“Benediction” Philippians 4:21-23 December 26, 2010
SI: Please open your Bibles for the last time to Philippians 4.
We come this morning to the very end of Paul’s letter.
And like all letters, there is a formality at the end.
We end our letters with a formality.
If you write a business letter you say at the end:
“Thank you for your attention to this matter.” “Sincerely” and then your name.
If you write a personal letter you say at the end:
“Can’t wait to see you.” “Love” or “Fondly” and then your name.
Paul’s formal ending, that he follows in almost all of his letters to the churches,
is a final greeting—Say hi to So-and-so, and So-and-so with me says hi.
And then a benediction.
It’s easy to pass over formalities like this in Scripture.
But all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable.
And there is a richness in Paul’s final words that we need to tap into.
Listen to the Word of God.
INTRO: I’m going to start this morning with a Bible trivia question.
What was the very last thing Jesus did before he ascended into heaven?
If you think you know the answer, jot it down on your bulletin,
and if you are right, you can show it to the person sitting next to you
and feel very good about yourself.
If you had asked me that question last week, I would have said immediately:
The last thing Christ did was commission his disciples.
I would have thought of the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go ye, therefore.”
More particularly, I would have thought of his commissioning words in Acts 1:
“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
But that’s not the right answer. The last thing Jesus did is found in Luke 24.
“When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed
them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”
He commissioned them: He said, Go into all the world, You will be my witnesses.
And then he raised his hands in blessing, and probably said the words that these
Jewish believers had heard at the end of Temple and synagogue worship,
every Sabbath day since they were children.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make is his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you, and give you peace.
And he was taken up from their sight with his hands raised in benediction.
What is a benediction? It’s a blessing.
More particularly, it’s a blessing that sends you out in strength.
It’s a blessing that says: I’m for you, I affirm you, and I’m committed to your good
in the challenges and changes that lie ahead for you.
I take the kids to school every morning that I’m able to do so.
It would be a lot easier to let Adrienne drive but I treasure that time with them,
so I insist on taking them as often as I can.
And when I drop Adrienne off at Cullman High School,
and when I drop Eliza and Will off at Cullman Christian School.
I always tell them that I love them.
Sometimes I’ll give them a final word of instruction:
Honor your teachers. Be kind to your fellow students.
Sometimes we say a quick prayer.
And then I’ll always say, I love you. That’s my benediction.
It’s my way of launching them out into the day in strength.
I’m for you and I’m committed to your good in all the challenges you face today.
Do benedictions really do anything? Do they really send you out in strength?
Years ago I was taking the kids to school. We had them all in St. Paul’s.
And as I stopped at a light, a car pulled up behind me, and in the rearview mirror
I could see a dad with his young son, obviously taking him to school.
But the dad’s face was twisted and angry. He was shouting at the boy.
And as the boy sunk down in is seat, saw the dad reach over and slap him.
The light turned green and when I stopped a few blocks later, they were still
behind me, and the dad was still yelling and slapping.
They were right behind me the whole way, until I turned right into St. Paul’s
and they went straight to East Elementary.
I thought, what will that poor child’s day be like? What a way to start the day.
With your dad’s curses instead of his blessing.
So that day I paid extra attention to kissing the kids and telling them I loved them.
Benedictions do have power. Yes, they are in a sense formalities.
Yes, they are words that we have heard thousands of times.
Often they don’t even register with us because in our minds we’re moving
on to the next thing. But benedictions matter.
They send us out in strength to face the challenges and changes of life.
The Apostle Paul ended his letter with this marvelous benediction:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
Has that benediction been spoken over you?
Here we are, not just at the end of Paul’s letter, but at the end of a year.
Here you are, about to turn over a new chapter in your life.
In order to face the challenges and changes of life in strength,
you must have the Lord’s benediction.
How do you get it? How does this benediction written by Paul,
become more than the words on a page, but a real power in your life? Three ways 1. You must understand it
2. You must receive it
3. You must use it
MP#1 You must understand it
God’s benediction is an assurance of his grace and favor to you in Jesus Christ.
The blessing of God is not a promise your plans are going to work out.
It’s not a guarantee that God is going to follow your agenda—
that he’s going to work out this or that specific thing as we want him to.
His benediction is something much bigger.
It’s his word of approval spoken over you, affirming your worth and calling.
You have to understand how important and precious that is.
How God’s benediction can shape the whole course of your life.
How his blessing is something you should want and seek more than anything.
I’ve already used an example of a parent’s benediction.
But I want to expand on that. It helps me understand the significance
God’s benediction by comparing it to a parent’s benediction.
Humanly speaking, the greatest blessing is the parental blessing.
When a child receives the benediction of his parents,
he’s able to move out into life in strength.
But when a child doesn’t have it, there is a void in his life.
And even more specifically, it’s not just parental blessing,
it’s your father’s benediction you need.
Mothers are great. Their hearts are so big and approving.
You could be in jail and your mother would say:
“Don’t you look handsome in your orange jumpsuit!”
You expect your mother’s love and support.
But it’s your father’s blessing that launches you into the world.
It’s your father’s blessing that give you a sense of confidence in your calling.
Sometimes, a lack of fatherly blessing defines a person’s life.
Some people who don’t have father’s approval run from life, become withdrawn.
They think: I don’t have what it takes. I don’t have a great work to do.
Lives become an endless round of distractions and addictions.
Some respond to a lack of blessing with the opposite, by being driven.
They set out to prove that they are somebody.
They don’t work out of a sense of purpose or calling, they don’t find any real
pleasure in their work—they are driven to prove they have what it takes.
When Napoleon was made emperor of France he didn’t say: What a great honor.
He said: I wish father were here.
Probably no place in the Bible this dynamic seen more clearly than Jacob and Esau.
Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah.
Remember Isaac showed favoritism toward Esau but he ignored Jacob.
He delighted in Esau and planned to give him the greatest blessing.
Jacob wanted that blessing so much, that he posed as Esau
to get his father’s words of blessing.
He dressed in Esau’s clothes to fool his blind father.
Jacob knew that Isaac would eventually find out.
So why did he do it? Because he was so empty inside, so needy for blessing.
That even under false pretenses he wanted to hear—You are my beloved son.
I want to you to succeed, my son, and be blessed.
How did it work out for Jacob? Do you remember? Not very well.
His father found out he had lied and was very disappointed.
Esau found out and was so mad he said he would kill him—and Jacob had to run.
He became a driven man
and for 20 years he worked things to his advantage and got very wealthy.
But at the cost of troubled marriages and a very dysfunctional family.
He even repeated his father’s mistakes and showed favoritism toward his sons.
The turning point for Jacob came when he was alone one night,
facing the most desperate problem of his life.
It’s one of the mysterious stories in the Bible.
In the darkness, a man grabbed Jacob, and they wrestled all night.
At daybreak, the man said to Jacob, Let me go.
But Jacob had realized this was not a mere man,
this person he was wrestling with was the Lord.
And do you remember what Jacob said next?
He clung to him and said, I will not let you go until you bless me.
Jacob realized for the first time in his life, that the only thing that really mattered
was the gracious blessing of the living God.
Without that blessing, the greatest success in the world was worthless.
And with that blessing, the greatest problem was an occasion
for God’s strength to be made perfect in weakness.
And the Lord changed his name to Israel and blessed him.
What does that story mean?
It means that the benedictions of your parents and peers aren’t enough.
You need the blessing of the living God.
You need the Lord’s word of approval spoken over you
to affirm your worth and calling.
And he is pleased when you cry out to him:
I will not let you go until you bless me.
It would be interesting and very tender to go around the congregation this morning,
and have all of you describe the significance of your father’s benediction,
or lack thereof on your life.
Some of you would tell of fathers who prayed for you, and encouraged you,
and sent you off to college or your first job or to your wedding with blessing.
Some of you would tell very different stories. Of fathers who were distant,
uninterested or completely absent. A void you’ve felt all your life.
But whatever your story, the real blessing you need is the Lord’s.
When you have his blessing, and know it—
when you know he approves of you in Christ, the righteousness of Christ,
it gives you a sense of calling, an inner poise, and an assurance of your worth.
The blessing of other people is nice—
but it’s icing, it’s gravy—it’s not crucial for your life.
What about you, do you know your need for God’s blessing?
Do you want to know his blessing even more than the blessings of people?
Brings us to the second point . . .
MP#2 You must receive it
You must receive the Lord’s benediction.
When we come to the end of a worship service, I usually say:
“Receive the Lord’s benediction.” And then I pronounce the benediction.
Let’s talk about that. Let’s give some attention to those words.
How should a worship service end?
Should we just say: You’re dismissed? Should we pray?
What does the Bible say?
The pattern that the Lord gave the Old Testament church was to end
every worship service with a benediction. We read that earlier in Numbers 6.
Also told in Leviticus 9 that Aaron would raise his hand in blessing.
And that was how the priests of Israel always ended the worship service.
This was carried over into synagogue worship.
Even though the synagogue leader was not a priest—
could call him an elder, or a lay leader of congregation,
would raise hands and give the benediction.
Jesus was familiar with this pattern, as I mentioned earlier.
He raised his hands in benediction at the end of his earthly ministry.
Paul ended almost all of his letters with a benediction.
And when you consider that those letters were read aloud,
you realize that those final words had a worship component.
And some of the earliest orders of worship in the ancient church,
include a benediction spoken by the minister or some other church officer.
This is our historic practice, and it is the practice of most churches around world.
The benediction is not a prayer. We aren’t asking God to bless us.
It is a declaration by the minister of God’s blessing.
It is spoken with the authority of God’s word and through the ordained pastoral
office that Christ has established for the church.
It’s like a minister saying: I now pronounce you man and wife.
Something really happens when the minister gives the benediction.
This is not to say that giving benedictions is limited to ordained church officers.
Any Christian can pronounce a blessing with the words of Scripture.
But when it is done in the congregation, as an Amen to the corporate worship
of the God’s people, by minister of the Gospel—there is a particular power.
And you need to receive it.
That means, you need to listen, believe, and take it in.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
Yes, your spirit should answer. The grace of Christ is with me.
God the Father is looking on me with favor through Christ.
In spite of my sins, in spite of my failures,
I’m clothed in the white robes of the righteousness of Christ.
“The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”
Yes, you should say in your heart. The Lord’s face is shining on me.
I’m a born again, redeemed child of God I’m living under the smiling face
of my heavenly Father. Even though I feel the frown of his providence at times,
I know that his face is turned toward me in favor.
Do you see what I mean? Receive it.
Husbands, has this ever happened to you?
You and your wife are going out somewhere special and she says—
How do I look? How does this dress look on me?
I know this sounds like the beginning of a joke.
But in all seriousness, you look at her and she looks great.
The dress looks great on her.
And you tell her: You look beautiful. That dress is very flattering.
You are the most beautiful woman west of Holly Pond.
And what does she do with your benediction?
Does she go out in strength to the party or the restaurant?
No, she turns back to her closet with a frown, starts pushing through the hangers.
And your blessing does her no good, because she doesn’t receive it.
When you became a Christian,
you reached out in faith to receive the gift eternal life.
Every day as a Christian, you must continue to reach out in faith
and receive the promises and blessings of God in Scripture—
whether you read them yourself, or hear them spoken by your pastor.
Blessings are freely given by God, but they must be received.
You must echo the Amen in your own spirit.
But that’s not enough. Brings us to the third point.
MP#3 You have to use it
You have to take the benediction you receive in worship,
or the benediction you receive in your Scripture reading—
and actually put it to use in your life.
You have to take and wield it like a weapon in the fight of the Christian life.
Remember what we said God’s benediction is:
It’s an assurance of his grace and favor to you in Christ.
It’s his word of approval spoken over you, affirming your worth and calling.
It’s a blessing that sends you out into the changes and challenges of life.
Get it out and use it.
Use it when you doubt your worth and calling.
It’s a beautiful and powerful thing to see a Christian do so.
I know this story is a year old, but it came to my attention again recently.
It was last year’s national championship game between Alabama and Texas.
You remember that the most significant play of the game was when
the Texas quarterback Colt McCoy was injured and had to leave the game.
Afterwards a reporter asked him this question:
“What was it like for you to watch this game,
your last game in a Longhorn uniform, from the sidelines?
This was his off the cuff, straight from the heart answer:
“I love this game, I have a passion for this game, I’ve done everything I can to contribute to my team and we made it this far and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to play. I would have given everything I had to be out there with my team. Congratulations to Alabama, I love the way our team fought…Garrett Gilbert played as well as he could play, he did a tremendous job. I always give God the glory, I’d never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life and if nothing else I know I’m standing on The Rock.”
Here’s a man who not only knows his heavenly Father’s benediction,
he’s gotten it out and is using it.
A blow like he experienced would have devastated many people.
But even so, he did not doubt his worth and calling.
What are the challenges you are facing?
What are the things that make you doubt your worth and calling?
What are the blows you have received? What are your doubts?
Put God’s words of blessing and promise to use for yourself.
And second, use the Lord’s benediction for other people.
Be a conduit of blessing for them. You do that by pointing them to Christ.
When we started this study, I said that Philippians, more than any other letters,
shows us the heart of a truly great Christian. Talking about Paul.
Here is a man worthy of imitation. Imitate me as I imitate Christ.
How does the letter start? Do you remember?
Paul starts by expressing his love for all the members of the Philippian church.
“God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
He longs for them. He has deep affection for every one of them.
And Paul says that this is actually the love of Jesus Christ flowing through him.
He is a conduit for Christ’s love, and so he pours out his affection for every
member of the Philippian church.
And over and over in the letter it’s Christ, Christ, Christ.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship . . .”
“I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”
And then he closes with the benediction:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
If you ever wonder how you can bless a person, and send them out in strength
to face the challenges and changes of life—point them to Jesus Christ.
This is so hard for me to remember. So often, when I’m with a person,
especially a person who is having a problem, my first response is to give advice.
This is what you need to do to start fixing this thing.
Then I realize, that doesn’t bless them.
Fix-it advice, as helpful as it may be, doesn’t send a person out in strength.
Jesus Christ does.
If you want to bless people, tell them about Christ, point them to him.
When they doubt and struggle, tell them about the perfection of Christ,
and his righteousness which is theirs by faith.
When they are in pain, when they are suffering,
remind them of his suffering, and how his suffering redeems their suffering.
When they are facing new and exciting changes in life,
tell them that Christ claims their life, and has a calling and purpose for them.
Use the benediction of God for yourself and for other people.
CONC: At the close of the service today, I invite you to do something
during the benediction. Look up and hold your hands out as a sign of your
need for God’s blessing.