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Sermon - September 28, 2014

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1183

September 28, 2014                                                                                        Philippians 2:1-13

Dr. Ed Pettus


“We Aim to Please”


I don’t remember the restaurant where I once heard this phrase, “we aim to please”, but for some reason it always stuck in my memory.  We aim to please.  In their case it was to please the customer with good food and service.  We aim to please in many ways and for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is our goal to please our parents or perhaps a teacher.  We want to please our spouse or someone we care about, a friend or neighbor.  The Bible speaks of ways to please God.  Just think about your desire to please God.  Do we desire to please God?  What if we constantly asked the question “is this pleasing to God?” 


We aim to please. We aim to please God.  The question becomes: how do we please God?  How does the Bible help us know and learn how to please God?  I want to set the first principle in place that will help us build a life pleasing to God.  The first thing is simply this: keeping God’s word pleases God.  Two particular places in the New Testament speak of keeping God’s command.  Colossians 3:20 is a command to children, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (ESV).  This is a command to follow the fifth commandment to honor one’s father and mother.  While Paul is not listing all ten commandments in this passage, I believe that it is also a hint to the church that it pleases God to follow his commands.  Anytime we see one or more of the ten commandments, I think that is a reference to pay attention to all ten! 


1 John 3:22 is much more direct by tying commandments and God’s pleasure together.  “Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (ESV).  Jesus makes it even more clear, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21 ESV).  God is pleased when we keep his commandments.  Learn them, do them, and you will please God.  Now this is not at all to limit ourselves to the ten commandments, but the principle extends to all of God’s word.


Remember this simple principle that keeping God’s word, his commandments, will please him.  Now, when we look at Philippians 2 and Paul’s exhortation to the church, the first thing we notice is a call to be of one mind.  We may see this as much more than a call, but a command to the church.  Philippians 2:2-4, “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (NRSV).  There is in this command a unity of thought and attitude:  Same mind; same love; full accord; one mind; no selfish ambition; regard others first; look to interest of others. 


Think about what would happen when a group, let’s say a football team, what happens when they fail to think the same way or to have the same goal?  The right guard pulls to the left and the left guard pulls to the right and they collide.  The quarterback runs to the left and the tail back runs to the right and no one knows who is in charge, no one knows if they will ever score again.  Such is the chaos when a group does not have the same mind.  Diversity, the new politically correct church term, is slowly destroying churches that do not have one mind.  Instead they have many ideas about God and salvation and all the topics of the Christians faith.  Diversity is a gift from God but it can only take us so far.  More important to pleasing God is having the same mindset, the same essential beliefs that enable us to live in diversity of other sorts, but all singularly focused on what it means to please God. 


Paul ups the ante by pointing us to Jesus.  Jesus is the one who pleased God like no other.  Paul lifts the bar to the point that he wants us, not just to have one mind with one another, but to have the very mind of Christ.  That is, we are to take on the attitude of Christ.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 NRSV).  Christ’s attitude was willing to be emptied, become a servant, humbled and obedient even to the point of death.  Jesus is the primary example for us to consider.  He told us to deny ourselves and carry our crosses.  He told us to love one another and to keep God’s command.  But he also did those things and did them without sinning.  The result, in Philippians 2, was that God exalted him. 


Paul then draws a conclusion with the word “therefore”.  “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13 NRSV).  There is a way of life that is pleasing to God – one that is marked by working out salvation, that is, working out our life in Christ.  Our life is Christ is our “salvation life”.  That life is an obedient life.   Obedience is keeping commandment.  It is staying focused on having one mind, one goal, one vision. 


But – the greatest promise in this passage is that God is at work in us.  God is teaching us obedience.  God is guiding us to live humbly.  God is making us able to deny selfish ambition.  God is at work in us to will his good pleasure and to work for his good pleasure.  To will and to work is to intend God’s pleasure and to give our lives over to his pleasure.  It is teaching us to live everyday with the question “Is what I am doing in my life pleasing to God?” 


This is our aim – to please God, to glorify God forever.  Is that our desire? 


I want to point us to a few other scriptures about pleasing God.  Philippians 2 teaches us about obedience and humility and the mind of Christ, and there many acts and attitudes that please God throughout scripture. 


Turn with me to Psalm 69:30-31 (463)

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.

Praise and thanksgiving, because they are from our being, deep within our hearts, these are pleasing to God.  More than money or material things, because even if we lose everything we have, what do we have left?  Praise and thanksgiving.  What did Job have left when he lost everything?  Praise and thanksgiving.  Worship the Lord!


            I love this next connection in the scriptures.  Turn with me to Colossians 1:19 (950), I’m going to start at verse 15…


Colossians 1:19       

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell


Remember that phrase, “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.  Let’s look now, a few pages back in your Bible, at Ephesians 3:19.  This is Paul’s prayer for the church, the prayer we have used in our weekly prayer time. 

Eph 3:19 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


            I believe the fullness of God is all the things we know of God and even more that we do not know, but it is at least this: the Holy Spirit, God’s word, the mind of Christ, faith, hope, love, grace, mercy, truth, goodness, generosity, all the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of God, righteousness, holiness…


Just a few more quick references and comments:


Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.


Psalm 147:11

but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.


Psalm 149:4

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.

            God takes pleasure in us, like parents taking pleasure in their children.  God simply enjoys us.


Luke 12:32

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.


Just let theses verses sink into your mind and heart.


What pleases God?

A Church that looks inward or one that looks outward to make disciples?

That we collect lots of material possessions or that we give as generously as God has given to us?

That we tolerate everything under the sun or correct and teach one another?

That we glorifying self or glorifying God?


These are the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves if we aim to please God.


I’ve outlined several passages and thoughts that might leave us feeling overwhelmed.  I want to end this message with a prayer from Thomas Merton on how we might simplify our aim to please God.


“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

― Thomas MertonThoughts in Solitude


I believe Merton is right in that our desire to please God is pleasing to God.  Is that your desire today?  If not, make it so!  Have that desire in everything you say and do.  Amen.