How to enter the kingdom of God


Mark 10:13-31

BRIEF INTRO: 

“What must I do to be saved?” This is the million dollar question! From the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts eight, the jailer in Acts sixteen, and myriads of people ever since, that particular question has been asked time and time again. But that is not the issue in question in these scriptures. In this study, we will read about two different kinds of people. Those who are (like) the little children who came to Jesus in innocent trust; and those who are (like) the wealthy young man who trusted in his wealth and his righteousness.

Packed inside, the apparent contrast between the children and the rich young man is this question: How can I enter the kingdom of God? What does Mark want us to learn by sharing this account with us? 

13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He would touch them, but the disciples rebuked them14 But when Jesus saw this, He was (indignant) and said to them, “Allow the children to come to Me; do not [a]forbid them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.

FOCUS ONE: The little children (13-16)

So, what is going on in these scriptures? It appears that the parents, most likely, are bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. Perhaps some aunts and uncles are included in that group; we are not sure. The word “they” is not very specific in this case. We know from verse one that the crowds had gathered around Him as He entered the region and began to teach them. 

These children’s ages most likely ranged from being infants to others in their pre-teen years (paidia used in Marks account, Brephe used in Luke 18:15). They brought the children to Jesus because they wanted Him to lay His hands on them and place a blessing upon them. The disciples “rebuke” (forbid, censure) the parents for doing so. Perhaps they only desired to protect Jesus from potential trouble or more fatigue since they had just arrived in town. Still, Jesus was “indignant” (very displeased, angry)) that anyone would think that children are unimportant. Jesus tells them not to hinder the children from coming to Him. At this point, the story becomes fascinating!

There are two statements in these verses that define the main point:

  1. The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these (v. 14)
  2. Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter at all (v. 15).

What characteristics is Jesus talking about? Is He saying only children will be in the kingdom of God? How does a person receive the kingdom of God as a child? 

The answer to those questions becomes more apparent when we think about children! After all, they are the objects of the lesson that Jesus seeks to communicate. And what characteristic is at the heart of childhood that Jesus emphasizes? Innocent, simple trust In Him! “God’s present spiritual rule in people’s lives belongs as a possession to such as these.” 

“It is not so much the innocence and humility of children (for children are not invariably either innocent or humble): it is rather the fact that children are unselfconscious, receptive, and content to be dependent on other’s care and bounty; it is in such a spirit that the kingdom must be received.”

Coming to Jesus as a person that recognizes and humbly acknowledges that you have nothing to give but simple trust in Him is the heart-work of God that makes people “kingdom ready!”

These words are instructive as well as soothing to our souls when we think about the innocence of children. BUT, I say again stronger, BUT, do not miss the next statement of Jesus. His warning must be heeded: “whoever DOES NOT receive the kingdom of God like these children shall not enter it at all.”

Our manner of approach to Christ MATTERS A LOT! 

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 2But he [a]was deeply dismayed by [b]these words, and he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

FOCUS TWO: The encounter with the rich young man (17-22)

He was self-righteous and selfish—he thought he could earn his way into Heaven. He trusted in himself while the children with simple faith trusted in Jesus! In this, we observe the obvious and rather instructive lesson of complete surrender!

The rich young man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him, an expression of respect for the “good teacher.” Jesus’ response seems abrupt. Calvin understands this to be “it’s as if He had said, ‘thou falsely calleth me a good master (teacher), unless thou acknowledges that I have come from God.” “In other words, Jesus is saying, before you address me with such a title, you had better think soberly about what the implications are, and especially what they are for you.”

He wants to know how to enter eternal life- Jesus knows he is referring to works, so He lays out the second table of the law before the man (Relating to others).

The man states that he kept it all from his youth (self-righteousness). Sometimes wealth and our own achievements can blind us to our needs. But to keep things in their proper order, and this mans thinking in line with the belief of his day, we need to realize that “it was a firm Jewish belief, based on Old Testament teaching, that the man who kept the law would live (Deuteronomy 30:15-16). So, that is why Jesus begins there. 

The man’s answer is a confident one. From youth “probably refers to the age of thirteen, when every Jewish boy became bar miswah (son of the commandment). At that point in a Jewish boy’s life, he became responsible to live by God’s commands.”

This is why he spoke sincerely. The problem was that he believed his obedience to the law was only an external matter, whereas the law also required inner obedience, which no person could comply with. He needed to understand his need before he could be helped

He needed to become like a little child and exercise simple innocent trust in Christ. He needed to acknowledge his pride and self-righteousness, cast it off, and turn to Jesus!

Jesus, with great love for him, pointed out the issue with his heart and told him what he needed to do (v. 21). He needed to humble himself and forsake the security that he clung to with his wealth, and the critical part here is “come follow me.”

At first, we wonder why Jesus would take such an approach to this man’s question about gaining eternal life. Many professing Christians would probably have started talking with him about God’s love and How he wants to bless everybody. They probably would have told him to “ask Jesus into his heart” and that he would be made right by doing so.

But Jesus used the law to help the young man realize his need (Galatians 3:24). The one thing that prevented this man from gaining eternal life was the security he had in his wealth. He didn’t want to surrender that and take hold of Christ by faith. By using the law Jesus sought to help the man realize and repent of his covetousness (Genesis 20:17).

“The only way to life is through the narrow gate of full surrender, and through that gate we may take, not what we want, but only what God allows.” Repentance and faith are what he needs, just like the rest of us! Sadly, he went away grieved, unwilling to part with his property.

This does not mean that everybody who comes to Jesus must give up everything they have. But it does mean that we need to be willing to!

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus responded again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were even more astonished, and said to Him, “[a]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

FOCUS THREE: Jesus teaches the disciples (23-27)

As the disciples witness the sad exit of the young man unwilling to come to Christ and inherit eternal life, Jesus profoundly executes another teaching moment! “How hard it will be” for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. At this statement, the disciples exhibit amazement. Why? Honestly, it reflects their Jewish background, “which placed emphasis on the privileged position of the rich. To be wealthy was sure evidence of having the blessing of God.”

But Jesus, as always, and with incredible insight, seeks to penetrate through this false ideology by showing how such wealth and privilege could keep someone from putting their faith in the only means of salvation, namely the person of Christ! 

There is some encouragement in what Jesus is saying. Take notice that He says, “it is hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (v. 23) and again in verse twenty-four. He also states that “it is easier to go through the eye of a needle (v.25) than for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. So where is the encouragement? It is found in the simple fact that Jesus does not say it is impossible!

So, what is the point Jesus is making? That salvation is a work of God, not man. Apart from His grace, it is impossible for anyone, especially a rich man, to enter God’s kingdom. Our efforts cannot save us. All our wealth cannot purchase salvation for us. What we cannot do for ourselves, God did for us in the person of Jesus Christ (v. 27; John 3:16)!

28 Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and have followed You.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms [lands], for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 [a]but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in [b]the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

FOCUS FOUR: Peter speaks up; “But we did all that” (v.28).

I can relate to Peter! I can picture myself at first shocked at Jesus’ statement and then utterly confounded at the reality that I did all that. The logical and very emotional response would be: “So what does that man do for me? I did all that you said.” But, Peter is most likely thinking in the material realm rather than the spiritual realm. A problem plagues them throughout their time with Christ pre-cross and through the resurrection.

Again, with great love and patience, Jesus responds to Peter’s statement without rebuke. Honestly, the response of Jesus is a bit hard to understand, at least in part. What does it mean that in this life, such people would receive those things forsaken for Christ a hundredfold? I don’t know anyone in church history who has had that happen except possibly Job.

The best answer may be “understood in the context of the new community into which the believer in Jesus comes. There [they] find multiplication of relationships, often closer and more spiritually meaningful than blood ties.” In other words, God takes nothing away that He does not restore in new and unique ways!

BUT, along with great blessings comes “persecutions” (v. 30). Wouldn’t we rather avoid this part? Ever hear the song with these words: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden?” That’s what we have going on in our text. No believer in Christ was ever promised a pain-free, persecution-free, problem-free life. He told us that as they persecuted Him, they will persecute those who follow Him (John 15:18). BUT, it will be worth it when we see Jesus, our savior! 

He laid aside temporarily more than we will ever be called to. He suffered more than we can fathom, and He did all that for “the joy set before Him.” Obedient unto the Father even unto death on a cross; a death that was for the “propitiation” for sinners like us, and through it reconciling us with Him so we can enjoy Him forever! It will be worth whatever we must leave behind in this life.

The Expositors Bible. Commentary, pg. 713

Humility

Mark 9:30-37

BRIEF INTRO: We now find Jesus and His disciples traveling through northeastern Galilee (1:9), heading toward Capernaum (v. 33). Mark reveals that the Lord did not want anyone to know about it. Why? As we move forward in this study, we will again observe the incredible lack of understanding the disciples had regarding the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, their Messiah. 

We see that the Lord taught them the very same things He had taught them before, i.e., what is about to happen to Him to fulfill prophecy and to be the propitiation for sin. They fail to comprehend His teaching, which leads to the discussion they have together when they arrive in Capernaum and are in “the house.” 

30 And from there, they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. 31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be [a]handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they [b]did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

FOCUS ONE: Time alone

First, we should notice the secrecy that Jesus sought in His travels. He was a prevalent figure, and as we have seen in our study, the multitudes sought Him out (Mark 9:15,25; 6:34,54; 5:21; 4:1; 3:7; 2:1-2). It was not uncommon for Jesus to want secrecy (7:24). Perhaps He wanted some rest before He engaged with the multitudes again. Maybe He sought an opportunity to be alone with the Twelve to prepare them for His coming crucifixion fully. Whether or not it was one or the other or both, it is clear He desired this time alone with them. 

As they traveled through Galilee to Capernaum, Jesus taught them about the coming suffering that He would endure. His teaching is consistent with all His previous teaching regarding His crucifixion (9:9-12; 8:31). Similarly, their lack of understanding (6:52; 7:18; 8:17, 21, 32; 9:10, 32). 

It appears that the disciples are possibly gaining an idea of how woefully ignorant they remain after repeated teaching from Jesus (v.32). This time, they are afraid to ask what He means. We shouldn’t be quick to judge these men because we are like them. How much teaching have we received from the Lord through scripture and His pastors and teachers that He placed in our lives? How often do we scratch our heads in uncertainty and doubt? 

Information overload. I have acted just like this in the workplace as well. Maybe you can relate to me. I am thinking of the new job and the training that begins on day one! Remember how much information is meted out to you in big chunks, more on top of more on top of even more. Some of which are not grasped. And some things are a bit more uncertain, so we ask our trainer the same questions repeatedly until we become self-conscious about it and then become afraid to ask our trainer again for fear of making them angry with us.

A lack of understanding at times is part of our human condition.

33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them: “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

FOCUS TWO: Who’s the greatest?

If ignorance and fear aren’t enough, now we read that the twelve our discussing which one of them was the greatest. John MacArthur points out that the dispute could have resulted from Peter, James, and John’s privilege in witnessing the Transfiguration. Reading through the New Testament, you will find that matters of rank were essential to the Jews (Luke 14:7-11). So this was possibly a genuine concern for these men in light of the coming messianic kingdom and their part in it.

Whatever the reasoning behind the discussion, one thing is sure: They did not understand the scope of what was about to happen and what it meant. Jesus asks them about their conversation, but they “kept silent.” I would venture to guess because of embarrassment. Think about it; the greatest among them is Jesus, their rabbi, friend, and Messiah! Which one of them could ever come close to Him? So, since they chose to remain silent, Jesus sat down (normal posture for a rabbi) and began to teach them.

35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And He took a child and placed him among them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever [a]receives [b]one child like this in My name [c]receives Me; and whoever [d]receives Me does not [e]receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

FOCUS THREE: Humility

In this teaching of Jesus, we find that “the disciples concept of greatness, and leadership, drawn from their culture, needed to be completely reversed. Not those who lord their position over others are great in God’s kingdom, but those who humbly serve others” (10:31, 43-45; Luke 13:30; 14:8-11).

Notice the opposite way of thinking about such things: “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” And then Jesus, to illustrate what “servanthood” is, uses a little child demonstrate.

The meaning of the illustration seems clear. “True greatness entails caring about people-insignificant people like children-because Jesus Himself is concerned about them.” In doing so, we receive Jesus and the One who sent Him, the Heavenly Father (v. 37). 

Followers of Jesus Christ should be known for their selflessness, not selfishness. They should be known for their humility, not pride. They should be known for their fellowship with Christ, not men’s praises! These are three things I know I need to be more prayerful about. How about you?

MacArthur Study Bible

THE COMPASSION OF JESUS

Mark 7:24-37

BRIEF INTRO: Upon leaving Gennesaret Jesus went into the region of Tyre (7:24), and had an amazing interaction with a gentile woman, a Syrophenician. Mark 5:1-20 records the first encounter that Jesus had with a gentile (non-Jewish person). Both of these interactions were very significant because they revealed that God’s kingdom was/is NOT only for Jews!

Tyre is a Phoenician port on the Mediterranean Sea, it sits northwest of Galilee. I learned in my studies for this post that “a Syrophoenician” is a phrase that Roman authors used to distinguish the Phoenicians of Syria from those of North Africa.

As we enter into this text we find Jesus, in the region of Tyre, entering into a house privately because he did not want anyone to know that He was there. Jesus needed rest like we do. He needed some “alone time” to talk with His Father. Perhaps He wanted time alone with the residents for some reason we are not privy to. Whatever the reason for the intended privacy we can be sure that it was sought after for Good and godly reasons, not deceptive or mischievous. Anyway, it didn’t work “He could not escape notice” (v. 24).

25 But after hearing about Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a [a]Gentile, of Syrophoenician descent. And she repeatedly asked Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not [b]good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the [c]dogs.” 28 But she answered and *said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” 29 And He said to her, “Because of this [d]answer, go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30 And after going back to her home, she found the child [e]lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

FOCUS ONE: The miracle of casting out a demon

In this focus point we get to observe the first of two healings that Jesus performs in two separate regions; both for gentiles! The first is in the region of Tyre with a gentile woman, a Syrophoenician. She kept asking Jesus to cast out a demon from her daughter. Verse 30 calls her a child, so we can assume that she was a pretty young girl.


In this particular account between Jesus and the woman we notice the language being used (children, dogs, and bread). Mark tells us that the woman “kept asking Jesus to cast this demon out of her daughter.” She was persistent, and we can say she was exhibiting faith in Jesus to do it! BUT take notice to the dialogue that ensues between them. Jesus tells her that the “children” should be satisfied with the bread first. The woman boldly replies that dogs do get to eat the crumbs that fall under the table.

“1Her point was that the dogs get some food at the same time as the children and thus do not have to wait. There need be no interruption in His instructing the disciples for all she humbly requested was a crumb, a small benefit of His grace for her desperate need.”

So what is at play here? Jesus is making the point that Israel was chosen above all others to benefit from God’s righteous rule. That puts them before people from the rest of the world. He is also signifying that His mission is first to the Jewish people, although we do see the inclusion of non-Jewish people as His ministry unfolds (these two healings are one example of that).

So what happens? Her persistence and faith affect Jesus! He tells her, “because of your answer go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter” (v. 29). That is very cool! Her answer demonstrated her humility and faith. Jesus does not go with her to speak to OR even touch her daughter. He simply tells her its done! She returns to her home and finds her healed, just as Jesus said.

31 Again He left the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 And they *brought to Him one who was deaf and had difficulty speaking, and they *begged Him to lay His hand on him. 33 And Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers in his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 And his ears were opened, and the [a]impediment of his tongue was [b]removed, and he began speaking plainly. 36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 And they were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even those who are deaf hear, and those who are unable to talk, speak.”

FOCUS TWO: The miracle of healing the deaf and dumb man

Jesus came through Sidon within the region of Decapolis. Sidon is a Phoenician port on the Mediterranean Sea, about twenty miles north of Tyre. So some travel was involved. We often think as we read through our bibles that these things happened quicker than they did and that these geographical places were much closer than they were. This is a good reminder for us that that is often not the case.

Jesus is brought a deaf man who spoke with difficulty. They, whoever they are, (family, friends) entreat Jesus to “lay His hand upon Him” (v. 31). So, Jesus takes the man aside but rather than lay hands on him, He does something very peculiar, He puts His fingers into the mans ears, spits, and touches the mans tongues with the saliva! Mark is the only one of the gospel writers who records this miracle.

Unlike other healings, Jesus uses what can only be called “sign language” and “symbolic acts” to accomplish this miracle. It is interesting, the difference I mean, in how Jesus heals people. Mark does not give any explanation why Jesus did so, so we must be very careful NOT to add to scripture any of our own ideas!

“1By touching the ears and the tongue, spitting on the ground, and looking up to heaven (to God the Father), Jesus conveyed what He was going to do.” Remember, this man was deaf and mute, so it reasonable to conclude that this was what, perhaps in part, Jesus’ purpose was in acting this way.

Jesus, looking up to heaven, with a deep sigh (possibly reflecting compassion for the man) said, “Ephphatha,” which means be opened! Immediately the man is healed of both of his issues.

Unlike the last healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, Jesus here gave orders NOT to tell anyone. Yet again, we witness in this account the peoples disobedience to His command. The more He ordered them (commanded) to keep quiet, the more they “continued to proclaim it” (v. 36).

It would make sense that He wanted to minister within the region and not be looked at as only a “miracle-worker.” Sure, He, being God in the flesh, can heal anyone of anything. BUT, that is not the main reason He came: “for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The people were “utterly astonished” at what Jesus had just done. The crowds confession, if you will, reveals their understanding of Jesus based on previous reports brought to them and now by what He has just accomplished in their sight!

FOCUS THREE: Contrasts and similarities

CONTRASTS:

  1. One a little girl, one a man.
  2. One could speak, one could not.
  3. One persisted and exercised faith, the other brought to Jesus and seemingly did nothing.
  4. One came for someone else, the other was brought by someone else.
  5. Two different places.
  6. The people in the region of Decapolis told NOT to tell anyone, not so with the woman.

SIMILARITIES:

  1. Both carried a burden and had a need
  2. Both expressed humility
  3. Both came into the presence of Jesus
  4. Both were healed
  5. Both received mercy
  6. Christ was magnified

By looking at the contrasts and similarities in this account, we should be encouraged.

ENCOURAGED BY:

  1. The facts that gender is NOT an issue with the Lord
  2. Age is NOT an issue with the Lord
  3. Our location is NOT an issue for the Lord
  4. Our background or “backstory “ is no issue with the Lord
  5. Humility and faith ARE precious in His sight!

Dear reader, if you come to Jesus in humility and faith He WILL hear you; He will forgive you, and He will perform the greatest miracle ever for you-the salvation of your soul!

1 The Bible knowledge commentary, pg. 135

KNOWING CHRIST

                                                   

 Philippians 3:10-12

 Brief Intro: 

As I mentioned in my last post, we would have to come back, camp out, if you will, a bit longer in verses 10-12, because there is so much Paul is expressing that, on its face, honestly, it just doesn’t make much sense, at least not concerning what we know about Paul’s life and conversion.

Those statements about “knowing Him,” “fellowshipping in His sufferings,” “conforming to His death,” etc., what’s that all about? We tend to glide past statements like this a-s-s-u-m-i-n-g we get it. We presuppose meanings to such things that may or may not be correct. We all do this at times, don’t we?

So, initially for myself, and now hopefully for your edification, I started digging to see what I have been missing by assuming too much in my own cursory reading of this Epistle.

So my aim in this post is simply this: to shed light on these statements of Paul and hopefully give you a much more precise and more applicable understanding of Paul’s heart, which he lays out to these believers in Philippi in these verses.

FOCUS ONE:

1.   To Know Christ 

What does this mean? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have learned what you know about Jesus mostly from Paul. He wrote about His death, burial and resurrection. He explained the meaning of the gospel and revealed to us this “mystery” called the church. He “knows” and understands these things better than anybody else. So what does he mean when He says that he wants to know Christ?

Paul says in verse 10, those very words, “I want to know Christ.” This statement seems to assume his thought back in verse 8: there is an “Infinite value in knowing Christ.” Compared to everything in his life, his history, as he expressed in verses 5-6, to know Christ more personally, more intimately, here-now is to Paul of greater worth than anything else the blessings and honor of this world have to offer.

He is not just seeking a greater cognitive knowledge of facts about Jesus, things learned from books or mentors; no, what Paul was seeking was an intimate relationship with his savior born out of the daily experience of walking with Him!

Through the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the good and the bad; through the trials and tribulations or the blessings and comforts; whether being persecuted for the faith or experiencing the heights of spiritual success in serving Christ, Paul knew that in these things he would learn more about Christ. He knew that walking through life’s twists and turns in humble obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ would be the catalyst for such an abiding relationship.

The word “know” in verse 10 has varied meanings in our English language, just as it does in other languages and just as it does in our bible. For example, it can mean “to have learned something by serious study.” Or to know something by experience. It can refer to intimate knowledge between two persons, and even deep personal intimacy and contact between two people like, such as with Adam and Eve as in Genesis 4:1. But as Dr. Boice comments, “but because this is what knowledge between persons is—deep, intimate union, Paul having been saved wholly and solely by Christ, wants to enter into the deepest possible union with Him.” Dear reader, that union is to be forged within the fires of our own human experience.

Much of our western Christianity has a mindset far from what we are reading here. Much of our Christianity is influenced by our parents, culture, and church, or the various churches we have attended over the past many years. 

What do I mean by that? I mean that some Christian’s Christianity is based more on family influence, beliefs, and example than on God’s word. The greater impact in their lives has been the various churches they attended and their particular ecclesiastical structure. But even more predominant than those two things is the influence and affect our culture plays in our individual and corporate walk of faith!

So, as we look at Paul’s words, I want you to think about how much of YOUR Christianity is BIBLICAL Christianity and how much of it comes from our culture and family backgrounds?

Ask yourself these questions as you think through this:

A. Is your love for God more an “emotion,” than it is a commitment?

B. In light of the incredible love God manifests to you at Calvary, are you extending similar love, mercy, and justice to those around you?

  1. We believe that Jesus died on the cross as an atonement for our sin, an act of incredible love. Our only appropriate response to our merciful savior is to submit to Him as Lord in all things. Are you submissive?

We can know Him personally and intimately. Jesus is not someone far removed from us. Our bibles tell us that He is near to us, with us, acquainted with all our ways. Don’t you desire to know Him more personally?

Folks, this is just the tip of the iceberg! For most of us, the reality of being able to know Christ more personally and intimately in our daily lives is sobering and challenging enough. But Paul doesn’t stop here. Paul also wants to know His power.

FOCUS TWO:

2.   To experience His mighty power

Paul says: “I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection.”

He is not only speaking of the divine power that raised Christ from the dead but of the power of the resurrected Christ now operating in his life. That power enables believers to “live a new life (Romans 6:4).” Because they have been raised with Christ (Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2,5,6)

Ephesians 2:5,6: “Even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead, (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved). For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 3:1 “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.”

Paul says that he wants to experience that power in his redeemed body, that “new creation” body that 2 Corinthians 5:17 speaks about. As Paul sets his sights on the realities of heaven, as he walks in this promise of “newness of life,” he wishes to experience that power more personally, more experientially in his limited time on earth.  But how? How did he wish to experience it? 

Boice again: “Above all, in the living of a godly life. Paul knew that a life lived with Jesus meant a life of holiness. But he also knew such a life was impossible if it depended upon his own natural powers. He had learned by experience his own inability to live as God intended; Paul longed for such a deliverance,{ as he expressed in Rom. 7:19, 22-24}, through Christ’s resurrection power.” 

The Greek word (Dunamis) used in verse 10 means power, especially inherent power. All the words derived from its stem (Duna) have the basic meaning of being able or capable. In other terms, Paul means having the ability to overcome resistance!

Since Christ died and rose again, overcoming the powers of death through the Holy Spirit, as Paul stated in Romans 8:11, he knew that same power, that same Holy Spirit, was able to help him overcome the resistance of the world, flesh, and the devil.

Dear Christian, Paul was sensitive to this power, are we? Are you? We should understand and believe that a life of holiness is impossible in our natural abilities. You and I desperately need this resurrection power to live a life where we can more wholly, more intimately experience a deeper relationship with our savior. 

Perhaps you are reading this, and these things that I have been talking about so far make no-sense-at-all-to-you, well, hold on because I have a few more things to say that you probably won’t understand either. This is because the things I am talking about are not “taught by human wisdom,” but taught by the Holy Spirit. A person who has not received God’s grace through His Son Jesus will see these things as foolishness and won’t be able to understand them because they are spiritual truths for His children, something that you presently are not!

But the good news is that even though you have sinned countless times against your creator, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and rightly deserve His condemnation—God in His love sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and die in the place of sinners like yourself, like all of us. He accepted the sacrifice of His Son as full payment for your sins and evidenced that by raising Him from the dead. He now offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to everyone, including you dear friend, if you but turn to Jesus in repentant faith. You cannot earn something as wonderful as this. It is God’s free, unearned gift to those who genuinely trust in the finished work of Christ at Calvary.

The third thing Paul speaks of is “fellowship in His sufferings.”

FOCUS THREE:

3.   To suffer with Him, being conformed to His death

“I want to “know” Him, and the “power” of His resurrection and the “fellowship of His sufferings.”

Again, what does he mean, right? Paul does not mean that he wished to suffer for human sin as Christ did because only Jesus could do that to the Father’s pleasure and satisfaction. So, Paul is speaking in a different sense. 

Paul wished, as one commentator expressed better than I could: “to stand with Christ in such an individual union that when the abuses and persecutions that Christ suffered also fell on him, as he knew they would, he could receive them as Jesus did. He wanted to react like Jesus, because he knew that abuse received like Jesus would actually draw him closer to his Lord.” Receive rightly and react rightly!

Paul earlier expressed this back in 1:29: “for to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” In 1 peter 4:12-13, Peter said: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.”

Paul knew that to be a Christ-follower and to walk in a holy manner before this world and His redeemer meant that trial and tribulations, suffering in varying degrees, would come part and parcel with his new allegiance. He knew there was a right way and a wrong way to “run the race set before him,” and he accepted that fact humbly and wanted to receive and react appropriately to the sufferings that God would allow to fall on him, “for His names sake,” as we saw in 1:29. 

He knew that through such sufferings a deeper, more intimate relationship- or “knowing” of the Lord was possible, and he counted the cost and decided that the surpassing value of knowing Christ was worth it all! (3:8)

This fellowship of Christ’s suffering is won at a high price….the price of loyal, intentional obedience (vv. 13-14)!

Christian, are you like Paul desiring to receive and react humbly and obediently to our father in heaven no matter what He allows to come your way?

Or do you count hardship and suffering in your life as something strange and to be avoided at all costs?

Do you realize that there is a biblical way and a worldly way of thinking about sufferings? Which theology do you hold?

These statements of Paul explain why he desires to know Christ more personally and experience His power and fellowship in His suffering because he wants to “attain” or experience the resurrection from the dead.

FOCUS FOUR:

4.   To attain (experience) the resurrection from the dead

Talk about complex statements. If the others were a bit hard to comprehend, what about this one??? 

Does it mean that Paul was afraid of his eternal security? No, not at all. The man who wrote Romans 8:38-39 and Philippians 1:6 is not a man who fears that. Paul is obviously, speaking of something different.

Paul is not thinking in these terms; one commentator writes: “he is thinking about something else. Actually, he is saying that he wishes to be so much like Christ in the way he lived that people would think of him as a resurrected person EVEN now, even before physical death.”

Dr. Kuiper agrees and, in his thinking, has said: “The word resurrection literally means to ‘place,’ or ‘stand up.’ To the Greek mind, living people were standing up, and dead people were lying down. So, making a Greek pun, Paul says, “I want to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings that I may give the spiritually dead a preview to (eternal life in action) as I am standing up outstanding among those who are spiritually on their backs—spiritually dead.”

Brothers and sisters, is it our desire to be so living for Christ in this world that we would appear as a resurrected person living among the dead?

Conclusion:

With so much said and much to think upon, what’s our summarized takeaway from these scriptures? I believe it is this:

What Paul is expressing is biblical Christianity. Vile sinners are forgiven by grace, forsaking their own perceived righteousness and receiving Christ’s, now pursuing their savior. Laying aside what is behind and counting it all a loss to grasp hold of something more precious, something of greater value, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, “laying hold of Christ Jesus!”

Is this our Christianity or are we holding on to some other definition of Christianity that is not biblical, or perhaps comes from our culture, upbringing, or something else?

GRATITUDE AFFECTS ATTITUDE (PT 2)

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Philippians 2:1-4

BRIEF RECAP:

In our last study we noticed Paul’s approach with the Philippians. He’s not only warm and pastoral, but he’s also quick to first mention the blessings of the gospel before giving certain exhortations to help them understand the importance of striving for unity within their church. In this post we will continue our study of these first couple verses and look at his exhortations to these believers.

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

FOCUS ONE:

Fellowship unites us (2-4) 

That is an interesting statement for Paul to make, “make my joy complete.” He expressed his joy over their salvation and participation with him in the gospel (1:4). He rejoiced at being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith (2:17). BUT what would bring his joy to it fullness? “unity in the bonds of peace.” What would thoroughly complete Paul in his ministry to this church is unity among their fellowship! 

In these verses, 2-4, I see two themes emerge: 

1. Fellowship 

2. Self-denial

In order for there to be biblical fellowship, within a church, there has to be like-mindedness, there has to be expressions of love, there has to be an understanding and grasping hold of “one purpose.” ALL of these things begin with what Paul was talking about in verse one: The saving, changing work of the Holy Spirit! We cannot have true God honoring fellowship with one another, if we do not have fellowship with the Spirit ourselves! Gratitude affects attitude!  

It is very clear in these verses that selfishness and empty conceit are polar opposites to self-less-ness and humility.  

Perhaps Paul’s mind is on Euodia and Syntyche. Later he writes urging them to be of the same mind. They were not maintaining their love for one another. They did not have the same purpose at heart. Selfishness or empty conceit may have been playing apart in their discord, and it was wreaking havoc within this church. It was so bad that Paul, many, many miles away, in prison, hears about it from Epaphroditus, most likely, when he was sent to serve Paul on their behalf.  

So, Paul, and it is an interesting observation, in the Greek, uses the imperative here. “Make my joy complete,” is a strong exhortation to begin doing something they were not presently doing.   

It could read: “Right now work at being of the same mind, right now begin maintaining your love for one another, right now start esteeming others better than yourselves. Right now stop being so selfish, stop being so prideful and share the benefits of your fellowship with Christ and His Spirit with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.”  

vss. 2-3 explains how Paul’s joy would be complete-Fellowship is fostered by people whole-heartedly agreeing with each other, loving one another, and working toward the same goal (Gospel unity, gospel witness). It necessitates self-less-ness, humility and a true regard for others that places their needs above our own.

Selfishness, empty conceit, double-minded-ness, always stifles gospel centered unity, always hurts others, always is disobedience to the Lord.  

This is what is burdening Paul; unity and the lack of it in this otherwise GOOD church. It seems that he frames the letter, with that issue.  For example, in the first chapter he speaks of it, verse 27, when he says, “I want you to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  In chapter 4, the last chapter, he speaks of it in verses 1 and 2 when he says, “stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. And I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”  

So, in chapter 1 we see an urging toward one mind and one heart.  In chapter 4 another urging toward one mind and one heart -And then in the middle is this second chapter, and the opening verses of chapter 2 also deal with the issue of unity in the church.  This is a plea for unity.   

FOCUS TWO:

3. Unity strengthens us (2-4)   

Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are working and striving together to make the gospel known to the lost as well as living it out in community with one another?  

Can you imagine a church where the Christians are humble, serving one another allowing their Lord to encourage and comfort and show mercy to others through them?  

Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are obedient to Christ even when their feelings get hurt, or their ideas for ministry are not acted upon or done to their satisfaction?  

Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are “standing firm in one spirit, steadfast in their opposition to the enemy, unrelenting in their humility before God and others?

How strong would such a church be? It is true: “united we stand, divided we fall.”      

Christian, have you noticed any potential areas of disunity in your congregation? Have you sought to bring unity in that situation? 

Maybe there is someone in the congregation that you personally are in conflict with, how can the Elders help you through that?

Talk with another mature believer about it and work towards maintaining “unity within the bonds of peace.”  

Paul, in a way, is giving them, giving us, a blueprint for a strong, healthy, vibrant, fruitful fellowship within the local church, and it has everything to do with UNITY!  

BUT, this unity is all wrapped up in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ! We see that in verses 5-11. That will be my focus in my next post!  

Paul isn’t about to leave these people he loves dearly thinking that unity and love, God honoring fellowship, self-less-ness is something that they can do on their own in the flesh. He is not about to move on in his letter leaving these beloved people contemplating his exhortation without giving them an example.   

So, in order to enforce the earnest exhortations he had just given as to lowliness of mind and unselfish consideration of the things of others, Paul sets forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the supreme example of this. His voluntary self-abasement, His incarnation, His obedience even unto the death of the cross. The passage combines Christian doctrine and Christian practice. The immediate connection is between the principle in Philippians 2:4, of having regard to the condition and needs of others, and this sublime example of Christ.” 

All that now follows declares how Jesus looked upon our dire needs as sinners. We are the “others” whose “needs” were the great object of His acting in grace. And it is His mind, as thus expressed, that is to be our mind.

His “attitude” was one of: self-denial (6-7) Humility (8) Obedience (8) 

And Paul lays before these loved ones the greatest example he could ever give. No one was more undeserving of love, forgiveness and fellowship than they were, then we are as vile sinners. Who were we that God should become man, lower Himself for a time, in order to redeem us and qualify us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light? (Colossians 1:12) 

And yet, He did. “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). 

Dear Christian, Christ is our supreme example, His selfless love is an example to us. His Humility and obedience even to the point of death are our encouragement, given by Paul, to strive for unity within their /our local church.

Friend, just like all those who have gone before, just like all of us sitting here today, you are undeserving of His love, His forgiveness, and His fellowship. You as the rest, are a vile sinner in His eyes and should be cast off into outer darkness. 

But, you have hope in this same Jesus! He came to this earth, endured the cross, despised the shame, died the death you should have died, bore your sins on that cruel tree, so that you, through Him, could be declared righteous! Forgiven!Reconciled! At peace with God, your creator! Please believe in Him and you “will” be saved!

GENTLE RESTORATION

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Extended reading: Galatians 6:1-5

Devotional verse: Galatians 6:1

“Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well.”

People make mistakes all the time. “I’m only human” is the explanation we hear so often after someone has failed relationally, morally, or otherwise. It seems like we do not take sin as seriously as we should. We tend to think that we won’t fall prey to another temptation since we suffered dire consequences last time. How is that working for you?

The most recent events surrounding some leaders in the Hillsong church movement and those that have surfaced about a famous apologist, well known in Evangelical circles, prove painfully otherwise. In these verses, Paul instructs his readers to gently pursue restoring a fellow Christian who fell into sin back into a right relationship with God and those they have sinned against.

Paul gives two reasons for such tenderness. The first is not as obvious but is implied in the word “gentleness.” When we fall into temptation and succumb to its pressure, we feel ashamed, foolish, and heartbroken that we gave way to the flesh once more. If we were caught in it, the embarrassment and consequences following the particular sin could be a heavy burden to bear. So, Paul is expressing the need for us to humbly admit our sins to one another so we can mutually encourage and hold each other accountable in our Christian walk. 

If we would be more willing to share our struggles and help others who are struggling with sin, we would be able to move forward in our walk of faith more confident, encouraged that we are not in this fight alone. 

Prayer: Father, As much as we hate sin, we confess that we often fall into it. We often compound the issue by not being honest with others about our struggles. Holy Spirit, work within us a greater sense of honesty and humility so that we can mutually encourage one another along the way. Amen.