Now Much More Back to all sermons

Date: June 7, 2013

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Change

Scripture: Philippians 2:12–2:13

Tags: spiritual journey, moving, relocating

Synopsis: In this service, we acknowledged the people who will be leaving Abu Dhabi permanently during the summer. In the message, entitled Now Much More, taken from Philippians 2:12-13, Pastor Cam challenged those who were leaving to continue their spiritual journey and “work out their salvation” in their new places of life and ministry.

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I want to start this morning by doing something I usually do every year about this time. Summer is a time of transition in Abu Dhabi as we come to the end of a school year. Young people are graduating, people are finishing contracts. Many will depart over the summer months and are not planning to return. I would like to have everyone who is in that category to stand.

This is one of the most difficult things in a church like ours: people leaving, saying good-bye. It becomes a way of life, but somehow that never seems to make it any easier.

I want to address my message this morning particularly to you who are leaving. Some of you will be going home, going back to familiar churches where you feel accepted and where your spiritual needs will be cared for. Others of you are moving into unknown situations. You do not know what kind of spiritual support system you will find. Still others of you may have come to Christ here in Abu Dhabi and at ECC. As you leave, you leave behind your “home church”, your spiritual family, and face the challenge of finding another place to worship, another spiritual home. Whatever category you fall in, you may be tempted from time to time to think back nostalgically to your time in Abu Dhabi and your church family here.

Whatever you are facing, and wherever you are going, I want to give you two verses of Scripture to take with you. I would urge you to memorize these verses and make them your theme verses for this time of transition and the next phase of your life. The verses are found in the book of Philippians, chapter 2 and verses 12-13:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

There is a constant temptation in the Christian life. It is the temptation to stop growing; to try to coast. To live our spiritual lives looking over our shoulders at the “good old days.” I am here today to urge you not to succumb to that temptation.

Let’s take another look a this Scripture: Verse 12 reads, Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. It was a church that was very close to his heart. He had a very close relationship with the people in the church, as he makes clear in this letter. They in turn loved Paul. They fondly remembered his time with them, and they longed for him to visit again. I would like to think of this verse in the context of the church here at ECC which may have become very precious to you. Let me paraphrase the verse this way: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only while you remained here at ECC, but now much more as you leave – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…

Maybe you found the Lord here. Maybe you have gone through a special period of growth during your time here in the church. Maybe you’ve been equipped and become involved in new areas of service. Don’t allow leaving Abu Dhabi to interrupt that process. Whatever you discovered here, just as you obeyed while you were here, now keep on obeying, keep on growing, keep on keeping on. Don’t stop growing just because your circumstances have changed. Paul didn’t want the Philippians sitting around sighing, “Oh, if only Paul were here.” And I don’t want any of you sitting around saying, “Oh, if only I could find a church here like we had in Abu Dhabi.” Not only in my presence, but much more in my absence…

Paul uses an interesting phrase in the second part of this verse. Continue to work out your salvation… The KJV says “your own salvation” – expressing the emphasis of the original text. This phrase has led to lots of discussion. What is Paul saying? Is he saying that God can’t save you, but that you have to “work out your own salvation” if you want to be saved? How do we reconcile this verse with other Scriptures which clearly proclaim that we are saved by faith, and not by our own efforts?

Two clarifications will help us understand what Paul is saying. First of all, we need to understand that the term “salvation” is used in different ways in different contexts in Scripture. Sometimes it simply means to be saved from some problem or dilemma in life. Other times it may refer to being saved from the penalty of sin, what theologians call “justification”. Other times the Scripture speaks of our being saved from the power of sin in our daily lives, something the theologians refer to as “sanctification.” All of these can be referred to in the Scripture as “salvation” and we have to discern from the context of the passage what is meant in each case. In the passage before us, I believe Paul is talking about our sanctification. He is talking about our spiritual growth, of our learning to live under the control of the Spirit of God, of fighting free from the power of sin to dominate our daily lives and actions. After all, he began the verse by urging us to “keep on obeying”.

The second clarification comes by clarifying this phrase “work out your own salvation”. At first reading, it sounds like something we have to do by ourselves without help. DIY, Do it yourself! Well, in one sense, that is what Paul is saying. But the help he says they don’t need is his own (Paul’s) help. Remember – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence. Whether I am there or not, go on working out your own salvation. You don’t need to depend on me. Why don’t they need to depend on Paul’s help? Because they have an even greater source of help! Look at verse 13: For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This is the perspective I want all of you to take with you when you leave ECC. Whether you stay or go. Whether you find a great church or not. Whether you have a good spiritual support system or not, keep on keeping on, keep on obeying. Because God is the one who is at work in you to help you continue to grow spiritually. If you have his help, you have all you need. After all, he will produce in you the “willingness” or the “want to” as well as the actual ability to do what he wants you to do. You may be leaving ECC and good spiritual friends here, but you are not leaving God. Or more accurately, God is not leaving you! He is going with you, going before you, and he is the one, the only one you need to go on to maturity in your spiritual life.

Let’s go back to the end of verse 12. What does Paul mean by “fear and trembling”? I think he is simply saying that this is a very serious matter. Our spiritual growth, our sanctification is not an optional extra of the Christian life. It is not something to be lightly dismissed or ignored, something to get to if you have time. It should be your number one priority, whether you stay or go.

I am reminded of a young couple who came to faith in Christ while they were here at ECC. They hadn’t been following Christ very long when her company informed her that they were transferring her to Paris. In preparing for the move, she made it her very first priority to find a church there where they could continue to grow. She had to make a couple of trips to France on business before they made the move. She used the internet to find churches there. On at least one occasion she arrived in Paris on a Sunday morning and went straight from the airport to the church to be there in time for service and see if it was the kind of church they were looking for. The kids in the Sunday School were laughing at this lady who showed up for church carrying her suitcase! Continuing to grow spiritually was the first priority in their move. With fear and trembling…

As Paul continues to spell out the importance of moving ahead spiritually, I find his next verse rather striking. It takes us by surprise. Do all things without grumbling or disputing…When we talk about Christian witness, this is probably not where I would have started. I might have said something about great moral issues and doctrinal purity. Instead Paul says, “Don’t be complainers and whiners and grumblers…” The word for grumbling in Greek is a “sound word”. The actual word is “gongusmon,” and it is used to reflect the low undercurrent of complaining and arguing; a restless, dissatisfied murmur.

Some people spend their whole time in Abu Dhabi murmuring and complaining about how hard life is here and how they miss the way things were back home. But I’ve also experienced something else. When people leave Abu Dhabi (especially if they have been here a while) they sometimes have trouble adjusting to their new place, even if it is back in their home country. Even there they can fall into the trap of becoming grumblers and whiners. Can I urge you to guard against that tendency? Wherever you go and whatever you find there, don’t become a complainer and a whiner.

One of the reasons our spiritual growth is so important is that it is directly tied to our testimony in the world. In verses 15-16, we read:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

You are all familiar with our church motto: From the nations…to the nations. When we speak of the second half of that motto, “to the nations” we are speaking of our witness to the many different nations and ethnic groups who live and work here in Abu Dhabi. But we are also including the reality that, as a church of expatriates, all of us will ultimate move on to other places of work and ministry. As you prepare to move, you are preparing to become part of our mission statement. You are going “to the nations” wherever God is taking you. What kind of witness will you be there?

The world is a dark place. And the Scripture warns us that it is going to get even darker as history draws to its close. It is desperately important that we as Christians, the children of God, should live lives of contrast to that darkness, so that we will shine like stars against the darkness of the night. The ESV translates the next phrase “holding fast to the word of life”, but it can also be translated “holding out the word of life.” Wherever you go from here, people need the light. They need a witness for Christ. If you are “working out your salvation” and growing in your walk with Christ, and doing it all without complaining and grumbling, you will be that witness. And if you do that there, we will know that the work we have done here in Abu Dhabi was not done in vain.

Don’t be satisfied to simply coast spiritually. Don’t accept the status quo. Don’t be content to just remember the good old days in Abu Dhabi with fond nostalgia. Whatever you have learned here, whatever growth has taken place in your life here, keep on, even more so. Seek out good spiritual support, but even if you don’t find the perfect church, or a church like ECC, remember that it is God who is at work in you. If you have him you have all you need to keep on growing. And do it all with a sense of urgency, not complaining and whining, but living a positive, pure life, letting your light shine so that people may see and come to Christ.

I love getting letters and e-mails from former ECC members. I remember especially a couple who came here from China in the 1990’s, in the first wave of Chinese workers who came to Abu Dhabi. Chen and Yling were both doctors and came to work in a Chinese medical clinic here. Ben Tao, one of our members, brought them to church. They had never been to a church before. They had never even seen a Bible. We became friends and spent quite a bit of time in their home, enjoying home-cooked Chinese food and talking about spiritual things. They were like sponges, desiring to learn all they could. It wasn’t long before they became followers of Jesus. They started sharing their faith with another Chinese couple who actually lived with them for a while. Simon was a harder sell – a skeptic who needed persuading. But ultimately, he and his wife Joyce too came to faith.

Eventually, both couples emigrated to Canada where they became active in a Chinese church in Toronto. We received an e-mail from them about a year and half ago:

“Congratulations on all of the works and results (of the ministry there in Abu Dhabi). I wish to give you a big hug, we are missing you so much. Ken (Ken is their son, a teen ager when they were in Abu Dhabi) is doing missionary training in the state of Georgia. I’m going on a mission trip in March to China. Simon, Chen and me we always talk about the times we were in Abu Dhabi. The best thing that is we became believers in Jesus. Thank you. Simon has been two years now studying in theological seminary…all the best in the New Year with God’s blessings, Yling.”

From the nations…and now as you go…to the nations.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only while you remained here at ECC, but now much more as you leave – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

… that you may become blameless and innocent, children of God…shining like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life – in order that we here at ECC may rejoice on the day of Christ that we did not run or labor for nothing.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

Is anyone in your group leaving Abu Dhabi permanently in the next few months? If not, all of you can imagine that you are preparing to leave to return home or to go on to another assignment. In this context, discuss the following questions.

  1. What has God done in your life during your time in Abu Dhabi?
  2. What are the challenges you expect to face in your next place of service/residence? What spiritual resources do you anticipate finding there?
  3. In Philippians 2:12, Paul urges the Philippians to “work out your (own) salvation”. In the context of Paul’s own “presence or absence” what do you think Paul is telling them? How does this apply to people leaving Abu Dhabi?
  4. How does verse 13 relate to Paul’s command (“It is God who works…”) and how is this reassuring to all of us when our time comes to leave ECC and Abu Dhabi?
  5. What does the “fear and trembling” imply about the importance of this discussion?
  6. Take time to pray for one another as we enter the summer months of transition.