Monthly Archives: April 2012

Philippians 2:12-18 – Work Out, Do All, Pour Out; April 25, 2012

Philippians 2:12-18 – Work Out, Do All, Pour Out

 

Paul is not one to beat around the bush or leave us wondering what it really is he’s talking about.  He’s straightforward.  His logic is unrelenting and often lacking any hope of a loophole. Philippians 2:1-18 gives us one of the clearest pictures of Christ’s sacrificial life outside of the Gospels.  The angle that Paul takes on Christ’s life is what distinguishes his writing from the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – Paul holds up Christ’s life against our own.  This was by no means revolutionary.  Part of the intent of the writers of the four Gospels was to recount Christ’s life and teaching so that we could follow.  Paul has been given the task of taking this to the next level.  It is not only part of his focus, it is his focus.

Paul gives a brief, very practical look at the life of the believer after salvation has occurred.  He uses three key phrases in his description: work out, do all, and pout out.  We will work our way through all three and unpack how the focus of each phrase points to our own depravity, Christ’s example and sanctifying work, and how that work moves us to action.

 

Work Out

 

I am going to avoid the obvious corollary of this phrase with physical working out.  I want us to focus on how we are working out our salvation.  Paul commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  If you have grown up in church, you’ve heard this phrase thrown around and maybe even explained as though we are simply to have an awe or reverence for God.  It is something that cuts much deeper than that.  This idea of fear and trembling is an almost nagging, nervous fixation on the fact that there is someone watching you.  Paul uses the phrase on other occasions to describe the feeling of a worker being watched by a boss.

This concept is far hard for us to grasp.  Most of us came to Christ to get out of feelings of guilt and shame that have plagued us because of our bad choices.  Some of us even use Christ as a shield to block any idea that we are actually doing wrong because He loves us and will forgive us.  Paul wants to grate against this idea.  He wants to disrupt the flow of our lives.  He wants us knowing and thinking about our relationship to God constantly.

Paul would have no reason to make such a point if we didn’t naturally go the opposite direction.  The pattern of our lives moves in the way that is most comfortable for us.  We do what we do for the sake of our own safety, security, and pleasure.  Most often we don’t think about the consequences at all.  We simply don’t want to deal with the weight of our decisions.  In doing so, we have followed the wide and crowded path that leads to destruction.  This is what Christ has saved us from, and we are to keep in mind that there is One who has saved us in order to bring us onto the narrow, difficult path of life.  We would be wise to remember the ever-present, all-knowing God that we claim to serve.

I want to be very careful here.  I am not saying that God is looking over your shoulder waiting for you to mess up so He can zap you.  Nor is He watching and waiting for you to get comfortable to He can blast you with a tempest.  But if we neglect to acknowledge His presence we are in danger of stagnation and retardation in our faith.  We end up drifting away from Him instead of running to Him.  Christ’s life set the example for this pursuit and acknowledgement of God.  How many times does Christ leave a crowd of people to get time alone with God?  How many times does He leave the banquet tables of the religious elite to dine with outcasts?  How many times does He go to the sick, diseased, and demon-possessed?  Christ was driven by an understanding that God was ever present.  There is an acknowledgement in Christ’s life of the God who was governing all things.  We must follow His example.

 

Do All

 

This next phrase is one that must be approached with a slight footnote.  Doing all things without grumbling or questioning is not a command to never stand for anything, never have an opinion, or never fight for something.  The key that we often miss in this passage is found at the beginning of verse 16, “holding fast to the Word of truth.”  I’ve met many a person in the church who hold fast to their own opinions, their own tradition, and/or their own preference making them feel overwhelmingly justified in their argument or defiant position.  When we hold fast to the Word, we tend to let go of our own preferences.  This points back to verses 1-4 in counting others as more significant and looking to the interests of others.  This is what holding fast to the Word helps us to do.

Here is where Christ’s example must be seen clearly in order to kill what is evil within us.  Christ did not hold to His personal preference.  Christ did not want to drink the cup of God’s wrath that was prepared for Him at the cross, but in humble obedience He suffered and died.  Seldom do the preferences that we tend to complain or grumble about have to do with our life or death.  They might revolve around the color of the carpet, the food at the potluck, or even the style of music in the service but not how we die.  Christ held fast to the Word and will of God to the point that before His captors during an illegal trial He gave no defense despite their obvious lack of condemning evidence.  Christ’s example was being silent like a lamb before slaughter, what minor inconvenience stands before you that gives you the right to complain and argue?

 

Pour Out

 

Paul makes his final appeal for us to live like Christ, and he makes it very personal.  Paul was constantly persecuted for the sake of Christ.  He had suffered much, endured much, and risked much for the sake Christ.  Paul felt confident that he had run in such a way that Christ was glorified in his life, and that his life was set apart as it were like Christ’s was.  Obviously, Paul knew his own brokenness and need for Christ, but he also saw himself as an example pointing to Christ.

Paul relates to his labor for the Gospel as being poured out, and anyone who has been in Gospel ministry can relate to this.  Christ, Himself, related to this.  The thing that I love about this final phrase is Paul’s challenge to the church to do the same.  It is not just for vocational ministers, missionaries, or staff to pour themselves out but for all Christians.  Pouring yourself out means that whatever is inside of you is emptied to the last drop.  Paul uses this same phrase in relation to his death.  Pouring ourselves out calls us to die for the sake of Christ.  All of us.  Everyone who calls themselves “Christian” are called to die.  This shows two things: our unswerving devotion to Christ and our understanding that true life is not relegated to our time on earth.  There is no greater example of this than Christ.

May we all seek to hold fast to the Word in hope that our eyes may be opened to Christ’s example.  May our hearts be sensitive to our own depravity and brokenness.  May we repent and turn to Christ to save us and change us as we grow in Him.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Philippians 2:5-11 – The Humility of Christ; April 18, 2012

Philippians 2:5-11 – The Humility of Christ

 

Pride is such a tricky term.  How do we truly define it with accuracy and clarity in light of all that it affects? I believe that if we could examine the fabric of sin in our lives, we would find pride interwoven in all cases.  Humans in inheriting the sin of our first parents have inherited a self-focused, self-reliant, self-exalting nature.  We believe ourselves to be above certain types of service and humility because we have attained a platform of excellence that prevents us from stooping to certain levels.  We are too smart, too rich, too popular, too responsible, too wise, or too likeable to be equated with such menial tasks of service and humility.  I would like to say that this issue is relegated to those outside the church – pride is a worldly issue.  Pride is a human issue and therefore, a church issue.

It often amazes me how self-focused church can be.  Too often we neglect the power and truth of the Gospel for the sake of sparing the individual from really having to deal with their sin.  We puff up the individuals and nurture their self-esteem all under that banner of “Jesus loves you just the way you are” without ever confronting them with “Jesus loves you too much to let you stay the way you are.”  We love to preach the forgiveness, grace, and unconditional love of justification, but leave out the labor, war, and struggle of sanctification.  That is not the example that has been set before us.  Christ suffered in humble obedience, how is it that we believe we will be spared that suffering? Maybe your Christ is too small.  Maybe you don’t really know the Jesus of the Bible.

I am not at all trying to say that our salvation is based on anything we do.  Christ’s work on the Cross is fully sufficient to save us.  But, as I’ve heard many godly men state, Christ does not just save us from something, He saves us to something. We don’t just get our “Christian” card and put it in our wallet next to our medical insurance or in our glove compartments next to our car insurance and wait for the accident of death when we can pull out our cards and cash in on our policy.  Christ saves us from sin and death that we may live a life revealing the glory and majesty of a holy, righteous, gracious God.  This is what Christ showed us – He showed us what a life looks like that is wholly surrendered to God and His Will.

So I’m going to ask you to do something kind of strange – whether you’re a believer or a non-believer – try and clear your mind of the images you have in your mind of who Jesus is.  Clear out the iconic images of a pasty white Jesus with nice hair and a shining head.  Discard the Jesus from films you’ve seen or cut-outs you remember from Sunday school, and let’s try and see Him for who He truly is.  Let’s try and see Him as Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reveals Him.

Philippians 2:5-11 paints a picture of Jesus that shames our imaginings of Him.  We often try to over-humanize Jesus so that He is more relatable to us.  Ultimately we make Him a comic book superhero who fell into a radioactive baptism and came out with super powers.  We don’t want to think of Him as bigger than us.  Paul will not let us forget. “[Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (v. 6). John 1:1, Colossians 1:15 and 19, Hebrews 1:3, and Revelation 1:17-18, to name a few, all agree with the full, eternal deity of Christ.  The voice that spoke “Let there be light” into the void in Genesis 1:3 was the voice of Christ.  He has always been.  He was not an afterthought or a creation.  When He tells the Pharisees in John 8:58, “before Abraham was, I AM” He is speaking to His deity and equality with the Father.

If we start there, Christ humility already begins to make our humility look like pride.  If we can be really honest with ourselves, we humble ourselves to usually serve people we know and like if not love.  We stoop to serve our family.  We humble ourselves and serve our friends or acquaintances.  Christ in being God stooped to serve rebellious enemies of His great name. “[He] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (v. 7)  (If you think I’m exaggerating in calling us enemies, read Romans 5:10.  We were all enemies until we were reconciled in Christ).  Christ, being fully God, clothed Himself in the weakness of humanity to the point of serving His creation.  “In every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).  Christ deserved to be served in His coming to earth, but instead humbled Himself to being our servant even washing the feet of His betrayer.

Christ humble obedience does not stop there, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8).  I fear that some of us may not fully realize what is being expressed in this verse.  I think even our understanding of the horrific nature of the physical death He died might serve as a distraction for some as to the great weight of the Cross.  The physical brutality of the Cross is but a shadow of the deeper reality of Christ absorbing the wrath of God.  We cannot comprehend all that took place on the Cross.  I believe there are no words that could adequately convey the enormous price that was paid on our behalf.  (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2: the words propitiation, atonement, and sacrifice, depending on your translation, all speak to the wrath of God being absorbed by Christ on the Cross).

So let’s summarize here: Christ – who is fully God, holy, eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing – humbles Himself to putting on mortal flesh.  In putting on flesh, He deserved to rule all of creation, but instead humbles Himself again to become the servant of the rebellious enemies of His glory.  He then humbles Himself again to die by the lowest means possible – condemned to die as a criminal in such a way that heightened physical pain and trauma and stripped Him of all human dignity – becoming sin on behalf of the ones who murdered Him and absorbing the righteous, just wrath of Almighty God.

“Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (vs. 9-11) Let us tie this all back to Philippians 2:1-2.  The reason we find encouragement, comfort from love, participation with the Spirit, affection and sympathy, and complete joy is because Christ now stands exalted in His life of humility.  This frees us from relying on how we are perceived by the world around us.  We are no longer bound to feelings and perceptions.  When we are “in Christ” we are fully satisfied in Him.  We long for nothing else.  We desire what He desires – the glory of God the Father.  This is the fullness of humility.

So I must ask, do you know this Jesus?  Is this the Jesus that you worship?  Is this the Jesus that you love?  Is this the example you now follow?  My prayer is that our eyes would be opened to the reality and fullness of Christ, and that we would let go of our idolatrous, imagined versions of Him.  Let us strive to follow His example for the glory of His name.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Philippians 2:1-5 – Rewards of Godly Humility; April 4, 2012

Philippians 2:1-5 – Rewards of Godly Humility

 

When you’ve been around church people as long as I have you begin to notice certain seasons in the lives of believers.  For instance there will be times that are labeled “dry” times – times when God feels far away.  These times are marked by feeling out of touch with God even though the person is doing all the right external things.  They may be serving in a church or ministry or volunteering free time to local charities and such, but in their hearts they feel far from God and His love.  They feel isolated from Him.  They feel alone.  They feel like their prayers are bouncing off an invisible ceiling, unable to penetrate to the throne room of God.  Sound familiar to anyone else?

What I want to share with you is my experience with these “dry” times and how God has shifted my focus through these times.  In the first few verses of Philippians chapter 2, Paul describes how believers in Christ should act – namely that Christians should be humble and outwardly focused in service to others.  Anyone who has ever tried to live out humble service on a day to day basis will find two things to be true: serving can be very fulfilling work and serving can drain the very life from you.  Enter the “dry” season in the life of a believer.  Usually accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, discontentment, and desire to see fruit from the labor being put forth.  A natural human reaction.  We want to see results when we are putting in the work.

I want us to now examine the first verse in chapter 2, in which Paul implies that we will feel encouragement, comfort, participation (the feeling that our work is not in vain), affection, and sympathy or mercy depending on your translation. Paul essentially says that these are ours as believers while we are doing the work of humble service.  We feel encouraged, comforted, fulfilled (from the feelings of participation), loved, and appreciated (affection and sympathy/mercy) all in the midst of serving in humility.  So why do we feel dry?  Why do we feel alone?

I believe the answer is in a key phrase found in verse 1 – we are no longer “in Christ.”  This is not at all to say that we have somehow lost our salvation.  That is not what I’m trying to say.  What I see more often than not in the life of a believer is that we trade the relationship with Christ for the things we are going to do for Him.  Shane & Shane wrote a song years ago that said, “Lord, my serving You has replaced me knowing You.”  Therein lies the key to the seasons of dryness in our lives.  We get so caught up in the doing of “Christian” things that we neglect the very relationship from which those actions should stem.  We turn into branches that try to go out and buy the fruit that we were supposed to bear by being attached to the Vine.  We do a million things in our own strength outside of Him, and we wonder why He feels so far away.

As I’ve grown in the Lord and walked through times of ministry, I’ve come to recognize that my work for Christ is not separate from my relationship to Him.  My service is not about what I can measure.  My ministry is not successful due to how many students are in my ministry or how many salvations there were at summer camp.  When we can loose our humble service from external expectations we can experience all the rewards of being in Christ that Paul mentions.  And even when our ministries look “dry” on the outside, our hearts are full and our spirits refreshed.  This is the beauty of being in Christ.

I want to leave you with a final point.  The life of the humble servant has already been lived in perfection.  Christ has set the example that we are to follow.  Christ’s life was lived in full and perfect abiding with the Father.  Hebrews 12:2 says this, “… looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”  What an odd statement “for the joy set before him” is.  When we look back on the cross, we see shame, pain, humiliation, wrath.  What is the joy that was set before Christ? It had to be this: that Christ, in full obedience and humility, made what was meaningless have meaning.  The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that everything under the sun is meaningless apart from Christ.  Work, service, riches, wisdom, all meaningless without Christ.  Christ, in reconciling all things to Himself through the Cross (Colossians 1:20), breathes meaning into our service, and we feel that when we are in Him.  Christ’s joy in enduring the Cross was knowing the end.  Just like the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, the “great a cloud of witnesses” in 12:1, Christ knew that God’s work of redemption and salvation was being manifested through His humble service.

Today, for those of us who serve the risen Christ, let us allow the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and expose the service we do that is not in Christ.  The places that we have stepped outside of His call on us in hope of earning our own reward apart from Him.  May we serve in humility in the places He has called us to be, not the places that we see the most success or worldly recognition.  May our knowing Him move us to better serving Him.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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