The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in February 2022*
Sermon Audio: The Joy of Missing Out (Phil 1:27-28)
Arius did not believe that Jesus was God. He twisted and maligned Scripture to make it support his view. He found powerful allies who he won over to his side. And while the council of Nicaea in 325 led to Arius’ teachings being formally rejected, over the next sixty years, Arius’ teachings almost won the day.
Why? Arius was very popular and highly esteemed by many. Here is one writer’s description of him: “[he was] tall and lean, of distinguished appearance and polished address. Women doted on him, charmed by his beautiful manners, touched by his appearance of asceticism. Men were impressed by his aura of intellectual superiority.” (Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol II. p. 10)
Here is another:
“Here was a bright, energetic, attractive fellow, the kind of citizen whom any Rotary Club would welcome. Singing sea chanties in dockside pubs and teaching Bible stories to the Wednesday night faithful, this was an immensely popular man.” (Parker T. Williamson, Standing Firm: Reclaiming the Chastain Faith in Times of Controversy [Lenoir, North Carolina: PLC Publications, 1996], p. 31.)
Arius didn’t seem like a bad guy! Further, Arius found other people who carried on his cause who were very persuasive, well-connected and knew how to handle political maneuvers like the best of them. They didn’t attempt to convince the emperor that Arius’ opponents were wrong, but that the other side was being unnecessarily divisive—do we really need to label men like Arius a ‘heretic’? We basically agree. Do we need to divide Christ’s church over this? One young Egyptian bishop, Athanasius, (who was 40 years Arius’ junior) stood firmly against Arianism, but paid dearly for it. Over his 45 years serving as the bishop of Alexandria, he spent 17 of them in exile for refusing to deny what he knew to be true. At times, it appeared that Athanasius stood so alone that he was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Athanasius Against the World).
Sometimes false teaching comes across as respectable, plausible, and attractive. People will be swayed to believe something false because the person saying it is nice, presentable, and friendly. If the only picture you have in your mind of “false teacher” is a scary, cartoonish villain you will be blind to the real danger (cf. Rom 16:17-18; Col 2:4). In CS Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength, it isn’t an accident that the organization of villains is called the N.I.C.E. And if you stand against that, if you point out that the very well-spoken and good-looking individual is lying to everyone and shouldn’t be believed, you will risk looking like the bad guy yourself.
It is my hope in this sermon today that I can help free you to do what Paul exhorts us to do in Philippians 1:27-28, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” If we are limited to make decisions about what we believe based on what appears fashionable, respectable, or appealing to modern sensibilities, we will not be able to do what Paul is asking us to do. Paul’s opponents, and many other Christians today, are opponents who are using physical violence and threats to stop the gospel from spreading. It is unlikely that you are I will face a similar opposition. What will we face? Let’s look at Jesus teaching from Luke:
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets… “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” – Luke 6:22-23, 26
I called this sermon “The Joy of Missing Out.” I’m sure you have heard of the “fear of missing out,” the modern day anxiety that technology and social media has given us, the lurking fear that there is something going on, some event, some friends gathering together, or some breaking news story, some hot take that we are missing out on. We are fearful that there is some inner ring of knowledge or friendship or importance or approval that we are on the “outside” of. And we hate that feeling.
We likely will not face a firing squad or police batons for our faith (praise God), but we will likely be put into situations in our life where we will have to make a choice between maintaining our Christian convictions or maintaining our reputation in the world’s eyes.
But it likely will not come across obviously. There are two ways you can break in the city gates. You can pound it with a battering ram and then have to fight through all the city guards who are now resisting you. Or, you can slowly, imperceptibly, and gradually put pound by pound by pound of more weight against the door. So gently that the locks barely creak as they begin to break. The seduction of being “included” doesn’t look like barbarians pounding on the doors, but the gentle application of pressure. The allure of the “inner ring” is the fellow at work putting his arm around you and saying, You know, its really only you, me, and Tom over there who really know what’s going on around here. It is the attractive boy or girl finally starting to give you attention. It is the intrigue of being counted among the solemn few who really belong who really count. And it is the threat of being thrust out into the cold, as if someone realizes Hello? Who let you in here? and being tarred and feathered as “one of them” that fills us with such fear.
And it is that fear and temptation that makes Jesus’ words here so critical for us.
Woe to You
Let’s look at the curse Jesus pronounces first, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets,” (Luke 6:26). Why are we cursed when all people speak well of us?
We are cursed because, Jesus tells us, we are acting like the false prophets of old. What was a false prophet? During the time of the Old and New Testaments, God would speak through individuals called prophets. Their job was less like a fortune teller and more like a preacher. Their job was to call Israel back to the truths they had abandoned and remind them of the blessing of obedience, and the danger of disobedience. False prophets were people who lied about what God said. Jeremiah describes these false prophets succinctly: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” (Jer 6:14; cf. 4:10; 14:13; 23:17; Ezek. 13:10; Mic. 3:5).
False prophets are people who lie about reality in order to make people feel more comfortable. They offer patients palliatives when surgery is needed. They promise the citizens that they can all go to sleep safely at night when the invaders are at the city the gates. There may be no figure in the whole of the Old Testament that Yahweh despises more than the false prophet.
We see their equivalent in the New Testament described by Paul as he charges his young apprentice Timothy to continue to preach the Word “in season and out of season,” “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
What an image! Think of the power of an itch. What do you do when you have an itch? You scratch it; it feels impossible not to! Now, there are people whose ears itch, as in, they want to hear certain things, and their desire to hear it is like the desire to scratch an itch. When they hear sound teaching, it doesn’t scratch it, so they “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” That’s actually a great definition of a false prophet—a teacher to suit their own passions. He speaks to me where I’m at and leaves me feeling so encouraged! We now see why Jesus connects being a “false prophet” and having “all people speak well of you.”
This tells what false prophets do not believe in, and what they do believe in.
False prophets believe in being liked. They are chameleons who can adapt their teaching and even their personality to whatever crowd they are in. False teachers may be motivated by greed, power, or lust, but the universal thing they all adhere to is wanting to be liked.
False prophets do not believe in the truth. “Truth” for them is simply a narrative to be molded and spun to achieve certain ends. Facts and reality are obstinate things. Theologian John Webster writes, “Truth cannot be commanded; instead, it commands us…Truth blocks invention; when we reach the truth, we reach the limits of our wills. And it’s because truth is that kind of barrier against us that we have to find ways of circumventing it. We have to flee from the truth.” That’s what a false teacher does, flees from truth.
We need truth. And Jesus offers us just that, but the truth is uncomfortable. We need to be confronted, not flattered. We need surgery, not more opioids. And the gospel confronts us first with the reality of our problem: sin. Our sin is not a splash or smear of mess ups in an otherwise pretty good life. We are not an ocean of goodness with islands of sin, a highway of righteousness with potholes of mistakes, but the exact opposite. The problem is that our sin reaches down to our core so that even our own attempts to fix it are themselves polluted with more sin. And while it is intuitive to clam up at such an accusation, to become defensive when someone points this out, the gospel confronts us differently than the world does. Jesus doesn’t just point out our sin and bark at us to “do better.” Rather, he points out our sin and then says, “I can forgive you of all this, I can wash you, I can take this off your shoulders. This is infinitely more than you can ever handle, so why not hand it to me?” And we say, “Okay Lord, I trust you.” But what happens if we say, “There is no problem here,” or, “I don’t want to hear that,” or, “How dare you”? Then He will pass us by and leave us in our sin. And a false teacher trains you to do that, prepares your heart to become diamond hard against admitting your need. And that is why God hates false teachers; they inoculate people to the gospel.
Now, that’s a false teacher. So let’s return to Jesus’ warning. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets,” (Luke 6:26). Jesus assumes three things here: (1) His disciples have a life and message that may offend people so that they will no longer speak well of them; (2) they will be tempted to change their life and message to try to win people’s favor; (3) they shouldn’t.
Brothers and sisters, have you been tempted to act like a false prophet? Are you tempted to alter or hide what you believe so that others will continue to speak well of you? Are there people around you who would be shocked to suddenly discover that you are a Christian? Martin Luther King Jr., warned of the danger of valuing the absence of tension over the presence of justice. That’s a sobering word for us all. Christians can care more about not rocking the boat than they care about the cliffs the boat is about to smash against.
When the emperor was given new clothes that he was told would only be invisible to the ignorant and incompetent, he, being terribly vain, did not want to admit that he couldn’t see them. So he paraded around the city in his new clothes, announcing that these luxurious new clothes would only be invisible to the ignorant, the backward, the incompetent. And what did everyone do? They pretended to go along with it as well, lest they reveal to everyone else that they were ignorant and incompetent.
I explained the idea of this sermon to a non-Christian friend of mine this week and they said, “This kind of sounds like an excuse for Christians to be jerks.” That’s a good point. Didn’t Jesus elsewhere tell us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt 6:16). Didn’t Paul teach, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all,” (Rom 12:18). Shouldn’t we desire to have a good reputation with others?
Of course we should as far as it depends on us.
Consider two passages: Jesus explains to His disciples: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” (Matt 10:16). His disciples are going into dangerous environments, so they need to be as shrewd as a serpent while remaining as innocent as a dove. What does that mean? It means that we don’t go out of our way to be offensive or poke a stick in everyone’s eye we disagree with. It means that we choose our battles wisely. We don’t need to engage with our neighbors on everything we disagree with, but just the most important thing, and when we do engage we try to be winsome and kind.
But we remain as “innocent as doves,” in other words, we don’t lie, we don’t change what we believe.
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” 2 Tim 2:23-25. This shows us that while Christians may need to enter into confrontation, we are not contentious, quarrelsome people. We don’t like the fight and so go looking to pick a fight. We are marked by gentleness, patience, respect. Here is a good rule of thumb: until you can accurately summarize your opponents own view in such a way that they would say, “Yes, that is a good representation of what I believe,” then you are not ready to “debate” anyone.
A realization that the smiles of the world can be dangerous does not give Christians an excuse to become belligerent. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” Rom 12:14.
Blessed Are You
Let’s now turn to Jesus’ blessing: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets,” Luke 6:22-23
Let’s look at what people are doing to Jesus’ followers here: they hate them; they exclude them; they revile them; and spurn their name as evil. In Matthew’s account of this teaching he includes “persecute you” and “utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” (Matt 5:11). So, this runs the gamut of being unpopular, to being barred from certain things, to being slandered, to being villainized, to being actively hunted down because of Jesus. Again, this is critical to point out, the blessing that Jesus points out here is for when we are persecuted for His sake. If your property taxes go up, you are not suffering for Jesus. If you are flaky and unreliable, and your boss just so happens to be a non-Christian, and you get fired—do not try to take comfort from Jesus’ words here. We are blessed when others hate us when what they hate us for is our obedience to Jesus.
Every culture across time has found something about obedience to Jesus offensive, strange, or even evil. In the early church, Christians were accused of being atheists, because they had no idol or image of their God. They were accused of being cannibals because the Lord’s Supper and their care for orphans; Romans would often abandon infants on the side of the road (especially girls), but Christians would pick them up. So people began to spread rumors that maybe they were doing so to cannibalize them. The Christian church was openly mocked because it welcomed in women, children, and slaves right alongside men. Our culture has become obsessed with sex, power, and identity—and so the Christian teaching on sex, gender, and identity has become extremely controversial and off-putting. But the world being scandalized by Christian teaching is something that Christians have faced across all of history.
Jesus expects that a normal part of the Christian life will be to walk against the current of the world you live in. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household,” Matt 10:24-25. Jesus was the most loving and honest human being who has ever walked the earth—and yet, people accused him of being in league with Satan. And if that is what they did to our Savior we shouldn’t be surprised when it is what is done to us.
What will you do when your co-workers, your family members, your friends don’t just think you are kind of a wet blanket, but they think that your views are evil? When they malign you, tell lies about you?
Maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend is wanting to push physical boundaries, wanting to creep closer and closer towards a sexual encounter. You know that if you say “no,” they may not be interested in you anymore. And what will you do if they threaten you that if you don’t do this, they will tell everyone that you did anyways. So, what do you do?
Or maybe at work you notice that everyone has started to sign their emails with their preferred pronouns stated or you realize that you are one of the few people who doesn’t decorate your cubicle or office for pride month. What happens if the diversity, equity, and inclusion board brings you in because they are concerned that your behavior makes certain protected classes feel unwelcome?
Maybe your good friend has gone off the deep end into far-right conspiracy theories and begins speaking of democrats and immigrants with hatred and violence, and when you try to correct him he accuses you of being a sheep, liberal, and “what’s wrong with this country,” and you now are concerned that you may be losing your friend. What do you do?
When the emperor is proudly strutting through the city eventually a child sees him and says, “Why does the king have no clothes on?” And suddenly the illusion is burst and everyone realizes that there are no magical clothes and all laugh at the naked emperor. But the emperor? He only walks more proudly, confident that what he had suspected all along is now a settled fact: he is smarter and more sophisticated than all these peasants who cannot see his magical clothes. The point of the story is to dispel the allure of the inner ring, the elitism that is really built on nothing but pretension and vanity. But what would happen if after the child spoke, everyone only scorned and mocked the child as being too ignorant to see what they all plainly see?
What happens when you speak up at your workplace or with your friends or at the school board meeting that the emperor has no clothes on and you are laughed at and pilloried?
What does Jesus say you do?
Rejoice! Leap for joy! “for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets,” (Luke 6:23).
Why rejoice? Because you know you’re real! This is how the prophets of old were treated. You believe in something more than just being liked, something more than being on the “inner ring,” you believe in truth! And you believe it so deeply that you are willing to lose, you are willing to pay for it.
Because you have a great reward in heaven. This could either mean that the reward that we will all receive in heaven will be great, so we need not worry about any of life’s troubles, like this one. Or it could mean that this very act of suffering and exclusion you are experiencing is specifically enhancing a unique joy, reward in heaven. I think the latter of the two is correct, that those who are willing to be excluded and reviled and slandered for following Jesus will receive a special commendation in the New Creation. Friend, maybe you feel so discouraged when you suffer in this life because you functionally don’t believe that heaven exists. You believe, deep down, that this life is your one shot at happiness, your one shot at joy, so when you get excluded and reviled and are persecuted you are missing out on your only chance of joy. But Jesus here tells us that it is our very exclusion that will enhance our joy! There is a life beyond this life that will make all the pleasures of this world seem like a cheap trinket in comparison.
There is joy in missing out.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matt 10:26-31