I've gathered together my posts on this short mini-series into a downloadable paper. You can find this resource under the resource tab on my blog. This paper discusses the popular teaching that we must first love ourselves if we are to love others. This teaching comes from Jesus' words that we should love others as ourselves. But what did Jesus really mean by this command? I would greatly enjoy hearing your comments on my thoughts.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Friday, June 30, 2017
This is the final part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
But I hate myself
Some people suffer from a deliberating sense of low self-esteem. They lack self-worth, confidence, and a sense of being loved, lovable, and lovely. Some have sought to combat this problem with a renewed effort at self-love, but does such efforts hold any real hope as a remedy for our problem? Yes, we might find temporary relief, but can increased self-love really produce a lasting qualitative change in our lives? I believe the answer is “No!” So how do we overcome feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, and even self-loathing? The answer is three-fold.
The first step at becoming comfortable in our own skin is to die. Dead people never compare themselves with others. They never think about how others love them and whether or not they love themselves. They have no feelings associated with their own existential existence. Their death has freed them from all forms of self-incrimination, self-deprecation, and self-loathing. Paul understood that he had died to this life and his old way of living. He wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Having died in Christ, Paul was no longer bound by his former life or the troubles and constraints of his old self. He was now free to live life without worry and care for himself. In like manner, Paul counsels us, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) Self-love keeps us bound to the things of this Earth and clouds our view of things that are heavenly and eternal. By embracing our death in Christ, we are freed from self-love and empowered to direct our mind, attention, and affections on things above.
The second step in overcoming self-hatred is learning to be loved. We all have a need to be loved by others. Self-love, no matter how great, can never fill this need. If we are to come to peace with who we are, then we will need to learn to experience love from others and, especially, from God. While the love of mankind is often fickle, the love of God is constant and eternal. Jesus declared his love for us when he said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Jesus came, not only to show us the way to the Father but to also reveal to us the love of the Father. Jesus replied to the Father, “I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) If we are loved by God, then what need do we have for self-love? What more of love could be wanting when we have the eternal and infinite love of God?
For the love of God to be effective in our lives, it must be both experienced and believed. John says that “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” (1 John 4:16) We need to experience the Love of God; to feel in a visceral way the reality of God’s love for us. However, as we grow in Christ, God often calls us to grow in our belief in his love. Times will come when we do not “feel” his love, but these are the times we need to learn to believe in his love. God’s love is real and powerful, even when we don’t feel it. We must come to a place where our enjoyment of God’s love is not dependent upon a feeling or an emotion but is grounded and sustained by our faith in God and his declaration of love over us.
Finally, to arrive at a sense where we can love ourselves, we must learn to love others. It is said of Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) The joy that was set before Jesus was the joy of seeing others come into the same relationship with the Father that he had. It was the joy of seeing many brethren reconciled to God and made sons and daughters of the Father. What enabled Jesus to endure difficult times was his focus on other people. His joy was not a joy that accrued to himself, but a joy in seeing others brought into peace and felicity with God. Self-love will always leave us lacking. However, if we learn to be other-focused, learn to love others rather than ourselves, then we will find the love we seek for ourselves and our desire for emotional fulfillment will become complete. Paul reminds us that, “He who loves his own wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) We can spend our whole life trying to love ourselves only to end up empty and distant from our goal. However, if, instead, we choose to love others, then that which we sought through self-love will be ours through our love for others. We all have a need to be loved, but we also have a need to love. When we learn to love others, then we will find the love we desire for ourselves.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
This is the forth part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
How then can I love others?
The difficulty in loving others often comes from the limitedness of our own love. No matter how much love we try to whip up within ourselves, our love will always be limited and often conditional. Worse than that, for many, much of the love they do have has grown cold. Jesus foretold of these days saying, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) How can we ever expect to have enough love to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us? I have come to realize that I will never have enough love within myself to attain to such a lofty goal.
Fortunately, we are not left to rely on our own love with which to love others. The secret to loving others is found in having the love of God reside within us. John tells us that, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) If God, who is love, lives in us, then an unlimited and endless supply of love is already inside us, we just need to let it out. Jesus, speaking of his love for us, said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9) Jesus could love us because the Father loved him. We can love others because Jesus loves us and dwells within us. When we abide in love and love abides in us, then we are free to love others, irrespective of how we love ourselves. In fact, often it is our love for ourselves that gets in the way of loving others.
Jesus reminded us of the greatness of his love, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13) Having the love of God within us give us the capacity to love others, but for this capacity to become active, we must die to ourselves. This includes dying to our own self-love. Loving ourselves limits our love for others. Sure, we don’t mind helping our friends move as long as it’s convenient for us, but what about laying down our lives and loving even when inconvenient or when such love requires a sacrifice of our own self-interests. To love others, we must be willing to die to ourselves. This is how our love turns from cold self-love to ardent God-like love.
More to come...
Sunday, June 25, 2017
This is the third part of a multi-part series. You can find the first part here, or the entire series here. I hope you enjoy our discussion.
What is wrong with self-love?Before we answer this question, we must clearly understand that nowhere in the scriptures are we commanded to love ourselves. Similarly, while we are told that “the Father loves the Son” (John 5:20) and that, as Jesus said of himself, “I love the Father,” (John 14:31) nowhere are we told that Jesus loved himself or that the Father loved himself. Furthermore, none of the apostles or any of the anti-Nicene writers ever spoke of our need to love ourselves before we can love our neighbor. The idea of the need to love ourselves before we can love others is completely foreign to the scriptures and the writings of the early church. In contrast to this idea, Paul describes the wickedness of the end of the age as a time when people will be lovers of self. “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) The end times will be characterized by self-love that robs love from God and others. Even today we see myriads of people who love themselves to the exclusion of others and the pain and sin that proceeds from such self-love.
The problems with self-love are twofold. First, it focusses our intention inward rather than outward as Jesus commands us. Paul, speaking of many of the so-called “ministers” of his day, says, “they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:21) Self-love can cause us to become so self-absorbed in our own interests that we lose sight of the interests of Christ and others. Paul speaks of our need to break away from our own self-absorption and self-love to care about the needs and interests of others. “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 2:3-4) Our love is to be directed outwardly not inwardly. When love becomes self-focused, we not only lose sight of other people but we fail at the very command of God, the command to love others.
Secondly, when we believe that we can only love others to the same degree that we love ourselves, then we will never prefer others before ourselves or treat them above ourselves. As best we will treat them as we treat ourselves, but no greater. Paul writes to us saying, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” (Romans 12:10) To prefer one another over ourselves, we must first love them more than ourselves. This is the great call of God; to leave behind self-love and to embrace love for God and love for others.
More to come...
Saturday, June 24, 2017
This is the second part of a multi-part article. You can read the first post here or all posts here. Hope you enjoy this series.
What then did Jesus mean by, “as yourself”?This doctrine, that we must first love ourselves before we can love others, hinges on how we interpret the phrase, “as yourself.” Some interpret this to mean, “in the same way” or “to the same degree,” but is this the only plausible interpretation of this scripture? Is there another interpretation that is more plausible and in better keeping with the scriptures as a whole?
One other possible interpretation of this command by Jesus is that we should love others as if they were ourselves. In other words, we are not to love others in the same way, or to the same degree, as we love ourselves, but we are to love others as if they were ourselves. Loving others as ourselves would then mean to love them the way we would want to be loved or to love them as we would love ourselves.
This interpretation is more in line with the rest of Jesus’ teaching on how we ought to relate to other people. Consider Jesus’ words when he says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Here, the command is not to treat people to the same degree we treat ourselves, but rather to treat them the way we would want to be treated. If we interpret the command to love others in the same light by which we interpret this verse, then we see that Jesus is not saying that we should love others as we love ourselves, but that we should love them the way we would want to be loved. Note that here too, as well as in the scripture commanding us to love our neighbor, Jesus refers to treating others as we would have them treat us as being the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets. Treating these two scriptures as being essentially the same command, we realize that Jesus is in no way intimating that we must first love ourselves before we can love others, simply that we should love and treat them in the same way we would want to be loved and treated. This seems to be the more plausible and natural interpretation of what Jesus meant by “as yourself.”
More to come...
Friday, June 23, 2017
This is the start of a new multi-post article. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on this popular topic. I hope this series is a blessing to you.
But did not Jesus tell me to love myself?There is a popular theology today that states that we can only love others to the degree to which we love ourselves. This theology is based upon the words of Jesus when, in quoting the Old Testament scripture (Leviticus 19:18), he says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) Some contend that, in saying we should love our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus was saying that we can only love others if we first love ourselves. They interpret the words of Jesus to mean that we ought to love others with the same degree and in the same way that we love ourselves. Therefore, if that is a true interpretation of Jesus’s words, then we must first love ourselves if we are ever going to love our neighbor according to the command of Christ.
While this message strikes a chord of comfort and hope for those who find within them self-loathing and self-hatred, we must ask ourselves if this is what Jesus really meant when he uttered these words? The answer to this question has great import to our lives and our relationships with those around us.
While, according to this particular scripture, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor “as ourselves,” (Leviticus 19:18) there are other places where Jesus simply commands us to love others without any reference to ourselves. In speaking of our enemies, Jesus commands us, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:35) Here, Jesus commands us to love our enemies with no reference to how we love ourselves. Similarly, when it comes to loving others, John records Jesus’ command is simply, “This I command you, that you love one another,” (John 15:17) again with no reference to ourselves. Finally, when leaving us a new commandment to love one another, Jesus raises the bar from the command laid down by the Law, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) While the Old Testament tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, here we are told to love each other as Christ has loved us. Truly this is a much greater requirement that was previously stated by the Law.
Given the progression of the scriptures from loving our neighbor as ourselves, to loving our enemies with no qualifications, and to loving each other as Christ has loved us, we must ask ourselves if we have properly understood the scriptures when we interpret them to mean that we must first love ourselves before we can love our neighbor.
More to come...
Saturday, June 17, 2017
"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 loved people. His love was not just for the church, but for the people of the church. Paul took no pride in structure, programs, or church size. His pride was in the people who were being transformed by the message of the Gospel. Paul' reward was not in his notoriety, but in seeing Christ formed in the lives he touched, Paul rejoiced not only in their changed life but also in the love they had one for another and for him. Far too often we appraise our spiritual lives by our accomplishments and our works instead of our relationships with others. It is of little account to have preached to thousands if we fail at forming Christian relationships one with another.
Paul, as he begins to close his letter, exhorts the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. This Greek word means to remain stationary. The idea is that we might remain stationary in Christ, not moved by our circumstances, our fears, and our concerns. Not only can external concerns disturb us, but we can also be troubled by a need to prove ourselves or to justify ourselves by works and religion. God has called us to a place of peace; peace where we are confident in the love of God for us and our position in His kingdom. We are to stand in peace knowing that God loves us, that we are secure in His kingdom, and that no matter what comes our way, God is watching over us. It is only from this place of rest that we can find our purpose in God and move forward in those good works for which "God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
Finally, Paul addresses and issue that arose between two godly saints; believers who had both labored and struggled for the Gospel. These two women had given much and yet, for some reason, they ended up sideways in their relationship with one another. We don't know why but it had come to the point where Paul felt that he needed to address the issue. While death and taxes are inevitable, so are offenses and, sometimes, we need the help of others to walk through a healing process with those by whom we have been offended. What is interesting here is that we begin to see the church at Philippi, not as simple a collection of individuals, but as a community of believers that were bound together by relationships, so much so, that the difficulty that existed between these two women was felt by the entire community. It is as Paul said, "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." (1 Corinthians 12:26) This is not to say that the church ought to be a group of meddling individuals but that as the Body of Christ we are called to do life together and, sometimes, that means helping one another through the difficulties of life. None of us are an island unto ourselves. We have been called into community; into the family of Christ.
Tuesday, May 09, 2017
"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.
Sunday, May 07, 2017
"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.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
"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,
Thursday, April 06, 2017
"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.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
"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?
Tuesday, March 07, 2017
"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.
Monday, March 06, 2017
"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.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
"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.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
"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.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
"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.
Friday, February 03, 2017
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me." (Philippians 2:14-18)Paul had just exhorted the Galatians to obey him, not only when he was present, but "but now much more in my absence." (Philippians 2:12) Here Paul gives some examples of the things he had commanded them to obey: do not grumble, stop fighting with each other, etc. The things Paul commanded the Galatians to obey are the same kinds of things a parent would instruct their children to do: do not lie, play nice with each other, don't fight, etc. Paul's relationship with the Galatians was not as an overload but as a father.
It is interesting that the way we prove ourselves to be children of God not through the purity of belief or our fidelity to a statement of faith but through our actions that show we have learned to conform our lives to the pattern set for us by our heavenly Father. Our conformance to creeds proves ourselves to be children of religion but our obedient behavior to our Father proves ourselves to be children of God.
It was said of Jesus that, "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men." (John 1:4) The light of Jesus was not His creed or statement of faith but it was the life He lived. The life Jesus lived showed us a new reality, a new way to live. It showed us that it was possible, through God's help, to live a righteous life, a life that was new, abundant, and free of sin. The same is true today of our lives. If we live as children of God, then our lives will be the light of men; showing them the new life that is possible in Christ. This is why Jesus described us saying, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
Paul's mission in life was not to teach people but to deliver them to God as children of their heavenly Father. This meant not only seeing them united with the Father but also being conformed into His image and into the image of His Son. The proof of this transformation was to be evident in how they lived their lives. In Galatians, Paul speaks of running in vain regarding his gospel, "I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain." (Galatians 2:2) However, here he speaks of having run in vain in regards to his mission, the mission of seeing those he ministered to becoming transformed into the image of Christ.
Paul found the secret to joy, even when faced with personal challenges and difficulties. Paul's joy was in seeing the positive effect of his ministry happen in the lives of other people. Paul did not live for his own benefit but found joy when his life brought benefit to others. When we live for ourselves, it is easy to become angered when circumstances do not turn out the way we had hoped and when difficulties and disappointments flood our lives. Our anger robs us of our joy and saps the strength of our life. However, when we live for the benefit of others, then even our circumstances are seen as opportunities to benefit others by allowing God to show Himself strong in the midst of our difficulties that others may take hope and increase in faith. Paul encourages us that this approach to life ought also to be ours; that in living for others we too might share in the same joy that Paul found in his service to others. Such a life is contrary to the world, but is rewarding in Christ.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
"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)The true mark of maturity is not how you live on Sunday, but how you live on Monday when no one from church is watching you. As parents, we teach our children how to behave through instruction and commands; watching them to ensure that their behavior lines up and conforms to what we have taught and commanded them. When they do the things we command, we praise them. When they do not, we discipline them that they might learn to follow our instructions and commands. The goal of all this is so that, when they are grown and out of our sight, they will continue to live by what we taught them and trained them to do. Our fundamental hope is that, if we "train up a child in the way he should go, [then] even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) If we succeed in this, then we will have succeeded in raising our children to be mature adults.
Paul viewed those in the churches to which he ministered as his children. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church saying, "For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15) As a father, Paul was concerned with their growth towards maturity. To this end, he desired, not only that they would obey him when present, but even in his absence, the things he taught and commanded them would continue to guide their lives, conversations, and behavior. Only when they were able to live a righteous and moral live in his absence, would he have succeeded in raising them unto maturity.
The working out of our salvation is our own personal responsibility. Having been taught and trained, it is up to us to put that training into practice. Others can instruct us, others can command us how we ought to live, but it is up to us to decide how we will actually live our lives and put to use those things we have been taught and commanded. Even the very faith we have in Christ, it is up to us to put that faith into action; to allow it to become active in our lives and to allow it to dictate and control every aspect of our daily walk and life. It is not enough to hear, learn, and understand the Gospel of God, we must actually learn to live by what we have learned, heard, and have understood. We must take what we know and put it into action.
The great paradox in all of this is that, even though we are responsible for working out our own salvation, it is not really us who are working, but God who is working within us. While our salvation is our own personal responsibility, we do not do it alone. Prior to grace, we were left to the Law and the Law commanded us what it willed but give us no help or power to do the things it commanded. We were left to our own willingness to obey and our own power to follow through on that willingness. However, now that grace has come, we are no longer left to ourselves but God Himself aids us in living the life He commands. Paul, writing of himself, speaks to our new life in Christ. "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:19-20) In Christ, we have died and have been given a new life. In this new life, we find that it is Christ who is living in us and who is working both to give us the willingness and the strength to live the new life we have been given and commanded. We have the very resurrected life in Christ empowering us to do the very things Paul commands; that we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Augustine of Hippo used to say, "Lord command what you will and grant what you command!" How great is the good news of Christ, that those things which God commands, He also gives in abundance.
Monday, January 16, 2017
"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, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)For what reason was Christ highly exalted to the place where every knee will bow and every tongue confess? Because of what Paul had previously taught us, that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped and that He emptied Himself, became a man, and was obedient even to death upon the cross. Jesus descended to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. For this reason, He has also ascended to become the Lord of all. In saving all of mankind, He became the Lord of all mankind. This is also what Paul meant when, after quoting David, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives," (Psalms 68:18) he writes, "Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things." (Ephesians 4:9-10)
What is interesting here is that Paul, in his teaching, refers to an ancient prophecy of Isaiah, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), I am the Lord, and there is none else... Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, 'Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.'" (Isaiah 45:18, 21-24) There are several things of interest here. First, that Paul is clearly linking this prophecy with his teaching. In so doing, he is telling us that the story of Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophesy. Secondly, we see clearly that Jesus' coming was prophesied and foretold long before His appearing. God purposefully did this so that we might believe upon Him when He came. Third, we see that Jesus was not only the Christ, the anointed one, but He was also prophesied to be our savior, the one who would save us from our sins. Fourthly, we see that God's intentions, which He prophesied through Isaiah, was that we would no longer find our righteousness in the law but in Christ who was to be our savior. No longer would our righteousness be by works but rather through faith. Finally, Paul teaches us that Jesus is in fact God. Isaiah is clearly prophesying about God, the one who created the heavens and the Earth. Furthermore, we see in Isaiah that is is this God before whom every knee will bow and everytongue confess. However, here in his letter to the Philippians, Paul affirms that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were the fulfillment of this prophesy. In doing so it is clear that Paul was teaching us that Jesus, being the Son of God, is also, in truth, God Himself. How this could be and the exact nature of this union of God the Father and God the Son being one (along with the Holy Spirit) is a mystery, but Paul clearly declares it as being true, Jesus is God.
Friday, January 13, 2017
"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, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)Attitudes just don't happen, they are chosen and formed by a conscience act of our mind and will. This Greek word means to exercise the mind or to form and maintain an opinion or mental disposition. It speaks of an active undertaking not a passive acquiesce to a thought or idea. Paul is not calling us to an attitude but calling us to action to form such an attitude within us, an attitude which was also found in the person of Jesus Christ.
So what was this attitude that Jesus had? It was that, though He was God, He didn't grasp godness. When the situation required it, He was willing to lay aside His godness to come to Earth in the form and limitations of a man. I have known rich people who, when the opportunity called for giving, grasped their riches all the more. We have all heard stories of those who have been put into authority who, when delegation was in order, grasped ever tighter onto their authority. Furthermore, there are those who, when mercy is called for, refuse to let go of their right and their self-righteousness. All these people chose grasping over emptying. We need to understand that, just because God has blessed and gifted us, that does not mean that, at times, we should lay those things aside for the benefit of other people. Consider what Paul said to the Corinthian church, "Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? ... If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:4-6, 12) Paul had certain rights as an apostle but he was often willing to forgo those rights if it meant greater blessing for those to whom he was ministering.
When Jesus came down, He did not come as God in the fullness of who God is, but came humbly, in the form of a man. It is almost impossible for us to understand how great His condescension was. It would be like us condescending to become a worm; stripping ourselves of all that it means to be human, yet this is exactly what Jesus did for us. Having become a man, He did what all men and women ought to do, He humbled Himself and became obedient. This is the attitude that all men should take, especially before God; that we should be humble and obedient before the God who created us. How many earthly problems have been created by disobedient and proud men and women? If we would learn humbleness and obedience then our lives would be blessed, our relationships would be blessed, and our work would also be blessed. This should become our goal. This should become the attitude within us. That we might imitate Jesus as He imitated what we ought to do as men and women created by God.
Saturday, January 07, 2017
"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 2:3-4)How many churches have been destroyed through selfishness, strife, and empty conceit? How many marriages have been ruined by those same diabolical attitudes and behaviors? Strife and empty conceit not only hurt relationships but also destroys any attempt to unite people together either as a church, a marriage, or any other form of relational institution.
Other translators translate the Greek word for selfishness as "strife" (Darby) and "selfish admission" (NKJV). Thayer translates this word as "a courting distinction, a desire to put oneself forward, a partisan and factious spirit which does not disdain low arts; partisanship, factiousness." In any organization, including the church, there will always be people who have different ideas, different views of how things ought to be done, and different ways they would use to approach a common issue or problem. The problem is not so much the dissension of ideas, plans, and means but the striving for having your own idea, plan, and means adopted as the only approach to any project, problem, or mission. We may not always agree on the direction or plan taken, but when we resort to intrigue, courting others to our side, and waging intellectual war against our opponents then we have crossed the line into something that is bound to be destructive and divisive. We must, in the midst of our differences, find a way to work together as a whole; to place ourselves under a common yolk so that we might pull together in a common direction and towards a common purpose.
The truth of conceit is that all conceit is empty. Thayer describes this Greek word as "empty self-esteem." The reason conceit and self-esteem are empty is not because there is no reason to be conceited or to have self-esteem but because the source of those things for which we might have conceit or self-esteem is not from us but from God. There are many good qualities in each of us and many reasons to be proud and confident in who we are, but those traits and qualities are not from us but God given and God honed through His work in our lives. When we let ourselves think that who and what we are is a product of our own efforts and industry then we deceive ourselves and our estimation of ourselves is empty. However, when we realize that all the good things in us are gifts from God, then we are moved to thankfulness and our desire becomes to use those gifts for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. Then our purpose will not be to put ourself forward or to strive for our own way but to find how to use our gifts, talents, and abilities for a larger purpose than ourselves.
Why should we view one another more important than ourselves? Are we not important? Are we not at least as important as they are? Why should we consider them more important? Vine defines this Greek word as "to hold or have above." In other words, the sense in which they are "better" than us is not derived from some qualitative comparison of morality, aptitude, or ability. Rather is is a choise we make to voluntarily consider them first before ourselves.
There are two keys to being able to look at others as more important than ourselves. First, we must have a humble and realistic estimation of ourselves. The truth is that we are just like everyone else; we are no better or no worst. Paul reminds us that, "for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:22-23) In the things that really matter, we are just like everyone else. We have all sinned; we are all fallen; we all need a savior. Secondly, we need to be confident that God cares for us and that He is, and will continue, to look after our needs. David said, "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me." (Psalms 138:8 NKJV) It is only when we are confident in God's care for our lives that we can turn our attention to others.
Finally, Paul tells us to not be so consumed with or own interests that we lose site of the interests of others. In this statement, Paul assumes that our fellowship as Christian brothers and sisters is part of our everyday life. So much of what we call fellowship occurs in those brief moments we spend greeting one another at church. However, five minutes on a Sunday morning does not constitute fellowship. Our life together as the Body of Christ must extend beyond Sunday and must be a part of who we are. We need more than encounters with other believers, we need vital life-giving relationships with other brothers and sisters. It is in the context of these relationships that we can look to the interest of others as others look to our interests as well.
Thursday, January 05, 2017
"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." (Philippians 2:1-2)Paul is asking the Philippians to stop and consider the benefits they have found in Christ. While Paul's words are stated as a question, the implied answer to each question is "Yes". In response to Paul's questions, here is what he is hoping we will realize.
There is encouragement in Christ. The Greek word for encouragement is a form of the same word that Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit as our comforter, "And I will beg the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever." (John 14:16 Darby) In Christ, there is comfort, encouragement, and consolation, even in times of trouble and loss. Our encouragement comes not from our own power of will, but because the one who is our comforter lives within us. We have comfort and encouragement because of our relationship with Christ and His very presence in our lives.
In Christ we have received the love of the Father and, through the Holy Spirit, our lives have been filled full with the love of God. "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5) This Greek word for consolation is translated by Vine as "to speak closely to anyone." Through the love of God, we experience not only His nearness but we also hear his expressions of love and feel His breath upon our spirit as He speaks His love to us.
In Christ, we have fellowship with His Spirit. Not only do we live in social intercourse with the Spirit, but we also participate with Him in His work in our lives and upon this Earth. Our fellowship with the Spirit goes beyond simply knowing Him, we also participate with Him in a purpose that is greater than ourselves. Through the Spirit, we become partners with God and partners in a mission that is extending His Kingdom throughout the whole Earth.
In Christ, our hard hearts have been made soft again; where there was once coldness there is now the ardent warmth of love. Instead of indifference towards others, our heart now burns with love, compassion, mercy, and empathy. Instead of self-love, we find a new motivating force within us that draws us to others, that causes us to take notice and consider other people, and that motivates us to share with them the same love of Christ that has been shared with us. Our love, that was once selfish, has been turned outward towards God and towards others.
In all of this, Paul is trying to get us to see all we have received in Christ and, in seeing this, to motivate us towards love and community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Message bible puts it this way, "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ... then do me a favor..." (Philippians 2:1-2 The Message) We have been given so much in Christ that we ought not to keep it to ourselves or to use it only for our own purposes, interests, and benefit but we ought to share those benefits with others.
Paul's joy was the joy of a father; the joy a father feels when his children grow up to become mature, well constituted, men and women of character, fidelity, courage, and godliness. Paul's judgment of their maturity was based upon how they lived and interacted with others. It is not only an inward maturity that Paul was looking for but also an outward maturity that affects every aspect of our lives, speech, and conduct.
Paul's joy was not only for the individual but also for the whole church. Paul not only loved and cared for the individual but he also loved and cared for the church. To this end, Paul encourages the Philippians in how they should relate to one another. Specifically, he asks that they would live in unity with each other. That that they would have the same mind and that being the mind of Christ. That they would have the same love, the same love for each other with which God had loved them. That they would be co-spirited or to of kindred spirit, meaning that, though they differ outwardly, there would be a commonality in their souls that would draw them togther as one. Finally, that they would be intent on one purpose, meaning to be of one mind, to think the same, or to exercise their thoughts and intentions towards a common purpose. This common purpose is more than a common mission or activity but is our common purpose to be more like Christ and together to represent and reflect Christ to the world.