Sunday, December 22, 2013

John's Christmas Story (John 1:1 and 1:14)

In this article, we are taking a break from our study of Philippians to post a manuscript of pastor's Christmas sermon from this Sunday.


As people read through the Gospels, one thing about John’s that they notice, is that John doesn’t start in Bethlehem. He doesn’t seem to make any mention of the Christmas story. Perhaps he didn’t think we’d grow spiritually by singing, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” umpteen times. Besides, Matthew and Luke cover the manger scenes quite well. They tell the action surrounding the birth of Christ. And maybe John, not writing till much later, thought the story was told well enough.

So, if you want to read about angels, shepherds, and wise men, go to those books. But if you want to know the significance of those events, you can go to John’s Gospel. So instead of starting in Bethlehem, John takes us back through the silent corridors of eternity - Back to a time before time in eternity past. And John presents really interesting information: John travels back through the vast emptiness of space to a beginning that’s not a beginning at all and tells us about a person who is like no other person - A person we learn who is separate from God the Father, yet with God the Father - Yet totally God

Let’s look at it: It says, "In the beginning was the Word."
The Holy Spirit moved John to begin telling us about the Word who existed in the beginning, but is it a word put together of letters, and that you use to form a sentence? No, from the way John expresses it, It is obvious that the Word is a person. And if a person, the Word must have a name. But John seems incredibly reluctant to put a name on this person who is the Word. If you have never read this book of the Bible before, you would probably be asking, “Who is this? He must have a name?” But you have to wait, verse after verse you wait, as John describes the Word in detail. But He never tells us the name of the Word - Not until all the way down in verse 17.

Quoting Daniel Partner:
“As you read John’s Gospel, the apostle leads you from the beginning before all beginnings, tracking the Word – through whom all things were made, who is the life and the light of men – all the way through His rejection and acceptance. Yet, he gives the Word no other name. You read on and see that the Word became flesh with the glory of the only begotten of the Father. Ah, He is now flesh. You’re getting close! Without doubt He was given a name. ‘Who is this who is full of grace and truth?’ you ask, ‘whose fullness we have all received, even grace upon grace.’”

Amazing! John makes us wait all the way until verse 17: Then, he finally tells us, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

The "Word" is Jesus Christ – that is significant. Jesus means Savior, and Christ is the anointed one, Therefore, we now know the Word is that one baby born to young virgin named Mary 2,000 years ago. He was born in a remote village in Israel called Bethlehem, born a descendent of that great King David.

The "Word" is that baby whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day. The Word is Jesus, the one the Bible tells us so much about. But, John wants to make sure we understand. This was no mere baby like the billions of others that have been born on planet earth. This one was the Word who was "with God" and who "was God." He was "in the beginning."

What beginning? It doesn’t matter. Go back as far as your mind can go into eternity past and the Word was there. The Word was always there. Go back to Creation? That’s not far enough back, because Jesus was the one Who created everything.

John 1:3 says: "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."

Colossians 1:16-17 concurs:
16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
If you want to go back to Genesis, Jesus was already there as Creator. Everything in the physical universe owes its existence to Jesus. So Genesis isn’t back far enough into time. So go back further - back, back into eternity. Go back billions and trillions of years, sixteen quadrazillion, squillion years. Go back as far as your mind can comprehend, and put down your peg, and Jesus will be there to meet you. Jesus is eternal, with no beginning and no end.

He is the one who claims in Revelation 1:8: - “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus is God who has always existed and always will exist. He lives forever as the Second Person of the Trinity – fully God and coequal with the Father. This is the one who gave up heaven to come and be born a baby in a manger. John doesn’t want you to miss that fact.

As verse 1 says: "And the Word was with God" - literally, face to face with God - a separate person, yet still God. "And the Word was God" – How profound! This is the concept of the Trinity. John is explaining truths so deep our minds can’t take them in. And we can only stand in awe and worship this baby who was God.

Now let’s think about this: What does it mean that Jesus was the "Word?" We could spend months talking about that, exploring all the theological nuances, and never get reach the depths of the meaning, never getting to the bottom of it. We could point out that in Greek this "word" is logos, from which we get logic in English. But for our purpose with our limited time, let’s just look at the purpose of the "Word." Why would John call Jesus the "Word?" We use words to express ideas, and to share concepts. We communicate using words. Our lives revolve around the use of words. God’s purpose was that the "Word" was to reveal the one who sent it – God.

Plato, the Great Philosopher during the Greek Golden Age, said:
“It may be that some day there will come forth from God a Word, a Logos, who will reveal all mysteries and make everything plain.”

To that John would respond, “Yes! The Word has come. Now God is revealed to us perfectly.!” It would be through Jesus, who is fully God, yet now became fully man. Through Him would all mysteries be revealed especially the mysteries surrounding God. John writes: John 1:18 - "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him."

Jesus Himself declared: John 14:9 – "He who has seen me has seen the Father." This is the simplest definition of the "Word." Jesus is the one who reveals God to us. So, to that end, we find John writing verse 14: John 1:14 -
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Greek language actually is better translated more specifically, "The Word was born flesh." Ah, so we are back to Bethlehem. There is the traditional Christmas story. This one verse wraps up the essence of the manger, the swaddling clothes, the shepherds and livestock, the wise men. It contains all of the Christmas story in this one verse because it crystalizes the incarnation. The eternal "Word," God from eternity past, became the baby who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger. God became a man – deity wrapped up in humanity. The one who was 100% God became 100% man without ever losing any of His Godhead.

The angels announced the birth crying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men," and the shepherds came to worship the baby, and then went out to spread the word, and the wise men traveled all the way from the East to bring their gifts. Yes, it was to God they came to worship, but God now wrapped in the flesh of a baby and wrapped in strips of cloths as a diaper.

Yes, Jesus became a real human - that is the message of Christmas. God came to live among us in human flesh to reveal to us His heart - To live and walk among us so we could know God. And in the end, to die for us, in our place, on the Cross of Calvary all in His human body. Yes, He had a real human body, one just like ours.

It was one the Apostles handled: 1st John 1:1-2
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
Jesus grew weary, thirsty, hungry. He wept, he felt emotions, His tears fell like great drops of blood. He was totally, completely human, without ever ceasing to be God all because He was born flesh.

The Bible tells us a lot about flesh - Most of it isn’t good. Daniel Partner writes this about flesh:
“Flesh is humanity at its weakest, so Christ was crucified through weakness. Flesh is mortal and dying humanity, ‘a wind that passeth away and cometh not again.’ Thus Christ was put to death in the flesh. Flesh is humanity tainted with sin, so the perfectly holy Jesus Christ appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh, and was made sin for us. The man we celebrate this Christmas season was, by His birth, perfectly enabled to condemn sin in the flesh, and the wonder of Christmas is that He chose to become flesh in order to submit to death and save us from our sin.”
Yes, Jesus became a man, just like us, with all the frailties and mortality we all possess. He lived and walked on this earth just like us facing the same challenges and temptations, emotions and trials we all do, but without ever yielding to the temptations.
As Hebrews 4:15 tells us that’s why He makes such a great High Priest for us: It says,
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
But, that brings us again back to the revelation of the Word by John:
John 1:14 -
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word that was with God, and that was God has now taken on flesh, as unexplainable as that may be. God became a man. God wrapped Himself in human flesh and became one of us. He came to live among us, and ultimately to die for us. This is the glorious truth of the incarnation. This is the miracle of Christmas. This is why we stand in awe of a baby born in a remote village of Israel to an unmarried girl living in poverty. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

The words, "dwelt among us," literally mean that Jesus tabernacled with us. A tabernacle is a tent, a moveable shelter usually made of fabric and it provided shelter from the elements, It wasn’t meant to be a permanent dwelling. But then, Jesus was on a temporary mission. He had come to seek and to save the lost, Then, following His death, burial, and resurrection, He would return to heaven to be given again His rightful and well earned place at the right hand of God.

Interestingly, shepherds dwelt in tents as they watched over their sheep out in the fields. And of course, Jesus is our “Good Shepherd.” He is the “Great Shepherd.” And soldiers lived in tents on the battlefields. Of course, when Jesus came to earth, it was to take on the forces of evil. And it was in the tent of his human flesh that He vanquished death and Satan.

But of even greater significance, the Tabernacle was the moveable tent the Israelites carried around the desert. And it was in this tent that God met with man. It was at this place the cloud of God’s Shikinah glory dwelt on earth. Jesus functions as that Tabernacle - The place where we meet God. As He said in John 14:6 - “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Only through Jesus can we have a relationship with God.

So now, in our time, it is through Christ that we encounter God. As Hebrews 1:1-2 says:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.

This is all the meaning of Christmas. God became flesh and dwelt among us. Now we can add in all the traditional images of Christmas – the stable and the manger, the shepherds, the angel chorus, the wise men - but it is all because of the incarnation – "the Word was born flesh."

This is what Christmas is all about Arthur Pink wrote:
“In this book, we are shown that the one who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this was overwhelming. The proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).’”
Yes, our response must be to worship - To worship the babe who was, “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” That is the meaning of Christmas. God came to live among us so He could die for us. When the angel came to Joseph to convince him to continue with his wedding to Mary. He told him this:
Matthew 1:22-23 –
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
What is the significance of this name, Immanuel? It tells us that, although He was God, Jesus did not cling to the rights of God but humbled Himself to be born a man. But it was all with a purpose.
Jesus came to die for our sins. God couldn’t die, so Jesus became a man. He had to take upon Himself a mortal human body.

Philippians 2:6-8 describe this phenomena:
6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
But because Jesus humbled Himself, even to the point of death, the Father raised Him and exalted Him to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Philippians 2:9-11 explains His exaltation:
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christmas has to be linked with Calvary. The Christ who came as a baby to be born in Bethlehem was the same Christ who carried a cross up Mount Calvary. This we know: God came to earth to die and in dying, to provide a way of salvation for men. Jesus, the babe in the manger, would grow up to become the Savior of all who believe.

William Young Fullerton wrote a hymn that shows the wonder of Christ becoming a man to save us. It is sung to the melody of Danny Boy:

“I cannot tell why He whom angels worship,
Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or, why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wanderers,
To bring them back, they know not how or when,
But this I know, that He was born of Mary,
When Bethlehem manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored,
and as the Savior, Savior of the World is come.

I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years,
But this I know, He heals the broken hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet, the Savior, Savior of the world is here.”
That is the meaning of Christmas: Why did Jesus give up heaven where He was God in all His glory to be born in a manger in a stable? Jesus came to be the Savior of the World. He came that all who believe should be saved. He purchased us with His own life blood on the cross of Calvary. Christmas inevitably leads to Calvary as we should all be led, to the foot of the cross.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Gospel Cannot Be Bound

If there is one thing Paul had, it was his share of troubles. But he doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea. They did not hinder the spread of the Gospel. In Philippians 1:12 he writes, “But I want you to know.” Know what? That his troubles have “actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

Do you see this? It’s not just that his troubles haven’t hurt all that much, actually they did. But they actually helped his ministry. Wow! What an attitude. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me,” he says. “Things may look bad, but the result isn’t bad. I may be in jail, but the Gospel isn’t in jail. So don’t feel sorry for me.”

The Gospel is still getting out. Things are still going as planned. Not Paul’s plan, mind you, but according to God’s plan. His imprisonment is a “furtherance” to the Gospel. The word he used in the Greek language, the word for “furtherance,” is really colorful. It describes a group of combat engineers going out in front of an army to prepare the way. The woodcutters clear a road through an impenetrable forest or thicket so the army could march through unimpeded.

Do you get the flavor of this? Here’s this group of people moving out ahead of the army clearing obstacles - an advance troop, machetes in hand, hacking their way through the jungle, sweating and panting, but making the way easier for the army that follows. That’s what Paul was – the advance party.

And sure, they’ll meet resistance. Resistance is inherent in progress. Resistance is a given in God’s work. Of course, Satan will resist us. But it is a small cost compared to the ultimate goal, the ultimate victory.

And that’s how Paul felt about his imprisonment. This is what he had done. He had gone ahead to pave the way for other evangelists to follow so that they could have greater success because of his efforts. Therefore, his efforts are certainly not wasted. He doesn’t need to feel like he has failed. His troubles weren’t in vain.

Even his own ministry is advancing still because of his troubles. He has been given a whole new group of people to witness to. He has a whole new bunch of people he could never have reached otherwise.

Paul can now preach to his guards. Philippians 1:13 says, “So that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” That soldier chained to him became a captive audience. What an opportunity to witness to someone who normally wouldn’t have given Paul the time of day. And when one of them got saved, they would take the Gospel back to their families and to their fellow soldiers in the barracks so the gospel would be spreading out like a spider web to all kinds of new people.

Tertullian wrote that the Roman government was upset that Christians were holding positions of high power. The reason they were Christians was because of Paul’s witness. The palace guard, really the Praetorian Guard, was composed of some ten thousand hand-picked guards. They were all highly compensated commanders who served twelve years then were given early retirement. They were so powerful that they not only protected the emperor, but often chose the emperor. And Paul was chained round the clock to one of these powerful men,

So rather than being a disaster, his imprisonment was an opportunity. The shifts changed every six hours so there were four different ones chained to him each day giving him opportunities to witness. These guards came to know Paul intimately, and they all could see his stellar character and Christ-like conduct. They knew he wasn’t a criminal. They knew his chains were the result of his preaching Christ, not because of any evil crime.

Paul is an illustration of 1st Peter 4:12-16, which says:
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

What happened to Paul wasn’t unexpected. It was part of God’s plan. Therefore, Paul could rejoice. That needs to be our attitude. Paul tells us, everyone knew he was suffering for Christ so he was greatly blessed because of it. That had an impact on the guards who watched him day and night.

Listen to how F.B. Meyer describes the scene:
“At times the hired room would be thronged with people, to whom the Apostle spoke words of life; and after they withdrew, the sentry would sit beside him, filled with many questionings as to the meaning of the words which this strange prisoner spoke. At other times, when all had gone, and especially at night, when the moonlight shone on the distant slopes of Soracte, soldier and apostle would be left to talk, and in those dark and lonely hours the apostle would tell soldier after soldier the story of his own proud career in early life of his opposition to Christ, and his ultimate conversion, and would make it clear that he was there as a prisoner, not for any crime, not because he had raised rebellion or revolt, but because he believed that Him whom the Roman soldiers had crucified, under Pilate, was the son of God and the Savior of men. As these tiding spread, and the soldiers talked them over with one another, the whole guard would be influenced in sympathy with the meek and gentle Apostle, who always showed himself so kindly to the men as they shared, however involuntarily, his imprisonment.
How absolutely consistent the Apostle must have been! If there had been the least divergence, day or night, from the high standard which he upheld, his soldier-companion would have caught it, and passed it on to others. The fact that so many became earnest Christians , and that the Word of Jesus was known far and wide throughout the Praetorian Guard, indicates how absolutely consistent was the Apostles life.”
Truly, our lives must back up our message. When the world sees our stellar character, they will believe our message. So no matter what you are going through, rejoice. God is at work. The Gospel is not bound.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

God Can Use Any Situation To Further the Gospel

We can learn it from Paul’s example. Paul demonstrates the right attitude in spite of his troubles - troubles that would make most of ours look pale by comparison. Here’s what Paul says. Philippians 1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Wow! The troubles have actually helped, Paul says.

His troubles – his chains and imprisonment – they haven’t stopped the spread of the Gospel. On the contrary, they have “actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Mission Accomplished! Because wasn’t that Paul’s burning passion? Didn’t he say in 1st Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel?” So, if the Gospel is furthered by his troubles, he ought to be overjoyed – AMEN? That was what he lived for. So if his imprisonment helped that – Praise God! He could have joy.

Obviously, Paul was not deterred by his troubles. He wasn’t discouraged. His joy wasn’t being robbed from him. Nor do troubles ever need to deter or discourage you. They should never rob you of your joy. You should never let trouble rob you of that most precious possession.

James 1:2-4 is a familiar passage, but it is so appropriate here:
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

How can we count our trials as joy? How can we do such a difficult and unnatural thing? We know something. There’s a purpose in our troubles – God has a plan. God’s plan is for us to become spiritually mature. He is always at work on that, using trials and troubles to accomplish it. So, mission accomplished through our own troubles too. We ought to also keep our joy when they overtake us.

What things happened to Paul? The most obvious would be his arrest and imprisonment. He’d been trying to preach the Gospel, and he’d been traveling around founding churches. But, that has now come to a screeching halt. You don’t hold many revival meetings from a jail cell, or get to talk with many people. So it sounds like a real discouraging turn of events.

But it didn’t happen that way with Paul. He was under house arrest, yes. He was chained around the clock by an 18” piece of chain to a Roman Centurion. There’s not much privacy that way - not even when you have to use the potty. Yet, it gave him a captive audience to witness to.

In Acts 28:16 and 30, you can see this:
16 Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
His arrest and imprisonment would naturally be considered a major setback by most people. But not to Paul. To him, it actually seems to have been a help. It gave him an audience he never could have had otherwise in the rotating palace guards. Plus, he had an open door to visitors.

We too must use our situation, whether bad or good, to further the Gospel knowing that God can use either situation. We aren’t stymied by our situation, but only by our attitude in that situation.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don't Let Troubles Ruin Your Day

We have previously looked at the progression that takes place in our lives. As we increasingly love with knowledge and discernment, it brings a change to us. It causes us to increasingly make excellent choices in our lives so that over time, we are increasingly free of flaws and less likely to become a stumbling block to others.

We saw this in Philippians 1:10 where we are told: “That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”

But then, that makes Philippians 1:11 a summary verse, ”Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Like a fruit tree, our lives are to bear a crop. Apple tree bears apples and cherry tree bears cherries. The life of a Christian is to bear “righteousness.” That is the end of the process. We are to bear the “fruits of righteousness” which are manifest in the things we’ve talked about.

And how do we do that? There is only one way. In John 15:5 Jesus states, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” There should be emphasis placed on that word, “nothing.” We can accomplish “nothing” of spiritual significance apart from Christ.

To bear the crop that God wants us to bear, we must abide in Christ. Righteousness is the fruit that can only come from abiding in Christ. So I ask you this question: Are you abiding in Christ? Then increasingly, you will live a more righteous life.

But now let’s move on to new territory. So far, Paul has been talking about the Philippians. He’s been rejoicing in the good memories he had of them. He’s been thanking God for them. And it’s brought him joy, just like we should bring joy to one another. Paul is rejoicing as he writes this.

But now, Paul turns a corner. He’d been focusing upon them, the Philippians. Now, he focuses on himself - his own troubles - troubles that are very real and very present, troubles that would make most of ours look like good times. And he knows that the Philippians know all about those troubles. So he tries to put his troubles into perspective for them so they won’t be distressed.

Troubles are inevitable, but how do we deal with them? What do they mean? Should they rob us of our joy? No! Should they cause us to be discouraged and give up? No! Those are the questions Paul addresses for us.

How should we look at our troubles? Or to ask it another way, “What can rob us of joy?” We know things can, if we let them. Troubles certainly have a way of doing that. But, do we have to let them?

First, we need to understand, troubles are a normal part of life. Let me read just a few of the verses that prove this:

Job 5:7 – “Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”

Job 14:1 - “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 2:23 – “For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.”

But there’s good news in this: It’s found in the words of Jesus. In John 16:33, He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Do you see? Troubles are guaranteed in this life. You can’t get away from them if you live on planet earth. The world brings trouble. But in Jesus, we can have peace. So the lesson? “Be of good cheer,” Jesus says. Why? Because He has “overcome the world.” The world doesn’t have to control our emotions because Jesus controls the world.

And that’s a measure of our spiritual maturity. Sure, we can let the world get us down. We can if we allow troubles to cause us to question God. Say, for instance, if we get cancer, some people would question God about that: “God, don’t you love me? Why would you let this happen to me?” The questions would rob them of their joy. So it is important for us to learn the right attitude, and that is, “God you are in control. I trust You.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's Better to Be Right Than Look Right

We didn’t quite finish up with Philippians 1:10 last post. The verse says:
“That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”
We need to develop the ability to “approve the things that are excellent,” because so many people will try to push on us things that are much less than excellent. We spent time last post talking about how the word “sincere.” The English word, “sincere,” comes from the Latin, sincerus, which literally means without wax. An unscrupulous potter would fill in the cracks in his wares with wax, then paint over them. They looked good from the outside, but were actually pretty useless if you tried to use them. The pottery would easily crack, and if heated, the wax would melt and run. If you were a smart shopper, you could detect the wax by holding up the article to the sunlight and see the darker color of the wax. The sun light revealed the defect

Likewise, the Word of God is the revealer of our defects, of our phoniness. Hebrews 4:12–13 states:
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Do you want to see the impurities in your life? Spend time in the Word daily. How does your life appear in the light of scripture? Be real, be genuine, be sincere - don’t be a phony. People ought to be able to trust you, to trust your word. People ought to be able to turn their back on you without worrying about getting a knife stuck in it. Do you see? We need to spend our time becoming the genuine article. It’s not how we look on the outside, but what is inside us that matters.

Now, one other aspect of this word for sincere: It also bears the meaning of cohesiveness, of oneness and unity. Fine porcelain with cracks didn’t have much cohesiveness, but tended to fall apart. They wouldn’t hold together under normal use.

In our lives, it would have the idea of everything fitting together and holding together. We wouldn’t fall apart under the normal pressures of life, but we would be useful to God under all conditions. We could give God glory when the world disintegrated around us as much as if everything were grand.

Then verse 10 ends like this: “Without offense till the day of Christ.” “Without offense” isn’t the best translation. Living the Christian life and proclaiming the Word of God, especially the Gospel, is guaranteed to be offensive to people. Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Then in verse 23, it says, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” “Don’t offend anyone,” some Christians tell us, but to do that, we’d have to stop preaching the Gospel. Have they never read about Jesus? He offended the religious leaders of his day so much they crucified Him.

The better translation would be blameless. We are supposed to be blameless. But the real idea here is that we should not be a stumbling block for other people. The best way to look at this is found in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

We don’t try to be deliberately offensive. We use our manners and we are polite to everyone. But we don’t compromise the truth. Rather, this teaches us that our lives should be lived in such a way that we won’t cause others to stumble. Do you see the difference?

A good verse to show this would be Romans 14:13:
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”

Some of you may not know what this is talking about. You really should read that verse in context of the whole chapter, but the argument had been whether or not to eat meat offered to idols. Paul’s whole point was that since the idol is really nothing but an inanimate hunk of wood or metal carved into an image of something, meat offered to it isn’t changed in any way. So if you can get a good deal at the meat market, go for it. But don’t flaunt that liberty in front of a weaker brother who might be offended to see you eat it because he thinks it is a sin to eat anything offered to an idol. So, out of your concern for your brother, you would eat only vegetables if necessary so as not to offend him. This is what the verse means.

Paul elaborates in Romans 14:14-15:
14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.

It won’t hurt you to eat food offered to idols. But, if it offends your brother’s conscience to eat it, to him it really is unclean. It is unloving to demand your way even if you are right if it hurts your brother.

The same argument is made in 1st Corinthians 10, with the same conclusion. 1st Corinthians 10:32-32:
Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
There are a lot more important things in this life than getting our own way. Avoiding being a stumbling block is one of them. We should always be willing to defer to the other person’s desires if it isn’t a scriptural matter. But we must never compromise on the truth. We stand for the truth no matter how offensive it might be to others. No man is an island. Everything we do affects other people. We must live consistent lives in front of them so as not to cause them to stumble

This is especially true in our families. If we do not consistently live out our faith, we can never expect our children to consistently live out their faith. They will nearly always follow your example, not your words. If you say, “Church is important, son, you need to be in church,” but allow things to come up and get in the way on a regular basis, don’t expect your kids to be consistent in their attendance as adults.

If you tell your kids, “Be careful with alcohol. I don’t you want you drinking. It’s dangerous,” but, if they watch you have an occasional beer on a hot day, they know you don’t mean what you say. And they will see nothing wrong with drinking. To be a stumbling block to our kids should scare the living daylights out of us.

Matthew 18:6-7 teaches:
6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!
Certainly, God will forgive you, and you won’t lose your salvation, But you might lose your kids. We should never want to be a stumbling block to our kids, nor our neighbors and friends, nor our fellow church members. Nor anyone for that matter. We need to be “without offense till the day of Christ.” We keep on doing it until the Lord returns to catch us away.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Be Sincere

We talked about the need for discernment in the way we love. Philippians 1:9 stated: “And this I pray that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” But that leads right into Philippians 1:10, “That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”

The New American Standard begins verse 10 with, “so that,” which even more, shows the dependence this verse has on the previous one. It tells us what we are supposed to do when we love with knowledge and discernment.

Why are knowledge and discernment necessary? Because all the time, we have to make choices. We have to choose to take one of two or more paths that are set before us. It might be about a moral decision in our life or about a life choice like what job should I take, or whom I should marry. Or it might involve how I should vote, or what organization I should join.

And quite frankly, there are times we simply don’t know the right path. As J. Vernon McGee says,
“The Lord will not send an angel to tell us, nor will He turn on red or green lights to give us signals. He expects us to use a little consecrated gumption.”
That’s what this verse is about. It is about learning to live an “excellent” life. We do this by learning to “approve the things that are excellent.” The word “approve” is also translated as examine, analyze, test, or prove. It was used by assayers who tested and graded metals to determine purity and genuineness. You wouldn’t want to pay gold prices for fool’s gold, or pay top dollar for gold that was mixed with all kinds of contaminants. The point is, we need knowledge and discernment to figure out what the best option is.

This goes way beyond just deciding whether something is sinful or not. That’s just the start. But this is determining what is most excellent. We need to do that so we can make those most excellent choices and can thereby live excellent lives before God.

You can live lives that are filled with meaning and purpose. John Piper wrote a book entitled, Don’t Waste Your Life. His main thesis was that we shouldn’t waste our time and effort chasing after money, pleasure, fame, or comfort as though the greatest goal in life is to retire with a nice nest egg and vacation around the country in our motor home, wintering on the Florida golf courses. Rather, we need to spend our life preparing for eternity. We must be laying up treasures in heaven - living our lives for God. How much better to invest our lives serving God? How much better to lay-up treasures in heaven instead of building our 401K?

Plus, verse 10 says, “That you may be sincere.” Again, the New American Standard helps us understand this by starting the phrase, “in order to be sincere.” It indicates a continuing progression. To love with knowledge and discernment leads to making excellent choices, which, in turn, leads to being “sincere.”

The English word, “sincere,” comes from the Latin, sincerus. which literally means without wax. You’re probably wondering what that means. When there was a crack in a statue or a vase being made, and the craftsman wasn’t of the highest integrity, he would try to hide the crack by melting wax into the crack. Then, when it was painted, you couldn’t tell that there had ever been a crack there. Some unsuspecting shopper would buy it, then get it home, only to have it break the first time they used it. Or on the first hot day, the wax would melt and run down that expensive piece of art.

Reputable dealers began to put signs on their work that said, “Sine cera – or without wax.” In other words, they were guaranteeing that the piece was genuine. That’s what Paul wants us to be, genuine. What people see is what they should get with us.

But, too many believers try to cover their faults and weaknesses. We try to cover them over with masks. But, we need to be pursuing and making excellent choices so as to not have the defects in the first place.

Yes, it is normal - no one wants to be found flawed - but the answer isn’t to cover over our flaws because when the heat is applied by the trials of life the wax runs and the flaws show. Live excellent lives. Live lives that are sincere. Be the same person in private that you want people to see in public. Most of life’s problems come from trying to act like, rather than be, what we ought to be. So, do what Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Everybody hates hypocrisy. Jesus never condemned any other sin as much as He condemned hypocrisy. So be sincere.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Loving With Knowledge and Discernment

Philippians 1:9 states: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.” This has two aspects that I want to examine. Love must abound, but it must not do so blindly.

We know that love must abound. Look at what Jesus told us in John 15:12-13:
12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

And Jesus demonstrated that love by laying down His life for us. Jesus willingly went to the cross of Calvary on our behalf. He took our punishment upon Himself. Did He wait to do that until after we cleaned up our life and came to worship Him? NO!

Romans 5:6-10 teaches that:
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

We are supposed to love other people like that too – even our enemies. We love people in spite of their foibles and weaknesses, but with discernment and knowledge.

People are out to skin the church all the time. They show up with their sob stories that would just tear the heart out of you to listen to them. And they ask for money. Many of them are con-artists. It takes discernment to know.

It’s a terrible thing to waste God’s money by giving it to a con artist, or a drunk, or drug addict so they can get another drink or hit. Nor should we give money to someone simply too lazy to work. Christian charity is a great virtue, but being taken isn’t.

Let’s look at it from a different angle. If love should be with knowledge and discernment. And if that knowledge is knowledge of the Word of God, true love would never cause another person to sin.

So that boy claiming he loves you in the back seat of the car, but expecting you to put out and compromise your virtue and sin with him, he isn’t demonstrating love, but lust. It is not true, Biblical love. Knowledge and discernment would recognize that. It would cause you to flee from that car. It would cause you to keep out of those situations.

Likewise, true love would never whitewash over sin, as the liberal church does. If, for instance, the Bible says that homosexuals will not “inherit the kingdom of heaven,” as it does in 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, and we don’t warn them, we are not loving them. Our deference to their feelings, or our attempt to be politically correct, is hatred, not love. True love would tell them the truth,

Before we leave this, however, just one more thing about loving with “knowledge and discernment.” Yes, we are to love the unlovely, but that doesn’t mean, as J. Vernon McGee says, “we just let our love slop over on every side.” We love with “knowledge and discernment.” There are a lot of people out there spreading damnable heresies, and Jesus, the very one who told us to love our enemies, had nothing but scorn and contempt for those false teachers.

In John 8:44 Jesus told the false religious leaders of his day who were teaching lies:
44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

In Matthew 23:13-36 Jesus repeatedly said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” He dressed them down good, calling them every name under the sun. He called them blind guides, fools and blind, white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones. He called them serpents, and a brood of vipers. He told them they murdered the prophets and were going to hell. And, by the way, Jesus never sinned you know, so it wasn’t wrong for Him to say it. It was all the truth. He was right in what He said, and He said it as the God of love.

Jesus would never fit into the sappy sentimentalism that has invaded so much of the modern church - a sentimentalism that tolerates just about any sin, any heresy, and any behavior - calling that tolerance love and humility. Jesus has called us to battle. The battle is against Satan and against error

According to 2nd Corinthians 10:4-5, we are supposed to be “pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”

We aren’t supposed to be sweet and kind to them? We aren’t supposed to say, “Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” Hogwash! That’s not God honoring. That’s just plain appeasement. That’s wimping out like a coward. We’re supposed to shred their arguments. We’re supposed to smash their fallacies like boys smash Lego towers until nothing is left standing.

In 2nd John 7-10, John, the apostle of love, talks about how to treat false teachers coming to your door. He writes:
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

The mark of a deceiver is that they get the Jesus question wrong. They mess up, “Who is Jesus?” To them, we’re not supposed to offer hospitality. We’re not even supposed to greet them because if we do, if we provide any help or encouragement, we are sharing in their evil ministry that leads people to hell. True love is more concerned with the spiritual well-being of that other person than whether or not we offend them with the truth.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Love Multiplies, It Doesn't Divide

Philippians 1:8 says: “For God is my witness, how greatly I longed for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.”

So Paul is moved with affection for them. The word Paul uses for “affection” in verse 8 is the Greek word for bowels. That means, his intestines, if you aren’t familiar with the word. In that day, they considered our intestines the most tender of places of your human emotions, rather than our blood pumping organ called the heart.

You understand this: When you fall in love, you get those queasy feeling in your belly. We sometimes call them butterflies. Paul is saying that his feelings for them go deep - so deep it moved his emotions. Amen! We truly feel that love and gratitude for one another.

But again, this leads him to pray for them: Philippians 1:9 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.”

Now remember, they were already showing love for him. They had stood by him and even sent an offering to him. So this isn’t that they will just show love, but that their “love may abound still more and more.”

That’s the truth about love - love grows. When that first baby comes, your heart swells with love toward that precious little bundle of joy, and you wonder how you could ever possibly love any more than you do. But then the next baby arrives, you love that second baby too, and then the third, and so on…. with that same passion. You do it without ever loving that first baby any less, or without lessening your love for your spouse.

That’s the way it is with love. Love grows. You don’t divide up a limited supply of love between your babies so that if you have two, each one gets a half, and if you have three, each one gets a third. It doesn’t work that way. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies. Love can grow and grow.

Romans 5:5 says, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” God pours His love out on us in a downpour – a gully washer that overflows its banks and floods everywhere. So the source of our love is God. The more we draw close to God and experience His love, the more His love flows out of us to other people - the more it can (verse 9) “abound.”

What happens is this: God pours His love into us so much, it bubbles up and out of us, and everyone around us gets splashed with it. The love that God hits us with also hits everyone around us as we overflow with that love.

Now, because love is dependent upon God, love can be called the very heart of Christian living and even a test of the authenticity of our faith. Look at 1st John 3:14-15:
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, (How?) because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

A heart that has been touched by God is going to overflow with love.

The same truth is given a few verses later in 1st John 4:7-8:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
But this love isn’t blind. It’s wise and judicious if you look at Philippians 1:9. Love is to abound more and more “in knowledge and all discernment.” Like Christ, who knows us inside and out, yet, still loves us, we love one another all the more the better we get to know each other. This is loving one another in spite of our humanness, not because of it. We’re all a little quirky and a bit odd, and we’re often difficult to love. Lots of times, we just have to learn to put up with that in one another.

That’s the message of 1st Corinthians 13:7, that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That’s exactly the way we are supposed to love one another. With full knowledge of the failings of one another, we love anyway just like Jesus loves us;

In verse 9, the word, “discernment,” is aisthesis in Greek. We get the English word, aesthetic, from it. It refers to our personal tastes and preferences. We all like different things and appreciate different things. We’re all different people. You might paint your bedroom walls purple, but that color might make someone else puke. You might prefer hunting deer, but someone else might wonder how you could be so heartless to shoot Bambi. We are all different – viva la difference. But we put that all aside in the body of Christ and love one another anyway.

And that is a choice of the will fully informed, fully knowing the foibles and the failures of one another. We love anyway. Why? Because God loves that way. God loves us without regard to any merit on our part. He doesn’t love us because we deserve it.

I want you to look at what Jesus said to us about loving even our enemies. It’s found in: Matthew 5:43-46
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Now, if Jesus expects us to love our enemies like that, it should be a lot easier for us to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, shouldn’t it?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Close Bond of Fellowship Forged Through Adversity

Last time we saw that Paul felt a warm spot in his heart for the Philippians. In Philippians 1:3, he stated, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” We see it again in these next couple of verses:
Philippians 1:7-8:
7 just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. 8 For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.
Do you see? It is “right” for him to feel this way. It is “right” for him to have “affection” toward them. It is “right” for them to hold a special place in his “heart.”

And the reason? When he was in the deepest need, they stood with him. Both in his imprisonment when they financially supported him, and in his “defense and confirmation of the gospel,” they stood with him.

“Defense” and “confirmation” are legal terms referring to the verbal defense an attorney would give in a trial. That’s how the Philippians defended Paul. When people were verbally attacking him, they came to his defense. They argued on his behalf.

Let me tell you that sounds so refreshing. People who preach and teach the word are always attacked – they have a target painted on their chest. They are attacked repeatedly by Satan and by his henchmen. And most people, even those who love their pastor, hurry to get out of the line of fire. When they assure you, “We’re right behind you, pastor. You know we are,” what they really mean is that they are hiding behind you, not propping you up.

Pastors are the front line soldiers in the spiritual war, and it is often a lonely spot. We can take all the fiery darts of the wicked one while others hide and say, “Just don’t let them think I’m standing beside you in this.” That’s all too common.

But, that wasn’t the way it was with the Philippians. They stood with Paul through thick and thin, just as many have stood beside me. Those few who stand alongside you faithfully are so appreciated because every pastor has his Diotrephes or his Demas – those who oppose him. Sometimes we have several.

John dealt with Diotrephes in: 3rd John 9-10:
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

That’s how John, the Apostle of love, was treated.

Paul dealt with Demas in 2nd Timothy 4:9-11:
9Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, . . . (11) Only Luke is with me.

Where is everyone else? Down in verse 16, it says, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.”

Can you see why the Philippians are so special to Paul? When the Philippians heard about his imprisonment, they came to his defense, sending money even. And that touched Paul’s heart.

As a result, Paul says in Philippians 1:8 that they are, “Partakers with me of grace.” That word” partakers” brings us back to that word koinonia, in Greek, often rendered fellowship – but this time, it has a prefix, suq, in front of it, which intensifies it. Standing together through the struggles has so intertwined their lives together that they are bound together irrevocably by love. That’s why some churches become so close – why they can be such intimate places. Like combat troops who fight together, the camaraderie is unshakeable. We become that band of brothers - brothers and sisters in Christ.

Just think, someday, with the hate crime legislation coming to pass, like it has in Europe and Canada, it might become illegal for me to preach the Bible, especially parts that call homosexuality a sin. So I might get arrested for preaching the word of God. I might end up sitting in prison doing my time. Will you stand with me? Or turn against me? Will you stand with me in the “defense and confirmation of the gospel” as the Philippians did? Or will you be like Demas who abandoned Paul in his hour of need?

But then, this applies even before they come with their arrest warrant. When people complain that the sermons are to convicting, that we don’t need to be so literal with the Bible, will you stand with me? Will you stay neutral? Or will you join them in their complaints. “Ah, Pastor, why do you have to be so controversial? Why can’t you just tone it down? You are the one causing dissension in the church. You don’t have to preach so hard.”

Won’t you stand with me in the “defense and confirmation of the gospel?” The Philippians did with Paul, and that forged a bond of love that was unshakeable.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Confidence in Spite of Adversity

Paul prayed for the Philippians. What is the outcome? It brings Paul renewed confidence - not confidence in himself, nor confidence in the Philippians but confidence in God. Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

The word, “confident,” in Greek, means to be persuaded. If Paul had any doubts before, now he is persuaded that God isn’t going to give up on any of us who are His. There is no possibility of failure with God. We can have complete confidence - confidence that what God started in us, He will complete it. No circumstances of life can thwart Him.

But, what did God start in us? Salvation! The word translated “complete it” in the New King James version, or perfect it in the New American Standard version, is an interesting word. It is the Greek word, epi-teleo. The preposition epi strengthens the word teleo . And the word teleo means complete. It doesn’t mean to just get it done, but to super complete it. There is no possibility of failure when God has the process under control.

Romans 8:28-29 shows God’s plan for our lives. It says:
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Not that all things are good, certainly not, but God uses everything for good - God uses everything to accomplish His purpose in our lives. God has predestined it. And God’s purpose for every believer is for us to become like Jesus. That’s the end of the process.

But what does it mean to be “glorified?” That’s what takes place in heaven when we receive our new glorified bodies like that of Jesus. We don’t get them until heaven, but that’s God’s whole purpose for us. He has called us and predestined us to be with Him in heaven fully complete and transformed into the image of His Son Jesus. There is no way that God can fail in this.

Scripture teaches this truth? Ephesians 1:4 starts the process in eternity past in the mind of God by saying, “Just as He [God the Father] chose us in Him [In Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”

But it isn’t just God’s choice in eternity past, God actively draws us to Himself. Jesus tells us in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Father draws us through the tug of the Holy Spirit on our hearts convicting us of sin and leading us to Christ.

And once we are in Christ, we never get away. Jesus assures us this in: John 6:37-40:
37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
And it will go on “until the day of Christ.” It doesn’t end until we are glorified. 1st John 3:2 says: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Praise God!

To assure that we can’t get away, God gives us His Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13-14 assures us:
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
The point is: for God’s elect, God made a plan to save us, and God carries out that plan. As it says in Acts 16:14 about Lydia, the seller of purple, who was Paul’s first convert in Philippi. “Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Who opened her heart? God did! Salvation is God’s work in our hearts. And God completes what He starts.

And it’s all because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross when He removed the penalty of our sin. We come to God clothed in the garments of sin, spiritually starving, and sick unto death, and God receives us as His children. He receives us as if we have never sinned, and He clothes us in His own perfect righteousness. As our Great Physician, He knows we are ill, and He know how to fix us. He gives us His Spirit to live within us and to strengthen us and to guide us. God doesn’t start that work in us to abandon us.

Do you see? God has a plan for you. William Hendrickson, the great commentator, said, “God…is not like men. Men conduct experiments, but God carries out a plan. God never does anything by halves.”

Galatians 3:3 teaches this: “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Of course not!

It is easy to get discouraged if we focus on the day-to-day activities and failures we experience. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like all that much is happening. But God is at work. We need to focus, not on the details, but on the big picture, and the big picture is that God has a plan - God is in control – God is at work in you! God is doing a good work in you that the circumstances of life cannot thwart.

As F.B. Meyer wrote:
“We go into the artist’s studio and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvases, and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death; but as we go into God’s great workshop we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficiency of power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.”
That’s the point of Philippians 1:6 – “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” That should fill our hearts with a warm glow. If God has saved us, God will glorify us. Nothing can stop the process once it’s begun.
Is there any better reason for joy? That’s why Paul could sit under arrest and talk about joy. Those people he had led to Christ, he can be assured of. God will finish the process and bring them on home to heaven.

And for himself? God was still on the throne and still at work. God was using the things in his life for a purpose. He didn’t need to fret or worry. He could rejoice in that. He could rejoice in the fellowship he had with God. And he could rejoice in the fellowship he had with those he loved in Philippi. He could be filled with joy.

And so can you. Are you filled with joy? Are you rejoicing in your fellowship with God and with one another? You can be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Praying for Fellowship

We’ve talked about Paul praying for the Philippians, but what did he pray for? What was his request to God on behalf of them? Philippians 1:5 says he prayed “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”

What is “fellowship? It’s not just standing around and telling corny jokes or having a pot-luck dinner together while we make small talk, “Hi Bill, how’s business? How do you like the weather?” That’s not fellowship, not in the Biblical sense.

The Greek word for fellowship is koinonia. It comes from a word that literally means to have in common. But true Christian fellowship means more than sharing a cup of coffee together or playing a round of golf together. It’s sharing in a relationship with Jesus Christ together.

Another misconception is that in order to have fellowship with someone, you need to have something in common. I can fellowship with you because you like the Red Sox, but I don’t know how I can fellowship with you because you root for the Yankees. How juvenile. That attitude has no place in the church.

I heard one rich guy talk in church one time (not here), and he said he couldn’t even pray with someone who made less than $30,000 per year. I wonder what God thinks of an attitude like that.

But, it is true that we have to have something in common to have fellowship. We each have to have Jesus Christ in our hearts. Unless we have trusted Christ as our savior, we know nothing about “the fellowship of the Gospel.” We might have a lot in common to people with our likes and interests, but we might be miles apart spiritually and have absolutely no fellowship.

Which is what Paul talked about in 2nd Corinthians 6:14-16:
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.

The answer to all of those questions is the same: We have absolutely no fellowship. The answer to all these questions is, NONE! That’s exactly why we aren’t supposed to marry an unbeliever or form a business partnership with one. And this is why we are not to let unsaved people join the church. True fellowship only happens between two believers who share a faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Philippians shared in the “fellowship of the Gospel.” But, this fellowship is more than simply that they were both saved. What Paul is really saying is perhaps better seen from the N.A.S. translation. It renders this verse: “In view of your participation in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

“Participation” is the same word, koinonia, that the New King James translated “fellowship.” But it shows that they were not just recipients of the Gospel, they were participants in the Gospel. In partnership with Paul, they were actively engaged in the spread of the Gospel. They were partners together in the Great Commission. They were on the same team.

It’s always more fun to play on a team, isn’t it? They were probably preaching around Philippi as Paul preached around the world. But Paul was probably thinking about their financial commitment to him. They helped finance him as he traveled around the globe spreading the Gospel. They were on his team even though they remained in Philippi, and he sat under house arrest in Rome.

That truth applies here too. We are a team – we are partners together in this great task of building this church. We each have been given gifts and ministries by
God to be used in this great task, and we are working together - shoulder to shoulder. Plus, you are financially supporting me in this work. You give to the Lord through this church, and the church provides for our financial needs. We’re partners together in the Gospel. We need each other. We need each other’s prayers and we need each other’s encouragement. That’s fellowship that brings joy.

Likewise, we’re also partners with the missionaries we support around the world. We participate in their ministries, therefore, we have fellowship with them sharing in common their work of the Gospel. Thus, we have a ministry in Argentina, in India, in Papua New Guinea, and in many other places around the world because of our support of our missionaries. Do you see how this works?

But, let’s think about it in reverse: Lot’s of churches have fractured fellowship. They are torn in half by friction between people - people who aren’t working together in partnership.

But what causes friction? If you’ve got two pieces of wood touching each other, you can create friction in two ways. If you have one piece moving and the other just sitting there, there will be friction. Or there will be friction if the two pieces are going in opposite directions. But there is no friction when they are both moving together – in the same direction and at the same speed - that is fellowship.

This church has a vision to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ. You can get on board and participate with us in the fulfillment of the Great Commission and have great fellowship. Or you can just sit there and cause friction slowing the work. Or you can try to go in the opposite direction and cause a lot more friction until a fire breaks out to consume us. But God’s desire is that we have fellowship. We have that fellowship only when we work together as participants in the Gospel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Joy in Prayer

As we continue to work our way through Paul’s introduction to the book of Philippians, we notice in Philippians 1:4 that he gave thanks “always in every prayer of mine.” His prayers weren’t just filled with asking, his prayers were filled with thanksgiving.

It would probably be a good place to ask: Are you the kind of Christian who would bring joy to your pastor when he remembers you? My wife and I can look back on scores of people in our past congregations whose memory brings us great joy. When your previous pastors remember you, is it with thanksgiving? Will you be the kind of people that in our old age rocking on some porch, we will reminisce about with great joy?

But remember, his remembrance of them led him to pray for them. Philippians 1:4 says, “Always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.” Ah, the first mention of the word joy in the epistle, and it is in connection to prayer.

Praying for others is a joy: He began to pray for these people, and it brought joy. Our prayer time should be a joyous experience. We get to fellowship and talk with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What could be better? What could be more fulfilling than to minister on behalf of others through intercessory prayer? Our prayer meetings should be the most anticipated event of the week for us. Shouldn’t prayer bring us joy? Does it for you?

Remember where Paul is at. Paul is in prison, right? And later, we’ll find he is being bad mouthed by other church leaders who are all too eager to stick a knife in his back. In that same situation, most people would be thinking about themselves: “Oh, woe is me! How did I get into this mess? Why did God abandon me here?”

Most of us would be having a pity party about then. But not Paul - Paul is in prayer, and it brings him joy. Praying for others takes our mind off our own troubles, and it focuses us on the troubles of others. We become more concerned for their well-being, for their needs, for their welfare, than for our own. And our own troubles seem less and less important as we join together with God on behalf of those we love. Prayer brings joy.

As John MacArthur writes:
“[Paul] was not thinking so much about his own circumstances as about their faithfulness, not so much about his own afflictions as about their love, not so much about his own physical suffering as about their spiritual steadfastness.”
That change in perspective is necessary for joy to reign in us. Are you increasingly becoming more others focused? Here in prison, Paul could still have joy thru prayer. Is there a lesson here for you? Prayer should be one of the joys in your life. It shouldn’t be drudgery. It shouldn’t be an ordeal to pray for one another. Prayer should be a joy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thanking God for You

Paul, as he begins writing his great epistle of joy, his letter to the Philippians, offers thanks for them. In Philippians 1:3, he writes, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” They are part of the reason for Paul’s joy. Our fellow believers can also be part of our joy.

But in giving thanks, Paul is not thanking them. He is thanking God. These believers of Philippi were the results of God’s goodness and grace, so it is God Paul thanks. From before the foundation of the world, it was all God. Ephesians 1:4 says: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” It was God’s plan to save them from before creation. From eternity past, God chose His own. And God planned the way for us to be saved.

Acts 2:23 is from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost as he preaches about Christ. Of Christ, he writes, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

It was God who delivered Jesus up to be crucified – It was His plan from before creation. It was God the Father who sacrificed His Son to die in our place, to die for our sin. And it was Jesus, who willing lay down His life, shedding His own blood. It was the Holy Spirit who took the Gospel and pierced their hearts with conviction, taking away the blindness from their eyes, and convicting them of their sin. Salvation was all of God. Of course, Paul would thank God for them.

So yes, it is proper that Paul would thank God for the Philippians – or me to thank God for you. It was God who saved them, and God who transformed their lives. They are what they are because of what God did. If any of us are saved and sanctified, it is only because of what God did in our lives. Not any of it is of us. We are but beggars holding out empty hands to the King of kings to receive His salvation. All the glory goes to God. May we never take any for ourselves. May we never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, remembering them led Paul to thanksgiving . What might he have remembered? Probably he remembered the beginning of his relationship with them. Paul was setting off on his second missionary journey, and he was forbidden to go anywhere else by the Holy Spirit except Europe. So his first stop in Europe was Philippi.

Paul records his first encounter in Acts 16:11-15:
11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Think about it: The city didn’t even have enough male Jewish believers to have a synagogue so Paul went down by the riverside to worship and pray with a group of women meeting there out in the open along the river. And one of the women, Lydia, a seller of purple, trusted Christ as her Lord and Savior. She was his first convert in Europe, and the church in Philippi was born.

But, Paul also probably remembered some bad times: like the time he cast a demon out of a slave girl, and how she had made a lot of money for her owner by her fortune telling. And he remembered how the owner incited a mob against him and had him arrested and beaten, and cast into prison - he and Silas. And he would have remembered how God intervened.

The intervention is found in Acts 16:25-33:
25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

More people were added to the church in Philippi.

None-the-less, Paul was asked to leave town by the magistrates. Yet, his short stay there left behind a small group of believers. He left behind a church. And it was a good church, a faithful church.

They weren’t perfect. They were sinful people saved by grace, just like we are. They had their weaknesses and problems, just like we do. And Paul is well aware of that. But he looks beyond the problems, and he loves them anyway. He appreciates them with all their faults. Plus, he gives thanks to God for them. He remembers the good things in spite of the bad.

And there was much good to remember about the Philippians. For instance, the Philippians were the only ones who had helped Paul financially. Philippians 4:14-16 records:
14 Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. 15 Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16 For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.

They were the only ones who sent him money while he was in jail. As little as they had, they shared what they could with Paul. And Paul is grateful. They lived out what Paul wrote in Galatians 6:6, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.”

Paul had poured his life into them, and they gave of their livelihood for him. As Paul writes in 1st Thessalonians 2:7-8,
“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”
He had taught them faithfully from the Word investing his life into their lives. And so they provided for Paul’s financial needs. They were reciprocal blessings to one another.

When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, these people lost track of him for two years. They didn’t know where he was, or how he was doing. But finally, they heard. Paul was in prison in Rome. Their hearts went out to him, and they immediately sent their pastor, Epaphroditis, with a gift to minister to Paul’s needs. This letter, was in part, a thank you to them for their generosity to him. But also, it was a thank you to God for them.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Recommended Blog

For those of you who are interested, I have another blog dedicated to Biblical teaching on the family. You can access it by going to:

Finding Joy in Other Christians

Paul had been arrested, and he was sitting in prison in Rome. And while awaiting a decision on whether he would live or die, Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi. What did he write about? Not about what you would guess, knowing his situation. Instead, he wrote about joy.

As we said in the previous blogs, his topic, his thesis, is something quite surprising, because his thesis is joy. He’s telling the Philippians about, not only his own joy, but he’s commanding them to also be filled with joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,” He said in Philippians 4:4. So his main thesis is joy, and how to have it.

But, even more than he talks about joy, he talks about the source of that joy - Jesus Christ. Because of the relationship he has with Jesus Christ, he can have joy, he can take joy, from even the most difficult situations. That is the greatest lesson we can learn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

And so, as we study from this Epistle, we need to be ever alert to find those things that brought Paul joy and learn how we too can find joy in the tough situations we face in life. Or, should I say it this way? We have to find out how we can find joy in Jesus even through our most difficult situations.

So what was the first thing that Paul rejoiced in? What was the first thing he mentioned? It was the believers at Philippi. His brothers and sisters in Christ are the first thing on his mind. In Philippians 1:3, Paul writes: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”

Paul had happy memories of them. His memories made him smile. His time with them had been a blessing to him. He had no regrets, no unresolved conflicts, he nursed no hard feelings. All he had was love for them.

As Paul reflected on this congregation, his joy over-flowed. It made him forget momentarily his manifold troubles as he rejoiced in the good memories of them.
And those memories led him to thanksgiving. But, who does he give thanks to? In Philippians 1: 3, it is God. God is the source of all blessings.

As James 1:16-17 says:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

God is the source of every blessing, so Paul thanks God - he thanks God for the Philippians. And like Paul, I thank God for you, my congregation. I thank God for the glorious privilege of knowing you and ministering in your midst. I thank God that He called me as your pastor. I thank God that you are my friends and co-laborers for Christ. God has blessed me greatly through you.

Now, why would Paul thank God for them? There are a lot of people we might not be very thankful about knowing or having to deal with. They are some just down-right mean and difficult people in this world. And in some churches.

“Oh, to live above with the saints we love,
That will be glory!
But to live below with the saints we know,
Well, that’s a different story.”
So, how could he be thankful for them? He could, because they are a product of God’s saving grace. They were originally as pagan - as heathen – as they could possibly be. But God saved them and changed them. They were sinners, yes, but they were sinners saved by grace. They had responded to the Gospel message that Paul preached.

But Paul knew it wasn’t because of him. He was just the mouthpiece God used. As Romans 1:16 says, it is the “gospel” that is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.”

Paul was the one who penned that. Paul knew that all of salvation was of God. If these people were saved and changed, God did it. So, all thanks goes to God for their changed lives.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Choosing Joy

We’ve spent some time on introduction. Now let’s look at how Paul addressed this epistle: Philippians 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ.”

Notice how it doesn’t begin: Not, Paul the Apostle, like he began his epistle to the Galatians. He didn’t need to defend his authority here. The Philippians loved him and accepted his apostleship. Not Paul, the hotshot celebrity, or super leader. Not Paul, the one you have to respect and obey as a church leader. He just calls himself a “bondservants of Jesus Christ.”

The word bondservant is doulos in Greek. It was a word used for the lowest of slaves totally owned and controlled by another. So Paul isn’t resenting himself as a prima donna who had to be worshipped, or a fragile hero who had to be treated with kid gloves. But the lowest form of a slave. A slave was a person who did not control himself, but was totally owned by another. But that status didn’t change Paul’s joy – it didn’t hinder it because he was a “bondservant of Jesus Christ.”

To understand this, you really need to go back into the Old Testament to the book of Exodus. There in Exodus 21:5-6, we see a ritual that took place quite often. It involved a slave who was to be given his freedom. His time of indenture was up maybe because the debt he owed had been paid or because it was the year of jubilee. Yet, the slave loves his master. He wants to stay and serve the master he loves. So he voluntarily remains a slave and submits to the ritual here in Exodus.
Paul likewise chose to remain a slave of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 21:5-6 records the ritual of voluntary slavery:
“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”
Paul is saying, “That’s me! That’s Timothy! Jesus set us free from the bondage of sin and death. But we knowingly indentured ourselves to be His slaves.”

Every true believer has said that very same thing: They have said in their heart, “I choose to give my life to Jesus, I choose to serve Jesus as my Lord.”

Have you made that commitment? Is He Lord of your life? Until you’ve made that commitment you will be forever struggling to find happiness on your own rather than allowing Jesus to grow the fruit of joy within you.

So that was who Paul was, the author of this epistle, along with Timothy his traveling companion. They claimed to be no more than slaves of Jesus Christ, yet this was the real source of their joy.

Now who was Paul writing to? Philippians 1:1 continues by saying, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”

The word saints in Greek is hagios. It means a people set apart for God - a people who are also “bondservants of Jesus Christ.” Every true believer is a saint, and every saint is a bondservant of Jesus. We are saints, not because we were recognized by the Roman Catholic church, nor because we did necessarily great things. We are saints because of our position in Jesus Christ. Just like the Philippians, we are holy, not because we look it or act like it, but because we are set apart for God’s use.

This introduction includes “the bishops and deacons.” This is because Paul is writing to a local church with the usual officers. A bishop is the King James way of translating the word for overseer. It is a word that is synonymous in Scripture with pastor or elder. We should note that they had the same two officers in that early church as are present in the modern church.

Paul’s greeting continues in Philippians 2:2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Grace is from the Greek word charis (related to joy) while peace is from the Hebrew word shalom. It was Paul’s common greeting used in all his letters and always in that sequence. God’s grace is necessary in order for us to find peace with God. As Romans 5:1 says: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God provided the grace to justify us through the blood of Christ, and that brings us peace with God.

Have you experienced the grace of God? Have you received the peace with God that comes from trusting Jesus Christ? Then you should be able to live in the same joy as Paul did in spite of any adverse situations. But you have to choose that joy

In one of Tim Hansel’s books, he gave the true account of an 82 year old man who had served as a pastor for over 50 years. But now, as an old man, he was suffering from recurring bouts of skin cancer. He had already had 15 operations. He was in constant pain and embarrassed to go out because of his scarred face. Then one day, someone gave him Tim’s book, “You Gotta Keep Dancin” in which Tim tells of his own struggle with chronic, intense pain. In the book, Tim Hansel wrote of the day that he realized his pain would be with him for life, and that day, he realized that he could choose how he responded to that pain. Tim wrote that he chose joy.

The old pastor laid the book down thinking, “He’s crazy. I can’t choose joy.” But then, later, he read the words of Jesus in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” He realized that Jesus wants to give us joy, and not just joy, but a joy that is full and complete. The joy Jesus wants to give us is the joy Peter wrote of in 1st Peter 1:8 – “a joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

The pastor thought about it, then got down on his knees, and prayed. “Well, then, Lord, give it to me.” And then, as he described it, it was as if “This Incredible hunk of joy came from heaven and landed on him.”

“I was overjoyed,” he wrote, so he cried out, “Turn it on, Lord, turn it on.” Before he knew it, he was dancing around the house. It was, in his own words, as if he had almost been born again. He had to get out, so much joy can’t be cooped up. He went down to the fast food to get a burger, and a lady saw how happy he was, and asked, “How are you doing?”

He said, “Oh, I am wonderful.”

“Is it your birthday?” she asked.

“No, honey, it’s better than that.”

“Your anniversary?”

“Better than that!”

“Well, what is it?” she asked.

“It’s the joy of Jesus. Do you know what I am talking about?”

“No,” she said, “I have to work on Sundays.”

What a typical response. But there are two types of people. There are those who choose joy, and there are those who don’t. There are those who let their circumstances rule how they feel and wallow in unhappiness and self-pity in every crisis; and there are those who choose the joy of the Lord. Have you chosen the joy of the Lord? As Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Will you choose joy?

In the poem, The Wind of Fate, Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:

“One ship sails east,
One ship sails west,
Regardless of how the wind blow,
It is the set of the sail,
And not the gale,
That determines the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through life,
“Tis the set of the sail
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife”
It is not your circumstances that determine your joy, it is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you have a relationship with Him? Is He your Lord? Do you rejoice in that?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Joy - Not in Our Circumstances, But in Our Relationship

The word “joy” appears 19 times in the Epistle of Philippians. The continual repeating of this word is significant to its theme. This is an epistle overflowing with joy – joy in the midst of great trial and persecution.

But the name of Jesus Christ appears over 40 times. That points to the fact that our joy is really dependent upon Jesus. He is the real center of this epistle, and he must be the source of our joy. Not our circumstances, but our relationship with Jesus is the source of our joy. So often, the strife and grief of life is exactly what God has planned for us to draw us ever closer to Himself. There is joy when we allow that to happen.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, put it this way,
“It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is; it only matter where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord – then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.”
Amen! Always let the pressures of life drive you to Christ, never away from Him Let the trials and tragedies drive you to take shelter under the shadow of His wings. Only there will you find joy.

And we can trust Christ. Even through the bad times, we know that He is in control. He has everything already all worked out. We don’t need to fret about it.

As it says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purposes.” Not everything is good, but God will use everything for good. We can trust Him to do that. So, our joy is dependent upon God.

Psalm 4:7-8 says:
“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

God puts gladness in our hearts. He does it. He causes us to rejoice. It is Satan who sows discouragement in our hearts. Satan is the one suggesting we sit and have our pity parties sucking our thumb and whining to everyone. Don’t let Satan discourage you, let God give you joy!

As we study from this epistle, learn how to have real joy. Learn to rejoice in the Lord. Not because your circumstances are perfect, nor in spite of the fact that your circumstances are less than desirable, but because you have a relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.

If you are a born-again believer, God loved you so much that He sent His only begotten Son to take upon Himself the judicial penalty for your sins and die on the cross of Calvary to pay the penalty for them. Then He adopted you into His family as a son and made you a joint heir with Christ. And He’s gone to prepare a place in heaven for you. How could that not bring you an eternity of joy in spite of any temporary problems of this life?

In Romans 8:18 , Paul said:
“ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

The future is bright and under God’s control. Don’t let a little temporary discomfort rob you of your joy. Let it drive you to Christ where true joy resides.