Category Archives: Philippians

Philippians 4 – Continuing in the Gospel; June 27, 2012

Philippians 4 – Continuing in the Gospel

 

So you’re a Christian, now what?  So you’re involved in ministry or serving at your local church, now what?  Paul’s conclusion of his letter to the Philippian church is a call for all of us who claim the name of Christ to continue in what we say we believe.  Paul challenges them in what we so often tend to pull away from as we walk with Christ – the practically functional aspects of our faith.

Paul begins by acknowledging and addressing what anyone who has been in church knows – there will be conflict even among believers.  Paul encourages unity without ever really taking a side.  We must assume that the disagreement may not have been of a moral nature since Paul doesn’t take a side.  Church life will always be full of disagreements where no one is right.  We must be willing to give grace and serve one another, especially when our personal preferences are the only points of contention.

This disagreement pulls Paul into a string of connected ideas that build on each other.  And he starts with joy.  What is the basis of our joy?  If we could really dissect the roots or our joy, would we find God at the heart of our joy or our own personal preferences?  Is our ultimate and final joy found in Christ or in something else we want?  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (v.4)  If our joy is in the Lord we don’t have to hold on to personal preference.  Finding our greatest joy in Christ alone will lead to several wonderful things:

  1. reasonableness
  2. freedom from anxiety
  3. unhindered prayer
  4. peace

Paul does not mince words.  Finding our joy in Christ opens wide the doors to be able go further with Christ in life.  When we place our joy in any other thing, we neglect godly reason, freedom, prayer, and peace.  Watch anyone who would rather hold on to their own personal preference instead of extending grace and you’ll find someone who struggles with one or more of these.

The peace that flows from our joy being found in Christ leads to a guardianship of our hearts and minds.  Paul is not encouraging us to simply guard our hearts and minds ourselves, although we should be vigilant.  Paul is suggesting a better guard than we could ever be.  As we find joy in Christ and His peace dwells in us our hearts and minds are guarded by God Himself.  This is a tremendously comforting thought.  He is the one that determines what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  When our joy is in Him, we can trust Him to guard our hearts and minds more diligently than we ever could.  Most of us miss our on this because we would prefer to do the guarding ourselves, and in holding to our preferences as our greatest joy we allow ourselves to be deceived as to what is true, honorable, just, pure, and the like.

God being our greatest joy leads to peace that guards our hearts and minds that translates to outward manifestations of the Spirit’s working.  Paul gives two examples that should be evident in the life of a follower of Christ: giving and contentment.  How we give tells a great deal about where we find our joy.  If our money is about our happiness, our children’s happiness, or how people perceive us we have traded joy in Christ for joy in possessions.  I am not saying that having nice things proves that your joy is not in Christ.  I am saying that if your money goes to things and rarely goes to your church, missions, or ministries there may be a disconnect between what you are claiming you believe and how you live.  The Philippians went to great lengths to support Paul.  When was the last time you gave at the cost of your comfort?

Paul then goes after contentment, something that is greatly lacking in the America as a whole.  We are rarely content with what we have been given.  We are trained from childhood to never be satisfied with where we are.  We are coached to go for the next best thing.  We are in a constant state of discontentment.  If our joy is in Christ alone, we are content with whatever He has given us.  Again, this is not a condemnation for those who have been given much.  This is an exhortation to examine the roots of your joy.  If you lost all that you had materially, would you still have joy?

“The Lord is at hand.” (v.5) At the heart of Paul’s conclusion lies the understanding that our time is short.  Even if we live to see death, our life is a vapor, a breath.  If we can remember that, we tend to not get focused on accumulating stuff here.  We tend to see our preferences as secondary or less.  If we can keep this in perspective, we can focus on what really matters without the distractions of pride and ignorance.  Our faith and joy are in Him, not in our ability to protect or perfect.  We would do well to remember that we will stand before Him soon.  Much sooner than any of us would like to admit.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Philippians 3:17-4:1 – Settling and the Appetites of Citizens; May 30, 2012

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – Settling and the Appetites of Citizens

 

People like to settle.  Settling on things is more convenient – it’s less work – it doesn’t force you to get your hands dirty.  Settling is natural.  There are certainly things that we should settle on.  Settling is often viewed as gracious and peacekeeping.  Those who refuse to settle are seen as arrogant and selfish, and no one wants to be labeled as such.  Philippians chapter 3 is a hard chapter for settlers.  It’s one that they like to pull out their favorite verses and put them on coffee cups, but they prefer to skip the fullness of the passage.  God has given us no room to settle in Philippians 3.  He has whittled down our smorgasbord of pursuits and affections to the singularity of Himself.

From the beginning of time, God has demanded our worship and obedience, and we have always settled for something less than Him.  Adam and Eve’s appetites in the garden proved their hearts preferred God’s creation to God Himself.  How we live will always reveal what we really believe about God.  God says in Isaiah 48:11, “My glory I will not give to another.”  God does not allow us to settle on loving Him.  We either love Him alone or we don’t love Him at all.  There is no middle ground.  There is no gray area.  This is why Paul goes after our list of pursuits and accomplishments.  If we pursue riches, power, health, safety, or a thousand other “good” things outside of our singular pursuit of Christ, we have stolen glory and worship due to God alone and given it to a lesser thing.

The same can be said for our allegiance.  We are so quick to give our loyalty to something less than God Himself.  I’ve often been horrified at how easily American Christians worship democracy as if it is God’s plan for humanity.  We are proud to be Americans.  We’re proud of our democracy and government.  We can’t imagine life where we don’t’ have a say in our destiny and future.  And that’s why so many love the American church.  That’s why so many love America.  That’s why we don’t love God.  God will always threaten our allegiances to the things of this world.  My allegiance is not to a country, landmass, or system of government.  My allegiance is not to my family, friends, or church.  My allegiance is to Christ alone.

Please hear me.  I am very thankful for being born in a land where the Gospel can be preached unhindered.  In loving Christ I can be thankful for freedom and democracy, but they do not hold my allegiance.  In Christ I can be thankful for the men and women who have fought and died to protect my freedom.  But my allegiance is not to them.

As citizens of Heaven we are called to live lives radically different from the world around us.  That means our appetites have to change.  That means are allegiances will be different.  That means we refuse to settle on certain things.  We refuse indifference in the face of belittling of God’s glory.  We refuse to remain comfortable in our doctrine and lifestyle even when others have left us to stand alone.  There is a vast difference between what is good and what is godly.  Let us make sure that our allegiance and our appetites are for the things of God and not just for what we deem as good.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Philippians 3:12-16 – Pursuing Maturity; May 23, 2012

Philippians 3:12-16 – Pursuing Maturity

 

I work with students.  To their credit, I am not as repulsed by them as most people are.  I hate when people write off students.  I think that’s why I’m called to minister to them.  I find it interesting that people expect an adolescent to be mature.  I find it even more interesting that some parents in the church expect their students to walk in godly maturity when they have not yet reached maturity in their faith.  Paul gives us a glimpse of godly maturity.  Following the path of Paul’s logic, a mature Christian sees the worthlessness of things achieved and accrued apart from Christ and sees the unparalleled value of knowing and pursuing Christ.

People in the church can often become confused as to what maturity really looks like.  Evangelicals, especially in America, have gone out of their way to redefine maturity in Christ.  Many would have us believe that Christ is our means to a better, more comfortable life. Many would call us to allow God into our lives so that we can accomplish more than we ever could on our own.  Many call us to add salvation to our list of achievements.  Paul calls us to count all of this as loss.  This is the mark of godly maturity.  This is the mark of one who sees the prize and pursues it.

Life is not about a list of successes.  It’s not about pointing back at our accomplishments and thanking God for how great we are.  Our lives are about supplanting our own righteousness and crowns with the Christ’s righteousness and His Cross.   We put down our ideal and pick up His cup.  We stop seeking a flood of cheers and pursue His baptism of fire.  Godly maturity comes when all earthly endeavors become refuse in comparison to knowing Christ.  There have been few who people that I have intimately known who have been given that gift of maturity.

The challenge that is placed before us is not one that we can gird ourselves for.  Maturity is not achieved, it is given.  Let us not attempt to achieve our maturity.  Let us ask our gracious and loving Father to give us this gift.  We do not choose to be mature, like we do not choose to be saved.  He is faithful and He is willing to take us and mold us.  May we be moldable clay in the Potter’s hands.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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Philippians 3:1-11 – Gain and Loss Part 2; May 16, 2012

Philippians 3:1-11 – Gain and Loss Part 2

 

Read Philippians 3:8-11.  Read it carefully.  Let the words soak into your heart.  These words have profound power to shift our lives and pursuits.  If verses 1-7 did their work in extinguishing pride and accomplishment in our past, verses 8-11 does the same for our present and future.  There is nothing that is considered gain if it is obtained outside of knowing Christ.  Even if we take away the profundity of Paul’s experience in context of verse 10, this passage would have tremendous depth and weight on the individual.  The fact that the words are spoken by a man who had seen Christ face to face, been to the 3rd heaven, healed the sick, raised the dead, and survived countless trials forces the depth of the heart cry beyond any other’s reach.  For Paul to cry out for a more intimate understanding of Christ is weighty.

This may well be my shortest entry to date.  My heart cannot find words.  You can feel God’s call to deeper intimacy with Him in this text.  If Paul longs for more of Christ, why don’t we?  I want to know Him.  Lord, open my eyes.  Break my heart for the places I have counted gain, and the pursuits that I have planned to add to my own gain.  Forgive me.  I love y’all more than you know.  I leave you with the text with my own emphasis added for meditation.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness FROM GOD that depends on faith – that I may KNOW HIM and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8-11

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Philippians 3:1-11 – Gain and Loss Part 1; May 9, 2012

Philippians 3:1-11 – Gain and Loss Part 1 The Holy Spirit is relentless. He is not prone to letting up or letting us out of consequences. Sanctification is one of those unique experiences that allows us to feel the freedom from sin as righteousness is imputed to us in Christ, but it also allows us to feel the weight of still waging war against our own, very personal sin. Sanctification is the epitome of bittersweet. Paul is describing his own experience with sanctification in the opening passage of Philippians 3. He dives headlong into the depth of his past and drags us to the bottom with him. He builds out his sandy foundation of heritage, self-righteousness, and blind zeal and then drops the bomb in verse 7, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Boom… down goes crowning achievement of Paul’s life. There are few of us who could spout off the rap sheet that Paul does in verses 4-6. Many of us were lawbreakers from our childhood. We stole, fought, and lied straight out of the womb. Paul may have been a lawbreaker as a very young child, but you never know what the household of a Pharisee training a Pharisee looked like in the first century. Regardless, Paul’s boast is in what he had made. Paul’s list of external success is staggering. Paul’s rights as a Pharisee, Hebrew of Hebrews, and citizen of Rome would have made him extremely successful and powerful in his day. And the cherry on top was that he had done it. He had accomplished it. He had made his own way. I often look back on my life and examine the things I used to take pride in. I used to be a good athlete. I have a box full of awards, medals, and plaques from my high school career. I have three ridiculous rings from state championships in football and baseball. I can still remember wearing those rings to school and feeling very proud. All those things represent a lot of time, a lot of sweat, and a ton of work. It has been easy for me to look back and glory in what I had accomplished. It didn’t take long for God to dismantle the tower to heaven I had built for myself. I don’t say that as if I had anything to do with the dismantling. God faithfully knocked my off my horse in college and it took a few more years for the scales to finally fall off after that. What does your tower look like? What have you accomplished? What do you wear as your badge of honor in your community? I want to be very clear here, there’s nothing wrong with working hard and accomplishing something. Paul was just as zealous for Christ as he was for Judaism. There are things that God has put into us that can bring glory to His name in dozens of ways, but how do you view your gifts? What is at the heart of your pursuits? Is it to be seen and recognized? Do you often pursue after money and toys of this world and then thank God for them when you’ve got them? Has your life been changed because of Christ or do you just add His name as a tagline to the things you’ve always pursued? Let’s think about it this way, what would have happened if Paul would have had the “salvation” experience like so many of us might have had? What if Saul was sitting in the synagogue and Peter gave an altar call, and Saul went finally went forward and asked Jesus into his heart. Saul finally decided that he should do things for Jesus now. So instead of persecuting the Christian church in his zeal, Saul turned his resourcefulness to pursuing the Jews. After all, the Jews were the ones who were blaspheming now. So Paul set out, doing exactly what he had always done, but now he had Jesus attached to his cause. This may be a silly, over dramatized example, but it fits how most of us view our relationship with Christ. We generally view our lives as being just fine before we accepted Christ, so there’s little change that really needs to take place. We just need to stop cussing, stop drinking alcohol or smoking, and be nicer to our spouses and that’s about the extent of how “bad” we were before Christ. Paul teaches passionately against this. There is something that radically changes in us when Christ saves us. We don’t see things the same way we did. We don’t want the same things we wanted. Everything is different. Salvation for us is not about how we finally chose Christ, but how He finally chose us. Everything changes when we have been confronted with the perfect love and grace of Christ. All the motivations that drove us before look disgusting to us now. This is what it looks like for what we once thought gain to become loss. I’m not saying that we all have to change our life path when Christ rescues us. The change is not always total. Meaning you may not have to completely change your job once you get saved. It’s our motivations for doing what we do that changes. Our jobs are no longer about making money or gaining success but about Christ’s glory. Our homes are no longer about comfort and status but about Christ’s glory. Our vehicles, family, accomplishments, money, savings, hobbies, time, and resources are no longer about us but about Christ’s glory. It’s the heart that changes. Some of you should change careers, sell your house, downgrade your car, or a number of other things when you realize the beauty of Christ as Paul did. It is the Spirit who leads you in deciding what you need and what you don’t need. Trust Him. It is my hope that Christ would wake us up to the glory of who He is and to the inglorious state of our hearts when we choose our self-made accomplishments over Him. I pray that we would count all things as loss for the sake of Christ. May He teach us how to join with Him in our sanctification for the glory of His name. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace, JOT

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Philippians 2:19-30 – Timothy, Epaphroditus and Tethered Affections; May 2, 2012

Philippians 2:19-30 – Timothy, Epaphroditus and Tethered Affections

 

History tells us that Paul was a single man.  He had no wife, and subsequently no sons or daughters.  He does not mention siblings as far as blood relatives.  He does, however, mention a lot of brothers and sisters in his letters.  Mostly referring to those in the churches to which he wrote.  In the final verses in Philippians 2, Paul mentions two men, one he calls his son and another a brother.  This should not be considered strange terminology to those who have grown up in the church, and especially to those who are acquainted with the writings of Paul.  It is my hope that we do not miss the subtle depth of these labels of affection.  We are in desperate need of understanding them in our modern context. In order to bring this into stark focus we must ask ourselves a pointed question: to whom do you tether your deep affection?

Paul and Timothy have a unique and intimate relationship.  For someone with no children to call another man a son is no small thing.  It denotes affection, intimacy, and exclusive love.  I do not love my children like I love other children.  I do not feel the responsibility for other children like I do for my own children.  The term “son” or “daughter” is not lightly thrown to random younger beings.  It is birthed out of much labor and toil, and I do not use those terms by accident.  As a father I cannot adequately express the depth of love I have for my daughters.  They have a love that I do not give lightly.  They have a type of unhindered love that I do not give to everyone.  This is a love that Paul gives and shares with Timothy.  We will never exhaust the depth of their relationship.

Paul and Timothy point us to an aspect of spiritual development that is becoming more and more rare in the American church.  Not that it does not exist or that there has not been a revival in the practice of Pauline discipleship, but as widespread as the “church” is in America, we do not see this as we ought.  There are two sides to this example of discipleship: 1) Paul – a man totally and unequivocally sold out to the work, spread, and personal sanctification of the Gospel (2) Timothy – a young man willing to suffer and struggle under an unrelenting servant of the Gospel.  Paul in training and discipling Timothy is showing us how to further the Gospel for future generations.  It is not the only way, but it is a sure way.  We are in desperate need of men of faith to rise and lead younger men into a deeper understanding of the Gospel.  This is done not just in word but in deed.  We have too many who have twisted the words because they have despised the deeds.  May the Lord continue to raise up men of God to biblically lead the next generation of young men.  May the Lord also raise up young men ready to submit to the Gospel through the discipleship of Godly men.

Epaphroditus is another animal.  He is not a constant companion of Paul.  He is given the distinction of “brother.”  Here again, we have Paul giving a familial term to someone not blood related.  Epaphroditus was a man willing to risk for the sake of the Gospel, and in that Paul found kinship.  Epaphroditus surely knew the risk of traveling to Rome from Philippi.  He must have understood the dangers of robbers, sickness, and weather, and yet he journeyed despite the challenges.  We also must not forget the nature of his long journey.  He was not coming to visit a prominent, well-respected, socially acceptable friend.  He was coming to visit a prisoner.  In joining himself to Paul in support he was risking reputation and welfare beyond natural complications yet he was undeterred in his coming.  In this he receives commendation from Paul who calls him not only a brother but a fellow worker and soldier.  Terms of great honor in the work of the Gospel.

I ask the question again, to whom do you tether your deep affection?  Who do you call brothers?  I think most of us would point to blood relatives, best friends, or fellows in the same line of work.  I want to remind us of Christ’s words on this subject in Matthew 12:48-50, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?… whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  As Christians, we are called to have deep affection for those who have tethered their affections to Christ.  In Christ we are of one mind, one focus, one love.  I fear that sometimes we have kept our affections tethered to our old relationships instead of tethering our affections to Christ, forming newer, deeper connections with those in His body.  I am not suggesting that we do not associate or love those who are not in Christ.  I am simply wanting us to examine our lives and see where our affections really lie.  Do your affections in relationships center on Christ or something else?  May the Lord lead us into a deeper understanding of our need to Godly, Gospel relationships.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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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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Philippians 1:27-30 – A Life Worthy of the Gospel; March 28, 2012

Philippians 1:27-30 – A Life Worthy of the Gospel

 

There is something that you are constantly reminded of as a minister.  Something that eats at the “old man” inside us – something that perhaps gets quieter as you mature in Christ but I would think would never fully go away until we are glorified.  It’s the understanding that we can never measure up.  We can never do enough, be enough, know enough, or accomplish enough on our own.  We are totally dependant on God for everything.  This is a foundational piece of the Gospel.  Without it, everything falls apart.  The “old man” hates this – makes war against this.

Human nature has a natural aversion to suffering.  We don’t like it.  Even those twisted enough to have convinced themselves they do don’t really.  Suffering is understanding we are not in control.  It’s unwelcomed, uninvited discomfort, and it’s guaranteed to those who would follow Christ.  I want to be very clear here.  Suffering has many different forms and manifestations.  We will not all be subject to torture, imprisonment, or death like the Apostles and even many of our modern kindred in the faith.  We will not all get cancer.  We will not all suffer poverty or want.  But we will experience suffering.  We will feel the weight of sin and death on this broken world.  Sometimes our suffering will be self-inflicted.  Sometimes we will refuse correction and walk in disobedience.  Sometimes we will walk in obedience but watch others walk in sin and be helpless to prevent it.  We will all see death.

I don’t say these things gleefully, as if it’s my pleasure to dampen the nice day you may have been having.  It is, however, my responsibility.  The Gospel does not go forth without attracting those who would war against it – in either the spiritual or natural realm – and with war comes suffering.

This post is not about suffering.  We will have plenty of time to discuss it as we get into chapter 2, but we must address it as we discuss what a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ is.  A life counted worthy of the Gospel is a life lived in total dependence on Christ.  Christ is all, and from Christ flow all things.  This means that even suffering is to be embraced for the sake of Christ.  We are to embrace war with our flesh, war with sin, war against those who attack Christ and His Church, war against those who defile His Word.  We are to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).  And in embracing such war, we embrace the suffering that accompanies it, knowing that it will eventually kill off this perishable shell that we may be raised imperishable.

I want to leave you with a warning.  Beware the voices that want to pull you away from the suffering that accompanies the Gospel.  Beware the voices that scream God’s desire for you is to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.  May we ask God to increase our faith that we may endure the hatred of the world for the sake of His name.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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