Devotional # 141. Philippians 4:19-23

Devotional # 141. 6/15/15. Philippians 4:19-23.

Intro. As Paul closes the letter to the Philippians we also finish the book and get ready to move on to Colossians. But before we do Paul has some great words of wisdom and encouragement for us.

v. 19. We’ve read from a few famous verses lately and this is another one but if we don’t take it in context it doesn’t have the same weight behind it. As you know, Paul has been talking about Christians sharing with missionaries in both giving to them (v. 10, 15-16) and then receiving gifts and blessings from God (v. 17). But they also shared with Paul in his “distress” and that’s why it’s so powerful for Paul to say “my God shall supply all your need.” So whether it is the missionaries need for resources or time or money – God will supply that need. Whether it is a churches need for blessing from God – He will supply the need. And if you are in distress and you need encouragement and strengthening from other brothers and sisters – God will most definitely supply that need!

I love that Paul says “my God” because it shows the personal relationship that Paul had with the Father. Only someone who has seen God actually supply their needs is able to unequivocally say,  “MY God shall supply all your need.”

But what is this promise “according” to? It is “according to His riches in glory” … God has many “riches in glory” when he supplies all our needs he doesn’t just give us the minimal amount, but instead proportional to His great riches He gives great blessing.

And who are these “glory riches” from? Paul says that they are “by Christ Jesus.” And we are reminded yet again there’s nothing that can be done without Jesus.

v. 20. Paul just mentioned the glory from Jesus now he mentions the glory of the Father.

This is the beginning of the end of the letter. Paul begins his “good-byes” from God the Father. Having just mentioned the “riches in glory” that God uses to help us with our needs, we see that God retains that “glory” forever. It’s important to remember to give the Father the “glory” that He deserves. It’s so much easier when we’ve trusted Him to take care of our needs after we’ve obeyed by taking care of missionaries. When we put the Lord first in our life He blesses it. Here’s a story about putting God first:

Last week a buddy of mine had a second interview and he asked me, “the company is open 7 days a week and they may need me to work Sundays so I’d miss church but I’ve been praying for a good job to support my family, what should I do?” I told him, “God will take care of you and your family if you wait on a job that will allow you to worship Him and put Him first.” He called them and said he didn’t want to waste their time interviewing because he can’t work Sundays. They told him they were prepared to give him Sundays off if he would come in and interview again! Why does it amaze us how good God is and that He takes care of His sheep when we put Him first?!

v. 21. Now Paul sends greetings from two different people. First, he distinguishes between the Father and the Son, having just talked about the Father in verse 20. Now he says it is “Christ Jesus” that each Christian in Philippi is supposed to greet every other Christian with. What does that mean? It means to use His name. To not be afraid to use the name of Jesus. But it also means to greet someone with the love of Jesus. The love that died on the cross for our sins.

Paul asks that anyone who hears the words of this letter tell “all” of the other Christians (“saints“) “hello” in Jesus. We should consider this like Jesus is saying “hi.” How would Jesus greet someone? Well, it would be in love and not with a fake smile. And we should do the same. When we stand up and greet each other at church are you more than just kind of friendly? You should have a deeper connection with people of the faith. Be willing to reach out and truly “greet them in Christ Jesus.” As an example Paul says that the Christians he’s currently with greet the Christians in Philippi.

v. 22. Having just said that the Christians Paul is with greet the Philippians, Paul reinforces this but gives special acknowledgment of “Caesars household” also greeting. When Paul says “household” here he’s talking about everyone in Caesar’s family but also including courtiers, princes, judges, cooks, food – tasters, musicians, custodians, builders, stablemen, accountants” so there are potentially a ton of people that fall into this group (Source 1). What is interesting is that Paul couldn’t afford to name those who were in Caesar’s household because they might have been ostracized or worse, put to death.

v. 23. Paul concludes the letter with a special blessing, encouraging that the “grace of our Lord Jesus” be with them. We’ve talked enough about the use of “lord” meaning master that this should stand out to you immediately. And we’ve talked about how “grace” is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. So with these reminder definitions clearly in our mind we see that it was important for Paul to close this letter with an encouragement that is both present and applicable to our lives and that we should bestow and share with other believers. Can you imagine what it would be like to have someone say, “May you be blessed by Jesus even though you don’t deserve it! Remember He is the Master of your life and since He died on the cross for you what won’t He bless you with?” We should come up with our own wording of this to encourage others!

 

Conclusion. As we close Philippians it isn’t a sad thing because we’ve enjoyed the book immensely. We’ve learned a lot like: we live for Jesus but to die is gain (1:21); we “shine as lights in the world” (2:15); we should suffer the loss of all our things, accounting them as trash in comparison to the profit of Jesus (3:8) and we shouldn’t have anxiety but trade it for praying to (and thanksgiving to) God the Father (4:6).

Also there has been a group of kids in Hungary for the last year that have been receiving Devotionals I’ve sent from the Gospels. This week I finished up Mark with them so they will be joining us next week in Colossians, although there will be no difference for you. But I wanted to let you know and encourage you that God is always adding to our number who get this email! Have a great week!

 

References:

Source 1: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1829.

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Devotional # 140. Philippians 4:14-18

Devotional # 140. 6/8/15. Philippians 4:14-18.

Intro. Last week Paul talked about the faithfulness of the Philippian church in giving him gifts that benefited God’s ministry. Paul said he had learned to get along with nothing and with everything but he still praised the Philippians for giving the gifts. This week we’ll dig into why he did that.

v. 14. As we just mentioned, last week Paul talked about how he had learned that whether he had nothing or everything he was content; then he said that he could ‘do all things through Christ who strengthened him’. So here when he says, “Nevertheless” he is saying “in spite of that” it was a good thing that they shared in his distress.

Have you ever gone through something difficult and you were OK but then a friend came along and comforted you and then you realized that you really needed that? Yesterday I re-connected with a friend that I haven’t seen in a while and I didn’t realize how much I had missed our spiritual conversations. Like a small part of me that I hadn’t realized was empty got filled and it was encouraging. Paul is the same way. And he’s going to explain the different reasons why in the following verses.

vv. 15-16. I’m so glad that Paul shared this even though his intended audience had lived it, because I wasn’t there! He has them remember the beginning of his ministry when he left Macedonia and no one supported him except for this church in Philippi. We can read about this visit in Acts 16. Specifically verses 11-12 tells us about his course and how he got to Philippi. A lot of things happened like getting imprisoned, having an earthquake open the cell doors, the warden and his family getting saved, visiting Lydia and then leaving. Go back to Devotional 56, for more. And, as Paul mentions here in Philippians 4, they then went to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). So Paul has reminded the church (and us) how long a history of faithfulness they have had, how much he appreciates it but more importantly that it is credited to their account in heaven.

Notice that he says that only the church in Philippi helped in “giving and receiving.” Often when missionaries ask a church for money we think “oh, they’re asking for money again. OK maybe we can scrape some cash together if we can find some extra” But there is also a “receiving” where we get what, at my job, we call ROI (Return On Investment). I think of last summer when my family and a couple of guys from our church went to Hungary to teach English and share Jesus (which is how this Devotional started back in 2012). Well, one of the people who joyfully gave some money for us to go asked if I could send some updates. I sent one and he responded to tell the kids what he had just learned from Romans 8: “We all sin but Jesus gave His life for our sins past present and future. Even Paul was inflicted with sin. Jesus is always on our side, He will never leave us.” So that morning I was ready to share what he had said but then one of the other teachers from England gave his testimony which was amazing. One of the things he said was “what I had to learn was that Jesus forgave me for my sins in the past, present and future.” So I had to stand up with tears in my eyes and share what my friend had emailed me because the Holy Spirit was truly speaking through us to those 60 kids*. When I got to tell my friend about this and the impact he had on these kids, he knew what he had done really mattered. I’m sure there will be people who will thank him in heaven for giving a little money and sending an email. How awesome is it that on earth God lets us see a couple of our Return On Investments!!

 

*I shared this story in Devotional 96, if you want to go back and read it.

v. 17.  I quoted this verse last week because this is the heart of Paul when it comes to church giving. It isn’t that if you don’t give to a missionary God won’t provide for them in another way, but there is a blessing that follows back to the giver. Remember last week (Devotional 139) when I said the only time God asks us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10 when He says that if we tithe to Him and His ministries then He will open the “windows of heaven” and load us up with so much that we won’t be able to hold all of the blessings!?

Paul doesn’t just say that there will be a blessing but it’s “fruit that ABOUNDS to their account.” And it is fruit that ABOUNDS to our account, also. We have talked about bearing fruit” many times, one of the best, most recent ones was from Philippians 2:12 (Devotional # 125). This verse talks about the desire for Christians to “work out their own salvation“, which some think means to do “works” in order to get salvation but by context, the entirety of the Scriptures and even the words Paul uses in this verse we can tell that’s not the case. Paul is saying to “work OUT our salvation” as opposed to “working FOR our salvation and I had used the analogy of working out at the gym. We do not work out at the gym to create muscles, God has given us those, we work out at the gym to build our muscles. This “working it out” means to bear fruit. Again reminiscent of the talents that the master gave to his servants. Now maybe it will click with you…the master gives the talents – the servants don’t even work for them. But they are responsible for what they do with them. Have you been blessed with gifts from the Holy Spirit? Do you use them? So back to what we’re reading in Philippians 4:17, Paul shows us again that when we sacrifice to give a gift we’re actually bearing fruit to the kingdom. You’re actually robbing yourself and God when you reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction on giving.

v. 18.  When Paul received the gift they gave, it came from Epaphroditus (who we talked about in Ephesians 2:25, Devotional 128). Remember Epaphroditus got really sick in Rome and Paul said that he was his “brother”, “fellow worker” and “fellow soldier”? But the focus here is on where the gift originated: from the church in Philippi (which, technically, Epaphroditus was a member of).

So Paul confirms that the Philippians gifts to him actually were a “sweet smelling aroma…to God” as well as “an acceptable” and “well pleasing…sacrifice…to God.” Often when we sin we desire to be acceptable to God through doing “works” or punishing ourselves or whatever. Hopefully we’ve learned that it never works because we are using what we consider acceptable (works or punishment) to make ourselves feel better but God doesn’t find those acceptable. However, the one area that we can work for God, and have our works be considered “acceptable” has nothing to do with our salvation but the salvation and edification of others. It’s the old paradigm that when we get our eyes off ourselves and help others, we actually help ourselves.

Conclusion. I hope this Devotional has properly drawn attention towards giving to God. I pray that you will recognize what’s important in this life. One of those things is when our “fruit” can abound in “giving” which “returns” to us in blessing.

Devotional # 139. Philippians 4:9-13

Devotional # 139. 6/2/15. Philippians 4:9-13.

Intro. Over the last couple of weeks Paul has been giving us some information that makes sense individually, as we often hear these famous verses, such as “rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice” and “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication” and “the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” But they are even more powerful if we look at them as they were intended to be read, all together. So I encourage you to read from verse 1 of this chapter to get the full understanding of what God means here.

Last week we studied the different “things” that Paul told us to “meditate on.” Let’s look at those things in the light of verse 9 and following.

v. 9. In this verse Paul says to do the things that he has done. It’s a safe bet that he wants us to do all of the things that he has taught, all of which can be grouped into the “buckets” he just laid out (i.e. “true” or “noble” or “just”, etc.)*. So Paul gives us four things that he gave to others. Are we giving those to other Christians?

The first one is what has been “learned“. What have we “learned” from Paul? Obviously this must mean that he has taught it, so what are Paul’s major topics over the course of his letters? Paul’s five main themes are: The Lordship of Jesus, Resurrection, Justification, Grace and Faith (see Source 1 for more). So these are the main things that Paul taught on but have you actually “learned” them? Often it takes us experiencing stuff to actually learn but once we have seen that the Bible is true in something, hopefully that gives us the trust to not continue to make mistakes when we could just learn from Paul.

The second is what has been “received“. So if Paul has taught something have we “received” it? To “receive” something is to willingly take it. In fact often in the New Testament this word is translated “take” and Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 11:23 when he said, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (Source 2). These may be gifts that have been given by Paul whether money, food or spiritual encouragement and instruction.

Third, Paul has spoken so what have they “heard“? This is important because these are the things that they haven’t completely “received” yet (Source 3). This may mean a promise that hasn’t been fulfilled just yet. Or another way to look at it is that Paul was consistent because “what they saw in him was the same thing with what they heard from him” (Source 4). When other Christians “learn” from us do our actions match our words?

Lastly what did they “see in him“? I’ve always thought Paul was a brave man to say “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). What were the things Paul did when he visited them that they should model? What did they see him doing that they never officially “learned” or “heard” from him, but that they should model anyway? In our own lives we must always remember that if we put our faith in men we will be let down, however we must have a couple of mentors in the faith that we look up to. What do these more mature Christians say and do that we see coming straight from Scripture?

If we do these things then there is a promise that “the God of peace will be with us“. I love that Paul uses the title for the Lord as “the God of peace” because he just talked about “the peace of God” (v. 7)!!! So Paul has tied the fact that when we let go of our “anxiety” we will have “THE peace” because we have “received” the things that Paul and other have done and said. In the next verse Paul will also continue the idea of “rejoicing”…

 

*“All” things fit into these “buckets”: Initially I thought there might be two ways to take this verse: 1. If we’re reading this in context with verse 8, as it is coupled in my Bible, then he could be meaning for us to do the things that he just mentioned such as “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble”, etc. which we’ve also seen him do. Or 2. He could mean that although he does those things he just mentioned he also wants us to do all of the things that he has done. It starts to seem to be semantics because all of the things that he has taught us would fall into those categories (i.e. “true” or “noble” or “just”, etc.).

vv. 10-12. Paul gives us a couple of things to learn from in these verses. The gist of what he says is that it’s good that the Philippians were able to give Paul gifts. Not that he couldn’t get by without the gifts, because he had learned to be content in any situation, but it was a blessing for him and for them (as we’ll see in verse 17). Let’s look a little closer.

Paul has just told Christians to “rejoice in the Lord always” and then he gives us a practical example of how he has done just that. He says, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly” because the Philippians “care for him had flourished again.” It wasn’t that they had forgotten to help Paul or had ignored him; in fact they had been the most faithful church in the years of Paul’s ministry. Instead they had “lacked opportunity”. So the Philippian Christians were unable to get gifts to Paul. It is commonly thought that this was because they couldn’t find him since he traveled so much. But it didn’t really matter since he didn’t really require the gift, instead as the saying goes, “it’s the thought that counts.” But Paul mentioning this here goes beyond it just making him feel good.

As I just mentioned Paul didn’t really need the gifts, so why even bring it up? First, because they were truly helpful to him. An example would be if Paul was in prison during winter without a blanket, sure maybe he could stay alive but a blanket would help him stop shivering enough at night to get a little sleep. The western church knows nothing of hardship and although it’s a blessing it’s also a curse because our faith is shallow and when the pain comes, and it will, we’ll be so shocked that we may just run away. I’ve heard of some preachers who require specific things in their dressing rooms like rock stars. It’s pathetic to think that on top of pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars to make an appearance that a person who claims to be ordained by God would throw a temper tantrum over having purple skittles in the green room. But such is the age of “false teachers” (Matthew 7:15-20, Romans 16:17, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 2 Timothy 4:3, etc.) that we live in. So how do we apply this to our lives? Well, since Paul had learned how to live in contentment with nothing, or everything, then we can start practicing the same. Actively pursue little things like not turning on the radio in the car (not even sermons!) and use the time to pray. As you start to understand what it means to sacrifice in little things move to fasting from food in order to seek God. Or feeding the homeless in a place where you can share Jesus. As time goes by and you start to see that the benefits far outweigh the costs you will begin to think like Paul: “I can be content with nothing or everything.”

The second reason Paul mentions these gifts is because it both blesses him and it blesses the congregation that gave. It didn’t just bless Paul because he was able to help a needy family with some extra cash or was a little more comfortable, but he knew the value of giving “to the Lord.” The only time God asks us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10. He says that if we tithe to Him and His ministries then He will open the “windows of heaven” and load us up with so much that we won’t be able to hold all of the blessings! When our priorities line up with God’s priorities then we see the blessings here on earth and in the future, in heaven load up.

v. 13. This famous verse needs to be taken in context with what Paul has just said: he had learned to be content with nothing or everything. Note that Paul had to learn it, it wasn’t like he magically was fine with going for a day without food or that one day he suddenly was fine with being imprisoned or fighting the constant spiritual battle of guiding others. But where does the “strength” come from? Paul “can do all things”…not just “some things” but “all things”… “through Christ” because it is Christ who “strengthens [him].” This is the “strength” of a Savior who humbled Himself to die on the cross (even though He had the ability to bring Himself off the cross or call thousands of angels to rescue Him) and rose from the dead. This is the “strength” of a Man who knows exactly what we have gone through, and was tempted in every way as we are but didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). This is the “strength” of a Warrior who just promised to “guard our hearts and minds” (v. 7). This is the “strength” that is available to us every single day but are you willing to receive it?

 

 

References

Source 1: http://www.message7.org/discuss/five-major-themes-of-pauls-compared-with-jesus-teachings

Source 2: paralambano (G#3880), http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3880&t=KJV

Source 3: Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Phl/Phl_004.cfm?a=1107001

Source 4: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Phl/Phl_004.cfm?a=1107001

Devotional # 138. Philippians 4:7-8

Devotional # 138. 5/26/15. Philippians 4:7-8.

Intro. Having just talked about “rejoicing in the Lord always” and not having anxiety but instead praying and “supplicating” ourselves, Paul then tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (v. 7). After this Paul gives us some examples of what to think about. Let’s see what we can learn! HaHa

v. 7. If you think about it the anxiety Paul was talking about is actually us saying “I don’t trust you God” and “I would rather worry about what I can’t change then obey You.” So if anxiety is not trusting in God then what happens if we do obey and pray and thank Him? We are promised “the peace of God.” And unless we’ve experienced God’s peace it is impossible to explain. Who, other than the Creator, could even claim to give real peace? It is God who somehow maintains grace and justice at the same time and wrath and peace at the same time. Only our eternal God knows what it is like to have what we would consider conflicting attributes going on at all times inside of His Persons and yet be at perfect peace.

And He offers this peace to us. In fact I love the word used. Did you catch it? It is THE peace that passes understanding. It’s not just “a” peace, it’s “the” peace. The one true peace. And that “peace” isn’t understandable to our human minds. I was explaining this to my kids, holding my hand in front of me I said “this is the maximum of our comprehension.” And with the other hand I went up to it and then right over it and passed it and said, “this is God’s peace.” Can you picture it? God’s peace flowing right over our limited mind and submerging us in harmony and contentment. Of course we can’t understand it. If we could understand it then we greedy humans would bottle it and sell it, but instead it is supernatural and beyond our intellect.

This is such an encouraging thought to know that our anxiety, when properly given to God, can be overcome by THE one true peace which we can’t understand. But I love that although our minds can’t comprehend it, our minds are covered and taken care of! The one true peace of God is promised not just to calm us down and allow us to rely on God but also “guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” It is like having Jesus stand watch, guarding and protecting our “hearts” and “minds” as only He can do.

v. 8. The six uses of the word “whatever” and terms like “anything” and “things” is genius for Paul to use because Paul isn’t just speaking to the people in Philippi but to every Christian who reads this letter for thousands of years. That way it doesn’t just make sense to one people group for one generation but is understandable no matter who you are.

I think it’s important before we dive in to each of these “things” that we understand what we’re supposed to do with them, in this context. Paul finishes this list with “meditate on these.” So although we definitely should be “truthful” or “just”, here we’re being told to “meditate” on godly things that are “true” and “just”, etc. But what does it mean to “meditate” here? In the Greek “meditate” is logizomai (G#3049) meaning “reckon” or “count” and “refers more to fact than supposition or opinion” (Source 1). So it makes sense that we are to take account in our heart of these godly things according to “fact.” Is it important that your bank account is correct according to fact? Think about the headache and time you spend when you are 9 cents off in your account, or if your bank incorrectly deducts money, I guarantee you would call 100 automated call centers just to make it right. But we’re supposed to care about these things even more than our bank account! Getting things to balance in our spiritual life takes time and dedication too. We are to “meditate” and “think” (KJV) on godly things.
First Paul says “whatever things are true“, so what things are true? Do you remember when Jesus was on trial and told Pilate “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” What did Pilate respond? He said, “what is truth?” Having dealt with philosophy and questionable moral absolutes, Pilate kind of scoffs at Jesus. He basically asks, ‘truth? Can anyone really know what is true?’ The answer is “yes!” We’ve talked about Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 where He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So Jesus Himself was truth. In this context, if we speak about Jesus, we are to “meditate on Him.” The Bible is also truth (John 17:17) so when we speak from or about the Bible then we are to “mediate on it.” The more that we have a relationship with Jesus, talking with Him, being talked to by Him, loving the things He loves; and the more we read the word of God and live by it, then the more we will love “truth.” In Greek the word “true” is alethes (G#227) meaning “true” or “loving the truth, speaking the truth, truthful” (Source 2). So do we love truth and do we speak truth? Or are sarcastic? Are we angry? Are we ashamed? All of these (sarcasm, anger and shame) are not truth. And it’s not just us speaking truth but it’s loving it when others speak truth.

Next Paul says, “Whatever is noble“. In the King James Version it says “honest.” But in Greek the word means “honorable” (Source 3). I like that. I think “honorable” is a good way to put what Paul is getting at. Another way to translate the Greek is “venerated for character” (Source 2) and although this is a little more difficult to understand I still think it’s good to try.  I think we could put it like this: “having a respected or established reputation.” So again these are things, not people, that have a respected reputation. Because people whether they are pastors, priests or parents they will let you down. But “things” that are established make me think of doctrines and truths from the Bible. Maybe it is one of God’s promises, like “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). Or the doctrine of the Trinity. For us to meditate on established and respected things is commanded here.

Then Paul says, “Whatever is just“. So whatever is godly justice should be meditated on. This might be justice that we see from the Bible like when Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom but the rich man is in hell (Luke 16:19-31). What does meditating on a story like that give us? A few ideas that pop into my head are: 1. recognizing that the poor man (Lazarus) had no justice on earth helps us understand that God doesn’t owe us justice in this life, but… 2. He has promised us “justice” in the next. 3. We can’t judge others because we only see bits and pieces of a life, but 4. God sees everything so He is the only one qualified to judge properly. It is extremely important to be comfortable with stories of justice in the Bible. God invites us to wrestle over stories like Lot’s wife being turned into salt or God telling Abraham to kill Isaac, but the more we read them and study them the more we see that God’s justice is perfect. If we’re to really to meditate on “whatever is just” then we need to be able to meditate on pieces of justice from the Bible, like the book of Revelation.

Or maybe you need to meditate on “justice” in your own life…which can be hard. For example when I was in college I had a job as a security guard at a major retail chain. One day a mom brought her 5 year old son up to me and told me that he had stolen a toy car. She asked me to take him into the back, show him all the cameras and my handcuffs and everything and scare him into never stealing again. So I did. The little boy got justice for his action and since my wife had a similar situation when she was four and she hasn’t forgotten it I’m sure the little boy hasn’t either. The point to my story is that we should think on a time or times when we received justice for something we did. Now meditate on that. How did it make you feel? Why? Meditate on the goodness of when things are put right, even when it goes against everything that our flesh wants to do.
Paul moves from justice to “whatever is pure“. I think most people probably have a pretty good idea of what “pure” means. Druggies can talk about the purity of drugs, a writer can say ‘as pure as snow’, racists will talk about pure genetic blood lines and some love the taste of pure water with no pollutants. But what about the spiritually pure? Again, this isn’t just about waiting until you’re married or trying to keep as many laws as you can. It’s meditating on pure, spiritual “things.” Does it surprise you that there are verses about the purity of God and God’s Word? God is pure (Habakkuk 1:13) and Psalm 12:6 says, “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”

After James explains what false religion looks like he says, “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” This is interesting because we’re given practical advice on what we can do to demonstrate “pure religion” which has an effect of keeping us “unspotted from the world.” I think this is probably the best complete biblical view. Because I’m telling you the context of this verse in Philippians so that you don’t just think you have to try and be pure and miss that you’re actually supposed to meditate on something other than yourself… but you have to balance that with all of the other verses in the Bible (Source 4) that require purity from your life.
Whatever is lovely” makes me wonder how to define “lovely.” Doesn’t that seem subjective? Like art…just because one person likes the way something looks doesn’t mean someone else will find it beautiful. Let’s look at the original word in the Greek, which is prosphiles (G#4375). It means “acceptable” or “pleasing” (Source 5). So I think it’s safe to say that this is much more than an external beauty but instead what is “acceptable” or “pleasing” to the Lord. So what is pleasing to God? Well, Romans 12:1 says, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” So taking this in context with here in Philippians we should meditate on ‘presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.’ In Colossians 1:10 we see that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” There are many verses about pleasing God, see http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Pleasing-God for 66 verses!
Lastly Paul says, “Whatever is of good report“. Who do you think this report comes from? Would it be from someone that is evil? I’m sure the Nazi’s considered many of their reports to be good. Would it be from someone who is a nice person but not a Christian? I’m glad when a news reporter tells us that 7 people have been found alive under a collapsed bridge. I hope that it is pretty obvious that neither of these should be reports that we “meditate” on. But I hope the point is made that we should dwell on good, godly reports. Such things like when Paul says to bring Mark because he is helpful (1 Timothy 4:11) or when someone says they just got back from a mission trip. As our day goes by do we replay the conversation or presentation in our mind? Are we excited about someone’s explanation of how God is moving and do we think on it and pray about it and thank God for it?

After using the six “whatevers” Paul says if you’re able to find “any virtue” and “if there is anything praiseworthy” then meditate on either one or both of those.

Conclusion. At any point did you ask what you might “meditate” on other than godly things? It seems that it’s kind of like losing your car keys. You don’t really think about them until they’re gone and then finding them is all you think about. Even if you’re not able to go look for them you can’t give anything else total focus. So it will take intention and action on our part to meditate on godly things but I bet our lives will be better. We’ll still function at work and at home but there will always be a stream of godly things going on. I think this is a lot like what praying without stopping (1 Thessalonians 5:17) looks like, too.

 

References:

Source 1: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3049&t=KJV

Source 2: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G227&t=KJV

Source 3: semnos (G#4586), http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4586&t=KJV

Source 4: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Being-Pure

Source 5: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4375&t=KJV

Devotional # 137. Philippians 4:4-6

Devotional # 137. 5/18/15. Philippians 4:4-6.

Intro. I have two friends that have started new jobs and both of them are dealing with stress. They are in leadership positions, expected to do more with less people. I have another friend that is finishing up school soon, will she be able to get a job in order to pay back the school loans? I know someone else who’s company just let a bunch of people go and they aren’t getting any new work so will the company go bankrupt? I have a friend who’s dad just died. Another friend has cancer in his leg and now his baby daughter has to get multiple operations.

There are different ways of “managing” stress. Maybe you work more (at your job maybe that’s  overtime or at home maybe that’s every week night and weekend). Or drinking alcohol more often. Or trying to be entertained all the time. Filling up on movies and TV and music. But whether the problems are money or health, they threaten to distract you and pull you away from God. And if that’s true then the real problem is that God is allowing you to go through something to bring you closer to Him but you’re trying to do the exact opposite.

So how do you fix it? “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Does this seem trite? Have we heard this verse so much that it doesn’t resonate? Well does stress and pain resonate with you? Then lets give Paul’s words a second chance.

v. 4. What is the context of what we have been studying? In 3:18-19 Paul says that there are some people who consider themselves Christians but really they are selfish and “their mind” is “on earthly things.” In 3:20 we were told that our citizenship is in heaven, in 4:1 Paul says that his sisters and brothers in the Lord are his “joy and crown” and just prior to this (4:2-3) he settles a minor argument by asking two ladies to be of the “same mind in the Lord.” He then reminds everyone that their “names are in the Book of Life.” In 7 verses Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. So when Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always”, he is coming from a background of stress and pain but always with the mind that Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).

Paul doesn’t want us to fake our joy, but wants it to be a true fountain gushing up from our soul. In church yesterday we sang the song “We bring the sacrifice of praise” (which comes from Hebrews 13:15). When we praise God we see our joy perfected, but mind you, it’s a sacrifice. This kind of joy that comes from knowing life is hard but we have heaven to look forward to and a “peace that passes understanding” (v. 6) here on earth is exciting and worth repeating. And so Paul does. He says, “Again I will say, rejoice!

v. 5. It is easy to not pay attention to this verse when it is book-cased by such famous verses like 4 and 6. When Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men” the word “gentleness” stands out to me. Does that mean that we’re supposed to be weak and let everyone know about it? Let’s look at the original Greek. The word “gentleness” is epieikes (G#1933) meaning “seeming, suitable” or “equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Source 1). That kind of gives us more questions than answers. Where else in the Bible is this used? It is the same word as used in Titus 3:2 which says we should “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness to all men” (KJV). With an understanding that “meekness” isn’t weakness but the opposite – strength under control – we can see that this portion from Titus is saying for Christians not to bad mouth others, not to get in fist fights, not to be rough and not to abuse their strength in a threatening way. Getting back to our verse in Philippians, one commentator translates this: “let your sweet reasonableness be known unto all men” (Source 2). So it comes down to not being offensive and harsh to others but be a person that they want to be around. Understanding the “reasonableness” of a Christian is important too. To not be a bigot who is irrational and difficult is another way to put this.

As a Christian who has many family members and friends who want nothing to do with God and have no interest in heaven or hell or salvation, I still have opportunities to talk with them. But I’ve found I don’t have to be irrational because I believe in God. Sure, there are some things that are supernatural and therefore not normal to the worldly person, but that doesn’t mean its irrational. God is a Lord of order and precision. The Bible is full of well documented, connected points. Me saying ‘I believe that purple elephants are the best musicians’ is a lot different than saying, ‘sometimes life is really hard and really bad stuff happens.’ Or ‘isn’t it cool that everything produces after its own kind?’ When you quote from the Bible in your own words there is rationality. When you start with an idea that everyone can agree with, it’s a lot easier to follow up the ‘really bad stuff happens’ statement with ‘if there is really bad stuff then there must be really good stuff too, otherwise how can you contrast something as really bad?’ And that conversation can continue with talking about good and evil, and morality and a moral law Giver (God!) . A conversation that starts off with everything producing ‘after its own kind’ naturally flows into how it makes sense that it is designed and if its designed then there must be a Designer (God!).

So is that what you are? Are you rational with your conversations? Are you willing to admit when you don’t have an answer? Are you willing to say that it does seem crazy that God would come in the form of a human (Jesus) and save us from our sins? But are you able to make the points that convinced you that Jesus is God and did save you from your sins, to them? If not I suggest you think that one through for yourself before you try and talk to someone else! If you are someone who won’t rip another person’s head off and you admit that you don’t have all the answers you will begin to have a “sweet reasonableness” that is infectious. People will want to know where your “rejoicing” (as we just read from verse 4) comes from. People will ask you why you’re not stressed in difficult situations (as we’ll see in verse 6).

Paul says “the Lord is at hand.” This wasn’t a threat but a reminder. We need to be acting with a gentleness and reasonableness when we explain our hope, because Jesus could come at any moment. We shouldn’t be worried about how we’re acting but worried about where non-Christians are at with Jesus. Have we done all we can to lovingly present Jesus as He is, to these people?

v. 6.  This famous verse has been dissected many times, in many ways. For the best understanding we need to be reminded of the context: remember, in short, Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. Now in verses 4 & 5 we’ve been told to rejoice and that our “gentleness” and reasonableness should be known by everyone we come in contact with. If these things are in our mind then hearing that we shouldn’t be “anxious” about anything, isn’t just a cheap catchphrase but actually touches and impacts our lives and the lives around us. If Paul recognizes that the world is tough and bad stuff happens but that we have a tangible and real eternal hope, then we should be willing to listen to why we shouldn’t be stressed.

The reason isn’t because the longer we’re a believer the more levels of enlightenment we’ve climbed. It’s not because some fake prophet has told us to get over our stress and stop worrying because everything will be fine. It’s not because it’s irrational. It’s not because if we’re religious enough and do enough good works we won’t have anything to worry about. If anything, we’ve studied in Ephesians and Philippians, Christians will end up with more weight on their shoulders. So why shouldn’t we be “anxious about anything”? Because if we do what God asks us then we are guaranteed “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” which will “guard” our “hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”

Paul gives us three things: “prayer”, “supplication” and “thanksgiving.” But first we have to recognize that this applies to “everything.” We don’t get to give 95% over to Him but keep one or two little things to worry about. We shouldn’t feel like we’re giving up control because really…we never had control of our lives in the first place! Instead this should be a relief that we are to give everything over to Him. Let him have all the doubts and fears.

So first we are to do everything by “prayer.” Payer is one of the gifts God has given us to talk with Him. It shouldn’t be a memorized bunch of words without feeling or meaning. Prayer is the single greatest weapon we have against Satan. Prayer is just as much us listening to God as it is us talking to God.

Second, we are supposed to “supplicate” ourselves to Him. What is “supplication”? The word “supplication” is an action of asking for something humbly (as I mentioned in Ephesians 6:18-20, Devotional 120). So when we first tell God about the bad stuff in our life… the stress in our new job, the cancer in our leg, our dad dying… through “prayer” then we can humbly ask that we have peace. We can humbly ask to “rejoice” (v. 4). We can humbly ask to be more “gentle” (v. 5). You thought I was going to say, ‘we can humbly ask that God take it away’, huh? Why would I only ask for God to take it away when I’ve learned that He has me learning and growing through whatever the issue is? First, I ask that His will be done (but I have to really mean it!) and then I can ask if it’s His will to take it away. But when I “supplicate” myself I am recognizing that He is God and I am not. I am asking Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart and allowing Him to do what’s best. See I probably wouldn’t be in such a mess if I had just listened to Him in the first place! So why do I think I still know what’s best? No, I need to recognize that I am His bondservant and that I want His will over my own will.

Lastly, I pray and supplicate with “thanksgiving.”  When I name off the things I have been blessed with it does something to me. I am in awe of how good God is to me. I don’t deserve anything but He always provides above and beyond what I need. When I come to Him prayerfully recognizing what I’ve already been blessed with it changes how I pray. Instead of “give me this” or “get me out of that” it becomes “God, I have seen you prove yourself over and over again, so Lord if you want me to get this thing then great, but if not, thanks for that because You know best and it probably would have caused me a lot more trouble.” The great American evangelist, pastor, educator and writer R.A. Torrey said about “thanksgiving” in prayer: “Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith grows bolder and bolder” (Source 3).

Conclusion. We must take verse 4 with verse 6. If we “rejoice in the Lord always” then we will have a much easier time of not being anxious (v. 6).

 

References:

Source 1: epieikes, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1933&t=KJV

Source 2: Matthew Arnold, quoted by J. Vernon McGee, Philippians and Colossians, 1977, p. 89.

Source 3: R.A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 60.

Devotional # 136. Philippians 4:1-3

Devotional # 136. 5/11/15. Philippians 4:1-3

Intro. Last week we finished chapter 3 and as we start chapter 4 we’re confronted with remaining “steadfast in the Lord” and several people that not much is known about, but in that we can learn a lot!

v. 1. As always “therefore” is a key and important word. Paul is referring to what we studied last week: we must mature in our walk with the Lord (v. 17) and remember that “our citizenship is in heaven” (v. 20). With this in mind we can understand how Paul would consider the believers in Philippi his “joy and crown” in heaven, because they had matured, by “standing fast in the Lord”.

We can see Paul’s love for these believers in the fact that he uses “beloved” twice in one verse! Most historians think that Paul was short and bald. That the years of being whipped and tortured would have left his back looking like poorly planned crisscrossing city streets. Having survived so many things means that Paul was tough. But knowing the love of Christ actually changed him. He was still a man’s-man but had the ability to care for others with an empathy putting himself aside. He didn’t continue to grow harder but instead he says that they are his “longed-for brothers” and sisters. Paul wishes that he wasn’t in prison so that he could see them. A month ago I had to go to central California on business and I was gone from my family for a week. The saying is true: “absence makes the heart grow stronger.” I wasn’t even in prison and it was for only a week but can you imagine what it would have been like for Paul to miss his friends in Philippi? Not only that but he knew that there were some people that he had ministered to that considered themselves Christians but instead “set their mind on earthly things” (v. 19, as we talked about last week). Paul’s desire was that this church in Philippi would not be influenced by these “enemies of the cross of Christ” (v. 18).

Earlier I said that Paul considered the Christians in Philippi his “joy and crown” in heaven. Why do I say that? There are six different crowns mentioned in the New Testament that Christians have the ability to receive in heaven*. The word here for “crown” is stephanos (G#4735) which was a “crown given to an athlete who had won the race” (not the crown of a king) (Source 1). So the crown Paul is talking about here is known as the “Crown of Rejoicing” (see 1 Thess. 2:19) also called the “Soul Winner’s Crown” it is given to the Christian for those who have a hope and a joy to present people to Christ. Just as it would be a “joy” for Paul to have had a hand in these people knowing Jesus, we also can receive this crown. It gives us direction and focus when we realize that Jesus expects us to take action on our calling. Obviously we don’t do this for the crown in heaven (since we will end up laying it at Jesus’ feet anyway) but knowing that God does recognize our efforts in loving others to Him is encouraging. This should be our “joy” just as it was Paul’s. I was reading a book today that said the only thing worse than hell would be to go to hell and find out that your son was there and when you asked why he was there he responded, “I followed your example.” Wow. Weighty words for us to consider how our lives impact our children, our parents, our co-workers, our church family and even the strangers we come in contact with throughout our life!

v. 2. We don’t know much about these two women but it appears that they were at odds with each other. “Euodia” means “fragrant” (Source 2) although it doesn’t sound like she was living up to her name. Syntyche’s name means “with fate” (Source 3). Neither of these ladies are mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

Notice that Paul doesn’t pick a side to try and solves the problem but instead he tells them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” This is a great encouragement for us nowadays. I know some people who stop going to a certain church because they don’t get along with someone else. We balance Paul’s words “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18) and recognize whether the issue causing conflict is opinion, doctrine, dogma or sinful.

If it’s a matter of opinion or even of doctrine (most of the time), it is better to be unified with another believer instead of being in a quarrel. Remember it’s not just the two people that this is hurting but the rest of the church and many times non-Christians who are watching and we don’t even know it. But if it is an issue of dogma (i.e. the foundations of the faith, see last week’s Devotional # 135 for the distinctions) then Paul has just finished telling us what to do (Philippians 3:17-21). And if it is an issue of sin we’re told in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 that a Christian who is willfully sinning should be kicked out of the church, always with the hope of repentance and reconciliation.

v. 3.  This verse tells several things in what it doesn’t tell us. We don’t know who the “true companion” mentioned here is. We don’t even know for sure who “Clement” is. He may be the Clement that was a leader in the church in Rome who wrote two letters to the Christians in Corinth (Source 1). And we don’t know who else was part of the group called “the rest of my fellow workers.” But we do know that the “true companion” and Clement were trustworthy and competent to restore the unity among these women. We also know that they were all going to heaven since their names were written in the “Book of Life.” And we do know that women had a big part in the churches in this day, which was uncharacteristic of the cultures of that day and age. However, it is fitting with the respect Jesus gave to women.

I like how Paul says, “labored with me in the gospel” because he recognizes that although it may be a joy to share salvation with others, it is also very hard work. But of course it’s not worth doing, if you’re not going to do it right. Sharing the gospel has a price, we must “labor” together, not divided and alone. One of the reasons that we are told to fellowship with other believers is because it encourages us, keeps us on the right track and is fortifying.

 

*The Six Possible Crowns of the Believer:

  1. Imperishable crown – 1 Cor 9:25-27. The Victor’s Crown- For the one who strives for certainty, precision and discipline.
  2. Crown of rejoicing – 1 Thes 2:19. Soul Winner’s Crown- For those who have a hope and a joy to present people to Christ.
  3. Crown of righteousness – 2 Tim 4:8. For those who Love His appearing.
  4. Crown of life/ The Martyr’s Crown – James 1:12, Rom 2:10. – For those who endures temptation and those who love Him. Not for the way you died for him but the way you lived for Him.
  5. Crown of glory – 1 Pet 5:4.
  6. Elder’s Crown – Rev 4:4, 10-11. For those who Shepherd the flock of God, willingly, eagerly and as examples. (This is where we chime in and cast in our crowns).

 

Conclusion. I think one of the best things I saw in studying this section was something David Guzik said. He asked if our entire life was going to be summed up would we be a “Clement” or a “Euodia” and Syntyche” (Source 1)? It’s a good question. Would you be the peacemaker or the squabbler? I know what we would all like to be, but how do we get there? Next week we’re going to cover two of the famous verses of the Bible that I quote all the time: “rejoice always” (v. 4) and “be anxious for nothing” (v. 6). Of course the Bible is full of examples and ways for you to be a peacemaker but the idea of rejoicing in all things, at all times is a great one. Also the idea about giving things over to God and not letting anxiety overcome you is crucial. Go ahead and think on these this next week…be a peacemaker!

 

References:

Source 1: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Phl/Phl_4.cfm?a=1107001

Source 2: Euodias in Greek,  http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2136&t=KJV

Source 3: Syntyche in Greek, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4941&t=KJV