The Savior Helps Us Stop Stumbling
Sermon by Rick Crandall
Grayson Baptist Church - Sept. 9, 2012
*Have you ever stumbled? -- Of course we all have. The last time I stumbled badly was two summers ago. I went out after dark to turn off the sprinkler. And foolishly, I didn’t turn on the front porch light. I never saw that little rocking chair we had on the porch, and I took a big tumble. When I think about it, I can still feel the place where that thing hit my shin.
*Stumbling is bad. -- And spiritual stumbling is the worst. In John 16:1, on the night before He died on the cross for us, Jesus told His disciples: “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended (or “made to stumble”).
*God wants to help His followers stop stumbling. And in these verses He steers us away from 3 stumbling blocks that often trip us up.
1. First: God steers us away from discouragement.
*We see Paul trying to guard us against discouragement in vs. 1, where he said: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.”
*In other words: “I am telling you to rejoice in the Lord, because I want to protect you from discouragement.” We need this help, because discouragement is such a widespread problem. That’s understandable, because so much can go wrong in life.
 Things go wrong in life.
*The Apostle Paul knew that. Remember that he was in chains when he wrote this letter. And that’s not all. Paul just got through telling us about Epaphroditus. And in Phil 2:27, Paul said that Epaphroditus:
27. . . was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
*Epaphroditus was sick almost to death. Paul almost had sorrow on top of sorrow. And things like that can happen to us. We are going along, minding our own business, trying to serve God, when out of nowhere: Wham! And we wonder, “What’s going on?”
*Bryan Heiss knew the feeling. His story was written up in the 1982 Encyclopedia Brittanica Yearbook. Here’s how it started: When Bryan woke up, he found a leak in his apartment ceiling. As he ran to get a wet-vac to clean up the mess, he discovered that his car had 4 flat tires.
*He went back upstairs, reached for the phone, and was shocked so badly it nearly knocked him down. When he got back downstairs, Bryan discovered that someone had stolen his car. He recovered it later that day.
*That evening Bryan got dressed for his ROTC graduation ceremony. But the water had caused the door to swell in its frame. He had to scream until someone came and kicked in the door from the outside.
*When he finally jumped in his car, he immediately realized that he’d sat on his bayonet, which he had carelessly left in the driver’s seat. Bryan was taken to the hospital for some very strategic surgery.
*While he was at the hospital, part of the roof fell in at home and killed his pet canaries. Back at the apartment, Bryan ran across the room to check on his birds, slipped on the wet carpet, hurt his back, and had to go back to the hospital.
*A reporter later asked Bryan how so much could happen to one person in one day. And he replied: “It looks like God was trying to kill me, but He kept missing.” (1)
*Of course that’s not true. But you can see why Bryan felt that way.
-We get discouraged, because things go wrong.
 And other people go wrong.
*Paul knew that. Back in Phil 2:19-21, he said:
19. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state.
20. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state.
21. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.
*Then in his last letter, Paul made this very sad comment: “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” (2 Timothy 1:15)
*And in 2 Timothy 4:14-16, Paul said:
14. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.
15. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
16. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
*Thank the Lord, that in the next two verses Paul was also able to say:
17. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
18. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! (2 Timothy 4:17-18)
*But we get discouraged, because other people go wrong.
 We also get discouraged because we go wrong.
*Paul knew about that too. In Romans 7:18-24, he said:
18. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
19. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
20. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
22. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
23. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
*Now Paul went on to say: “I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)
*But Paul knew that discouragement is pervasive. He also knew that discouragement is a big stumbling block for believers.
-It paralyzes us.
-Pulls us down.
-Saps our strength.
-Drains our energy.
-And poisons our mind.
*Discouragement clouds our vision, so we look at everything from a negative perspective. Discouragement is a menace, so Paul gives us the remedy right here in vs. 1: “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.”
*Rejoice in the Lord! This is the prescription Paul gives to us over and over again. In fact, we see it one way or another 12 times in this short letter.
-Phil 1:18. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
-Phil 2:17. Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
-And Phil 4:4. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
*Paul gives us this prescription over and over not just because we need it, but because it works! -- No matter what’s bothering you, rejoice in the Lord, and you will feel better!
*So think of some of the reasons why we can rejoice in the Lord.
-Think about His goodness, kindness, mercy and grace.
-Think about all that Jesus did for us on the cross.
-Think about Heaven.
-Think about the countless other ways God has blessed us through the years.
*I feel better already! -- God wants to guard us against discouragement, so He tells us to rejoice in the Lord.
-He steers us away from discouragement.
2. He also steers us away from deceivers.
*This was Paul’s goal in vs. 2-3, where he warned those believers:
2. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!
3. For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,
*Beware of dogs. (An unfortunate choice of words for dog lovers like me and many of you) It’s almost an insult to our dogs, but Albert Barnes explained that these dogs were people who were “shameless, impudent, malignant, snarling, dissatisfied and contentious.”
*Who were these dogs? -- In this letter they were the Jewish teachers who taught that you can only be saved by keeping the Law. (2)
*That’s why vs. 2 calls them the “concision” in the KJV. It means the “mutilation” or the “mutilators.” Not that Paul had anything against circumcision. There is nothing wrong with circumcision. But there is everything wrong with saying that a man has to be circumcised to be saved.
*So for them, the dogs were the false Jewish teachers. For us the dogs are those who do all they can to tear down the gospel of Jesus Christ: Hardcore Muslims, Marxists, leftists, atheists, and media-elites. They are the hate-filled people who accuse us of being extremists, haters, bigots and all kinds of other horrible things.
*This struggle has gone on down through the ages on many different levels. In “The Story of Civilization,” Will Durant wrote: “There is no greater drama in human history than the sight of a few Christians, scorned and oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generate chaos, fighting the sword with the Word of God, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met, and Christ won.” (3)
*Christ will continue to win! -- But the struggle goes on. And here in vs. 2, God steers us away from the deceivers with a warning: “Beware! Beware! Beware!”
-God steers us away from deceivers.
3. He also steers us away from misguided dependence.
 So Paul begins to steer us away from depending on our own goodness.
*In vs. 3, Paul said this to Christians: “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,”
*Now, if anyone could have had “confidence in the flesh,” if anyone could have trusted in his own goodness according to Jewish Law, it would have been Paul.
*He tells us this in vs. 4-6, where Paul said:
4. though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
5. circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;
6. concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
*Notice that as far as getting to Heaven is concerned, your heritage can’t help you. Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. And it’s good to come from a Christian family, -- but that won’t get you to Heaven.
*Your heritage can’t save you. And your heart-felt efforts can’t save you.
-Nobody tried harder than Paul.
-Nobody was more religious than Paul.
*In vs. 6, he was so zealous for the Jewish religion that he persecuted the church. And when it came to the Jewish ceremonial law, Paul could honestly say he was blameless.
*But that won’t get you to Heaven. Isaiah 64:6 says: “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.”
*Our best efforts on our best day could not get us to Heaven, so Paul steers us away from depending on our goodness.
 And he steers us to depend on the good news about Jesus Christ.
*This is Paul’s message to us in vs. 7-9, where he said:
7. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
8. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
9. and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
The “excellence of knowledge” Paul talked about in vs. 8 is not just knowing about Jesus. It’s knowing HIM personally. In vs. 9, Paul is talking about a relationship so close that Christians, we are literally in Him, in Jesus Christ.
*It’s a relationship made possible by the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
-A relationship that gives us the righteousness of God.
-A relationship where our death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54).
-A relationship that gives us an everlasting home in Heaven.
-And a relationship born by our faith and trust in the Lord.
*Christians: We are on our way to Heaven, because we have trusted in the good news about Jesus Christ.
*But we’re not there yet, and sometimes we stumble along the way.
*God wants to help us stop stumbling.
-So He steers us away from discouragement.
-He steers us away from deceivers.
-And He steers us away from misguided dependence.
*May God help us overcome every stumbling block we will face on our way home to Heaven.
1. Adapted from: “Over the Top” by Zig Ziglar - Thomas Nelson, 1997, pp. 252-253 - (Source: http://itslikethis.org/?p=789)
2. Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible - Phil 3:2 - “Beware of dogs”
3. Philip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew” - Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995 - p. 248 (Source: Peachtree Presbyterian Pulpit - Series: “What I Believe!” - #4 - “What I Believe about the Church!” by W. Frank Harrington, Matthew 18:19-20; Ephesians 1:1-5; 22-23 - March 23, 1997)