Staying on the Job (1 Timothy 1)

Guard the truth_Leadership“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

That advertisement appeared in a London newspaper and thousands of men responded! It was signed by the noted Arctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and that was what made the difference.

If Jesus Christ had advertised for workers, the announcement might have read something like this: “Men and women wanted for difficult task of helping to build My church. You will often be misunderstood, even by those working with you. You will face constant attack from an invisible enemy. You may not see the results of your labor and your full reward will not come until after all your work is completed. It may cost you your home, your ambitions, even your life.”

In spite of the demands He makes, Jesus Christ receives the “applications” of many who gladly give their all for Him. He is certainly the greatest Master for whom anyone could work and the task of building His church is certainly the greatest challenge to which a believer could give his life.

Timothy was one young man who responded to Christ’s call to help build His church. He was one of the Apostle Paul’s special assistants. He was so devoted to Christ that his local church leaders recommended him to Paul and Paul added him to his “missionary staff” (Acts 16:1–5). Along with Titus, Timothy tackled some of the tough assignments in the churches Paul had founded.

Timothy was brought up in a religious home (2 Tim. 1:5) and had been led to faith in Christ by Paul himself. This explains why Paul called Timothy “my own son in the faith” (1:2). Timothy was born of mixed parentage: his mother was a Jew, his father a Greek.

Paul often reminded Timothy he was chosen for this ministry (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). Timothy was faithful to the Lord (1 Cor. 4:17) and had a deep concern for God’s people (Phil. 2:20–22). But in spite of his calling, his close association with Paul, and his spiritual gifts, Timothy was easily discouraged. The last time Paul had been with Timothy, he had encouraged him to stay on at Ephesus and finish his work (1:3). Apparently, Timothy had physical problems (1 Tim. 5:23) as well as periods of discouragement; and we get the impression some of the church members were not giving their pastor the proper respect as God’s servant (1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:6–8).

Ephesus would not be the easiest place to pastor a church. (Are there any “easy places”? I doubt it.) The city was devoted to the worship of Diana, the patroness of the sexual instinct. Her lascivious images helped promote sexual immorality of all kinds (Acts 19). Paul had done a great work in Ephesus during his three-year ministry, “so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the Word of the Lord” (v. 10). It was not easy for Timothy to follow a man like Paul! Of course, Satan had his workers in the city for wherever there are spiritual opportunities there are also satanic obstacles (1 Cor. 16:8–9).

Paul wrote the letter we call 1 Timothy to encourage Timothy, to explain how a local church should be managed, and to enforce his own authority as a servant of God. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul explained the three responsibilities of the pastor and people in a local church.

Teach Sound Doctrine (1 Tim. 1:1–11)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which He entrusted to me.

From the very greeting of the letter, Paul affirmed his authority as a servant of Jesus Christ. Those who were giving Timothy trouble needed to remember their pastor was there because God had put him there, for Paul’s authority was given by God. Paul was an “apostle,” one whom God sent with a special commission. His apostleship came by “commandment” from Jesus Christ. This word means “a royal commission.” Both Paul and Timothy were sent by the King of kings!

Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but He is our “Savior,” a title used ten times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:3–4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6). To discouraged Timothy, the reminder that Jesus is “our hope” (1:1) was a real boost. Paul wrote the same encouragement to Titus (Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7). Knowing that Jesus Christ is coming for us encourages us to serve Him faithfully.

One reason Christian workers must stay on the job is because false teachers are busy trying to capture Christians. There were teachers of false doctrines in Paul’s day just as there are today and we must take them seriously. These false teachers have no good news for lost sinners. They seek instead to lead Christians astray and capture them for their causes.

Paul used military language to help Timothy and his people see the seriousness of the problem (1:3). Charge means “to give strict orders from a superior officer.” Paul used this word (sometimes translated “commandment” and “command”) eight times in his two letters to Timothy (1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17; 2 Tim. 4:1). He was conveying this idea: “Timothy, you are not only a pastor of the church in a difficult city. You are also a Christian soldier under orders from the King. Now pass these orders along to the soldiers in your church!”

What was the order? “Do not teach different doctrines from those taught by Paul!” In the original text there are thirty-two references to “doctrine,” “teach,” “teacher,” “teaches,” and “teaching” in the three Pastoral Epistles. In the early church, the believers were taught the Word of God and the meanings of basic Christian doctrines. In many churches today, the pulpit is a place for entertainment, not enlightenment and enrichment.

God had committed the truth of the Word to Paul (1:11) and Paul had committed it to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20). It was Timothy’s responsibility to guard the faith (2 Tim. 1:14) and to pass it along to faithful people (2 Tim. 2:2).

Paul identified the false teaching as “fables and endless genealogies” (1:4). Titus faced the same kind of false teaching in Crete (Titus 1:14; 3:9). The false teachers were using the Old Testament Law, and especially the genealogies, to manufacture all kinds of novelties; and these new doctrines were leading people astray. The false teachers were raising questions, not answering them. They were not promoting “God’s saving plan” (“advancing God’s work,” 1:4), but were leading people away from the truth. Instead of producing love, purity, a good conscience, and sincere faith, these novel doctrines were causing division, hypocrisy, and all sorts of problems.

Paul used the word “conscience” twenty-one times in his letters and six of these references are in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 3:9; 4:2; 2 Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:15). The word “conscience” means “to know with.” Conscience is the inner judge that accuses us when we have done wrong and approves when we have done right (Rom. 2:14–15). It is possible to sin against the conscience, so it becomes “defiled” (“corrupted,” Titus 1:15). Repeated sinning hardens the conscience and it becomes “seared” like scar tissue (1 Tim. 4:2).

It is tragic when professed Christians get off course because they refuse “healthy doctrine” (1:10). Paul calls it “godly teaching” (1 Tim. 6:3), “sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13), “sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “faith” (Titus 1:13; 2:2), and “sound speech” (Titus 2:8). But many prefer the “meaningless talk” (1 Tim. 1:6) of those who teach novelties rather than the pure Word of God, which produces holiness in lives. It is unfortunate today we not only have “meaningless talk” in teaching and preaching, but also in music. Far too many songs not only teach no doctrine, but many even teach false doctrines. A singer has no more right to sing a lie than a teacher has to teach a lie.

The reason for this false doctrine was a misuse of the Old Testament Law. These false teachers did not understand the content or the purpose of God’s Law. They were leading believers out of the liberty of grace (Gal. 5:1) into the bondage of legalism, a tragedy that still occurs today. The flesh (our old nature) loves religious legalism because rules and regulations enable a person to appear holy without really having to change his heart.

Paul listed fourteen kinds of people who were condemned by the Law (1 Tim. 1:9–10). This is one of several such lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:20–23; Rom. 1:18–32; Gal. 5:19–21). The lawful use of the Law is to expose, restrain, and convict the lawless. The Law cannot save lost sinners; it can only reveal their need for a Savior: “For if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21; 3:21–29). When a sinner believes on Jesus Christ, he is freed from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:10–14) and the righteous demands of the Law are met by the indwelling Holy Spirit as the believer yields to God (Rom. 8:1–4).

It is the “glorious Gospel,” which saves lost sinners. Paul had experienced the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) and he had been entrusted with the ministry of the Gospel (1 Thes. 2:4). The Law and Gospel go together, for Law without Gospel is diagnosis without remedy. But the Gospel without Law is only the Good News of salvation for people who do not believe they need it because they have never heard the bad news of judgment. The Law is not Gospel, but the Gospel is not lawless (Rom. 3:20–31).

Teaching sound doctrine is the first responsibility of the church.

In Part 2, we will look at two more essential responsibilities of the church.

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The Secret of Contentment: Part 2 (Philippians 4:10-23)

Philippians 4.13 (2)In these verses, Paul names three wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment. In Part 1, we saw the first resource: the overruling providence of God. Today, we will look at the next two spiritual resources.

The Unfailing Power of God (Phil. 4:11–13)

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Paul is quick to let his friends know he is not complaining! His happiness does not depend on circumstances or things; his joy comes from something deeper, something apart from either poverty or prosperity. Most of us have learned how to “be abased” because when difficulties come, we immediately run to the Lord! But few have learned how “to abound.” Prosperity has done more damage to believers than has adversity. “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing” (Rev. 3:17).

Through trial and testing, Paul was initiated into the wonderful secret of contentment in spite of poverty or prosperity: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). It was the power of Christ within him that gave him spiritual contentment. Paul depended on the power of Christ at work in his life (Phil. 1:6, 21; 2:12–13; 3:10). “I can do all things through Christ!” was Paul’s motto and it can be our motto too.

The Living Bible puts it this way: “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.” No matter which translation you prefer, they all say the same thing: the Christian has all the power within that he needs to be adequate for the demands of life. We need only release this power by faith. It is not by trusting our own faithfulness, but by looking away to the Faithful One! Moment by moment, we are to draw on the power of Christ for every responsibility of the day and Christ’s power will carry us through.

Jesus teaches this same lesson in the sermon on the vine and branches in John 15. He is the Vine; we are the branches. A branch is good only for bearing fruit; otherwise it is cast into the fire and burned. The branch does not bear fruit through its own self-effort, but by drawing on the life of the Vine: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (v. 5). As the believer maintains his communion with Christ the power of God is there to see him through.

Often, we go through “winter seasons” spiritually, but then the spring arrives and there is new life and blessing. The tree itself is not picked up and moved; the circumstances are not changed. The difference is the new life within. Unless we draw on the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life.

The Unchanging Promise of God (Phil. 4:14–20)

Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul thanks the church at Philippi for their generous gift. He compares their giving to two very familiar things.

An investment (vv. 14–17). Paul looked on their missionary gift as an investment, which would pay them rich spiritual dividends. The church entered into an arrangement of “giving and receiving”; the church gave materially to Paul and received spiritually from the Lord. The Lord keeps the books and will never fail to pay one spiritual dividend! That church is poor that fails to share materially with others.

A sacrifice (v. 18). Paul looked on their gift as a spiritual sacrifice, laid on the altar to the glory of God. There are such things as “spiritual sacrifices” in the Christian life (1 Pet. 2:5). We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1–2), as well as offer the praise of our lips (Heb. 13:15). Good works are a sacrifice to the Lord (Heb. 13:16) and so are the lost souls we are privileged to win to Christ (Rom. 15:16). Here, Paul sees the Philippian believers as priests, giving their offering as a sacrifice to the Lord. In light of Malachi 1:6–14, we need to present the very finest we have to the Lord.

Paul does not see this gift as simply coming from Philippi. He sees it as the supply of his need from heaven. Paul’s trust is in the Lord. There is an interesting contrast between verses 18 and 19. If we were to paraphrase Paul, we might say: “You met my need and God is going to meet your need. You met one need I have, but God will meet all of your needs. You gave out of your poverty, but God will supply your needs out of His riches in glory!”

God has not promised to supply all our “greeds.” When the child of God is in the will of God, serving for the glory of God, then he will have every need met. When God’s work is done in God’s way for God’s glory, it will not lack God’s supply.

Contentment comes from adequate resources. Our resources are the providence of God, the power of God, and the promises of God. These resources made Paul sufficient for every demand of life and they can make us sufficient too!

* This concludes our verse-by-verse study of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. I hope you have enjoyed and benefited from this series.

Our next series will look at Paul’s first letter to Timothy.

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The Secret of Contentment: Part 1 (Philippians 4:10-23)

Secret of Contentment“The trouble with him is he’s a thermometer and not a thermostat!”

This statement by one of his deacons aroused the pastor’s curiosity. They were discussing possible board members and Jim’s name had come up.

“Pastor, it’s like this,” the deacon explained. “A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it—it just registers the temperature. It’s always going up and down. But a thermostat regulates the surroundings and changes them when they need to be changed. Jim is a thermometer—he lacks the power to change things. Instead, they change him!”

The Apostle Paul was a thermostat. Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as the situation changed, he went right on, steadily doing his work and serving Christ. His personal references at the close of this letter indicate he was not the victim of circumstances, but the victor over circumstances: “I can accept all things” (4:11); “I can do all things” (4:13); “I have all things” (4:18). Paul did not have to be pampered to be content; he found his contentment in the spiritual resources abundantly provided by Christ.

Contentment is not complacency, nor is it a false peace based on ignorance. The complacent believer is unconcerned about others, while the contented Christian wants to share his or her blessings. Contentment is not escape from the battle, but rather an abiding peace and confidence in the midst of the battle.

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (4:11). Two words in that verse are vitally important—“learned” and “content.” The verb “learned” means “learned by experience.” Paul’s spiritual contentment was not something he had immediately after he was saved. He had to go through many difficult experiences of life in order to learn how to be content.

The word “content” actually means “contained.” It is a description of the man whose resources are within him, so he does not have to depend on substitutes outside. The Greek word means “self-sufficient” and was a favorite word of the stoic philosophers. But the Christian is not sufficient in himself; he is sufficient in Christ. Because Christ lives within us, we are adequate for the demands of life.

In these verses, Paul names three wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment:

The Overruling Providence of God (4:10)

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.

In this day of scientific achievement, we hear less and less about the providence of God. We sometimes get the idea that the world is a vast natural machine and even God Himself cannot interrupt the wheels as they are turning. But the Word of God clearly teaches the providential workings of God in nature and in the lives of His people. The word “providence” comes from two Latin words: pro meaning “before” and video meaning “to see.” God’s providence means God sees to it beforehand. It does not mean God simply knows beforehand because providence involves much more. It is the working of God in advance to arrange circumstances and situations for the fulfilling of His purposes. We must constantly remind ourselves of the Lord’s providence, especially when things do not turn out as we expected.

The familiar story of Joseph and his brothers illustrates the meaning of providence (Gen. 37–50). Joseph’s brothers envied him and sold him as a slave when he was only seventeen years old. He was taken to Egypt and there God revealed seven years of famine were coming after seven years of plenty. It was through Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams that this fact was discovered. Because of that, Joseph was elevated to the position of second ruler in Egypt. After twenty years of separation, Joseph’s brothers were reconciled to him and they understood what the Lord had done.

“God sent me before you to preserve life,” said Joseph (Gen. 45:5). “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). This is the providence of God: His hand ruling and overruling in the affairs of life. Paul experienced this divine providence in his life and ministry, and was able to write, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God, in His providence, had caused the church at Philippi to become concerned about Paul’s needs and it came at the very time Paul needed their love most! They had been concerned, but they had lacked the opportunity to help. Many Christians today have the opportunities, but they lack the concern!

Life is not a series of accidents; it is a series of appointments. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye upon you” (Ps. 32:8). Abraham called God “Jehovah-Jireh” meaning “the Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14). This is the providence of God, a wonderful source of contentment.

In Part 2, we will look at two more wonderful spiritual resources that make us adequate and give us contentment.

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You Don’t Have to Worry: Part 2 (Philippians 4:1-9)

Phil 4.8Paul had a good excuse to worry—but he did not! If we are to conquer worry and experience the secure mind, we must meet the conditions God has laid down. In Part 1, we saw the first condition: right praying. Today, we will look at the next two conditions.

Right Thinking (4:8)

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence (virtue) and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Peace involves the heart and the mind. “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3). Wrong thinking leads to wrong feeling, and before long the heart and mind are pulled apart and we are strangled by worry. We must realize thoughts are real and powerful, even though they cannot be seen, weighed, or measured. We must bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

“Sow a thought, reap an action.

Sow an action, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character.

Sow a character, reap a destiny!”

Paul spells out in detail the things we ought to think about as Christians.

Whatever is true. I once read a survey on worry that indicates only 8 percent of the things people worry about are legitimate matters of concern! The other 92 percent are either imaginary, never happen, or involve matters over which they have no control anyway. Satan is the liar (Jn. 8:44) and he wants to corrupt our minds with his lies (2 Cor. 11:3). He approaches us the same way he approached Eve: “Did God really say…’?” (Gen. 3:1). The Holy Spirit controls our minds through truth (Jn. 17:17; 1 Jn. 5:6), but the devil tries to control us through lies. Whenever we believe a lie, Satan takes over!

Whatever is honorable and right. This means “worthy of respect.” There are many things that are not respectable and Christians should not think about these things. This does not mean we hide our heads in the sand, and avoid what is unpleasant and displeasing, but it does mean we do not focus our attention on dishonorable things and permit them to control our thoughts.

Whatever is pure, lovely, and of good report. “Pure” refers to moral purity. The people then, as now, were constantly attacked by temptations to sexual impurity (Eph. 4:17–24; 5:8–12). “Lovely” means “beautiful, attractive.” “Of good report” means “worth talking about, appealing.” The believer must major on the high and noble thoughts, not the base thoughts of this corrupt world.

Whatever possesses excellence (virtue) and praise. If it has virtue, it will motivate us to do better; and if it has praise, it is worth commending to others. No Christian can afford to waste “mind power” on thoughts that tear him down or that would tear others down if these thoughts were shared.

If we compare this list to David’s description of the Word of God in Psalm 19:7–9, we will see a parallel. The Christian who fills his heart and mind with God’s Word will have a “built-in radar” for detecting wrong thoughts. “Those who love Your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble” (Ps. 119:165). Right thinking is the result of daily meditation on the Word of God.

Right Living (4:9)

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We cannot separate outward action and inward attitude. Sin always results in unrest (unless the conscience is seared) and purity ought to result in peace. “And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.” (Isa. 32:17). “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable” (Jas. 3:17). Right living is a necessary condition for experiencing the peace of God.

Paul balances four activities: “learned and received” and “heard and seen.” It is one thing to learn a truth, but quite another to receive it inwardly and make it a part of our inner man (1 Thes. 2:13). Facts in the head are not enough; we must also have truths in the heart. In Paul’s ministry, he not only taught the Word, but also lived it so that his listeners could see the truth in his life. Paul’s experience ought to be our experience. We must learn the Word, receive it, hear it, and do it. “But prove yourselves doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (Jas. 1:22).

“The peace of God” is one test of whether or not we are in the will of God. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and be thankful” (Col. 3:15). If we are walking with the Lord, then the peace of God and the God of peace exercise their influence over our hearts. Whenever we disobey, we lose that peace and we know we have done something wrong. God’s peace is the “umpire” that calls us “out”!

Right praying, right thinking, and right living: these are the conditions for having the secure mind and victory over worry. Just as Philippians 4 is the “peace chapter” of the New Testament, James 4 is the “war chapter.” It begins with a question: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” James explains the cause: wrong praying (“You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures,” v. 3), wrong thinking (“purify your hearts, you double-minded,” v. 8), and wrong living (“friendship with the world is enmity with God,” v. 4). There is no middle ground. Either we yield heart and mind to the Spirit of God and practice right praying, thinking, and living; or we yield to the flesh and find ourselves torn apart by worry.

There is no need to worry! Worry is a sin! (Have you read Matt. 6:24–34 lately?) With the peace of God to guard us and the God of peace to guide us—why worry?

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You Don’t Have to Worry: Part 1 (Philippians 4:1–9)

Phil 4.6If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the Apostle Paul. His beloved Christian friends at Philippi were disagreeing with one another and he was not there to help them. We have no idea what Euodia and Syntyche were disputing about, but whatever it was, it was bringing division into the church. Along with the potential division at Philippi, Paul had to face division among the believers at Rome (Phil. 1:14–17). Added to these burdens was the possibility of his own death! Yes, Paul had a good excuse to worry—but he did not! Instead, he took time to explain to us the secret of victory over worry.

What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” in 4:6 means “to be pulled in different directions.” Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are pulled apart! The Old English root from which we get our word “worry” means “to strangle.” If you have ever really worried, you know how it does strangle a person! In fact, worry has definite physical consequences: headaches, neck pains, ulcers, even back pains. Worry affects our thinking, our digestion, and even our coordination.

From the spiritual point of view, worry is wrong thinking (the mind) and wrong feeling (the heart) about circumstances, people, and things. Worry is the greatest thief of joy. It is not enough for us, however, to tell ourselves to “quit worrying” because that will never capture the thief. Worry is an “inside job” and it takes more than good intentions to get the victory. The antidote to worry is the secure mind. When we have the secure mind, the peace of God guards us (4:7) and the God of peace guides us (4:9). With that kind of protection—why worry? If we are to conquer worry and experience the secure mind, we must meet the conditions God has laid down.

Right Praying (4:6–7)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul does not write, “Pray about it!” He is too wise to do that. He uses three different words to describe “right praying”: prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving. “Right praying” involves all three. The word prayer is the general word for making requests known to the Lord. It carries the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Whenever we find ourselves worrying, our first action ought to be to get alone with God and worship Him. Adoration is what is needed. We must see the greatness and majesty of God! We must realize He is big enough to solve our problems. Too often, we rush into His presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and in deepest reverence. The first step in “right praying” is adoration.

The second is supplication, an earnest sharing of our needs and problems. There is no place for halfhearted, insincere prayer! We know we are not heard for our “meaningless repetition” (Matt. 6:7–8), but we still realize our Father wants us to be earnest in our asking (Matt. 7:1–11). This is the way Jesus prayed in the Garden (Heb. 5:7) and while His closest disciples were sleeping, He was sweating great drops of blood! Supplication is not a matter of carnal energy, but of spiritual intensity (Rom. 15:30; Col. 4:12).

After adoration and supplication comes appreciation, giving thanks to God (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:15–17). Certainly the Father enjoys hearing His children say, “Thank You!” When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one of the ten returned to give thanks (Lk. 17:11–19), and we wonder if the percentage is any higher today. We are eager to ask, but slow to appreciate!

We must note “right praying” is not something every Christian can do immediately because “right praying” depends on the right kind of mind. This is why Paul’s formula for peace is found at the end of Philippians and not at the beginning. If we have the single mind of Philippians 1 then we can give adoration. (How can a double-minded person ever praise God?) If we have the submissive mind of Philippians 2, we can come with supplication. (Would a person with a proud mind ask God for something?) If we have the spiritual mind of Philippians 3, we can show our appreciation. (A worldly minded person would not know God had given him anything to appreciate!) In other words, we must practice Philippians 1, 2, and 3 if we are going to experience the secure mind of Philippians 4.

Paul counsels us to take “everything to God in prayer.” “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything!” is his admonition (4:6). We are prone to pray about the “big things” in life and forget to pray about the so-called “little things”—until they grow and become big things! Talking to God about everything that concerns us and Him is the first step toward victory over worry.

The result is the “peace of God” guards the heart and mind. Just as Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, guarded day and night, in like manner, “the peace of God” stands guard over the two areas that create worry—the heart (wrong feeling) and the mind (wrong thinking). When we give our hearts to Christ in salvation, we experience “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1); but the “peace of God” takes us a step farther into His blessings. This does not mean the absence of trials on the outside, but it does mean a quiet confidence within, regardless of circumstances, people, or things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects were to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before (Dan. 6:1–10). Notice how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks before his God” (v. 10) and he made supplication (Dan. 6:11). Prayer—supplication—thanksgiving! And the result was perfect peace in the midst of difficulty! Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep (Dan. 6:18).

In Part 2, we will look at two more conditions God has laid down to conquer worry and experience the secure mind.

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Living in the Future Tense (Philippians 3:17–21)

Citizens of Heaven_T_NVHaving set forth his life ambition to be more Christ-like, Paul does not hesitate to tell the Philippians to follow his example. He wants them to imitate him. Surely, he does not mean they should imitate every single area of his life, for he had just stated he is not sinlessly perfect. But in the matter of relentlessly pursuing after Christ-likeness, he does call on his readers to follow his own example.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

How strange in a letter filled with joy to find Paul weeping! Is he weeping over himself and his difficult situation? No, he is a man with a single mind and his circumstances do not discourage him. Is he weeping because of what some of the Roman Christians are doing to him? No, he has the submissive mind and will not permit people to rob him of his joy. These tears are not for himself at all; they are shed because of others. Because Paul has the spiritual mind, he is heartbroken over the way some professed Christians are living, people who “mind earthly things.”

Certainly, Paul is writing about professed Christians and not people outside the church. The Judaizers were the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” They were adding the Law of Moses to the work of redemption Christ had completed on the cross. Their obedience to the Old Testament laws (Col. 2:20–23) and their emphasis on circumcision amounted to glorying in the flesh, and for this they should have been ashamed (Gal. 6:12–15). These men were not spiritually minded; they were earthly minded. They were holding on to earthly rituals and beliefs, and were opposing the heavenly blessings the Christian has in Christ (Eph. 1:3; 2:6; Col. 3:1–3).

The word “spiritual” has suffered as much abuse as the word “fellowship.” Too many people think a “spiritual Christian” is mystical, dreamy, impractical, and distant. When he prays, he shifts his voice into a sepulchral tone and goes to great lengths to inform God of the things He already knows. This kind of insincere piety is a poor example of true spirituality. To be spiritually minded does not require one to be impractical and mystical. Quite the contrary, the spiritual mind makes the believer think more clearly and get things done more efficiently.

To be “spiritually minded” simply means to look at earth from heaven’s point of view: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Col. 3:2). D.L. Moody used to scold Christians for being “so heavenly minded they were no earthly good” and that exhortation still needs to be heeded. Christians have a dual citizenship—on earth and in heaven—and our citizenship in heaven ought to make us better people here on earth. The spiritually minded believer is not attracted by the “things” of this world. He makes his decisions on the basis of eternal values and not the passing fads of society. Lot chose the well-watered plain of Jordan because his values were worldly and ultimately he lost everything. Moses refused the pleasures and treasures of Egypt because he had something infinitely more wonderful to live for (Heb. 11:24–26). “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk. 8:36)

“Our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). The Greek word translated “citizenship” is the word from which we get our English word “politics.” It has to do with one’s behavior as a citizen of a nation. Just as Philippi was a colony of Rome on foreign soil, so the church is a “colony of heaven” on earth. Paul is encouraging us to have the spiritual mind and he does this by pointing out five characteristics of the Christian whose citizenship is in heaven.

His Name is on Heaven’s Record

Citizenship is important. When you travel to another country, it is essential you have a passport that proves your citizenship. When a lost sinner trusts Christ and becomes a citizen of heaven, his name is written in “the Book of Life” (Phil. 4:3), and this is what determines his final entrance into the heavenly country (Rev. 20:15).

When you confess Christ on earth, He confesses your name in heaven (Matt. 10:32–33). You will enter glory on His merits and intercession alone. Your name is written down in heaven (Lk. 10:20) and it stands written forever.

He Speaks Heaven’s Language

Those who “mind earthly things” talk about earthly things. What comes out of the mouth reveals what is in the heart: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt. 12:34–37). The citizens of heaven understand spiritual things and enjoy discussing them and sharing them with one another.

On the contrary, the unsaved person does not understand the things of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14–16), so how can he talk about them intelligently? “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:5-6).

Speaking heaven’s language not only involves what we say, but the way we say it. The spiritually minded Christian does not go around quoting Bible verses all day! He is careful to speak in a manner that glorifies God: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6). No believer ought to ever say, “Now, take this with a grain of salt!” Put the salt into your speech! Salt prevents corruption. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).

He Obeys Heaven’s Laws

The citizens of Philippi were governed by Roman law, not Greek law, even though they were located hundreds of miles away from Rome. In fact, it was this policy that put Paul into jail when he first visited Philippi (Acts 16:16–24). Paul himself used his Roman citizenship to guarantee his protection under Roman law (Acts 16:35–40; 21:33–40; 22:24–30).

Paul warns the Philippian believers against imitating the wrong kind of citizens: “Join together in following my example” (3:17). Paul was a follower of Christ, so his admonition is not egotistical! (1 Cor. 11:1) Paul knew himself to be an “alien” in this world, a “pilgrim and a stranger” (1 Pet. 2:11). His life was governed by heaven’s laws and this is what made him different. He was concerned about others, not himself. He was interested in giving, not getting. His motive was love (2 Cor. 5:14), not hatred. By faith, Paul obeyed the Word of God, knowing one day he would be rewarded. Men would oppose him and persecute him now, but in that final day of reckoning, he would be the winner (Let’s Win the Race).

Sad to say, there are those today, like the Judaizers in Paul’s day, who profess to be citizens of heaven, but whose lives do not show it. They may be zealous in their religious activities and even rigorous in their disciplines, but there is no evidence of the control of the Holy Spirit in their lives. All they do is energized by the flesh and they get all the glory. It is bad enough they are going astray, but they also lead other people astray. No wonder Paul wept over them!

He Is Loyal to Heaven’s Cause

The Cross of Jesus Christ is the theme of the Bible, the heart of the Gospel, and the chief source of praise in heaven (Rev. 5:8–10). The Cross is the proof of God’s love for sinners (Rom. 5:8) and hatred for sin. The Cross condemns what the world values. It judges mankind and pronounces the true verdict: Guilty!

In what sense were the Judaizers the “enemies of the Cross of Christ” (3:18)? For one thing, the Cross ended the Old Testament religion. When the veil of the temple was torn in two, God was announcing the way to Him was open through Christ (Heb. 10:19–25). When Jesus shouted, “It is finished!” He made the atoning sacrifice for our sins and ended the whole sacrificial system (Heb. 10:1–14). By His death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished a “spiritual circumcision” that made ritual circumcision unnecessary (Col. 2:10–13). Everything the Judaizers advocated had been eliminated by the death of Christ on the cross!

Furthermore, everything they lived for was condemned by the Cross. Jesus had broken down the wall that stood between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14–16), but they were rebuilding that wall! They were obeying “carnal ordinances” (Heb. 9:10), regulations that appealed to the flesh and were not directed by the Spirit. They were minding “earthly things.” But the true believer crucifies the flesh (Gal. 5:24). He also crucifies the world (Gal. 6:14). It is the Cross that is central in the life of the believer. He does not glory in men, religion, or his own achievements; he glories in the Cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).

Paul weeps because he knows the future of these men: “whose end is destruction” (3:19). The word destruction carries with it the idea of waste and lostness. (It is translated “waste” in Mk. 14:4.) Judas is called “the son of perdition [destruction]” (Jn. 17:12). In contrast, the true child of God, whose citizenship is in heaven, has a bright future.

He is Looking for Heaven’s Lord

The Judaizers were living in the past tense, trying to get the Philippian believers to go back to Moses and the Law; but true Christians live in the future tense, anticipating the return of their Savior. As the accountant in Philippians 3:1–11, Paul discovered new values (Learning How to Count). As the athlete in Philippians 3:12–16, he displayed new vigor (Let’s Win the Race). Now, as the alien in 3:17-21, he experiences a new vision: “We look for the Savior!” It is this anticipation of the coming of Christ that motivates the believer with the spiritual mind.

There is tremendous energy in the present power of a future hope. Because Abraham looked for a city, he was content to live in a tent (Heb. 11:13–16). Because Moses looked for the rewards of heaven, he was willing to forsake the treasures of earth (Heb. 11:24–26). Because of the “joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), Jesus was willing to endure the cross. The fact that Jesus Christ is returning is a powerful motive for dedicated living and devoted service today. “All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 2:28–3:3).

The citizen of heaven, living on earth, is never discouraged because he knows his Lord is one day going to return. He faithfully keeps on doing his job lest his Lord returns and finds him disobedient (Lk. 12:40–48). The spiritually minded believer does not live for the things of this world; he anticipates the blessings of the world to come. This does not mean he ignores or neglects his daily obligations; but it does mean what he does today is governed by what Christ will do in the future.

Paul also mentions the believer will receive a glorified body, like the body of Christ. Today, we live in a “body of humiliation” (translated “vile” or “lowly” in 3:21); but when we see Christ, we will receive a body of glory. It will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! (1 Cor. 15:42–53) At that moment, all the things of this world will be worthless to us—just as they ought to be, relatively, today! If we are living in the future tense, then we will be exercising the spiritual mind and living for the things that really matter.

Isn’t that our problem today? We do not arrange “things” in their proper order. Our values are twisted. Consequently, our vigor is wasted on useless activities and our vision is clouded, so that the return of Christ is not a real motivating power in our lives. Living in the future tense means letting Christ arrange the “things” in life according to the proper rank. It means living “with eternity’s values in view,” and daring to believe God’s promise that “whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17).

When Jesus returns, He will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (3:21). All Christians will receive glorified bodies like His. No more will they have the limitations they now experience in their “lowly” bodies, which are humbled by disease and sin. Their resurrected bodies will be like Christ’s and their sanctification will be completed. What a marvelous day that will be for those who know Christ!

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Let’s Win the Race: Part 2 (Philippians 3:12-16)

Phil 3.14All of us want to be “winning Christians” and fulfill the purposes for which we have been saved. In this passage, we find there are five essentials for winning the race and one day receiving the reward that is promised. In Part 1, we saw the first two essentials. Now, we will look at the last three.

Direction (3:13c)

Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead.

The unsaved person is controlled by the past, but the Christian running the race looks toward the future. Imagine what would happen on the race course if the charioteers (or runners) started looking behind them! It is bad enough for a plowman to look back (Lk. 9:62), but for a charioteer to do so means a possible collision and serious injury.

We are accustomed to saying “past, present, future,” but we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. The believer should be future-oriented, “forgetting what lies behind.” Keep in mind that in Bible terminology, “to forget” does not mean “to fail to remember.” Apart from senility, hypnosis, or a brain malfunction, no mature person can forget what has happened in the past. We may wish that we could erase certain bad memories, but we cannot. “To forget” in the Bible means “to no longer be influenced or affected by.” When God promises, “Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Heb. 10:17), He is not suggesting He will conveniently have a bad memory! This is impossible with God. What God is saying is, “I will no longer hold their sins against them. Their sins can no longer affect their standing with Me or influence My attitude toward them.”

“Forgetting what lies behind” does not suggest an impossible feat of mental and psychological gymnastics by which we try to erase the sins and mistakes of the past (Consequences). It simply means we break the power of the past by living for the future. We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past. There were things in Paul’s past that could have been weights to hold him back (1 Tim. 1:12–17), but they became inspirations to speed him ahead. The events did not change, but his understanding of them changed.

A good example of this principle is Joseph (Gen. 45:1–15). When he met his brothers the second time and revealed himself to them, he held no grudge against them. They had mistreated him, but he saw the past from God’s point of view. As a result, he was unable to hold anything against his brothers. Joseph knew God had a plan for his life—a race for him to run—and in fulfilling that plan and looking ahead, he broke the power of the past.

Too many Christians are shackled by regrets of the past. They are trying to run the race by looking backward! No wonder they stumble and fall and get in the way of other Christians! Some Christian runners are being distracted by the successes of the past, not the failures; and this is just as bad. “The things which are behind” must be set aside and “the things which are before” must take their place.

Determination (3:14)

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

“I press!” carries the idea of intense endeavor. The Greeks used it to describe a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. A man does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures, watching movies, reading books, or cheering at the games. He becomes a winning athlete by getting into the game and determining to win! The same zeal Paul employed when he persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6), he displayed in serving Christ. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians put as much determination into their spiritual life as they do their golfing, fishing, or watching TV?

There are two extremes to avoid here: (1) “I must do it all” and (2) “God must do it all!” The first describes the activist, the second the quietist, and both are heading for failure. “Let go and let God!” is a clever slogan, but it does not fully describe the process of Christian living. What quarterback would say to his team, “OK, men, just let go and let the coach do it all!” On the other hand, no quarterback would say, “Listen to me and forget what the coach says!” Both extremes are wrong.

The Christian runner with the spiritual mind realizes God must work in him if he is going to win the race (Phil. 2:12–13). “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). God works in us, so He might work through us. As we apply ourselves to the things of the spiritual life, God is able to mature and strengthen us for the race. “Train yourself to be godly!” (1 Tim. 4:7–8) Some Christians are so busy “dying to self” that they never come back to life again to run the race! Others are so sure they can make it on their own that they never stop to read the Word, pray, or ask for the power of the Lord.

Toward what goal is the runner pressing with such spiritual determination? “The prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). When he reaches the goal he will receive the reward! Again, Paul is not suggesting we attain heaven by our own efforts. He is simply saying just as the athlete is rewarded for his performance, so the faithful believer will be crowned when Jesus Christ returns. (See 1 Cor. 9:24–27 for a parallel.) The important thing is that we reach the goal He has established for us. No matter how successful we may be in the eyes of men, we cannot be rewarded unless we “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of [us]” (Phil. 3:12).

Discipline (3:15–16)

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

It is not enough to run hard and win the race; the runner must also obey the rules. In the Greek games, the judges were very strict about this. Any infringement of the rules disqualified the athlete. He did not lose his citizenship (though he disgraced it), but he did lose his privilege to participate and win a prize. In these verses, Paul emphasizes the importance of the Christian remembering the “spiritual rules” laid down in the Word. No doubt the greatest need among God’s people is to live up to what they already have in Christ. Most live far below their exalted position in Christ. Paul’s plea to the Philippians was that they “live up to what they had already attained,” namely a righteous position in Christ.

One of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the United States was Jim Thorpe. At the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm, he won the pentathlon and the decathlon, and was undoubtedly the hero of the games. But the next year officials found that Thorpe had played semiprofessional baseball and therefore had forfeited his amateur standing. This meant he had to return his gold medals and his trophy, and his Olympic achievements were erased from the records. It was a high price to pay for breaking the rules. (Thorpe’s medals were reinstated in 1985 by the Olympic Committee.)

This is what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27. Any man who enters an athletic contest practices rigid self-control in training. If the athlete breaks training, he is disqualified; if he breaks the rules of the game, he is disqualified. “No athlete in the games is crowned, unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). The issue is not what he thinks or what the spectators think, but what the judges say. One day, each Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10–12). The Greek word for “judgment seat” is bema, the very same word used to describe the place where the Olympic judges gave out the prizes! If we have disciplined ourselves to obey the rules, we will receive a prize.

Bible history is filled with people who began the race with great success, but failed at the end because they disregarded God’s rules. They did not lose their salvation, but they did lose their rewards (1 Cor. 3:15). It happened to Lot (Gen. 19), Samson (Jud. 16), Saul (1 Sam. 28; 31), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).

And it can happen to us! It is an exciting experience to run the race daily, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1–2). It will be even more exciting when we experience that “upward calling” and Jesus returns to take us to heaven! Then, we will stand before the bema to receive our rewards! It is this future prospect that motivated Paul, and it can also motivate us.

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Let’s Win the Race: Part 1 (Philippians 3:12-16)

phil 3.13-14 (2)Most people read biographies to satisfy their curiosity about great people, hoping they will discover the “secret” that made them great. In Philippians 3, Paul is giving us his spiritual biography: his past (vv. 1–11), his present (vv. 12–16), and his future (vv. 17–21). We have already met Paul “the accountant” who discovered new values when he met Jesus Christ (Learning How to Count). In this section, we meet Paul “the athlete” with his spiritual vigor, pressing toward the finish line in the Christian race. In each of these experiences, Paul is exercising the spiritual mind; he is looking at things on earth from God’s point of view. As a result, he is not upset by things behind him, around him, or before him—things do not rob him of his joy!

The Greek verb “straining toward” in 3:13 literally means “stretching as in a race.” Theologians are not agreed as to the exact sport Paul is describing, whether the footrace or the chariot race. Either one will do, but my own preference is the chariot race. The Greek chariot, used in the Olympic Games and other events, was really a small platform with a wheel on each side. The driver had very little to hold on to as he raced around the course. He had to lean forward and strain every nerve and muscle to maintain balance and control the horses.

As children of God, we have the responsibility of “running the race” and achieving the goals God has set for us: “Work out your salvation … for it is God who works in you” (The Ins and Outs of Christian Living, Phil. 2:12–13). Each believer is on the track, each has a special lane in which to run, and each has a goal to achieve. If we reach the goal the way God has planned, then we receive a reward. If we fail, we lose the reward, but we do not lose our citizenship in heaven. (Read 1 Cor. 3:11–15 for the same idea, only using architecture as the symbol.)

All of us want to be “winning Christians” and fulfill the purposes for which we have been saved. In this passage, there are five essentials for winning the race and one day receiving the reward that is promised.

Dissatisfaction (3:12–13a)

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

“Not that I have already obtained!” This is the statement of a great Christian who never permitted himself to be satisfied with his spiritual attainments. Obviously, Paul was satisfied with Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:10), but he was not satisfied with his Christian life. A sanctified dissatisfaction is the first essential to progress in the Christian race.

Harry came out of the manager’s office with a look on his face dismal enough to wilt the roses on the secretary’s desk.

“You didn’t get fired, did you?” she asked.

“No, it’s not that bad. But he sure did lay into me about my sales record. I can’t figure it out; for the past month, I’ve been bringing in plenty of orders. I thought he’d compliment me, but instead he told me to get with it.”

Later in the day, the secretary talked to her boss about Harry. The boss chuckled. “Harry is one of our best salesmen and I’d hate to lose him. But he has a tendency to rest on his laurels and be satisfied with his performance. If I didn’t get him mad at me once a month, he’d never produce!”

Many Christians are self-satisfied because they compare their “running” with that of other Christians, usually those who are not making much progress. Had Paul compared himself with others, he would have been tempted to be proud and perhaps to let up a bit. After all, there were not too many believers in Paul’s day who had experienced all that he had! But Paul did not compare himself with others; he compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ! The dual use of the word “perfect” in 3:12 and 3:15 explains Paul’s thinking. He has not arrived yet at perfection (3:12), but he is “perfect” [mature] (3:15), and one mark of this maturity is the knowledge that he is not perfect! The mature Christian honestly evaluates himself and strives to do better.

Often, in the Bible, we are warned against a false estimate of our spiritual condition. The church at Sardis had “a name of being alive, but was dead” (Rev. 3:1). They had reputation without reality. The church at Laodicea boasted that it was rich, when in God’s sight it was “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). In contrast to the Laodicean church, the believers at Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich! (Rev. 2:9) Samson thought he still had his old power, but in reality it had departed from him (Jud. 16:20).

Self-evaluation can be a dangerous thing because we can err in two directions: (1) making ourselves better than we really are, or (2) making ourselves worse than we really are. Paul had no illusions about himself; he still had to keep “pressing forward” in order to “lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold” of him. A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress.

Devotion (3:13b)

But one thing I do:

“One thing” is a phrase that is important to the Christian life. “One thing you lack,” said Jesus to the self-righteous rich young ruler (Mk. 10:21). “One thing is needed,” He explained to busy Martha when she criticized her sister (Lk. 10:42). “One thing I know!” exclaimed the man who had received his sight by the power of Christ (Jn. 9:25). “One thing I ask from the Lord” testified the psalmist (Ps. 27:4). Too many Christians are involved in too “many things,” when the secret of progress is to concentrate on “one thing.” It was this decision that was a turning point in D.L. Moody’s life. Before the tragedy of the Chicago fire in 1871, Moody was involved in Sunday School promotion, Y.M.C.A. work, evangelistic meetings, and many other activities; but after the fire, he determined to devote himself exclusively to evangelism. “This one thing I do!” became a reality to him. As a result, millions of people heard the Gospel.

The believer must devote himself to “running the Christian race.” No athlete succeeds by doing everything; he succeeds by specializing. There are those few athletes who seem proficient in many sports, but they are the exception. The winners are those who concentrate, who keep their eyes on the goal, and let nothing distract them. They are devoted entirely to their calling. Like Nehemiah the wall-building governor, they reply to the distracting invitations, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down!” (Neh. 6:3) “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). Concentration is the secret of power. If a river is allowed to overflow its banks, the area around it becomes a swamp. But if that river is dammed and controlled, it becomes a source of power. It is wholly a matter of values and priorities, living for that which matters most.

In Part 2, we will look at three more essentials for winning the race and receiving the reward that is promised.

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Learning How to Count: Part 2 (Philippians 3:1-11)

Philippians 3.10In Part 1, we saw the “things” Paul was living for before he knew Christ neither satisfied him nor gave him acceptance with God. He had to lose his “religion” to find salvation. He explains in this section there are only two kinds of righteousness—works righteousness and faith righteousness—and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God. Let’s take a closer look.

Faith Righteousness (Phil. 3:7–11)

When Paul met Jesus Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9), he trusted Him and became a child of God. It was an instantaneous miracle of the grace of God, the kind that still takes place today whenever sinners will admit their need and turn to the Savior by faith. When Paul met Christ, he realized how futile his good works were and how sinful his claims of righteousness were. A wonderful transaction took place. Paul lost some things, but he gained much more than he lost!

1. Paul’s losses (v. 7)

But whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

He lost whatever was gain to him personally apart from God. Certainly, Paul had a great reputation as a scholar (Acts 26:24) and a religious leader. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and his religious achievements. All of these things were valuable to him; he could profit from them. He certainly had many friends who admired his zeal. But he measured these treasures against what Jesus Christ had to offer, and he realized all he held dear was really nothing but “rubbish” compared to what he had in Christ. His own earthly treasures brought glory to him personally, but they did not bring glory to God. They were gain to him only, and as such, were selfish.

This does not mean Paul discredited his rich heritage as an orthodox Jew. As you read his letters and follow his ministry in the Book of Acts, you see how he valued both his Jewish blood and his Roman citizenship. Becoming a Christian did not make him less a Jew. In fact, it made him a completed Jew, a true child of Abraham both spiritually and physically (Gal. 3:6–9). Nor did he lower his standards of morality because he saw the shallowness of pharisaical religion. He accepted the higher standard of living—conformity to Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:1–2). When a person becomes a Christian, God takes away the bad, but He also takes the good and makes it better.

2. Paul’s gains (vv. 8–11)

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Again, we are reminded of Jim Elliot’s words: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is what Paul experienced: he lost his religion and his reputation, but gained far more than he lost.

The knowledge of Christ (v. 8). This means much more than knowledge about Christ because Paul had that kind of historical information before he was saved. To “know Christ” means to have a personal relationship with Him through faith. It is this experience that Jesus mentions in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” You and I know about many people, even people who lived centuries ago, but we know personally very few. “Christianity is Christ.” Salvation is knowing Him in a personal way.

The righteousness of Christ (v. 9). Righteousness was the great goal of Paul’s life when he was a Pharisee, but it was a self-righteousness, a works righteousness, that he never really could attain. But when Paul trusted Christ, he lost his own self-righteousness and gained the righteousness of Christ. The technical word for this transaction is imputation (Rom. 4:1–8). It means “to put to one’s account.” Paul looked at his own record and discovered he was spiritually bankrupt. He looked at Christ’s record and saw He was perfect. When Paul trusted Christ, he saw God put Christ’s righteousness to his own account! More than that, Paul discovered his sins had been put on Christ’s account on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). God promised Paul that He would never write his sins against him anymore. What a fantastic experience of God’s grace!

Romans 9:30–10:13 is a parallel passage and we ought to read it carefully. What Paul says about the nation Israel was true in his own life before he was saved. It is true in the lives of many religious people today too; they refuse to abandon their own righteousness, so they might receive the free gift of the righteousness of Christ. Many religious people will not even admit they need any righteousness. Like Saul of Tarsus, they are measuring themselves by themselves, or by the standards of the Ten Commandments, and they fail to see the inwardness of sin. Paul had to give up his religion to receive righteousness, but he did not consider it a sacrifice.

The fellowship of Christ (vv. 10–11). When he became a Christian, it was not the end for Paul, but the beginning. His experience with Christ was so tremendous that it transformed his life and this experience continued in the years to follow. It was a personal experience as Paul walked with Christ, prayed, obeyed His will, and sought to glorify His name. When he was living under the Law, all Paul had was a set of rules. But now he had a Friend, a Master, a constant Companion! It was also a powerful experience as the resurrection power of Christ went to work in Paul’s life. “Christ lives in me!” (Gal. 2:20). Read Ephesians 1:15–23 and 3:13–21 for Paul’s estimate of the resurrection power of Christ and what it can do in your life today.

It was also a painful experience (“the fellowship of His sufferings”). Paul knew it was a privilege to suffer for Christ (Phil. 1:29–30). In fact, suffering had been a part of his experience from the very beginning (Acts 9:16). As we grow in our knowledge of Christ and our experience of His power, we come under the attack of the enemy. Paul had been a persecutor at one time, but he learned what it means to be persecuted. And it was worth it! For walking with Christ was also a practical experience (“becoming like Him in his death”). Paul lived for Christ because he died to self (Rom. 6); he took up his cross daily and followed Him. The result of this death was a spiritual resurrection (3:11) that caused Paul to walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Paul summarizes this whole experience in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Yes, Paul gained far more than he lost. In fact, the gains were so thrilling that Paul considered all other “things” nothing but rubbish in comparison! No wonder he had joy—his life did not depend on the cheap “things” of the world, but on the eternal values found in Christ. Paul had the “spiritual mind” and looked at the “things” of earth from heaven’s point of view. People who live for “things” are never really happy because they must constantly protect their treasures and worry lest they lose their value. Not so with the believer who has the spiritual mind; his treasures in Christ can never be stolen and they never lose their value.

Maybe now is a good time for you to become an accountant and evaluate in your life the “things” that matter most to you.

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Learning How to Count: Part 1 (Philippians 3:1-11)

philippians 3.7Circumstances and people can rob us of joy, but so can things; and it is this “thief” that Paul deals with in Philippians 3. It is easy for us to get wrapped up in “things,” not only the tangible things we can see, but also the intangibles; such as, reputation, fame, and achievement. Jesus warns us that our lives do not consist in the abundance of things we possess (Lk. 12:15). Quantity is no assurance of quality. Many people who have the things money can buy have lost the things money cannot buy. We can be snared by both tangibles and intangibles, and as a result lose our joy.

The key word in Philippians 3:1–11 is count (vv. 7–8). It means to evaluate and assess. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. Yet, few people sit down to weigh seriously the values that control their decisions and directions. Many people are slaves of “things” and as a result do not experience real Christian joy.

In Paul’s case, the “things” he was living for before he knew Christ seemed to be very commendable: a righteous life, obedience to the Law, and the defense of the religion of his fathers. But none of these things satisfied him or gave him acceptance with God.

Like most “religious” people today, Paul had enough morality to keep him out of trouble, but not enough righteousness to get him into heaven! It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his “religion” to find salvation.

One day, Saul of Tarsus, the rabbi, met Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and on that day Saul’s values changed (Acts 9:1–31). When Saul (now Paul) opened his books to evaluate his wealth, he discovered that apart from Jesus Christ, everything he lived for was rubbish. He explains in this section there are only two kinds of righteousness (or spiritual wealth)—works righteousness and faith righteousness—and only faith righteousness is acceptable to God.

Works Righteousness (Phil. 3:1–6)

1. The exhortation (vv. 1–3)

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things ‘again’ is no trouble to me and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the ‘true’ circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.

Paul has warned the believers at Philippi before, but now he warns them again. To whom is he referring in this warning? Paul is referring to a group of false teachers called “Judaizers”. He uses three terms to describe them.

Dogs. The orthodox Jew would call the Gentile a “dog,” but here Paul calls orthodox Jews “dogs”! These Judaizers snapped at Paul’s heels and followed him from place to place “barking” their false doctrines. They were troublemakers and carriers of dangerous infection.

Evil workers. These men taught the sinner was saved by faith plus good works, especially the works of the Law. But Ephesians 2:8–10 and Titus 3:3–7 make it clear that nobody can be saved by doing good works, even religious works. A Christian’s good works are the result of his faith, not the basis for his salvation.

The false circumcision. The Judaizers taught circumcision was essential to salvation (Acts 15:1; Gal. 6:12–18), but Paul states circumcision of itself is only a mutilation! The true Christian has experienced a spiritual circumcision in Christ (Col. 2:11) and does not need any fleshly operations. Circumcision, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, tithing, or any other religious practice cannot save a person from his sins. Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.

In contrast to these false Christians, Paul describes true Christians, the “true circumcision” (see Rom. 2:25–29 for a parallel).

He worships God in the Spirit. He does not depend on his own good works which are only of the flesh (Jn. 4:19–24).

He glories (boasts) in Jesus Christ. People who depend on religion are usually boasting about what they have done. The true Christian has nothing of which to boast (Eph. 2:8–10). His boast is only in Christ! In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus gives a parable that describes these two opposite attitudes.

He has no confidence in the flesh. The popular religious philosophy of today is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” It was also popular in Paul’s day, but it is just as wrong today as it was then. By “the flesh,” Paul means “the old nature” that we received at birth. The Bible has nothing good to say about “flesh,” and yet most people depend entirely on what they themselves can do to please God. Flesh only corrupts God’s way on earth (Gen. 6:12). It profits nothing as far as spiritual life is concerned (Jn. 6:63). It has nothing good in it (Rom. 7:18). No wonder we should put no confidence in the flesh!

A lady was arguing with her pastor about this matter of faith and works. “I think that getting to heaven is like rowing a boat,” she said. “One oar is faith and the other is works. If you use both, you get there. If you use only one, you go around in circles.”

‘’There is only one thing wrong with your illustration,” replied the pastor. “Nobody is going to heaven in a rowboat!”

There is only one “good work” that takes the sinner to heaven: the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Jn. 17:1–4; 19:30; Heb. 10:11–14).

2. The example (vv. 4–6)

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, blameless.

Paul was not speaking from an ivory tower; he personally knew the futility of trying to attain salvation by means of good works. As a young student, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the great rabbi (Acts 22:3). His career as a Jewish religious leader was a promising one (Gal. 1:13–14) and yet Paul gave it all up—to become a hated member of the “Christian sect” and a preacher of the Gospel! Actually, the Judaizers were compromising in order to avoid persecution (Gal. 6:12–13), while Paul was being true to Christ’s message of grace and as a result was suffering persecution. In this intensely autobiographical section, Paul examines his own life. He becomes an “auditor” who opens the books to see what wealth he has and he discovers that he is bankrupt!

At this point we might ask: “How could a sincere man like Saul of Tarsus (Paul) be so wrong?” The answer is: he was using the wrong measuring stick! Like the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:17–22) and the Pharisee in Christ’s parable (Lk. 18:10–14), Saul of Tarsus was looking at the outside and not the inside. He was comparing himself with standards set by men, not by God. As far as obeying outwardly the demands of the Law, he was a success, but he did not stop to consider the inward sins he was committing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear there are sinful attitudes and appetites as well as sinful actions (Matt. 5:21–48).

When he looked at himself or looked at others, Saul of Tarsus considered himself to be righteous. But one day he saw himself as compared with Jesus Christ! It was then that he changed his evaluations and values, and abandoned “works righteousness” for the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Part 2, we will take a closer look at this “faith righteousness” in verses 7-11.

 

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Helpers in the Ministry (Philippians 2:19–30)

Phil 2.19-30As we continue our study in Philippians, Paul is still discussing the submissive mind. He gives us a description of the submissive mind in the example of Jesus Christ (The Great Example, Phil. 2:1–11). He explains the dynamics of the submissive mind in his own experience (The Ins and Outs of Christian Living, Phil. 2:12–18). Now, he introduces us to two of his helpers in the ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knows that his readers will be prone to say, “It is impossible for us to follow such examples as Christ and Paul! After all, Jesus is the very Son of God and Paul is a chosen apostle who has had great spiritual experiences!” For this reason, Paul introduces us to two “ordinary saints,” men who were not apostles or spectacular miracle workers. He wants us to know the submissive mind is not a luxury enjoyed by a chosen few; it is a necessity for Christian joy and an opportunity for all believers.

Timothy (2:19–24)

Paul probably met Timothy on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6), at which time, perhaps, the youth was converted (1 Cor. 4:17). Apparently, Timothy’s mother and grandmother had been converted first (2 Tim. 1:3–5). He was the son of a Jewish mother and Gentile father, but Paul always considered the young man his own “dearly beloved son” in the faith (2 Tim. 1:2). When Paul returned to Derbe and Lystra while on his second missionary journey, he enlisted young Timothy as one of his fellow laborers (Acts 16:1–4). In one sense, Timothy replaced John Mark, whom Paul had refused to take along on the journey because of Mark’s previous abandonment of the cause (Acts 13:13; 15:36–41).

In Timothy’s experience, we learn the submissive mind is not something that suddenly, automatically appears in the life of the believer. Timothy had to develop and cultivate the “mind of Christ.” It was not natural for him to be a servant; but, as he walked with the Lord and worked with Paul, he became the kind of servant that Paul could trust and God could bless. Notice the characteristics of this young man.

1. He had a servant’s mind (vv. 19–21)

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.

To begin with, Timothy naturally cared for people and was concerned about their needs. He was not interested in “winning friends and influencing people”; he was genuinely interested in their physical and spiritual welfare. Paul was concerned about the church at Philippi, and wanted to send someone to convey his concern and get the facts. There were certainly hundreds of Christians in Rome (Paul greets twenty-six of them by name in Rom. 16); yet not one of them was available to make the trip! “All seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (v. 21). In a very real sense, all of us live either in Philippians 1:21 or 2:21!

But Timothy had a natural concern for the welfare of others; he had a servant’s mind. It is too bad the believers in Rome were so engrossed in themselves and their own internal arguments (Phil. 1:15–16) that they had no time for the important work of the Lord. This is one of the tragedies of church problems; they divert time, energy, and concern away from the things that matter most. Timothy was not interested in promoting any party or supporting any divisive cause. He was interested only in the spiritual condition of God’s people and this concern was natural to him. How did this concern develop? The answer is in the next characteristic of this remarkable young man.

2. He had a servant’s training (v. 22)

But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.

Paul did not add Timothy to his “team” the very day the boy was saved. Paul was too wise to make an error like that. He left him behind to become a part of the church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra, and it was in that fellowship that Timothy grew in spiritual matters and learned how to serve the Lord. When Paul returned to the area a few years later, he was happy to discover that young Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren” (Acts 16:2). Years later, Paul would write to Timothy about the importance of permitting new converts to grow before thrusting them into important places of ministry (1 Tim. 3:6–7).

A popular local nightclub performer visited a pastor, and announced he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?” he asked.

“Well, I’d suggest you unite with a good church and start growing,” the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”

“No, she isn’t,” the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But, do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something for God right now.”

“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord,” explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”

“But you don’t know who I am!” the man protested. “I’m a big performer—everybody knows me. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”

“If you go too far too fast,” warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. The place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”

The man did not take the pastor’s counsel. Instead, he set up a big organization and started out on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant traveling alienated him from his wife and family. He drifted into a “fringe group” and disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.

“His branches went out farther than his roots went deep,” the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually topple.”

Paul did not make this mistake with Timothy. He gave him time to get his roots down and then he enlisted the young man to work with him on his missionary tours. He taught Timothy the Word and permitted him to watch the apostle in his ministry (2 Tim. 3:10–17). This was the way Jesus trained His disciples. He gave personal instruction balanced by on-the-job experience. Experience without teaching can lead to discouragement, and teaching without experience can lead to spiritual deadness. It takes both.

3. He had a servant’s reward (vv. 23–24)

Therefore, I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.

Timothy knew the meaning of “sacrifice and service” (Phil. 2:17), but God rewarded him for his faithfulness. To begin with, Timothy had the joy of helping others. To be sure, there were hardships and difficulties, but there were also victories and blessings. Because Timothy was a “good and faithful servant,” faithful over a few things, God rewarded him with “many things,” and he entered into the joy of the submissive mind (Matt. 25:21). He had the joy of serving with the great Apostle Paul and assisting him in some of his most difficult assignments (1 Cor. 4:17). Timothy is mentioned at least twenty-four times in Paul’s letters.

But perhaps the greatest reward God gave to Timothy was to choose him to be Paul’s replacement when the great apostle was called home (2 Tim. 4:1–11). Paul himself wanted to go to Philippi, but God sent Timothy in his place. What an honor! Timothy was not only Paul’s son, and Paul’s servant, but he became Paul’s substitute! His name is held in high regard by Christians today, something that young Timothy never dreamed of when he was busy serving Christ.

The submissive mind is not the product of an hour’s sermon, or a week’s seminar, or even a year’s service. The submissive mind grows in us as, like Timothy, we yield to the Lord and seek to serve others.

Epaphroditus (2:25–30)

Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”; Timothy was part Jew and part Gentile (Acts 16:1); and Epaphroditus was a full Gentile as far as we know. He was the member of the Philippian church who risked his health and life to carry their missionary offering to the apostle in Rome (Phil. 4:18). His name means “charming” and a charming Christian he is.

1. He was a balanced Christian (v. 25)

But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, companion in labor, and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.

Paul could not say enough about this man—“My brother, companion in labor, and fellow-soldier.” These three descriptions parallel what Paul wrote about the Gospel in the first chapter of this letter:

  • “My brother”                         —        “the fellowship in the Gospel” (Phil. 1:5)
  • “my companion in labor”   —        “the advance of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:12)
  • “my fellow soldier”              —        “the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:27)

Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian!

Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the advance of the Gospel. Others are so involved in defending the “faith of the Gospel” that they neglect building fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus did not fall into either of these traps. He was like Nehemiah, the man who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with his sword in one hand and his trowel in the other (Neh. 4:17). You cannot build with a sword or battle with a trowel! It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished.

There was a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship.” They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read—US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians.

2. He was a burdened Christian (vv. 26–27, 30)

He was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. He came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was concerned about others. To begin with, he was concerned about Paul. When he heard in Philippi that Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he volunteered to make that long, dangerous trip to Rome to stand at Paul’s side and assist him. He carried the church’s love gift with him, protecting it with his own life.

Our churches today need men and women who are burdened for missions and for those in difficult places of Christian service. “The problem in our churches,” states one missionary leader “is that we have too many spectators and not enough participants.” Epaphroditus was not content simply to contribute to the offering. He gave himself to help carry the offering!

But this man was also burdened for his own home church. After arriving in Rome, he became very ill. In fact, he almost died. This delayed his return to Philippi and the people there became concerned about him. But Epaphroditus was not burdened about himself; he was burdened over the people in Philippi because they were worried about him! This man lived in Philippians 1:21, not 2:21. Like Timothy, he had a natural concern for others. The word “distressed” in 2:26 is the same description used of Christ in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37). Like Christ, Epaphroditus knew the meaning of sacrifice and service (2:30), which are two of the marks of the submissive mind.

3. He was a blessed Christian (vv. 28–30)

Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

What a tragedy it would be to go through life and not be a blessing to anyone! Epaphroditus was a blessing to Paul. He stood with him in his prison experience and did not permit even his own sickness to hinder his service. What times he and Paul must have had together! But he was also a blessing to his own church. Paul admonishes the church to honor him because of his sacrifice and service. (Christ gets the glory, but there is nothing wrong with the servant receiving honor, 1 Thes. 5:12–13). There is no contradiction between Philippians 2:7 (“He emptied Himself”) and 2:29 (“hold men like him in high regard”). Christ “emptied Himself” in His gracious act of humiliation and God exalted Him. Epaphroditus sacrificed himself with no thought of reward and Paul encouraged the church to hold him in honor to the glory of God.

He was a blessing to Paul and to his own church, and he is also a blessing to us today! He proves to us that the joyful life is the life of sacrifice and service, that the submissive mind really does work. He and Timothy together encourage us to submit ourselves to the Lord, and to one another, in the Spirit of Christ. Christ is the Pattern we follow. Paul shows us the power (Phil. 4:12–19); and Timothy and Epaphroditus are the proof that this submissive mind really works.

Are you permitting the Spirit to reproduce “the mind of Christ” in you?

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The Ins and Outs of Christian Living (Philippians 2:12–18)

Working-Out-Your-Salvation“Few things are harder to put up with,” wrote Mark Twain, “than the annoyance of a good example.” Perhaps the thing most annoying about a good example is its inability to accomplish the same achievements in our own lives. Admiration for a great person can inspire us, but it cannot enable us. Unless the person can enter into our own lives and share his skills, we cannot attain to his heights of accomplishment. It takes more than an example on the outside; it takes power on the inside.

In our previous study of Philippians, Paul has just presented Jesus Christ as our Great Example in the exercise of the submissive mind. We read it and agree with it, but how do we go about practicing it? How could any mortal man ever hope to achieve what Jesus Christ achieved? It seems almost presumptuous to even try! Here we are, trying to develop humility, and we are exercising pride by daring to imitate the Lord Jesus Christ!

The problem is really not that difficult. Paul is not asking us to reach for the stars, but is setting before us the divine pattern for the submissive mind and the divine power to accomplish what God has commanded. “It is God who is at work in you” (2:13). It is not by imitation, but by incarnation—“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). The Christian life is not a series of ups and downs. Rather, it is a process of “ins and outs.” God works in us, and we work out. We cultivate the submissive mind by responding to the divine provisions God makes available to us.

There Is a Purpose to Achieve (2:12–16)Shine3

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for ‘His’ good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,  holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

“Work out your salvation” (2:12) does not suggest “work for your salvation.” To begin with, Paul is writing to people who are already “saints” (Phil. 1:1), which means they have trusted Christ and have been set apart for Him. The verb “work out” carries the meaning of “work to full completion,” such as working out a problem. In Paul’s day, it was also used for working a mine, that is, to get out of the mine all the valuable goods possible; or working a field to get the greatest harvest possible. The purpose God wants us to achieve is Christ-likeness, “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). There are problems in life, but God will help us to “work them out.” Our lives have tremendous potential, like a mine or a field, and He wants to help us fulfill that potential.

Cindy did not seem very happy when she arrived home from college to spend the holiday with her family. Her parents noticed her unusual behavior, but were wise enough to wait until she was ready to share her problem with them. It happened after dinner.

“Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you and I’m afraid it’s going to hurt you.”

“Just tell us what’s on your heart,” her father said, “and we’ll understand. We want to pray with you about it—whatever it is.”

“Well, you know that all during high school, I talked about becoming a nurse, mainly because Mom is a nurse and I guess you expected me to follow in her footsteps. But I can’t go on. The Lord doesn’t want me to be a nurse!”

Her mother smiled and took Cindy’s hand. “Your father and I want God’s will for your life. If you do anything else, we’ll all be unhappy!”

Cindy had done the courageous thing; she had faced God’s will and decided she wanted to work out her own salvation—her own Christian life—and not what somebody else wanted her to do. One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is the knowledge that God has a plan for our lives (Eph. 2:10) and will help us to work it out for His glory. Our God is a God of infinite variety! No two flowers are the same and no two snowflakes are the same; why should two Christians be the same? All of us must be like Christ, but we must also be ourselves.

The phrase “work out your salvation” probably has reference particularly to the special problems in the church at Philippi, but the statement also applies to the individual Christian. We are not to be “cheap imitations” of other people, especially “great Christians.” We are to follow only what we see of Christ in their lives. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Every “great saint” has feet of clay and ultimately may disappoint you, but Jesus Christ can never fail you.

In 2:14–15, Paul contrasts the life of the believer with the lives of those who live in the world. Unsaved people complain and find fault, but Christians rejoice. Society around us is “crooked and perverse,” but the Christian stands straight because he measures his life by God’s Word, the perfect standard. The world is dark, but Christians shine as bright lights. The world has nothing to offer, but the Christian holds out the Word of life, the message of salvation through faith in Christ. As we allow God to achieve His purpose in our lives, we become better witnesses in a world that desperately needs Christ. Apply these characteristics to Jesus and you will see He lived a perfect life in an imperfect world.

It is important to note His purpose is achieved “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (2:15). Paul does not admonish us to retreat from the world and go into a spiritual isolation ward. It is only as we are confronted with the needs and problems of real life that we can begin to become more like Christ. The Pharisees were so isolated and insulated from reality they developed an artificial kind of self-righteousness that was totally unlike the righteousness God wanted them to have. Consequently, the Pharisees forced a religion of fear and bondage on the people (Matt. 23), and they crucified Christ because He dared to oppose that kind of religion. It is not by leaving the world, but by ministering to it that we see God’s purpose fulfilled in our lives.

There Is a Power to Receive (2:13)Phil 2.13 (4)

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for ‘His’ good pleasure.

The principle Paul lays down is this: God must work in us before He can work through us. This principle is seen at work throughout the Bible in the lives of men like Moses, David, the Apostles, and others. God had a special purpose for each man to fulfill, and each man was unique and not an imitation of somebody else. For example, it took God forty years to bring Moses to the place where He could use him to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep during those forty years, God was working in him so that one day He might work through him. This is a very important truth: God is more interested in the workman than in the work. If the workman is what he ought to be the work will be what it ought to be.

Too many Christians obey God only because of pressure on the outside and not power on the inside. Paul warned the Philippians it was not his presence with them, but their desire to obey God and please Him that was the important thing (Phil. 1:27; 2:12). They could not build their lives on Paul because he might not be with them very long. It is sad to see the way some ministries in the church weaken or fall apart because of a change in leadership. We have a tendency to please men and to obey God only when others are watching. But when you surrender to the power of God within you, then obedience becomes a delight and not a battle.

The power that works in us is the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16–17, 26; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 6:19–20). Our English word energy comes from the word translated “work” in 2:13. It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us! The same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ when He was ministering on earth can empower us as well. But we must recognize the fact that the energy of the flesh (Rom. 7:5) and of the devil (Eph. 2:2; 2 Thes. 2:7) are also at work. Because of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, God’s divine energy is available to us (Eph. 1:18–23). The power is here, but how do we use it? What “tools” does God use, by His Spirit, to work in our lives? There are three tools God uses to work in the lives of His children.

1. The first tool is the Word of God. “We constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thes. 2:13). God’s divine energy is released in our lives through His inspired Word. The same Word that spoke the universe into being can release divine power in our lives! But we have a responsibility to appreciate the Word and not treat it the way we treat the words of men. The Word of God is unique: it is inspired, authoritative, and infallible. If we do not appreciate the Word, then God’s power cannot energize our lives.

But we must also appropriate the Word—receive it. This means much more than listening to it, or even reading and studying it. To “receive” God’s Word means to welcome it and make it a part of our inner being. God’s truth is to the spiritual man what food is to the physical man.

Finally, we must apply the Word; it works only in those “who believe.” When we trust God’s Word and act on it, then God’s power is released in our lives. God’s Word has the power of accomplishment in it and faith releases that power: “For nothing is impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37).

We see this truth operating in the life of Jesus. He commanded the crippled man to stretch out his hand, and the very command gave him the power to obey and be healed (Matt. 12:13). Jesus commanded Peter to walk to Him on water and the command enabled Peter to do so, as long as he exercised faith (Matt. 14:22–33). It is faith in God’s promises that releases God’s power. His commandments are His enablements. The Holy Spirit wrote down promises for us in the Word and He gives us the faith to lay hold of these promises. If we want God’s power working in us, we must spend time daily with the Word of God.

2. The second tool God uses to work in the lives of His children is prayer. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). The Holy Spirit is closely related to the practice of prayer in our lives (Rom. 8:26–27; Zech. 12:10). The Book of Acts makes it clear that prayer is a divinely ordained source of spiritual power (Acts 1:14; 4:23–31; 12:5, 12); the Word of God and prayer go together (Acts 6:4). Unless the Christian takes time for prayer, God cannot work in him and through him. In the Bible and in church history the people God used were people who prayed.

3. The third tool God uses is suffering. The Spirit of God works in a special way in the lives of those who suffer for the glory of Christ (1 Pet. 4:12–19). The “fiery trial” has a way of burning away the impurities and empowering the believer to serve Christ. Paul himself had experienced God’s power in the Philippian jail when he was beaten and thrust into the inner prison cell; for he was able to sing and praise God in spite of his suffering (Acts 16:19–33). His “fiery trial” also enabled him to forgive the jailer. It was not the earthquake that brought conviction to the man; the earthquake almost led him to suicide! It was Paul’s encouraging words: “Don’t do it! We’re all here!” This kind of love broke the man’s heart and he fell before Paul, asking how to be saved.

The Word of God, prayer, and suffering are the three “tools” God uses in our lives. Just as electricity must run through a conductor, so the Holy Spirit must work through the means God has provided. As the Christian reads the Word and prays, he becomes more like Christ; and the more he becomes like Christ the more the unsaved world opposes him. This daily “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10) drive the believer back to the Word and prayer, so that all three “tools” work together to provide the spiritual power he needs to glorify Christ.

If we are to have the submissive mind and the joy that goes with it, we must recognize there is a purpose to achieve (God’s plan for our lives), a power to receive (the Holy Spirit), and a promise to believe.

There Is a Promise to Believe (2:16–18)

Holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

What is the promise here? Joy comes from submission. The world’s philosophy is joy comes from aggression: fight everybody to get what you want, and then you will get it and be happy. But the example of Jesus is proof enough the world’s philosophy is wrong. He never used a sword or any other weapon; yet He won the greatest battle in history—the battle against sin, death, and hell. He defeated hatred by manifesting love; He overcame lies with truth. Because He surrendered He was victorious! You and I must dare to believe His promise: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 14:11). “Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit [humble], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

There is a twofold joy that comes to the person who possesses and practices the submissive mind: a joy hereafter (2:16) and a joy here and now (2:17–18). In the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6, 10), God is going to reward those who have been faithful to Him. “The joy of the Lord” is going to be a part of their reward (Matt. 25:21). The faithful Christian will discover his sufferings on earth have been transformed into glory in heaven! He will see that his work was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). It was this same kind of promise of future joy that helped our Savior in His sufferings on the cross (Heb. 12:1–2).

We do not have to wait for the return of Christ to start experiencing the joy of the submissive mind. That joy is a present reality (2:17–18), and it comes through sacrifice and service. It is remarkable that in these two verses, Paul uses the words joy and rejoice—and repeats them! Most people would associate sorrow with suffering, but Paul sees suffering and sacrifice as doorways to a deeper joy in Christ.

In 2:17, Paul is comparing his experience of sacrifice to that of the priest pouring out the drink offering (Num. 15:1–10). It was possible that Paul’s trial would go against him and he would be executed, but this did not rob Paul of his joy. His death would be a willing sacrifice, a priestly ministry, on behalf of Christ and His church; and this would give him joy. “Sacrifice and service” are marks of the submissive mind (Phil. 2:7–8, 21–22, 30), and the submissive mind experiences joy even in the midst of suffering.

It takes faith to exercise the submissive mind. We must believe God’s promises are true and they are going to work in our lives just as they worked in Paul’s life. God works in us through the Word, prayer, and suffering; and we work out in daily living and service. God fulfills His purposes in us as we receive and believe His Word. Life is not a series of disappointing “ups and downs.” Rather, it is a sequence of delightful “ins and outs.” God works in—we work out! The example comes from Christ, the energy comes from the Holy Spirit, and the result is—JOY!

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The Great Example: Part 2 (Philippians 2:1–11)

Phil 2.9Jesus illustrates the four characteristics of the person with the submissive mind. In Part 1, we saw the first two traits. Now, we will look at the last two virtues of the person with the submissive mind.

He Sacrifices (2:8)

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Many people are willing to serve others if it does not cost them anything, but if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. Jesus “became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” His was not the death of a martyr, but the death of a Savior. He willingly laid down His life for the sins of the world.

Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing. If there is to be any blessing, there must be some “bleeding.” At a religious festival in Brazil, a missionary was going from booth to booth, examining the goods. He saw a sign above one booth: “Cheap Crosses.” He thought to himself, “That’s what many Christians are looking for these days—cheap crosses. My Lord’s cross was not cheap. Why should mine be?”

The person with the submissive mind does not avoid sacrifice. He lives for the glory of God and the good of others; and if paying a price will honor Christ and help others, he is willing to do it. This was Paul’s attitude (Phil. 2:17), Timothy’s (Phil. 2:20), and also Epaphroditus’ (Phil. 2:30). Sacrifice and service go together if service is to be true Christian ministry.

A church council was planning the annual “Youth Sunday” program and one of the members suggested the teenagers serve as ushers, lead in prayer, and bring special music. One of the teens stood up and said, “Quite frankly, we’re tired of being asked to do little things. We’d like to do something difficult this year, and maybe keep it going all year long. The youth have talked and prayed about this, and we’d like to work with our trustees in remodeling that basement room so it can be used for a classroom. And we’d like to start visiting our elderly members each week and taking them recordings of the services. We’d also like to have a weekly witness on Sunday afternoons in the park.”

He sat down and the new youth pastor smiled to himself. He had privately challenged the teens to do something that would cost them—and they enthusiastically responded to the challenge. He knew that sacrifice is necessary if there is going to be true growth and ministry.

The test of the submissive mind is not just how much we are willing to take in terms of suffering, but how much we are willing to give in terms of sacrifice. One pastor complained that his men were changing the words of the hymn from “Take my life and let it be” to “Take my wife and let me be!” They were willing for others to make the sacrifices, but they were unwilling to sacrifice for others.

It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that the more we give, the more we receive; the more we sacrifice, the more God blesses. This is why the submissive mind leads to joy; it makes us more like Christ. This means sharing His joy as we also share in His sufferings. Of course, when love is the motive (2:1), sacrifice is never measured or mentioned. The person who constantly talks about his sacrifices does not have the submissive mind.

Is it costing you anything to be a Christian?

He Glorifies God (2:9–11)

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This, of course, is the great goal of all that we do—to glorify God. Paul warns us against “selfishness and vainglory” in 2:3. The kind of rivalry that pits Christian against Christian and ministry against ministry is not spiritual, nor is it satisfying. It is vain, empty.

Jesus humbled Himself for others and God highly exalted Him; the result of this exaltation is glory to God. Our Lord’s exaltation began with His resurrection. The very last thing any human hands did to Jesus was bury His body. From that point on, it was God who worked. Men had done their worst to the Savior, but now God exalted Him and honored Him. Men gave Him names of ridicule and slander, but the Father gave Him a glorious name! Just as in His humiliation He was given the name “Jesus” (Matt. 1:21), so in His exaltation He was given the name “Lord” (2:11; Acts 2:32–36). He arose from the dead and then returned in victory to heaven, ascending to the Father’s throne.

His exaltation included sovereign authority over all creatures in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. One day all will bow to Him (Isa. 45:23) and confess He is Lord. Of course, it is possible for people to bow and confess today, and receive His gift of salvation (Rom. 10:9–10). To bow before Him now means salvation; to bow before Him at the judgment means condemnation.

The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glory of God (2:11). As Jesus faced the cross the glory of the Father was paramount in His mind: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, so that the Son may glorify You” (Jn. 17:1). He has given this glory to us (Jn. 17:22) and one day we will share it with Him in heaven (Jn. 17:24; Rom. 8:28–30). The work of salvation is much greater and grander than simply the salvation of a lost soul, as wonderful as that is. The ultimate purpose of our salvation is the glory of God (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

The person with the submissive mind, as he lives for others, must expect sacrifice and service; but in the end, it is going to lead to glory: “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6). Joseph suffered and served for thirteen years; but then God exalted him and made him the second ruler of Egypt. David was anointed king when he was a youth. He experienced years of hardship and suffering, but at the right time, God exalted him as king of Israel.

The joy of the submissive mind comes not only from helping others, and sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10), but primarily from the knowledge that we are glorifying God. We are letting our light shine through our good works and this glorifies the Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). We may not see the glory today, but we will see it when Jesus comes and rewards His faithful servants.

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The Great Example: Part 1 (Philippians 2:1–11)

Phil 2.5-11People can rob us of our joy. Paul was facing his problems with people at Rome (Phil. 1:15–18) as well as with people in Philippi, and it was the latter who concerned him the most. When Epaphroditus brought a generous gift from the church in Philippi and good news of the church’s concern for Paul, he also brought the bad news of a possible division in the church family. Apparently, there was a double threat to the unity of the church: false teachers coming in from without (Phil. 3:1–3) and disagreeing members within (Phil. 4:1–3).

Paul knew what some church workers today do not know, that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. True spiritual unity comes from within; it is a matter of the heart. Uniformity is the result of pressure from without. This is why Paul opens this section appealing to the highest possible spiritual motives (2:1–4):

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Since the believers at Philippi are “in Christ,” this ought to encourage them to work toward unity and love, not division and rivalry. In a gracious way, Paul is saying to the church, “Your disagreements reveal there is a spiritual problem in your fellowship. It isn’t going to be solved by rules or threats; it’s going to be solved when your hearts are right with Christ and with each other.” Paul wanted them to see the basic cause of their conflict was selfishness and the cause of selfishness is pride. There can be no joy in the life of the Christian who puts himself above others.

The secret of joy in spite of circumstances is the single mind. The secret of joy in spite of people is the submissive mind. The key verse is: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (2:3). In Philippians 1, it is “Jesus first” and in Philippians 2 it is “others next.” Paul the soul winner in Philippians 1 becomes Paul the servant in Philippians 2.

It is important we understand what the Bible means by “humility.” The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all! (I think Andrew Murray said that). Humility is a grace that, when you know you have it, you have lost it. The truly humble person knows himself and accepts himself (Rom. 12:3). He yields himself to Christ to be a servant, to use what he is and has for the glory of God and the good of others. “Others” is the key idea in this chapter (2:3–4); the believer’s eyes are turned away from himself and focused on the needs of others.

The “submissive mind” does not mean that the believer is at the beck and call of everybody else or that he is a “religious doormat” for everybody to use! Some people try to purchase friends and maintain church unity by “giving in” to everybody else’s whims and wishes. This is not what Paul is suggesting at all. The Scripture puts it perfectly: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). If we have the single mind of Philippians 1, then we will have no problem with the submissive mind of Philippians 2.

Paul gives us four examples of the submissive mind: Jesus Christ (2:1–11), Paul himself (Phil. 2:12–18), Timothy (Phil. 2:19–24), and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25–30). Of course the greatest Example is Jesus and Paul begins with Him. Jesus illustrates the four characteristics of the person with the submissive mind.

He Thinks of Others, Not Himself (2:5–6)

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.

Phil 2.5The “mind” of Christ means the “attitude” Christ exhibited. Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His outlook (or attitude) was that of unselfish concern for others. This is “the mind of Christ,” an attitude that says, “I cannot keep my privileges for myself, I must use them for others; and to do this, I will gladly lay them aside and pay whatever price is necessary.”

A reporter was interviewing a successful job counselor who had placed hundreds of workers in their vocations quite happily. When asked the secret of his success, the man replied: “If you want to find out what a worker is really like, don’t give him responsibilities—give him privileges. Most people can handle responsibilities if you pay them enough, but it takes a real leader to handle privileges. A leader will use his privileges to help others and build the organization; a lesser man will use privileges to promote himself.” Jesus used His heavenly privileges for the sake of others—for our sake.

It would be worthwhile to contrast Christ’s attitude with that of Lucifer (Isa. 14:12–15) and Adam (Gen. 3:1–7). Lucifer once was the highest of the angelic beings, close to the throne of God (Ezek. 28:11–19), but he desired to be on the throne of God! Lucifer said, “I will!” but Jesus said, “Thy will.” Lucifer was not satisfied to be a creature; he wanted to be the Creator! Jesus was the Creator, yet He willingly became man. Christ’s humility is a rebuke to Satan’s pride.

Lucifer was not satisfied to be a rebel himself; he invaded Eden and tempted man to be a rebel. Adam had all he needed; he was actually the “king” of God’s creation (“let them have dominion,” Gen. 1:26). But Satan said, “You will be like God!” Man deliberately grasped after something that was beyond his reach, and as a result plunged the whole human race into sin and death. Adam and Eve thought only of themselves; Jesus Christ thought of others.

We expect unsaved people to be selfish and grasping, but we do not expect this of Christians, who have experienced the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit (2:1–2). More than twenty times in the New Testament, God instructs us how to live with “one another.” We are to prefer one another (Rom. 12:10), edify one another (1 Thes. 5:11), and bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We should not judge one another (Rom. 14:13), but rather admonish one another (Rom. 15:14). Others is the key word in the vocabulary of the Christian who exercises the submissive mind.

He Serves (2:7)

He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

washing-feetThinking of “others” in an abstract sense only is insufficient; we must get down to the nitty-gritty of true service. A famous philosopher wrote glowing words about educating children, but abandoned his own. It was easy for him to love children in the abstract, but when it came down to practice, that was something else. Jesus thought of others and became a servant! Paul traces the steps in the humiliation of Christ: (1) He emptied Himself, laying aside the independent use of His own attributes as God; (2) He permanently became a human, in a sinless physical body; (3) He used that body to be a servant; (4) He took that body to the cross and willingly died.

What grace! From heaven to earth, from glory to shame, from Master to servant, from life to death on a cross! When Christ was born at Bethlehem, He entered into a permanent union with humanity from which there could be no escape. He willingly humbled Himself, so that He might lift us up! Jesus did not pretend to be a servant; He was not an actor playing a role. He actually was a servant! This was the true expression of His innermost nature. He was the God-Man, Deity and humanity united in one, and He came as a servant.

Have you noticed as you read the four Gospels that it is Jesus who serves others, not others who serve Jesus? He is at the beck and call of all kinds of people—fishermen, harlots, tax collectors, the sick, the sorrowing. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). In the Upper Room, when His disciples apparently refused to serve (minister), Jesus arose, laid aside His outer garments, put on the long linen towel, and washed their feet! (John 13) He took the place of a menial slave! This was the submissive mind in action—no wonder Jesus experienced such joy!

In Part 2, we will look at two more characteristics of the person with the submissive mind.

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Battle Stations! (Philippians 1:27–30)

Battle LionThe Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. We are children in the family, enjoying the fellowship of the Gospel (Phil. 1:1–11), and we are servants sharing in the advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12–26); but we are also soldiers defending the faith of the Gospel. The believer with the single mind can have the joy of the Holy Spirit even in the midst of battle.

“The faith of the Gospel” is that body of divine truth given to the church. Jude calls it “the faith which was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). God committed or entrusted this spiritual treasure to Paul (1 Tim. 1:11) and he in turn committed it to others, like Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20), whose responsibility was to commit this truth to still others (2 Tim. 2:2). This is why the church must engage in a teaching ministry, so that each new generation of believers will know, appreciate, and use the great heritage of the faith.

Paul warns “in the latter times some will abandon the faith, and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). There is an enemy who is out to steal the treasure from God’s people. Paul had met the enemy in Philippi and he was now facing him in Rome. If Satan can only rob believers of their Christian faith, the doctrines that are distinctively theirs, then he can cripple and defeat the ministry of the Gospel. It is sad to hear people say, “I don’t care what you believe, just so long as you live right.” What we believe determines how we behave, and wrong belief ultimately means a wrong life. Each local church is but one generation short of potential extinction. No wonder Satan attacks our young people in particular, seeking to get them away from “the faith.”

How can a group of Christians fight this enemy? “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2 Cor. 10:4). When Peter took up a sword in the Garden, Jesus rebuked him (Jn. 18:10–11). We use spiritual weapons—the Word of God and prayer (Eph. 6:11–18; Heb. 4:12); and we must depend on the Holy Spirit to give us the power we need. But a victorious army must fight together, and this is why Paul sends these admonitions to his friends at Philippi. He is explaining in these verses that there are three essentials for victory in the battle to protect “the faith.”

Consistency (1:27a)Phil 1.27 (2)

Do you know the old English word conversation means “walk” and not talk? The most important weapon against the enemy is not a stirring sermon or a powerful book; it is the consistent life of believers.

The verb Paul uses is related to our word politics. He is saying, “Behave the way citizens are supposed to behave.” We Christians are citizens of heaven and while we are on earth, we ought to behave like heaven’s citizens (he brings this concept up again in Phil. 3:20). It would be a very meaningful expression to the people in Philippi because Philippi was a Roman colony, and its citizens were actually Roman citizens, protected by Roman law. The church of Jesus Christ is a colony of heaven on earth! And we ought to behave like the citizens of heaven.

“Am I conducting myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel?” is a good question for us to ask ourselves regularly. We should “walk … worthy of the calling” we have in Christ (Eph. 4:1), which means to “live a life worthy of the Lord, so we may please Him in every way” (Col. 1:10). We do not behave in order to go to heaven, as though we could be saved by our good works; but we behave because our names are already written in heaven, and our citizenship is in heaven. It is worth remembering the world around us only knows the Gospel it sees in our lives.

“The Gospel” is the Good News Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1–8). There is only one “Good News” of salvation; any other gospel is false (Gal. 1:6–10). The message of the Gospel is the Good News that sinners can become the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son (Jn. 3:16). To add anything to the Gospel is to deprive it of its power. We are not saved from our sins by faith in Christ plus something else; we are saved by faith in Christ alone.

“Our neighbors believe a false gospel,” a church member told his pastor. “Do you have some literature I can give them?”

The pastor opened his Bible to 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” He said, “The best literature in the world is no substitute for your own life. Let them see Christ in your behavior and this will open up opportunities to share Christ’s Gospel with them.”

The greatest weapon against the devil is a godly life. And a local church that practices the truth, that “behaves what it believes,” is going to defeat the enemy. This is the first essential for victory in this battle.

Cooperation (1:27b)Phil 1.27 (3)

Paul now changes the illustration from politics to athletics. The Greek word translated “striving together” gives us our English word “athletics.” Paul pictures the church as a team and he reminds them it is teamwork that wins victories.

Keep in mind there was division in the church at Philippi. For one thing, two women were not getting along with each other (Phil. 4:2). Apparently the members of the fellowship were taking sides, as is often the case, and the resulting division was hindering the work of the church. The enemy is always happy to see internal divisions in a local ministry. “Divide and conquer!” is his motto and too often he has his way. It is only as believers stand together that they can overcome the wicked one.

Jerry was disgusted and he decided to tell the basketball coach how he felt. “There’s no sense coming out for practice anymore,” he complained. “Mike is the team—you don’t need the rest of us.”

Coach Gardner knew the trouble. “Look, Jerry, just because Mike gets many of the chances to shoot doesn’t mean the rest of you guys aren’t needed. Somebody has to set things up at the basket, and that’s where you come in.”

Sometimes, a team has a “glory hog” who has to be in the spotlight and get all the praise. Usually, he makes it difficult for the rest of the team. They aren’t working equally together, but are working to make one person look good. It is this attitude that makes for defeat.

Sadly, we have some “glory hogs” in the church. John had to deal with a man named Diotrephes because the man “loved to have preeminence” (3 Jn. 9). Even the Apostles James and John asked to have special thrones (Matt. 20:20–28). The important word is together: standing firmly “together” in one spirit, striving “together” against the enemy, and doing it “together” with one mind and heart.

It is not difficult to expand this idea of the local church as a team of athletes. Each person has his assigned place and job, and if each one is doing his job, it helps all the others. Not everybody can be captain or quarterback! The team has to follow the rules and the Word of God is our “rule book.” There is one goal—to honor Christ and do His will. If we all work together, we can reach the goal, win the prize, and glorify the Lord. But as soon as any one of us starts disobeying the rules, breaking training (the Christian life does demand discipline), or looking for glory, the teamwork disappears, and division and competition take over.

In other words, Paul is reminding us again of the need for the single mind. There is joy in our lives, even as we battle the enemy, if we live for Christ and the Gospel and practice “Christian teamwork.” Of course, there are some people with whom we cannot cooperate (2 Cor. 6:14–18; Eph. 5:11); but there are many with whom we can—and should! We are citizens of heaven and therefore should walk consistently. We are members of the same “team” and should work cooperatively.

But there is a third essential for success as we face the enemy and that is confidence.

Confidence (1:28–30)Phil 1.29

“Don’t be alarmed by your opponents!” In these verses, Paul gives us three encouragements that give us confidence in the battle.

1. These battles prove we are saved (1:29). We not only believe on Christ, but also suffer for Christ. Paul calls this “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). For some reason, many new believers have the idea that trusting Christ means the end of their battles. In reality, it means the beginning of new battles. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

2. The presence of conflict is a privilege; we suffer “for His sake.” In fact, Paul tells us this conflict is “granted” to us—it is a gift! If we were suffering for ourselves, it would be no privilege; but because we are suffering for and with Christ, it is a high and holy honor. After all, He suffered for us, and a willingness to suffer for Him is the very least we can do to show our love and gratitude.

3. Others are experiencing the same conflict (1:30). Satan wants us to think we are alone in the battle, that our difficulties are unique, but such is not the case. Paul reminded the Philippians that he was going through the same difficulties they were experiencing hundreds of miles from Rome! A change in geography is usually no solution to spiritual problems because human nature is the same wherever you go and the enemy is everywhere.

Actually, going through spiritual conflict is one way we have to grow in Christ. God gives us the strength we need to stand firm against the enemy, and this confidence is proof to him that he will lose and we are on the winning side (1:28). The Philippians had seen Paul go through conflict when he was with them (Acts 16:19) and they had witnessed his firmness in the Lord. Knowing my fellow believers are also sharing in the battle is an encouragement for me to keep going and to pray for them as I pray for myself.

As we face the enemy and depend on the Lord, He gives us all we need for the battle. When the enemy sees our God-given confidence, it makes him fear. The single mind enables us to have joy in the midst of battle because it produces in us consistency, cooperation, and confidence. We experience the joy of “spiritual teamwork” as we strive together for the faith of the Gospel.

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The Advance of the Gospel: Part 2 (Philippians 1:12–26)

Phil 1.21God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the Gospel. In Paul’s case, there were three tools that helped him take the Gospel to the elite guards, Caesar’s special troops. In Part 1, we looked at the first tool: Paul’s chains. Now, we will consider the next two tools.

Paul’s Critics (1:15–19)

It is hard to believe that anyone would oppose Paul, but there were believers in Rome doing just that. The churches there were divided. Some preached Christ sincerely, wanting to see people saved. Others preached Christ insincerely, wanting to make the situation more difficult for Paul. The latter group was using the Gospel to further their own selfish purposes. Perhaps they belonged to the “legalistic” wing of the church that opposed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and his emphasis on the grace of God, as opposed to obedience to the Jewish Law. Envy and strife go together, just as love and unity go together.

Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow Him; his critics’ aim was to promote themselves and win a following of their own. Instead of asking, “Have you trusted Christ?” they asked, “Whose side are you on—ours or Paul’s?” Unfortunately, this kind of “religious politics” is still seen today. And the people who practice it need to realize they are only hurting themselves.

When you have the single mind, you look on your critics as another opportunity for the furtherance of the Gospel. Like a faithful soldier, Paul was “put here [appointed] for the defense of the Gospel” (1:16). He was able to rejoice, not in the selfishness of his critics, but in the fact that Christ was being preached! There was no envy in Paul’s heart. It mattered not that some were for him and some were against him. All that mattered was the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

It is a matter of historic record that the two great English evangelists, John Wesley and George Whitefield, disagreed on doctrinal matters. Both of them were very successful, preaching to thousands of people and seeing multitudes come to Christ. It is reported that somebody asked Wesley if he expected to see Whitefield in heaven and the evangelist replied, “No, I do not.”

“Then you do not think Whitefield is a converted man?”

“Of course he is a converted man!” Wesley said. “But I do not expect to see him in heaven—because he will be so close to the throne of God and I so far away that I will not be able to see him!” Though he differed with his brother in some matters, Wesley did not have any envy in his heart, nor did he seek to oppose Whitefield’s ministry.

Criticism is usually very hard to take, particularly when we are in difficult circumstances, as Paul was. How was the apostle able to rejoice even in the face of such diverse criticism? He possessed the single mind! Philippians 1:19 indicates that Paul expected his case to turn out victoriously (“to my deliverance”) because of the prayers of his friends and the supply of the Holy Spirit of God. Paul was not depending on his own dwindling resources; he was depending on the generous resources of God, ministered by the Holy Spirit.

Paul shared in the pioneer advance of the Gospel in Rome through his chains and his critics; but he had a third tool that he used.

Paul’s Crisis (1:20–26)

As we have seen because of Paul’s chains, Christ was known (1:13) and because of Paul’s critics, Christ was preached (1:18). But now, we see because of Paul’s crisis, Christ was magnified! (1:20). While it was possible Paul would be found a traitor to Rome and then executed, his preliminary trial had apparently gone in his favor. Although the final verdict was yet to come, Paul’s body was not his own and his only desire (because he had the “single mind”) was to magnify Christ in his body.

Does Christ need to be magnified? After all, how can a mere human being ever magnify the Son of God? Well, the stars are much bigger than the telescope, and yet the telescope magnifies them and brings them closer. The believer’s body is to be a telescope that brings Jesus Christ close to people. To the average person, Christ is a misty figure in history who lived centuries ago. But as the unsaved watch the believer go through a crisis, they can see Jesus magnified and brought so much closer. To the Christian with the single mind, Christ is with us here and now.

The telescope brings distant things closer and the microscope makes tiny things look big. To the unbeliever, Jesus is not very big. Other people and other things are far more important. But as the unbeliever watches the Christian go through a crisis experience, he ought to be able to see how big Jesus really is. The believer’s body is a “lens” that makes a “little Christ” look very big and a “distant Christ” come very close.

Paul was not afraid of life or death! Either way, he wanted to magnify Christ in his body. No wonder he had joy!

Paul confesses he is facing a difficult decision. To remain alive was necessary for the believers’ benefit in Philippi, but to depart and be with Christ was far better. Paul decided that Christ would have him remain, not only for the “advance of the Gospel” (1:12), but also for the “progress and joy in their faith” (1:25). He wanted them to make some “pioneer advance” into new areas of spiritual growth. (Paul also admonished Timothy, the young pastor, to be sure to pioneer new spiritual territory in his own life and ministry, 1 Tim. 4:15).

What a man Paul is! He is willing to postpone going to heaven in order to help Christians grow and he is willing to go to hell in order to win the lost to Christ! (Rom. 9:1–3)

Of course, death had no terrors for Paul. It simply meant “departing.” This word was used by the soldiers; it meant “to take down your tent and move on.” What a picture of Christian death! The “tent” we live in is taken down at death and the spirit goes home to be with Christ in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1–8).

Departure was also a political term; it described the setting free of a prisoner. God’s people are in bondage because of the limitations of the body and the temptations of the flesh, but death will free them. Or they will be freed at the return of Christ (Rom. 8:18–23) if that should come first.

Finally, departure was a word used by the farmers; it meant “to unyoke the oxen.” Paul had taken Christ’s yoke, which is an easy yoke to bear (Matt. 11:28–30), but how many burdens he carried in his ministry! (If you need your memory refreshed, read 2 Cor. 11:22–12:10.) To depart to be with Christ would mean laying aside the burdens, his earthly work completed.

No matter how you look at it, nothing can steal a man’s joy if he possesses the single mind! “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). What makes you come alive? The thing that excites us and “turns us on” is the thing that really is “life” to us. In Paul’s case, Christ was his life. Christ excited him and made his life worth living.

Philippians 1:21 becomes a valuable test of our lives: “For me, to live is__________ and to die is_________.” Fill in the blanks yourself.

  • For me, to live is money and to die is to leave it all behind.
  • For me, to live is fame and to die is to be forgotten.
  • For me, to live is power and to die is to lose it all.

No, we must echo Paul’s convictions if we are going to have joy in spite of circumstances and if we are going to share in the advance of the Gospel: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”

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The Advance of the Gospel: Part 1 (Philippians 1:12–26)

paul-in-chainsPaul wanted to go to Rome as a preacher, but instead he went as a prisoner! He could have written a long letter about that experience alone. Instead, he sums it all up as “the things which happened to me” (1:12). The record of these things is given in Acts 21:17–28:31 and it begins with Paul’s illegal arrest in the temple in Jerusalem.

To many, all of this would have looked like failure, but not to this man with a “single mind,” concerned with sharing Christ and the Gospel. Paul did not find his joy in ideal circumstances; he found his joy in winning others to Christ. And if his circumstances promoted the furtherance or advance of the Gospel, that was all that mattered! Instead of finding himself confined as a prisoner, Paul discovered his circumstances really opened up new areas of ministry.

God still wants His children to take the Gospel into new areas. He wants us to be pioneers and sometimes He arranges circumstances so that we can be nothing else but pioneers. In fact, that is how the Gospel originally came to Philippi! Paul had tried to enter other territory, but God had repeatedly shut the door (Acts 16:6–10). Paul wanted to take the message eastward into Asia, but God directed him to take it westward into Europe. What a difference it would have made in the history of mankind if Paul had been permitted to follow his plan instead of God’s!

God sometimes uses strange tools to help us pioneer the Gospel. In Paul’s case, there were three tools that helped him take the Gospel to the elite guards, Caesar’s special troops.

Paul’s Chains (1:12–14)

The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling used Paul’s chains. Little did the Romans realize that the chains they affixed to his wrists would release Paul instead of bind him! Even as he wrote during a later imprisonment, “I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal, but God’s Word is not chained” (2 Tim. 2:9). He did not complain about his chains; instead he consecrated them to God and asked God to use them for the pioneer advance of the Gospel. And God answered his prayers.

To begin with, these chains gave Paul contact with the lost. He was chained to a Roman soldier twenty-four hours a day! The shifts changed every six hours, which meant Paul could witness to at least four men each day! Imagine yourself as one of those soldiers, chained to a man who prayed “without ceasing,” who was constantly interviewing people about their spiritual condition, and who was repeatedly writing letters to Christians and churches throughout the empire! It was not long before some of these soldiers put their faith in Christ. Paul was able to get the Gospel to the elite guards, something he could not have done had he been a free man.

But the chains gave Paul contact with another group of people as well: the officials in Caesar’s court. He was in Rome as an official prisoner and his case was an important one. The Roman government was going to determine the official status of this new “Christian” sect. Was it merely another sect of the Jews? Or was it something new and possibly dangerous? Imagine how pleased Paul must have been knowing that the court officials were forced to study the doctrines of the Christian faith!

Sometimes God has to put “chains” on His people to get them to accomplish a “pioneer advance” that could never happen any other way. Young mothers may feel chained to the home as they care for their children, but God can use those “chains” to reach people with the message of salvation. Susannah Wesley was the mother of nineteen children, before the days of labor-saving devices and disposable diapers! Out of that large family came John and Charles Wesley, whose combined ministries shook the British Isles. At six weeks of age, Fanny Crosby was blinded, but even as a youngster, she determined not to be confined by the chains of darkness. In time, she became a mighty force for God through her hymns and Gospel songs.

The secret is this: when you have the single mind, you look on your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel; and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do.

Paul’s chains not only gave contact with the lost, but they also gave courage to the saved. Many of the believers in Rome took fresh courage when they saw Paul’s faith and determination (1:14). They were “much more bold to speak the word without fear.” That word speak does not mean “preach.” Rather, it means “everyday conversation.” No doubt many of the Romans were discussing Paul’s case because such legal matters were of primary concern to this nation of lawmakers. And the Christians in Rome who were sympathetic to Paul took advantage of this conversation to say a good word for Jesus Christ. Discouragement has a way of spreading, but so does encouragement! Because of Paul’s joyful attitude the believers in Rome took fresh courage and witnessed boldly for Christ.

While recovering in the hospital from a serious auto accident, Bob received a letter from a total stranger who seemed to know just what to say to make his day brighter. In fact, he received several letters from him and each one was better than the one before. When he was able to get around, Bob met him personally. He was amazed to discover that he was blind, a diabetic, handicapped because of a leg amputation, and that he lived with and cared for his elderly mother! If a man ever wore chains, this man did! But if a man ever was free to pioneer the Gospel, this man was! He was able to share Christ in high school assemblies, before service clubs, at the “Y,” and before professional people in meetings that would have been closed to an ordained minister. He had the single mind; he lived for Christ and the Gospel. Consequently, he shared the joy of furthering the Gospel.

Our chains may not be as dramatic or difficult, but there is no reason why God cannot use them in the same way.

In Part 2, we will look at two more tools Paul used to take the Gospel to the elite guards.

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True Christian Fellowship: Part 2 (Philippians 1:1–11)

Philippians 1.7

Paul describes true Christian fellowship in three ways. In Part 1, we looked at the first way: “I have you in my mind.” Today, we will consider the next two ways.

I have you in my heart (vv. 7–8). We move a bit deeper, for it is possible to have others in our minds without really having them in our hearts (many people today would confess, “I have you on my nerves!”). Paul’s sincere love for his friends was something that could not be disguised or hidden.

Christian love is “the tie that binds.” Love is the evidence of salvation: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (1 Jn. 3:14). It is the “spiritual lubrication” that keeps the machinery of life running smoothly. Have you noticed how often Paul uses the phrase “you all” as he writes? There are at least nine instances in this letter. He does not want to leave anyone out!

How did Paul evidence his love for them? For one thing, he was suffering on their behalf. His bonds were proof of his love. He was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (Eph. 3:1). Because of Paul’s trial, Christianity was going to get a fair hearing before the officials of Rome. Paul’s love was not something he merely talked about; it was something he practiced. He considered his difficult circumstances an opportunity for defending and confirming the Gospel, and this would help his brethren everywhere.

But how can Christians learn to practice this kind of love? “I get along better with my unsaved neighbors than I do my saved relatives!” a man confided to his pastor. “Maybe it takes a diamond to cut a diamond, but I’ve just about had it!”

Christian love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us. Paul longed for his friends “with the affection [love] of Jesus Christ” (1:8). It was not Paul’s love channeled through Christ; it was Christ’s love channeled through Paul: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5). When we permit God to perform His “good work” in us, then we grow in our love for one another.

How can we tell if we are truly bound in love to other Christians? For one thing, we are concerned about them. The believers at Philippi were concerned about Paul and sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. Paul was also greatly concerned about his friends at Philippi, especially when Epaphroditus became ill and could not return right away (Phil. 2:25–28). “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).

Another evidence of Christian love is a willingness to forgive one another: “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

“Tell us some of the blunders your wife has made,” a radio host asked a contestant.

“I can’t remember any,” the man replied.

“Oh, surely you can remember something!” the announcer said.

“No, I really can’t,” said the contestant. “I love my wife very much and I just don’t remember things like that.” 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “love keeps no record of wrongs.”

Christians who practice love always experience joy; both come as a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…” (Gal. 5:22).

I have you in my prayers (vv.9–11). Paul found joy in bringing the friends at Philippi before the throne of grace in prayer. This is a prayer for maturity and Paul begins with love. After all, if our Christian love is what it ought to be everything else should follow. He prays that they might experience abounding love and discerning love.

Christian love is not blind! The heart and mind work together, so that we have discerning love and loving discernment. Paul wants his friends to grow in discernment, in being able to “distinguish the things that differ.” He is praying that they would be able, in the midst of competing issues and concerns, to see what is truly important and deserving of priority, and they would be able to make wise spiritual decisions.

Paul will soon find it necessary to warn them about the ever-present danger of false teachers (Phil 3:2, 18–19). They would make themselves easy prey for such teachers if, in the interest of being loving, they were uncritically to accept everything these teachers were presenting.

We should be keenly aware of this danger. How often the church today has refused to stand against doctrinal error because someone argued that we must be loving! Sadly, in cases like this, love was misunderstood to mean being agreeable and tolerant. No one believed more firmly in love than Paul and yet he did not hesitate to rebuke a fellow apostle for compromising the truth (Gal. 2:11–21). Paul did this because he understood that love and truth are not enemies. The most loving thing we can do is stand for the truth in a loving way.

The ability to distinguish is a mark of maturity. When a baby learns to speak, he or she may call every four-legged animal a “bow-wow.” But then the child discovers that there are cats, dogs, cows, and other four-legged creatures. To a little child, one automobile is just like another, but not to a car-crazy teenager. He can spot the differences between models faster than his parents can even name the cars! One of the sure marks of maturity is discerning love.

Paul also prays that they might have mature Christian service. He wants them filled and fruitful (1:11). He is not interested simply in “church activities,” but in the kind of spiritual fruit that is produced when we are in fellowship with Christ. “Abide [remain] in Me as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me” (Jn. 15:4). Too many Christians try to “produce results” in their own efforts instead of abiding in Christ and allowing His life to produce the fruit.

What is the “fruit” God wants to see from our lives? Certainly He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22–23), Christian character that glorifies God. Paul compares winning lost souls to Christ to bearing fruit (Rom. 1:13) and he also names “holiness” as a spiritual fruit (Rom. 6:22). He exhorts us to be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. 1:10) and the writer of Hebrews says our praise is the “fruit of the lips” (Heb. 13:15).

The fruit tree does not make a great deal of noise when it produces its crop; it merely allows the life within to work in a natural way and fruit is the result. As Paul reflected on the fruits of righteousness, he undoubtedly called to mind the words Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night before his crucifixion: “I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).

The difference between spiritual fruit and human “religious activity” is this: fruit brings glory to Jesus, not man. Whenever we do anything in our own strength, we have a tendency to boast about it. True spiritual fruit is so beautiful and wonderful that no man can claim credit for it; the glory must go to God alone.

This, then, is true Christian fellowship—a having-in-common that is much deeper than mere friendship. “I have you in my mind … I have you in my heart … I have you in my prayers.” This is the kind of fellowship that produces joy and it is the single mind that produces this kind of fellowship! When we have the single mind, we will not complain about circumstances because we know that difficult circumstances will result in the strengthening of the fellowship of the Gospel.

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True Christian Fellowship: Part 1 (Philippians 1:1–11)

Philippians 1.6“How about coming over to the house for some fellowship?”

“What a golf game! Man, did we have great fellowship!”

“The fellowship at the retreat was just terrific!”

That word “fellowship” seems to mean many things to many different people. Like a worn coin, it’s losing its true impression, so we had better take some steps to rescue it. After all, a good Bible word like fellowship needs to stay in circulation as long as possible.

True Christian fellowship is much deeper than sharing coffee and pie, or even enjoying a golf game together. Too often what we think is “fellowship” is really only acquaintanceship or friendship. Christian fellowship is much more than having a name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. For it is possible to be close to people physically and miles away from them spiritually.

The word fellowship simply means “to have in common.” We have a tendency to use the word very loosely these days. Any gathering of Christians in which there is a feeling of happiness and camaraderie is called fellowship. We have almost made the word synonymous with good food and a few laughs. But that, of course, makes Christian fellowship no different from what unbelievers often enjoy.

We cannot have fellowship with someone unless we have something in common; and for Christian fellowship, this means the possessing of eternal life within the heart. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his Savior, he knows nothing of “the fellowship of the Gospel.”

Paul’s fellowship with the Philippians was more than merely enjoying each other’s company. It was a partnership. People who by nature had nothing in common found a common life in Christ. Think again of Paul’s ministry in Philippi. Lydia the slave girl and the jailer had nothing in common until they come to Christ (Acts 16). The gospel of Christ made them partakers of the same life and partners in the same cause. One of the sources of Christian joy is the fellowship believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome and his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. In Philippians 1:1–11, he describes true Christian fellowship in three ways.

I have you in my mind (1:3–6). Paul’s relationship with the church at Philippi was a good one and the tone of his letter to them expresses the warmth of his love and the depth of their fellowship in the gospel. Paul could not think of the Philippians without giving thanks to God for their fellowship. Isn’t it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind goes back to the believers in Philippi and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16 and you will discover some things happened to Paul at Philippi that would have produced sorrow in most people. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul because it was through his suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. (It is worth asking, “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s mind when he thinks of me?”)

As the apostle gave thanks for their participation in the work of the gospel, he wrote, “He [God] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). Paul was very good at slipping little nuggets of breathtakingly glorious truth into the portions of his letters. This verse is one of those nuggets and tells us:

1. Salvation is God’s work. The Philippians did not begin the work of salvation in themselves only to have God come along and add a little to it. It was entirely His work. God provided the way of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and He even enabled the Philippians to receive that salvation.

2. Salvation is a good work. Salvation lifts the sinner from eternal condemnation and ruin and makes that person part of God’s family, and a partaker of God’s eternal glory. Who would dare say this is not a good thing?

3. Salvation is a sure work. God does not begin it and then abandon it somewhere along the way. He does not pull His people from the flames of destruction only to allow them to slip back and be consumed. God completes the work of salvation. We know what it is to plan a work and undertake a work only to see it fail. But it is not so with God. We must not picture God the Father looking over the redeemed multitude in eternity and saying, “I did fairly well. Eighty per cent of the saved finally made it home.” God will not have to say such a thing because all His people will make it home. Not one will be missing! The faithful God will faithfully complete His work!

We will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust His Son. This work will continue until we see Christ and then the work will be fulfilled: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

It was a source of joy to Paul to know God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi. After all, this is the real basis for joyful Christian fellowship, to have God at work in our lives day by day.

“There seems to be friction in our home,” a concerned wife said to a marriage counselor. “I really don’t know what the trouble is.”

“Friction is caused by one of two things,” said the counselor and to illustrate he picked up two blocks of wood from his desk. “If one block is moving and one is standing still, there’s friction. Or, if both are moving, but in opposite directions there’s friction. Now, which is it?”

“I’ve been going backward in my Christian life and Frank has really been growing,” the wife admitted. “What I need is to get back to fellowship with the Lord.”

In Part 2, we will look at two more ways Paul describes true Christian fellowship.

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Cooperation: Should We All Get Along? (Part 2)

Unity-in-the-Body_T_NVPart 1 is here. Now, I will wrap up by pointing out three ways where all true Christians can and should get along.

First, we are united in truth. The fellowship of the saints is not based on some type of sentimental feeling or on what the world would describe as doing good deeds. Our fellowship, that thing which initially and most substantially unites us, is the truth about Jesus Christ, not just believing it is true, but having trusting in Jesus and having His Spirit live within us. This is the foundation of our unity, the truth about Jesus, which we have believed, and His Spirit living within us, who is in the process of transforming us into the image of Christ. 

There are many superficial things which divide us, man-made things which have no eternal significance. But the foundational thing which unites all Christians, regardless of their age, race, color, language, or social standing is that we all believe the same truth about Jesus; the truth revealed to us in the pages of Scripture, that He is the preexistent immortal God incarnate, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a vicarious death, rose from the dead, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He is the one and only Savior of the world and there is no salvation except through His blood.

Second, we are united in the love of Jesus. There are numerous passages throughout the Scriptures, which command us to love one another, not merely in word, but in deed. We are to love one another reverently and with a pure heart (having the right emotions and right motives): “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Pet. 1:22-23). 

When we hold the same truth, then we are all bound to the same commandment Jesus gave us in John 13:34-35 where He says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this will all people know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This love is not only a commandment Jesus has given us; it is the essential identifying mark of an authentic believer. The person who does not have this love for his brother is not a true Christian: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 Jn. 3:10). If we are really and truly in love with Jesus, that love will inevitably flow over into our relationships with one another. We will love one another and it will be evident to those around us.

Third, we are united in the work of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 3:9 tells us that we are God’s co-laborers. We are to join together to further the Kingdom of God. Cooperation in God’s kingdom is working with people who share our faith, our values, and our worldview.

What do your relationships look like? Who are you close to and how are they influencing you? Are they drawing you closer to Jesus or pulling you further away? Are they encouraging you in the work of the Kingdom or pulling you towards the things of this world?

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Cooperation: Should We All Get Along? (Part 1)

cooperation-images-871Have you ever wondered, “How should Christians work together to accomplish the work of the Kingdom of God? Why do there have to be so many things which divide us? Why can’t we all just get along?” For the purpose of our study, we are not going to delve into discussions of denominational structure or church governance, but rather we are going to look at what the Bible has to say about those things which unify or divide us, both in our personal relationships and our Kingdom endeavors. These truths apply to our lives, not only as a church, but as individual Christians.

Why can’t all people claiming to be Christians be joined together for the advancement of the Kingdom? When looked at on the surface, it would seem this is a valid question. After all, don’t we all love Jesus? Don’t we all want to do His will on this earth? Aren’t we all His children? Why can’t we all just get along?

Perhaps more than any other day since the first couple of centuries of Christianity, we are living in a day of religious pluralism; a day when the most highly touted virtue is tolerance. Tolerance and acceptance are the mottos of the day. These fit hand in hand with the philosophy of the day, postmodernism, which sees all truth claims as being equal. So, when we, as New Testament Christians, because of deep doctrinal differences, refuse to join forces with others who also call themselves Christians, we come off as being intolerant, narrow minded, and elitist. They mock and scorn us, calling us fundamentalists and extremists.

There are those within nearly every church, who in their spiritually adolescent naiveté, question why we cannot simply join hands with anyone who calls themselves a Christian. But, for all their sincerity, they fail to recognize we are bound, not by what seems right to us, not by what the world would dictate as being tolerant, but we are bound by Scripture itself. We are bound by the Word of God.

The Scripture has a lot to say about unity; about with whom we are to associate. But it also has a great deal to say about who we should avoid, about with whom we should intentionally disassociate ourselves.

There are basically two realms in which we are called to be circumspect, vigilant, and cautious about our relationships. One is in the area of personal relationships and the other is in the area of our religious practice. Interestingly enough the two have a way of influencing one another.

Beginning back in the Book of Exodus and throughout the Old Testament, God is clear that His people should not corrupt themselves by allowing themselves to be in fellowship with the pagans around them. As God is making a covenant with the Israelites, He warns them against being in fellowship with the nations who occupied the Promised Land: “Be careful not to make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land that you are going to enter; otherwise, they will become a snare among you. Instead, you must tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, and chop down their Asherah poles. You are to never bow down to another god because the Lord, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God. Do not make a treaty with the inhabitants of the land, or else when they prostitute themselves with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, they will invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifice. Then you will take some of their daughters [as brides] for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods” (Ex. 34:12-16).

God has always warned His people to keep themselves from being in intimate fellowship with those who are not believers. Invariably, when we are too close to the wrong people, they have a tendency to draw us away from the Lord. Psalm 1:1 tells us, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” Proverbs 4:14-15 instructs us saying, “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.”

Go through the Old Testament and you will find that the Israelites were consistently disobedient at this point and the compromise God warned would occur should they be in fellowship with the nations around them was the very thing which led them into sin. There’s no greater example of this than Solomon himself, whose foreign wives caused him to compromise his walk with God and brought the practice of idol worship back into the land.

The New Testament carries this thought forward, warning us against being in league with the lost who surround us. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: bad company corrupts good character.”  2 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be yoked [mismatched] together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” This speaks to who we are in business with, it speaks to who we marry; it speaks to every intimate relationship in our lives. Young people, before you start dating someone, one of the first conversations you have should be about what that other person believes about Jesus. If they don’t believe in Jesus like you do, if they don’t hold to a sound doctrine about who He is, don’t date them. The Bible does not advocate “missionary dating.” You say, “But Pastor that’s rather radical, don’t you think?” Actually, it’s not only radical, it’s also Scriptural. Don’t be unequally yoked.

The Scripture does not tell us we cannot befriend lost people or be acquainted with them, rather it tells us that our intimate relationships should not be with anyone unless they are committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His truth revealed in Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul writes to the church at Corinth about this issue. If there was ever a church which faced this issue, it was the church at Corinth. He says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister [believer], but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says: “If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, they are conceited, understanding nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind…”

Again, in 2 John 9-11, Scripture clearly directs us not to be in fellowship with those who claim to be Christians, but do not hold to sound doctrine: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” The clear teaching here is that we are not to be in fellowship, much less join in Kingdom endeavors with those who do not hold to sound doctrine.

This is the very reason doctrine is important. Some people call themselves Christians, but they don’t mean what we mean (or better yet, what the Bible means). Some people do not believe Jesus is the Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Some people do not believe Jesus shed His blood to atone for the sins of the world. Some people do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but rather Jesus is a way, a truth, and a way of life.

I ask you, would you want to belong to a church that embraced such heresy? As Christians we cannot join in Kingdom activities with those who do not believe the truth about Jesus. What would we do together? How could we evangelize together when they don’t believe the basic doctrines of the Christian faith (i.e. the atoning work of Jesus Christ)? How could we build churches with those who don’t see the Kingdom of God as we do? Who would we reach and what would we preach if Jesus were merely one of many ways?

This is why we can’t all get along. Fundamental views of truth and falsehood separate us. Foundational differences over the nature of Scripture, the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, the eternal destiny of man, and the end of the ages will forever be the line of distinction between those of us who hold to biblical truth and those who are willing to compromise with the spirit of the age. While the world may call us rigid; while they may accuse us of intolerance and of being narrow minded; our concern should always lie with what Jesus tells us, not with what others say about us.

Maybe what we need in religious circles today is not more union, but some wise and courageous division. The reason we can’t all get along is because we weren’t meant to. Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 10:34 when He said, “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We are the light of the world and were not meant to be mixed with darkness. That does not give us a license to be malicious for Jesus or to have a holier than thou attitude; we are still called to speak the truth in love, but at the same time we must be prudent in our relationships, both personal and ecclesiastical.

But we need to bring balance to this truth about division: “There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecc. 3:5).

In Part 2 of this article, we will consider three broad areas where we as Christians are to be united.

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Jesus Wants Loving Obedience

ObedienceEvery true Christian wants to have a winning witness, a testimony that demonstrates Jesus makes a difference in their life. They want the world around them to see Jesus in them. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. All too frequently the image the world has of Christians is one of hypocrisy and compromise.

I have found many people today who profess to be Christians are living lives that are not significantly different from the world around them. I have read survey after survey, which demonstrates evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. Divorce is more common among born again Christians than in the general American population. Noted Christian apologist Josh McDowell has pointed out sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their non-evangelical peers.

As much as I would love to discredit these observations, I cannot. If my experience as a pastor has taught me anything, it has taught me this is true. You and I don’t have to look outside the church to find adultery, spousal abuse, crooked business practices, gossip, jealously, and strife. Sadly, all of these things are often found among God’s people. And it is so obvious that you don’t have to be on the inside to notice it. The world around us has become keenly aware of the inconsistencies in our witness.

You might say, “We’ll that’s fine and good pastor, but we’re not the only religion which has hypocrites, all religions have people who profess one thing and practice another.” And while you would be right, I would point out we are the only religion that has the truth. We are the only ones who serve a risen Savior who has the power to transform our lives, to enable us to overcome the world.

If the world around us does not see a difference in our lives, how are they to know that Jesus is real? If we don’t live a different life, a transformed life, what hope do they have that they can be delivered from sin, set free from its power and transformed into a newness of life? Is it any wonder that many people say Christians are the biggest reason they don’t want to accept Christ? Did Jesus know this would happen within His church? Interesting and prophetically, Jesus addresses this very issue in today’s text. Look with me at Matthew 7:24-29:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’ When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

As we have discussed previously, every good sermon is geared towards application. It is not enough we should merely know truth; truth must be put into practice if it is to be beneficial to us. Remembering that we have not been given Scripture simply to make us smart, but primarily to instruct us in godliness, Jesus sums up His great sermon by calling us to action; by telling us the reason He has taught us is so that we might be obedient. He says hearing without doing is foolish and wisdom dictates we will practice what He has preached. There are three things we find in these verses that demand our attention.

1. Our reception to Jesus’ message

The focus here is on what we have heard Jesus say. There are a variety of things people want to attribute to Jesus, but as we look back over this sermon what have we heard Jesus say?

We have heard Him teach on how we are to live as Christians. The beatitudes show us we must become humble, or poor in spirit, we must mourn over our sin, meekly accepting God’s view of us as sinners in need of a Savior, we must hunger and thirst after righteousness and find that only Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst. Then, we will be filled, transformed by the renewing of our hearts and minds.

Jesus has taught us to let our light shine before men, so that they will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. We have heard Jesus say that it is not keeping the law externally, but rather what goes on in our hearts that He sees. Sin is not something we merely do externally, but something that begins internally, in the realm of our thoughts and desires.

We have heard Jesus say our words matter and if we are His disciples, we will live our lives ever cognizant of the reality that God knows our hearts and sees our every action. We will be loving, forgiving, compassionate, faithful, trusting; and we will make His righteousness and kingdom the priority of our lives. This is what we have heard Jesus say.

There are many, however, who do not take what Jesus says seriously. They are like those in the parable of the seeds and the sower, who hear the Word but soon forget what they have heard; who allow other things, material things or temporal things, to drown out the words of our Lord.

Contrary to what many think of our Lord’s teaching, His message has not been one of lofty, warm fuzzy platitudes, but a serious call to discipleship; a message which calls us to abandon our selves and submit our wills, our hearts, and our lives to His Lordship. It is a solemn call to devout and committed discipleship that will separate us from the world around us. Make no mistake about it; this is what we have heard Jesus say. The call here is for a positive response, which brings us to our second observation.

2. Our response to His message

Throughout Scripture, we are commanded not merely to hear, but to obey. James 1:22-25 says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word, but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Notice, the emphasis is not on knowing, but on responding positively.

We know a lot more than we practice. Like those who are ever learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of truth, there are many professing Christians who are ever learning, but because the knowledge of truth comes by applying the truth to their lives, they have never really come to understand it on a practical or experiential level.

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the Christians I read about in third world countries, who are fortunate to own a Bible, much less any other religious material, who are far more committed in their discipleship than western Christians who have vast libraries of biblical material at their disposal. The issue here is not on what we know, but on how we respond to or act on what we know.

Jesus says there are two responses to His message: (1) to hear and obey; (2) to hear and disobey. There is no middle ground; either we hear and obey, or we hear and disobey. Jesus makes it absolutely clear. Knowing is not sufficient, giving mental ascent to His message, in and of itself will not do, even being a church member is not going to get us to heaven. If we are really His disciples and if we really follow Him, we will do what He has said. That is the line of separation, the difference between those who authentically are His disciples and those who merely claim to be.

Those who hear and obey are likened to the wise man who builds his house upon the rock. When the rain falls, wind blows, and flood comes, his house stands. But those who hear and for whatever reason fail to obey, their lives will not stand. The rain, wind, and flood will destroy them.

The foundation of our lives is truth. This is the truth we find in the Word of God. The building blocks of our life are to be found in obedience to His Word. When our lives are transformed by His power, when the indwelling of His Holy Spirit forever changes our hearts, our actions will consequently change as well.

Those who hear and obey are building with solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building with sand. The quality of the material with which we build our lives will always be tested and will ultimately be tested on judgment day when the books are opened and the truth of our lives are examined before all of creation.

Jesus is telling us here that the authenticity of our discipleship will be readily evident in how we respond to what He has told us. If we do not love our neighbors as ourselves, if we do not forgive as we have been forgiven, if we are hypercritical and judgmental, if we hold anger and resentment in our hearts, if we do not love as we have been loved, in spite of what we profess, irrespective of what we might claim, we are not His disciples. His disciples practice what He has preached.

They are not practicing what He preaches in order to become His disciples, but rather they are practicing what He preaches because they have been transformed; they love Him and have been enabled through His power to keep His commandments. Salvation is not through works, but is evidenced by our works.

Jesus is clearly calling for a positive response to His message. He is calling us to hear and to obey. He is asking us to take a long hard look at our lives to see where we are spiritually. Jesus is summing up His sermon by asking us to examine our lives, to see if we are building our lives on the solid rock of His truth or on the sinking sands of false philosophies. He does this because there are results or consequences to our choices. That’s the final thing I want you to note from this text. Jesus is calling us to a serious time of self-examination because the results of our response to His message are eternal.

3. The results of our obediencefootsteps-of-christ

Look again at what our Lord says in verses 24-27. 

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

The results are clear. There is a stark contrast between those who hear and obey, and those who hear and disobey. Those who hear and obey have eternal life; nothing can take it from them. Their lives are built on the solid rock. Those who hear and disobey are building their houses on sand. Whatever they have built will not stand the test of time.

In the world in which you and I live, everyone is building something. Some are building lives that will last; they are walking in obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are in constant fellowship with Him, sensitive to His Spirit’s voice, listening carefully, leaning not on their own understanding, but in all their ways acknowledging Him. Their lives are being built with solid, indestructible materials.

But others are building their lives with things that cannot last. Their houses may look similar, externally they may be similar in appearance to those built of rock, but structurally they are different. They are built upon a shoddy foundation, upon the ever changing sands of human efforts and self will.

There is a mournful danger in every age that men will hear Christ’s servants preach and will themselves read in His written Word, and stop at that, without doing anything about what they read or hear. Jesus is asking each of us, “Are you doing what I have said?”

To what degree are you and I obeying the teachings of our Lord, and to what degree are we making excuses for our disobedience? Upon what are you building your life today? Are you building your life on the solid rock of God’s Word? Are the building materials of your life made of acts of obedience? Will what you are building stand the test of time?

Or, perhaps you know, deep within your heart that there is a difference between what you profess and what you possess – that when all things are revealed, you will be found out to be a fraud. Perhaps you are reading these words and deep within your heart you know that you are not walking in obedience to what Jesus has said. Others may think you are a fine upstanding Christian, it’s not really that difficult to fool others. It is, however, impossible to fool God.

Right now, God is calling you to Himself. He is calling you to become a true disciple, an authentic follower of His. He is calling you to commit yourself to Him and to His kingdom.

Maybe you’ve never given your heart and life to Jesus and for the very first time, you want to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you want to know forgiveness of sins and the peace that only He can give you. Or, perhaps there are some areas of your life where you know you are not walking the talk, not living the Christian life others think you live.

This is a time of decision, a time to do business with God. This is the hour, this is the day; the time for you to change your eternal destiny is now. Today, you can choose to hear and obey. If you need to give your heart and life to Jesus, I want you to do that.

Perhaps you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, but you need to be obedient and follow Him in some course of action He has been calling you to do. Perhaps you’re reading these words and the Spirit of God has convicted you, showing you there is a discrepancy between what you say and what you do. And He is leading you to say that you will recommit yourself to become the disciple Jesus has called you to be, to follow Him wherever He leads, to do whatever He says, to hold nothing back, but to follow Him with total abandon, to surrender everything you are and have to Him, to walk in perfect obedience.

This is a time for each of us to examine our own walk with God to see whether or not we have a winning witness or a waning witness: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

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The Doctrine of Election

election-free-will-predestinationMy sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand (John 10:27-29).

Election is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult doctrines for us to comprehend. Simply put, election means everyone who comes to faith in Christ does so because God, in His grace and mercy, chose them to be saved. Election to salvation is an act of grace, rooted in the purpose of God. Election starts with God, not man. Election is rooted in grace, not works. It is unmerited and undeserved.

While there is no question this is what the Bible teaches, there are many questions as to what it really means. At the heart of the difficulty with this doctrine is the tension between God’s election and the free will of man. Libraries of books have been written on this subject and no one has ever been able to sufficiently settle the myriad of questions surrounding the tension. Those of the Reformed view would say it is the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

Now, a word is in order about what exactly I mean by the term “reformed.” I am speaking of what is commonly known as Calvinism. I have found it difficult to identify a universal definition of Calvinism because everyone I have met who claims to be a Calvinist wants to define exactly what they mean by that. So for the sake of our discussion, we will simply overview the basics.

Calvinism stems from the teachings of the great reformer, John Calvin, who lived between 1509 and 1564. Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of man, and the necessity of grace for salvation, all which are foundational to my theology and many other Bible-believing Christians as well. Some years after he died, his followers systemized his theology and went beyond what Calvin himself taught. This system is classified with the now famous acronym T-U-L-I-P.

The “T” in Tulip stands forTotal Depravity.”Man can do nothing to save himself, not even exercise faith.  Faith is a work.  Since the fall, man is born with a natural bent toward sin. Every part of him has been infected with this disease of sin, so he cannot save himself, nor can he seek God without the prompting of the Holy Spirit through His grace. The Bible clearly teaches we cannot come to God on our own. It takes God drawing us to Himself: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).

The “U” in Tulip stands for “Unconditional Election.”God alone initiates salvation; it is not based upon man’s exercise of faith.  God, in His grace and mercy, unconditioned on anything else, by His own sovereign desire, chose some for salvation and left others to suffer the full consequences of their sins: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4).We did not influence God’s decision to save us; He saves us according to His plan.

The tension here arises from the Scriptures which say no one is saved apart from God’s plan, yet anyone who repents and trusts Jesus Christ will be saved. Which is it? The Bible teaches both: God chooses us and we must choose God. It teaches God will hold us responsible for our decision to choose or reject Jesus, and yet it also says we cannot come to Him unless He enables us. It says God has His elect and it also says He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. This is one of the great tensions in Scripture.

I have found many Christians are preoccupied by the doctrine of election and how it affects salvation. Friends, we don’t know who is elect and who is not. All we know is we have a responsibility before God to go out into the world and share the gospel with everyone we can to become a member of the family of God. God does the electing. He chose us to do the evangelizing. The emphasis for us should be on “doing.”

The “L” in Tulip stands for “Limited Atonement.” This can be a confusing phrase, so some prefer the term “particular redemption.”Not everyone will be saved. The benefit of the work of Christ is limited only to those who trust Him. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but the only ones to benefit from His atonement are those who receive, by their personal faith in Christ, the free gift of salvation offered to them: “I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours” (Jn. 17:9).

The “I” in Tulip stands for “Irresistible Grace” (or some prefer the term “effectual calling”).Those God has chosen to be saved, He will make willing to come.  They do not want to resist.  Those who are predestined to be saved will ultimately be saved. The elect will not be forced to be saved against their will, but will come to Christ of their own choosing because God’s grace is irresistible. His call on their life will be effective: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose… and those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).

The “P” in Tulip stands forPerseverance of the Saints.” Those whom God saves He saves eternally; they cannot lose their salvation: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). This is referred to as eternal security or once saved always saved, but this doctrine is often misunderstood. The perseverance of the saints is not a license to sin and live however we want; rather, if we are truly saved we will display actions which give evidence to the fact we have truly been saved.

All true believers will endure in faith to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but will preserve to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; but they will be kept by the power of God through faith to salvation.

Election is the gracious purpose of God, by which He calls, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free will of man. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness. It is unchangeable; therefore, it excludes boasting and promotes humility. Salvation begins and ends with God. It is by His grace and mercy. Man can have nothing to do with it.

Here are three practical ways to put this truth in practice:

1. Recognize salvation is from God alone and we must rely on His grace to be saved. He chooses us and we also choose Him.

2. Resist the temptation of trying to know what we simply cannot know (Deut 29:29).

3. Rest in the assurance that because God saves, we cannot un-save ourselves. We cannot be saved by grace and kept by works. It is simply not compatible with the plan of God.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

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Knowing God

knowing_godPreviously, we looked at The Doctrine of God and examined 10 Attributes of God, which are revealed to us in Scripture. In today’s message, we will consider what impact these truths have on our lives.

What difference does it make? It makes all the difference in the world; not only in this world, but in the world to come. Unlike the pagans of old, we are not left to our own imagination as to what God is like, what He demands from us, and who He is. Graciously and lovingly, in keeping with His character, God has revealed Himself to us. He wants us to know Him, love Him, be in fellowship with Him, serve Him, and bring Him glory through our lives.

Knowing God gives us purpose. It adds reason and rational to our lives. It tells us there is a God in heaven, seated on His throne, and not only does He care for us, but He created us for a purpose. Think of how hopeless the man or woman is who has no God in whom to trust. Consider the emptiness and vanity of life lived without knowledge of the God of the Bible. Knowing God assures us that to everything there is a season and a time, to every purpose under heaven. Life is no accident. We didn’t merely evolve. God made us. Wondrously and gloriously have we been made. Not in the image of an ape, but in the image of God Himself.

While there remains a certain mystery to God, that is, there is much about Him we do not understand; there is much about Him we can and do know. He is a person and we can know Him personally. We may not be able to know Him fully, but we can know Him truly. Indeed, we can know Him for who He is.

God’s sovereignty assures us there is nothing too hard for Him. He is always in control. Nothing is too difficult for Him. He can do anything He desires, and Scripture tells us when we pray, He hears and answers our prayers. That ought to charge your batteries this morning! The God of the entire universe, the one for whom nothing is impossible and everything in creation is held accountable, has given you and I permission to come and make our requests before His throne. Not only does He hear us, but He has promised to answer our prayers!

God’s holiness assures us He is neither capricious nor malicious, but is pure and good. He cannot be corrupted. He cannot be bribed, nor can He be persuaded to go against His nature. God’s holiness tells us He is not like us, but that as His Spirit works in our lives, we can become more and more like Him.

God’s eternal nature assures us He is infinitely different than we are. Unlike the gods of the pagans who were carved in stone and had to be awakened and cared for, our God is self sustaining and needs nothing from us. It is we who are needy and because He is without beginning or end, because He is everlasting, the Alpha and the Omega, He can meet our every need. The fact He is infinite assures us there is life beyond this earth. When Jesus promised He would go and prepare a place for us, we can take Him at His word. Knowing our God is without beginning or end, that He knows all things, can do all things, and is always everywhere at all times should bring great comfort to our souls.

God’s omnipresence assures us He can keep His word to never leave us nor forsake us. Our God is not limited to time and space. He cannot be confined to some image or statue. He is not a prisoner to some temple we build for Him. He is everywhere, at all times forever. There is no place we can escape Him and there is no place where He is not already there before we arrive.

God’s omniscience assures us He has everything under control. Nothing will ever take Him by surprise, nothing will ever catch Him off guard, no circumstance we encounter in life, regardless of how difficult or sudden it may be, will ever find our Lord unaware or unprepared. He who created all things knows all things and has made provisions for us before we ever need them. This is what Jesus says of His Father in the Sermon on the Mount. He knows what we need before we even ask!

God’s righteousness gives us knowledge that someday all wrongs will be made right, that while injustice may reign on this earth, He will be the final judge. All things will be set right and every man will give an account. We can live with this world, knowing that it is but for a while. God’s righteousness tells us He will punish sin, not just the sin of others, but our sin as well. It tells us we must make things right with Him.

God’s mercy gives us insight into His patience and willingness to wait for us. While He has every right to punish us, instead He chooses to pursue us, to call us to Himself. Withholding His wrath, in His Mercy, He extends His goodness and grace to us.

God’s love for us assures us He is always looking out for our best. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than on Calvary’s cross: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). While God is just, He is also loving; so much so that He gave of Himself to pay the just penalty for our sin. He extended His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners in rebellion against Him, He sent Jesus to die for us. This is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s love.

I pity the soul who has no God like ours in whom to trust. I pity the self-sufficient man who scoffs at our religion, calling it a crutch for simple minded weaklings. There will come a day when those who refuse to submit to the Lord will wish they had. There will come a day when their strength fails them and their flesh gives way to the ravages of time. That is why we who know Him must tell all who will hear of the one true and living God who offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who will receive.

As you contemplate the majesty and wonder of our God the obvious question is not, “What do you know about Him?” But rather, “Do you know Him?” Have you ever come to a point in your life where you’ve placed your trust for forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus Christ? If not, what would keep you from doing so right now?

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10 Attributes of God

attributes_of_godOur theology about God is rooted and grounded solely in Scripture. All we can ever know about God is what He has chosen to disclose to us. What, then, does God reveal to us about Himself? Here are 10 things God tells us in Scripture.

1. He is the only true God. The Scripture is clear, there is only one true and living God: “I am the Lord, there is no other; there is no God but Me” (Isa. 45:5). As Christians, we are monotheistic, that is, we believe there is only one God. Polytheism believes in many gods. Pantheism believes god is in everything and everything is god. Atheism says there is no God, but biblical theism says there is only one God and there is no other god beside Him. Our God is unique. The Bible tells us He is a person. He is intelligent, knowable, and has a personal will.

2. God is Sovereign. He is omnipotent (all powerful) and able to do all His holy will. He tells us in Jeremiah 32:27 that there is nothing too hard for Him. God’s sovereignty speaks to His rule or reign over all things. It would not be fair to say God can do anything because His sovereignty is consistent with His holiness and all His other attributes: therefore, God cannot lie, He cannot sin, He cannot deny Himself, He cannot be tempted with evil, and He cannot cease to exist. Simply put, God’s sovereignty means He is able to bring His will to pass however He wills. While God’s freedom speaks to the fact that there are no external constraints on His decisions, His sovereignty speaks to the fact that by His own power He can do whatever He pleases: “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him” (Ps. 115:3).

3. God is Holy. The word holy is often used in Scripture to speak about the Christian being separated from sin and separated to God. But when Scripture uses the word holy to describe God, it is speaking not only of His righteousness and perfection, but of the reality that He is separate and different from us. This word speaks to His transcendence or the fact that He is infinitely exalted above all of creation. Isaiah 6:3 tells us of the angels around the throne, “They were calling to one another: ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

4. God is Infinite.He is eternal. He has neither beginning nor end; He has always been and will always be. Time and space do not limit God as they limit us. God is not subject to the special laws of time and space, which confine us. He is timeless: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). He can act within time or outside of its limitations. Truly, this is incomprehensible to us. As limited, finite beings, who ourselves are confined by time and space, it is difficult for us to even conceive of this aspect of God, but Scripture tells us He is eternal.

5. God is Omnipresent.There is no place He is not. He is everywhere at all times. There is no place where we can escape the presence of God (Ps. 139:7-10). Furthermore, He is in no way diminished by His being in all places at all times. He is present everywhere in all His fullness. This too is difficult for us to understand, so we must say with the Psalmist, “This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.” Suffice it to say that God is all places at all times and there is never a place where He is not.

6. God is Omniscient. He knows all things, past, present and future, the possible as well as the actual. There is nothing which escapes His knowledge or understanding: “Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” (Ps. 139:4). Even the thoughts of our hearts are known to Him. From the beginning, He knows the end and from the end, He knows the beginning. His knowledge is simultaneous as opposed to successive. That is, He knows all things at all times. He is never learning or in the process of learning, as Open Theists would have us think. God has always known all things and always will.

7. God is Unchanging. The technical term is “Immutable.” When we speak of the Immutability of God, we are talking about the fact that He is not capable or susceptible of change, either by increase or by decrease, by development or by self-evolution. He is unchangeable, invariable, and permanent. God does not change: “I the Lord do not change (Mal. 3:6). Not only does God not change, but His moral principles do not change. He is who He has always been and will always be who He is. “You remain the same and Your years will never end” (Heb. 1:12).

8. God is Righteous. He is the standard by which fairness and justice are measured. God’s righteousness means He always acts in accordance with what is right and is Himself the final standard of what is right: “His works are perfect and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He” (Deut. 32:4). What a wonderful thing to know that God is righteous and just! We know that someday, every wrong will be made right and everyone of us will stand before Him and give account. Although we may be surrounded by injustice on this earth, in the end, justice will prevail because our God is the personification of what is right and just.

9. God is Merciful. While God is just, He is also gracious and merciful. This speaks to God’s patience and His longsuffering with His fallen creations: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). Mercy speaks to God withholding punishment that we do deserve, while grace speaks to His giving us good things we do not deserve. God is indeed merciful.

10. God is Love. This means God is about the business of giving Himself to others: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:45 that God’s love is for all of His creation, as He causes the sun to shine and rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God loves all of His creation, and does so with a selfless and sacrificial kind of love. Volumes have been written on the love of God. While many try to explain it, God is always about the business of inviting us to experience it. Throughout Scripture, we see the evidence of God’s love, ultimately fulfilled in the giving of His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sins.

Perhaps as you’ve been reading this article, you’ve thought about other things you would like to learn about God. Things like His wisdom, His goodness, His self-sufficiency, or His glory. Maybe you’ve thought about His beauty, His peace, or His faithfulness. All of these things are topics about which books have been written. We’ve only scratched the surface.

In Part 3 of this article, we will consider what impact these truths have on our lives.

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The Doctrine of God

Bible 3If I were to ask you if you believed in God, I am confident almost all of you would respond in the affirmative. But if I were to follow that question up by asking you to describe God to me, to give me a list of His attributes or to speak to me about the essential qualities of His nature, the answers would not be as forthcoming. While most people claim to believe in God, they are not really sure who He is, what He is like, and how we can know these things about Him with certainty.

As I sat down to write this message, it occurred to me the task before me was next to impossible. How do I say all I need to say about God? I cannot. So this is a disclaimer upfront. I can neither be exhaustive nor comprehensive in my treatment of this topic. Our purpose today is not to learn all there is to know about God, that would be impossible. Rather, my hope is to stir your heart and whet your appetite for more, so you will continue to study and learn more of these truths on your own.

First, let’s consider who God is not. While most people claim to believe in God, it is clear they do not believe in the God revealed in Scripture. The question, then, should not be: “Do you believe in God?” The question should be: “In what god do you believe?” You see, when different people talk about God, they are not all speaking of the same person. Many well intentioned Christians are simply ignorant of this truth. For example, when the topic of Islam is raised, you will hear people say something like, “Well, we all worship the same God, don’t we?” The answer is unequivocally no. The God of Scripture is not Allah, worshiped by the Muslims. Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. To say we do just because we use the same generic name for God is like saying all references to the name “Mike” must refer to the same person.

The same is true of all the other gods worshiped by other religions. The God of the Bible is not the god of the Mormons; He is not the god of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; He is not the god of the New Agers; and the list could go on. While many people believe in a god, they do not all believe in the God who is revealed in Scripture.

If we look just a little below the surface we can see who God is depends on who you ask. How, then, do we know who our God is and on what authority can we claim to found our beliefs?

This brings us to our second consideration.

Who is God and how can we know Him? Our theology about God is rooted and grounded solely in Scripture. We believe there is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being. He is the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. He is infinite in Holiness and all other perfections. He is all powerful and all knowing. To Him, we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.This is a summation of our theology of God. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.

This is an important truth we need to be clear of. If we are not clear about where we get our knowledge of God, then whatever knowledge we have of Him will be suspect. The Scripture is the only certain word we have about God and it tells us that we are made in His image. This is important because when many people think about God, they try to think of Him in human terms. They try to think of Him in sentimental ways or understand Him through the lens of their personal experience, always trying to envision Him within the confines of how they would understand another human. But instead of understanding God within the confines of human personhood, we need to recognize that we are a finite and fallen replica of His infinite, divine, and perfect person. We are created in His image. He is the Creator; we are the creature. All we can ever know about God is what He has chosen to disclose to us in Scripture.

What, then, does God reveal to us about Himself?

In Part 2 of this article, we will look at 10 things God tells us about Himself in Scripture.

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How To Recognize a False Teacher

false_teachersWatch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves (Matthew 7:15).

Jesus warned us that “false christs and false prophets” would come and would attempt to deceive even God’s elect (Mt. 24:23-27; 2 Pet. 3:3; Jd. 17-18). The best way to guard ourselves against falsehood and false teachers is to know the truth. To spot a counterfeit, we need to study the real thing. Any believer who “correctly handles the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine. There are three specific questions to ask of any teacher to determine the accuracy of his or her teaching:

What does this teacher say about Jesus? Beware of anyone who denies Jesus is equal with God, who downplays Jesus’ sacrificial death, or who rejects Jesus’ humanity: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22).

Does this teacher preach the gospel? The gospel is the good news concerning Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4). As nice as they may sound, the statements “God wants you to be wealthy, God wants to heal you of all disease, and what you speak is what you create” are not the message of the gospel. Paul warns in Gal. 1:7, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

False teachers are often people-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:1-4). They preach more to please the ear than to profit the heart. But no one, not even a great preacher, has the right to change the message God gave us: “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:9). False teachers strive more to win over men to their opinions, than to better their souls. They busy themselves most about men’s heads: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries, and the delusions of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14).

Does this teacher exhibit character qualities that glorify the Lord? Referring to false teachers, Jude 11 says, “Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” A false teacher can be known by his pride (Cain’s rejection of God’s plan), greed (Balaam’s prophesying for money), and rebellion (Korah’s promotion of himself over Moses). Jesus said to beware of such people and we would know them by their fruits (Mt. 7:15-20).

It is often difficult to spot a false teacher. Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and his ministers masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15). Only by being thoroughly familiar with the truth will we be able to recognize a counterfeit. For further study about false teachers, review those books of the Bible that were written specifically to combat false teaching within the church: Galatians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, and Jude.

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Overcome Evil with Good

love stops hate“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21).

In this day of constant lawsuits and incessant demands for legal rights, Paul’s command sounds almost impossible, but these verses summarize the core of Christian living.  If we love someone the way Christ loves us, we will be willing to forgive.  If we have experienced God’s grace, we will want to pass it on to others.

This command relates primarily to believers’ relationships with unbelievers.  The Old Testament principle of justice was “eye for eye” (Ex. 21:24), but we are told, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… live at peace with everyone.”  Recognizing that limits exist, however, Paul includes the words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you” (v. 18).  Harmony with others may not always be achievable, but believers should not be responsible for that lack of peace (Matt. 5:9).

Paul exhorts us not to take revenge after we are misused.  Rather, we should leave room for God’s wrath.  God has promised to avenge His people: “It is Mine to avenge, I will repay” (Deut. 32:35; Heb. 10:30).  David’s refusal to kill Saul on two occasions when it seemed God had delivered Saul into David’s hands is a classic biblical example of this principle.

When someone hurts us deeply, instead of giving him what he deserves, Paul says to forgive him.In light of God’s promise to execute vengeance, we are to feed our enemy and quench his thirst—in short, respond to his evil with Christian love.By giving our enemy a drink, we are not excusing his misdeeds; rather, we are recognizing him, forgiving him, and loving him in spite of his sins—just as Christ does for us.

Grace is undeserved favor.  Even if our enemy never repents, forgiving him will free us of a heavy load of anger, resentment, and bitterness.Jesus wants us to pray for those who hurt us (Mt. 5:44).  By returning evil with good, we are acting as Christ did to us and trusting God to be the final judge.

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Jesus’ Method of Making Disciples

following_christ the ultimate adventure“When Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were amazed at His teaching because He taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law” (Mt. 7:28-29).

The crowds of people following Jesus were amazed at His teaching, for He taught as a Spokesman from God—not as the teachers of His time who were simply reflecting the authority of the Law. Jesus had just demonstrated the inadequacies of the Pharisees’ religious system. The righteousness they knew was not sufficient for entering His kingdom.

Like the Jewish rabbis, Jesus was gathering His own group of disciples and was training them. We are reminded of His words to Simon and Andrew in Mark 1: “Follow Me.” It was a simple phrase, yet one loaded with meaning. When Jesus called the twelve disciples (and many others who followed Him during His earthly ministry), His command demanded a response. In His call to discipleship, Jesus challenged the disciples to three things.

First, Jesus challenged the disciples to live with Him. The call “Follow Me” had a very real physical application. Jesus did not say these words and then walk away never to be seen by the disciples again. He expected them to leave what they were doing in order to physically walk after Him.

For three years after this call the twelve disciples lived with Jesus. They travelled to many different places with Him, seeking food and shelter in a host of ways. They saw Jesus in the morning when He got up and at night when He laid down. They watched Him pray, heal, preach, and teach. They observed Jesus in His dealings with difficult people. Through all of their experiences with Him, they learned that Jesus’ lifestyle was radically different from the one they had learned from birth. They were challenged to live a new life.

Second, Jesus challenged the disciples to learn how to live as His disciples. This new life did not come easily to them. They were naturally brash, selfish, and uncaring. Jesus had to teach them to be gentle, giving, and compassionate. On many occasions, He took the disciples aside in order to instruct them. When He told parables, He would explain the meaning to them after the crowds had departed. The disciples were often as “deaf” as the crowds when it came to understanding parables. Jesus asked questions of them, taught them, admonished them, prodded them to take steps of faith, nurtured them, and loved them.

Theirs was a special relationship that went much deeper than the one Jesus had with the crowds that followed Him for two reasons: First, Jesus had committed Himself to the disciples in every way. He made Himself accessible to them and confided in them. He had great expectations for them and occasionally showed frustration with them. You might recall the time the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee with Jesus asleep in the boat when a great storm came. Jesus chided them for their lack of faith. Jesus had committed Himself to His disciples, so He had great expectations of them.

Second, theirs was a unique relationship because the disciples were committed to Jesus in return. They had a growing love for Christ, and a desire to be obedient and loyal in everything. At times, they struggled with their faith, sin, and weaknesses, but they wanted to be faithful. They loved Jesus and were willing to give up everything (eventually most of them even gave up their lives) for this Man from Galilee.

Third, Jesus challenged the disciples to prepare others to hear the Good News. One of the marks of good students is they are able to do what the teacher has instructed them to do—even when the teacher is not present. Knowing this, Christ trained His disciples by encouraging them to take steps of faith on their own.

As the disciples travelled with Jesus, they spent most of their time observing their Master at work. Then, when they were ready, Jesus sent them out two-by-two to prepare towns for His coming. The disciples preached as they had seen Jesus preach. They sought faithful God-fearing people in the towns as Jesus had done. They healed the sick and comforted the bereaved as Jesus did. They learned what ministry was all about by spending time with Jesus and imitating their Master.

In what ways is our disciple-making like that of Jesus? In what ways is it different?

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Go and Make Disciples

MakeDisciples_mThen the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:16–20).

Imagine you are one of the eleven disciples who met Jesus on the mountain. Three years ago, you received the call to follow Christ and you left your family, friends, and livelihood to do so. You have been fascinated by this Man who can heal the sick, raise the dead, and preach with an authority that draws multitudes to hear Him. You have lived with Him, trying desperately to understand this Man who is so different from everyone you have known before. You were present on the night He was taken by the mob to His crucifixion and you ran. Three days later, while you were still in hiding, you heard He had risen, and you were terrified and relieved at the same time. You have seen Him a number of times since His resurrection and now as you meet Him on the mountain, you realize He is preparing you for yet another good-by.

In these last words of Jesus—which you will reflect on many times in the coming days—you receive your final instructions or formal “commissioning.” There is no mistake about it that Jesus is giving you a command that is to be followed. As His disciple, you are to respond in obedience.

But what is He telling you?

There is one thing Jesus says that is crystal clear. It is His command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” As His disciple, you know very well what He means.

The Early Church and Discipleship

The original disciples learned how to think and act based on their relationship with the master disciple-maker: Jesus. They in turn began to duplicate His kind of ministry after Jesus went back to heaven.

In the book of Acts much can be discovered about the history of the church. Following Christ’s ascension into heaven, the promised Holy Spirit manifests in power at Pentecost, and the disciples start carrying the Good News to all people.

It was an exciting time for the church, a period of rapid growth in spite of tremendous persecution. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 brought three thousand new believers into the church in one day! These new believers combined with other disciples to worship in the temple each day. Their lives were so different that they were viewed favorably by others and the church grew rapidly.

From the beginning the church met together in larger groups for corporate worship, but small groups also had a place in the life of the church. The apostles not only taught large groups, but they also went from house to house, visiting small groups in homes as they taught and made disciples (Acts 5:42). People met together in homes to break bread together and to encourage each other to live out their faith in ever greater obedience. There were home prayer meetings like the one held while Peter was in prison (Acts 12:12) and Paul’s letters speak of “house churches” (Rom 16:5).

Whether house churches were independent groups of believers or were part of larger churches is uncertain. It is likely, however, that small house fellowships were the building blocks of the church in each city or region. The early disciples met in groups small enough to fit into normal homes.

The church needed the “house church” for its survival. There were periods of intense persecution for the first few centuries after Christ, so the early church was often not able to meet openly, nor were they allowed to purchase large buildings for gathering. They relied on the more protective environment of the home to nurture and protect the gospel in the lives of believers. Miraculously, the church was able to multiply without large buildings, mass meetings, and a plethora of “how to” books!

A fascinating aspect of discipleship is that Christians in the twentieth century are in the direct line that can be traced back twenty centuries to the original twelve disciples. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul illustrates the process of making disciples: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” All disciples of Christ have been entrusted with the gospel message, which we are to continually invest in the lives of others. Rather than ending with us, the process must begin again with us, as with each new generation.

Learning to live as a child of God in our culture is a formidable challenge. Many people feel uncertain, others overwhelmed. While there are many people who can teach others how to flip pancakes or play sports, it is even more vital that there are people who can show others how to live the Christian life.

What do we mean when we talk about “disciples?” A disciple is a committed follower of Jesus who seeks to live a life marked by continued growth in understanding and obedience. How, then, can we continue the process of making disciples in this century? The following are three key principles for today’s disciple-makers to follow:

Disciples are made intentionally. Just as children don’t grow up without personal care, so discipleship will not occur without faithful Christians being intentional about it. The word discipleship is a catchphrase in the church today, often without meaning. As a result, some people think of discipleship when they think of Bible-study workbooks or adult Sunday school. What they forget is that the process of making disciples is a dynamic relationship between fellow Christians and their Lord, and it is marked by continued progress.

Making disciples must be intentional in order for small groups to take root and grow. You and I cannot pay “lip service” to disciple-making or look at it as one aspect of ministry. It must be the goal of all ministry. Our goal is that people will come to faith in Christ and then grow to maturity as His disciples.

Disciples are to be like Christ. Have you ever watched a group of people, perhaps children, who are devoted to a particular celebrity and dress, talk, and walk like the individual they idolize? It is only natural to emulate someone you respect and look up to. And since “disciple” means “imitator,” disciple-makers become models to those who are learning to follow Christ. We must be careful not to duplicate ourselves, though. It is very easy to cross the line from being respected to being idolized. Instead, our task is to help develop partners in discipleship. We must strive to be able to say (paraphrasing Paul), “We first imitated the Lord and then you learned from us how to imitate the Lord” (1 Thess 1:6).

It is often difficult, however, for modern Christians to picture themselves as disciples. We ask people if they are “Christians” instead of if they are “disciples,” as if a person could be a Christian without being a disciple. In the early church, followers of Christ were called disciples until someone in Antioch thought of the term Christian (Acts 11:26). There is nothing wrong with using the word Christian when it is properly understood because “Christian” means “little Christ” or “belonging to Christ.” A disciple imitating Christ does belong to Christ.

But who decides what it means to be like Christ? Is there anywhere to go for answers? Yes! We can go to the textbook for discipleship: the Bible.

One of the disciple-maker’s key tasks is to direct disciples to the Word of God. Growing disciples must spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis. If we want to make disciples the Bible can show what it means to be like Christ. The Bible is the only reliable source for knowledge on how to live an obedient and meaningful life. Luke wrote his Gospel “so you can know the certainty of the things which you were taught” (Lk. 1:4). John wrote “so you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).

Disciples are made in relationship. From the beginning of our lives, we learn by watching others and then imitating them. Children learn to walk and talk (among other things) by watching others. As you think back over your life, you can no doubt think of many things you learned by watching, learning, and then imitating. This is how we learn to ride a bike, drive a car, and play an instrument. It is also how we learn to “act cool” in high school, move up the social ladder in adulthood, and age gracefully in older years. In short, we learn about life in community by watching others and then imitating them.

The Christian life is exactly the same. There is no example in the Bible of a lone ranger disciple. Even Paul, after his dramatic conversion and long stay in the desert, went to Jerusalem and associated himself with the apostles and later with the church at Antioch (Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-26). When he planted churches, he always travelled in the company of others. He had a team-relationship at different times with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. The relational, community-based model of disciple-making had been demonstrated by Jesus and the disciples, and it provided the necessary support for Paul and the early church in the turbulent period after Pentecost.

Since we learn best in relationship, we most effectively learn to be disciples that way. But disciples produced through loving community in churches today are too rare. The self-sufficient individualism of Western culture has seeped into the church and led to situations in which individuals are trying, often without notable success, to mature alone as disciples. Many resources—Christian books, videos, conferences—are available for these lone disciples to increase their knowledge about Jesus, but an accumulation of facts and ideas is only the beginning of Bible-based disciple-making.

It takes a community of fellow disciples who can help each other learn to live a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. The aspect of “growing in community” is such an important concept in this process of making disciples. Without a community in which we can learn, practice, fail, and eventually move out from as agents of change, we are left without a secure foundation. Without a foundation of community, it is difficult to grow in our walk with Christ.

Who has been the most important influence in your spiritual life to help you grow? What characterizes that person’s life?

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