Friday, January 30, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 14 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Paul concludes his major points to the Philippians with these words:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

If you look back at Philippians 3:1, you will see that this is the second time in this letter that Paul has written "Finally..." In the first case, Paul wrote about things to avoid. Now he writes of things to dwell on:

  • Whatever is true -- Things and people who are the genuine article: without hypocrisy, sharp rather than dull, modeling the true faith and its outworking, worth emulating.
  • Whatever is honorable -- Doing the right thing because it is right even if it costs you.
  • Whatever is right -- Knowing what things require taking an honorable stand.
  • Whatever is pure -- Maintaining a clean conscience.
  • Whatever is lovely -- Music, visual arts, decorations, landscaping, scenery, and so forth. Such things enrich life and help direct the soul to higher things.
  • Whatever is of good repute -- Things that endure the test of time because of intrinsic value.
  • Excellent -- Things done extraordinarily well.
  • Praiseworthy -- Things that inspire awe.

Now I have been somewhat abstract in the above list, not that being such is a bad thing. But contextually, these ideas are not that far from the schsim between Euodia and Syntyche. How might their relationship improve if they had eyes for what was true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely in the other person? To illustrate what I mean, consider that I maintain a very messy work environment that does not meet the standards of being praiseworthy, excellent, of good repute, or lovely. Also, there are things about which I procrastinate, which is neither right nor honorable. I could go on. Note this: How good it is that my wife and friend of 30 years does not dwell on these things about me, but rather dwells on those things in me that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and so forth. If she dwelt on such things, and I did not change, we might still be together after 30 years, but we might not enjoy each other's company as much. Long term relationships can require dwelling mostly on the positive things.

Paul then communicates  something very important about leadership. He writes, "the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you." That is a bold statement. But it comes from one who has a proven record. He has seen what is possible with faith and he desires to pass it on. To do the same, Christian leaders must have lives worthy of emulation: Lives without hypocrisy, that do the right thing, teach what is right, open to criticism and able to admit faults, able to deal with artistic people, able to communicate enduring values in a changing culture, does all things well, and is worth emulating.

Do not doubt that the unsaved world responds to such things. As I reflect on what Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings cinema masterpiece, I see that it is all about things that are true, honorable, and so forth. It is an inspiring film precisely because it is about those values and that is why people are drawn in. Of course, the values come from the original written work and Jackson's efforts to flesh it out have kept it intact.

These verses demand more reflection, but I hand that over to you. I have provided some initial thoughts.

Monday: Paul gives thanks.

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 13 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

The next bit that Paul writes is well known:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

This is good stand alone advice, but I think that it is given special emphasis placed, as it is, in the context of what Paul has written to the Philippians.

  • Consider others as more important than yourselves. Look out for the interest of others. -- Be anxious for nothing ... make your interests known to God.
  • Share in the sufferings of Christ. -- Be anxious for nothing ... you can have the peace of God.
  • Do not grumble or dispute. -- Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.

The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds. Here is the power of God that makes us Christians overcomers. No matter what we face, we can bring the very matter to God, and expect His peace to come. You can see this dynamic in Hannah's bitter family situation as record in 1 Samuel 1. Note the transition in Hannah's heart in this passage:

Then Hannah rose after eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 

She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, "O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head." 

Now it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. 

Then Eli said to her, "How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you." 

But Hannah replied, "No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord. Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation." 

Then Eli answered and said, "Go in peace; and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you have asked of Him." 

She said, "Let your maidservant find favor in your sight." 

So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad. (1 Samuel 1:9-18)

Hannah did not know that she would conceive at the time she "went her way and ate" with a sad face no longer. Her situation was the same, but the connection with God filled her with peace.

You can see this in the flow of many Psalms, where a great outpouring of concern is followed by a calm affirmation of faith. Here is Psalm 13 as an example:

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? 

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, And my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. 

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:1-6)

As you make your requests and supplications to God, remember these things:

  • He is sovereign and all powerful. If He wants to change the situation, he will. If He does not change the situation, you are where He wants you to be. I do not want this to lead you to a fatalistic view of life. For one thing, if there is something that you can do to improve, change, exit, or whatever to make things better, that you should do.
  • He has shown you favor and lovingkindness through the gospel and your salvation. He is on your side and is working for your good in the context of His kingdom. For this you include thanksgiving to Him for all things.
  • He wants to fill you with strength and peace and He has promised and demonstrated over again that He will do this. This peace is a genuine and miraculous gift and one that will make the world pay attention. This peace is not Christianity the crutch not needed by stronger people. No it is that extra strength that lets us endure more for the sake of others and for the Kingdom. 

Paul's words remind of Peter's:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

God's hand is mighty. He can change the situation, when and if He deems it right. In light of this, humble yourself. Acknowledge that He is wiser than you. Give Him thanks. Cast your anxiety on Him. He cares for you.

May God especially make this truth a part of your daily walk.

Friday: had any good thoughts lately?

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 12 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Mark Goode. My wife and I had just moved into out first house and were sitting on the front steps when a couple walked by. We felt an immediate and natural affinity in the Spirit with them, and soon learned they were Christians. They were Mark and Gayle Goode and we became very good friends. But Mark was a political person who debated with little regard for consistency from one statement to the next. He sought and often achieved the upper hand in any conversation. It drove me crazy. One thing led to the next until we had a falling out after years of being friends. The last and most unkind words between us came from me. 

Some 15 years later, it finally occurred to me (doh) that putting up with Mark's foibles would have been better than the collapse of a good relationship. Why had I come to take it so personally? Certainly nothing good came from the bad attitude that I developed. Geography and time have separated us, but one of my projects is to track him down and make unilateral amends.

Over the past days, I have looked at the high bar of discipleship that Paul raises in his Philippian letter. With seemingly no time for breath, Paul suddenly takes up a falling out that has occurred between two women in the Philippian fellowship.

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:1-3)

Paul appeals to the two women and asks a "true companion" to arbitrate. I would hope that they fared better than Mark and I. They are to live in harmony in the Lord. The Lord Jesus loves and cherishes both of them and they each need to see the other through His eyes. They should dwell on actions that drive Him crazy and what He was willing to do to maintain relationship. The "true companion" needs to help them resolve their differences.

You can get a feel for the sensitivity of the situation by Paul's meticulously writing "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche..." It would seem that he dare not write "I urge Euodia and Syntyche," but rather he carefully balances and directs his comments to both. 

Who is this "true companion?" Paul has addressed this letter to all the saints at Philippi including the elders and deacons. This sudden reference to a single true companion is a bit mysterious. There are two possibilities. The first, if most translations are to be followed, is that this is a term of affection between Paul and someone in Philippi. Everyone would know who this person was, but it is lost to us. The second, which is usually found in marginal notes is that what is translated as "true companion" is actually a proper name, Syzygus. To me the proper name makes more sense, but most translations disagree. To be sure, Syzygus is a strange name, but Euodia and Syntyche are not?

Is there a Christian brother or sister that drives you crazy not with a sin issue, but more of a personality that rubs you sore? For the sake of unity is it possible to be more accommodating of the person? There is much in Philippians 2 and 3 to direct heart along those paths.

  • 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. 
  • Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:3-5)
  • Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (Philippians 2:14)

Indeed, it may be that much of what Paul has been writing was setting the stage to call Euodia and Syntyche, and us to a greater commitment to unity and peace.

Thursday: The Foundation of Joy

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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 11 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

How closely do these words describe you and your level of discipleship?

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 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, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

Here I list what Paul has written:

  • There is nothing that can be gained in this world that is of greater value than knowing Jesus the Messiah as Lord.
  • For Paul this truth was real, because he had suffered the loss of all things and could say, "Good riddance, I have gained Jesus Christ."
  • The righteous that Paul talks of here is more an imparted righteousness rather than an imputed righteousness. Both concepts are present in the gospel. Imputed righteousness is where our faith enables God to see us as righteous. Imparted righteousness is a byproduct of our sanctification. 
  • Paul appreciates knowing both the power of Jesus' resurrection and being able to suffer for the sake of the gospel as Jesus had done.

This is a high calling indeed. I know many who like to talk about the power of the Holy Spirit, I find few who talk about suffering as being a good and desirable thing. As I write this, I fear, with good reason, that this is because many of us live in a time and place where being a Christian is still somewhat safe. As secular power waxes, being a Christian is becoming less safe and it is time that we Christians in America look forward to the benefits of this change. On the other side of losing everything is a more certain knowledge of Jesus the Messiah. 

I read what Paul has written and what I have just written. Part of me wishes it wasn't true: that there would not be such great cost coming our way. That inner failure is something I confess and I pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to change me and build me up and make me ready. I know that I belong to Him and that is my confidence. It is a far better thing to face weakness, confess it, and pray against it than to assume that I will be bold or not come to grips with this essential part of the life of faith.

Faith is a mystery and a challenge. Perhaps after Paul wrote these words above, he realized how high a bar he had raised and he moved to encouraged his readers and us:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16)

Forget past sins, past failures, past slips, past foolishness, and such things. Let us live today at whatever level of maturity and courage that we have attained and press on to achieve more. It is Jesus who has His hands on us and He will not let go. 

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

I have a friend who sank lower and lower into alcoholism until the Lord saved Him. He still struggled until one day he realized that part of the answer was, as he puts it, "a different play ground with different friends." We can choose to focus on those ahead of us in the Christian life or we can look at those behind. We advance only as we look ahead.

Wednesday: Getting Practical

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Monday, January 26, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 10 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

Although Jews have a distinct place and purpose in the gospel, such position is still based on faith and not on external observance:

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Philippians 3:1-6)

Paul writes of dogs, evil workers, and the false circumcision. What does he mean by these three?

  • Dogs -- This is slang for gentiles and by this Paul would be referring to unbelieving and hostile gentiles. It is worth connecting this to Jesus' words, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6) If you think back to Paul's experiences when he first came to Philippi, you can see what Paul means:

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 

Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." She continued doing this for many days. 

But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment. 

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." (Acts 16:16-21)

  • Evil Workers -- These would be those who practice evil. These are not your everyday folk, trying to lead quiet and decent lives.
  • False Circumcision -- This is the Jewish counterpart of dogs. These are Jews who work against the gospel by either expelling believing Jews and righteous Gentiles from the synagogues or insist that Gentile men be circumcised before the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah has benefit.

Now there are those who argue that this passage is one piece of evidence that shows that God's plan for the Jews is over and that His covenant has shifted to faith based salvation alone and that there is no longer a valid distinction between Jews and Gentiles. It is true that Paul, here in Philippians, greatly down plays his Judaism in comparison to knowing Messiah. But this is not the same as Paul repudiating his Jewishness or his Judaism. I assert that these words are of the same nature as these from Jesus, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) I have already covered this in my essays on The Jews and the Gospel. Here are a few more facts to consider concerning this:

  1. Many of the elements of the Mosaic Covenant are stated to be valid forever: Passover (Exodus 12:24), the right of the sons of Aaron to eat from the sacrifices (Exodus 29:28; Leviticus 7:34-36; Leviticus 24:9) and the office of priest (Deuteronomy 18:5). 
  2. Paul continued to practice his Judaism: By circumcising Timothy after the Jerusalem council (Acts 16:3) and by taking at least two Nazarite vows (Acts 18:18, 21:23,24) 

I have covered this idea in greater depth in the aforementioned essay and I would encourage you to read it.

There is, of course, great irony in Paul's words, "as to zeal a persecutor of the church."  He knows false circumcision from the inside. This takes us back to Paul's earlier prayer in this Letter:

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 1:9-11)

In Paul's past, he had neither love, nor real knowledge, nor discernment. throughout history, the Church has also lost these things. The church today must seek them. It might be easy to recognize dogs and evil workers, but the false circumcision is alive and well in Gentile contexts. Christians are no strangers to legalism, rigidity, and murderous hate. We are to be wary of such. To recognize them requires love, real knowledge, and discernment. We must depend on the Holy Spirit for power, wisdom, and guidance.

Tuesday: The Loss of All Things

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