As I write this post, the temperature in Indiana has dropped into the negatives, the snow has ceased falling, and the wind is constant and bone-chilling. I have been writing the previous post’s on the view of Christmas (incarnation) from the standpoint of various people in the Bible and directly related to the Christmas story. I have been doing this because it seems that we, and by we, I mean our American culture, have lost NOT only a “proper view” of Christmas but a biblical one as well.
*A poll conducted back in 2017 asked 1,000 people nationwide, “How do you view Christmas today?” They have come up with some interesting responses. 43% of the respondents said they think “it is all or mostly cultural,” while 31.3% said it is an even mix between cultural and religious. Only 15% view it as most or all religious.
Part of the problem that has led to a shift in the past thirty years is the growing number of people who identify as “spiritual” but not religious. While numbers might not be “your thing,” what they represent should be. They reveal a decline in Americans viewing Christmas as a “religious” celebration and a rise in a secular view of it.
But that is not the only denominator that affects this cultural shift in America. Age also appears to play a role in it. In the 18-35 age group, 55.4% say they view Christmas as cultural rather than religious. The most interesting aspect of all this is the number of people that still plan on celebrating Christmas across America. “85% plan on celebrating Christmas even though they have different views of its meaning and significance.”
That is why these biblical viewpoints of Christmas from people involved in the first coming of Jesus are so vital. But the most important view is that of the “baby” Himself, Jesus Christ. What is His view of His birth, life, death, and resurrection? This is a view of Christmas, and our children and children’s children need to be reminded of the purpose of Christmas.
Jesus Christ came into the world through the virgin birth and was found lying in a lowly manger to display God’s love for us! “But God shows His love for (us) in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While mankind was lost in their sins (lust, greed, adultery, fornication, murder, hate, envy, blasphemy, etc), God made very clear His love for His creation and His desire to redeem them from the bondage of their sin through His Son Jesus!
“In this is the love of God made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that (we) might live through Him” (1 John 4:9). Our Children need to know that “that the reason the Son of God appeared (baby Jesus) was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Not so we can spend ourselves into debt and have a day or two off of work or school!
Jesus, Himself stated that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they (you and I) may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He also said of Himself, “The Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). His “view” is clear; His “purpose” evident.
So, why should we celebrate the birth of Jesus? Is it simply a “cultural” or secular holiday void of religious value? Is it just something we do no different than the Fourth of July or Labor Day? OR can it be that this day we celebrate has a vastly more significant value?
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. . .” (1 Timothy 1:15)!
This is “the reason for the season.” This is the view of the triune Godhead. This is why we celebrate Christmas! God sent His only Son to pay the penalty for sin that I owe so that I would be made right with Him and enjoy Him forever!
Nothing anyone in this life can give us that is as important, as valuable, and indestructible as the salvation given to sinners through the gift of the baby in a manger over two thousand years ago-Jesus Christ!
I pray that we fully enjoy this greatest of gifts this Christmas season.
*Saint Leo University polling institute, an online poll
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
One a little girl, one a man.
One could speak, one could not.
One persisted and exercised faith, the other brought to Jesus and seemingly did nothing.
One came for someone else, the other was brought by someone else.
Two different places.
The people in the region of Decapolis told NOT to tell anyone, not so with the woman.
Both carried a burden and had a need
Both expressed humility
Both came into the presence of Jesus
Both were healed
Both received mercy
Christ was magnified
By looking at the contrasts and similarities in this account, we should be encouraged.
The facts that gender is NOT an issue with the Lord
Age is NOT an issue with the Lord
Our location is NOT an issue for the Lord
Our background or “backstory “ is no issue with the Lord
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!
I have just posted my 100th blog on 7waysfromsunday.com! I know that may seem insignificant to some, but it is an incredible achievement for me personally.
It was about a year and a half ago when I felt led to begin a ministry online. Not sure what I was getting into or even certain that I would stick with it, I jumped in and now, fourteen months later, I am encouraged at how far reaching a simple blog can be.
My hope and prayers are that our Lord would use this ministry to further the proclamation of His Word and the Gospel. That souls would be led to Christ by the truth presented here, and that my brothers and sisters in Christ would grow in their understanding and application of practical biblical theology.
In my short time as a blogger I have made some friendships online and through WordPress that are special to me. Thanks for your interest, comments, and faithfulness to our Lord.
Looking forward to another year of ministry blogging. And if you haven’t heard yet, I now am podcasting as well. You can find the link on my blog post page or type in 7waysfromsunday.com on YouTube and you will find it there.
And one more thing. If you have found this blog helpful, please share it others. Thanks and happy reading!
3 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the [a]false circumcision; 3 for we are the true [b]circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and take pride in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh, 4 although I myself could boast as having confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss [c]in view of the surpassing value of [d]knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, [e]for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and [f]the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
“Confidence is something that comes from believing. The Apostle Paul was a person of confidence. He wasn’t always right, but he was absolutely sure about his experience with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In chapter 2:19-30, Paul had written about his hope to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to these Philippians. Timothy, because he was the only one who was “one souled,” a “kindred spirit,” and in whom he felt would genuinely care for their welfare. Epaphroditus because the Philippians were worried and sorrowful in hearing that he was very sick. Paul had sorrow upon sorrow (27) and wanted them to rejoice at his return. So, in expressing his hope in sending these men to these people he loved so deeply in Philippi, Paul laid before them two men as examples. Men who denied themselves for the sake of others and the gospel! Men who had the “attitude of Christ” as mentioned in 2:5-8.
In our text this morning, Paul, in love and with patience, reminds these believers (wants them to understand) of the danger of those who preach Christ plus anything for salvation. Nothing, as we will see in a bit, according to the inspired word of God, brings the righteousness that saves and justifies except faith in Christ Jesus alone. We will also observe that the justified Christian, saved by faith, then perseveres, by that faith, in pursuing Christlikeness, knowing that he
will not attain it in this life but certainly will in the one to come.
Paul begins this part of his letter by encouraging them to be “joyful Christians.” Don’t miss that he says, “rejoice in the Lord” (vs.1). He wants them to be joyful no matter what happens in their lives, good or bad. Considering what he is about to warn them of (False teachers in verse 2), Paul wants them to understand that rejoicing in the Lord should be a constant reality in the life of a believer, no matter what their circumstances.
Paul seems to write these words as a reminder of things he had previously told them. Perhaps he speaks of what he told them about in 1: 27-30 (their opponents, the conflict). It seems that false teachers, the Judaizers, were in their midst trying to lead these folks into a works-based system -faith in Christ (plus) being circumcised- faith in Christ (plus) following the Law. However, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of these believers turning back. But they were struggling with this false teaching in their midst.
So, with that false teaching before us, let’s dig in and listen to our man Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and what the Holy Spirit divinely led him to write down in this letter.
Put no confidence in the flesh (2-7)
Verses 2 and 3 reveal a H-U-G-E contrast between what is true and false concerning Circumcision. Paul here calls those who teach a false circumcision some pretty degrading names, doesn’t he? I mean, dogs, evil workers, the false Circumcision are pretty pointed, no holds barred, adjectives in describing these people who are seeking to lead these folks astray.
The word used here for dogs is not that of our everyday household pet, in which we think of loving, joyful companionship, but of the prowling wild dogs of that day, without a home or owner. They were scavengers, and they were vicious, attacking everyone who passed them by. So, in using these terms, Paul refers to the false teachers who boasted in their religion, who trusted in their human attainments (instead) than divine atonement. They had a works-based religion, and so they perverted the gospel by adding something else to the justifying blood of Christ.
They were evil and manifested it through their false teaching. They were “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” as Jesus said in Matthew. 7:15. Paul refers to these people as not being a part of the “true” Circumcision (vs.3), but instead classifies them as a part of the “concision,” as those merely mutilated. Listen as I read from Paul’s other writings to help clarify this for us.
28 “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is Circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:28-29).”
9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made [a]complete, and He is the head [b]over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the Circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians . 2:9-11).
And herein lies the fundamental problem of such false teaching! In the Bible’s view, Circumcision is a divine work of God in the hearts of men, NOT an external rite to be observed. This was and (is) a severe issue for the church. This teaching that faith alone cannot save you. See, soon after the gospel began to spread among the Gentiles, some Jewish men who also claimed to believe in Christ began teaching the Gentile converts that they could not be saved unless they also were circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15:1). They did not deny that a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, (but) they added to faith in Christ the keeping of the Jewish Law, especially Circumcision, as necessary for salvation.
The issue was debated and resolved in Jerusalem at a council of the church leaders, where it was decided that Gentiles do not have to become Jews or be circumcised to be saved; but that every person, Jew or Gentile, is saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Acts 15:1-29).
But that decision did not cause Satan to give up his efforts to pervert the truth of the gospel. He continued to work through a group of men known as Judaizers. They followed Paul on his missionary journeys, infiltrating the new churches and teaching their (subtle error) that faith in Christ was not sufficient if a person did not also keep the Law, especially Circumcision. Paul wrote Galatians to refute this error. He contends there that these men were preaching a false gospel, and he states, rather pointedly, that those who so pervert the true gospel should be accursed, anathema (Galatians . 1:6-9).
The Judaizers are the men Paul is warning the Philippian church about in our text. The three terms in 3:2, “dogs, evil workers, and false circumcision,” all refer to one group, the Judaizers, who were promoting a counterfeit Christianity.
While the Judaizers no longer exist under that name, the core of their teaching is still quite prevalent. And that makes our text this morning extremely important in helping us discern what true Christianity is – – and to reject any counterfeit version.
So beware of having confidence in the flesh for salvation (v. 3).
To sum this up, one commentator says: “Circumcision has no spiritual value in itself. There were those who followed the Law, but had (no heart) for God. They substituted Circumcision for the new birth, and rested in the rite (without the reality), and trusted in the sign without having the (substance) (which is Christ).”
Where is your confidence resting? Most likely, it’s not in Circumcision as we are reading here. But if you are hoping to be “good enough,” you are trusting in the same system as these people Paul is exposing. You are trusting in your own righteousness, works-based righteousness, not Christ’s. You may also be in a place where you believe in Jesus. You believe He can save you, BUT you also have to follow this or that rule, eat or not eat certain things, observe this or that particular day for God to welcome you into His heaven. All of these things cannot make you any more acceptable to God. Only one thing, one person, can do that -Jesus Christ!
So, where is your heart today? What may you be substituting or adding to faith in Jesus Christ alone? Are you resting in some sort of rule or rite to save you while lacking the substance of God’s salvation, Jesus Christ?
In these verses (2-3), Paul is contrasting those who place confidence in the flesh and those who put NO confidence in the flesh for salvation. So, let’s look at the opposing side of the contrast for just a bit.
If the “false circumcision,” or false believers walk by faith plus works, how does the “true circumcision,” or true believers live?
Read again with me verse 3-6
True believers have NO confidence in the flesh!
Paul cannot make it anymore clear. Notice the contrasts between- true and false and placing confidence in the flesh and putting no confidence in the flesh in these verses! Paul now is presenting the “true” position of a biblical Christian. Those who believe in Christ alone for their salvation are the “true” Circumcision! They have received a divine circumcision of the heart, something spiritual not physical-inward, not outward—as one has said: “a reality, not a rite.”
They worship in the Spirit of God. In other words, they worship and serve their savior by the power and aid of the Holy Spirit, who indwells them. This type of worship, this type of service, is sacred and inward, not regulated by various rules or traditions.
They “glory in Christ Jesus.” That is their satisfaction, their joy, their strength, and hope is found in Christ alone. In awe and humility, they marvel and find Him worthy of any sacrifice (because of) His sacrifice for them on the cross. They “put NO confidence in the flesh.” The word for flesh is (Sarx), and it refers to what man is outside of Christ. I quote Homer Kent: “Outside of Christ sinful man has no grounds for confidence before God, because man unaided is powerless to achieve righteousness before God. The true believer, however, puts all his trust in Christ and so removes any grounds for human pride or boasting.”
And that is what Paul is expressing in verses 4-7. If anyone had grounds to boast in the flesh, it was Paul, not these false teachers. Read again with me what he says.
Paul was circumcised on the eighth day or when he was eight days old. He followed in the footsteps of John the Baptist (Luke 1:59) and Jesus Himself (Luke 2:21). Why? Because there was a covenant given and the sign of that covenant was Circumcision, something that came directly from God (Genesis 17:9-14).
He was a pure-blooded citizen of Israel, and he did not purchase the right. He was a member of the Pharisees who demanded the strictest obedience to the Jewish Law and get this, in it, in that observance, he obeyed without fault. In other words, he was blameless. Paul was a zealot and persecuted the Christians because he thought he was doing God’s work.
Paul thinks upon all his human achievements, his pedigree, his zeal, his righteousness. He comes to the divinely given understanding that all that he lived for in pursuit of being “good enough,” or meriting divine favor is all worthless. It has no value. Years and years of pursuing a righteousness of his own fall to the ground as garbage! But notice what he says next: (7) “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.”
Friends, no matter how good you think you are, you’re not good enough to get into God’s heaven. No matter your pedigree, religious background, or zealous efforts, it’s all of no value if you do not have Jesus as your savior.
Paul is teaching that:
The greatest danger we face is not the changing world around us which can only affect us outwardly. Personal finances can change, but that only raises or lowers our standard of living. The decline of social morality may make it more challenging to live a holy life, but it can not change who we are. The political climate can vary, but that will only increase or decrease governments’ intrusion into the daily business of life. Even if direct persecution comes upon us in the future, that can not change our eternal destiny. What is most dangerous to us are those things that can affect us internally.
One commentator put it this way: “Sin is deceitful itself, but self righteousness is the most deceptive of all sin because it gives you the illusion that you are doing what is right and true and good before God, yet the whole time you are an abomination to Him. Consider the Scribes and Pharisees. We have often spoken against them, but by most standards, they were good people. They were kind to other Israelites. They taught their children about God and the Law of Moses. They were often generous to the poor. They followed all of the moral rules of their society, and they were zealous for God.
Consider the Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul the Apostle, who writes these things to the Philippians. He says that he persecuted the church out of his zeal for God and that he was blameless according to the righteousness found in the Law according to the Pharisees (Phil 3). He was sincere and zealous in his pursuit of what he thought was pleasing to God, yet he was wrong – dead wrong, and except for God’s extraordinary saving grace, he would have died as (sinful Saul) rather than (holy Paul), the servant of God made righteous by Jesus Christ.”
Our confidence can only be in one place, and that is:
In The Son (Jesus) (8-10)
Paul says, everything he lived for, even though much of it was good things within a proper context, is worthless because of what Jesus Christ has done. Jesus paid the debt he owed (Col. 2:14), He was the “total” and complete satisfaction (propitiation), 1 John 2:2. It was His finished work on the cross that appeased God the Father, that enabled us as sinners to regain God’s favor and not suffer His wrath against our sin because Christ suffered it for us!
In verse 9, Paul says that when Christ Jesus opened his mind to understanding, he understood that no matter how good he thought he was, no matter how many good things he has done, his supposed “goodness,” was not good enough. He needed something outside of himself, he needed an”imputed” righteousness, a goodness or righteousness that is credited to sinners based on the finished atoning work of God’s one and only son, Jesus!
Folks, “this is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be a sacrifice to take away our sin (1 John 4:10).” “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God THROUGH Christ (2Corinthians . 5:21)!”
The word “righteousness,” in our day, has lost its meaning to many people. Even Christians are confused about what righteousness is and how to receive it.
A layman’s definition of righteousness is “right standing with God.”
Righteousness is the condition of being in a right relationship with the Lord. This can only happen through TOTAL faith and dependence upon Christ. There is no other way, and we can add nothing to obtain a right relationship with the Lord (Romans . 11:6).
One of the things that blind people to a proper understanding of righteousness is confusion about how we become right in the sight of God. Righteousness is a gift that comes from the Lord to those who accept what Jesus has done for them by faith (Rom. 5:17-18). The gift of salvation produces a changed heart that, in turn, changes our actions. Actions cannot change our hearts. It’s the heart of man that God looks upon (1 Sam. 16:7), and we must be righteous in our hearts to truly worship God (John 4:24).
The Bible instructs us on what genuine salvation is: those who put their faith in Jesus and what He did for them get what they deserve. On the other hand, those who do not put their total faith in Christ will ultimately get what they deserve. That is not what they want. Religion has subtly instructed people to trust in their goodness instead of God’s. This will never work. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans . 3:23).
Jesus was in right relationship with God as no one else can be. He is the Son of God. He is God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy . 3:16). He is holy and pure and without sin, yet He became sin for us (2 Corinthians . 5:21) through no wrongdoing on His part. He took our sin in His own body on the cross (1 Peter . 2:24). And as was read earlier in our scripture reading: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah . 53:4-5).
In return for Jesus taking upon Himself your sin, those who put their faith in Him get His righteousness instead of their own. It’s not our actions that make us acceptable to the Father. It’s our trust in Jesus that imparts the righteousness of Christ into our regenerated hearts that makes us in right standing with God.
Listen to our man Paul, the Apostle, Paul says that righteousness is a gift that God gives to those who have faith in His son (8-9). “But Paul does not stop there. Having died and risen with Christ, he wants to go on and “experience” in reality, in his life here on this earth, what this means—death to sin and selfish desires, and a new life of constant victory through the living power of the risen Christ within him. He is encouraged to keep moving towards this goal by his knowledge that final victory over sin, suffering and death is certain, when Christ returns for His own (Bridgeway).”
Friends, if you were camping or at a bonfire, and you were to place a dried leaf into the fire, what would happen? You would notice that the fire immediately would consume the leaf in a matter of seconds. The fire must consume the leaf because of its very nature. Even if the fire did not want to consume the leaf, it wouldn’t matter, it still must consume it because their natures are opposed to one another.
Deuteronomy 4:24 of the OT and Hebrews 12:29 of the NT describe God as a consuming fire. By His very nature God must consume anything and everything that opposes His nature. You must, dear friend, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or you will be consumed by the ever-pure burning holiness of the King of kings. He will act in justice and give to each one what they deserve. Please do not go another day without forsaking your own perceived notions of righteousness and turning to Jesus, who for “the joy set before Him endured the cross,” so that you may have peace with God through Him.
Dear reader, I agree with Paul in his statement in verse 1. Reminders are very beneficial to us and often needed. So, I hope this post has been a powerful reminder to you of the incredible victory that was accomplished for us on the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ.
I also hope it proves to be a safeguard to you as you listen to audio sermons, watch TV, and read books from others professing Christ. That you would, as Paul writes in Romans 12:9, “abhors what is evil and cling to what is good.”
False teachers and teaching should not be taken lightly. Not only will they slowly and subtly lead you astray from sound teaching, But (souls are at stake) as well! People’s eternities are at stake. People you know and love need you to be above reproach and steadfast in your understanding and application of sound doctrine.
So, let us, as Paul, discard everything else so that we can gain Christ and know Him more wholly! Amen
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.
2 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
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:
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.
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!
In preparing for this post, I read about a church that split, and that split began over an argument at a potluck supper when a lady brought a congealed salad she made with Cool Whip instead of real whipping cream. Can you believe it?
In googling further, you can find where churches have split over whether the pianist should sit to the right or the left side of the podium; over whether the Lord’s Supper is served from the front to the back or the back to the front. Even over trying to decide whether a kitchen should be a part of the church building or not!
We chuckle at these things but more googling revealed a story about a church that split over who was the actual pastor. They had two pastors. Two groups thought they each had their guy, and both of them got up to lead a service on Sunday. Both led the singing. Both groups tried to out-sing each other. Then both pastors started preaching, trying to out-preach each other. Finally, it just broke out into fistfights, and the police had to come in and break it up.
That’s outrageous. And it just goes to show how “intentional” we must be at building and preserving unity among ourselves. These examples reinforce just how important our daily walk with Christ is. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to walk in holiness, love, and unity.
After Paul shared the fantastic work that the Lord was accomplishing in his imprisonment for “the greater progress of the gospel” (back in 1:11-26), He turned his attention off himself. He directed it towards them, the Philippian church.
We saw in Chapter one, verse twenty-seven, that Paul was concerned about their conduct, that they, as regenerated sinners, now “in Christ” through His substitutionary atoning work, would conduct themselves or behave as citizens of Heaven should behave themselves. He exhorted them to live out their new salvation, in his words: “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And that is to be done even amidst conflict and suffering (1:29-30).
I want to point something out here as we prepare to examine Philippians 2. This congregation of Christians at Philippi was a good church, and as Paul thought about them and even as he wrote to them, his thoughts and feelings were positive. The Philippians had a special place in his heart and he in their hearts. We see that throughout the letter.
For example, in chapter 1, verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” “Every time I think about you I’m thankful.” Verse 4, “Every time I pray for you it is with joy.” Verse 5, “Grateful for your participation in the gospel, from the first day until now – consistency, endurance.” And then you’ll also notice in verse 8, he says, “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” There was genuine love between the apostle and this church.
Chapter 1, verse 19, Commends them for their prayers. He mentions his fond memories of them. In chapter 2, verse 12, he says, “You have always obeyed, and I want you to continue to obey.” And he commends them for their obedience. They had a pattern of obedience. When he was there, they obeyed, and he wanted them to continue doing it even in his absence.
Chapter 4 verse 16 he says, “It not the first time you sent me an offering; even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” (generosity)
All of his thoughts about this church were positive; his feelings toward them were warm. In 1:5, when he affirms their participation in the gospel, he notes that they were genuine believers. Verse 7 speaks of their great courage because even in Paul’s imprisonment and “defense and confirmation of the gospel,” they stood with him as “partakers of grace.” Add to all this what John Macarthur points out: “There is a very obvious lack of doctrinal exhortation in this epistle because there was apparently no doctrinal deviation. They had not gone astray in terms of theology. They didn’t need to be corrected. There is no immorality in the congregation which is confronted in the epistle. So generally, this is a quality group of people. This is really a devoted, consistent, doctrinally true church.”
But, despite all of that, there is lurking in that church a deadly snake with venom. And that deadly snake is the snake of disunity, discord, and conflict, which has poisoned many churches.
I mention all of that because I think we are prone to assume that disunity and conflict wouldn’t be a problem in a strong church. That is not necessarily the case. One commentator made this point:
“There is a sense in which this is the danger of every healthy church. You see, it is when people are really in earnest, when their beliefs really matter to them, when they are eager to carry out their own plans and their own schemes that they are most apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide,” (William Barclay)
And that is why Paul’s writing to these believers is so helpful to us today. We do not want to be deceived into thinking disunity and discord cannot happen among us.
We need to recognize the danger and be reminded of how we can promote unity and combat discord among ourselves as individuals and a church body.
So, open up your bibles with me, and let’s read Philippians 2:1-4 together.
2 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in Spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The first thing I want us to take notice of is this:
1. Redemption changes us (1)
Paul is writing these words in verse one, continuing his appeal in verses 27-30. He is building upon the theme of unity. Remember, he used the terms “standing firm in one spirit,” “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
In 2:2, he uses the same language. He says: “be of the same mind, maintain the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Paul wants these believers he loves dearly to express (live-out) the power, influence, and fellowship of the Spirit (benefits of the gospel) they received at salvation within their local fellowship. Paul is very aware of the situation between Euodia and Syntyche, and he addresses it later (4:2).
Listen to how two other translations read in verse one:
Barclay: “If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you, if love has any persuasive power to move you, if you really are sharing in the Holy Spirit, if you can feel compassion and pity,”
Phillips: “Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy.”
Do you get the sense of what Paul is doing here? Notice 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 specific exhortations to help them understand the importance of striving for unity within their church.
Often we have that backward and see little results. We can learn from Paul’s example.
But, we need to grasp the point Paul is making and the way he is making it. The “if” in these statements refers to certainties, not possibilities, and could be translated “since.”
Let’s look at each one:
The first reminder (Blessing) is that there is encouragement in Christ. We have the blessing of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:10) and being found in Him (Philippians 3:9). We have been given the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29). Does anything lift our spirits more than knowing we are in Christ? In any trial and suffering we go through, we find encouragement in our relationship with Jesus.
Second, we have the consolation of love. This is presumably a reference to the love of Christ that comforts us. He is ours, and we are His. What comfort! It may also reference mutual love for one another that flows from this relationship with Jesus. This connection was made in Philippians 1:7-8. Paul loves the church “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8). We know God’s love, and His love makes us love others.
Third, we’re reminded that we share in the fellowship of the Spirit. The Greek word translated “fellowship” (koinonia) is the same word as in Philippians 1:5. The Spirit unites us as brothers and sisters (Philippians 1:27), partners in the gospel, and the Spirit helps in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). Later Paul says that Christians worship God “by the Spirit” (Philippians 3:3). Paul is aware that disunity threatened the Philippian congregation, so he reminds them of the Spirit-produced fellowship they share.
Fourth, we share affection and mercy. This affection (cf. Philippians 1:8) or “tenderness” (NIV) flows from our union with Christ. Christ has loved us with amazing tenderness. He has shown us infinite affection. Mercy or “sympathy” (ESV) or “compassion” (NIV) has also come to us from the source of all compassion- our great God (see Psalm 103; Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3). We share in a common experience of being the objects of God’s compassion. This tender care should cause us to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4) and serve sacrificially as illustrated by the life of Epaphroditus (Philippians Php 2:25-30; 4:18).
So, Paul, so concerned for their unity, their love for one another, and an unhindered gospel witness from them reminds them, and in a way, I think, challenges them, to unselfishly share these benefits of the gospel with others. Freely they have been given, so freely give!
Dear Christian, because of your being “in” Christ, you too share in these blessings (encouragement in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship in the Spirit, mercy, and compassion).
How are they equipping you and aiding you in your daily walk?
Freely, by His grace, they have been given to you. Are you unselfishly sharing these benefits with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Perhaps you are reading this today and do not know Jesus as your Lord and savior. You are not enjoying these blessings we are talking about. Your life may be in shambles, depression your only friend, why not look to Jesus? He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He can take the mess of your life and make beauty from the ashes. What keeps you from Him?
Paul’s appeal to these folks seems to be this: “If life in Christ has changed you at all, and you are experiencing these blessings in your own life because of Jesus, Make my joy complete…”
Welcome to our new study in the book of Philippians. Once again, we will be diving into a pastoral epistle penned by the Apostle Paul to a group of people he and Timothy met up with and ministered to after Paul received his “Macedonian vision” (Acts 16:8-10). In response to this vision, Paul and Timothy crossed the Aegean and traveled to Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). It was *“through the apostle’s ministry in that city, the gateway to Europe became the birthplace of European Christianity!”
I am excited to study this epistle with you because there is so much in it that will encourage and edify us and chasten and convict us. All of which is important for us to meditate on if we are to have the mind of Christ (2:5).
Soooooo, let’s begin!
I want to begin by asking you, the reader, a few questions: Have you ever been s-o-o-o loved by someone that they never seemed to have anything wrong to say about you? Someone who at the very thought of you was thanking God that they know you? Praying for you with unending joy? Greatly longing after you with the love of Christ? Have you ever had anyone, with such affection, encourage you with their incredible confidence and faith that God will work – and is working in your life, in intentional ways and will not fail?
That is just the kind of person we find in Philippians 1 this morning. Paul is writing this epistle (letter) to a group of people in Philippi, a group of people he had not seen for about five years. Paul had founded this church in Philippi about ten years earlier (50 AD), and their love for him and participation with him in the gospel fostered a deep loving relationship between them.
Remember (or if necessary, go back and read), in Acts 16, Lydia was converted, and her whole household and then the jailer and his family received salvation, and from that little group, this church was born! Take notice of what Paul says in 1:5; “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” We see a man who is always praying “with joy” for these believers who never stopped their fellowship with him personally or in-regards-to the gospel from the first day onward. They shared his interests, made his suffering their own, twice they sent money to him in Thessalonica and once at Corinth, and NOW again at Rome (4:18).
At this writing, Paul is under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30- 31), and that is what he is referring to in verses 12-26. Keep in mind that this is not the Mamertine dungeon where he finally was put to death; Paul was eventually freed again for a short time, at least that is what we can conclude by studying the pastoral epistles.
We see in this writing that Paul had hope of being released (and being able to visit with them again (1:23-27; 2:23-24). So, by doing the math, we can conclude that ten years ago, he planted this church, five years later visited it on his 3rd missionary journey, now he is under house arrest in Rome penning this letter of love, filled with joy these believers.
Paul is writing with much joy and love in his heart for these people. And it is in this salutation that we find Paul, with this frame of mind and spirit, not only expressing his love and joy but also revealing what he prays about on their behalf.
He wants them to be encouraged that God is a completer. Look at verse six with me; this will be our main focus in this post. He wants them to love each other, AND others even more; to grow in knowledge and proper discernment of that knowledge, and that they would walk in a “manner worth of the gospel,” as Paul says elsewhere, so they would have nothing to be ashamed about on the “day of Christ.”
Dear reader, Pauls’ writing is full of love, joy, concern, and direction for these believers, but what fuels that love and respect? What fosters such joy and leadership for their lives? What is the “marrow” that breeds life and strength and encouragement in this letter to the Philippians? IT IS CHRIST AND HIS GOSPEL!
Paul writes of Christ 37 times in just 35 verses in this epistle. The Gospel 9 times in 8 verses. This whole chapter, a part of which we are focused on today, speaks of the fellowship, furtherance, and the faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Christ is at the very heart of all Paul is writing about— all he wants them to think about — and the One he wants them to appear before with nothing to be ashamed of.
Well, what is at the heart of such a victorious life? How can they/we grow in these ways? And how can we walk in such a way that is sincere (pure) and without offense (blameless) till the day of Christ, when he returns?
Please direct your focus with me back to verse 6 (read again)
Take notice that Paul “asserts” his complete and total confidence or trust in one amazing fact—–God is a completer!
a. How can he be so confident? He is stating, no holds
bard, that he is absolutely sure about this. Well, turn back in your bibles to Galatians 3 because it is there in that epistle we find Paul exposing “the error of the Judiazers and their impure motives. Paul does not want these believers to embrace a false gospel, a gospel of Christ plus human works for salvation, leading to legalism (Read Galatians 3:1-3).
b. These Galatians were deceived into thinking that what God had begun in their lives (spiritual) would be completed in the flesh (human achievement).
They thought and were being taught that the Christian life that the Spirit began would be brought to successful completion by their human achievement and religious accomplishments.
Paul’s rhetorical question denies that possibility! God begins and finishes this work through His Spirit. He told the Romans that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God (8:8). He told them in 8:15-16 that they “had not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…” You see, at their salvation they had become adopted children, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ.” Romans 8:29-30 tells us that God very clearly begins, continues, and finishes the salvific work He providentially began in a person’s heart and life!
But Paul’s ideas of salvation are only that, opinions if it would not be for this one crucial fact: Turn to Galatians 1:11-12. The Gospel He has taught neither in its nature nor origin is by human reason or wisdom, but by, notice verse 12, by “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is why He is “confident” of that very thing. That is why these Philippians and you and I today can trust what Paul is saying to us through this letter.
Paul says (back to Philippians 1) that God has begun something, which he states is a “good work” in them.
A work that is not only agreeable but is excellent and honorable! Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Paul told the Corinthians this: “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You who are reading this post, has this work begun in you? Do you understand yourself to be a sinner in a hopeless situation without Christ? Christ who gave Himself for you? Through His death and resurrection, you can be redeemed (bought back) from the bondage of your sin and be made pure, clean, and acceptable to Him through the “finished” work of Jesus Christ!
Yes, it is true, friends! The sins of lying, stealing, fornication, addiction, greed, murder, blasphemy, pornography, and much, much, more can and will be forgiven you ——-if you but “look unto Him and live.”
This is the “good” work He had begun in myself and many reading with you today when we humbled ourselves before Him and turned to Christ for the forgiveness- we-so-desperately-needed. Would you now acknowledge your sin and guilt and turn to Christ for the forgiveness He promises you in His Word?
Dear Christian, do you rejoice at the “new creation” God has made of you? Do you find unending joy in the amazing work of salvation that God has done in you!
It is said that the central theme of this letter is joy:
Joy in suffering
Joy in sacrificial giving
Joy in knowing Christ and experiencing His resurrection power
We see this portrayed throughout this letter. Joy in unity and the adequacy of Christ. Are you joyful, brothers and sisters? Or are you perhaps deceived, as the Galatians were, in thinking that the work God begun in you will be completed by your own achievements and successes!
*A. Boyd Luther, Jr. Commentary on the Philippians
BRIEF RECAP: We have meditated on various topics the past few weeks: The recognition of and relationship to spiritual leaders and their congregations, as well, as the relationship of believers among themselves. Everything that we have learned in those studies reflects our new life in Christ and how that manifests itself in our varied life circumstances and surroundings. This study is no different! It is so because all of these verses (5:12-22) are part of a larger context, one that is about life within the church. As meaningful as the relationship is between a congregation and its leaders, so is the relationship that we share as the “body of Christ.”
Intro: As Paul continues his letter, he gives a few more imperatives or commands for these Thessalonian believers to follow. Let’s take a (1)SOS here. The New Testament is written in various moods, most noticeably, the Indicative and Imperative moods. When we read our Bible, we will notice that we are being told about things that happened, and we have those things that occurred explained to us. This form of writing is the indicative mood, the expressing or explaining of the word of God. Often, most noticeably in the Epistles, when the explaining or narrating certain things ends, commands follow. This mode of writing is the Imperative mood.
So, what is going on? Simply this: The writer, based on all that he has just explained, wants his readers to apply the truth’s taught, so he starts writing in the imperative to give application to his readers.
These are not the only moods that we find in the New Testament. The Exclamative and interrogative are used as well. Both the element of emotion and the probing analytical and rhetorical questions we witness, in conjunction with the indicative and imperative, are to instruct us in the will of our God!
Interestingly, we find in our letter that the first three chapters are written in the indicative, and only in Chapter four do we begin to see commands being given. Out of the sixteen imperatives that Paul gives from chapter four onward, most of them arise in these verses that we have been meditating on in previous weeks (5: 11,13-22, 25, 26)!
FOCUS ONE: Back to our study. In the verses before us (16-18), Paul gives his readers three exhortations:
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in everything
“You also became imitators of us and the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6). In expressing his thankfulness for these believers (1:2), Paul mentions their joy of the Holy Spirit at the time of their salvation. This joy was upon them in the midst of the “tribulation” they were experiencing due to trusting in Christ. Paul credits the Holy Spirit for the delight they have. That makes good sense, right?
Joy is a work or fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Even in Isaiah 61:10, the prophet writes of rejoicing in God for this very same thing, salvation! Often we misplace our joy, or worse still, confuse it with our definition of happiness. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, BUT rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Christians are to be joy-filled people. We are to “rejoice always” in what God has accomplished for us in Christ. Situations in our lives will change, effecting our mood. In one day we can experience happiness, sorrow, anger, etc., all depending on the circumstances we are facing. But, regardless of our situations, our joy remains the same! When we understand that our joy does not hinge on our ever-changing conditions in life, but in our redemption in Jesus Christ, which doesn’t change, we will find that our lives, minds, and hearts are affected and changed forever with a “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8)!
FOCUS TWO: What does the Apostle mean when he says “pray without ceasing?” Does he mean that Christians are to be in a constant, formal, and audible prayer mode their whole lives? Would that even be possible? Obviously not.
The idea or thought Paul is conveying is relatively simple. He wants his readers to know that they need to live their lives in constant dependence on their Father in heaven. They are to bring all their cares, burdens, anxieties, hopes, and dreams before Him in prayer. Why? Because He cares for them and is the only one who can provide for them ideally concerning all their needs (Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:17).
There is no sound argument regarding this verse that would substantiate the idea of unending repetition in our prayer lives. Jesus Himself spoke against such a thing in Matthew 6:7; Then giving His disciples an example to follow. In contrast to such a thought, we are to be a people that pray persistently(Luke 11:1-13) and regularly (Ephesians 6:19).
FOCUS THREE:Thank-less-ness is a characteristic of unbelievers (Romans 1:21), not redeemed Christians! Does that mean that we should be thankful for the horrific personal tragedy that happened in our lives or in the life of someone we love? Should we celebrate the terrible misfortunes of others? No, obviously not. Instead, we ought to be people who are diligently and intentionally looking for the good in the midst of the bad in the middle of our ever-changing circumstances. There is always something good or some good reasons to be thankful, even if they are a bit hard to see at first.
Perhaps you have been praying for a loved one for many years to come to Christ. However, year after year, you witnessed their hearts getting colder to the gospel. In despair over their soul, you cried out to God to do whatever it takes to bring that dear one to repentant faith. He answered your prayer.
You now find yourself in the emergency room, waiting, worrying. Days go by, even weeks, the healing and recovering process are brutal. Not much to be thankful for here, you think to yourself. But what you didn’t know was that one of the caregivers was praying for your loved one. A friend was reading the Bible to him/her when they visited. And your loving Father in heaven was working through these difficult, painful circumstances to bring this dear one to repentance.
Ultimately, through this experience, your loved one repents, and his/her life is changed forever because of Christ. Your prayers were answered! Sometimes it’s hard to see the good when things are so bad. Keep looking. The Lord promises it’s there (Romans 8:28)!
Dear Christian, when we join this appeal with the previous two, rejoicing and praying, they give us a biblical roadmap for victorious Christian living!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. Turn in your Bible to Philippians 1. Read through the chapter and find where Paul ends writing in the indicative (simple statements of fact) and begins writing in the imperative (commands or exhortations). Look at some other Epistles and do the same. This exercise will help you in your application of the truths taught.
2. What other scriptures can you locate that teach on these three topics: Prayer, Joy, and thankfulness? Write them down and meditate on where your strengths and weaknesses are. Spend time in prayer asking our Father in heaven to help you “excel still more” (4:1)!
3. Think of an example in your own life when you felt nothing good was going on in your situation. How might understanding these three commands (rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and thankfulness) help you get through the next hard or bleak period in your life?