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?