Friday, January 16, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 6 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

There is a interesting, but obscure, connection between the four gospels and Philippians 2:5-11.

Let me begin by asking you to ponder the question, "Why do we have four gospels?" At one level, it is because each gospel contains stories and sayings that the others do not. At a more fundamental level, it is because a single historical narrative is inadequate to reveal the complex nature of Jesus the Messiah. Consider these facts:

  • Matthew provides the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph and establishes the legal right to the throne of Israel.
  • Luke provides the genealogy of Jesus through Mary and establishes the blood line from King David.
  • Mark has Jesus just appear and begin ministry. No word at all about where he came from or who is parents were.
  • John tells us that Jesus has always existed.

Why this variation in genealogies?

Consider these points:

  • Matthew relates how kings visited the young Jesus.
  • Luke contains details of the conception of Jesus and the family connection with John the Baptist. He relates how shepherds visited Jesus.
  • Matthew's Beatitudes show Jesus speaking at the top of a hill. He is above his hearers.
  • Luke's Beatitudes show Jesus speaking on a plain. He is level with his hearers. (Note that there is no contradiction here. Jesus obviously reused material as He traveled.)
  • Mark shows Jesus doing more and speaking less.
  • John shows Jesus making claims that relate to His divine nature.
  • Matthew shows Jesus doing miracles from His own authority.
  • Luke shows Jesus doing miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Mark shows Jesus doing miracles motivated by compassion.
  • John shows Jesus performing signs: miracles that point to His divine nature.

Each gospel writer compiled and organized historical material around a conception of who Jesus is. So alongside the telling of the story of Jesus, the four gospel writers present four different portraits of Him. 

  • Matthew presents Jesus as a King.
  • Mark presents Jesus as a Servant.
  • Luke presents Jesus as the perfect Man.
  • John presents Jesus as the Son of God.

We need four gospels because a single history that simultaneously presented Jesus as King-Servant-God-Man would create confusion.

Philippians 2:5-11 contains the same four fold portrait:

God: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 

Servant: but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 

Man: Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

King: For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 

God: and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Side Note: One of the benefits of studying the Jewish roots of Christianity and recognizing that the New Testament authors were Jews is that one can discern the force of Paul's saying that Jesus has "the name which is above every name." If you have any Jewish friends, ask them, "Who has the name that is above every name?" Note their answer. They will answer one of the following:

  • They will say "Ha-Shem" which is Hebrew for "The Name." These Jews will say "Ha- Shem" whenever they see YHVH in their Hebrew Scriptures. YHVH is the personal name of God. It is where we get the name Yahweh or Jehovah. For the Jews this name is too holy to pronounce directly, so they substitute something else.
  • They will say "Adonai" which is Hebrew for "Lord". These Jews simply use Adonai instead of Ha-Shem.
  • They will say "the Lord" because they know you are a Gentile and do not want to confuse you with either Ha-Shem or Adonai.

But the principle is clear. When Paul says that Jesus has "the name which is above every name" and every tongue will confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord (Adonai in Hebrew)," he is making a strong statement that Jesus Christ is truly God. Any Jew who reads these words of Paul would see it. End Side Note.

Now this exercise has been fun. But what Paul especially means to say is that we are to live like Jesus modeled. He laid aside status to look after our interests. He left heaven for a stable. He left glory to become a servant. He became our kinsman by becoming a man. He died so that we could live.

And Paul is telling us to lay aside our status and interests in order to look to the interests of our Christian brothers and sisters. If Jesus laid down His life, we must also be prepared to lay ours down. Jesus could hear what His Father wanted and He obeyed. We must do the same.

Think back to the Paul's greeting where he addressed this letter to the saints in Philippi "including the overseers and deacons." Leaders must especially practice self-emptying for the sake of the saints they serve and over whom they have authority. True leadership is sacrificial from the top down. Leadership has authority because it has responsibility and must give an account. Jesus laid down His life for the Church, elders and deacons must do the same, so must husbands and fathers in their homes.

As you may have noted, Paul has put forth this idea of honoring others  many times already and in different ways. And, as we shall see, he is not yet ready to put it down. But here is the interesting thing. No letter of Paul hammers the theme of service to others more than this letter to the Philippian saints. But no letter of Paul is more full of joy and rejoicing. The two ideas are not independent. Indeed compare these words in Hebrews with Philippians 2:5-11

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. (Hebrews 12:2)

Connecting the two passages we see that Jesus emptied Himself and endured the cross because the fruit, for Him, was joy! The most miserable people that I know are the most self-absorbed. The most contented are the self-givers.

Monday: Christian Workout

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

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 5 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

All you need is love

Give peace a chance.

The popular songs that present love as the solution to the world's problems are both right and wrong. The statement is right, but the love they speak of is an intangible noun. It is to say, "I have warm and fuzzy feelings about you and the world." But John Lennon who wrote these songs divorced his first wife and he had no patience for the "establishment." His widow, Yoko Ono, is in legal battles over the lucrative Lennon-McCartney franchise. If I could not establish peace in my home, who am I to demand it of the whole world. The sentiment is as sweet as it is empty. The love thhat can make a difference is a verb and the Bible, not popular music, defines and models it--and oh boy is it hard!

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

"If there is any ..." Paul lays down four conditions and then makes a request. This is an interesting ploy. Look at each of them. Would anyone in Philippi say, "Oh I don't have any of that?" Would you say, "I have no encouragement in Christ, no consolation of love, and neither the fellowship of the Spirit nor affection nor compassion belong to me?" Since we all have some measure, then it is our task to make Paul's joy complete. 

"Encouragement in Christ." We have Jesus' teachings about Himself and the Father. We have his instructions about the path of discipleship. He died for our sins and rose from the dead as a promise of our resurrection. Jesus' death means that we have the Holy Spirit and His gifts. We are in the new covenant era where the Law is written on our hearts and we can have a righteousness that emanates from our faith. The gospel is good news. This is the foundation of our lives as Christians. Of course we have encouragement in Christ.

"Consolation of love." Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and His command that we love one another, we should be both receiving and providing help to one another. 

"Fellowship of the Spirit." All believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit and He desires to fill and empower us. He is also the basis of our unity between ourselves and with the Father and Son. 

"Affection and Compassion" It would not be a good life in the Church if there were people that we did not not like to be around. And we must be troubled about ourselves if there are none for whom we feel compassion at their needs and work to meet them.

"Make my joy complete." Paul has joy in a Church that flows with the encouragement of Christ, that loves, that fellowships, that like each other, and work for the welfare of all members. His joy is made complete, when that same Church is not satisfied and presses on to exhibit more of the same.

  • Encouragement in Christ -- Being of the same mind. We should have the mind of Christ and press on to reflect His character more.
  • Consolation of Love -- Maintaining the same love. Love always requires work and devotion to maintain. I have been married 30 years. There have been good times and bad times, but on the whole it has been a good marriage because Stephanie and I have always made it our business and goal to make it one. The same is true in Church. Some people will be easy to be around and others will be a royal pain. Love must work to build and maintain relationships in the problem areas. Fortunately, Paul will have more to say about how to make this work.
  • Fellowship of the Spirit -- United in Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I can overcome misgivings and bad feelings and reach out
  • Affection and Compassion -- Intent on one purpose. To enjoy being around others and working to meet their needs.

The key to this is to serve others instead of grabbing for ourselves. The key phrase is "look out ... for the interest of others." It is easy to itemize those things that interest us and that we would like to have. What would happen if we began to tick down the list of people that we know in the church and began thinking of their interests? This requires a conscious choice. It is an exercise of the will until the habit finally forms. The child says, "I want it." The Christian that would bring Paul joy says, "Let me get that for you."

What will you say today?

Friday: The example of Yeshua Adonai.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Today marks the one year point for this blog. Besides noting, once more, how fast time flies, I am pleasantly surprised at the accumulation of small posts. I just recently transferrred the Job posts into a single word document and it weighed in at 115 pages.

  • My study on Judas Iscariot is the most popular series from the search engines. I am not sure if this is from general interest or because there is a rock band named Judas Iscariot
  • Thanks to Howard Dean, my Job study has been getting a lot of attention lately. Perhaps he will read the series some day.
  • Next in line are Creation and Science. This series is also the most cross-linked series, with Job being second.
  • Music in the Bible, my article debunking the high priest with a rope around his ankle, and my article quoting Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 are also well visited.
  • I do not have any sights of interest for those looking for "nagid women" I do have some advice however.
  • My web page is the top item if you do a google search for "Don Curtis" but not "Donald Curtis"

Nagid Ben Chesed is pronounced: Na-geed' Ben Ke'-sed. It means leader son-of lovingkindness and is a rough translation of Donald Curtis into Hebrew. I am a self-employed computer applications expert. Paul sewed tents, I twiddle bits. I design and program computer applications and databases, and have done so for over 30 years. If you note the change in computer technology over the last 30 years, you will realize how many times I have had to relearn my craft. But I love to study and reflect and that has kept me current in my means for living and has provided the foundation for the topics that I write about.

Along these lines, I am pleased to see so many others writing of spiritual and biblical things out there who are also tent makers. This is a good thing, because it does encourage others to take learning about the Bible and living by its principles seriously.

I will resume Philippians tomorrow.

Thanks to you all who come by and visit these pages. You have been a great encouragement.

Don Curtis