Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 2 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Following his introduction, Paul praises the Philippian saints:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. 

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:6-11)

"He who began a good work in you will perfect it..." By faith we are saved. No man can stand before God with Torah (The Law of Moses)  in hand and make claim to God's blessings. However, the blood of Jesus the Messiah has confirmed and instituted a New Covenant that, according to Jeremiah, includes the writing of Torah on our hearts. True faith brings an expectation of change. Righteousness is not only imputed, it is manifested in the life of the believer. As Paul writes elsewhere:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Jesus Christ our Lord through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, (Romans 1:5)

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

It is vital that we grow in the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. Some might see this fruit as coming to us from the Holy Spirit--that the Holy Spirit loves me, gives me joy, peace, and so forth. It is fruit that we pluck and eat. This is not correct. It is rather that Holy Spirit grows this fruit in me for the benefit of others. Through Him I can have greater love for others, bring joy to others, be a peacemaker, show patience and kindness, be known as good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. These are qualities that mark a righteous man. These are the qualities that He who began a good work in us will perfect until the day of Christ Jesus. There is no law to govern these things. There is no law that tells me when I have loved enough, brought enough joy to world, or peace. I can always grow more.

"You are partakers of grace with me." The Philippians have been full partners with Paul in the spread of the gospel. That they have supported Paul in his imprisonment is especially telling. Perhaps, they could have thought, he is now out of commission. He is no longer spreading the gospel. His service to the Lord is cut short. We would do better to direct our funds to others now. They were committed to the work of God in the man no matter what paths the Lord took him.

There is a missionary couple that my wife and I have supported for 20 years. They began with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the 1950's and served him faithfully for over 40 years. They have now retired. My support now helps provide them a retirement income. It would be a mistake to abandon such faithful servants after so many years. In the past, I have continued to support others who have had to return from the field for family issues. They eventually returned, but during that interim time, they had no real ministry. But I had joined with them in their work. I was a partaker with them. I knew them personally and knew the caliber of their walk and faith. This is what the Philippians demonstrated to Paul. They said, "We are with you through the good times and the bad, because we know your heart." And Paul received strength and encouragement. It is no wonder that Paul writes, "I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus."

"I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent." Here is one of those lines that reads so easily, but unless we slow down, hear, and understand we will miss the point. Note these three terms: Love, Knowledge, and Discernment. Love is to abound in knowledge and discernment. How critical it is for us to have these in balance. Love is the goal, knowledge is the means, and discernment is the balance. What do I do if someone slaps me on the cheek? What do I do if someone slaps my wife on the cheek? When should I be generous to the poor? When do I insist that a poor man better himself? Is it right to lie to save a life--as Rahab the harlot did for the spies? There are difficult choices to make in life and we must discern the the loving path according to our knowledge of the Scripture and the unique character of the situation.

We like easy solutions based on rules. We like to say that there is absolute truth that stands against the moral relativism of our day--and there is. But perhaps a general rule must bend to accommodate a unique situation. Love, knowledge, and discernment. We need all three. Note what the writer to the first century Jewish believers had to say:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

When I first try to balance love, knowledge, and discernment, I and those I affect will have some good and some bad experiences. If I continue to practice, I will develop and sense for the correct action across a wide range of situations. That action will mean the betterment of another.

"The fruit of righteousness which comes through Christ Jesus." This sums up this little section of Paul's words. As we seek God's face and presence, as we ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as we walk by the Holy Spirit as we practice love based on knowledge and discernment, we will bear good fruit.

As we continue through Philippians, we will see more of these concepts developed.

Thursday: Perspectives

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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