Now we're turning in our New Testaments to Paul's epistle to the Philippians chapter 1, and our subject title today is: 'The Marks of a Good Church', or if you like 'The Marks of a Spiritual Church', because that's what we mean when we say a good church. We don't mean a big church numerically, we don't even mean a very talented church with regards to the gifts that God has given to us, or perhaps just the natural gifts that we have been given by the natural process of nature, whether it be music or oratory or anything like that - that's not what we're talking about, but we're talking about the marks of a spiritually good church. We find that Paul outlines this for us in these verses that we read today, chapter 1 verses 27 to verse 30.
Now, you remember that Paul has been talking about how he will be victorious in death if he is called to die. Just for your context, maybe this is your first time here, let me just give you a bit of a background: Paul is writing this little letter from a prison, that's very important to know. He's suffering for the Lord Jesus, and he's been describing how he has got great joy in his heart - not the happiness of this world that is rooted and grounded in the foundation of circumstances and things going well for you that makes you happy, but a joy that is rooted and grounded, and even shields from the storms of the difficulties of life, that transcends the problems of life - the Bible calls it a peace that passes all understanding, that even when things are going difficult, even when you're in prison like Paul is here, you're joyous and there is a deep satisfaction and peace in your heart.
So Paul has been talking about if he dies, well, he's happy with that; and if he lives, well, he's happy also with that. We'll read from verse 21 just to get the context for you: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" - for the Christian to die, to depart and be with Christ, is far better than life down here...'for I am in a strait'...he doesn't know what to choose! Verse 24: "Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith". It's not my time to go yet, I still have a work to do, and my work is for you that your joy might abound. Verse 26: "That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again". Now here we come to the verses we're looking at today: "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me".
It's not hard to tell from the reading of this portion of Scripture this morning that there is a war on. As far as Paul the apostle is concerned, writing to these Christians in Philippi, he wants them to realise that there is a spiritual war on. Just look at the language from verses 27 to 30, you see he talks about standing fast, striving together, your adversaries or your enemies, and then he talks in verse 30 about the conflict that we're all in. Now, he's not talking about a physical war, and the hymns of Christian battle that we've been singing already today are not talking about the warfare of this world in the flesh. Paul says in another place that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are spiritual - we are in a spiritual war.
Now, as you look to some Christians, and maybe even at some Christian churches, you wouldn't think it to look at them - it seems that Christianity is more like a picnic, an airy-fairy happy fairy tale, pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, not a battle or a real bloody spiritual battle that is expending all our energies and all our strengths, and that we are even perhaps being pushed to the point of shedding blood for down here on earth! Yet Paul says, and the Word of God categorically right throughout the Scriptures tells us, that the Christian life is not a picnic, it's not a playground, but it is a battleground.
Now we might be pushed to ask the question: 'Well, if it is a battleground, what is at stake in this battle?'. Paul tells us at the end of verse 27: 'We are striving together for the faith of the gospel', that is what we are to fight for as Christians in this world. Our battle is under the banner of the cross of the Lord Jesus, our chief fundamental fight with the world and with the spiritual realm is over the gospel, the truth of God, of how that we are saved from our sins because Jesus Christ is come into the world to be the Saviour of sinners - He has come to seek and to save that which is lost. That is the message that this world hates, that is the message that this world system, the philosophies and ideologies and even the theologies of this world are all opposed to in their antichrist nature, it is the gospel. That is what we are called as the church to defend.
If you turn, you don't have to, to Jude verse 3, you find that Jude says there: 'Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation', the gospel, 'it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints'. He says: 'Christians, you've to fight for the gospel' - not fight with flesh and blood, or fisticuffs or with arms, but there's a spiritual battle that you're in, and this world, false religions and cults and philosophies and the doctrines of demons, are all out to contradict and pull down the message of the gospel. It is your job as the Christian church and as individual Christian soldiers to defend, to contend, and to fight for the gospel.
Let me show you how this is the case, and how Paul outlines to us that we are in this battle. If you turn to the epistle of 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to Timothy, chapter 4 and verse 1. He warns Timothy that there's going to be a day coming when the gospel will be at stake, when this world will get to such an evil extent that it will pull the gospel apart, that it will not even be recognisable in some quarters. For this reason he's to hold it fast, verse 1: 'Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith' - there it is again, the faith once delivered to the saints - 'giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils', the doctrines of demons.
Let's just pause for a minute, because I want us all to understand what we're talking about here: we're talking about churches and organisations that tell us today that as long as you're sincere, and as long as you're seeking after God in some nebulous shape and form, God will have mercy on you, God will forgive you of your sin, and God will take you to heaven one day. We live today in what is called a 'PC' age, and that's not a Personal Computer, but Political Correctness. You're no longer able to talk, as it were, in public about absolutes, that something is absolutely right and something is absolutely wrong, something is black-and-white. We seem to live in this morass of greyness, and we're not allowed to say someone's right or someone's wrong. They're maybe only wrong where we're concerned, but they can't be said to be wrong where they're concerned. There is this relativism, it might be wrong for you, but it might be right for them.
Friends, the gospel does not fit into that environment of political correctness, do you know why? Because the Bible says it is once delivered to the saints, that means the Gospel that the apostles gave to the saints in the beginning is the same gospel today, and it does not change! It cannot change because it was given by God to the apostles, the apostles then gave it to the Christians, and the Christians down all the age of Christian history have been passing it on. Now, here's the danger: that we believe the doctrines of devils that men are teaching today, that there's no difference between Catholicism and biblical Christianity, that there's no difference between the god of Islam and the god of Buddhism, or the god of the Jehovah's Witnesses, or the way of the Mormons - that it's all the same way...it is not the same way! The gospel of the Bible is the gospel that God delivered to the apostles, and that is the gospel that we are to fight for and to contend for and defend today.
Let me show you that that is the pattern that we have in the Word of God, and this is very important. If you turn to 1 Timothy that you're in, chapter 1 and verse 11, Paul tells us how this gospel was delivered unto the apostles: 'According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God', this is from God, it's not out of the mind and imagination of men, 'which was committed to my trust'. If you like, God trusted Paul and gave him the gospel to give it unto other people. Now, here's the pattern, you move on to chapter 6 of Timothy and verse 20, Paul has committed the gospel of God to him, and then in verse 20 he says: 'O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called'. Do you see the pattern now? God gave it to Paul, trusted Paul to give it to others; so Paul gives it to Timothy, and trusts Timothy to give it to others also.
You move on to 2 Timothy chapter 2, we see the pattern again, 2 Timothy chapter 2 and verse 2: 'And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also'. God gives His gospel through the Lord Jesus Christ, He commits the message of the gospel to the apostles - specifically here Paul - Paul is given the responsibility of committing the gospel to others, so he gives it to Timothy, and he tells Timothy: 'Now, you give that gospel that I've committed to you, into your trust, to faithful men who can also be trusted to give it unto others - not diluting the gospel, not changing the gospel, but giving the gospel in all of its essence and in all of its pureness'.
Now let me just say that this is why teaching in the local church is so important. This is why the teaching in the local church is important: to preserve the gospel of Christ, to preserve the faith that was once delivered unto the saints - and that's why we need as believers on a regular basis to get around the Word of God and to learn what the Word of God says, that's why we have a Bible Reading on a Monday evening. It gives us time, an hour or so, to get around the word of God and to understand the faith that is once delivered to the saints. Now you need to realise that we're in a battle, and that means this: that the enemy of our souls wants to rob us of the faith once delivered to the saints. He wants it to be changed, he wants it to be diluted, he wants to take away from the believer, cripple the believer, defeat the believer by losing the truth. Ultimately what we will lose, if we lose the truth, is the gospel ministry and the impact of the gospel to the world around us.
Now listen: if we want the gospel to have the greatest impact in this district around us, we need to contend for and protect the deposit of the gospel that has been given to us by God. The way we do that is not only preaching the gospel outwardly, but learning the gospel inwardly and studying the word of God together. Someone has rightly said that the church is only one generation off potential extinction. I believe that the Lord Jesus will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, but let me tell you this on a human level: if we are not teaching our young people, if we are not teaching our middle-aged people the gospel, or if they are not learning the gospel because they are absent from the Bible Reading, from Sunday mornings, from Sunday evenings, we will lose, we will lose the deposit of the gospel! Now I'm telling you this! And I'll give you an illustration: there are so-called Evangelical churches around in our land at this present time, and they are so confused about what the gospel is because they have never been taught the gospel for a long time in all of its pureness and simplicity and unadulterated nature, that they are now confusing the gospel of the Bible with the gospel of the Roman Catholic Church! They are having priests in the pulpit committing themselves to the church, Evangelical churches, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now we love these dear Roman Catholic people, we love people of all religions and all types, but we do not confuse what the gospel is - we can't do that, it's too important! It's been given by God to Paul, and by Paul to Timothy, and by Timothy to faithful men who would preserve the gospel, and it's been given to us - and I'm telling you, young people, if you're not at the Bible Reading you will not learn what the gospel is! There may come a day, like there is in some of the churches in our land, when they are so confused about the gospel that they are believing a false gospel of the devil!
You might think that very harsh, but let me tell you what Paul said: 'If any man come unto you, even an angel come unto you and preach a gospel that is not the gospel of Jesus, they are preaching another Christ that is not the same Christ as the Bible - let him be cursed', Paul says! Is that because Paul is a harsh man? No, it is because of what is at stake - the preciousness of the gospel of God. Well, what is the battleground of this gospel? How are we to fight this enemy? Are we to take this fight to the churches and the theological halls? Are we to write letters in to the Belfast Telegraph, and try to get our faces on the television to defend this gospel? I'm not decrying all those things, and some of those things are necessary and God calls some men to do those things, but I'll tell you what Paul says here. He says that the battleground of this fight for the gospel is our conversation, our conversation.
Look at verse 27: 'Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ'. Now this word 'conversation' in the old English language of the Authorised Version that we're reading from today, it doesn't mean the language that you're speaking, but it means the life that you're living. It's not specifically talking about your talk, but about your walk. It comes from an old word that actually means 'citizenship', so you could translate this: 'Let your citizenship be as it becometh the gospel of Christ'. In other words, your conduct of life, the way that you live your life, the words that you say, the deeds that you do. So the battleground for this gospel is your citizenship as a Christian. Now this word 'citizenship' in the Greek originates from the word that we get 'politics' from, 'politics' or 'police', 'polisiti' (sp?).
What Paul is saying here is this: act in line with your new citizenship of the heavenly kingdom. These people are living in Philippi, but Paul is saying - if you look at chapter 3 and verse 20 - he says: 'Now that you're believers in Christ, your conversation is in heaven, your citizenship is in heaven. So, as you live as a citizen in Philippi, you're to live as you would as a citizen in heaven'. Paul is saying that being a citizen of heaven ought to make you a better citizen of Philippi. Now, where is the battle for the gospel won in this day and age, where the gospel is so confused? I'll tell you where it's won, not just in our characters, but in our conduct. The battle is being fought today more than ever upon the ground of how we as believers live as citizens, how we live as neighbours, parents, children, businessmen, businesswoman, employees, employers, students, tradesmen. The battle is won or lost as to how we live, whether we live as becoming the gospel of Christ, or whether it detracts from the gospel of Christ.
You might have heard the phrase: 'People often wear clothes that are becoming of them', maybe it's a hat or a coat, or a colour that becomes or is worthy of their face - maybe it's not worthy of their form, or presents them not in the best light entirely, it doesn't enhance their appearance. That is exactly what Paul is saying here: the way that we win the battle for the gospel today is if we live lives that enhance the gospel to those around us, and the way that we lose the battle is if we live lives that detract from the gospel and repel other people from the gospel. So the simple question to all of us today is: do you enhance the gospel, or do you detract from the gospel?
I hope you don't mind me saying, but: are you a good dummy for wearing the gospel? Do you set the gospel in a good light? Let me take you to Titus for a moment, and we're spending a bit of time over this because it's so important. Titus chapter 2, Titus 2, Paul again writing to Titus this time, says in verse 9: 'Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters'. Here's the question: as a Christian are you obedient to your boss? I'm not saying you let your boss walk all over you, but are you obedient to your boss as a Christian? Then he goes on: 'Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things' - do you please your boss well in all things? 'Not answering again', do you answer him back cheekily? This is wonderful, isn't it? Verse 10: 'Not purloining', or scheming, 'but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things'.
What's that talking about? It's that analogy of clothing, as Paul says: are you wearing a life, if you like, that is becoming of the gospel? He says it here: are you adorning yourself with the doctrine of God in all things? Can people see in everything that you do and say, in your conversation, in your citizenship, that you are a Christian and that you have nothing to be ashamed of? Or do you shame the gospel and repel others from it? Now this analogy goes through Paul's epistles, if you turn to Colossians for a moment, Colossians chapter 3 - now we're getting to see this analogy of Paul, this illustration, he's talking about our Christian lives as like putting on clothes and taking off clothes that we shouldn't be wearing. In verse 8 of chapter 3 he says: 'But now ye also put off all these', put off all these old clothes and throw them into the corner - what are they? 'Anger', do you have a bad temper? You lose your temper in the home with your wife, with your children; you lose your temper in work, maybe you're a boss, maybe you lose temper with your boss. Paul says, and God says through Paul: 'Put it off!'
'Wrath', it's a different type of an anger, perhaps an even more boiling anger, over into uncontrollable anger - is that how you are with other believers who have done you wrong in your life? Paul says, and I want you to listen to this carefully: 'Put it off!'. 'Malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth', the stories that you tell, the double-meanings and the insinuations in your conversation, the newspapers that you read: 'Put it off!'. 'Lie not one to another'...'Oh, I don't tell lies' - well, what is lying only bearing false witness, trying to be something that you're not, trying to wipe people's eyes maybe in your commercial deeds and affairs? Maybe it is even exaggeration, making things greater than they are or lesser than they are? 'Put it off!'. 'Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds', he's assuming that we have already done this, 'put on the new man', here's your new wardrobe of clothes, 'which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him'.
Look down to verse 12, now here's the new clothes that you're to put on: '...as the elect of God, holy and beloved...Put on bowels of mercy', that means don't be hardhearted, don't be bitter, but be compassionate to your other believers around you. 'Kindness', thinking of others before you think of yourself. 'Humbleness', humility of mind, esteeming others greater than yourself. 'Meekness, longsuffering', patience with one another. 'Forbearing one another', putting up with one another, biting your tongue at times, 'and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any' - I want you to hear this very carefully now, listen: if any of you here today have a quarrel against anybody in this building, I would rather you wouldn't come back until you sort it out. Now I mean that: 'Put it off!', once and for all!. Here's the standard, why he can say this: 'even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness'.
Now all you have to do to sum this up is go, you don't have to turn to it if you don't want to, to Romans chapter 13 - and here's what he's talking about in all of it: 'Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof'. What is he talking about? He's talking about living the citizenship like Jesus Christ has lived it! Now that's something else. My question to you is this, you're all looking fine and dandy in your lovely suits and ties and hats and all the rest, but my question to you is this: do you spend as much time putting off and putting on these spiritual clothes as you do with your physical clothes? Do you spend as much money - spend as much money, that's right - on spiritual things as you do you on earthly things? And here's the big question, if we were the blind fellowship here today, and no-one could see your lovely hat or your lovely tie or your lovely coat, would you take as much care about what you were putting on? You wouldn't, because no-one is seeing it. Here's what Paul says, listen to verse 27, he says: 'whether I come and see you, or whether I hear about how you're getting on, let it be that I hear about your affairs, that you're standing fast in one mind and in one spirit, striving together for the faith of the gospel'.
Do we only do things right and say things right when others are looking at us? Do we only come to the Bible Reading or the prayer meeting when the Pastor is in the pulpit? When do we do things right and when do we do things wrong? Do we do it for the right reasons or for the wrong reasons? Do we do it to be seen of men, or do we do it to be seen of God? I'll tell you this: when we do things to be seen of men, do you know what happens? Our affairs go abroad, and the testimony outside is that we're not doing this for Christ, and our citizenship is not for Christ, but it's for ourselves. The ultimate question that Paul is asking here of this church is: what is your testimony to the world outside? If I was walking down the street of Philippi, what would I hear about your little church in Philippi?
I think you would agree with me when I say that there's nothing more damaging to the gospel of Christ than the bad testimony of believing churches - nothing more damaging to Christians and indeed to those who are unsaved. Do you know why? Because it makes the gospel a farce! People look at us and they say, and they rightly say, some of them: 'If that's what a Christian is, I don't want to be a Christian!'. I'll tell you, if that's what a Christian was, I wouldn't be a Christian. They see how we bicker inside the assembly at times, they see how we talk about others, and they rightly say: 'This testifies not to what they're saying, but what they're doing contradicts everything that they're saying'. As someone has said on one occasion: 'I can't hear what you're saying, for seeing what you're doing'.
Be very careful. A member of a church stopped his Pastor at the door one day and he said: 'Pastor, there's a couple living beside us and they believe a false gospel, and we were wondering did you have any literature that we could give to them that would help them'. The Pastor opened his Bible at 2 Corinthians 3 verse 2: 'Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men'. He said: 'Sir, the best literature that you can give your next-door neighbour is your own life. Let them read your own life, let them see Christ in your life, let them see the gospel at work in your life, and that will give you the best opportunity to share Christ with them'. No literature, no book, is a substitute any better than your own life!
What does it say in Acts chapter 4 and verse 13: 'Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus'.
'You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do
And the words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithful or true:
Just what is the gospel
According to you?'
I'm finished my message this morning, but I want us to dwell for two minutes on this, because this is so important for the future of this assembly and for your individual testimony. What is it? The greatest vehicle for the gospel of Jesus Christ in the day and age that we live of false doctrine and false gospel is the vehicle of a godly life and a godly church. When people hear of David Legge, do they hear of a conversation that is worthy of the gospel of Christ? When people hear of the elders of the Iron Hall, do they hear of a way of life and a way of operation that is worthy of the gospel of Christ? When people see the deacons of the Iron Hall working, the members of the Iron Hall represented, the workers of the Iron Hall in the children's meeting and in the Sunday School and in the door-to-door work, in your workplace, on the factory floor - do they see a people that no matter what the cost is, as Paul says...I can almost hear Mrs James saying: 'Even if my husband is beheaded?', - yes! No matter what the cost is for you. Peter's wife saying: 'Even if my husband is crucified upside-down for the cause of Jesus Christ?' - yes! Even if that happens! John's wife: 'Even if my husband is boiled in boiling oil on the Isle of Patmos?' - yes, Mrs John! Even if that happens, that you walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Well? Is your life worthy? When people hear your name, what's the first thing that they think of? Is it godliness and holiness of life, or is it bitterness, is it complaining, is it backbiting? Is there any of us here today that need to put off old clothes and put on new ones? For I'll tell you, the greatest weapon to fight for the gospel, and the greatest weapon against the enemy the devil, is the consistency - that's the word! - the consistency of a holy, righteous, godly life, and a holy, righteous, godly church.
We have choices to make in these days: will we make the right ones? Let's bow our heads for a moment, because this is so important, so, so important. What is the prominent feature of your life as a believer? It's not the fruit of the Spirit, is it? It's the fruit of the flesh. Where are you when we study the doctrine that's been delivered to the saints? Why aren't you at the Bible Reading? Why aren't you at the prayer meeting? Why don't you remember the Lord around the Table? This is what discipleship is, and if you're not doing it we can see there's something wrong in your life - but are you able to see it? Are you able to face it? Not what's wrong in somebody else's life, but what's wrong in your life. Will you face it today? I thank God for these people in the Iron Hall, and for the work that they do and the desire that they have to see souls saved, and we are praying, we're having days of prayer, we're bringing the lost under the sound of God's word - but I'll tell you this: you're living in cloud cuckoo land if you think you can sit in this Hall with bitterness in your heart and enjoy the blessing of God. Could it be that you could be the one that is hindering that blessing coming? Only you can answer that, and I implore you and I plead with you to put off these old fleshly clothes that don't belong on you, they're of your old nature, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you do it now before the Lord, and make the difference and turn around? Will you do it?
Father, we pray that all of us, as Thy people, would allow Thy Holy Spirit to do deep spiritual surgery to us today. Lord, who can say that we have no sin, for if we say that we deceive ourselves and truth is not in us. Lord, there are now at this moment people perhaps applying this word to the person at the end of the pew, to the person at the other side of the church that has offended them, but our Father, we've got to apply it to ourselves. We remember what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples: 'What is that to thee? Follow thou me'. Lord, what a church this would be if every man and woman put off the old clothes of bitterness, strife, compromise, and backsliding and sin; and put on the Lord Jesus Christ - there would be revival. Father, would You touch us; Spirit quicken us; Lord Jesus move us to leave all and put our hand on the plough, follow Thee and never look back. Lord, there are those here today who have looked back since the hour they first believed. Help them to see, our Father, that You take no pleasure in them that draw back. May they get a glimpse of the Lord Jesus, who made Himself of no reputation, who humbled Himself, and may they follow after Him in humility and meekness, and in godly fear. Lord, whatever is in us that would hinder Thy blessing in our lives and in our church, purge it we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Marks of a Spiritual Church Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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