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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:Live as children of God
Text:Philippians 2:14-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Votum and Salutation

Response: Ps. 121: 1, 4

The Ten Words of the Covenant

Response: Ps. 106: 1, 17, 19, 20, 23


Scripture reading:       Num. 14: 26 – 38; 1 Cor. 10: 1 – 13; Phil. 1: 27 – 2: 18

Text:                             Phil. 2: 14 – 16


Live as children of God

1.      We are to obey God without grumbling

2.      We are to be blameless in the midst of a crooked generation

3.      We are to hold fast the word of life

Response: Ps. 95: 1, 4, 5

Thank offerings:

Sing: Ps. 78: 3, 4, 17, 22


Sing: Ps. 116: 5, 7, 9


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Live as children of God

Ps. 121: 1, 4

Ps. 106: 1, 17, 19, 20, 23

Ps. 95: 1, 4, 5

Ps. 78: 3, 4, 17, 22

Ps. 116: 5, 7, 9


Scripture reading:       Num. 14: 26 – 38; 1 Cor. 10: 1 – 13; Phil. 1: 27 – 2: 18

Text:                              Phil. 2: 14 – 16


Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,


When a child grows to maturity he goes through a process of investigating and testing things.   Especially when he becomes a teenager he may be asking questions to which he expects a thorough answer.   He may then also start to question certain practises in his parents’ home.   What is wrong with smoking, dad?   Why do we have to go to church twice on a Sunday?   Why are we Free Reformed?   Why do we do this?    Why not that?  And so forth.

Usually it is only a stage of healthy development.  Once the child reaches maturity and stability the stream of questions become less.  


There is of course nothing wrong with being a teenager or with such a process of healthy development towards maturity.    There is however something wrong with being a rebellious teenager, when the child is being driven by a critical and rebellious spirit in which he rejects and criticises almost everything his parents taught him.   Then he starts to argue with his parents and to complain about the way they raise him.   When they ask him to do something, he questions whether they have the right to command him.    When they try to teach him, he simply knows it better than his parents, so that they cannot teach him anything anymore.  

And we know how that turns out.

It is no good.   When a youngster becomes such a rebellious teenager who argues and disputes everything his parents tell him, it becomes a disgrace.  


Brothers and sisters, the same is true with regard to the church.   We are God’s covenant children.   And it is good and healthy that we, also as a church, grow together to spiritual maturity.   But woe the day when a church becomes like a rebellious teenager!

Such a church knows it better than the Lord Himself!   

It does not with childlike faith accept God’s Word as true, believing it and obeying it, but it argues with the Word and disputes its instruction.    Such a church argues with the ministers who dare to bring God’s Word without compromise.    Such a church argues and argues with the Word until it finds a way of following its own desires.


Yes, when a church, or a bond of churches, starts to behave like a rebellious teenager, such a church comes with clever arguments why this or that instruction of God’s Word is no longer relevant for our day and our time.   Then it no longer strives to obey God’s commandments, but argues with it.   “Why do I have to do it like this; why can’t I do it my own way?”


It rejects all discipline and instruction, and with stubborn disobedience goes its own way.  


Yes, brothers and sisters, there are Reformed churches in our day that dispute whether it is a sin when a man divorces his wife for a long list of other reasons than adultery, churches that dispute whether the fourth commandment still commands us today to keep the day of rest, churches that doubt whether the special offices are for men only, churches that dispute the relevance of God’s law in the New Testament, churches that argues with God’s Word until they have it the way they want it.


Dear congregation, there are many churches that has developed such a rebellious teenager mentality, questioning everything the Lord has taught us, doubting it, arguing with the Lord’s commandments, disputing it, and with much complains and grumblings about the discipline of the Lord finally goes its own way.


It may also happen with us.  


Here in our text, the apostle Paul exhorts the saints in Philippi to obey the Lord in all things without complaining and disputing.

And he says this with church history in mind.

He has in mind especially the forty years of Israel in the desert, when the people of Israel were complaining and arguing against Moses and against the Lord Himself.   

Scripture often makes reference to this.

The children of Israel were grumbling and complaining against the Lord, refusing to believe and obey, and thus the Lord finally rejected them, and said that they are not His children, but a crooked and perverse generation.


We read that in the song of Moses, and the apostle is making reference to that.

In that song Moses spoke about the stubborn and rebellious people of Israel, and said:


“They have corrupted themselves; they are not His children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation.”


Here in our text the apostle exhorts the saints in Philippi to be the opposite.   They must not grumble and complain like Israel in the desert, arguing against the Lord, but be without such blemish.   They must be obedient children of God who in all things obey Him without complaining or arguing.   In the midst of a perverse and crooked generation they must live as children of God without blemish, holding fast the word of life.


The apostle continues here the serious exhortation which he started in verse 12:


“…as you have always obeyed…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”


We focused on these words in the previous sermon.

And now he continues to spell out the way in which they have to work out their own salvation.   That is: not only with fear and trembling, but also without grumbling and arguing.  

He further exhorts them to live blameless lives that they may be children of God without blemish, holding fast the word of truth.


And thus I preach God’s Word to you with this theme:

Live as children of God


We will note…

1.      That we are to obey God without grumbling

2.      That we are to be blameless in the midst of a crooked generation

3.      That we are to hold fast the word of life

In the first place we note the exhortation to…

Obey God without grumbling


Do you still remember how much Israel grumbled and complained in the desert?

Now, the Lord tells us that they grumbled and complained and rebelled because of their unbelief.

The Lord says for example:


“…who, having heard, rebelled?   Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?   Now with whom was He angry forty years?   Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?   And to whom did He swear that they will not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?   So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” – Hebr. 3: 16 – 19.


We could quote quite a few such passages in the Psalms and in the books of the New Testament that refers back to Israel’s rebellion in the desert, their grumblings and their complaints, by which they proved themselves to be unbelievers.   The result was that the Lord finally disowned them and said: they are not My children, but a crooked and perverse generation (for example Deut. 32: 5).

He rejected them and caused them to perish in the wilderness.


Here in our text, Phil. 2: 14 – 16, the apostle certainly has that history of Israel in mind, as we will see in a moment when we come to verse 15.   But already here in verse 14 he exhorts the Philippians not to follow in the same example of disobedience and rebellion.  


            “Do all things without complaining and disputing…”


That is: without grumbling and arguing and doubting God’s Word.


These words are a refrain in the history of Israel: they grumbled against the Lord and argued with His servant Moses.


This morning we also read a passage from Numbers 14 where the Lord said:

“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me?...” (verse 26)

Israel did not grumble and complain only once.   It became a pattern throughout their journey.   They refused to simply trust the Lord and to wait on Him.

As often as they were put to the test they proved to be unbelieving and stubborn.

Their unbelief found expression in the way they complained and argued, instead of believing and obeying the Word of the Lord.


And thus the Lord said to them:


“…you shall know My rejection.   I the LORD have spoken this.   I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered against Me.   In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.” – Num. 14: 34, 35


The apostle Paul refers to the same history when he says: Look, this is God’s covenant people, the people who He redeemed for Himself, who all were baptised in the sea and all received the same covenant blessings, but…


“…with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness…” – we read it this morning from 1 Cor. 10.


There the apostle mentions a list of examples of Israel’s rebellion in the desert, including their grumblings.    And he concludes, saying:


“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” – 1 Cor. 10: 11.


Dear congregation, the 40 years of Israel in the desert is used by Scripture as a picture of the last days (for example in Revelation chapter 12: 6, 13 – 17).   We, God’s covenant people in the New Testament, are Israel.  And more than once Scripture compares the last days with the time that Israel was tested in the desert.   That history is indeed instructive and relevant for us today.

More than once the apostle Paul uses the examples from that history to instruct the church of the New Testament.  And that is also what he is doing here in our text.   Although he does not say this explicitly, we will see in a moment that he is making a direct reference to the song of Moses in Deut. 32.


So then, the complaining and disputing is not something foreign to God’s covenant people.   It is part of their history.   It marks the behaviour of those covenant children who fails to cling to God’s promises; who doubts His promises.   They do not hold fast the word of life, but they argue with the Lord and dispute His Word.  

Where this grumbling and arguing against the Lord is present, the obedience of faith is absent.


Jude speaks about the ungodly, and says:


            “They are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts…” – Jude: 16


It is the grumblings and the disputes of those who refuse to walk in the ways of the Lord, who want to go their own way.

It is the grumblings and the disputes of a church that behaves itself like a rebellious teenager, when all the instruction of the Lord is questioned, when church members know it better than the Lord, argues with Him, disputes His commands, and go their own way.


If we may expand a bit on the example of the rebellious teenager – while he is in his father’s house he still has to obey his father, and being forced to do so, he will to some extent comply and do what he is told, but he will do so grudgingly, grumbling and complaining.

But that is no obedience.


Scripture does not call anything obedience if it is not from the heart.  

If we do not obey God thankfully and cheerfully, we do not obey Him at all.

If you came to this church service just because you had to, then you may still outwardly partake in everything that takes place here in this service, but it will not be acceptable to the Lord.

If there is any obedience to the Lord’s commands it must be wholeheartedly, not with grumbling and disputing.


That is what the apostle is saying here in verse 14.

Don’t behave yourselves like Israel in the desert, who did actually walk through the desert, but did so complaining every step of the way.

Let your obedience to the Lord be without that.

Serve Him wholeheartedly, trusting His promises, rejoicing in His salvation.


For that generation which complained and argued with the Lord, was rejected by the Lord.

They were cut off from His covenant people, and were called a crooked and perverse generation.

We note that in the second place…

Be blameless in the midst of a crooked generation


“Do all things without complaining and disputing that you may become blameless and harmless (we may translate: innocent), children of God without fault (we may translate: without blemish) in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…”


Now, anyone who knows the song of Moses can’t read this exhortation without hearing the words of Deut. 32: 5, where it says of stubborn and rebellious Israel:


“They have corrupted themselves; they are not His children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation”


I would like you to turn with me to that text – Deut. 32: 5.

It says:


“They have corrupted themselves; they are not His children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation”


Not only do we read here the exact same expression, “a perverse and crooked generation”, but also the exhortation in Phil. 2: 15 to become God’s blameless children without blemish is the exact opposite of: “They have corrupted themselves; they are not His children, because of their blemish: a perverse and crooked generation.”


It is a fourfold parallel in which the saints in Philippi are exhorted to do the exact opposite of Israel in the desert.

In the first place Deut. 32: 5 is found in a context where Israel rebelled against the Lord and did all things with complaining and disputing; our text in Philippians is found in a context where the saints in Philippi are exhorted to obey the Lord in all things without complaining and disputing.

In the second place Deut. 32: 5 says that Israel corrupted themselves; Phil. 2: 15 says that the saints must become the opposite: blameless and innocent.

In the third place Deut. 32: 5 says that Israel, because of their blemish disqualified themselves to be called God’s children: because of their blemish they are not His children, while the Philippians are exhorted to be blameless in order that they may become children of God without fault.

In the fourth place Deut. 32: 5 calls Israel “a perverse and crooked generation”; the apostle Paul uses the same combination of words and exhorts the Philippians to be without blemish in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation”.


The parallel is simply too complete to be accidental.   The apostle Paul clearly had the Song of Moses in mind when he wrote this exhortation to the Philippians.


Now, when we turn back to our text in Philippians 2 it may seem at first as if the “crooked and perverse generation” refers to the world; to the ungodly and unbelieving world in which we live – the heathens.   And that is not excluded.

However, the perverse and crooked generation refers first of all to covenant children who by unbelief and disobedience corrupted themselves and thus became part of the unbelieving world.


The word “crooked” is the opposite of straight.   And when Scripture speaks of crooked people, it speaks of people who left the straight path as spelled out in God’s commandments; people who turned away from the straight path.

Their way of life becomes twisted and crooked.

And when he adds the word “perverted”, it emphasises that they perverts the truth of God’s Word, and turn it to suite their own desires.  

Again this refers more to people who once heard the truth and then rejected it, than it refers to total heathens.   The crooked generation is a generation that bend the straight path until it becomes crooked, and who twist the truth until it becomes perverted.   And so they themselves become twisted and distorted.


We find the same in Acts 2: 40 where the apostle Peter says, “…Be saved from this perverse generation.”   There “this perverse generation” refers first of all to the unbelieving Jews who rejected Christ and had Him crucified.

Also elsewhere in the New Testament where this expression is used it refers first of all to covenant children who corrupted themselves.  (Compare also Mt. 12: 38, 39; Luke 11: 29).


Yes, the crooked and perverse generation refers first of all to covenant children, church members, who grumble and complain against the Lord, and argue with His Word, instead of obeying His Word with childlike faith.


Dear congregation, this word also comes to us this morning:


“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish…”


Note that he says in verse 15:


            “…that you may become…children of God without fault…”


Some find this strange.   Are the saints in Philippi not already children of God?   Must they still become His children?   And must they live so obedient in order to become God’s children?   Is that not Roman Catholic and salvation by works?


With such questions in mind they find it hard to explain this text.

However, when we compare Deut. 32 the explanation becomes easy.   There we see that many who were God’s covenant children were rejected by the Lord and cut off because of their unbelief and disobedience.  

They were God’s covenant children, but they have corrupted themselves.   And thus they were rejected, so that the Lord said of them: they are not My children.


Their complaints and disputes, their stubbornness and rebellion, were a blemish before His eyes, so that He disowned them, and they were no longer counted as His children.

And now the apostle, with the song of Moses in mind, tells the Philippians that they must not follow the example of Israel in the desert.

The saints in Philippi have indeed become children of God by grace alone through Christ alone, but they also need to be confirmed in that grace and to persevere in that grace lest they fall way (as many of Israel did).


The Philippians are already children of God, but we are dealing here with that which theologians call “the already and not yet” which we find so often in Scripture.   The apostle Paul writes for example to the saints in Rome, saying that we are eagerly waiting for our adoption – Rom. 8: 23.   While in Christ we are already adopted we also wait for our adoption at His coming.    So also does the apostle urge covenant children to pursue a life of obedience in order that they may be found children without blemish on that Day.


They need to continue in the obedience which God is working in them, both to will and to do His good pleasure.


He adds that, when they live blameless and upright lives as children of God without blemish, they will be like shining lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  

And thus he pictures a contrast: on the one hand God’s obedient children who obeys Him not grudgingly and complaining, but with upright hearts, living a blameless life before the eyes of the Lord, over against the crooked and perverse lives of those who refuse to believe and obey God’s Word.

It is light over against darkness.

It is obedience over against rebellion.


Brothers and sisters, we see then how the apostle urges us to grow in sanctification and obedience, to become blameless, innocent and without blemish.  

In Christ this is what we are already, but we need to continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.   We need to work out this salvation in our daily life so that it becomes evident and visible in our lives; so much that our lives will shine in the darkness of a society where everything is twisted and perverted.


Yes, the apostle exhorts us to continue and to persevere, holding fast the word of life.   We note that in the last place:

Hold fast the word of life


The believers, the saints in Philippi, have to persevere in God’s grace by holding fast the word of life, lest they fall away.

The possibility of falling away is implied when the apostle adds: “…so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or laboured in vain.”


With all his might the apostle labours for their salvation.  

If they would fall away, all his labour would be in vain.   But if they hold fast to the word of life which he proclaimed to them, they will be saved.   And then he will have reason to rejoice over them on the day of Christ’s coming.


Yes, there is need for perseverance in the faith.

We need to cling to God’s Word lest we be drawn away from it.  

Don’t argue with the word of God; believe and obey it without dispute.   Hold fast to it.


And note how the apostle places this exhortation in the light of Christ’s coming.  

The apostle is continually fixing our eyes on the coming of Christ.

He himself is labouring in the expectation that he will receive a reward on that day when Christ returns.  

He wrote to the Corinthians saying:


“…we (the ministers of God’s Word) are God’s fellow workers; you (the congregation)…are God’s building.   According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it.   But let each one take heed how he builds on it.   For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.   Now, if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire.” – 1 Cor. 3: 9 – 15


The apostle Paul has built carefully, using only the very best building materials.   He trusts that when his labour will be tested by fire, it will stand, and he will be rewarded for his labour.   And those who will be saved by his labour, they themselves will be his reward and the reason for his rejoicing.   But if they perish, he will be without his reward.


That is what he is alluding to when he says that when they hold fast to the word of life, he will rejoice in the day of Christ’s coming.  They will be his reward, as he also says in other places.

When they hold fast to the word of life, when they persevere in the grace of Christ, then his labour among them was not in vain.


And thus we see here in this passage, but also in many other passages, how the apostle always performed his labour in the expectation of Christ’s coming.   On that day our labour will be tested by fire; and on that day each one will receive according to what he has done.


Now then, is the apostle saying that their salvation depends on their own strength to persevere?  

Not at all! 

He already said in chapter 1: 6 that God who has begun a good work in them, He will also complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.   It is God’s work in them.

And he emphasised it again in verse 13:


            “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.”


Brothers and sisters, God is working in you this very moment as you listen to His exhortations.

He is working in you by means of these exhortations.

Therefore, give heed to this Word of life.

And hold fast to it.


Let us, in the midst of a dark world, strive all the more with fear and trembling, and wholeheartedly, to grow in obedience, yes, to become blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.  

We do live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation where also many churches behave like rebellious teenagers, arguing with God, disputing His Word, departing from the straight and narrow path.


Brothers and sisters, let us not behave like a rebellious child arguing with the Word, but with humble obedience, by the grace of God, let us hold fast to it.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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