imperative. It is something we “keep on doing.”
Notice the emphasis on salvation as “your” or “your own.” There is some discussion as to whether the salvation spoken of here is individual or corporate. While there is a corporate dimension to salvation (i.e., the church, the assembly of believers), I think Paul is focusing primarily on individual salvation. The “your” (or, perhaps even better, “your own,” as several translations render it) seems to suggest that each and every Christian should “tend to their own knitting,” as some would put it. How easy it is to focus on how others should live out their faith and keep the focus from ourselves. The fleshing out of our personal faith is our personal responsibility.
The emphasis of verse 12 falls on the attitude of the Christian as he or she “fleshes out their faith.” We are commanded to do so “with fear and trembling” (many translations). This expression is used several times in the New Testament,45 and I believe that it can best be summed up by the word “humility.” Humility is the basis for sacrificial service and unity. Humility is the attitude Paul has called for (Philippians 2:3-4) and illustrated by the incarnation and atonement of our Lord (2:5-11). When one looks at the use of the expression “fear and trembling” in the texts listed below, humility is quite clearly being referred to. Our faith should be fleshed out with humility, because we know that no good work is truly our work; rather it is God’s work. He is the One working in us so, prompting us to desire and to carry out His will. How can one be proud of any good thing we do when we know that anything good really has come from God (see 1 Corinthians 4:7; James 1:17)?46
I must make one last observation in verse 12. You will notice that Paul informs us that God is the One who is causing us to be willing and to work, “for the sake of his good pleasure.” One might very well get the impression that God does everything to suit Himself, whether we like it or not. There is a certain measure of truth here, which I do not in any way wish to deny. He is sovereign, and that means God can do what He wishes. No one has said it any better than Nebuchadnezzar:
31 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. “I blessed the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his rule is an everlasting rule, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one swats his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?”
33 “At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my magistrates were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. Tremendous greatness was restored to me. 34 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the king of heaven, for all of his deeds are right and his ways are just. Those who live in pride he is able to bring low” (Daniel 4:31-34, emphasis mine).
My concern is that we may get the impression that God pleases Himself at our expense. Surely Philippians 2:5-11 would challenge this. God does glorify Himself at the expense of His enemies. But I am convinced that when God acts to please Himself, He is also acting in a way that is for our benefit, as believers in Him. Is this not the point of Romans 8:28? God causes all things to work together for our good and for His glory. Our good (that is, the “good” of Christians) is what glorifies God. This is part of the reason we do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Actually, the term translated “good pleasure” often conveys the idea of “kind or benevolent intention.” In Philippians 1:15, Paul used this same word (there rendered “goodwill” in the NET Bible) to describe the motivation of those who loved Paul and preached the gospel out of “goodwill” toward him. Their actions flowed from a benevolent spirit toward Paul, while others preached out of selfish ambition. Nearly every translation I have consulted renders this in a way that focuses on God’s “pleasure.” The pronoun “his” is not really in the original text, however. Literally rendered, the text would read, “for God is the One working in you both to will and to work for the good pleasure.” At the very least, I believe Paul is saying that we should be humbled to realize that God is the One at work in us to will and to work His benevolent purposes for us. It may even be that Paul has structured this verse in a way that implies that the goal of God’s working is for His pleasure and ours.
There is another reason I wish to emphasize the fact that God’s pleasure is to be the believer’s pleasure as well. Paul’s next words, recorded in verse 14, forbid us from grumbling and arguing. How can the Christian grumble and complain when God’s purposes are for our good? Grumbling is not just sin; grumbling is stupid. It is like complaining about receiving season passes to our favorite baseball team’s home games, or about getting a gift certificate for a free dinner at the nicest restaurant in town. How can one complain and grumble when God’s purposes cannot fail, and when we know that His purposes are for our eternal pleasure and enjoyment, as well as His?
Notice that we have a double-edged command. We are to do “all things without grumbling or arguing” (verse 14), and we are also to “rejoice” and “be glad” (verse 18). We can therefore safely say that grumbling and arguing are sin; indeed, they are always sin. Grumbling and arguing are a wrong response to adversity. They betray our failure to trust in God’s good purposes, and in His ability to “cause all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28). They are an inappropriate response to suffering.
The word translated “grumbling” is used to describe Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness (Exodus 16:7-9, 12; Numbers 17:20, 25). It would seem to me that grumbling often begins with one (or just a few) malcontents, who gain a hearing, and whose grumbling multiplies. This takes place until sufficient “support” has been generated, and then leadership is confronted. An illustration of this may be seen in the New Testament when Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume. In Mark’s Gospel (14:1-9), we are simply told that “they” murmured against her. But in John 12:4-6, we are told that it was Judas who first raised the objection. While his objection has a pious ring to it (this could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor), the reality was that Judas had hoped to steal a portion of the proceeds if it had been sold. Putting all the details of the Gospel accounts together, we can see that Judas was the first grumbler, and that he soon had stirred up the others, so that they joined with him in his grumbling. Grumbling is indeed contagious.
“Arguing” is the result of the rebellion and constant second-guessing of those who (unlike Christ; 2:5-11) refuse any pain or suffering as a part of God’s plans and purposes. At virtually every instance of suffering, the whiners “get in the face of God’s leader(s),” protesting against their pain. They seem to forget that when they contend with God’s leaders, they are really resisting God Himself:
6 And Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that Yahweh has brought you out of the land of Egypt. 7 And in the morning you will see the glory of Yahweh, because he heard your murmurings against Yahweh. And what are we, that you should murmur against us?” 8 And Moses said, “You will know this when Yahweh gives you in the evening meat to eat, and bread in the morning to satisfy you, because Yahweh heard your murmurings which you are murmuring against him. And what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against Yahweh” (Exodus 16:6-8, emphasis mine).
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t walk in your ways. So now appoint over us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But this matter was displeasing to Samuel, when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people with regard to everything that they say to you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as king over them. 8 According to all the actions that they have taken from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you. 9 So now listen to their voice. But really warn them and make them aware of the kinds of decisions that the king who will rule over them will make” (1 Samuel 8:4-9, emphasis mine).
Think about it for a minute. Grumbling and arguing are really the fruit of a lack of humility. Those who grumble and argue are the ones who put their own interests ahead of everyone and everything else. They are arrogant, wrongly supposing that they are entitled to God’s blessings, and so they protest when suffering comes their way. Humility causes us to realize that there are many things that are more important than our personal comfort, and so humility is the basis for submission and obedience. More than this, humility is the basis for joyful obedience, even in the face of suffering. This is what we have seen in our Lord (2:5-11), and in Paul (1:3-27). Any “obedience” which fails to be joyful is not godly obedience. Even the enemies of our Lord will confess Him to be Lord (2:9-11), but there is no joy and no praise in this.
In verses 15 and 16, Paul gives two additional reasons for fleshing out one’s faith with joyful obedience. First, this will adorn and enhance the gospel. Living life in joyful obedience to God’s Word sets the Christian apart from the world. In our minds, grumbling is not a serious offense, perhaps not even a sin. But it is sin. Wherever you go you will find grumbling, because no one apart from Christ has learned to be content.47 People will grumble about their lot in life, their marriage, their family, their job. When people seem to have almost nothing in common, they can almost always find someone who will grumble with them. Paul says that the joyful Christian will stand out in this world, as they stand apart from this world.
I believe that in joyful living Christians do “conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel” (1:27). The joy of Paul and Silas in that Philippian jail years before was the reason why the gospel had a hearing: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
The world lacks contentment, joy, and hope. When unbelievers see Christians who are content, joyful, and hopeful in the midst of suffering, they may well be open to hearing why we are so hopeful: “But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, blessed are you. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. 15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (1 Peter 3:14-15). Joyful living in the midst of adversity marks the Christian apart from everyone else, and thus it adorns the gospel of Jesus Christ. And because of this, joyful obedience accomplishes a second goal—it gives Paul great joy.
16 By holding on to the word of life so that I will have a reason to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink-offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I have joy and rejoice together with you. 18 And in the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice together with me.
Paul’s supreme desire was to please his Lord by promoting the cause of the gospel. Paul rejoiced at the Philippians’ obedience, because it promoted the gospel. Paul was even joyful about those who sought to cause him trouble because they, too, promoted the gospel (Philippians 1:15-18). Whatever advanced the gospel gave Paul great joy. The joyful obedience of the Philippians adorned and advanced the gospel, and so this assured Paul that his ministry among them had been fruitful.
Paul knew that this would all become apparent on “the day of Christ” (2:16). Over and over again, Paul spoke of this day. Our Lord humbled Himself and chose the path of joyful obedience, even though it led Him down the path of painful sacrifice. His humble sacrifice not only accomplished our salvation, it will bring about praise from all creation (2:9-11). Because of His humble obedience, God exalted the Lord Jesus. And Paul is absolutely convinced that his sacrifices on this earth are nothing in comparison with the blessings that await him in glory:
8 We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. 11 For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:8-18, emphasis mine).
Verses 17 and 18 are a most unique closing to Paul’s appeal for unity and harmony. Suffering is often the occasion for grumbling and arguing. We see this in Israel’s history during its years in the wilderness. I see this in our own home. One of our daughters has two dogs. Occasionally, these two dogs turn on each other, snapping and snarling as though these two “friends” were enemies. Fights especially occur when there is competition over food (like a scrap of food that falls from the table or is thrown down by one of our granddaughters), or when some threat arises (another dog appears outside our window). If sin prevails, suffering may turn saints against each other, rather than drawing them together. Some saints may even be tempted to withdraw fellowship from a suffering saint, fearing the same fate (see Hebrews 10:32-34; 13:3). Paul has a very different attitude toward suffering, and he encourages the Philippians to embrace it in verses 17 and 18.
Paul has already suffered much for the gospel, and he knows it is possible that his faith and ministry may cost him his life. Paul knows that the Philippians have already begun to experience the suffering he has known (1:29-30). How does he feel about identifying with the Philippians and their suffering? In today’s idiom, Paul would say that his suffering would simply be the “icing on the cake” of their sufferings. He uses the imagery of Old Testament sacrifices. He likens their sufferings to the main sacrifice, and his sufferings as the lesser sacrifice of the drink offering, offered on top of, or along with, the main sacrifice. He says that he would gladly suffer in this way, along with them. (Note the repeated emphasis on “joy” in these two verses.) Not only does Paul consider it a privilege to suffer with the Philippians; he sees his sufferings as the lesser of the two.
What an amazing outlook the apostle has! And he challenges the Philippians to view their sufferings in the same way. He urges them to rejoice in their sufferings, as having a very special kind of fellowship with him. Christians should expect to suffer for the sake of the gospel (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). They should joyfully accept and endure this suffering, fully assured that it, like their salvation, is a gracious gift from God (Philippians 1:29).
When a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he or she is called to a life of obedience. Jesus instructed His disciples to teach believers to “obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Our text takes this matter of obedience even farther. Paul insists that in order to be pleasing to God, our obedience must be joyful. That means that grumbling and arguing are sin. When we speak of grumbling, we are not talking about rebuke or admonition or correction. We are talking about the absence of joy, which leads to discontent that is inappropriately expressed. There is no excuse for grumpy Christians, and just because there are a lot of them doesn’t mean it is right. And to be very honest, my friend, there are a lot of grumpy Christians.
There is nothing good to say about them, either. Whimpering, whining, grumbling Christians are sinning, because they are being disobedient to God’s clear command to be joyful and not to grumble. They are unhappy, and their discontent is contagious. They often cause division and strife. They are “bad advertising” for the Christian faith. Who wants what they have? Discontent is also the first step toward rebellion against God. Think of it; before Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they had to become discontent with all the blessings God had given them. Grumpy Christians are just one small step away from active rebellion against God.
Our text not only teaches us that we should be joyful, it requires that we be joyful even in the midst of suffering and adversity. I have always thought that since joy and sorrow were opposites, one could not experience both joy and sorrow at the same time. Recently I have experienced both joy and sorrow at the same time. This past week we had to bid our good friend and deacon, Bill Humphries, a sad farewell. After battling with cancer for a number of months, the Lord finally took Bill home. His death was, in one sense, a very sad event. On the other hand, I found myself rejoicing, even as I stood at his bedside. There were so many wonderful things that God did for Bill and for those who loved him during his illness. Precious Scriptures were read and re-read, hymns were sung, and many prayers were offered up in his behalf. It was a time of great joy, even though there was suffering and sorrow. This is precisely what Paul is calling for in our text. Christians are to face suffering with joy-filled hearts. We are not to become sour and bitter. We are not to feel sorry for ourselves, nor are we to whine or grumble to others. Parents should not tolerate whining in their children, and children should be expected to obey joyfully, and not grudgingly.
Grumbling and whining is sin. We should not practice it. We should most certainly not promote it. We should not tolerate it. What is the cure for grumbling, whining Christians? There are a number of answers to this question, perhaps, but I think the cure can be summed up in one word: worship. In Psalm 73 Asaph whines and complains to God because he has concluded that the wicked are prospering while the righteous are suffering. It is only when he comes to worship that Asaph begins to see things clearly, and his bitter spirit melts into one of praise and gratitude:
12 Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer.
13 I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure, and maintained a pure lifestyle. 14 I suffer all day long, and am punished every morning.” 15 If I had publicized these thoughts, I would have betrayed your loyal followers. 16 When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me.
17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. 18 Surely you put them in slippery places, you bring them down to ruin. 19 How desolate they become in a mere moment! Terrifying judgments make their demise complete!
20 They are like a dream after one wakes up. O sovereign Master, when you awake you will despise them.
21 Yes, my spirit was bitter, and my insides felt sharp pain. 22 I was ignorant and lacked insight, I was as senseless as an animal before you. 23 But I am continually with you, you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me by your wise advice, and then you will lead me to a position of honor. 25 Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.
27 Yes, look! Those far from you die, you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign LORD my shelter, as I declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:12-28).
Psalm 95 is a most interesting text. The call to praise we find in the first part of the psalm suddenly turns to a warning against rebellion. What is the relationship between these two portions of this psalm? I believe the psalmist is urging us to worship the Lord, and warning us that if we do not, we will set a process of rebellion into motion. The cure for whining is worship:
1 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the LORD! Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us!
2 Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving! Let’s shout out to him in celebration! 3 For the LORD is a great God, a great king who is superior to all gods. 4 The depths of the earth are in his hand, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land. 6 Come! Let’s bow down and worship! Let’s kneel before the LORD, our creator! 7 For he is our God, the people of his pasture, the sheep he owns. Today, if only you would obey him!
8 He says, “Do not be stubborn like they were at Meribah, like they were that day at Massah in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors challenged my authority, and tried my patience, even though they had seen my work. 10 For forty years I was continually disgusted with that generation, and I said, ‘These people desire to go astray, they do not obey my commands.’ 11 So I made a vow in my anger, ‘They will never enter into the resting place I had set aside for them’” (Psalm 95:1-11).
Bill Humphries knew that unless God intervened in a miraculous way, he was going to die. He wanted to talk about his funeral service, and he was very specific in outlining the structure of his service, and particularly the texts of Scripture that would be used. He specified Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 2:42. One might wonder how these texts could be used for a funeral service, and why they were so important to Bill. I think that my study of our text in Philippians has helped me understand Bill’s reasoning. Every one of these texts is about the New Testament church and its worship, particularly what we at Community Bible Chapel call “the worship service.” This is a service that we hold weekly, where we come to worship our Lord by teaching, singing, and by observing the Lord’s Table (communion).
Worship was always important to Bill, but it became more and more precious to him as the end of his life drew near. Worship was what kept his perspective straight. Worship enabled him to view time in the light of eternity. Worship is what gave Bill great joy, even in the midst of his terminal illness. May I challenge you to consider your own life? Do you have real joy, even in the midst of adversity? Or, do you whimper, complain, and grumble? How is your commitment to worship? Let us leave this text reminded of the fact that joyful obedience is a command, and that whimpering and grumbling is a sin. Consider these words, written so many years ago,
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priestly scribe, and the Levites who were imparting understanding to the people said to all of them, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 He said to them, “Go and eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared. For this day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9-10, emphasis mine).
This “joy of the Lord” is not something that we work up or manufacture on our own. It is the joy which is the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), which God produces in the Christian. It is a joy which only the Christian can know, having trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of salvation. Have you known this joy, my friend? It comes from knowing Him, who is the source of all joy:
“I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive it, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:24).
“But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so they may experience my joy completed in themselves” (John 17:13).
17 “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people” (Romans 14:17-18).
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
44 I do not mean to imply that imperative force may not be conveyed in forms other than the imperative. Participles, for example, can convey imperatival force. I am simply saying that here Paul chose to use the imperative form of the verb four times in verses 12-18, which shows that these four verbs are clearly commands.
45 See 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5. In 2 Corinthians 7:15, Ephesians 6:5, and Philippians 2:12, the expression is closely associated with “obedience.” Notice that Paul has just pointed out that our Lord’s humility was demonstrated by His obedience (Philippians 2:8).
46 All too often Christians try to distinguish between “our work” and “God’s work,” as though they can be neatly isolated and compartmentalized. In my opinion, this is like trying to distinguish between our Lord’s humanity and His deity. Since the incarnation, He is the God-man, and I don’t think we do well to try to distinguish between our Lord’s deity and His humanity.