Sermon Preached at the
Friday Service of Convocation
Sixty-third Annual Convention
Concordia Lutheran Conference
Lebanon, Oregon June 27, 2014
by Pastor David J. Mensing Sauk Village, Illinois
Text: Philippians 1:29
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Head of His Church, dearly beloved hearers of His precious Word:
Today marks the opening of the 63rd annual convention of the Concordia Lutheran Conference—sixty three years of fellowship in addition to that which we enjoy in our respective local congregations. What a priceless arrangement we have that the Lord has preserved unto us—especially when we consider that nowhere in His Word does He promise us a local congregation, let alone the benefit of several like-minded congregations to work and worship together. For many of us, this blessing of membership in the CLC through our local congregations has been all we have ever known. Others of us may still remember what it was like to feel isolated, without such an extensive cross-country network of brethren—and still some might lament that they have many less brethren in the faith now than they used to have. Whatever the case may be for us individually, let us rejoice together and confess with the Prophet Samuel of old, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (I Samuel 7:12).
The overall theme of this year’s convention is a portion of I Peter 4:13, “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” The Holy Ghost in His Word frequently instructs us regarding the relationship of Christians and suffering, and our text for this morning is one such instance. In the context preceding our text, we learn that the verbally inspired letter which St. Paul sent “to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons,” he penned while in “bonds”—in prison. This letter was one of special comfort and encouragement to them, and “right off the bat,” within the first six verses, the Apostle Paul thanked God for their fellowship, and professed his confidence that “He which hath begun a good work in [them] will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” But dear brethren, this letter was not only inspired and penned for their benefit, for we know that the Lord has preserved His precious Word also for our learning, so that we, by His grace, find encouragement in these words as well (cf. Romans 15:4).
We, like the Philippian Christians, owe our heavenly Father an immense debt of gratitude for all of His gifts toward us. Just a quick inventory of the various forms of daily bread which we receive of Him every day is a sufficient testimony that He remains faithful to His gracious promises, despite our unfaithfulness to Him. But most notably, like the Philippian Christians, we would not even have a dear heavenly Father were it not for the unspeakable gift of saving faith worked in our hearts and sustained therein by the Holy Ghost through His Word (Philippians 1:6; John 17:17). In Ephesians chapter 2, we learn that we were, by virtue of our conception, “dead in trespasses and sins;” we “walked according to the course of this world;” and we “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (vs. 1-3). But in spite of all that enmity against Him (Romans 8:7), we have received from the Lord forgiveness of sins (Romans 3:24-28); we have been wrapped up under the cover of Christ’s perfect righteousness which hides our own natural filthiness (Philippians 3:9); and we have been made His adopted children and joint heirs of God with Christ—not by anything we have done, but alone by His work for us and in us, “that [our] faith and hope might be in God,” as the Apostle Peter writes in his first epistle, chapter 1 (v. 21).
Now saving faith, whereby God applies to each and every one of us the benefits of His Son’s redemptive work for the whole world, is not the only gift to which this morning’s text draws our attention. Rather, in this short verse, the Apostle Paul instructs his readers, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Let us this morning, then, meditate upon the Holy Ghost’s instruction that, like our faith,
Suffering for the Lord’s Sake Is a Gift to His Dear Children—
(I) A gift which this world despises, but
(II) a gift which we ought to cherish.
By His gracious operation, we know and we trust the Holy Ghost’s sure words of our text. In I Corinthians chapter 2, St. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, writing, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him, but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit” (vs. 9-10). And a few verses later, the Apostle writes, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are Spiritually discerned” (v. 14). So it ought to come as no surprise to us that the world of wicked and natural men despises God Himself, the revelation of His precious Word, and the special gifts which the Lord bestows upon His dear children.
But what sometimes is surprising is just how deeply the despisal goes. It would be one thing if all that the unbelieving children of this world did was to regard the Lord’s Word and anyone who trusts His promises to be foolish or “stupid.” Certainly by that sinful attitude they would continue to remain under God’s wrath and subject to eternal death as the wages of their sins (Romans 6:23), but that would be the end of it. Sadly, however, their deep despisal of the Lord and His Word is often far more active and sinister. They are not content merely to allow those who they regard as fools to act foolishly, but a deep hatred develops in their hearts which grows and spills over into violence. When this occurs, we Christians are prime and easy targets for their rage.
The children of this world vent their rage against the Lord and His believers in various ways. Little children who openly talk about Jesus may be teased and bullied by their peers at school, made fun of by their teachers—or, God forbid, abused by unbelieving parents or care takers. Grown-up Christians may find themselves the victims of vicious slander which destroys their reputations; or they may become objects of diverse forms of discrimination in the work place. Christians, operating in charity according to God’s principles in the 8th commandment, often find themselves to be the victims of fraud. In the United States we have been largely protected from violent crimes, but throughout history and even today in certain parts of the world, many Christians have suffered kidnapping, torture, and even murder because of their faith—not only at the hands of everyday heathen thugs, but even at the hands of the governments which they obey for their Savior’s sake.
After operating according to their totally “carnal mind” and its “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7) for so long, and after “hold[ing] down the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) so persistently, unbelievers may actually convince themselves in some sick, perverted way that they are doing the Lord’s work. The Lord Jesus Himself warns His disciples, “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2). True to that warning, St. Paul, back when he was Saul of Tarsus, persecuted and laid waste to God’s Church, being zealous of the Jewish traditions of his fathers (cf. Galatians 1:13-14). And, as far as the children of this world are concerned, the fact that Christians, according to their New Man of faith are willing and ready to suffer for the sake of their Savior only makes it worse. Why should God’s adversaries, who regard His Word and His precious plan of salvation as foolishness anyway, ever stop persecuting His children who seem to be such suckers and willing victims? According to their thinking, they would be fools NOT to abuse us! Rest assured, brethren, their despisal of our heavenly Father and their infliction of suffering upon us as His dear adopted children will not only continue until the end, but it will grow worse. Hear the Apostle Paul’s warning in his second letter to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution; and evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Timothy 3:12, 13). May God grant us His grace that “in nothing [we become] terrified by our adversaries” (v. 28), much less that we grow to despise His gift to suffer for Jesus’ sake.
Rather, brethren, suffering for the sake of our Savior is a gift which we Christians ought to cherish. First of all, the Lord in His Word assures us that all the things which He gives us, and all the things which He allows to happen in this world work together for the benefit of His believers. By faith we believe this, trust in His wisdom, and rejoice because of His care for us. “We know,” we profess with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” For this reason alone, because our text tells us that “it is given” unto us “in the behalf of Christ…to suffer for His sake” we should cherish it as the gift of a loving Father to His children.
But this gift is a very particular and special one. By this gift the Lord constantly reminds us and assures us of our close connection to our dear Savior by faith—by virtue of the Lord calling us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). In the Gospel lesson read before, the Lord Jesus told His disciples, “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord” (Matthew 10:24-25). As His disciples by faith, and as willing servants of His according to our New Man, we understand that our Lord and Master endured great suffering at the hands of those that hated Him; and St. Paul reminds us in Philippians chapter 2 that He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (2:8). In fact, in obedience to Jesus’ divine mission as the Redeemer of the world, the prophet Isaiah in his 53rd chapter prophesied, “He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions…He was oppressed and He was afflicted”—all necessary because of our sins and endured by Him for our benefit (53:4-5, 7). In addition, the Lord Jesus reassures us in John’s Gospel chapter 15, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (15:18-19). Brethren, knowing all that our Lord and Master did and suffered for us, how could any of us refuse to “take up [our] cross and follow Him” (Luke 9:23)? By God’s grace and working alone, we should reckon that to be “enough” for us (Matthew 10:25).
But brethren, it is so difficult because of the constant working of our old sinful flesh, first of all to be prepared to suffer for Jesus’ sake, but also, then, to bear that suffering when it comes. If left to ourselves, this would be utterly impossible. But the Lord has pity on us “as a father pitieth his children…for He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust,” the Psalmist writes (Psalm 103:13-14). He does not leave us to ourselves. God promises that He is faithful, “who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (I Corinthians 10:13). And St. Paul assures us in Philippians 2:13, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
In order further to keep us humble and encouraged, He has provided, in addition to the perfect model of our dear Savior, numerous other good and faithful examples of what it means to suffer for the Lord’s sake. Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and all the prophets in the Old Testament endured suffering and some even death for the Lord’s sake; likewise all the Apostles in the New Testament endured imprisonment and other perils. Still others, including John the Baptist and Stephen were killed for the sake of the Gospel. In addition to the accounts in the Holy Scriptures, we may examine historical accounts of countless Christians martyred throughout the last 1900 years. Finally, we may also look to our current brethren and the memory of those who have gone before to see lasting testimonies of faithful Christian patience and bravery during persecution and suffering.
Yes, the writer to the Hebrews states that we are “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” so that we, moved and enabled by His work through His Word, might “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and…run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith…[and considering] Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest [we] be wearied and faint in [our] minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3). God grant that, cherishing the gift of suffering for His sake and encouraged by those faithful examples, we may be enabled to resist even unto blood striving against sin, if and when our heavenly Father requires that of us.
Dear brethren, the Lord Jesus does not ask us, His disciples, to do or endure anything which He has not endured for us—for our everlasting benefit, for the forgiveness of our sins, for our righteous status before God, and for the everlasting life which He has granted to us by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). What a motivation thankfully to cherish His gift “to suffer for [our Savior’s] sake.”
With that good and earnest purpose, then, let us take special opportunity to thank God for the fellowship of our brethren—not only in our own respective congregations but also in our Conference. We live our lives as strangers and pilgrims in the wicked world, among the children of this world. We are used and abused by them; and we are constantly assailed by their temptations, by those of our Old Adam, and by the terrors of our chief adversary, the devil. But here, today and for the rest of this week, the Lord has afforded us the great privilege of taking a deep “cleansing breath,” as it were, and to recharge our spiritual batteries in a safe, secure, and brotherly environment. Let us take full advantage of this rare and blessed opportunity!
And when we return to the battle of our regular daily routines, let us by God’s grace and with His help have the spiritual energy and fortitude to “let [our] conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ…that [we each] stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; and in nothing terrified by [our] adversaries,” in spite of any suffering we may need to endure. That, dear brethren, “is an evident token of our salvation, and that of God” (Philippians 1:27-28). God grant that to us all for the sake of His Son, our crucified and risen Messiah, the Lord Jesus! Amen.