This sermon first appeared in Let's Worship Magazine. Be sure to check out the set-up sketch (drama) "The Home Inspection) at the end of the sermon.
Scripture Insight: Philippians 1 is one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible. The apostle Paul built the whole book around the word joy. He includes 14 forms of the word in only 104 verses. He loved the people of Philippi, and he made all his prayer requests for them with joy. Beginning in verse 9, Paul offered a pithy prayer request for the people he loved so dearly. This prayer contains three purpose clauses and a summary statement. The purpose clauses are foundational piers that can support a strong home.
In houses with traditional foundations, the span that the floor joists cover is too wide to reach from one side to the other. To give the floor joists something to rest on, builders pour piers and lay them down the center of the house. These piers provide the strength on which the floor joists are joined, and they prevent the floor from sagging.
In a house the outer "footing trenches" are filled with concrete. In a life they are filled with the "fruits of righteousness" (v. 11). Filling the other foundational needs of our hearts (and homes), three piers, representing the three purpose clauses in this prayer in Philippians 1, must also be poured. They are intentional love, informed expectations, and unimpeachable behavior.
We know that ultimately Jesus is the foundation of our lives. No other foundation can be laid than that which is already laid. When Jesus is in us, the fruit of righteousness comes to dwell within us. The foundation of our heart is this fruit of righteousness which is by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God (v. 11).
When Jesus is our foundation, we, as His children, will purpose to do certain things. A strong home will find itself resting on three purposeful piers of success.
Pier 1: Intentional love
"And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment" (v. 9).
1. Intentional love chooses to love, in spite of small irks
Do you recall that when you first began dating, your newfound friend couldn't do anything wrong? When he was "fashionably late," it was no problem. But seven years into the marriage, his tardiness is no longer "fashionable"; it is irksome.
2. Intentional love loses without having to have the last word
Few of us like to lose at anything. Whether in athletics, academics, or career, we like to win. Tempers flare when we believe we are about to lose. But the Father wants to temper our tempers! Just as steel is tempered by the fire to become stronger and less brittle, the Father allows the refiner's fire to temper us. We may not like to lose, but we learn to lose graciously.
3. Intentional love fuses two hearts into one
Young love is exciting. Two people begin to date. They grow in love. They become engaged. They stand before the marriage altar, and the two become one. But what is even more exciting is to see that same couple growing in oneness at year 5, 10, 20, 25, 35, 50, 60, and beyond.
4. Intentional love never abuses
Intentional love never abuses in any way - verbally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, or physically. How many of us have discovered our mate's vulnerable spots, taken a verbal skewer right to the heart, and twisted it?
I have seen a German World War II bayonet. It was one of the most wicked instruments I have ever seen. It was made to inflict the greatest amount of pain and hurt possible. Many people come into marriage armed with verbal assault weapons.
I hear people insist that their deviant behavior be excused or overlooked by others under the guise of, "But you are supposed to love me unconditionally." Many want the focus of unconditional love to be on overlooking or excusing aberrant behavior. We ought always to love our children unconditionally, but this does not mean that we sanction what they do if their actions are contrary to godliness. Too many people have put the focus on being the recipients of love: "You promised to love me unconditionally."
I choose the phrase intentional love. In intentional love we focus on how we express love. Intentional love is willing to grow together through honest, loving, forthright communication.
One of the destructive forces in marriage today is that we do not really listen to hear each other. When our spouse speaks, our defenses rise up. Intentional love shifts our focus from ourselves to those within our families: "I choose to love you as the apple of my eye."
This text describes intentional love in two ways:
1. The first is "that your love will keep on growing in knowledge" (v. 9)
Peter gives us insight into how intentional love works. Peter wrote to husbands in 1 Peter 3:7, "Live with your wives with understanding [knowledge]." Peter interplays the word gnosis with its intensified form "epignosis" throughout his two letters. These two terms primarily refer to knowledge gained through experience. In regard to marriage, knowledge here refers to the full range of a wife's needs. A husband must learn to be considerate of his wife's emotional, social, physical, spiritual, and mental needs. This verse places a specific mandate on a husband to love his wife intentionally.
2. The second is growing in every kind of discernment
In his book His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Willard Harley argues that most affairs begin when married men or women begin to open up and share the deep issues of the heart - building an emotional bond - with someone other than their spouse. Friendships change when we get married. Circulation changes.
I think of the grappling hooks used by pirates in the old days. Pirates on the high seas would try to take captive treasure ships laden with gold and silver or trade goods. The pirate ship would fire several broadsides, then throw long ropes with grappling hooks across the water to the prized ship. These grappling hooks would catch the gunwales, allowing the pirates to pull their ship close enough so the men in the rigging could swing aboard and take the ship. The prize would be taken.
Many people lack discernment. They are throwing grappling hooks of emotional bonds to a ship other than their wife or husband. They are catching on the deck or gunwale of someone else. They like the way it makes them feel. They begin to pull, then pull a bit more. If the person on the other ship responds, before too long a third ship is lashed alongside - a pirate ship, an illicit relationship. It might start "innocently" enough with a cup of coffee or a dinner or a break at work or in a chat room. Discernment teaches us to throw off all grappling hooks that come from any person other than our spouse.
Pier 2: Informed expectations
The second purpose clause of Paul's prayer is "so that you can determine what really matters" (v. 10). Months ago I walked into the entrance of a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Stretched over the doorway was this banner: "Expect Excellence." My first thought was, "of whom?"
When we step into marriage, we have a mandate to expect excellence of ourselves first. Most people want to get excellence; few want to give excellence. Most want a perfect spouse; few want to be held to a high standard themselves. In 2 Corinthians Paul urged the Corinthians to "examine" themselves (13:5). The word used in Philippians 1 is the same word used there. Look inwardly. Do some self-examination. Ask the hard questions: Father, am I bringing excellence to this relationship? Do I expect more of my spouse than I demand of myself?
Pier 3: Unimpeachable behavior
In the third purpose clause, Paul used a meaningful word: "so that you . . . can be pure and blameless [sincere]." This English word "sincere" derives from the Latin "sine cere" (without wax); the Greek term is "heilikrines" (tested by the sun).
In the marketplace of that day, a piece of pottery could look good to the untrained eye but still be flawed. Entrepreneurs have not changed. Some are honest; others are not. A dishonest shopkeeper would often work wax into a tiny flaw in the pot. The pot would hold water temporarily, but the first time hot water was poured into it, the wax would melt, and the flaw would become apparent. Soldiers would wander through the market to choose pots randomly and carry them into the bright light of the sun. If they found no wax marks, and if the pots still held water under the sun's heat, they would stamp "without wax" on the bottom. It was a stamp of authenticity. [*]
We need the Son to shine on our hearts. Like a piece of flawed pottery, we may have external, visible beauty, but far more importantly, we need to be sincere. When Christ dwells in us, we will be without offense. Though we cannot be perfect as long as we live in this flesh, we can be blameless.
Blamelessness begins with trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is strengthened by an obedient walk with he Lord day by day. The psalmist asked, "When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalms 11:3 (HCSB). His answer paralleled the final clause in these verses in Philippians: Be "filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" 1:11 (HCSB).
* William Barclay, New Testament Words (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1974), 66-68; and Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged in one volume by Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1985), 206.
"The Home Inspection"
A sermon set-up sketch for building a strong biblical foundation in your family.
Pastor: For a moment, we invite you to enter the "Home Inspection Twilight Zone."
Inspector: OK, I think we're ready to begin our inspection of the house.
Contractor: Great! We're just so excited that this couple is going to have a chance to enjoy a true state-of-the-art lifestyle.
Inspector: It is beautiful. I have to admit, I am envious.
Husband: The kids are going to love the playroom.
Contractor: We try to treat our clients to all the finest decorations. Just a little perk. Who wants to hang wallpaper right after you unpack the boxes?
Inspector: Wow! Ceiling fans are top of the line. They are voice activated. START FAN!
Wife: (looking up at the imaginary ceiling fan) Incredible!
Inspector: I noticed that the insulation meets the standards.
(Yelling to offstage): How are the toilets up there?
(sound effect of flushing)
Inspector: Sounds like they are working fine.
Husband: But it looks like there is a little moisture on the floor.
Inspector: More like a puddle.
Contractor: Did your kids spill something?
Wife: No, they are at their grandparents.
Inspector: This does not look good.
Contractor: I can assure you that we used the very best linoleum out there.
Inspector: A crack! A crack is forming at the top of the wall.
Inspector: Right there! You can almost see it growing.
Husband: That's just not right. This is really beginning to make me nervous.
Contractor: We can fix that wall, and you'll never see that crack again. We're got the best drywall repair equipment on the market.
Inspector: Here's another fault in the floor. We're going to have to take a close look at the foundation.
Wife: What foundation?
Inspector: The foundation of the house.
Contractor: Is that really necessary?
Inspector: What kind of a builder are you?! Let's take a look at the slab, the joists. You didn't cut any corners on the foundation, did you?
Contractor: Well, we knew we wanted this house to have the top-of-the-line, cutting edge amenities, so we just experimented with cardboard and crazy glue on the foundation. You know, you've got to cut corners somewhere.