Being Loyal To The Royal In Us
During the days of the French monarchy, the children of the royal family were taught by employed tutors. Given the circumstances, sometimes it was difficult for those tutors to enforce discipline with those royal children. One of the tutors solved the problem in this way. He pinned a bit of royal purple ribbon over the heart of each one of the children in his charge. He then said to them: “You now wear the royal purple indicating that you are the children of the king. I pin it over your heart lest you behave in a manner unbecoming your station. When you do wrong, I shall point to the ribbon and I shall make my appeal to the purple.”
Sisters and brothers in the Lord, I come to this pulpit today to remind you that as Christians we wear the purple of royalty over our hearts. We are part of the aristocracy of heaven. The Bible says that “as many as receive Jesus Christ as Lord receive from Him the power to become the children of God.” God is the great King above all other kings. To become a part of God’s family then, to be a child of God, is therefore to be of royal lineage. The Bible tells us that we reign with Christ. It tells us that we are part of a royal priesthood. It tells us that we are appointed to a royal kingdom.
Now I admit that we do not always feel very regal. There are times when we are defeated and dismayed. There are times when we forget who we are and we find ourselves frustrated by the events of the day. But what I want to say to you today is this: that even when we feel down, that does not change who and what we are! Though we may be down, we are still kings and queens who are down. Nothing can change our relationship to God.
You all know of Helen of Troy. Her beautiful countenance was said to have started wars. In one of those battles she herself was lost in the fray. Her enemies could not find her, nor could her friends. The armies returned home and she remained lost. All gave up hope of ever seeing her again except Menelaus. Menelaus went looking for her and found her suffering from amnesia in a seacoast town. She was living the life of a woman of the streets. He went up to her and called her by name: “Helen.” No response. So he then grasped her by the shoulder and shook her and said: “You are the great Helen of Troy”—and somehow that pierced to the center of her. The straightness came to her back again. The regal look on her face returned. She remembered the royal blood that flowed in her veins.
In a sense I come to this pulpit today to shake you a bit by the shoulders and say: “We are the children of the King. We wear the royal purple. We are of the aristocracy of God. And nothing can change that.” Why is it important for us to remember that? Because, my friends, the greatest battles of life are won, not on the battlefields of military conflict, not in the sports arenas of the world, not in the marketplaces, not in the scientific laboratories, not even in the great expanses of space, but in the souls of people like you and like me. The greatest battles of life are won or lost in the human heart. And it is only when we are loyal to the royal God has placed within us that we can live on the winning side.
That’s the message of the first portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians. He loved them deeply. They were like family. He wrote to them like a father writing to his children. He called them to live up to their royal heritage. He said: “You don’t have to be victims of circumstance or pride or even death. You can be victors over all three.” And what was true for those Philippian Christians is equally true for us Orlando Christians.
Because we are the royal children of God, we don’t have to be victims of circumstance, rather we can be victors over our circumstances.
Paul knew how to use his circumstances rather than to be paralyzed or victimized by them. If, for example, you picked up the Bible and read his letter to the Philippians straight through with no knowledge of who wrote it (by the way, it’s just three or four pages long…you can read it in just a few minutes) and if you had no knowledge of the circumstances under which it was written, you would say that this letter is full of joy and victory, strength and confidence. You would probably suggest that it was written by someone who was on top of the world. Not so. When Paul wrote those words of joy and victory, he was in prison, in ill health, under the sentence of death, cut off from his work, separated from his loved ones, and denied the possibility of fulfilling his greatest dreams. In fact, he was put to death not too long after writing these glorious words.
Terrible circumstances indeed, but Paul refused to be victimized by them. He understood himself to be a child of God. He could not feel sorry for himself. He would not wallow in self-pity. He would not throw in the towel. Instead he used the circumstances to stand tall and to do great things to inspire the church. He said: “Sure I am trapped in these miserable circumstances, but with God’s help, I am going to find a way to make a victory out of this.” That’s the way Paul was. Whoever caught him and tried to tame him soon discovered that they had a spiritual tiger by the tail. Drag him into court and he would turn the witness stand into a pulpit. Throw him into jail and he would convert the jailer and turn the other prisoners into a choir. Paul knew how to use his circumstances rather than to be enslaved by them.
We can do that, too, for we too, are the royal children of God. With God’s help, we can be victorious over our circumstances in life. We don’t have to be “thermometers.” With God’s help, we can be “thermostats.” Think about that. What does a thermometer do? It simply registers the climate. If the climate is warm, it registers warmth. If the climate is cold, it registers coldness. But a thermostat changes the climate, influences the climate, dictates the climate. That is our calling as the children of God—to be thermostats, not thermometers—to see every circumstance, every situation, as a unique opportunity to serve the cause of Christ. We don’t have to be victims of circumstances. If we are loyal to the royal God has placed within us, we can rise above our circumstances.
And because we are the royal children of God, we don’t have to be the victims of our pride, rather we can be victors over it.
Some of us have a problem with that old devil pride. We get all wrapped up in what people are thinking about us, in whether or not we are getting all the accolades we think we deserve, and in how we can gain what we believe to be sufficient power and prestige in life. Paul understood that problem, too. It’s clear from Philippians that some of Paul’s adversaries were using his imprisonment against him. There were power struggles going on, and some saw Paul’s incarceration as a chance to do him in and to wrest from him the power he possessed. We would expect Paul to respond to that with hurt or anger or resentment. Instead, look at how he responds. He says: “It’s okay! It doesn’t matter what they say about me or what happens to me. All that matters is that the Gospel is proclaimed—and in that I rejoice.” He didn’t fall victim to pride. He triumphed over it by emphasizing his humble serve to Jesus Christ. That’s the mark of God’s royalty in a life.
Of course, Jesus is our pattern. The Master is our model. Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, yet the Bible says that He humbled Himself and took upon Himself the role of a servant. He poured out red blood to win for us the purple of royalty. Paul puts it this way: “Though He was rich yet for our sakes He became poor that we, through His poverty, might become rich.” Here in the model of the Master is our call to what I term “the nobility of humility.”
A man who is both a prominent lawyer and a Presbyterian Elder captured this idea perfectly when he said: “I don’t know why preachers don’t explain to people that Christianity is nothing more than ’basin theology.’” “Basin theology?” he was asked: “What is basin theology?” He said: “It’s all wrapped up in two basins.” He said: “When Pontius Pilate, who possessed great earthly power, had the opportunity to help someone, he called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole matter. When Jesus of Nazareth, who possessed great spiritual power, was asked to help someone, He called for a basin, girded Himself with a towel, and gave Himself away in humble, loving service. It’s all in a matter of which basin you choose. Is it the basin with which you wash your hands of the world’s needs? Or is it the basin with which you set to work trying to clean up the world’s needs?”
I like that. Sisters and brothers, the testimony of Scripture is that if you wear the purple of God’s royalty you also wear the towel. Being a part of the aristocracy of the Lord does not call us to pride and privilege, but to sacrifice and service. It calls us to the nobility of humility.
Then because we are the royal children of God, we do not have to be victims of death, rather we shall be victors over it.
Paul and the great Christians were not afraid of death. They faced it squarely, confidently, and courageously. They recognized that if life is Christ, then death will be more of Christ. Death is not the end of life as we know it, rather it is the beginning of life as we never dreamed it could be.
Have you heard about the newspaper editor who wanted his paper to be perfect? The masthead of the paper carried the motto: “The Paper That Never Makes a Mistake!” The one day, they made a mistake—a big one. One of the town’s most powerful businessmen came roaring into the editor’s office saying: “You made a mistake!” The editor replied: “What do you mean?” The man bellowed: “You printed my name in the obituary column. I demand a correction.” Well, a paper that makes no mistakes can’t print a correction, so the editor had to come up with a creative solution. When the paper hit the streets the next morning, the man’s name was printed under “New Births”! Well, there is a sermon in that, because that is what death really is—a new birth, the beginning of a new life.
The greatest Christians have all been very sure of this. Paul says it as clearly as anyone ever has right here in Philippians. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If life is Christ then death will be more of Christ!
Emerson Colaw, the Methodist bishop, liked to tell the story of a minister who was called to a new church. His old church gave him a farewell party. The minister came into the Fellowship Hall and found a large floral arrangement carrying the printed message “Rest in peace.” Perplexed, he called the florist. The florist said: “You think you’ve got problems! Just think there is a funeral somewhere in this city today with a floral spray that reads: “Good luck in your new location!”
As Christians, we don’t need “good luck” when death comes because we have Christ. We don’t need a rabbit’s foot, we have God. The God of the living and the dead is our Father. The Lord who is on both sides of the grave is our best friend. That’s what Paul believed. We can believe it too—and when we do it sets us free. If for us life is Christ, then death just means more of Him!
This sermon is a call to live up to the name which is ours. Names do have power, you know. There used to be a famous pianist in American whose name was Olga Samurov. She was a brilliant performer who had a dazzling 30-year career. She was also a splendid teacher. Some of her students at the Juilliard School of Music became great pianists as well. And she was Russian. In those days, the 30’s and 40’s, this was synonymous with exotic mystery. She had that aura about her. She married the most famous symphonic conductor of the day, Leopold Stokowski. But she was never called “Madame Stokowski,” she was always called Olga Samurov. I mean, isn’t that a marvelous name for a Russian concert pianist? Olga Samurov. The problem was that she wasn’t Russian. And she wasn’t very mysterious or exotic. And Olga Samurov wasn’t her real name. She was born in San Antonio, Texas and her real name was Lucy Hickenlooper!
Well, I am not calling you today by your ordinary name. I’m calling you by your royal name: Christian. Child of God. You wear the purple of royalty upon your heart—and today I make my appeal to the purple. I call you to be not a victim of circumstance or pride or death, but a victor over them. I call you to be loyal to the royal in you. I call you to live up to the noble standards of the One whose name you bear. I call you to live like who and what you are—the child of the King…