TRUTH FROM THE PAST

“ Prayer that affects one’s ministry must give tone to ones life. The praying which gives color and bent to character is no pleasant, hurried pastime. It must enter as strongly into the heart and life as Christ’s ’strong crying and tears’ did; must draw out of the soul into an agony of desire as Paul’s did; must be of an in-wrought fire and force like the ’effectual fervent prayer’ of James; must be of that quality which, when put into the golden censer and incensed before God, works mighty spiritual throes and revolutions.

Prayer is not a little habit pinned on to us while we were tied to our mother’s apron strings; neither is it a little decent quarter of a minute’s grace said over an hour’s dinner, But it is a most serious work of our most serious years.

E.M Bounds

CALLING THE TWELVE

Mark 3:13-19

NOT SO BRIEF AN INTRO: As Jesus continues to heal the sick that are brought to Him, the multitudes continue to follow Him. Many are looking for healing for themselves or someone close to them, others are intrigued at the miracles He performs, yet many are still attracted to His teaching.

Because there are so many people following them, Jesus instructs the disciples to have a boat ready for Him to get into so that He wouldn’t be crowded or crushed by the multitude of people. As the crowds grew, many “pressed about Him” to touch Him. They appear to believe that they only had to make physical contact with Him, and they would be healed. Forget looking Him in the face; forget talking to Him, petitioning Him, or asking Him for mercy and healing! *They appear to “have little interest in Jesus other than as a miracle-worker.”

In verse eleven, we again witness the demons recognizing and confirming who Jesus is! The gospels record where this took place (whenever v. 11). Think about that fact for just a moment. Over and over again, the demons looked at Him, observed Him, and thought about the truth of His character, nature, and identity; BUT always rejected Him. It was not the time for Christ to be made “fully known,” so He warned them not to make Him known.

Our following study will be focused on Jesus calling the disciples to Himself and “appointing” them as Apostles!

13 And He *went up on the mountain and *summoned those whom He wanted, and they came to Him. 14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and have authority to cast out the demons. 16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), 17 [a]James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of [b]James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”);18 and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, [c]James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the [d]Zealot;19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.

FOCUS ONE: The occasion

Each section of scripture that we study together or that you meditate on yourself has incorporated its own unique set of questions that we need to ask and answer as we study it. In this case, we should ask ourselves:

  1. Why did Jesus go up to the mountain rather than remain by the sea?
  2. What did He appoint these twelve men to accomplish?
  3. What authority did He give to them to fulfill this role?
  4. Why did He change some names?

These are just a sample of the questions we should ask ourselves as we study this portion of Mark’s gospel.

It seems clear that Jesus goes up to the mountain to be away from the people and to spend time in prayer (Luke 6:12) before He calls, perhaps we can say ordains, these men for the ministry. This was an important meeting and a solemn ceremony, to say the least, and having multitudes of people around, with all the noise, activity, and situations, would prevent such an undertaking from happening. 

It shouldn’t seem weird that He goes up to the mountain. Jesus often went into the wilderness or mountaintops to be alone so that He could pray to the Father. It should be apparent by now that Jesus has two areas of ministry before Him. One to the “multitudes,” and the other with the disciples. It is the latter where we often find Jesus taking them somewhere with Him to be alone.

Jesus “summoned those whom He Himself wanted” (v. 13). A significant fact I don’t want you to miss. Jesus called to Himself the men He decreed to be His Apostles! These men graduate, if you will, from discipleship (learners) to Apostles (sent ones) to proclaim to others all that they heard, saw, and experienced being with Jesus! Jesus spoke and ministered to many daily, BUT not everyone was chosen to be Apostles. Why? 1″ He could have appointed sixteen or eighteen or some other number. Why twelve? It could be that the number twelve is significant in that it symbolically represents the twelve tribes of Israel.” The number twelve is prominent in Revelation (21:12-14). 

FOCUS TWO: The men

The other gospels list these men as well, and those lists are similar (Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13). Some are fishermen, others tax collectors, a zealot, and some professions are unknown (Thomas, Nathanael, and Judas). Some of these men had their names changed by Jesus at this time. Simon is the most obvious one. We know him better as Peter, the man with the confession that the church is built upon (Matthew 16:13-20)!

Until this time, Peter had been known as “Simon son of Jonah (John 21:15-17; Matthew 16:17). Jesus gives Him a new name “Cephas” (Peter), which means rock. “2 The name is predictive of not only what Peter would be called but also declarative of how Jesus would transform his character and use him in relationship to the foundation of the church (Matthew 16:16-18).”

He also changed the names of James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, to “Boanerges,” which means sons of thunder. However, Jesus does not change all of their names, but that does not diminish their roles in proclaiming the gospel of Christ and building up the His church! What qualities or character traits did He see in them? 3 “Perhaps they were remarkable for a loud commanding voice, they were thundering preachers; or rather it denotes the zeal and fervency of their spirits.”

These men were now summoned to Himself so that: “they should be with Him constantly, to be witnesses of His doctrine, manner of life, and patience, that they might fully know it; they must be with Him, to receive instructions from Him, that they might be qualified to give instructions to others. It would require time to fit them for that which He designed them for.”

FOCUS THREE: Their function

What is their role?

  1. To be with Him
  2. To preach
  3. To cast out demons

These three things are the sole functions of these newly commissioned men. Jesus called them unto Himself so that they would be with Him constantly, as I mentioned above in my last focus point. These twelve were brought into the *”closest association possible with the life of the Son of God. They were to live with Jesus, travel with Him, and learn from Him.” Much of Jesus’ time was occupied with their training. 

The salvation Jesus brings involves the defeat of Satan and his demons! Their training was necessary because, before His ascension, Jesus would send them out to continue the work He had begun “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Acts 1)! Their ministry of casting out demons and proclaiming the Good News is closely associated. How so?

It is a strange group of men, isn’t it? “* Four of them were fishermen, one a hated tax collector, another a member of a radical and violent political party. Of six of them, we know practically nothing. ALL were laymen. There was not a preacher or an expert in the Scriptures in the lot. YET it was with these men that Jesus established His church and disseminated His Good News to the end of the earth.”

*The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg. 640

1 Bible study website

2 John MacArthur

3 Matthew Henry Commentary, pg. 1370

FAITHFUL FRIENDS

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 Philippians 2:19-30

BRIEF INTRO:

So far in our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we saw how Paul’s appeal to these believers (the appeal to be likeminded, striving together for the faith of the Gospel, selfless, etc.) had left the realm of exhortation and example; which we saw the most outstanding example of all was Jesus Christ in verses 5-11 and entered into the practical realm. 

In verses 12-16, Paul expressed to those believers how having the same “attitude” as Jesus, how looking unto Him to imitate Him, would be beneficial in helping them to be unified as well as putting others before themselves. It would enable them to be humble and obedient, even in the tuff times, and bring glory to God.

And then we saw in those same scriptures that imitating Christ, thinking like Christ, not only benefits the body of Christ or the local church congregation, but it also has ramifications for our witness to those outside the church and to the world around us. A place in which we are to “appear as lights in the world (v. 15).”

Then we ended with Paul expressing how (vv. 17-18) such a life committed to Christ, even when coupled with suffering; he calls it, “the sacrifice and service of their faith,” is a cause for joy. A cause of rejoicing because such a life expended for others in obedient service to our Lord is a life lived with a proper, Christ-centered focus and will not be absent of rewards from the Lord when we meet Him face to face.

So, with that road already traveled, we move forward to read about two men very dear to Paul: Timothy and Epaphroditus.

19 But I hope, [a]in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know of his proven character, that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father.23 Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me;24 and I trust in the Lord that I myself will also be coming shortly. 25 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your [b]messenger and minister to my need, 26 because he was longing [c]for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly, so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you29 Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold people like him in high regard, 30 because he came close to death [d]for the work of Christ, risking his life to compensate [e]for your absence in your service to me.

FOCUS ONE:

As we read the epistles of Paul the Apostle, it is easy to see that he crossed paths with many different individuals. It would seem that some of these people were a great hindrance to his work for the Lord. In Philippians 1:16, “some brethren were preaching Christ from envy.” in 2 Timothy 2:17 – Hymenaeus and Philetus—”whose talk will spread like gangrene,” Paul said. In 1 Timothy 1:19-20, Hymenaeus (probably not the same person referred to in 2 Timothy), along with someone named Alexander, probably the coppersmith of 2 Timothy 4:14, “suffered shipwreck in regards to their faith and were delivered over to Satan so that they would be taught not to blaspheme.”

However, most of the people Paul met were a great blessing to his life and ministry. As one commentator observed: “Paul closes nearly every one of his letters with a personal note to some of these very special people. In the last chapter of the book of Romans, Paul mentions at least 35 people by name!”

Paul was a man who made friends as he traveled through life!

We are about to be introduced to two worthy men of God, fine examples of all that Paul has been teaching the Philippians in this second chapter.

We have been learning about “lowliness,” “self-less-ness” (Php 2:3), and about “being lights” (Philippians 2:15), and now we have in two of Paul’s partner’s magnificent examples of both. Timothy and Epaphroditus are here set before us as witnesses to the possibility of self-renounced and sacrificial living.

Our first witness, a “son in the faith,” He calls a kindred Spirit. That man is Timothy.

Did you take any notice as to how Paul begins and ends this section of his writing about Timothy?

He begins with “But I hope,” in vs. 19 and ends with “Therefore I hope,” in verse 23. I point this out because we need to understand Paul’s mindset at this time and his purpose in sending them his “son in the faith,” as he calls him in 2 Timothy 1:1.

Paul’s hope is not based on his intentions, inclinations, or even his wisdom. It is, however, intentionally grounded in the Lord! Paul says: “but I hope in the Lord.”

For Paul, what the Lord wants is what he wants. If sending Timothy to Philippi is according to the Lord’s will, great, so be it. And if it isn’t, great, so be it. Paul is wholly resigned to the sovereignty of God in the matter, and any matter, for -that matter! Paul understood and believed that God is the sole owner and ruler of all things, the sovereign one of Psalm 103:19 and Romans 11:36.

Dear Christian, do you understand and believe this? Whatever happens or doesn’t happen in your life, in the lives of others, and in this world does or does not happen because God wills it so!

  1. Are you ok with that?
  1. Are you resolved to live for Him anyway, even when you don’t get your way?
  2. Or, do you think you know better than the one true God who created everything?

So, who is Timothy anyway?

Timothy was originally from Lystra in modern-day Turkey. He grew up in a multicultural house with a Greek father and a Jewish-Christian mother and grandmother. His name means “one who honors God.” His exposure to Greek and Jewish traditions served him well as he helped Paul spread the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Paul had led Timothy to the Lord at a young age, and Timothy was instrumental in Paul’s ministry very early on. Timothy was with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), was sent into Macedonia (Acts 19:22), was with Paul on the return trip from Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and assisted Paul in the writing of Romans (Romans 16:21), 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 1:1), Philippians (Phil 1:1), Colossians (Col 1:1), 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

It has been said that Timothy was Paul’s “sole authorized representative” of the Gospel. For years Paul had relied on Timothy. Paul, at this time, was under house arrest in Rome. He eventually was released for about five years and inevitably is imprisoned again in the Mamertine prison. (2 Timothy) So, Paul “hopes” to send Timothy to Philippi.

 This first usage of the word “hope” tells us what Paul (wants to do). Why does Paul want to send this man to them? First of all, he says so that he can be encouraged (vs. 19). Paul strongly desires to know of their condition, are they unified? Are they growing? Are they serving the Lord? Paul is in prison and facing possible death, yet he is more concerned over the affairs of these folks than he is about his situation. 

Secondly, he wants to send Timothy because, in verse 20, he states, “I have no one else who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” literally in the original: “but absolutely not one,” or “not even one.” This is a strong statement regarding Paul’s sense of total agreement with Timothy, presumably more than anyone else. Even if this is only a general statement, it is still is an unfortunate commentary.

It appears that none of the Roman Christians are willing to serve in this way. It reminds me of Paul’s statements to Timothy shortly before he died:

“You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”

Standing with Paul in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon, Demas is now said to be “in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”

“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.”

Paul says I have no one else of “kindred spirit.” That means in Greek, “one souled.”

One of our favorite movies in my household is called “Anne of Green Gables.” The main character is a small girl who, through tragic circumstances, finds herself living in a foster home. The foster parents turn out to be a massive blessing to Anne (that’s “Anne with an’ e’,” if you please), but she still faced difficulties as she grew up.

She made a statement once about the need to have a like-minded companion; it is a statement that caught my daughter’s attention. It was something like this:

“What I need is a really good friend–a bosom buddy. You know…a KINDRED SPIRIT with whom I can share my inmost soul.”

We all need such a friend, don’t you think? In this epistle today, we find that Paul regarded Timothy precisely in the way Anne longed for.

Note that being “like-souled” does not mean Paul and Timothy always agreed, but it does mean that being alongside each other was easy so that neither had to work hard at the relationship and things flowed smoothly between them.

Dear reader, do you find it easy to work alongside others for the cause of the Gospel, OR do you find relationships hard work?

If you say they are hard work, why is that?

1. Attitude (yours or others)

2. Unmet expectations 

3. Lack of effort

Timothy had proven himself over the years serving the Savior alongside Paul (22). He was a faithful, humble, sacrificial servant, and word of that got around. Paul says to them, “you know of his proven worth, how he served.”

Ultimately, this is what we are, servants of Christ. Paul has shown us in this chapter that we are to be acting unselfishly towards others, even when they are not. We are to be humble, even when others are not, looking out for others, even if we think no one is looking out for us. Ultimately, we are to be imitators of our Lord.

The second usage of the word hope, “Therefore, I hope,” reveals to us his reasoning for Timothy’s going. Notice he begins with the phrase, therefore. Therefore or because of the things just mentioned I hope to send him to you.

Paul stated that Timothy was the genuine article, the real deal (20), That He seeks after the interests of Christ (21), That Timothy would genuinely care for them (20), And that he has proven such over the years (21).

So, Paul wants to send him, if the Lord wills it so, and these are his reasons why. Look back at that statement of Paul in verse 21. Paul says, “all” without exception were seeking after their interests. One commentator notes that he does NOT say they are not saved, but they are not as self-sacrificing as Timothy. Some will help only when gain for Christ is compatible with their own. So, few have a genuine dedication to Christ and unselfish devotion to his church.”

Dear Christian, do you possess a self-sacrificing spirit of service toward your church family? Is your dedication to Christ genuine or superficial?

Timothy modeled self-sacrificing love, selflessness, passion, and conviction, just like Paul, but more significant yet, just like Jesus, as Paul instructed the Philippians in verses 5-11. He was a faithful servant in the furtherance of the Gospel.

The Gospel is “good news,” and that is the truth that saved Paul, and it is the message Paul was given to share with the gentiles, and it is the message that Timothy believed and now for years has been communicating with others!

The Gospel is: We all sin and deserve God’s righteous judgment. No amount of good works can pay the penalty of our sins, which is eternal separation from God in Hell. So, God in love sent His only Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in place of sinners. A substitute. He offers eternal life and forgiveness of all sins to everyone who, in repentant faith, trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). Salvation is not a reward for human works but is God’s gift to all who genuinely believe in the finished work of Christ.

FOCUS TWO:

Since it would be a little while before Timothy could be sent, Paul wants to send Epaphroditus in the meantime because he came from them to minister to Paul’s needs on their behalf. He was depressed, knowing that they were worried about him. Indeed, he almost died in this work for Christ, But God spared him, and so Paul wants to bring joy to the Philippians by sending him back.

Epaphroditus is our second witness to the possibility of a selfless and sacrificial life towards others.

We do not know much about this man except that he was a native Philippian, He was sent to Paul with gifts (4:18), and he was to remain with Paul and serve him on behalf of the church in Philippi. In this effort, he came close to death seeking to accomplish this “work of Christ,” on their behalf (30).

It appears that as we read about Epaphroditus in this letter, Paul felt strongly that an explanation as to why he was sending him back with this letter was necessary. Paul seems concerned that they may think poorly of this man and not receive him back unto themselves very well. So, Paul, with great wisdom and sensitivity, pens these encouraging words about his brother and fellow worker.

It was William Penn who, centuries ago, described the seven features of deep-hearted friendship in this way: “A true friend unbosoms (discloses thoughts or secrets freely) freely –

Advises Justly,

Assists readily,

Adventures boldly,

Takes all patiently,

Defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably.”

As we are to see, Epaphroditus answers this drastic test without flinching. To Paul, he was a friend sticking closer than a brother. Like a friend in need, he was a friend indeed.

Let’s look at Paul’s description of this man:

a. Brother (25)- A fellow Christian—like-minded

b. Fellow worker- He labored with and alongside of Paul. In other words, he shouldered his portion of the load. He was not a loafer who let others carry his part. He got in there and went to work for the glory of the Lord. Verse 25 tells us that he was a “messenger” and a “minister.” The church at Philippi sent him with a gift for Paul. He was their messenger. But, perhaps, the greatest gift from Philippi was Epaphroditus himself. Why? Because, when he arrived in Rome, Paul had somebody willing to do his part.

Fellow soldier- When Paul calls this man a “fellow soldier,” he is talking about a man who is “an associate in the spiritual conflicts of the Christian life.” The term “fellow soldier” tells us that Epaphroditus fought alongside Paul and not against him! One writer noted: “They were partners in a common struggle. They were shoulder to shoulder fighting the flesh, the world and the devil. They were as one in the dangers they faced, the enemies they encountered and the goals they shared.”

Your messenger- Their “sent one.” The English word is Apostle. He was not an Apostle, but he was “sent” to minister to Paul on their behalf.

Minister to my need—He served Paul well. He took risks, almost died to fulfill his ministry to Paul on their behalf. From this description, you can see why Epaphroditus was so important to Paul’s ministry. But, because of sickness, Paul thought it was necessary to send him back and he was very eager to do so, before he even sent Timothy (28).

But why so quickly?

Paul writes that he wanted to send him back immediately. Epaphroditus was distressed that the church at Philippi had heard he was ill. Look with me at verses 26-28:

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi to ease their minds and to calm his nerves. Epaphroditus was in “distress,” which is no small thing. The word means “deep anguish, anxiety, or emotional turmoil.” To put this in perspective–Philippi was eight hundred miles from Rome and at least a three-month journey. Somehow the news had gotten back to Philippi that Epaphroditus was deathly ill, and he was worried that they thought he might have died. This was nearly the case. The word “ill” means “without strength,” and it is said that he probably came down with the Roman plague. The term “almost died” literally means that He was at death’s door. But God had mercy on him and healed him.

For those of us that feel sorrow from time to time, notice that one of Paul’s main reasons for sending Epaphroditus back was so that Paul would have “less sorrow” (27). Paul was not perfect and struggled at times, just as we do. That’s encouraging to read.

Paul, some believe, is very strategic in the closing verses of this section (29-30). “There were those in Philippi that would have accused Epaphroditus of failing to complete the mission. It appears that Paul wanted to leave little room for doubt – Epaphroditus was not a quitter.”

So, Paul, using the imperative here (Therefore receive him in the Lord), exhorts the church to welcome him with “great joy” and “honor.” They were to honor him and celebrate the work he accomplished while he was with Paul in Rome because he was faithful to the mission, and he nearly died, risking (30) his life for the sake of the Gospel.

By the way: The word for risking means to “hazard, to throw aside one’s life, or to gamble.” This word became a noun with the formation of a group of Christians in the third century. They called themselves the “parabolani,” the gamblers, after this verse of Scripture and in honor of Epaphroditus. It is said that whenever and wherever a plague hit, these gamblers would rush in to take care of the sick and bury the dead. They were willing to risk their lives to live out their faith.

The first phrase of verse 30 indicates that Epaphroditus’s sickness was the result of his labors for the Lord Jesus. “Ancient church tradition tells us that Epaphroditus was known for his work among the sick in Rome. It is said that he and others would try to help people that most others would not even dare go near. In other words, he put everything on the line for Jesus, in order to fulfill the Great Commission.” For this man, nothing in this life was more important than doing the will of the Lord. Even if doing what God required cost him everything!

Brothers and sisters, what is the most important thing in your life?

Family, entertainment, money, work, or self?

These past months have genuinely awakened me, reminded me, refreshed, and renewed my thinking on what is truly important in this life. As important as those things I mentioned may be in their proper perspective, none of them are as important as our relationship with Jesus Christ and doing what He requires even if it means that it will cost us everything.

Epaphroditus was a balanced believer. He was balanced in his walk, in his work, and his warfare! He was active in all these areas of the Christian life.

Where do you stand in these areas today?

We are in this thing together, and we should love one another and stand together. There is no place in the Christian family for one brother to attack another. There is no place in the Christian family for division and strife. The Bible makes it clear that we are duty-bound to love one another, Matt. 22:37-39; 1 John 3:11-18; 1 John 4:11-21.

Epaphroditus loved to fellowship, but he didn’t mind rolling up his sleeves and getting involved in the physical work of the Lord either. We need more believers with that same attitude today.

There is a great need in this day for people who are willing to take a stand against evil in the world. We need believers who are not afraid to put on the whole armor of Christ and go with Him into battle. The devil is trying to tear down and take away many of the blessings we have as believers. We need people who will take a stand for the Bible, the church, for holiness. We need some soldiers in this day!

Now, some of you reading this may not be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, cannot take a stand for such things. Let me remind you of the central truth of the Gospel one more time.

God has provided a way of salvation through the gift of His Son to the world. He (Jesus)suffered as a sacrifice for sin, as a substitute for sinners, such as we are, overcame death, and now offers a share in His triumph to all who will believe. The Gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or by self-improvement or by trying to be good enough. (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8–11; II Cor 5:14–19; Tit 2:11–14).

Friend, your sins can be forgiven. You can become a soldier for Christ, His servant, His child!!

Dear Christian, “wouldn’t it be a blessing to have a team of people like Epaphroditus in our church? Men and women who knew no greater goal in life than to be obedient to the will of the Savior! Sadly, for many, service hinges on convenience! Even simple, easy things like going to church are too much for many people! Who among us has a heart like Epaphroditus? Who has a heart that beats in time with the Master’s heart? Who has a heart to see people saved and the work of God done in this world regardless of the personal cost?

Few, very few! But you and I can become that kind of believer if we desire to! God has plenty of work available to those who will give Him all they have and are and trust Him to use them for His glory!”

Christian, you may have, in your mind, thought that such a life is impossible. Good, honorable, but impossible. After all, you may have thought, “I am no Jesus.”

These two men clearly show us that we may not be Jesus, but we can, as mere sin fallen creatures redeemed by grace, imitate Him, and be successful in what He commands us to do.

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!

THE GOSPEL PREACHED

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                              Philippians 1:12-26

Study 3 

BRIEF INTRO:

I want to focus on the word “trust,” as we begin because even if you’re not a pilot or a skydiver, trust is something that every one of us has to exercise every day. We exercise it by getting into our cars to drive to work each morning. We exercised it by sitting down in our chairs at the kitchen table this morning, trusting they would hold us up. Trust is at the core of what it means to please God and to follow Jesus. The Bible says we are to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5).

Have you ever thought about what it means to trust in God? The words “trust,” “faith,” and “believe in” are all synonyms. When the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), it’s another way of saying, “Trust in the Lord.”

Trust is an integral part of a living, ongoing relationship. Trust means knowing someone well enough that you can count on that person and then acting in accordance with that trust. Believing, having faith, trusting are the fundamentals of life with God. Trust, however, does not come naturally for most of us.

Today we’re going to look at a time in Paul’s life and ministry where his faith in God was tested beyond its normal limits and how “faith” was worked out and matured through his temporary afflictions.

By way of reminder, 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 founded this church in Philippi about ten years earlier (50 AD). Their love for him and participation with him in the gospel fostered a profoundly loving relationship between them.

Paul is writing with much joy and love in his heart for these people. And in his salutation, what we meditated on the last time we were together, we found Paul, with this frame of mind and heart, expressing his love and joy for them. He wants them to be encouraged that God is a completer!

And now, Paul begins to explain his prison circumstances to these beloved people, not to cause worry or fear, but to give them greater encouragement to persevere in the faith, or as he says in verse 27, so they may “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my [a]imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the [b]praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brothers and sisters, [c]trusting in the Lord because of my [d]imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

FOCUS ONE:

1.  God is sovereign over our afflictions 

To understand this rightly, we must first understand what it means to be sovereign. 

This is part of what it means to be God. For God to be sovereign means: “There are no limits to His rule. He is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it. He is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. And in Christ, God’s awesome, sovereign providence is the place we as Believers should feel most reverent, most secure, most free.”

This is undoubtedly on Paul’s mind as he writes this letter. The thread that entwines this whole letter together is Christ and His Gospel. In chapter one alone, Paul mentions Christ and His gospel or some aspect to either nine times! And in these first verses, we are looking at we see this evident even in Paul’s prison sentence.

Paul is in prison because of the “cause of Christ,” as he puts it. He is not there because of violence, thievery, embezzlement, murder, or any crime that would warrant such a penalty. He is there because he is obedient to Jesus Christ.

“That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.” 

― Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

But, take notice of what he tells his readers about his situation, he says it: “turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” He wrote that not only the reality of him serving jail time was well known (quickly passed through the grapevine) throughout the whole governor’s palace but also the reason he was in prison!

Now that is not so unusual in our day. Cell phones, the internet, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like make for gossip and essential news to travel extremely fast, but that is a fascinating point in his day.

And what was the result? Notice verse 14 again, many people came to faith in Christ DUE TO his being in prison! And not only that, they had “Far more courage” to speak the word of God without fear! Not what we anticipate would happen if we were to be thrown in jail.

Do you trust in the sovereignty of God over ALL your circumstances, even the scary, fear-filled ones? Have you considered that He can use your “God appointed” afflictions to work out for the “greater progress of the gospel” in the lives of those around you?

Dear unbelieving friend, I want you to see that no matter where you are, no matter how bad you have been, no matter what your circumstances, God sends His people to those places to reveal Christ to you! He has, and still does, give his children gospel ministry in even the darkest and most hopeless places. So, grab hold of Him as many people around Paul did.

15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even [a]from envy and strife, but some also [b]from goodwill; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition [c]rather than from pure motives, thinking that they are causing me distress in my [d]imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

FOCUS TWO:

God is sovereign over the gospel

Now, even though the gospel was progressing amidst Paul’s hardship, strife was ever-present. 

Take notice of the two motives Paul mentions for the gospel going forward.

A. Envy and strife

B. Goodwill

“He rejoices that Christ is proclaimed. But some of the proclaimers are sinning as they proclaim, trying to afflict Paul by making him feel jealous that they are free while he is in prison. What is more astonishing is that this sinful behavior is just the opposite of the way the gospel itself would incline a person to act. So, they are hypocrites. They preach the gospel and then contradict in their very motives the gospel they are preaching.”

The one response that of envy and strife is a hypocritical approach to sharing the gospel. Paul says these people were doing it “out of selfish ambition,” not out of love for Christ and appreciation of the salvation He graciously bestowed upon them. 

Their goal was to cause him distress, believe it or not, upon the grief he was already facing being imprisoned and limited in his freedoms. But the others, those of goodwill, shared Christ out of love. Love for Paul, love for their savior!

Brothers and sisters, we should be cautious to keep our motives in check in regards to our serving Christ and sharing His gospel. Are your motivations pure for telling others the gospel message, or are they hypocritical? 

Are you sharing the gospel because you genuinely want to be obedient to Christ? Because you love Him and those other sinners He came to redeem, or are you sharing the gospel, participating in an evangelism ministry, because you are worried about what other Christians might think about you if you didn’t?

The only pure motivation for sharing the gospel is a love for Jesus Christ and what He willingly and joyfully accomplished for you and me at the cross. 

Now don’t miss this fantastic fact that Paul tells his readers in verse 18:

“No matter what, in pretense (for show) or in truth, the gospel went forward, Christ was proclaimed!”

How can that be? How can the gospel be effective in such a place under such circumstances? The short but accurate answer–God is sovereign over His gospel!

19 for I know that this will turn out for my [a]deliverance through your [b]prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my eager expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 [c]But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know [d]which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy [e]in the faith, 26 so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again.

FOCUS THREE:

God is sovereign over our lives

God’s providence concerning his being in prison and the gospel being proclaimed there, “for show or in truth.” In verses 19-21, Paul is expressing his faith in the providence of God. Notice he says that it is his “earnest expectation and hope,” That even in those circumstances, Christ, as always, would be exalted in his body whether by life or by death.”

How can a faithful minister of the gospel, in prison, have such confidence? How can he trust (that word we talked about when I started this post) that God would use him and be exalted by using him even if it means his demise? Well, that has to do with rightly understanding the “providence” of God.

What is the providence of God? Here is the answer of the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27): It is:

“The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”

And why is that important for us to grasp? Why was that critical for Paul to believe? What good will it do? Here is the answer to question 28.

“That we may be (patient) in adversity, (thankful)l in prosperity, and for what is future have (good confidence) in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”

What joy, dear Christian, how God is sovereign over our afflictions, sovereign over His gospel, and here in these verses (22-26) Paul reveals how He is in control of our lives.

a. Hard pressed from both directions/competing desires

b. Be with Christ (death) or remain on here (life, ministry)

c. Remaining will be “fruitful labor,” (22)

d. Remaining is more necessary for the Philippians (24)

e. To be with Christ is “very much better.” (23)

f. Paul’s love for these people is evident in these verses.

Well, Verse 22 is a clear follow-up to verse 21. Paul is picking up on his first clause (to live is Christ), Paul is assessing what its outcome will mean for him in the body (literally “flesh”), namely, fruitful labor. An opportunity to bear more fruit through ministry. But, it would be a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually costly process–and the prospect of leaving the battlefront and going home was appealing indeed. 

But rather than follow that up with a similar sentence (“if it means death”), he jumps ahead to reflect on what he might do (if he, in fact had a real choice in the matter.) “I simply cannot say,” “I don’t know which to choose.” he says; indeed, I am torn between the two, since it means Christ in either case.” (Gordon Fee, amended)

Paul says that he is “hard pressed,” the Greek word used there is “sun-echo” means to be hemmed in on both sides and was used of a traveler in a narrow passage or gorge, with a wall of rock on either side, hemmed in, unable to turn aside and able only to go straight.  

And so, Paul expands upon the options of life or death. One commentator puts it this way: “If he continues his sojourn on earth–“But if I live on in the flesh”–then he sees it as an opportunity to bear more fruit through ministry. Again we see Paul’s strict single-mindedness (the mind of Christ)–he saw himself as an instrument for the unleashing of God’s glory as long as time permitted (cf Acts 9:15). However, this unleashing would be a costly process–and the prospect of leaving the battlefront and going home was appealing indeed. So appealing that he adds, “yet what I shall choose, I cannot tell (lit.–I do not know).”

Paul’s point seems to be that he had not yet decided which to choose because the Lord had not yet made it known to him which to choose. Because he was not sure of the Lord’s will in the matter, he was not sure of his own.

Have you ever felt that way, Christian? Do you think that way right now? Have you come to a place where you have lost your zeal, your faith is waning, the conflicts all around you are seemingly impossible, and you want to -if-you-haven’t-yet, cried out, “Lord, take me home, I am more than ready.”

I want to encourage you with this quote:

“If God has done what you think he should do, trust him. If God doesn’t do what you think he should do, trust him. If you pray and believe God for a miracle and he does it, trust him. If your worst nightmare comes true, believe he is sovereign. Believe he is good.” 

― Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist

Don’t give up; trust Him and wait for His will to be revealed to you.