Archive for November, 2017

Philippians 3

Philippians 3 has Paul exhorting the church to “rejoice in the Lord”.  This is a fitting theme for the whole letter. Paul shared with the Philippians the principle of being able to rejoice in the Lord – not in circumstances or in situations, but in the Lord who works all things together for good. And then, in almost the same breath, Paul warns the church to watch out for three groups:

  1. “Look out for the dogs – a harsh reference to the troublemaking legalists who attempted to deceive the Philippians
  2. look out for the evildoers – a word against their emphasis on righteousness with God by works
  3. look out for those who mutilate the flesh”  – a harsh reference to the insistence of the Jewish legalists to require circumcision for Gentiles who wanted to become Christians

Paul sets the record straight.  He gives his pedigree of where he came from.  “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless”.  Paul has every reason in the world to be proud of his heritage and past, but he discounts all that.  “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ”.  He knew Christ was the only thing that really mattered.  All his personal information carries no weight in God’s economy.

Paul gives us a long sentence about how His relationship with Christ is all that matters. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of  knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and  the power of his resurrection, and  may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may  attain the resurrection from the dead”.  That’s a lot of words, but Paul basically says the only thing that matters is Jesus!

So given Paul’s understanding of his place through Christ, he can sit back and just wait for eternity.  Right?  Nope.  Paul says “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”.  Paul is on mission.  He knows exactly what he is living to do.  “Brothers,  join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”.  How we live matters.  Paul encourages the Christ Followers of his day to follow him.  We need to live in a way that people can follow us and get to Jesus.  What would happen to someone who imitates you?  Would they get to the Savior?

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Philippians 2

Philippians 2 has Paul exhorting us on a number of different areas around how we should live.  He just completed telling them how to address external conflicts in the prior chapter, and now turns his attention to how they should deal with internal conflicts in the Body.  “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”.  He focuses them on deep, abiding, internal unity, based on the reality of their walk with Christ and the fullness of the Spirit.

The problems we have in the Body are often about power and selfish focus.  Paul addresses it head on.  “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in  humility count others more significant than yourselves”.  Here’s the solution to being self absorbed – we put our focus on placing others first.  It’s how we love each other.  “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”.  Life is not merely about us.  We need to realize that the world does not resolve around us.

So how should we think?  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.  Jesus is our example.  He didn’t lay claim to His position, but freely gave up His seat at the right hand of God to take our sin on Himself as He went to the Cross.  That’s the way we need to live with and treat each other – realizing that we need to give up our rights to serve those around us.

So how did it work out for the Son who gave up position to be a servant?  “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.  Jesus didn’t hold on to what He had.  He gave freely to love us.  And God has lifted Him up and He will be the King of Kings and Lord of all.  Everyone will bow to Him someday.

So how does Paul exhort Christ Followers to live given the example Jesus set?  “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 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, 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”. We are to live a life that doesn’t just fit in, but to shine brightly as a Christ Follower.  We should stand out.  We should be different.  We should live in the power of Christ.

Philippians 1

Philippians 1 has Paul now writing to the church at Philippi.  He kicks off his admonition with some encouraging words.  “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at  the day of Jesus Christ”.  Paul knew that God would complete His work in these people because He always does.  There are no instances in all of history or mankind where God didn’t finish what He started.  And while our life as Christ Followers will not be absolutely complete until Jesus comes again, it will be perfected on that day.

Paul shares how we should pray for each other.  “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God”. Paul prays that we have more and more love, no matter where we start, but also that there needs to be knowledge and discernment as part of that free flowing love.  He also prayed that we might be pure, blameless and filled with righteousness – not for our own glory – but as glory and praise to God!

When it comes down to priorities, Paul makes it very clear what His are.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain….My desire is to depart and  be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account”.  His priority is Jesus, and Him alone.  He knew his death would be a gain in two ways:

  • First, his death for the cause of Christ would glorify Jesus, and that was gain.
  • Second, to be in the immediate presence of the Lord was gain for Paul.

But even though he was ready to die and be with Jesus, he knew there was much more to do with the people in Philippi.  He certainly does not fear death, but knows his ministry is far from complete.  He wants to bear fruit for the kingdom!

So how then should we live?  “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents”.  Paul exhorts the church to live a life that is worthy of Christ.  We are not our own.  We were bought with a price and as such should live that way.  Paul wants them to know they are accountable for how they live, just as we are today.  We will give account for how we live when we stand before God.  We need to stand fast, together facing the enemy, and remain unified in our faith and mission to glorify and make Christ known to all around us!

Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6 begins with instruction to a number of different groups of people.  As a parent, I always loved verse one: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right”.  Somehow my kids weren’t nearly as fond of it when we had them memorize it.  Because of the sin nature of all mankind, we have to teach our kids obedience as it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s hard to do, and requires that parents do their job leading ‘in the Lord’ – not just their own desires and whims.  The next verse sets that foundation: “Honor your father and mother….that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land”.  Part of parenting in the Lord is to treat our own parents with honor.  That principle and requirement never ends.  We can’t expect obedience from our kids without honor for our own parents.

Paul continues the topic of parenting when he addresses fathers.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”.  Obedience is required of children, but good parenting is required of fathers.  They must be careful not to have an unkind, over-critical attitude that torments the child instead of training them.  When you are disciplining a child, you must first control yourself and your emotions and not discipline out of anger or frustration. How can you tell your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself?

Paul then shifts to slaves and masters, which is sometimes applied to the workplace in today’s world. He first addresses the ‘slaves’ or workers.  “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free”.  God cares how we do our jobs.  Our heart shows our motive and why we do what we do.  Spurgeon wrote “Grace makes us the servants of God while still we are the servants of men: it enables us to do the business of heaven while we are attending to the business of earth: it sanctifies the common duties of life by showing us how to perform them in the light of heaven.”  How we act in the workplace reflects on our walk as a Christ Follower.

But Paul also addresses the bosses.  “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”.  How bosses treat their employees is also important.  As Paul admonishes workers to work hard and honestly for their masters, he also tells these bosses to do the same.  God watches the heart of all people.  Being a master does not give anyone a pass on how they are to live.  In fact, the standards are higher for those in authority.

Paul ends the letter to the church after sharing the truth of our place in God’s Kingdom through Christ, and the basics of our walk as Christ Followers.  Now he turns the focus on a key area we must pay attention to when he says ‘finally’. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against  the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”.  We’re in a battle and Paul warns us to get ready for spiritual warfare.  This enemy is far different than any other we may have faced.  We need to consider ourselves as being in basic training preparing for the battle of our life.  God will equip us with the weapons and armor we need, but we have to put it on and learn how to use it to fight.

Paul gives us a detailed description of what it will take to ‘stand firm’ which is our charge as a soldier for the Lord.  “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of  the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication”.  We can only ‘stand’ when we are equipped and properly dressed with God’s armor:

  • Belt of truth – tying together all of God’s truth
  • Breastplate of righteousness – not our own righteousness, but that of Christ that becomes ours through faith
  • Shoes for your feet – living in constant readiness and flexibility
  • Shield of faith – faith that will deflect the enemies attacks of thoughts, feelings, imagination, fears and lies
  • Helmet of salvation – knowing that our salvation is secure and we need not be discouraged
  • Sword of the Spirit – God’s truth which is our offensive weapon in this battle – which means we must know it
  • Praying at all times – prayer must underlie all our efforts in battle

God has equipped us with all we need to be victorious.  But we must put on the armor, learn to use it, and then undergird our efforts with prayer.  This battle is not something we can win alone.  We need to be part of the Lord’s army of Christ Followers who stand together to face the enemy of darkness!

Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5 is a powerful chapter where Paul addresses some important topics for each of us.  He begins by giving us an overall principle:

Walk as children of light….try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord….Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”.  Life can’t just be lived on autopilot.  We have to focus on how we live. Life shouldn’t just happen to us.  We need to be intentional in how we happen to life.  We need to inspect how we use our time and be sure we are maximizing it because time is limited and short.  It isn’t just about getting through life, it’s about walking with God through life!

Paul shows us what it looks like to live a Spirit filled life.  “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.  He gives us four key ways we can let the Spirit guide us:

  • Interacting with each other with joy
  • Worshipping God with all our heart
  • Living a life of gratitude for all things
  • Submitting to each other in reverence of Christ

Being Spirit filled doesn’t happen by living alone.  It happens as we live with others, and walk closely with God.

Paul goes on to end the chapter tackling one of the toughest areas where living in the Spirit comes to life – our marriages.  He has strong words for both husband and wife.  “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord….wives should submit  in everything to their husbands”. He begins with wives and uses that ‘s’ word that has such a negative connotation today.  But it isn’t a bad word at all, and if understood, is really about freeing a wife from the responsibilities that are passed to her husband when she submits.  Being submissive does not make one a doormat to be trampled and taken advantage of.  It does mean putting one under the authority of another, but with that passes accountability and responsibility to the authority.

To men, Paul writes “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself”.  Husbands are told to do something differently – to love their wife as Christ loved the church.  What did that look like?  Jesus went to the cross and died for the church.  That’s the kind of love God calls husbands to have – a love that means dying to self and putting another above our own desires and needs.  It’s all encompassing love.  It’s agape love.  It is complete and absolute love.  That’s what wives are to get from their husband.

Paul summarizes what each is to do this way: “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”.  We can boil it down to two words:

  • Men – we are to LOVE
  • Women – you are to RESPECT

Love and respect – the two traits that define what a godly marriage looks like.  The world tells us that these two things are not the secret.  It is all about getting what we want and ‘feeling’ good about our relationship.  It’s about putting in 50% but no more, and if your spouse doesn’t put in their 50% it is time to move on.  But the problem with that approach is that things will be no different in the next relationship.  God calls each of us to put in 100%, because at times, there will be need for you to carry the relationship.  You will need to lead.  We have to be active and focused on intentionally loving and respecting our wife or husband.  That’s God’s plan for success in marriage.  Are you living that way?

Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4 has Paul exhorting us as Christ Followers on how we should live.  “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with  patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  Being saved is not a ticket to living any which way we want to.  With salvation and the relationship we have through grace with the Savior, there is another part of that relationship where Jesus is Lord of our life.  We need to live our life in a way that honors Him and is worthy of the calling we have as believers.

A big part of that calling is to recognize and live out the oneness of God’s plan for the world.  “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.  Did you notice how many times Paul uses the word ‘one’ in his description of God’s plan?  I count seven references in these short verses.  We are part of God’s unified plan for the world.  We don’t live merely as individuals, but part of His creation under His plan and the authority structure He has created.  We cannot live in division, but must live in unity.

Paul makes it clear that in God’s plan, there are folks who are charged with helping us grow up in our faith, and also live together in unity.  “He gave the  apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of  the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”.  Read that again.  God’s plan is for leaders of the faith to equip those of us in the pews to do the work of the ministry.  We think we pay preachers and church staff to do the work but that is not God’s plan.  Their job is to equip us to go minister to those in our patch, not sit in the pews and feel good about going to church each week.  We get that all wrong.

Another part of that plan is to grow us up in the faith.  We have to come to understand “the truth is in Jesus”.  It’s not about us – living a successful life as a Christ Follower isn’t about how hard I try but how much I follow Jesus.  And it involves change as we must “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”.  That means we had better be uncomfortable when we sit in church on Sunday morning.  If not, we’re not being challenged in the right way.  Walking with Jesus isn’t about us doing what makes us comfortable.  It has to be awkward and push us to be different as we grow and mature and become more like Him.  It is a transformation of who we were to who we need to become.

Here’s what that outcome looks like according to Paul.  “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…..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”.  If that’s the standard, I’ve got some work to do.  Not that I never act that way, but I don’t consistently act that way to all people all the time.  That’s when Jesus has control – when every action lines up with Him as not only Savior in our life, but also as Lord!

Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3 has Paul telling us about his call to be a minister of the gospel of Christ.  He was under house arrest because of his missionary efforts to bring the truth to the Gentiles, which wasn’t at all popular with the religious leaders of the day.  Paul was tasked with unveiling a mystery: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.  All Christ Followers are one – believing Jews and believing Gentiles are joined together into one body of Christ, into one Church, and no longer separated before God.  This is very new thinking in Paul’s day, and one met with much resistance.

But Paul sees it as an honor to unveil God’s plan to the masses.  “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities  in the heavenly places”.  Christ’s death on the cross revealed God’s finished work of grace for all people, and Paul’s mission is to tell the world!

It wasn’t something that was without resistance and Paul encourages the church to stay the course.  “I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory….that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”.  Paul was under arrest because of this message, but during that time he was used by God to write the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.  Even though times can be difficult, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and will strengthen us in His power.

Why does Paul challenge us to not lose heart?  Here is his answer: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”.  Spurgeon writes “Two expressions are used: ‘rooted,’ like a living tree which lays hold upon the soil, twists itself round the rocks, and cannot be upturned: ‘grounded,’ like a building which has been settled, as a whole, and will never show any cracks or flaws in the future through failures in the foundation.”

The cross pointed in four ways, essentially in every direction, because . . .

  • God’s love is wide enough to include every person.
  • God’s love is long enough to last through all eternity.
  • God’s love is deep enough to reach the worst sinner.
  • God’s love is high enough to take us to heaven.

Paul wants us to lean deeply into the everlasting and unmeasurable love of Christ.  In that love we are filled with the fullness of God.  Clarke writes “Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest. To be filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the fullness of God is still greater; but to be filled with all the fullness of God utterly bewilders the sense and confounds the understanding.”  That’s what God offers us through our relationship with Christ.  Do you have that?

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