Back in the time when we used to go out to eat at restaurants, one of my favorite restaurants had two large aquariums in the waiting area. One aquarium was used for lobsters. It always fascinated me to look at lobsters, their claws taped shut, who were just minutes, hours, or if by chance a day or two from death. Though it was a continuously changing group of lobsters their behavior was always the same. They would all crowd together, on top of each other, at one end of the aquarium. I thought, “With all that space why are you spending your last moments all jammed together on top of each other?” There was also invariably one bully lobster who would be pushing, shoving, climbing over the pile. I thought, “You are minutes from death. Why are you shoving, pushing for space you can’t use and won’t enjoy?”
As I think of those lobsters, I think of what is happening among us today. As a people we are anxious, angry, fearful, climbing over one another, pushing others aside. Many live with a level of rage or anger that is just waiting for the slightest perceived threat to trigger it. We are deeply divided politically, and even the most routine issues are seen as part of that deep divide. Groups on the right and left imagine conspiracies by the other side that are dark and disturbing. Even a simple requirement of wearing a mask to protect public health is perceived as some conspiracy to take away our rights and get us ready for further government control. Why did this become the issue when we obey government regulations in all kinds of ways in life? We obey traffic laws, pay our taxes, don’t text while we drive. How is it that wearing a mask became the key step of government oppression? Yet somehow this pragmatic step of preventing the spread of a contagious disease is only interpreted through the most extreme conspiracy views.
As we live this in this way, we are like the lobsters in the aquarium. We are just seconds, minutes, perhaps days from God bringing the culmination of His plans for us and the world as we know it. We are moments from the Lord Jesus coming to take His bride the church home for the wedding celebration. We are minutes from the final seven year period of this age when man’s rebellion against Jesus will reach its ultimate expression, when God will redeem a people from Israel for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and when God will bring His wrath upon the nations for their rebellion. Christians are worried about things like the mark of the Beast and the rule of the Antichrist that they will never see.
As we look at the anger and division in our society, it should not surprise us as it is another evidence that we are at the very end of the age. The Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit warned us that the last days would be terrible times (2 Timothy 3:1-9). These terrible times are not the rising intensity of natural disasters, wars, and diseases like COVID-19. Those are the signs of creation in the final and intense birth pangs associated with the judgment of God and the bringing His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to earth as King and Lord, and one who will bring a thousand year reign of peace. The terrible times in this passage are the breakdown of social relations. We will become a people consumed with the love of self, the love of money, and the love of pleasure. We will not yield to others but will be like lobsters jammed in a corner fighting and pushing for space. What is sobering about this is that it comes from a people the Bible says have an appearance of godliness, people who call themselves Christians but who savagely attack others with genuine animosity.
The Lord Jesus also warns us in the last days of false messiahs who will come to deliver us (Matthew 24:5). Let us remind ourselves that there is no earthly king who will deliver us, only Jesus. There is no king or nation that will rise to bring the rule of God to earth, only Jesus. There is no king of destiny who will bring revival to earth, only Jesus. There is no political party that is destined to bring the kingdom to earth, only Jesus. All the efforts of man are vain and futile. There are no political solutions for the world, only the rule of Jesus. Isaiah 26:17-18 describes all our efforts, no matter how well intended, this way, “Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.” We have wasted so much of our efforts, so many false hopes, looking to a man or political movement as if they will bring glory to a nation or a people. We have attacked and divided against one another over massive efforts that will only birth wind and will bring no good to the inhabitants of a fallen world.
If we are moments from the end how should we live? In this question, Philippians 2:1-18 has such wisdom for us. We are called to have the mind of Christ (verse 5). Jesus, though God, came in the form of a servant who put the interest of others over Himself. He humbled Himself even to the death on the cross to take the judgment for the guilty sinners He came to save. Jesus realized the cross is the way God works in a sinful world to bring some to salvation and the kingdom that is to come to earth. Jesus had absolute confidence He would triumph. He knew His Father was at work and that He would triumph and the kingdom will come. He was the humble King who had absolute confidence in the power of the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit to save and the will of the Father to bring the Kingdom to earth when the Gospel has gone to every nation, people, tribe, tongue. Jesus faced groups of power conspiring against Him, but He knew no conspiracy of man will defeat the will of God. God will triumph in the battle. He doesn’t need us to triumph. We are either cooperating with Him or resisting Him, but we will not stop His will or make it come to pass. Jesus knew that in all the evil, God was at work for good, and He was okay with that.
Philippians goes on to call us to live a life of obedience to Jesus as we work out our own salvation. We aren’t working for salvation as all the work of salvation is by Jesus and the Father by the Holy Spirit working through Him. Now we know that obedience for a Christian flows from our love of Jesus. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Those who love Jesus live to know Him. They have a deep passion to become like Him. They live to bring Him glory, honor, praise, strength, wealth. They seek to bring all people to reconciliation with Him and with one another. Those who, like the Apostle Paul, are working out their salvation with fear and trembling can say, “the love of Christ controls me.” (2 Corinthians 5:14). And even as they work out their salvation they do that with a rest in their soul as they know it is God at work in and through them for His good will and pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
This life of obedience leads us to know the moral and spiritual choices and action in life are not about performance. If we battle with sins, it is not a performance issue, it is an issue of love. Do I love Jesus enough to obey Him? Do I trust that His way is best no matter what the world, the flesh, and the Devil are shouting at me? We know in this battle against temptation it is not a matter of might or power or self discipline. It is a matter of living in the life and flow of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to overcome, to grow, to find freedom.
It is what follows this call to work out our salvation with obedience that is so relevant in our day. Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Isn’t it interesting and revealing that of all the steps that flow from obedience, the one that is stated is that we are not to be grumbling and disputing with one another? In our world, all but everyone does most things with grumbling and disputing. In one message I heard recently, the pastor’s concern was that there was much grumbling over the music of worship on the online services. When it is self-love and self-interest that dominates in our heart, we think everything should be done for our pleasure and preference. In reading the Bible, we realize how much God hates grumbling, murmuring, complaining spirits of people. These are high on His list of serious sins.
It is in complaining, murmuring, grumbling that we see the seriousness of the issue for God. The Bible describes in 1 Corinthians 10:9 why of more than one million adults who were delivered from slavery in Egypt, only two made it to the Promised Land, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” Even Moses couldn’t enter the Promised Land because he lost his temper over having to deal with a grumbling, disputing congregation. Grumbling, murmuring, and disputing is poisonous to the spirit. Grumbling, murmuring, and disputing sets itself against the Holy Spirit who comes to unite us in love with Jesus and in Jesus’ love for others.
The standard the Bible gives us for our words and comments, in Ephesians 4:29-32, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
As we use words to build up and to bring grace with an attitude of humbleness and servant love, it transforms us. We act like the innocent children of God. We become blameless in a world that blames everyone else but self. We stand in contrast to the crooked and perverse generation. We become like stars in the night sky shining in the dark world we live in. We become known for our love and not for our arguing and disputing over political views or conspiracy theories. We become people who demonstrate a confidence in God that His will will be done on earth. We become people whose homeland is in the city with foundations built with God and coming soon to earth. We will be filled with hope that even the darkness and perversity of the world we live within, reminds us that soon, even in minutes, Jesus is coming for His bride the church.
Philippians moves us from the disputes that are so much a part of our age to the positive of what we do. Philippians 2:16 says, “holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” The call to hold fast to the Word of life has two possible meanings. It can mean to hold on tightly, and it can mean hold it out for others. I think both are meant. The word of life is the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That Jesus died on the cross for the judgment of our sins. That He died and was buried. That on the third day He rose in resurrection triumph. He did that so that whoever calls on Him in genuine faith might be saved from the judgment that is to come and have the gift of eternal life. Eternal life is to live in a living, dynamic, life-giving relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ as the loved children of God. As we live in a crooked and perverse generation, we cling to the cross of Christ, we trust in His righteousness, and we live in His love as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
We also hold out the Word of Life to others. Our purpose in the world is to hold out the cross and invite all to come to Him. This is what Paul was trying to do with those in Philippi. Paul will take joy in the day of Jesus that others are there because Paul held out the Word of Life to them and they joined Paul in their faith in Jesus. The true impact of our lives is that we influence others to turn to Jesus and His word of life. In the last days in which everyone is disputing and arguing, we are the peacemakers. We call people to the ultimate election, the choice of Jesus Christ as our Savior, Lord, King, Friend. He is coming, soon — seconds, minutes, days — soon. Remember, we are to be the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)