Live Like Who And What You Are!
Back during the days of the French monarchy, the children of the royal family were always taught by hired tutors. Now given those circumstances, you can imagine that sometimes it was quite difficult for those tutors to enforce discipline upon the royal children. One of the tutors solved the problem in a rather creative way. Purple is the color of royalty, and so this tutor pinned a bit of 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 have pinned it over your heart lest you behave in a manner unbecoming your station. When you do that which is wrong, I shall simply point to the ribbon, and I shall make my appeal to the purple.”
My beloved people, I come to this pulpit today to remind you that, as Christians, you wear the purple of royalty over your hearts. You are a child of God; You are a part of a royal priesthood; You are appointed to a royal kingdom—and I don’t want you ever to forget that. My guess is you will remember the name Helen of Troy. Her beautiful face was said to have started wars, and in one of those battles, she, herself, became disoriented and was lost in the fray. Her enemies could not find her nor could her friends. Eventually the armies returned home, and she remained missing. All gave up hope of ever seeing her again; all, that is, except Menelaus. Menelaus went looking for her, and in time, found her suffering from amnesia, living in a seacoast town. In fact, she was living the life of a woman of the streets. Menelaus went up to her and called her by name, “Helen.” No response. So Menelaus then grasped her by the shoulder, shook her just a bit, and said, “You are the great Helen of Troy.” Somehow those words pierced to her soul. The straightness came to her back again. The regal look on her face returned. Suddenly, she remembered the royal blood that flowed in her veins. Now there is a sense in which I come to this pulpit today to shake you just a bit by the shoulders, and to say to you, “You are the children of the King. You wear the royal purple. You are the aristocracy of God. And nothing can change that.” Now why is it so important for me to remind you of that today? Well, because, dear friends, the greatest battles of life are won not in the battlefields of military conflict; not in the sports arenas of the world; not in the nation’s market places; not in the scientific laboratories; not even in the great expanse of outer space, but rather in the souls of people like you and me. Mark this down, and remember it please. 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 this first portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians. He loved those Christians at Philippi deeply. They were like family to him. He wrote to them rather like a father writing to his children. He called them to live up to their royal heritage. He wrote to them, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” And what was true for Philippian Christians is equally true for Providence Christians. Let me show you what I mean.
Because you are the royal children of God, you don’t have to be victims of circumstances; rather, you can be victorious over circumstances.
Paul knew how to use his circumstances rather than to be paralyzed or victimized by them. If, for example, you were to pick 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 3 or 4 pages long, and you can read it in just a few minutes time. And I hope you will do that.), and if you had no knowledge of the circumstances under which the letter was written, you would say that this letter is full of joy, victory, strength, and confidence and therefore, it had to be written by someone who is on top of the world. Not so. Quite the contrary, in fact, when Paul wrote these words of joy and victory, he was in prison under the sentence of death. He was in ill health—cut off from his work, separated from his loved ones, and denied the possibility of fulfilling his greatest dreams in life. Furthermore, in fact, he was actually put to death not very long after writing these glorious words. Miserable circumstances to the extreme, and yet Paul refused to be victimized by them. He understood himself to be the child of God. He would not feel sorry for himself. He would not wallow in self-pity. He would not throw in the towel. He would not give in or give up. Instead, he used the circumstances to stand tall for Jesus Christ. He said, “Sure I’m trapped in these miserable circumstances, but, with God’s help, I’m going to find a way to make a victory out of this.” That’s the way Paul was. You see whoever caught him and tried to tame him soon discovered that they had a spiritual tiger by the tail. Just look at the way he was. Drag him into court and what would he do? He would turn the witness stand into a pulpit. Throw him into jail and what would he do? He would convert the jailer and turn the other prisoners into a choir. Yes, Paul knew how to use his circumstances rather than to be enslaved by them.
You can do that too, for you too are the royal children of God. With God’s help, you can be victorious over any circumstances which may be yours in life. In other words, you don’t have to be “thermometers,” but rather, with God’s help, you can be “thermostats.” Think about that, please. 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, and determines the climate. That is your calling of the children of God: To be thermostats not thermometers, to see every circumstance, every situation as a unique opportunity to stand for Christ, and to serve the cause of Christ in the world. If you are loyal to the royal God has placed within you, then, like Paul, you can rise above any circumstance in your life.
And because you are the royal children of God, you don’t have to be the victims of pride; rather, you can be victors over it.
Pride is a big problem for all Christians. We do tend to get wrapped up in what people are thinking about us, whether or not we are getting all the accolades we think we deserve, and in how we gain what we believe to be sufficient power and prestige in life. Paul understood that problem too. You see his entire life, prior to his conversion to Christ, was an exercise in pride. And it’s clear from this letter to the 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, prideful Paul, to respond to that with hurt, anger, or resentment. Instead look at the way he responded. He said, “It’s O.K. 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. You see, he didn’t fall victim to pride. He triumphed over it by emphasizing his humble service 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 Lord of Lords, and 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. 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.’” He was then asked, “What in the world is basin theology?” He answered, “Christianity is all wrapped up in two basins. 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. So Christianity is all a matter of which basin you choose. Is it the basin with which you wash your hands of the world’s problems and needs, or is it the basin with which you set to work trying to clean up the world’s problems and needs?” That’s what he said, and, I tell you, I like that. Dear friends, the testimony of Scripture is that if you wear the purple of God’s royalty, you also wear the towel of service. Being a part of the aristocracy of the Lord does not call you to pride and privilege but rather to sacrifice and service. It calls you to “the nobility of humility.”
Then because you are the royal children of God, you do not have to be victims of death but rather you shall be victorious over it.
True Christians do not fear death. They face it squarely, confidently, courageously. They recognize that if life is Christ, then death is simply more of Christ. Death is not the end of life as we know it, rather it’s the beginning of life as we never dreamed it could be. The greatest Christians have all been very sure of this. Paul says it as clearly as anyone ever has right here in Philippians, “For to 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, not long before the party was to begin and he found there an enormous floral arrangement carrying across it a printed banner with this message “Rest in Peace.” Perplexed, he called the florist to ask what in the world the banner meant. The florist immediately replied, “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.’” Well, dear friends, 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 Heavenly Father. The Lord who stands on both sides of the grave is our Best Friend. If, for us, life is Christ, well then death just means more of Him. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
This sermon is a call to live up to the name which you possess. Names do have power. There used to be a famous pianist in America whose name was Olga Samurov. She was a brilliant performer who had a dazzling 30-year career back in the thirties and the forties. She was also a great teacher, teaching at the Julliard School of Music in New York. Also, she was Russian and in those days, that was synonymous with exotic mystery. She had that aura about her. I mean, isn’t that a marvelous name for a Russian concert pianist—Olga Samurov? The problem was, she wasn’t Russian, and furthermore, Olga Samurov wasn’t her real name. Actually she was born in San Antonio, Texas, and believe it or not, her real name was Lucy Hickenlooper!
Well, I’m 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 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 children of the King…