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Feelings and Longings

From Series: Take Dead Aim, Volume 1

Philippians 1:7 (ID: 2039)

Paul unashamedly expressed his longing for the Philippians, who remained faithful to him and the Gospel even in his absence. With Jesus as the standard and source of such affection, Paul revealed his passion through his prayers. As Alistair Begg walks us through the apostle’s appeals to God, he warns that Christian love can go astray if it is not properly founded on Scripture. When we study His Word, however, our responses will be molded and framed by God’s will.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to Philippians, and the first chapter, and the seventh verse:

“[It’s] right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, … that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

When I was studying this passage, one of the things that I did, almost spontaneously, was to write down on a separate sheet of paper a number of words which immediately stood out to me as I read these few verses. And the words that I wrote down were these: “feel,” “heart,” “longing,” “affection,” “love.” I found them to be quite striking, and perhaps you do too, because they are expressive of this peculiar relationship which Paul enjoyed with the churches under his care. It’s sometimes conveyed to us that this gentleman Paul was probably a fairly heartless kind of individual, that he was maybe aloof from people in some way, he had such a compelling urgency about what he was doing. And that goes along with the other mythological statements that we’re given concerning his identity, about which people know very little at all.

But we do know that Paul was a passionate man, and that he had a heart that was filled with love for those who were under his care. And in this respect, he provides a wonderful example to us. Because sometimes there are Christians who may give the impression that they are virtually devoid of emotion; that they are essentially members of what Andraé Crouch would refer to as the “First Church of Christ, Frigidaire”; that when you meet them, there is no warmth to them at all, and they are very cerebral individuals, and they think that the less emotion they display, the more Christian they actually are. On the other end of the pendulum swing you have these people who just wear their hearts on their sleeves, and they go from one emotional crisis to the other, and they create the impression that Christianity is a kind of mindless experience whereby you simply soak up these various emotional encounters which then make you an ever more emotional individual. And as is virtually always the case, the answer lies in neither the cold extreme nor the exuberant extreme, but lies in the middle.

And here the Bible gives to us the middle, because the apostle is unashamed, unafraid of sharing with the church just how he “feels” about them, as he says in verse 7, and also how he “longs” for them, in verse 8. Now, in the previous verses—that is, the first six verses of the chapter—he has told them that as he has remembered them, that has stimulated in him prayer and thankfulness and joy. And the reason is that he is so appreciative of the fellowship that they enjoy with one another. The word is “sharing” that comes; it is conveying partnership; it is the Greek word koinōnia, and it is a word that is used with frequency by Paul to describe this experience.

These individuals, he tells them, had stuck with him through thick and thin. And this is the thing that gave him such joy and stimulated this outburst of affection. Notice, in the heart of verse 7, he says, “Whether [I’m] in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you [are sharing] in God’s grace with me.” In other words, this particular church family had not become unsettled by the people who were around, the traveling preachers who held out all kinds of ideas that might easily have seduced them, being separated from the mighty apostle by time and by distance. He warns them about these characters in chapter 3, but he is rejoicing in the fact that all he has to do is, essentially, warn them, because they have continued to stand with him.

Nor have they been swept away by others who, in coming around the Philippian fellowship in the absence of Paul, would have been more attractive, would perhaps have been better looking, would have been far more impressive in their use of language, and so on. Because Paul recognized that people said of him, “You know, he’s very good at writing letters, but when you see him close up, he really doesn’t look like much at all.” That’s 2 Corinthians 10:10: “For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person [he’s] unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’”

So, you see, separated as he is in jail in Rome, it would be possible for the Philippians to have been swept away by others who came around, who were more impressive personalities, who were more striking characters, who were more eloquent in their use of the language. But he says, “I’m feeling passionate about all of you. I have you in my heart. Because whether I’m in the jail or out of the jail, whether I’m preaching, whether I’m involved in apologetics”—“defending,” apologia—“or whether I am commending the gospel, proclaiming it all, we share together in this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, I take a moment to mention this because it is quite striking. The Philippians are his joy and crown. He had a pleasant relationship with the other churches to whom he wrote, but he regarded these folks in some special way. They were standing out, if you like, against the backdrop of others. And certainly, they call a challenging word to contemporary Christianity, which I want to suggest to you is marked by fickleness—by fickleness. Modern Christians tend to be uncommitted when the times are good and unreliable when the times are bad. So they will treat the opportunities of fellowship, they will treat the responsibilities of worship, they will treat the hearing of the Word of God with a very arm’s-length approach. They will be uncommitted when the times are good; if it appeals to their sense of need, if it scratches where they itch, if it tickles their fancy, then they may sign up for it, then they may engage in it. And if things go awry, then, of course, they’ll be gone to pastures new.

And in my sixteenth year here, I have watched them “come and go / [with talk] of Michelangelo.”[1] For those of you who are English majors, that was just a burst of T. S. Eliot. Sorry, it just came out. You remember “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and they “come and go / [with talk] of Michelangelo.” “But I’ve seen ’em come and go, and I’ve seen ’em die, and long ago I stopped asking why,”[2] you know? That’s Johnny Cash, “San Quentin.” But anyway, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to find where you folks live, you know—somewhere between Johnny Cash and T. S. Eliot, you gotta be in there somewhere, right? Just looking for a point of contact.

But it’s true! When faced with failure or crisis or difficulty or disappointment, the temptation is to head for new pastures. And you know what one of the most encouraging things is for me? It’s simply this: that since we’ve been in this building—since ’95, was it?—we came in this building and we said to one another, “You know, this’ll never really feel like anything in here at all until we’ve laughed together and till we’ve cried together.” And it’s starting to have a feel now to me. Not because of stuff that we have in it, because we don’t have any stuff in it. And that’s purposeful. ’Cause we don’t want to look at stuff, we want to look at the Word of God, and then we want to look at one another. And in seeing one another enduring the difficulties, in running to one another in the experience of loss, in receiving from one another the enjoyment of restoration, we’re discovering that our hearts are being molded together in the bonds of the gospel, and that God is doing a quite wonderful thing. Oh, we’re not perfect, we’re not even close, we’ll never be till heaven; but nevertheless, we’ve come “through many dangers, toils, and snares,”[3] and the wonderful thing is that we’re all still here. At least I’m glad about it, and I think perhaps one of two of you are also. And the wonderful thing about it is that the same binding element between Paul and the Philippians is the same element which binds our hearts in the cause of the gospel.

Paul’s Passion for the Philippians

Now, I just have two points that I would like to draw your attention to. First of all, Paul’s passion, if we might refer to it as such, in verses 7 and 8. I’m picking up on all these words like “feel” and “heart” and “affection” and “longing,” etc. First of all, notice he says, “It’s right for me to feel this way about all of you.” Now, what does he mean? Is this that dreadful song, you know, “Feelings, nothing more than feelings”?[4] I don’t know what that song’s about, but it makes the hair stand up on the back of my head—in the wrong way, you know. Is that what he’s saying here? No, actually, the word here is phronein, which is “to think.” Literally, he’s saying, “It is right for me to think this way about you.” Well, if it is “to think,” why do the translators translate it “feel”? Well, simply because this particular verb for thinking is expressive not simply of a mental exercise, but conveys the notion of a sympathetic interest and of a genuine concern, so that when he says, “I am thinking about you,” we have it translated, “I am feeling this way about you,” because the way he thinks has to do not simply with his cerebrum, but has to do with the visceral dimension of his life.

Now, when I came to this phrase this week, I thought about my grandfather. Because one of the things that he used to say as I bade him farewell—and indeed, I think it was true of my sisters also—he would say, “I’ll be thinking away about you, son.” And it always struck me, because it seemed a strange way of saying, “I’ll be thinking about you.” But if he’d simply said, “I’ll be thinking about you,” I probably would never have thought about it, and certainly wouldn’t have remembered it this week. But it was because he said, “I’ll be thinking away about you.” And I wrote it down on my pad to look at it, see what it looks like: I’ll be thinking away about you. What does he mean, “thinking away about you”? It meant this: “I won’t just be thinking about you like, ‘Oh, there’s Alistair,’ but I’ll be thinking about you in terms of, ‘I wonder how he is, I care about how he is, I’m under the burden of what he’s doing, I’m interested in where he’s going’”—that kind of dimension. That’s the phraseology that is used here. So when Paul says to the Philippians, “It’s right for me to feel this way about you,” he is describing something that’s at the core of his being.

Now, that is illustrative. It’s not unique to the Philippian context. He goes on to say, “I have you in my heart.” “I have you in my heart. I carry you around with me.” Or, as Phillips puts it, “You are very dear to me.” I don’t know how you write your letters, I don’t know how you start your letters. Sometimes I just put the name, like “Collin,” and then, if it’s a little memo like that. Usually it would be “Dear Collin.” But I don’t personalize it beyond that without purpose, so that when I write “My Dear Eric,” it is because he is dear, and in a very personal way he is dear to me.

Now, Paul conveys this. Even though he is physically separated from these Philippians, they remain in his thoughts and in his prayers. This is not unfamiliar territory. When we studied 1 Thessalonians together, we noticed that Paul was prepared to say this. Indeed, the same terminology is used: 1 Thessalonians 2:7, he says, “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” That’s a nice picture, isn’t it? “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”[5] “Surely you remember that we did all these things when we were there,[6] and it is because of the relationship we enjoy.” In 2 Corinthians chapter 7, he says the same thing: “Make room for us in your hearts,” he says in verse 2, and then he goes on to say, “[I’ve told this to you before:] you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.”[7]

So, there’s nothing arm’s-length about this; that’s all I want you to notice. This is something very passionate. And what was it that bound the apostle and these people together? It’s the same thing, loved ones, that binds us together: “For whether I’m in chains”—“irrespective of my circumstances,” he says—“all of you share in God’s grace with me.” They were bound together not by a unity-of-purpose statement; that’s good. They were bound together not by common interest; that’s beneficial. They were bound together not on account of the fact that they had a kind of temporal and superficial liking for one another; that’s understandable. They were bound together by God’s amazing love towards them—that the one thing that unified their hearts was that when they thought about it, they said, “Amazing love! how can it be, that Thou, my God, [would] die for me?”[8] And the other person saying, “I feel the same way!” And there, then, is the basis of a bond: it’s in the gospel, you see.

When you feel ‘the love of Christ shed abroad to you in your heart by the Holy Spirit ,’ you will find yourself immediately drawn to others who love in the same way. 

That’s why it’s very striking to me that churches are trying to “conceive of” unity, and “create” unity, and do all these unifying things, and make people “feel at home” and feel whatever it is. Listen, when you feel “the love of Christ shed abroad to you in your heart by the Holy Spirit,”[9] you will find yourself immediately drawn to others who love in the same way.  You see, it is the love of family life. It’s not pressed on from the outside.

I traveled this week with one of my daughters, took her to the West Coast with me. All the way she was excited, not because of the West Coast, but because she was going to see her brother. And what an encouragement it was, after nine weeks of separation, to see the affection for one another; to see how proudly he held her hand and walked the campus and wanted everybody to know who she was, and how charmed she was to walk underneath his shoulder. Why? Because they love each other! They have the same dad! That’s the issue. (And the same mom, I know!)

But the reason I love you, ultimately, is not because you are particularly lovable. And the reason you love me is ’cause you flat out know I’m not lovable. It’s because we have the same Father. That’s the basis of our love, not some superficial, squishy nonsense engendered by singing songs forty-five times in a row, you know. No!

The closeness of their relationship is founded on God’s amazing love towards them. In fact, by the time he gets to verse 8, he doesn’t have words to adequately convey it. He says, “I call God as my witness. He knows my heart, and it’s God, ultimately, who knows I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He says, “I long for you all. I’m dying to see you again.”

I was listening to an oldies station this week, as well, and I heard that song, “When will I see you again?”[10] You know that … And I thought, “Well, that’s…”—’cause I’m always thinking about illustrative material in relationship to the text—I said, “Well, that’s not really it. It’s more Nilsson. It’s not that …, it’s, ‘I can’t live if living is without you.’”[11] You know that? All the nasal “I can’t live!” That’s what he’s saying here: “I’m dying to see you!”

Let me tell you something: church family is supposed to mean something. I mean, I’m getting old now; I don’t have a lot of time left to start experiencing this. I don’t want a bunch of sittin’ in rows, lookin’ at the backs of each other’s heads, ever so polite, ever so nice: “Good morning, Mr. Bleckensalt,” “Good afternoon, Miss Jones,” “How are you today?” “Very nice,” and everything. We’re supposed to be family.

Now, last week we sang “I’m so glad that you’re part of the family of God.”[12] I asked them to change the lyrics so we could look at one another and sing, “I’m surprised you’re a part of the family of God.” Because, frankly, that’s truer! Aren’t you surprised that I’m part of the family of God? I am. It’s grace! And so we share that same sense of surprise and wonder. And that’s the basis of yearning. Epipotheō is the verb. You find it all through Paul’s letters. When he writes to the church at Rome, he’s always using this verb when he talks to his friends. Romans 1:11, he says, “I long to see you.” It’s the same verb. Back in 1 Thessalonians 3, he uses the same verb. 1 Thessalonians 3:6: “But Timothy has just now come to us from you and [he] has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.” And in 2 Timothy 1:4: “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.”

Now, you will notice from the phraseology that both the standard and the source of this affection is none other than the Lord Jesus himself. Don’t let’s fall into the trap of thinking that love for one another is going to be engendered as a result of simply sitting around trying to engender it or waiting for the temperature to rise. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis puts it very well when he writes,

It would be quite wrong to think that the way to become [loving] is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings .… The rule for [us all] is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we [will learn] one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love [them.][13]

Now, Bishop Lightfoot, commenting on it, saw it as an even more mystical dimension. When he talks about “the affection of Christ Jesus”—“I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus”—Lightfoot says, “[Paul’s] pulse beats with the pulse of Christ; his heart throbs with the heart of Christ.”[14] And there’s something in that. Because if you think about Paul before, it wasn’t that he didn’t love Christians. He hated Christians. He killed Christians. How did he come to have this affection? Jesus gave it to him. Jesus made the murderer lovely. Jesus does that. Jesus took this cursing, blasphemous rascal and turned him the right way up.

And so he writes with this affection. Indeed, the word that he uses, splagchnizomai, which is a great word—if you only know one Greek word, you could learn this word, ’cause you can use it at all kinds of occasions, and it just… Oh, splagchnizomai! But it actually means bowels—bowels. You know, like “bowels of fire”? And that’s why in your King James Version it says, “with the bowels of Christ Jesus,” which, that phrase alone says to me we need a new translation. I mean, I’m prepared to give the King James Version the boot just for the sake of that phrase alone, because it is an inelegant phrase. It gets cleaned up to “the tender mercies,”[15] and in the NIV it is aptly translated “affection.” And it dates to the seventeenth-century usage, when, in thinking that the viscera, the gut of the individual was the seat of the emotions, they thereby translated it quite literally in relationship to that, so that what he is saying is that “my gut feeling for you, my affection for you is all bound up with who Jesus is and what he’s done.” And that really is the basis for the little chorus that we sometimes sing,

I love you with the love of the Lord,
[And] I love you with the love of the Lord.
I can see in you the glor[ies] of my King,
And I love you with the love of the Lord,[16]

with “the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

Now, I spent a fair amount of time on that. Let me just go to verse 9, 10, and 11 and take it from his passion to his prayer. How does he pray? Interestingly, prayer is going to be one of the key expressions of love, isn’t it? Two weeks ago—whenever it was—in Chicago, in the Friday evening when we had a radio rally, a little gentleman came up to me, a Mexican. And as I was sitting at a table, and there was a crowd of people around, he came up and he said a number of things, and then he got his little crinkly face right up to mine, and he said, “When you’re having a very bad day,” he says, “when you are down in the dumps, when you want to quit, remember that there is a little Mexican man in Chicago who prays for you every day. I love you,” he said.

One of the key ways in which we will really express our love for one another is to pray for one another.

You love your kids? You pray for them. You love your friends? You pray for them. We love each other? We pray for one another. But nobody prays for anybody every day unless they love them—unless they do it out of a sense of routine, you know, that is purely external to them. But one of the key ways in which we will really express our love for one another—for our children, for our church—is to pray for one another.  And that’s exactly what he does here: “I love you,” he says, “with the affection of Jesus. And this is my prayer.” So his passion is revealed in his praying—not revealed in a bunch of cozy stuff, ultimately, but revealed in his prayers.

And what does he pray? Well, he prays that their love—which is agapē, not phileo, not the weaker word where we get “Philadelphia” from, the “City of Brotherly Love,” but the agapē, the self-giving love of Christ—he says, “I pray that that love may develop in two ways: in knowledge and in depth of insight.” Now, the word that he uses there is a heaped-up word for the Greek verb “to know”; and the word that he uses is epiginosko, which is descriptive of a knowledge which is not merely a knowledge of the head, but is, if you like, a knowledge of God that is born of the revelation of God to the child of God by the Spirit of God. In other words, he is speaking here about a kind of knowledge that is made possible as a result of God’s self-disclosure. It is an intimacy with God. It is the kind of knowing of a person that would be true within the bonds of marriage. It is that close, that cohesive, that united. You see, you can have a big folder with material in it, and you can know—doctrine of justification, got it, doctrine of sanctification, got it, doctrine of Scripture, doctrine of God, doctrine of this, doctrine of that—you can have that all down, you can walk around, you can be a walking compendium of theological terminology and yet still be severely lacking in a knowledge of God in terms of the intimacy to which he is referring.

That scares me. ’Cause I’m personally, privately (now publicly) on a quest to determine what Jesus means when in John 14:21 he says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. [And] he who loves me will be loved by my Father,” and here’s the thing: “and I too will love him”—now, notice—“and show myself to him.” “Show myself to him.” Two verses later he reiterates it: “If anyone loves me, [he’ll] obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”[17] Okay? I gotta find out what this means.

I have a sneaking suspicion that some of us are far too content with the bumper-sticker sort of mentality which defines our Christianity in one observable phrase, “Christians are not perfect, they’re just forgiven.” As if, somehow or another, we would be able to relieve ourselves of all our imperfections and testify to the fact that the ultimate truth about Christianity is that we are forgiven. Is forgiveness the ultimate truth about Christianity? No, it’s not. It is a dimension of what it means to know God. But the ultimate truth about Christianity is that the incarnate God who walked the streets of Jerusalem, who ascended into heaven, has returned again by his Holy Spirit, and while justification is forensic and outside of us, the process of becoming like God is internal, it is inside of us.

Therefore, we have a legitimate right to say, “God, it says in the Bible that you will show yourself to me. Show yourself to me!” Come to worship on the Lord’s Day with that as your prayer, and I can virtually guarantee you, we will move into another dimension of what it means to worship God and to hear him speak. “O God, I am going amongst the people of God. Show yourself to me!” Isn’t that what the [prophet] is saying? “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.”[18] “I know you’re up there. I wish you would come down here.” And of course, that’s the message of Christianity: that he has come down here. And now he has gone up there to the right hand of the Father, but we are not alone; otherwise, we would be left as orphans. He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our life. “So,” says Paul, “I pray that you may grow, that your love may grow in this kind of intimate awareness of God, so that you hear his voice.”

And I’m not talking audibly. I’m talking about those encounters that happen, as happened to me this week, sitting at a table with a man I didn’t know. And in the course of conversation, he spoke in such a way that both of our faces welled up with tears, and we could not contain the moment. And neither of us anticipated that it would be so, and it wasn’t because he told a sad story. I’ll tell you what it was: God showed himself. And driving in the car coming away from an appointment, and we never got the business, and we were banking on the business, and we felt sure we were supposed to have the business, and we felt wretched and miserable and lonely and upset, and suddenly, over the voice of Christian radio, God showed himself to me; we flipped it through, and it went “…on the sparrow,” and we went, “Oh!” and we got back, and we heard it sing, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”[19] And God says, “I just had you tune in for that.”

See, people have got a legitimate question if we’re gonna sing songs like, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”[20] “Oh yeah? When’s the last time he told you you were his own?” Well, the answer should be, “In the hearing of the Word of God, in the singing of the praise of God, in the communion of the family of God, in the opening up of the Word of God.”

“Oh,” he says, “I pray that your love may deepen, broaden, strengthen in this dimension of knowledge,” and notice, also, “in depth of insight.” The Greek word, again, is aísthēsis, which may variably be translated “perception” or “discrimination.” Because, you see, when somebody says the kind of things that I am saying to you now and doesn’t qualify them as they are qualified here in the space of three words by Paul, then the danger is that certain people will take that notion and they will do great damage to themselves and everybody they come in contact with.

You want to meet God and have him show himself to you? Read the Word of God; his Spirit brings it to you.

Says Plummer, an old commentator, “Misty thought”—that is, unclear thought—“emotional conduct, and indiscriminate good nature are perilous,”[21] because Christian love can go badly astray unless it is directed properly. And how is it to be directed properly? Well, we need that depth of insight, the ability to make a moral and a correct decision. Where does this insight come from? It comes from studying and knowing your Bible. You want to meet God and have him show himself to you? Read the Word of God; his Spirit brings it to you.  You want to have a depth of insight so that you won’t go off the deep end and become a crazy person? Here is where you get the depth of insight. That’s why we need to be students of it.

As we allow the way in which we think to be influenced by God’s Word, then we will find that our responses to situations that emerge will become increasingly molded and framed by the mind and the will of God. As we live in the presence of God, as we cultivate his presence, we will become more like him, and we will begin to feel far more about people and circumstances the way God does. If our religion is external and pharisaical, then we will respond to people as Pharisees. We will respond as the elder brother in the story of his returning brother: and oh, how disgusted he was that this kid came back! He should have been overwhelmed with joy!

We stand on our hind legs and look down on the world and condemn young people for the way they do certain things and for pagans for being pagans. What do you except pagans to be except pagans? How do you expect people to conclude about “fetal tissue” if their worldview is that they were born by chance, they prolong themselves by chance, and they die and go into oblivion? They are consistent with their worldview, then, to be pro-abortion. They happen to be wrong, but they’re consistent. And it’s no good, us simply standing up to condemn them for their consistency; it is in order to live before them in such a way that we might make the gospel of our Lord and Savior attractive so that when they find themselves in the most perilous of circumstances and in need of the kind of help that they require, they’re going to be running to the church rather than running away from the church.

Now, he prays that, and then he prays also that “you’ll be able to recognize what is the highest and the best.” “So that you may be able,” verse 10, “to discern what is best.” In other words, not merely able to pick out the good from the bad, but able to find the best among the good. Isn’t that the way you’ve told your children to choose their spouse?

“Don’t just look for a good one. Look for the best amongst the good.”

“Well, he’s a Christian, Dad. He said he’s a Christian.”

“Does he live like a Christian?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Well, go and find out. Because I don’t care if he professes to be a Christian, I care if he lives like a Christian. Does he have a passion for God?”

“Well, what kind of question is that? He’s cute!”

We want to enable our children to discriminate between the good and the best. We want to make sure each other is going in search of excellence, that we might be discriminating in the way in which we make decisions.

The word which is used here is actually a word for testing and approving after the test has been passed. It would be used for the testing of coins. They had a way of checking coins, passing them, and only the ones that were approved became genuine currency, and the rest were flipped out. If we’re going to discern what is best, then we need to ask two questions at the head of every decision we make: number one, What is right? and number two, What is best?

Tomorrow morning, you go back into the world of sales, or wherever else it is, you take your first telephone call, the guy says to you, “Look, I think we can do a deal here. It’s a little tricky, it’s a little imaginative”—those are the synonyms for “It’s downright wrong”—or, “It’s a little creative. I think there’s a creative way we can, you know, get at this.” Fine. Write immediately on a pad in front of you, What is right? And then underneath it write, What is best? And don’t go to What is best? until you’ve done What is right? And those two questions will save all of us from a tremendous amount of heartache.

You’re thinking about leaving your husband. Ask the question, What is right? “Well, you don’t understand my husband. He’s a total pain in the neck. He’s done this, he’s a jerk, he’s… You should… I mean…” No, no. What is right? “Well, ‘right’ is that I stay!” Then stay. “You mean it’s as simple as that?” The decision is as simple as that; the working out of it’ll be unbelievable, but the decision is clear, yeah. And then once we’ve done what is right, then we’ll ask, “Now, what is best to do here?” That’s just one illustration.

Now, let me point two things, and we’re finished. Thirdly, he prays, “That you may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” The word there for “pure” may be equally translated “sincere.” It’s a Greek word that comes from, probably, the Greek word for sunlight, which is hélā. And the notion is that the thing would be tested by the exacting standards of this clear sunlight.

Having mentioned my grandfather, it made me think of my grandmother, who amongst her many lovely qualities had a dreadful fascination with milliners’ shops. She liked hat shops. And since I was sometimes in her custody, I became familiar with hat shops as well. Now, of all the shops that I grew to dislike, there’s nothing I have ever disliked more than hat shops. Close second is wallpaper shops, where you choose from wallpaper books, or those Simplicity pattern places where women go to choose patterns to make kimonos and stuff like that. You can go in there and have about three birthdays before you ever get back out. Some of the worst.

But in the hat stores, my grandmother—you know those hat stores: they’re dim; they’re dim, dusky, they have those wooden non-heads with all these hats. It’s like the Twilight Zone. You wouldn’t want to go in there late at night, it’d scare you to death. But she would narrow it down. Oh, what a task! She’d get it, “Oh, let me try that one. Oh, what do you think of that one?” “I think it’s lovely, Gramm.” I loved every one. I loved the first one she ever put on. “It’s a beautiful hat, let’s go.” But when she finally narrowed it down to her choices, she still wasn’t done. Then came the pièce de résistance—always the same question, and I knew it was coming: “Can I take this outside?” Because “the light in the store was casting a shadow on it,” she couldn’t tell if it was really blue-black, or black-blue with a touch of purple, or whatever it was. So we have to go with the lady, who was frightened we were going to rip the hat off; we all three of us go out, then we examine it in the sunlight, and she’d “um” and “ah,” then we go back in again, and then, “Well, maybe we can take this one outs—” Now, I love my grandmother, I revere her memory, but man that ticked me off, always. But her objective was clear: let the sun shine on it and we’ll find out how it really looks.

Same deal, he says: “I want you to allow the sunshine of God’s love, the power of his purity, the truth of his Word to shine on you in such a way that you may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ; that you will not be offensive, that you will not be the cause of offense in the lives of others; and finally, that your lives will be full of the true goodness that is to the glory and praise of God.” That’s verse 11. Our time is gone. Lives that are right with God, both in terms of our relationship with him, which is justification, and our obedience to him, which is holiness; and the one never exists without the other.

Now, notice, finally, the goal of all of this in the very final phrase: “to the glory and praise of God.” The goal of Paul’s prayer is the same as the purpose of our lives. Shorter Westminster Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”[22] Paul writes to these dear folks and he says, “I love you, you’re dear to me, I have an affection for you, I carry you in my heart. All of that issues in prayer for you, and I long that you will become full-orbed Christians to the praise of his glory.” That’s ultimately the desire that we have as pastors here at Parkside for you who are under our care, way beyond any other desire: that you would become fully mature in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we would mature right along with you.

Father, take your Word and write it in our hearts, we pray. Seal the truth of your Word to us by the Spirit. For those of us who are confused or wondering, we pray that you will bring into our framework those who are able to answer our questions and commend Christ to us. We really want your help here as a church family, Lord; we want to be like this Philippian place. We want our love to “abound more and more.” We want to grow in discernment and in intimate knowledge of you. We want to become “pure and blameless till the day of Christ.” Amen.


[1] T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (June 1915), 130–35.

[2] Johnny Cash, “San Quentin” (1969). Paraphrased.

[3] John Newton, “Amazing Grace” (1779).

[4] Morris Albert, “Feelings” (1974).

[5] 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV 1984).

[6] 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (paraphrased).

[7] 2 Corinthians 7:3 (NIV 1984).

[8] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” (1738).

[9] Romans 5:5 (paraphrased).

[10] The Three Degrees, “When Will I See You Again” (1974).

[11] Harry Nilsson, “Without You” (1971).

[12] Gloria Gaither and William J. Gaither, “The Family of God” (1970). Paraphrased.

[13] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943; repr., New York: Touchstone, 1996), 116.

[14] Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1898), 85.

[15] Philippians 1:8 (ASV).

[16] Jim Gilbert, “I Love You with the Love of the Lord” (1977).

[17] John 14:23 (NIV 1984).

[18] Isaiah 64:1 (NIV 1984).

[19] Civilla D. Martin, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (1905).

[20] C. Austin Miles, “In the Garden” (1913).

[21] Alfred Plummer, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (1912; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), 14.

[22] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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