Philippians

Think On These Things (Philippians 4:8-9)

"Here are some highlights, or lowlights, from just 17 minutes in one woman’s day as she drove home from a convenience store:

She conjures up three comebacks she could have hurled at Ellen…
She spots the baby shower invitation on the dashboard and schemes a way to be out of town…
She sizes up a woman standing at the bus stop and judges her…
She stews over a comment her brother made behind her back, and crafts a letter telling him off—and sounding righteous in the process.
She reviews the morning’s argument with her husband, and plans the evening installment.
 She replays memory tapes going back to the ‘60s, trying to change the endings.
 Somebody drives up the road shoulder and budges to the head of the traffic jam, and she hates the driver with a perfect hatred.
She passes Audrey in her garden and waves—but thinks, “If Audrey’s sick, I’m a flying Wallenda.”
An inner voice tells her to turn off the radio and pray, but she decides it’s the voice of legalism. She is angry at God because here she is a Christian and broke, while her good-for-nothing heathen of a brother is rolling in dough.
She tries to pray but doesn’t get past “Our Father...”



If you were to ask the lady… what she had been thinking about on the drive from town, she would say, ‘Oh, nothing in particular.’ And she would not be lying. Imagine believing we don’t need a Savior.” 

(World Magazine, 6/11/05, Page 35).

 ____________________

Let’s talk about our thought life today.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any virtue, if there is anything worthy of praise, meditate on these things. Whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

After giving us specific about the peace of God at the beginning of this chapter, Paul gives us some specifics about walking with the God of peace. He says keep to the script - specifically, fill your minds with beauty and truth. A couple things to keep in mind.

First, this seems to be a broad summary about a life perspective that’s been covered in the previous chapters. It’s a way of saying, “Basically, everything I’ve covered so far is really good advice, and if you have even a basic desire to do praiseworthy and virtuous things, follow up on this and you will be walking in step with Christ.”

 Second, it’s not a negative statement. He’s not telling them what not to think about, because that’s counterproductive. He’s telling them to fill themselves with these things. Jesus talked in Matthew 12:44 about a man who had an unclean spirit cast out, but when it came back to find its former dwelling empty, it moved back in with a bunch of buddies, and the possessed man was worse off than before.

We have to fill ourselves with the right things. We are called out of darkness and into light. We put off the old nature – and put on the new. It’s one reason that Christians struggle to experience the fullness of new life in Christ. We hear a message of “Don’t do that” and “Reject that,” but we don’t hear a message often enough of “Do this instead. Fill yourself with this.”

  • Don't be so short-tempered with your kids vs. be gentle.
  • Don’t look at pornography vs. fill your imagination with things that emphasize the dignity and value of women
  • Don't’ gossip vs speak well of others.
  • Don't be greedy vs. be generous

Paul’s big summary is a positive one – do this. Think on these things. He’s showing them how to experience the fullness of the presence of a God of peace.

True - That which God reveals in His Word or in His world. The Greek word carries the idea of something being genuine or free from error. Christians should avoid feeding themselves with things that are deceptive or false. They must be committed to finding and meditating on God’s truth so they can take it to heart and let it guide their lives.

This doesn’t mean Christians must isolate themselves and never think about anything that’s not true. It’s clear from Paul’s writings that he didn’t (considering the Greek and Roman authors he quotes)[1]. The early church didn’t isolate themselves – they used Aesop’s fables to educate their kids, and they borrowed a lot of ‘pop culture’ imagery to tell the Christian story[2]. But they used it purposefully and reclaimed flawed cultural messages for the glory of God.

Honorable. This simply means to do what fits an image-bearers of God, a citizens of heaven, and a child of God. It has to do with being honest and dignified. It’s ‘august’ (think Augustus Caesar) or ‘weighty.’

There is a story in Roman history of barbarians breaking into the Capitol and standing in awed silence in the midst of the Senate Senators chamber as all the Senators sat there in all the senatorial weightiness. It’s the noble things we should be letting into our minds, not the barbaric ones. They bring a calm, an order, a presence to our thought life.

This doesn’t mean there’s not room for silliness. Cat memes are cute, and a dude getting hit in the face over and over with a soccer ball is hilarious. But the things that form you the most ought to be the weighty things.

Just –It’s that which we owe to God, our neighbor, and ourselves as (once again) image bearers of God with the rights and responsibilities that follow from that. Strong’s Concordance says it is ‘rendering to each their due…passing judgment on others in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them.’ As we listen and watch, we should be weighing the worth of the messages we hear and actions we see. To not do so is to rebel against God.

Pure - Whatsoever is uncontaminated in thought and action. This is purity of motive, not just purity of action. Strong’s Concordance gives one meaning as ‘in a condition prepared for worship.’ On this side of heaven, we are going to struggle with this. And of all the things listed, this may be the most personal and the easiest to hide. David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” That’s not a bad prayer at all.

Lovely – This is the only time this word occurs in the Bible. Better thought of as ‘lovable’. Strong’s Concordance says it’s something that is “worth the effort to have and embrace.” One commentator defined it as “those things whose grace attracts.” This word can mean things that are beautiful, but is has more to do with whether or not something is pleasing and life-giving in a godly sense of the word. It means we have to go beyond just saying, “I like it!” when it comes to music, movies, or books. We need to ask why? Is it lovely in the deepest sense of the word?

Commendable - In classic Greek, it meant ‘a good omen’ or a good report. Biblically, it’s things that we should praise because they are approved by God.

  • when friend at work became a follower of Jesus
  • when someone with money gives generously to a good cause
  • when forgiveness is granted
  • when a movie portrays nobility or truth
  • when justice wins
  • When broken relationships are mended
  • When someone promotes purity and self-control
  • When the addict celebrates another year of sobriety
  • When a crumbling marriage heals
  • When the prodigal child comes home

Virtue and Praise

If there is anything virtuous (“You mean things that are true, honorable, just, and pure?”); and if there is anything praiseworthy (“Oh, that is lovely and commendable!”) that is what we should purposely consume to build our character so that we become more like Christ.

“Virtue” (arětê) occurs only here in the writings of Paul (and only twice in Peter’s writing). This word references what has been called virtue ethics, a code of ethics Aristotle made famous. Perhaps Paul is acknowledging the reality of his Roman audience, who would have surely been raised on the Aristotle’s notion of virtue. “You have been taught what is virtuous all your lives. Here is the heart of Christian virtue – and if there is anything else like this, it is praiseworthy.” It’s as if Paul is saying that even by their old pagan notions of what is good, this ought to make sense.

Think on these things[3] - Let these be the considerations which guide your thoughts and direct your motives. If the thoughts are ordered well, the outward life will follow. A reasoned, logical consideration that is able to give an account. It’s not casual contact. It’s diving into the world around you and really seeking to make the connections between God and his world. Christians are not called to surf through life. We are to dive in, explore the depths, and bring to the light the treasures we find. Take them to heart in order to determine your conduct accordingly.

And the God of peace will walk with you.

_____________________________

[1] “Did Paul Quote Pagan Philosophers?” https://carm.org/did-paul-quote-pagan-philosophers

[2] “Borrowing From The Neighbors” http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-near-eastern-world/borrowing-from-the-neighbors/

[3] For an article on how this relates to entertainment and the arts, here’s a good starting point. “What does Philippians 4:8 really mean?” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2008/02/philippians-48/

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

Our text today is from Philippians 4:1-9: “For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.

 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.”

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.

And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

  • It can have to do with church life issues that aren’t about doctrine but are just about the best way to build a healthy church.
  • It can just be personality clashes that aren’t about sin.
  • For the next 8 months, politics is going to be a hot topic that causes disagreement among Christians.

If I am reading Paul correctly here, when this kind of differences of opinion or perspective boils over – when it becomes an emotional disagreement that breaks our fellowship - it will be a sign that we lack the peace of God in our life, and it creates turmoil within us that impacts those around us.

I want to back that up by looking at the next paragraph in Philippians. Paul gives three things that need to be in place for us to find and experience the peace of God both within us and around us.

Rejoice in the Lord, consistently live with a gentle (forbearing) nature, and pray so that the peace of God will stand watch over your hearts and minds.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD.

This isn’t just “don’t worry be happy.” This is to “consciously delight in God’s grace.”[1] In other words, this isn’t a joyfulness that comes because you have tried to have a better attitude or because the person causing you so much grief has suddenly done everything just like you want them to. This is a purposeful refocusing on the grace that Jesus Christ has offered to us by his death on the cross. If we are going to ‘consciously delight in God’s grace,’ it is vital that we have a clear and true understanding of God so that we truly understand God’s grace – which gives us reason to rejoice. So let’s go back to the two distortions of the faith Paul referenced in Philippians 3.

If we conceive of God as a God of Law, we will constantly be proud or ashamed based on our merit, so we will not have peace within because we have forgotten God’s grace. And we will be constantly be comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

If we conceive of God as a God who died to make us comfortable and give us worldly reward, we will associate earthly success with heavenly favor –and we will once again be proud or ashamed based on our merit, and will not have peace within us. And we will once again be constantly comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice once again it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

Either way, there will be discord within us and around us because our view of God and God’s grace is wrong. We will think we are walking in His footsteps when actually we are walking further away from God and from others. We must have a focused, purposeful view of God and His grace as manifested in the person and work of Christ.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, AND CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE.

When Paul writes about this gentleness, he chooses a word already in common use. If you read Bible commentaries, there is a LOT of discussion about what this means.[2]

  • A person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom.
  • A spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate.
  • An ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
  • Not spineless, but selfless.
  • Mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness.
  • Not insistent on what is its due
  • Slow to take offence, and swift to forgive
  • Able to temper justice with mercy

 

Spurgeon once noted, “People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”

Now, they needed a mediator to help them navigate this. I don’t want to overlook the importance of Christian community is strengthening relationships. But they could have had the best mediator in the world, and if their hearts remained untouched, they would probably just keep revisiting a pattern of conflict and resolution over and over, if not between the two of them then with someone new.

So we rejoice in the Lord, we focus on the wonder of His loving grace, and the discord within us settles. Then our contribution to the discord around us settles. And so we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by living with gentleness and patience.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY.

 God longs to hear our requests and thanks.

I would think that thankfulness is an automatic response to rejoicing. If we are focused on God’s grace, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my wife has for me, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my friends have for me, gratitude follows. How much more should gratitude follow an acknowledgment of God’s grace.

And I would think that requests are an automatic response when I am trying to live with a gentle nature. I am not inclined toward that. There are things in my life that get under my skin. I don’t always bring the right attitude and presence to a situation. It's also not a trait that (for guys, at least) that we hear praised that often. “You know what I want to be when I grow up? GENTLE!” I am going to need to make my requests known to God.

If we honestly commit to rejoicing and gentleness, the prayer will follow.

 

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY, AND THE PEACE OF GOD WILL STAND WATCH OVER YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS.

Every believer has come into an eternal peace with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] However, not every believer necessarily experiences the peace of God. Peace with God is between us and God and made possible by Jesus – he does all the heavy lifting.

The peace of God what happens within us, and it is the fruit of our purposeful focus on Jesus, our commitment to walking in the footsteps of God with gentleness, and prayer that gives our anxieties over to a God even as we offer thanks for His grace. A commentator named Barnhouse has summarized this well:

Peace with God… is already the portion of all who are placed in Christ. But the peace of God comes afterwards to those who are willing to unconditionally surrender. How many unsaved people there are today who are in misery because they will not accept the peace with God that God made at the cross when He declared that the war was over and that sin was dealt with. And how many Christians are going to Heaven miserably because they are not willing to accept the riches of His grace and the wonders of His peace that He is so willing to give if we will only acknowledge Him as our Lord as well as our Savior.... Day by day, we are the objects of that love and grace, and, when we are surrendered to it, we shall be at peace.”

___________________________

[1] Look up these verses on biblehub.com and click on the ‘lexicon’ tab for a fuller explanation.

[2] I am pretty sure I got everything in this list from sources quoted at Precept Austin

[3] See Romans 5

Sola Fide (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

To borrow some words from James (Ja 1:2-4), Paul counted it all joy to live like Christ, to suffer like Christ, and even to die like Christ. Anything it took to be like Christ and to rise from death like Christ – that’s what Paul had signed up for. His singular focus was to live eternally in heaven with his savior.

Paul’s motto: I’ll do whatever it takes.

This is worth stopping to think about. Would you do whatever it takes to be with God in heaven? Jesus talked about the same thing in parable. A couple examples from Matthew 13:

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven was like a treasure hid in a field. When a man found out it was hidden there, it was of such great worth that he sold all he had in order to be able to purchase the field, and therefore acquire the treasure. The kingdom of heaven was worth giving up everything else.

He also compared the kingdom of heaven to the best pearl in all the world. Once a merchant saw it, he rejected all other pearls because they fell short. Again, he sold all he had to acquire this pearl because it had unspeakable worth.

Do you see heaven as having that much value? Do I? Man, I’d like to think so, but there are so many good things in life. Getting that promotion at work or finding that dream job is a fantastic thing. It’s a good thing. God is not a killjoy. Finding fulfilling work is a blessing. But do I seek that more than I seek after heaven? When I do, I’ve found my idol.

Do you look forward to the day that you’re out of debt? That’s a fantastic thing. In fact, God says it is good to keep control of your finances. But do you place a higher value on financial freedom than you do your eternal freedom? If so, that’s your idol.

What are other things that you are unwilling to let go of? Certainly, there are probably sins you continually find yourself committing – but I’ll bet there are good things that occupy your focus too. Does this mean we can’t enjoy life? Of course not. But if we’re honest, a whole lot of what we call enjoyment is actually sanctified idolizing and coveting.

Paul says all of this will fade when we have the singular focus of spending eternity with Jesus. And he’s willing to do anything to achieve that. And this brings us to today’s text.

Philippians 3:12 – 4:1

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

“Brothers (and sisters), join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers (and sisters), whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”[1]

Summary

Paul is calling us to endure. He bookends this passage with language of perseverance, pressing on, straining for the goal, being immovable in our resolve. He calls us to live like Christ, and never give up. Stand firm. Will you? Do you really count everything else as rubbish in comparison to this singular goal? Please don’t confuse this with earning your salvation! Because Paul, Jesus, and all of scripture agrees that you can’t. What I am saying – what Paul is saying – is that we should be focused on attaining resurrection from the dead – the afterlife – the eternal reward.

Was Paul Saved?: Already, but Not Yet.

So Paul’s motivation is eternal life. Interestingly, in v12, he says he doesn’t consider himself to have obtained it yet. Certainly, by placing saving faith in Christ he had, hadn’t he? This is an example of what theologians refer to as “already/not yet”. Paul was saved when he wrote this, but Jesus was also in the process of saving him, and that salvation will come to fruition at judgment. Paul was redeemed, but Christ was redeeming him. Sanctified, and yet through the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, undergoing the process of sanctification. Because of this “already/not yet”, Paul could talk of having full confidence in his salvation[2], and he could also talk about running the race[3] in order to win as if salvation was something to earn. Surely, Christ has done the work, but that should not make us complacent – it should make us work all the more!

So, That Means We Earn Our Salvation?

Understanding Paul’s motivation here is also the solution to understanding the seeming disagreement between James and Paul about works. Paul said your works can’t save you[4]. James said your works save you[5]. On the surface, that seems like a problem. Here’s the solution: They’re not talking about the same work. Paul is talking about works of the law. It is true that the work of following rules cannot save us (not to mention that we would fail miserably at this anyway). James on the other hand is talking about the work that we do in response to being saved. If we truly are saved from the penalty of our sins, we ought to do things differently. If we didn’t, would anyone watching think that we actually believed what we said? That’s why James said, “I’ll show you my faith by my works”. In other words, that’s how you’ll know that I’m a Christian and my faith is sincere.

So, who’s right – James or Paul? Yes. They both are. No matter how much you do or how good you think you are, that white robe of righteousness you imagine yourself to be earning is actually seen by God as “filthy rags” or “polluted and permanently stained garments”[6]. (This is a reference to defiled menstrual cloths.) But that doesn’t mean that doing good is bad. It means that what you do won’t save you. You might as well not even try. On the other hand, the pleasing deeds performed by one who has been redeemed by Christ are seen in a much different light. Hebrews 11 enumerates the saints who have gone before, whose deeds were seen as pleasing to God, because of the fact that they had been justified by faith. And further, God saw these deeds as evidence that their faith was legitimate.

  • By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous
  • By faith Noah, (…) in reverent fear [of God] constructed an ark for the saving of his household (…) and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
  • By faith Abraham left his home when God told him to, followed where God led, and offered to God his miracle son, and in doing so please God with his obedience.
  • By faith, Moses stood up to Pharaoh and left a life of luxury to lead a stubborn and ungrateful people into the desert, all because he believed God. And God was pleased with this obedience.

On and on we could go with the examples. We don’t obey to earn our salvation, but those who are saved respond by obeying.

The writer of Hebrews notes that “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”[7] Do we see ourselves as foreigners here? As exiles on the earth? These mighty people of faith did, and it drove them to please God rather than man[8]. They died without receiving the things they had promised. We’re in something of a wilderness too. Our promised land is heaven. And Paul says we should strive toward that promised land with all our strength.

What Jesus Did

So Paul knows that he could not save himself, but he has been saved by Christ. More specifically, he was saved by a process called imputation. Actually, we should talk about double imputation. Imputation is the process of a thing being counted to someone else’s account. For instance, when Adam fell, we all fell. His sin was imputed to all of us. As in, we were all counted as owing it even though Adam is the one who did it. When Christ came though, he reversed that[9]. The reason we call what Christ did “double imputation” is that two things happened. First, he took our guilt that he did not deserve, and having it counted as his own received the punishment due. Our guilt was imputed to Christ. Second, he gave to us his righteousness that we did not earn. He lived the perfect life that we could not live, and that credit was imputed to us. He lived the life we could not live. He died the death we should have died. That’s double imputation, and it’s an unspeakable gift.

So, are we righteous? No. But God sees us as righteous because he sees Christ when he looks at those who are his. We are not perfect, though we seek to “be perfect as he is perfect”[10]. Perfection means to have no lack. It means there is no deficiency. So seeking perfection is a lifelong pursuit. Will I ever reach it? No – but that is the target that we aim for.

Side note: We ought to understand the purpose of both law and gospel. We cannot follow the law or attain perfection. But in attempting to do so, we see our weakness and we have a greater appreciation for who God is. The law says “do”, the gospel says “done”. And yet, until we try to “do” and fail, we do not see how sunk we are. We are truly lost. The good news of the gospel relies on this. Without bad news, there is no good news. The gospel says you are an incredibly bad person, but you have an incredibly good savior.

Notice the end of this verse (v12). Paul makes it clear he isn’t seeking to save himself. This is not the law at work here. He says “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”. In other words, this is all his response to Christ. There is a huge difference between duty and response.

Zatara

In the Count of Monte Cristo, there is a scene where Edmond Dantes finds himself washed up on a beach. Soon thereafter, he finds he is not alone. The island is occupied by a band of pirates. They find Dantes and decide they will use him to determine the fate of one of their own. The smuggler Jacopo was a traitor. He had betrayed his own crew and was sentenced to death. The leader of the smugglers saw Dantes as a convenient way to wash his hands of the matter, and ordered the knife fight. To add to the difficulty, Jacopo was the best knife fighter in the world. The hitch is that this was to be a fight to the death. Surprising everyone, Dantes won. All that was left was for him to kill his opponent. Still poised over Jacopo, knife in hand, Dantes appeals to the leader to spare Jacopo’s life. When he agrees, Jacopo tells Dantes, “I am your man forever”.

Did Jacopo have anything to earn? His life had already been spared, so this was not a promise to earn his life. Rather, seeing the great gift he had been given, his response was to devote his life to the one who saved him because of his sincere gratitude.

This is a dim comparison to what Paul is talking about here. He’s not saying such actions save him. Rather, he’s saying that this is the natural response of one who realizes the gravity of what Christ has done. Have you ever stopped to consider this?

Paul knows that he wants eternal life. He knows that Christ attained this for him. And yet, he does not consider it to be his own, lest he be complacent. He presses on. He ignores past failures and past victories. He thinks only of the goal ahead: eternity with Christ.

Like Jacopo, this response is always at the front of his mind. There is not a day he wakes up and forgets that he should be dead, but for his savior. And so he presses on out of love and thankfulness. Paul says if we are mature, that will be our response as well (v15).

Beware the Dogs

Before Paul closes this chapter about the importance of putting our faith entirely in Christ, he offers an admonition – an instruction that also carries a warning . Paul starts by getting personal. It seems like the Philippians were especially interested in copying other people. (Are we really so different today?) Remember back at the beginning of this chapter he gave his pedigree? Noble birth, highly trained, well respected, hard worker, etc. By all measures, he was the high-water mark. So now he says, “You want a target to aim for? You need a mentor? Pick me. Just remember what I’ve said! None of these criteria got me anywhere with God. The only thing that matters is my devotion to God – my commitment to following after Christ with all I have – no matter what that means for me. You need to follow a human? Then copy me as I copy Christ.”

And then there’s the warning. You can’t follow just anyone who claims to follow Christ. Paul praised the Bereans[11] for not just listening to his message, but for examining the scripture to see if what he said was accurate. Paul said not to blindly trust other prominent leaders – Paul’s peers essentially – unless they live like Paul in abandon to God. He refers to there being many people – people he has warned them about often – as being enemies of the cross. Don’t miss the weight of what he is saying here! In fact, Paul says he weeps for them because he knows their end is destruction. He is saying there are people who are quite well known, that others might compare to him because they claim to preach Christianity – who are going to hell! Let that sink in. Jesus said “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life – and those that find it are few”[12].

Those who say the way is easy are wrong. If you are listening to people who say you can have your best life now, please stop. If they say salvation requires adherence to Hebrew rituals, paying money to a ministry, or performing acts of contrition, don’t follow them. Ignore them. If they claim to be modern apostles or prophets on par with those who brought us Scripture, with insider knowledge from God about how God will grant your every wish for comfort, success, money, fame, and ease, don’t follow them. Run. There are no super-Christians to follow because of how impressive they claim to be personally. Paul could not have been more clear. He had nailed the Law, he performed miracles, he displayed spiritual gifts, he had visions of heaven – and all that mattered to him was that he was like Christ. That was the only thing to copy.

Listen again to what Paul has to say:

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”[13]

If this sounds harsh… good. Christianity is not a life of ease. You don’t tack God onto the lifestyle you’ve chosen - that’s not transformation. The way is narrow. The gospel is an offense. If you are a Christian, you will live differently. If you are a Christian, you will tell others about Christ. If you are a Christian, you will weep for the lost. If you are a Christian, you will be troubled by your own sin, and will war against it. Paul made clear at the beginning of the chapter not to follow those who count on the rigors of the Law is the path to be saved. Now he’s exposing the other side of self-made righteousness: don’t follow those who claim indulgence (full bellies, ease, comfort, money) is the reward of the saved.

By All Means

So what’s motivating all this? Let’s let Paul round out his earlier discussion about the importance of Christ.

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”[14]

Remember back in verse 11 – “that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”? Here’s the “by all means” that Paul was talking about: Christ. He will transform our body. He will make all things right. He will give us eternal life. He is our hope and our salvation.

So, what does Paul want us to do? If we ignore the chapter and verse numbers, we’ll find the answer: “Therefore, stand firm.”

Closing

There is a casual phrase that carries more meaning than we often realize. Have you “put your faith in God”? I don’t mean have you checked the Christian box on the census form. I’m talking about something much more real.

After a cast is removed, you might be tempted to favor that leg. You avoid putting any stress on it out of fear that it will be painful, or even break again. You don’t truly believe that you are better until you put weight on that leg. You need to walk around, kick a ball, do the things that you’re supposed to be able to do. That’s “putting faith in your leg”. You can say all you want about the doctor’s skill and your belief in the process. But until your actions prove that there is substance to your words, there is good reason to question your faith.

Have you ever put your full weight on God? Do you really trust him? The heart of man is desperately wicked. But God saves men by extending to them his grace. We respond in faith. Not some vague notion or belief. This faith is a sincere and firm trust that God exists and he rewards those who seek him[15]. If you have not repented and placed your trust in Christ, I implore you to do so. He is the only hope you have for finding peace with God. If you are a Christian, I’d encourage you to examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith[16]. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind[17]. Put to death whatever is earthly in you, because these are why God’s wrath is coming[18]. These encouragements are not just something to do when you receive Christ – they are your new lifestyle.

The author of Hebrews would have us look to the examples of those who trusted God and then obeyed. Seeing their example, lay aside everything that might distract you as you run with endurance the race that has been set before us, always keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith[19]

This message is a serious reminder of our responsibility to obey God. But it is also a fantastic message of assurance. If you are saved, you cannot be snatched from his hand[20]. So, trust God! Run the race. Press on. Be aware of the wolves. Keep your eyes on heaven.

How Great Thou Art

Listen to a few verses of a poem (later turned into a song) written by a Swedish pastor:

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing; Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.

These are the words of a man who understands the gravity of what God had done. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:1-5 ___________________________________

[1] Philippians 3:12 – 4:1

[2] Romans 8:38,39; Philippians 1:3-6

[3] 1 Cor 9:24; Hebrews 12:1

[4] Galatians 2:15-21

[5] James 2:14-26

[6] Isaiah 64:6

[7] Hebrews 11:13

[8] Acts 5:29; Galatians 1:10

[9] Romans 5:12

[10] Matthew 4:48

[11] Acts 17:11

[12] Matthew 7:13-14

[13] Philippians 3:18-19

[14] Philippians 3:20-21

[15] Hebrews 11:6

[16] 2 Corinthians 13:5

[17] Romans 12:2

[18] Colossians 3:5-10

[19] Hebrews 12:1-2

[20] John 10:27-29

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

During Communion we celebrate our peace with God that happens because of Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross. Today we are going to look at a portion of Paul’s letter to the Philippians that talks about the peace of God. Our text today is from Philippians 4:1-9: “For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.

 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” (The Voice)

__________________________________

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.

And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

  • It can have to do with church life issues that aren’t about doctrine but are just about the best way to build a healthy church.
  • It can just be personality clashes that aren’t about sin.
  • For the next eight months, politics is going to be a hot topic that causes disagreement among Christians.

If I am reading Paul correctly here, when this kind of differences of opinion or perspective boils over – when it becomes an emotional disagreement that breaks our fellowship - it will be a sign that we lack the peace of God in our life, and it creates turmoil within us that impacts those around us. I want to back that up by looking at the next paragraph in Philippians. Paul gives three things that need to be in place for us to find and experience the peace of God both within us and around us: Rejoice in the Lord, consistently live with a gentle (forbearing) nature, and pray so that the peace of God will stand watch over your hearts and minds.

REJOICE IN THE LORD

This isn’t just “don’t worry be happy.” This is to “consciously delight in God’s grace.”[1] In other words, this isn’t a joyfulness that comes because you have tried to have a better attitude or because the person causing you so much grief has suddenly done everything just like you want them to. This is a purposeful refocusing on the grace that Jesus Christ has offered to us by his death on the cross. If we are going to ‘consciously delight in God’s grace,’ it is vital that we have a clear and true understanding of God so that we truly understand God’s grace – which gives us reason to rejoice. So let’s go back to the two distortions of the faith Paul referenced in Philippians 3.

If we conceive of God as only a God of Law, we will constantly be proud or ashamed based on our merit, so we will not have peace within because we have forgotten God’s grace. And we will be constantly be comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

If we conceive of God as a God who died to make us comfortable and give us worldly reward, we will associate earthly success with heavenly favor –and we will once again be proud or ashamed based on our merit, and will not have peace within us. And we will once again be constantly comparing ourselves to others and either judging them or idolizing them, and there will not be peace around us. If we rejoice once again it will be in ourselves and our strength, not God or His grace.

Either way, there will be discord within us and around us because our view of God and God’s grace is wrong. We will think we are walking in His footsteps when actually we are walking further away from God and from others. We must have a focused, purposeful view of God and His grace as manifested in the person and work of Christ.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, AND CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE

When Paul writes about this gentleness, he chooses a word already in common use. If you read Bible commentaries, there is a LOT of discussion about what this means.[2]

  • A person who does not always insist on every right of law or custom.
  • A spirit or attitude that does not seek to retaliate.
  • An ability to extend to others the kindly consideration one would wish to receive themselves.
  • Not spineless, but selfless.
  • Mildness, gentleness, fairness, sweet reasonableness.
  • Not insistent on what is its due
  • Slow to take offence, and swift to forgive
  • Able to temper justice with mercy

Spurgeon once noted, “People who are very happy, especially those who are very happy in the Lord, are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord.”

Now, they needed a mediator to help them navigate this. I don’t want to overlook the importance of Christian community is strengthening relationships. But they could have had the best mediator in the world, and if their hearts remained untouched, they would probably just keep revisiting a pattern of conflict and resolution over and over, if not between the two of them then with someone new.

So we rejoice in the Lord, we focus on the wonder of His loving grace, and the discord within us settles. Then our contribution to the discord around us settles. And so we follow in the footsteps of Jesus by living with gentleness and patience.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY

I would think that thankfulness is an automatic response to rejoicing. If we are focused on God’s grace, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my wife has for me, gratitude follows. When I focus on the grace my friends have for me, gratitude follows. How much more should gratitude follow an acknowledgment of God’s grace.

And I would think that requests are an automatic response when I am trying to live with a gentle nature. I am not inclined toward that. There are things in my life that get under my skin. I don’t always bring the right attitude and presence to a situation. It's also not a trait that (for guys, at least) that we hear praised that often. “You know what I want to be when I grow up? GENTLE!” I am going to need to make my requests known to God.

If we honestly commit to rejoicing and gentleness, the prayer will follow.

REJOICE IN THE LORD, CONSISTENTLY LIVE WITH A GENTLE (FORBEARING) NATURE, AND PRAY, AND THE PEACE OF GOD WILL STAND WATCH OVER YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS

Every believer has come into an eternal peace with God through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.[3] However, not every believer necessarily experiences the peace of God. Peace with God is between us and God and made possible by Jesus – he does all the heavy lifting.

The peace of God what happens within us, and it is the fruit of our purposeful focus on Jesus, our commitment to walking in the footsteps of God with gentleness, and prayer that gives our anxieties over to a God even as we offer thanks for His grace. A commentator named Barnhouse has summarized this well:

Peace with God… is already the portion of all who are placed in Christ. But the peace of God comes afterwards to those who are willing to unconditionally surrender. How many unsaved people there are today who are in misery because they will not accept the peace with God that God made at the cross when He declared that the war was over and that sin was dealt with. And how many Christians are going to Heaven miserably because they are not willing to accept the riches of His grace and the wonders of His peace that He is so willing to give if we will only acknowledge Him as our Lord as well as our Savior.... Day by day, we are the objects of that love and grace, and, when we are surrendered to it, we shall be at peace.”

________________________________

[1] Look up these verses on biblehub.com and click on the ‘lexicon’ tab for a fuller explanation.

[2] I am pretty sure I got everything in this list from sources quoted at Precept Austin

[3] See Romans 5

The Best Resume (Philippians 3:1-21)

 It is time that I wrap up these thoughts to you, my brothers and sisters. Rejoice in the Lord! (I don’t mind writing these things over and over to you, as I know it keeps you safe.) Watch out for the dogs—wicked workers who run in packs looking for someone to maul with their false circumcision. We are the true circumcision—those who worship God in Spirit and make our boast in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King—so we do not rely on what we have accomplished in the flesh. If any try to throw around their pedigrees to you, remember my résumé—which is more impressive than theirs.  I was circumcised on the eighth day—as the law prescribes—born of the nation of Israel, descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; I have observed the law according to the strict piety of the Pharisees, separate from those embracing a less rigorous kind of Judaism. Zealous? Yes. I ruthlessly pursued and persecuted the church. And when it comes to the righteousness required by the law, my record is spotless.

But whatever I used to count as my greatest accomplishments, I’ve written them off as a loss because of the Anointed One. And more so, I now realize that all I gained and thought was important was nothing but yesterday’s garbage compared to knowing the Anointed Jesus my Lord. For Him I have thrown everything aside—it’s nothing but a pile of waste—so that I may gain Him. When it counts, I want to be found belonging to Him, not clinging to my own righteousness based on law, but actively relying on the faithfulness of the Anointed One. This is true righteousness, supplied by God, acquired by faith.  I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, 11 so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead.

Not that already I have obtained it or already have been perfected, but I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed.

All of us who are mature ought to think the same way about these matters. If you have a different attitude, then God will reveal this to you as well. For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. Imitate me, brothers and sisters, and look around to those already following the example we have set.

I have warned you before (and now say again through my tears) that we have many enemies—people who reject the cross of the Anointed. They are ruled by their appetites, their glory comes by shame, and their minds are fixed on the things of this world. They are doomed. But we are citizens of heaven, exiles on earth waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come and transform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Apparently, those who meant Paul harm and undermined his ministry in Chapter 1 were insisting that Paul just wasn’t qualified to talk about the gospel because he didn’t have a good resume. Unfortunately for them, they chose a bad marker for qualification – circumcision. As odd as that sounds to us, it was a sign that as children they had been dedicated to God by their parents. It was a covenant ritual. The legacy of being one of God’s chosen people had continued through them because their bodies showed their commitment to the Law.

Paul just was not a good guy to challenge about carrying on the Law. If there were woodsheds in Philippi, he takes them there. “Are you kidding me? I am the man! I am blameless in following the Law. I killed people for the sake of the Law.” He’s also a Roman citizen using his Roman name, Paulus, to write to his Roman audience. By any external marker, by any sign of outward conformity, by any punch list of things good religious people do, Paul wins.

And Paul says, “I count it all as a pile of waste.”[1] The one other time the Bible records Paul using this word for ‘waste’ is in Acts 27, when his ship is going down. In other words, if his past record of accomplishments is what made him a righteous person, Paul’s life and his faith were a shipwreck, and he would take those around him with him as he went under. [2] What matters to Paul is knowing Christ. So my focus today is how can we know Christ, and what might hinder us.

Paul warns them about two different groups of people who have the potential to cling to their own resume – and is so doing shipwreck their faith. The first group is the Judaizers (verses 2-3); the second group (v. 18-19) is probably the Epicureans. They represent two badly distorted understanding of both salvation and ongoing life in Christ.[3] If I had to summarize a fairly complex discussion, I would condense their views in this way:

  • Your salvation is earned by the sacrifices you make for God (the legalism of the Judaizers)
  • Your salvation is confirmed by the goodies you get from God (the self-indulgence of the Epicureans)

These are not outward dangers. This is a call to discernment within the body of Christ to make sure that we are not following voices from within the church that will shipwreck our faith.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE JUDAIZERS

When Paul talks about the Judaizers he uses three Greek words that begin with the letter ‘k’.

  • Kunas - ‘dogs’. Dogs were scavengers, predators, feeding on garbage and roamign the streets in packs. It was the name by which Jews sometimes spoke about Gentiles. Homer used it to imply shamelessness in women and recklessness in men.
  • Kakous - ‘evil workers’. Paul echoes what Jesus said: “"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15)
  • Katatomen - ‘those who cause injury’.[4] Paul makes a pun with two similar Greek words. Instead of ‘cutting round’ (circumcision), they were ‘cutting to pieces.’ (In Galatians, Paul encouraged them just to castrate themselves if they thought cutting away skin was the path to holiness. (If cutting a little bit off makes you holy, why not be super holy?)

They thought they were earning God’s favor and deserving the applause of others; because of the state of their hearts, the very thing that God ordained for them as a sign of covenant was shipwrecking their faith.

Circumcision is not really a hot spiritual topic in our lives. However, thee broader principle here is that of legalism – keeping the law in order to gain salvation or to make a name for yourself rather than god. This can happen in a lot of ways, so I am offering three questions to ask to see if you are being lead toward this kind of legalism and away from Christ.

Are you becoming more or less aware of your sinful brokenness apart from Christ? Legalism wants us to rely on our own power in spite of that fact that we need God to give us the desire and enable us to do His will. Legalism wants to be seen and applauded, to have others admire how strong we are. And that’s the problem. How strong WE are. On the other hand, as we become aware of our need for Christ in everything we do, we rely more and more on God’s power, and we love when others see God’s power at work in our lives.

Are you becoming more or less flexible on non-essential issues?[5] Keller wrote, “A ministry that’s energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart from the gospel.” Legalistic people don’t try to reach others or serve others by becoming like them; they pressure them to become like them. Since a legalist finds their identity in believing they have figured out all the details and are justified by how precisely they keep the law in every minute detail, they can’t acknowledge or appreciate the legitimacy of someone else’s perspective or experience. This could be:

  • Particulars in the Creation debate
  • End Times speculation
  • Can you lose your salvation?
  • How often should we do Communion?
  • What should a church service look like?
  • What are the details of Heaven?
  • How involved should Christians be in politics?

A classic line in Christian circles is, ““In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Do you find this perspective increasing or decreasing in your life?

Is your heart becoming increasingly broken for or hardened toward others? Legalism encourages us to increasingly withdraw, and point, and judge, and pray that the world finally sees God’s wrath rather than his grace. When we understand the grace we have received, we will find that we have the heart of Christ towards others. We will weep for those far from Christ; our hearts will be broken by the sin in us and around us. We will pray for the spiritual healing of even those whose sins and failures bother us the most.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE EPICUREANS

The Epicureans focused on physical comfort and earthly satisfaction.They wanted to get everything that makes them feel good. They wanted to be successful and admired and maybe even envied because they have so much good stuff –and not by heaven’s standards.

If the Judaizers denied the flesh (literally) thinking that self-denial and pain would earn their place in the Kingdom of God, the Epicurians indulged the flesh thinking that having their best life now – on their terms, which turned out to be remarkably earthly - was clearly a sign that they were in the Kingdom.

The Epicureans were probably full of passion and desire for what looked like God but was in reality a passion for God’s stuff. Paul says of those claiming to be Christian that “there god is their appetites…they are fixated on this world.”

The broader principle of Christian epicureanism is following Christ in order to get stuff that makes your life more comfortable. Money, power, prestige, mansions, toys, and self-satisfaction are markers of God’s favor. And at some point their appetites become their god. I am offering several questions to ask to see if you are being lead toward Epicureanism and away from Christ.

  • Are you increasingly praying that Christ increases while you decrease (John 3:30), or are you praying that your things increase?
  • Are you looking for secrets that will get you an inside track with God as a means to instant maturity or riches?
  • Are you gauging the spiritual maturity or faith of others based on how outwardly successful they are?
  • Are you inspired to know and love Christ more in a way that overflows in a sacrificial expression of love in the lives of those around you, or are you inspired to spend your time and energy pursing people or programs that promise you everything you want?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So that’s the distortions Paul warns against. He also shows how to center ourselves in Christ.

We worship by the Holy Spirit and ‘boast’ in Jesus. True worship means ‘a humble heart’ (Psalm 51:17). The Holy Spirit gives the power to offer sincere worship to God (John 4:24). Worship has to do with the attitude of the heart as expressed in the actions of our life. In genuine worship, at least three things happen.

  • First, we decrease while Christ increases. Our self-powered resume is not important. God’s glory overwhelms ours, and His strength is put on display in the midst of our weakness. Nobody looks at us and says we are awesome. They look at us and say, “Wow. God really is good. Look what He has been able to do with you.”
  • Second, our heart and our hands align. We obey God’s laws for us not to earn our salvation but as a deliberate response of gratitude. “Oh, you are that kind of God. Awesome. I offer you my life.”
  • Third, we recognize that our righteousness is entirely dependent on a God who has enabled us to will and to do. It’s never about our own power. It’s about the power of Christ within us. It’s a radical dependence on God’s work, and a genuine humility and grace that flows from that. None of us can be the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life. None of us can generate on our own what we need. It is God who enables us to will and do, and He gets all the glory.

We don’t trust our ability to be good enough by trying harder. We’ve already established that we aren’t worthy. Paul made clear in Romans, "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." (Romans 2:28, 29)

Centuries earlier God declared through His prophet Jeremiah...

Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 and referenced by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1: 29-31)

_______________________________________

[1]By the way, this does not mean your good deeds are worthless and that you shouldn’t seek to do as much good as you can. The biblical criticism of worthless works has to do with the attitude of the heart. (‘God Does Not View Your Labors as ‘Filthy Rags,’ http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ministry-god-does-not-view-your-labors-as-filthy-rags)

[2] See 1 Timothy 1:9 where Paul uses this analogy again.

[3] http://online.recoveryversion.org/FootNotes.asp?FNtsID=6104. “Probably those who practiced the Epicurean philosophy, which promoted indulgence in the pleasure of eating and drinking and encouraged self-gratification in other things, all of which are contrary to the cross of Christ. Verse 2 shows that the Judaizers were a damage to the Philippian believers, and this verse, that the Epicureans were another kind of damage to them. The former was of Jewish origin; the latter, of a heathen source.”

[4] Moses records that the holy people, Israel, "shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts (katatemno) in their flesh." (Lev 21:5). In first Kings we read that the idolatrous pagan priests...cried with a loud voice and cut (katatemno) themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them. (1Kings 18:28)

[5] Here’s a pretty good overview of how to make distinctions between essentials and non-essentials. I’m not saying it’s perfect! It's a starting point from which to think about it. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/essentials-and-non-essentials-in-a-nutshell/.

One of the Rare Ones (Philippians 2:19- 23)

2-21-sermon.jpg

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy your way. He will visit soon so that he may report to me how you are doing. To hear all that is going on with you will truly encourage my heart. There is no one like Timothy. What sets him apart from others is his deep concern for you and your spiritual journey. This is rare, my friends, for most people only care about themselves, not about what is dear to the heart of Jesus the Anointed. You know Timothy is genuine in the Lord’s ways. He has been a faithful partner to me as we express the good news of the gospel, as much as my own flesh and blood would have been. I expect to send him soon, and I will as soon as I see how things turn out here. (Philippians 2:19-23) This remarkable claim about the character of Timothy is bookended between a comment about his concern for the spiritual journey of others and his preaching of the gospel. We are going to talk more next week about the latter, so this week I want to focus on the former.

Remember Paul is writing to Philippi, a Roman colony populated by people who had been raised in a worldview that believed that empathy between humans and the gods was not possible.

  • In the Iliad, Homer writes that “we live in unhappiness, but the gods themselves have no sorrows.”
  • Aristotle said that the gods cannot be an example for human conduct because the gods are far removed from human life.

When it comes to Jesus, we see a remarkably different claim. The writer of Hebrews noted:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. ” (Hebrews 4:14 -15).

God empathizes with human experience not just by knowing about it but by entering into it. This is an new concept of what was God was like for the converts in Philippi. Leading up to the comment that Timothy’s ‘deep concern’ reveals the heart of Jesus, we have the first half of Philippians 2 by way of explanation: In Jesus, God took upon himself humanity as an act of obedience to God and service to us through His death on the cross.

Joan Osborne sang, “What if God was one of us?” In Christian theology, He was. God’s love for us was concrete and complete in Jesus. Through Jesus, God demonstrates that He is not an aloof, unfeeling God. He understands the problems of being human because in Jesus He lived with us as one of us. How many times have we said to someone else during difficult times, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me. If you only knew…” He knows what it’s like. Either Jesus or someone close to Jesus struggled with physical frailty or poverty, faced death and loneliness, had to figure out how to get along with unlikable people, etc.

Through Christ, we are shown that God understands us. Through Christ, we are also shown that God has provided a way for human experience to be redeemed.

  • Our sickness is not the end of the story; one day, God will wipe all tears from our eyes.
  • Death is the end of this life, but not of life in the greater sense of the word – a New Heaven and New Earth await.
  • We may be lonely, but we are not alone.
  • We may not like everybody – and they may not like us – but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can learn to love.
  • Our sins are killing us spiritually, breaking the world and alienating us from God and others – but this, too, can be redeemed because of Jesus.

Though Jesus ended his time on earth, his presence remains in two important ways: the Holy Spirit and the Church.

First, Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “But the truth is that My departure will be a gift that will serve you well, because if I don’t leave, the great Helper (Advocate; Counselor) will not come to your aid. When I leave, I will send Him to you. When He arrives, He will uncover the sins of the world, expose unbelief as sin, and allow all to see their sins in the light of righteousness for the first time.” (John 16:7-9)[1]

Second, God’s presence is embodied in the church, the ‘body of Christ,’ the physical representation of God’s Kingdom on earth. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gave an extended analogy of the church as the body of Christ that ends with the following: “You are the body of Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King; each and every one of you is a vital member.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)

We can’t save the world like Jesus did – we aren’t little Jesusus waiting to blossom – but we have His Word in front of us, His Spirit within us, and His Church around us, and we have been tasked with representing Jesus through our faithful presence in the world.

This brings us back to our text. "There is no one like Timothy. What sets him apart from others is his deep concern for you and your spiritual journey. This is rare, my friends, for most people only care about themselves, not about what is dear to the heart of Jesus the Anointed.  You know Timothy is genuine in the Lord’s ways."

Paul does not say that Timothy was bolder than anyone else, or knew the Old Testament better than anyone else, or had the best prayer life of anyone Paul knew (though he may have had all these things). There was no one like Timothy because Timothy’s concern for their spiritual journey reflected the heart of Jesus, and it set him apart.

“This is rare, my friends.”

I would like to offer some tips for how to become one of the rare ones as we reflect the heart of Jesus by demonstrating our concern for the spiritual journey of others. Two points of clarity first:

  • Paul does not say precisely how Timothy did this, so I am going to fill in some blanks based on what we see modeled different places in Scripture and what we have learned is effective simply by studying relationships (this kind of study is a form of ‘general revelation’ in that God reveals truth to all people about things like this through His creation. He let’s us figure some stuff out).
  • This is going to be a discussion about how we can care about others in a broader sense than “deep concern for your spiritual journey”, I want to talk about how we can care for others generally, with the hope that as we practice these principles, it will be purposeful preparation for us to minister effectively in deeply spiritual situations as well.

Pray. If we want to show true and deep concern for others, we will need God’s help. The Bible tells us that God gives wisdom generously (James 1:5). We will need more wisdom than we have; we will need more depth of emotion than we have on our own; we will most likely be over our heads at some point if not often. We cannot be proud and effective when it comes to caring for others – “most people care only about themselves, “ and they are neither rare nor set apart like Timothy. We must be humble, and prayer reminds us that we must have God in the midst of this enterprise so that He can be strong when we are weak. If you don’t know what to say to someone, ask God to inspire your conversation. If you walk away from a meeting feeling like you blew it, pray that God’s strength is magnified in your weakness. If you just don’t care about someone like you should, ask God to work in you “to will and to do to fulfill His good purposes.”

Observe and Listen. Jesus “saw” the crowds (Matthew 9:36); when he met with people like Nicodemus (John 3), he heard his questions – but he also heard what was in Nicodemus’s heart. This is not shallow engagement. This is a purposeful quest to understand the person in front of you. This is being aware of body language, tone, and facial expression as well as what is being said or done. This is getting to know someone’s past and present so there is a context for understanding. So we are praying and putting sweat equity into a relationship.I remember once after a youth group session one of the other leaders came up to me and said, “It’s okay. You don’t need to worry about how you look.” Her tip? I kept grabbing my shirt and ‘fluffing’ it because I was self-conscious that the shirt made my gut look big. That has always stood out to me, because I knew she was genuinely seeing me. She cared. You don’t need to parse every little thing or stare at people creepily. Just be aware of dynamics. Just because you should or could dig doesn’t mean you must dig in the moment. Be present; be alert; if something nags at you, at least file it away as something you may want to revisit later. People feel cared for when they realize someone else is taking the time to see beyond the surface.

Ask Appropriate Questions. If it’s not your place to pry, don’t. But if you have a relationship that allows this, pursue others with questions. Seek to know rather than be known. People feel cared for when you show that you want to get to know or understand them. It can be a simple as, “Are you sure?” when someone says they are fine and you don’t buy it. It could be, “How can I pray for you?” when someone says they are tired. It could be, “Did you say everything you really wanted to say in that conversation?”It could be asking questions a week later about something you talked about before just to let people know you haven’t forgotten. This should be done in conjunction with prayer/observation/listening, because you will need wisdom both supernatural and practical. If you pry when it’s not your place, that’s going to backfire. If you try to become someone’s confidant when they don’t want you as that – that’s not going to work. Appropriate questions are asked in a timely manner, with a caring spirit, in a manner that matches the depth or quality of the relationship.

Empathize. Romans 12:15-16 states: “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Ecclesiastes talks about their being a time to laugh, cry, live, die, etc. In other words, seek to understand where someone is and respond in a way that is appropriate to the situation emotionally. Is someone celebrating? Celebrate. Is someone mourning? Mourn. Is someone wanting to talk deeply about life? Don’t just skim the surface. Are they needing a day where they just laugh about silly things? Do that with them.Pray some more wisdom, because we need wisdom in this too. People can celebrate bad things -they might be excited about the pleasures of sin. People might want to always talk on the surface and we recognize that we will have to choose some times to push them deeper. There are times when the best thing we can do is counter where someone is at – for example, if someone is trapped in depression we don’t want to respond in a way that double up on what’s happening. Part of relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives is to pray for wisdom in those situations so that we respond appropriately. We pray, we listen and observe, we engage, we empathize – but we do it all remembering that the goal is their good and God’s glory.

Be patient. Numerous times, the Old Testament reminds us that God is “slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” (Just google the phrase J ) Romans 2:4 talks about the “riches of His kindness, forebearance and patience” which is intended to lead us to repentance. If we want to show deep concern for people, particularly in their spiritual journey, it will most likely be an investment. Expect to spend time, and be willing to give people time.You are not the Holy Spirit. You can’t do God’s work inside of another person. God’s timing is almost certainly different from yours. Be patient. It’s one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, one of the signs that God is at work in your life. Be faithfully present in people’s lives. You may walk with someone for weeks or years before you see your investment in their life bear fruit. Stay with it. How long has Jesus been patient with you?

Serve. “God demonstrated his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We see in Jesus that genuine love is demonstrated love. If Jesus is our model, our love for God and others will be a demonstrated love. The Bible is clear that our faith is an active faith.

“Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and you gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger and you took Me in: naked, and you clothed Me: I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came unto Me.” ( 25:34-37)[2] 

Words are crucial, but they are not always enough. It’s one thing to say, “I care about you.” It’s another thing to give money or things, spend time, lend cars, talk on the phone, pay a bill, etc. My mom has decided that in her retirement she is going to drive people who don’t have cars to their appointments. It’s a large need in her area, and their church is doing it as part of a purposeful outreach. She sits with people in church who are sitting by themselves; she invites other people over for meals. Sheila reminded me of friend who has watched our kids over the years not because she always wanted to, or because it was easy – it wasn’t – but because it was how she demonstrated her love for us. Love is costly. Jesus’ love required him to be ‘broken and spilled out’ physically for us. Modeling the love of Jesus will require us to be ‘broken and spilled out’ in some sense as we serve others.

Timothy was one of the rare ones in whom everyone saw concern that revealed the heart of God. No wonder Paul “hopes to send Timothy your way.” Who wouldn’t want someone like Timothy joining them for a while? I suspect that this ‘practice of rarity’ in even the most ordinary of moments primes us for engagement in the spiritual journey of others toward and with Jesus.

May I encourage you with a vision of church life together? What happens if in our interaction with others we demonstrated these things in a way the increasingly revealed a transformation taking place in us as we become increasingly like Christ?

  • Praying
  • Observing and Listening
  • Asking Appropriate Questions
  • Empathizing
  • Showing Patience
  • Serving

We would be a church full of “rare ones,” and not just when it came to friendships and ‘felt needs’. We would be constantly reminded of God’s love for us as we experienced the love of God’s people.

________________________

[1] If you love Me, obey the commandments I have given you. I will ask the Father to send you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will remain constantly with you. The world does not recognize the Spirit of truth, because it does not know the Spirit and is unable to receive Him. But you do know the Spirit because He lives with you, and He will dwell in you." (John 14:15-17)

[2] Christians are to be “given to hospitality” and willing to “distribute to the necessity of the saints” (romans 12:13) and show “hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9)

Shine As Lights (Philippians 2:12-16)

Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him. Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other,[1] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[2]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life.

 I remember DC Talk singing, “I want to be in the light as you are in the light – I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.” Who doesn’t? Wouldn’t it be awesome to illuminate the spiritual darkness in the world with the light of our life as Jesus shines through?

You might be thinking, “There is no way I can do this. Do you even know my personality? My past? My situation right now?” Well, Paul says that if certain things characterized the lives of the Christians in Phiippi, they would “shine like lights” in their generation (or nation, in some commentaries). As we have seen throughout this book, Paul will not leave us wondering. He tells us how to shine for Christ.

We need to back up first and talk about “working out our salvation.”

Paul does not mean that the Christians at Philippi must work to earn their salvation. That is a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Paul’s uses an image that is also found in the writings of a Greek named Strabo, a contemporary of Jesus. Strabo said the Romans ‘worked out’ the great silver mines of Spain, getting all they could from the depths of the mines.

Paul seems to be saying that Christians must ‘mine’ the riches of salvation’ – not casually or flippantly, but with a sense of what’s at stake. "Fear and trembling” doesn’t mean terrified – it’s the same phrase Paul uses to describe how the church in Corinth received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:25) and how Paul himself approached the Corinthian church when he preached Christ (1 Corinthians 2:3). It seems to have something to do with taking it seriously, with recognizing that magnitude of the task.[3]

So on the one hand, we put sweat equity into our walk with God. God offers a depth of spiritual riches in His Kingdom, but we have to shoulder a pick axe and go after it. On the other hand, God’s grace – which began with the gift of salvation - continues with the gift of His Holy Spirit that “energizes us, enabling us to desire and do what pleases God.” There is an interesting tension here between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. D.A. Carson has noted,

The text does not say, “Work to acquire your salvation, for God has done his bit and now it is all up to you.” Nor does it say, “You may already have your salvation, but now perseverance in it depends entirely on you.” Still less does it say,“Let go and let God. Just relax. The Spirit will carry you.” Rather, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, precisely because God is working in us both to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Adam Clarke puts it this way:

“God neither wills for man, nor works in man's stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is therefore accountable to God for these powers. They cannot do God's work, they cannot produce in themselves a power to will and to do; and God will not do their work, he will not work out their salvation with fear and trembling.”

This is both a challenge and an encouragement. The challenge is not to fall into the trap of complacency or laziness, sitting back and waiting for a miracle to mature you in Christ. Maturity requires mining. There will be aching backs and callouses. If I pray, “God, make me a more godly man,” I can take comfort in the idea that God is willing that desire in me and will help me do what it takes to accomplish that goal – but I better put on my spiritual work clothes and buy some heavy-duty detergent, because this might take some time and it might get messy. Character and maturity are neither accidental not magical; they are the fruits of purposeful pursuit.[4]

That’s the challenge. The encouragement is that we are not stuck with merely our own self-motivation. God is working in us ‘to will and to do’. If you think, “I can never do this on my own,” take heart. You don’t have to. He built the mine, gives you the tools, and He sets his Holy Spirit in you to give you a desire and an ability you do not have on your own. If God asks you to do it, He will help you do it.

* * * * * * * * * *

So what is this spiritual mining, the ‘working out of salvation’ that God helps us want to do and then actually do? Once again, the context of Philippians gives us the specific way Paul means it (at least in the context of the Philippian church). Philippians 1 ended with an admonition to live lives worthy of the Gospel message, specifically standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.

"27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have."

Philippians 2 begin this way (and note the connecting word):

 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’"

So let’s follow the progression:

  • Live lives worthy of the Gospel message, standing firmly together for Christ in the face of opposition.
  • Therefore – because this will be hard – be united with Christ, living in Spirit-empowered unity characterized by the kind of tenderness, compassion, love and humility that Christ modeled. God was glorified by the life of Jesus; God will be glorified as His people follow in the pattern set by Jesus.

Now the next step:

"Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him."

It is in our obedience in this fashion, that we continue to mine the rich depths of the salvation God has so graciously given us, and in so doing you will continue to do what always pleases him. If you wonder if your life pleases God, here’s how you can tell: do you stand for the Gospel, and do you work –with God’s help – to model the life of Christ in your relationships with others for the glory of God? That’s “working out your salvation” in this context, and this always pleases God.

NOW we see what it means to shine like lights.

"Do all things (all this obedience) without complaining or bickering with each other,[5] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[6]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life.[7]"

So how do we summarize this? How can we have the privilege of “shining like stars” in America and in Traverse City as we hold to and preach the word of life? Here’s the process:

  • We unite boldly around a gospel message (speak and stand for the truth of the person and work of Christ);
  • We imitate Christ by living together determinedly by the power of the Holy Spirit (encourage, comfort, celebrate, and love) so that God will be exalted;
  • In this obedicence, we will become a spiritual light in a dark world as we continue to “mine’ this richness in our salvation with God’s help and for His glory.

There are times in the Bible where miracles pointed toward God (I’m thinking of the lame man in Matthew 9 who was healed so the crowd would know that Jesus could forgive sins).

There are times when conversions pointed toward the power and glory of God (Paul is a great example – see Acts 9).

There are times when speeches pointed toward Christ (all through the book of Acts).

There are times when acts of service pointed toward Jesus (the early church radically cared for the poor, the sick, and the unwanted).[8]

There are times when worship pointed toward Jesus (the woman in Luke 7 who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears).

In this case, Paul says to the Christians in Philippi, “Take a bold stand for Christ, and follow His example by living as humble, obedient servants of God. This always pleases God, and you dig into your faith in this way, you will illuminate the world with the light of the glory of Jesus.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[1] See Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites

[2] Deuteronomy 32:5

[3] For more info, look up “phobos” in Strong’s Concordance and see the other references associated with Philippians 2:12.

[4] “The Pursuit of Christian Character.” https://bible.org/seriespage/3-pursuit-christian-character-2-peter-15-7

[5] Numbers 14:27, and other verses in the OT referring to the Israelites

[6] Dueteronomy 32:5

[7] Verse 15 is most likely a quote from Daniel 12:3 “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

[8] Here is just one example of many: “Among us you will find uneducated persons, and artisans, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth: they do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves.” Athenagoras of Athens (133-190), excerpt from A Plea for the Christians

True and Worthy Citizens of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-29)

So here is what I want you to do: conduct yourselves as true and worthy citizens of the Anointed’s gospel, so that whether I make it or don’t make it to see you, I will at least hear that you continue to stand, united in one spirit, single-minded in purpose as you struggle together for the faith in the gospel. Don’t be alarmed in any way by what your opponents are doing. Your steadfast faith in the face of opposition is a sign that they are doomed and that you have been graced with God’s salvation. And now, you have been given the privilege of not only believing in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, but being chosen to suffer for Him as well." (Philippians 1:27-29) Being a true and worthy citizen of the gospel sounds daunting to me. Why? Because I know me. “Worthy” is not a word that comes to mind in describing myself in relation to the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are plenty of days in which unworthy seems like the best fit. Yet Paul calls on the Christians in Philippi to conduct themselves as worthy citizens of the gospel, so this must be something we can accomplish with God’s help. God won’t ask us to do what His Spirit won’t empower us to do.

I realized that one reason this sounded daunting was that I was thinking I had to be worthy enough to become a citizen, but that is clearly not what Paul is saying. My righteousness – my self-earned worthiness – has been and always will be garbage (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). I am a citizen of the gospel because Jesus is worthy and He has covered my unworthiness on the cross. Paul is talking about what it looks like for a citizen to live in a way that ascribes worth to the one who granted us this citizenship. So this is not a question of salvation. It’s a question of discipleship, of following Jesus in an honoring way.

Last week we talked about how Paul did not just say, “to live is Christ” and then leave a vague phrase hanging in the air. He made it specific: serving Jesus through fruitful labor (1:22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (1:25). Fortunately, Paul does the same thing again when describing what it means to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE GOSPEL

By the time Paul had arrived, the cult of Caesar had become the state religion. The good news (euaggelion – what we call evangelism) for the Romans was about Caesar as a god, a savior and redeemer of the world. (You see on the screen a statue of Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus as Jupiter, from the time of Jesus and Paul. The coin that Jesus told people to “Give to Caesar” had Caesar represented as divine).

This announcement was specifically ‘good tidings’. If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s what the angels brought to the shepherds in Luke 2. Though it’s the same word, with Jesus it’s for all people, not just Romans, and it’s about a Savior who is Christ the Lord. It won’t just bring the Pax Romana (the Roman peace through conquest), it will bring peace on the entire earth for those on whom God’s favor rests. It won’t come through a sword that kills others, but through a cross on which Christ dies so that we might live.

When we talk about the True Gospel, we are talking about the truly good news if a saving and redeeming God revealed in Jesus Christ.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

Paul is referencing the dual citizenship that the Philippian Christians have. The Philippians were both citizens of Rome and citizens of Heaven. In Philippi, it was just assumed that they were to conduct themselves according to the laws and customs of the state. That’s how you honored the emperor.

Paul is not introducing a foreign concept. They knew how to honor the emperor by observing their duties, and they experience the ‘good news’ of Caesar’s reign by taking part in the privileges that went with being Roman. Now they needed to apply what they knew to their citizenship in Heaven.

"Roman colonies were little bits of Rome planted throughout the world, where the citizens never forgot that they were Romans, spoke the Latin language, wore the Latin dress, called their magistrates by the Latin names, however far they might be from Rome. So what Paul is saying is, “You and I know full well the privileges and the responsibilities of being a Roman citizen. You know full well how even in Philippi, so many miles from Rome, you must still live and act as a Roman does. Well then, remember that you have an even higher duty than that. Wherever you are you must live as befits a citizen of the Kingdom of God.” (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible)

The Philippian people used to say, “Caesar is Lord,” and they took for granted that their lives would reflect their lord. The principle had not changed. The lordship had. Now they would say, “Jesus is Lord,” and their life would still reflect their Lord.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL THROUGH UNITY, PERSEVERANCE, BOLDNESS, AND SUFFERING.

UNITY: Standing united in one Spirit

As the Holy Spirit unites our spirits in the service of Christ, we “stand firm,” a word that described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. There are at least two important clarifications concerning Christian unity:

We are united by the Holy Spirit of God, not by our spirit or our effort. I promise you, if you stay here at CLG long enough, things will get tense. You will be offended by what someone says or does. You will “butt heads” instead of “rub elbows.” You will find there are people who are sooooo different from you that you have trouble making small talk, or people whose personalities just clash with yours.

This will happen at any church. But the Holy Spirit works within us to unify us around the person and work of Jesus Christ and result in something that goes beyond merely liking other people. It’s genuine Christian love – the agape, selfless service for and honoring of others. When this type of community happens, it showcases the power of God at work. “Really? You all go to church together? I wouldn't have expected that…” Right. We are united by the Holy Spirit in the cause of Christ.

This isn’t unity for the sake of unity, because people can unite around false or evil things. It is clear throughout Philippians and Paul’s other writings that false teaching and hypocritical people undermine the gospel, shipwreck the faith of many, and destroy unity within the church. So this isn’t a feel good, “why can’t we all just get along” kind of avoidance that looks like unity but actually undermines it. Paul is talking about the unity we experience while struggling together for the message and the cause of Christ. This brings us to…

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

 PERSEVERANCE: Striving Together for the Faith in the Gospel

 The word for "striving" is another army word. (Remember, Philippi was largely populated by ex-military, and this language would have resonated with them.) ‘If united’ describes their purposeful formation, striving describes the activity. Soldiers fought as this unit. Maybe today, when we think of ‘together in a united front,’ we think of the iconic pictures from the civil rights movement when people linked arms are marched in the face of opposition, or (on Superbowl Sunday) we think of teams united in a common cause in the face of great difficulty.

As Christians, we are part of a team that perseveres to defend, proclaim, and live out the “glad tidings” that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

BOLDNESS: Faithfulness through Opposition

The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible. In Classical Greek, it referred to timid horses startled by something unexpected, perhaps even to the point of stampeding. Paul tells the Philippians not to get spooked. Be bold!

Note why boldness is required. When biblical writers say, “Don’t be discouraged or scared,” they are not saying that there is nothing discouraging or frightening in the Christian life. They’re saying the exact opposite. We are apparently going to experience times that will draw us toward these things, but we are to resist. God promises presence and comfort to His people during these times - and that’s exactly what Paul is passing on here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SUFFERING: Privileged to Suffer for Christ

The word ‘privileged’ or “granted” (echaristhe) is from the Greek word for “grace” (charis). We get our term Eucharist from this word. Its use other places in the New Testament gives us an idea of the tone or the mood associated with the word.

  • Luke 7:21, Jesus gave sight to the blind
  • Romans 8:32, God will freely give us all things
  • Philippians 2:9, where God gives Jesus a name above all names
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12, where the Holy Spirit helps us know the things given by God

With all those wonderful things in mind - we have been granted (or graced) the privilege of suffering for Christ. This is not about suffering for being obnoxious or suffering because of sin. This is suffering because our commitment to faithfully following Christ has put us in situations that we could have avoided had we turned out back on our faith –but we didn’t, and we suffered for it.

. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed… rejoice that you participate/share in the sufferings of Christ so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. ( 1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12ff)

Around the world, Christians are giving their lives. In more and more countries in the Western world, Christians are losing businesses and facing fines and jail time for standing on the truth of God’s Word. What would Paul and Peter say to us? Don’t be surprised. As hard as it seems, rejoice. This is an opportunity for your faith to be refined, and in that refinement “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) will be revealed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

So what does it mean to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel?

  • It doesn’t mean you need to be perfect.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to never offend (though we try not to), or always says the right thing at the right time (though we try to do that too)or never overlook anyone (though it would be nice to always get that right too).
  • It doesn’t mean you need to meet everyone’s expectations, or never have a bad day, or have no regrets, or have skills our culture values.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to be a Christian superhero.

A true and worthy citizen of the gospel stands firmly united by the Holy Spirit with other Christians while persevering and even suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

_____________________________

[i]

I owe a lot in this entire series to Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians, by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Keith Krell’s “The Bottom Line” at bible.org; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….

 

To Live Is Christ (Philippians 1:19 – 26)

I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your encouragement and prayers and through the help of the Spirit of Jesus the Anointed, I will soon be released from this dark place. I don’t expect that dishonor and shame will plague me in any way, but I do hope that I will continue to be able to speak freely and courageously about Jesus, and that now and forever the Anointed One will be glorified and placed above all else through this body of mine—whether I live or die. For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. So, if it’s His will that I go on serving here, my work will be fruitful for the message. I honestly wouldn’t know how or what to choose; I would be hard-pressed to decide. I lean toward leaving this world to be with the Anointed One because I can only think that would be much better. To stay in this body of flesh—even with all its pains and weaknesses—would best serve your needs. Now that I think of it, I am sure of this: I would prefer to remain to share in the progress and joy of your growing belief. When I return to you, we will celebrate Jesus the Anointed even more. (Philippians 1: 19-26, The Voice)  

Paul is using a metaphor featuring the commander of a vessel in a foreign port who feels a strong desire to set sail and go home; this desire is balance by his belief that he needs to stay longer in the port in order to fulfill the mission. Paul was not ‘at home’; he wishes to return (to his heavenly home), but he has not received his final orders, so he waits faithfully and productively. The NIV says the same thing with the classic usage we often hear: 

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." ( 21-26, NIV)

There are two words for "life" in the Greek: bios, from which we get our word ‘biology’ (or "the affairs of everyday life" - 2 Timothy 2:4) and zoe, which is the essence of life. It's the fuel on which our life runs. What gets us up in the morning? What motivates us? What brings us satisfaction and comfort? What inspires us and gives us hope? These ideas are all captured in this concept of life.

“For to me to live is Christ,” said Paul, and it seems to carry the idea that the fullness of life is in knowing Christ and making him known. Considering his audience in Phillipi, this might have been a difficult concept. There were at least five popular ways to finish that sentence:

  • The soldier: "For me to live is glory and fame."
  • The jailer: “For me to live is order and discipline.”
  • The slave girl: "For me to live is freedom from being controlled and abused.”
  • The merchants (such as Lydia): "For me to live is riches and comfort."
  • The Judaizers (which we will see later): “For me to live is obedience to the Law.”

These things had motivated them for so long. Never mind that it left them empty and grasping (because living for these things always does). Never mind that it failed to save, or that it was never enough. It’s what they had been raised to believe living was all about.

It’s as difficult a concept today as it was then. No one leaves that sentence blank. Everyone finishes it with something. For me, to live – for me to really feel like I matter, that I am somebody, that today was a good and meaningful day – is ________________.”

We aren’t Philippians, but what might we say? To live is fun, food, sex, kids, a spouse, entertainment, money, college, career, winning, reputation, health, control (or self-control), or pleasure?

What might we as Christians be tempted to say? To live is not to sin, or to be right, or to let our successful religious works be seen by others, or to never be uncomfortable, or to be free of the hardship and trials of life? In order to clarify your thoughts about this, ask yourself these six questions:

  • What am I most concerned about?
  • Would ruin my life if I failed at it or lost it?
  • What do I pursue to comfort me?
  • What is the focus of my hopes and dreams?
  • What makes me feel worthy? (What is the first thing I want people to know about me?)
  • What unanswered prayer might make me think about turning away from God? (this list is from Justin Buzzard, preachingtoday.com)

We are made to worship – to live for something. We all give more glory, weight and importance to something vs. everything else. The issue isn't if we are going to worship; it's what or who we're going to worship. And if we fill in this blank with anything other than ‘Christ,’ we have substituted an idol - “anything that gets more glory, more weight, more importance in our eyes than God does." (Darrin Patrick’s definition). And as Tim Keller likes to point out, the trouble with idols is that when they shake, you shake. We need something in which to put our hope that does not shake.

“For me, to live is Christ” is both Paul’s testimony and his reminder of where true life is found. It’s why Paul does not fear humiliation, persecution and death. Nothing shook him because his hope did not shake. His external circumstances changed, but not his internal focus.

That’s the good life. Paul’s showing them and encouraging them to, as David wrote, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Then Paul shows them how to refocus. He spells out specifically (at least in this situation) what he means when he says” to live is Christ.” It’s not going to be a vague “Do better!” or an internal flexing of faith muscle. It’s much more precise – and perhaps harder - than the other options, but certainly better.

“To live is Christ” means serving Jesus through fruitful labor (v.22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (v.25).

If for me to live is Christ - if my only concern is fruitful labor for Christ for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ – what might I expect to follow? How would this influence my view of life? 

  • There is nothing I could lose on this earth that would ruin my life. If I live so that Christ is glorified and others are built up in Christ, my reputation is insignificant. I don’t have to be noticed, appreciated, or applauded. There will always be someone to slander your reputation. If Christ increases, it just won’t matter how much I decrease. I am freed from the need to constantly build myself up impress others. My joy will come from seeing Jesus worshipped.
  • I would always recognize that the comforts of this life are fleeting at best, so I could enjoy them without depending on them (Mark 8:36). If my goal is ‘fruitful labor’ in the Kingdom, how concerned will I be about money and things (except for the purpose of furthering the kingdom of God)? I am freed from the anxiety of provision, or the jealousy of others who have more and better things. My joy will never come from my circumstances, but from my opportunities within those circumstances.
  • My dreams or hopes would always be about more fully loving God or serving others on God’s behalf (1 John 4:7; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:10; Ephesians 4:2). If my specific plans didn’t work out my ultimate plan would always be in place;
  • My self-worth would be grounded in the reality that I bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27); that His love is profound and eternal (John 3), and that in salvation I have been adopted into His family (Galatians 3:26);
  • There would be no unanswered prayer that would set me back because I would trust the unshakable character of God (Malachi 3:6);
  • If live to serve Jesus by serving others, my need for comfort or control become entirely secondary to the comfort and needs of others. My joy will come from being able to participate in the natural service of others even as God does a supernatural work within them.
  • I could stop running myself into the ground trying to be good enough or worthy enough and instead run the race of discipleship in which the joy of the Lord is my strength (Psalm 28:7; Nehemiah 8:10).

To live is Christ. Serve God and serve others. If this is our attitude, everything else falls into place. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, once said, “I used to ask God to help me. Then I asked if I might help Him. I ended up by asking God to do His work though me.”

That’s the idea. To live is knowing Christ and making him known. It is the only path to Christian maturity, hope and joy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[1] http://kevinpierpont.com/to-live-is-christ-philippians-121/

Life Together To The Glory Of God (Philippians 1:1-11)

Philippi was established as a ‘gold rush’ city. It was named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Some historians described it as a gate between Europe and Asia.

" In a series of battles there in 42 B.C.E., Mark Antony and Octavian ('Augustus') conquered the forces of the assassins of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus. In some ways this battle marked the turning point between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire (which meant the emperor would now be deified)…  Augustus turned Philippi into a Roman colony… Here he planted veterans of the civil wars and the supporters of Mark Antony… Special privileges were allowed to these Roman colonists, such as exemption from taxes and the right to own and market property." (Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible)

By the time Paul got there, Philippi was highly Roman, highly militarized, wealthy, and because of where it was situated geographically, one of the hubs of the modern world intellectually, economically and spiritually. In Acts 16, we read an account of how the church started in Philippi.[1] (This version is The Voice. You can read it at biblegateway.com)

 11 We set sail from the port city of Troas, first stopping in Samothrace, then the next day in Neapolis, 12 finally arriving in Philippi, a Roman colony and one of Macedonia’s leading cities.We stayed in Philippi for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day, we went outside the city walls to the nearby river, assuming that some Jewish people might be gathering for prayer. We found a group of women there, so we sat down and spoke to them. 14 One of them, Lydia, was a business woman originally from Thyatira. She made a living buying and selling fine purple fabric. She was a true worshiper of God and listened to Paul with special interest. The Lord opened her heart to take in the message with enthusiasm. 15 She and her whole household were ceremonially washed through baptism.[

Lydia: If you believe I’m truly faithful to the Lord, please, you must come and stay at my home.

We couldn’t turn down her invitation. 16 One day, as we were going to the place set aside for prayer, we encountered a slave girl. She made a lot of money for her owners as a fortune-teller, assisted by some sort of occult spirit. 17 She began following us.

Slave Girl (shouting): These men are slaves like me, but slaves of the Most High God! They will proclaim to you the way of liberation!

18 The next day as we passed by, she did the same thing—and again on the following days. One day Paul was really annoyed, so he turned and spoke to the spirit that was enslaving her.

Paul: I order you in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed: Come out of her!

It came right out. 19 But when her owners realized she would be worthless now as a fortune-teller, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the open market area, and presented them to the authorities.

Slave Owners: 20 These men are troublemakers, disturbing the peace of our great city. They are from some Jewish sect, 21 and they promote foreign customs that violate our Roman standards of conduct (codes of worship – all publicly worshipped gods had to be approved by the Roman Senate – and Caesar needed to be at the top).

22 The crowd joined in with insults and insinuations, prompting the city officials to strip them naked in the public square so they could be beaten with rods. 23 They were flogged mercilessly and then were thrown into a prison cell. The jailer was ordered to keep them under the strictest supervision. 24 The jailer complied, first restraining them in ankle chains, then locking them in the most secure cell in the center of the jail.

25 Picture this: It’s midnight. In the darkness of their cell, Paul and Silas—after surviving the severe beating—aren’t moaning and groaning; they’re praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners in adjoining cells are wide awake, listening to them pray and sing. 26 Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the prison foundations begin to crack. You can hear the sound of jangling chains and the squeak of cell doors opening. Every prisoner realizes that his chains have come unfastened. 27 The jailer wakes up and runs into the jail. His heart sinks as he sees the doors have all swung open. He is sure his prisoners have escaped, and he knows this will mean death for him, so he pulls out his sword to commit suicide.

28 At that moment, Paul sees what is happening and shouts out at the top of his lungs,

Paul: Wait, man! Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here! None of us has escaped.

29 The jailer sends his assistants to get some torches and rushes into the cell of Paul and Silas. He falls on his knees before them, trembling. 30 Then he brings them outside.

Jailer: Gentlemen, please tell me, what must I do to be saved?

Paul and Silas: 31 Just believe—believe in the ultimate King, Jesus, and not only will you be rescued, but your whole household will as well.

32-34 The jailer brings them to his home, and they have a long conversation with the man and his family. Paul and Silas explain the message of Jesus to them all. The man washes their wounds and feeds them, then they baptize the man and his family. The night ends with Paul and Silas in the jailer’s home, sharing a meal together, the whole family rejoicing that they have come to faith in God. 

So that’s the background to the young church Philippi. Now, here is the opening of the letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church several years later:

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus the Anointed One, greet you, our friends in Philippi—those set apart by Jesus the Anointed—and we greet the elders and deacons who serve with you. Grace and peace be with you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Anointed. Whenever you cross my mind, I thank my God for you and for the gift of knowing you. My spirit is lightened with joy whenever I pray for you (and I do constantly) because you have partnered with me to spread the gospel since the first day I preached to you. 

I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. It is only right that I should feel such admiration for you all—you hold me close to your hearts. And, since we are partners in this great work of grace, you have never failed to stand with me as I have defended and stood firm for the gospel—even from this prison cell. Before God I want you to know how much I long to see you and love you with the affection of the Anointed One, Jesus.

Here’s what I pray for you: Father, may their love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— 10 so they will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ, the day of His judgment, let them stand pure and blameless, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this I pray, so that God will be glorified and praised.

___________________________________________________________________________

 Let’s consider three main elements in this greeting in light of the background of Philippi and the origins of the church. In many ways, it’s going to set the table for the rest of this series.

1.Paul applauds and encourages their partnership, community and unity.

This must have been a daunting issue in this church. Look at the diversity in just the first three converts: a wealthy widow in the fashion industry; a demon-possessed slave, and a jailer.

Roman elite society was highly stratified… Elite males engaged in a relentless quest for personal and familial honor. These concerns generated a consuming passion to identify persons publicly according to social status… Based on their social status individuals wore different clothing, occupied different seats at public events, and experienced different treatment at the hands of Roman magistrates… Public banquets and food distribution in the provinces were administrated in such a way as to ensure that resources were given according to rank, not according to need. All such practices served to reinforce the values of the elite society.[2]

Different backgrounds, social class, different rank, different clothes, food and places to sit. Add to that different methods of entering into discipleship. Lydia appears to be a classic example of finding Jesus through education and intellect; the slave girl through the supernatural deliverance from demonic forces; the jailer through Paul’s selfless act of character, integrity and concern.

It’s often noted that what brings a person to Jesus is often the thing that continues to primarily nourish or build them.  That’s to be expected, right? The problem is that it is easy to assume that whatever brought you to Christ or builds you in Christ will have the same impact on others.  

  • If you became a Christian through a supernatural experience (like the slave girl), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you became a Christian through theology and reason (like Lydia), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you came to Jesus because somebody showed you God’s love through acts of kindness, you are probably inclined to think the church will flourish when that is at the heart.
  • If you grew up in a Christian community that encouraged you or even steered you toward a commitment to Christ, you are probably inclined to think that a tightly knit church community is very important.
  • If you grew up constantly asking questions and searching and ended up at the foot of the cross, you probably think an open environment where people are free to ask question and express doubts in important. If you grew up constantly getting answers, questions make you very uncomfortable and might even seem ungodly.

We have this range of experiences (and far more) here, in our church, right now. Is there ever tension as we try to do life together? You bet. That makes us normal. One of the earliest churches in existence felt this immediately. This is also one way in which God works through His church to bring transformation. Matt Chandler wrote in To Live Is Christ:

“We tend to prefer to do life with people who are similar to us. We live in neighborhoods and associate with people who look like us and act like us. Most of us go to church with people similar to us. This is the natural tendency of all people. But the gospel is not natural… the gospel creates a new reality that deepens our understanding of the world and our place in it.”

2. Paul prays for a love that overflows with knowledge and wisdom.

It’s worth noting he doesn’t just pray for love. That’s a pretty vague term on it’s own. He prays for a very specific kind of love.

  •  This knowledge is contact with others; first-hand, experiential knowledge. It’s a knowledge that comes from rubbing elbows and butting heads and walking together. Considering different personalities, gifts, backgrounds, expectations, priorities, and passions, this is hardly a surprise. If you really join a church and invest in it, you will spend a lot of time very close to people who make you uncomfortable and maybe a little angry at time. It's what life together looks like. It's messy, but it's good  - if it is characterized by wisdom. 
  •  This wisdom is a discernment from God that cuts through hazy moral and ethical matters. This is a the godly application of the knowledge of others and of God’s word. They aren’t asking the Romans what to do and they aren’t voting. They are praying that they are led by God’s Holy Spirit to properly understand His Word and His commands.
  •  Put together, this is a love that manifests in living holy lives close together, getting to know others, getting to know the mind of God for us and for the world, then blending those two things. This kind of love is crucial in supporting unity, partnership and community.

We got a game called Smash Up over Christmas. It’s called that because there are all these decks of cards with different powers and abilities, and in every game you pick two decks and ‘smash them up’ so they work together. That’s the idea about life together in the church. We have to ‘Smash Up’ very different followers of Christ for our good and the glory of God.

  • supernatural experience needs to partner with acts of kindness
  • theology and reason needs to work with Christian community
  • constantly asking questions needs to join with constantly getting answers
  • Extroverts join introverts
  • The artists join the social workers who join the builders and the homemakers.

 You can mix and match them all. We need each other to accomplish the work of the Kingdom. I don’t mean we all have to become “besties” (we will see later that there was clearly tension in a church that Paul applauds for unity). But we have to purposefully commit to godly interaction that acknowledges and honors the diversity in our church.

3.  Paul prays that they be filled with a ripening fruit of righteousness (a life approved by God) for God’s glory.  

 The Voice uses the phrase “the ripening fruit” of righteousness. Other translations use a verb tense that implies an ongoing process of being filled with righteousness. In other words, it’s not a one-and-done experience. An ongoing work of Jesus in their life was needed, I’m sure. I can only imagine the discussions that took place when that church started.

  • There’s a soldier, a slave, and one of the cultural elites.
  • There’s the tension of the roles of men and women in Roman culture.  
  • There’s a Roman who was raised to worship Rome and all it stood for, a slave raised to hate it, and a merchant who probably had gained an appreciation for all kinds of cultures.
  • There’s the constant fight for status in Philippi (people would inscribe their history on columns just to show how upwardly mobile and important they were).
  • There’s the separation by food, clothing, and seating.
  • There’s the incredibly different ways in which they encountered the gospel and committed their lives to Christ.
  • There's the problem of Paul: the church's founder had angered the entire town. They were likely under intense scrutiny – a lot of pressure to stand pure and blameless.

How on earth do you make that work? By being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed, with a view to God’s ultimate praise and glory." This is really the heart of the rest of this series in Philippians: Healthy church life – that is, a healthy representation of God on earth as seen in His body, the church – will be manifest through purposeful unity, love overflowing with knowledge and wisdom, and the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus and builds the praise for and glory of God.

So that’s what we are going to unpack in the weeks ahead. As we go through this series, I am recommending that we all pray this together: 

Father, may our love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— so we will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ’s return, let us stand pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this we pray, so that God will be glorified and praised. Amen.

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] I owe a lot in this entire series to Adam Clarke’s commentary on Philippians; Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians," by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….

[2] The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Joseph H. Hellermana