Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Who will transform - Philippians 3:20-21

"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 3:20-21)
The scriptures use many metaphors to describe our corporate relationship with each other and with the Lord. For example, to the Ephesians, Paul describes us as the "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12) and Peter, in his letter, describes us as "a chosen race" (1 Peter 2:9) and "a royal priesthood." (1 Peter 2:9) Here, Paul refers to us as citizens of a heavenly kingdom. What is important to understand from these metaphors is that our life in Christ is not singular but corporate. We cannot separate our individual relationship with Christ from our corporate relationship with one another.

We presently live in a culture that views government as the supply of all we need. Many people look to government to provide cradle-to-grave care and protection for their lives. They have become dependents of the government rather than citizens of the commonwealth. Their participation in the union is only for what it can provide for them, not what they can provide back to the union. As citizens of God's kingdom, we must realize that it has become incumbent upon us to see, not only the rights and privileges of our citizenship, but also the duty that citizenship lays upon us. Our citizenship defines our duty towards God and each other. This is the same sense of duty which Paul refers to when he references the body of Christ, "the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:16) In our citizenship, we have a part to play in building up and strengthing the greater whole that is the holy nation of God.

Paul says that we are awaiting a savior from heaven. However, this ought to cause us to ask, "has he not already come? Was not Jesus our savior from heaven?" To understand this we must realize that salvation is a process that has a past, a present, and a future. Our initial salvation comes when we repent, believe the Gospel, and receive Jesus as our savior. At that moment, we are born from above and our spirit is made alive unto God. We are brought into relationship with God through the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ. Next, God works in our lives to bring transformation in our souls. This saving work transforms our minds and teaches us new patterns of thinking and behaving, We learn to leave behind the past and to grow into the people we were created to be, Finally, one day, Jesus will return and save our physical bodies. Paul refers to this as our adoption. "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23) One day, we will be done with these weak and temptable bodies and will receive a glorified and heavenly body just as Jesus did in his death and resurrection. Our glorified bodies will bo longer be subject to death, disease, want, and physical limitation. In that day, our salvation will be complete and we will have come to realize the hope that, "we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

It is through God's power that this transformation of our bodies will take place. In other places, Paul describes this power as that which raised Jesus from the dead. However, here he describes it as that power that is able to bring all things into submission unto himself. This should cause us to consider, "what are those things that are holding us back? What are those things that are hindering and oppressing us? What are those things that are keeping us from fulfilling our new life in Christ?" Whatever they may be, they must all come into submission before the ultimate power of God. In that day, when our salvation is brought to completion, there will be nothing to stand in our way or to hinder us from our final adoption as sons and daughter of Christ. All our enemies will be subdued, all our demons vanquished, and all that oppose us will be silenced. In the end, there will only be victory and the victory will be God's.

David Robison

Sunday, May 07, 2017

According to the pattern - Philippians 3:17-19

"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." (Philippians 3:17-19)
There is a difference between imitation and emulation. Imitation attempts to arrive at an exact copy of someone else while emulation seeks to achieve what someone else has achieved and to surpass it. We are not called to imitate other people. We frustrate the destiny of our lives when we try to live other peoples' destinies. As long as we are trying to be a copy of someone else, we will never become the person we are called to be. How often do we say to ourselves, "I wish I was like that person? I wish I had their gifts and talents? I wish I could minister like them?" However, when we think this way, we end up striving to be who we are not and loose the joy of finding out who God created us to be. We not only rob ourselves of the joy of being ourselves, but the world loses the benefit that comes from the uniqueness with which God has created us. We cannot be someone else, we must be ourselves.

Having said this, there can be value in emulating other people. The difference is that we are not trying to be them but rather trying to learn what they have learned, trying to understand what they have understood, and trying to decern the patterns that they have employed to make them successful in their endeavors. For example, if you are looking to strengthen your marriage, then it is prudent to look to emulate the patterns and wisdom employed by those whose marriage you would like to emulate. You're not trying to be them, but you recognize that they have found things that work and which may also work for you in growing your marriage. In the context of Paul's letter, he is saying, take note of those who have the faith and character which you desire for yourselves and follow their pattern of life. If we pattern our life after the world, then we will be like the world, but if we pattern our lives after those whose faith is exemplary, then we too will come to have exemplary faith and will become patterns for others to follow.

To this end, Paul describes those who are the antithesis of who we are to become. Here Paul speaks of those who are enemies of the cross. Perhaps a better translation of this Greek word would be haters of the cross. The intent of the Greek word is not so much that they are antagonistic against the cross as it is that they the hate it. They are not out to destroy the cross, but they reject its influence in their lives. Paul describes four characteristics of such people, of which, we will look at each in reverse order.

First, they set their minds on early things. Their lives are spent on the here and now, They have no interest or concern about anything transcendent, anything eternal, and anything relating to God or his Kingdom. Their lives are lived for themselves and their present wants and desires. They take no thought of God or of anyone else's need. Their needs reign supreme and it is after those needs that they earnestly seek.

Secondly, they glory in their shame. It seems tragic to me that we live in a time that glorifies, rewards, and congratulates those who sin has become public; whose sin we used to consider sinful and shameful. When people come forward with their open shame, we laud them as courageous and examples for others to follow. Is there any sin left for which our culture has not set about to exalt and to erase the shame of its stain? We live in a world that wants to throw off all vestiges of guilt, not realizing that the reason we often fell guilty is because we truly are guilty.

Thirdly, their god is their belly. Their only thought is for themselves. They are driven by their needs and desires. They lack the kind of self-control that would allow them to see others and the appetites that are higher than our flesh, such as an appetite for righteousness, goodness, and love. They know nothing of serving others. They serve only those things that serve themselves. They are truly lovers of self and lovers of nothing and no one else. Theirs is a lonely existence of self-indulgence.

Finally, their end is destruction. This destruction is not only and end in their life, but a daily process of corruption and decay brought about by their self-absorption in themselves. Not only will they one day find themselves in eternal destruction, but they live that destruction every day. Just as our resurrection is both future and an everyday reality, so is their destruction. Herein, is the key to discerning those lives we wish to pattern our own after, are they living a life of daily resurrection or are they living in daily corruption? Those whose life reflects the present and future reality of resurrection ought to be those lives we seek to emulate and the life we chose to live each and every day for ourselves. In the end, our emulation ought to produce in us a life that may also be emulated by others.

David Robison

Saturday, April 15, 2017

God will reveal - Philippians 3:15-16

"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 3:15-16)
One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher is the feeling that you have to always correct people when they are wrong, or at least wrong in your estimation of what is right. The same can be said for anyone who is an expert in their field; the sense that it is your responsibility to make sure everyone sees truth and the world as you see it. Paul faced this same temptation. He had received the Gospel directly from Jesus and he was called to preach the Gospel with authority, an authority that was his as an apostle. However, not everyone received his authority or accepted his teaching as truth and as a certainty. There were some that believed differently and were not wholeheartedly convinced of what Paul was saying. How was Paul, and us, to respond to such people?

While I would have pressed harder to make them understand my position and to convince them of their error, Paul was content to leave them in God's hands; to let Him teach them what they needed to know. One time, while in worship, I heard the Lord say to me, "Let me pastor my people first." What I understood God to say was that we should not be quick to interject ourselves into other people's life with Christ. If we are a pastor, we should remember that God is their pastor first. If we are a teacher, we should remember that God is their teacher first. It is hard to see people "missing the mark" and not want to immediately jump in and try to "help" them or to correct them in whatever way we can. Sometimes it is better to back off and let God work in their lives rather than always seeing it as our responsibility to fix things in other people. Paul was content to trust God and he trusted God more than he trusted himself. He knew that God was far better able to even correct people's misunderstandings and errors than he was and that it was better to leave them in God's hands rather than his hands. There is a time to step in, but there is also a time to live and let live.

Sometimes, the one we are always trying to correct is ourselves. We become so absorbed in what we don't know or on what we might be missing that we forget to live by what we do know and understand. This does not mean that we should look down on study, searching out truth, or striving to grow and attain to the more that is in Christ, but we must not do these things in a way as to miss living in the here and now. Paul reminds us to live and continue in the revelation and understanding we have now; to continue in what we have already attained while trusting God to lead us into new revelation and new attainments in His own timing. Life is meant to be lived, not fretted over by what we might not know or what we have not attained. Live where you are now, and trust God for your future,

David Robison

Thursday, April 06, 2017

I press on - Philippians 3:12-14

"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." (Philippians 3:12-14)
Paul views our Christian walk, not as a dichotomy between perfect and imperfect, but as a race where we are running from where we used to be to where God wants is to be. Our call "to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48) is not a judgment against us as to where we are or not perfect, but an invitation to a life where we move from imperfection to perfection as we labor with the spirit of God who indwells us. The idea here is not so much "be perfect" as it is to "become perfect". The goal is perfection, just as God is perfect, and the process is this life we live with God, allowing Him to teach us, guide us, and empower us to become perfect, just as He is perfect.

Paul admits that he had not already been made perfect and that there were still things God was working into his life, as well as things God was working out of his life. However, this realization that he was not already perfect did not discourage him or cause him to give up, rather, it motivated him to remain committed to God's process of sanctification in his life. His realization that he has not already arrived motivated him to continue in the process of growing in Christ and in the race towards perfection.

Paul understood that there was a reason and a purpose for which God had reached out to him, and all mankind, to invite them into reconciliation with Himself, a reconciliation that was provided for us by Christ. God had laid hold of Paul for a reason and it was now for Paul to lay hold of that very purpose for which God had laid hold of him. And what was that purpose? Paul writes, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (Romans 8:29) We have been laid hold of by God that, through the work of His Spirit in our life, we might be conformed into the image and likeness of His Son. None of us are there yet, but it is to this end that we ought to press forward in our walk with God.

One of the keys to pressing forward to apprehend those things for which Christ has saved us for is to learn to forget those things that are behind us. There are two important categories of those things behind us that we ought to forget and leave behind. First is our former identity. Some people struggle in their walk with God because they are ashamed of their past or see themselves limited by who they used to be. We must realize that our former sins do not define us for all our sins have been forgiven and covered in Christ. Furthermore, who we were before we came to Christ has no bearing on who we may become in Christ. Our future destiny is not determined by our past identity. Paul reminds us that often God uses those who seem insignificant in their former identity to confound the world by their redefined destiny in Christ. "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

Secondly, we must learn a new way of living and that means that some of our old thought patterns and behaviors need to be replaced with new ways of thinking and new patterns of living. Peter reminds us that, "the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries." (1 Peter 4:3) Such a process requires a retraining of our mind to apprehend and approve new thinking and new acting. It was for this very reason that the grace of  God has appeared to us. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Titus 2:11-12) God's grace has come to us to instruct us in a new way of thinking and a new way of living.

This goal that Christ has called us to cannot be obtained on our own. It will require strength, instruction, and grace that only God can provide, but if we yield to His Sprit in our lives, we will steadily and gracefully move ever closer to that perfection that is God's and ours in Him.

David Robison

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Suffered the loss - Philippians 3:8-11

"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 3:8-11)
Paul is not talking about voluntary poverty here but rather is speaking of those things that keep us from Christ and His will in our lives.For Paul, it was the trappings of false religion; a religion that rewarded self-effort and fostered self-righteousness. For others, it might be material possessions. Remember the rich young ruler who came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Jesus said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Mark 10:21) However, this young man was very rich and was saddened at these words and "went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property." (Mark 10:22) Another impediment to Christ and His Gospel is our love for this life and this world. In telling the parable of the sower and the seeds, Jesus described the seed that fell among the thorns. "And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22) Furthermore, John warns of us loving the world and its consequences in our lives. "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15) All these things can hinder us from coming to Christ and from living in His will and purpose for our lives.

Paul said that he had "suffered the loss of all things" for the sake of Christ. Paul had not merely given up all things, but he suffered the loss, meaning he felt the loss within himself. There is a cost to count when we consider a life in the Kingdom of  God. We cannot accept new life in Christ and expect to continue living our old life in this world. A life in Christ demands all of us, it requires our surrender of all we are and all we have, and it requires our death to this life in order to gain new life in Christ. So what would possess a person to surrender all? By counting the cost and comparing what we have to lose versus what we have to gain. So what did Paul hope to gain?

First was the knowledge of God. This is not merely knowing about God, but knowing God. When we come to know God then all things begin to make sense. David was conflicted by what he saw around him; good people suffering and bad people prospering, but he came to his senses when he saw and understood God. "When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end." (Psalms 73:16-17) It was only in knowing God that David was able to make sense of all he was going through.

Secondly, he hoped to gain Christ. If we have Christ, then we have everything: God, the Kingdom, everlasting life, etc. If we have Christ then nothing is impossible for us and no trial, temptation, or difficulty in life is beyond His ability to cause us to overcome. Paul boldly stated, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Thirdly, that he would find a righteousness that was not his own; a righteousness that did not depend upon his own works, will, and strength to produce. In Christ, we find a righteousness that is by faith and not by law or works. We are righteous not because we work, but because we believe. Remember what was said about Abraham who was the father of faith, "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

Fourthly, that he might know the power of the resurrection in his life. What can be more powerful than that power that raised Jesus from the dead! If we have resurrection power within us, then what can defeat us? No sickness, hardship, deficiency, or sin is stronger than resurrection power. If we live in resurrection power then there is no need to fear our present, our past, or our future for all is swallowed up in resurrection.

Fifthly, the fellowship of His suffering. While we might not think of this as a benefit, it unites us and draws us into fellowship with Him. In Christ, when we suffer, we do not suffer alone but in our suffering, God is near us in a real and vital way. In our suffering, we experience His comfort, love, and sustaining power that enables us to endure under it. Paul, speaking of suffering and weakness, said, "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Sixthly, Paul hoped to be conformed to Christ death. It is only when we are conformed to Christ's death that we can be raised to newness of life. Jesus came that we might "have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) However, this life is only possible when we have come to be conformed to His death. Speaking of baptism, Paul writes, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4)

Finally, Paul believed in eternal life. Jesus asked, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36) What use is this life if not to prepare us for eternity? Why strive to live a godly life if there is no hope of a life after this one? If this life is all we have, why not "eat, drink and be merry" (Luke 12:19)? Our hope in Christ is an eternity spent with Him; and eternity spent with the one who is not just loving but who is love. What more could anyone hope to find? What more could motivate someone to suffer the loss of all things for the unimaginable richness of Christ offers us to gain?

David Robison

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Counted as loss - Philippians 3:4-7

"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. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ." (Philippians 3:4-7)
This is a difficult thing. We all have things we are proud of; things that we hold as evidence of our value, specialty, and worth in this world. Things by which we measure ourselves against others. Paul too had things in which he could boast. He could point to his ancestry, his adherence to his Jewish laws and customs, and his zeal for God as he understood Him to be. All these things are that for which he could boast in himself and find confidence in his own existence and importance in the world.

We too, like Paul, can find things in ourselves to boast and have confidence in. Perhaps it is our education, our upbringing, our good deeds towards other, our personal wealth, or even our self-determination and grit. However, do any of these things really matter? Do any of these things really count as a source of confidence in our lives?

It is hard to look at our lives and see the things we take pride in and to count them as loss; to look at all the good we see and yet count it as less than nothing for the sake of Christ. However, this is precisely what Paul is asking us to do; to weigh in a balance who we are and what we've done compared to who Christ is and what He has done on our behalf. As long as we look to ourselves for our confidence and assurance in life, we will never be benefited by the work and provisions of Christ. It is only when we count what we have as nothing in comparison to what Christ has to offer that we will receive and become those things that are of true value. It is only in giving up what we used to value as gold that we might find true gold at the hands of Christ. Look at your life with all the things you have accomplished on your own. Now, look at Christ and all the things He has done and accomplished for you. Which reality will you choose? One choice leads to poverty and the other leads to eternal riches. The choice is yours.

David Robison

Monday, March 06, 2017

Beware - Philippians 3:2-3

"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" (Philippians 3:2-3)
In reading this, we must remember that Paul is speaking of those who were seeking to infiltrate the church, to pervert the Gospel of Christ, and to lead people astray from the purity of their life in Christ. There are many dogs and evil workers in the world today, but Paul is speaking specifically of those who oppose the church and our freedom in Christ.

The Greek word for "beware" means to see, look at, and perceive. It does not carry with it any connotation of fear or worry but merely means to be aware; to live life with our eyes wide open, We must no accept everything that comes claiming to be spiritual, godly, or Christian. We must look at it, examine it, to see if it has any worth, benefit, or support in the Gospel of Christ. The truth is that there are some people to whom we must not extend the right hand of fellowship. While we should love them, we must not embrace them. It says of Jesus, "But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man." (John 2:24-25) While Jesus loved the whole world, there were those whom he kept at arms-length, not trusting Himself to then, because He knew what was in their hearts. The same should be with us. There are some whom we must love, but whom we should not embrace and invite into close fellowship with ourselves. Paul writes to us, "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." (Philippians 1:9-10) Love is not to be blind nor is it to be ignorant. Our love ought to be grounded in true knowledge and discernment. Loving everyone, but not always approving everyone.

In speaking of dogs, Paul is referring to those worthless people who are unfit for the Kingdom of God. In the scriptures, dogs are often depicted as those who devour what is unholy. "The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat." (1 Kings 21:24) They are those who revel in the dark. "they return at evening, they howl like a dog, and go around the city." (Psalms 59:6) And they are those who, after repenting, always return to their sin. "Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." (Proverbs 26:11)

In speaking of the "false circumcision," Pual does not actually use the word "circumcision" but "concision" which means to cut around and to mutilate. These are those who believe godliness can be obtained by mutilating the flesh. Paul reminds us that, "These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." (Colossians 2:23) Concision of the flesh has no power to make us holy or righteous. Mere religion cannot make us Godly and it cannot deal with the true source of our sin which is inward and not outward. Circumcision of the flesh buys us nothing, What we need is a circumcision of the heart. Paul writes, "But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." (Romans 2:29) We must not yield to those who trust in the flesh or value religion over relationship with God.

David Robison

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

To write the same things - Philippians 3:1

"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." (Philippians 3:1)
Two things strike me as important in this verse. First is that Paul finds it important, even necessary, to command us to rejoice in the lord. Secondly, that he finds it important and necessary to keep reminding us of his command. Paul relates our joy in the Lord with our safety in life and in the kingdom. What is so important about joy and why does it ensure our safety? The scriptures give us two specific reasons.

First, we are told that the "joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) The context of this verse is that the people of Israel had recently started returning from captivity. Upon their return, Ezra, the priest, ascended the platform built for him and began to read to the people from the Law. The people upon hearing what God had commanded in the Law were convicted and grieved in their heart for all the ways they had failed to keep God's commands. They began to weep and mourn, but Nehemiah and those with him encouraged the people to stop weeping and to rejoice instead. "Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.' For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, 'Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'" (Nehemiah 8:9-10) I find it interesting that, while the people were weeping in repentance, the leaders of the people told them to stop weeping. Why was this? Because, while repentance is important, we must pass through repentance on into joy for the process of repentance to bear any fruit. Repentance is not our strength, joy is. Repentance is the doorway through which we enter into joy but we must not tarry in the doorway. We must proceed onto joy. Only then will we find strength to live the life God has called us to live,

Secondly, joy is a strong motivator and enabler for us to endure and bear under times of trials and tribulations. It is said of Jesus that, "for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Here, the joy the writer is speaking of was the joy Jesus saw when, as a result of His sufferings, there would be many who would come into salvation and would become, with Him, sons and daughters of God. Jesus knew the agony that awaited Him, yet He was willing to endure it for the joy that was to be His on the other side. Life is not always easy and there is bound to be trials and difficulties along the way. In those times, it is our joy in the Lord that will become our strength to see us through. It is our joy that helps us not to lose heart and to endure in doing good. The joy of knowing that "in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:9)

Joy is essential for our Christian life. It is one of the three hallmarks of the Kingdom of God. Paul wrote, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:17) We must never forget to rejoice in the Lord, to remain cheerful and joyful, for it is our strength, endurance, and safety.

David Robison

Sunday, February 19, 2017

But I thought it necessary - Philippians 2:25-30

"But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 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 you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me." (Philippians 2:25-30)
I find it odd that Paul would refer to Epaphroditus as both his fellow worker and a fellow soldier. While many fought against Paul, it's hard to imagine Paul, who spoke so elegantly about the virtues of love, to be one who was militant in his ministry of the Gospel. However, the Greek word used here for "fellow soldier" comes from a root word that could also mean a fellow "camper-outer". The idea of this term is not so much meant to convey a militancy but to refer to those who have gone out on a campaign or who have entered into a cause. Both Paul and Epaphroditus had gone out for the cause of the Gospel.

It is important to note the connection between Epaphroditus and the church at Philippi. The sending out of Epaphroditus was not something the leaders thought us, nor was it something Epaphroditus devised himself, but it was a decision that the church made together. They were all vested in the decision to send Epaphroditus just as they were all invested in Epaphroditus. In sending Epaphroditus they were sending themselves. In receiving Epaphroditus, Paul refers to him as "your messenger". The Greek word is literally "apostle". Epaphroditus was sent as an apostle from Philippi to Paul to deliver support to him for which the church as a whole was unable to do because of their distance from Paul.

At first read, it almost seems arrogant that Paul would speak of the deficiency of the service that the Philippians owed to Paul. However, this idea of a deficiency Paul spoke of in other places. To the Corinthian church, he spoke of their deficiency of support that was met by the sending of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, "I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part. For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men." (1 Corinthians 16:17-18) Paul also speaks of his desire to go to Thessalonica to provide what was lacking, or deficient, in their faith. "as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:10) Moreover, Paul saw it as his mission and calling to fill up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ as they pertained to the benefit of the church. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God." (Colossians 1:24-25)

It seems to me that it is the work of an apostle to fill up what is lacking in the faith, lives, and support of others, be they Paul, Epaphroditus, or anyone else sent out as a messenger of love and care. For just as Paul was sent by God, Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians. This idea of an apostle helps us to understand what Paul wrote when he said, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-12) Here, the word "equipping" means to fully furnish. God has sent people into our lives and into the church to fill up what is lacking in us; to finish in us the work that God has begun. Just as Epaphroditus was sent to Paul to finish the work that the Philippians had started in their care for Paul, so God sent Paul to finish in us the work He stated in our lives. This is the true work of an apostle.

David Robison

Saturday, February 18, 2017

will genuinely be concerned - Philippians 2:19-24

"But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly." (Philippians 2:19-24)
It's hard to imagine who Paul is referring to when he speaks of "they all", Certainly he is not including in "they all" people like Barnabus, Titus, and Silas is he? Perhaps he is speaking of those false apostles that Jesus referred to in the vision to John, "you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false," (Revelation 2:2) or maybe he is referring to those who preached the Gospel out of spite, those of whom he said, "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment." (Philippians 1:15-17)  Whoever these people were, Timothy proved to be of a different and superior character.

Paul and Timothy had a special bond. Paul found Timothy while visiting Lystra. After meeting him and hearing of his faith, it was Paul's desire that Timothy should join him in his work. We read, "Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:1-3) It says that Paul wanted Timothy to go with him. Much the same is said of Jesus when he selected his disciples. "And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach." (Mark 3:14) To Paul and Jesus, discipleship was more than instructing others, it requires relationships with those with whom you were disciplining. Discipleship involves more than sharing what you know, it requires sharing your life; to allow people to come close enough to see you in your good times and bad and to learn of your faith through the quality of the life you live.

Paul saw Timothy as his true son. He wrote of him, "For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church." (1 Corinthians 4:17) Similarly, Timothy regarded Paul as his father, and it is said that he served him as a son serves his father. This idea of a disciple serving his teacher as a son would serve his father is found throughout the Christian scriptures. We read how Joshua used to serve Moses before Joshua became the leader of Israel. "So Moses arose with Joshua his servant." (Exodus 24:13) We also read of how Elisha served Elijah and, in the end, called him his father. "Elisha saw it and cried out, 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!'" (2 Kings 2:12) Today we have many people who want their own ministry, but few who are willing to learn to serve in ministry before they get a ministry of their own.

What set Timothy apart from the others, and what distinguished his character compared to the others, was the way in which he genuinely cared for the needs of people. With Timothy, there was no hidden agendas, no pretense, no angling to his own advantage. He just loved and cared for people. Two things are key to learning to love and care for others. First, we must learn to want for nothing. When we are content in this life then we feel no need to fight and scratch for everything we want. We no longer are forced to think of ourselves and what we want. We become free to think of other's needs and what they want. The second key is to learn to love ourselves less. Love finds its fulfillment when it loves others. In John's revelation, he sees a multitude of those who, "did not love their life even when faced with death." (Revelation 12:11) To be truly fulfilled in love, we must learn to let God love us while we, in turn, love others. This is the secret to having a character like that of Timothy; one that genuinely cares.

David Robison