Thursday, December 25, 2014

Not What They Were Looking For - But What the Wise Men Found

Matthew 2:1-6
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Actress Helen Hayes told a story one time about the time she cooked her very first turkey dinner. She wasn’t a very good cook, so she warned her family ahead of time, saying,
“This may not come out exactly the way I want it to. If it is not a good turkey, don’t say a thing. Without any comment, just stand up from the table, and we’ll go to the nearest restaurant and eat.”
She went into the kitchen to get the bird, and when she came back, her husband and son were already standing with their coats on. I guess we know what they expected, don’t we?

But, it is often said our expectations control our conduct. If you expect to have a good time at an event, you probably will; but if you dread going, you will probably hate it – that’s the way we function.

It is the same when you meet people. Everyone except a total stranger comes with a reputation, so when you meet someone you’ve already heard about, you’ve got this idea about what that person is like. You’ve already made a mental impression

But, so often, the person you meet doesn’t bear any resemblance to the person you heard about, and you go, “Wow! I’m sure surprised.”

Imagine how it was like that for the wise men. They’d studied the Holy Writings for centuries that predicted a coming King to rule over Israel. They watched the stars continually, looking for new phenomena as a sign. And they were expectant. When, lo and behold, a cosmic sign is given - a new star is spotted off to the west. The excitement must have been palpable. All the centers of learning were abuzz with this new find, and a plan was put in place to go see.

We don’t know how many came, or how big a caravan they had. It’s not likely there were just three, as the song says. But they came searching, following the star, and they came with expectations about what they would find.

What were they looking for? Why, the new king of Israel, of course, one destined to be ruler of the world, one so important the prophets wrote about Him centuries before He came. And yes, even one the prophets, Isaiah, hinted at His being God Himself coming in human form.

The Old Testament prophecies were wide spread and well known because of the dispersion of the Jews throughout Babylon and Persia. These wise men had high expectations as to what they would find at the end of their trip.

Matthew 2:1-2 tells a little about their expectations
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Think about it: If you were looking for a king, where would you look, and what would you expect? Would you look in a palace, or a stable, especially if this new king was the King of kings, and Lord of lords?

Yet, where was Jesus born? He was born in a dark, drafty stable filled with smelly animals and rodents? It was the last place you would ever expect to be used as a delivery room. As Bill Hybels wrote, “Jesus’ first breath of air burned with the odor of animal urine. The first noises he heard were the grunts of livestock.” Not the kind of place you would expect the Son of God to be born in. It was the furthest thing from a palace.

And what about attendants? Would you expect a nation all abuzz with the exciting news, or a humble birth accompanied by the lowest of shepherds? Certainly, if this was God’s Son, God could provide better quarters if He wanted, but He chose not to. Of Course God could, but God wanted His Son to relate to all humans, not just royalty.

Again quoting Bill Hybels,
“From day one, God the Father determined not to shelter His Son from the rude, crude realities of life on planet earth. Jesus understands. He’s been there. . . . Can insulated aristocracy relate to what you and I go through?”
So Jesus walked among us, and like us, except without sin. He had a regular family, worked as a carpenter, and served as a traveling rabbi. There was no hint of royal blood in His demeanor. Yet, it is safe to assume, since the wise men went first to the palace in Jerusalem and to Herod’s royal court, that they expected this new born king to be born into royalty and to be accompanied with fanfare and pomp and circumstance.

Now, certainly, Joseph and Mary didn’t stay in the stable long. Would you? They would have quickly found other accommodations in Bethlehem, especially in the time it took for the wise men to arrive. But it certainly wasn’t over a palace where the star came to rest. Were they disappointed when they arrived and now found the babe living in rented quarters? Did they think, “Maybe we ought not give the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a commoner? We’ll take it back to Jerusalem as a present for Herod?”

To their credit, they didn’t seem to bat an eye when the star led them to a baby who had been born in a barn. They did indeed worship this baby, and they did indeed bestow gifts fitting for a king. They were convinced that, in spite of the baby not being what they expected, that He was the new-born king. The star, after all, had led them directly here. They weren’t mistaken in their calculations. This was the place where the star had led them.

Matthew 2:9 says, “And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” So, in spite of their false assumptions, they rejoiced and worshipped.

Matthew 2:10-11 says:
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Ah, but the rest of the population, except for the shepherds, weren’t interested in a humble Messiah. They stayed away. They refused to worship Him.

But, it wasn’t just as a baby the nation rejected Him. John 1:11-12 teaches,
11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
When He grew up, people came looking for the miracle working Messiah they heard about who healed the sick, cast out demons, and fed the multitude. And they willingly accepted the goodies from His hand. But they really couldn’t accept a wandering rabbi without a place to lay his head, not as their Messiah, not as their king.

In Matthew 8:20, we read:
20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Poverty was his lot, along with rejection, ridicule, and opposition to everything He taught. And the final crushing rejection led to His execution as a traitor to Rome. He was anything but the regal king and conquering hero they expected. They could never fathom that the cross was part of God’s plan of salvation.

And His message wasn’t one they were expecting. Nor was it one they would tolerate. Matthew 16:24-26 states:
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
When they heard His demands, the crowds evaporated. “No way! The Messiah is supposed to serve me, not the other way around. I didn’t sign up for a cross.” And eventually, they would cry out for His crucifixion.

But in spite of the fact that the vast majority of mankind rejected Him, His Father didn’t. Philippians 2:9-11 records:
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.
So Jesus isn’t who people expected, but He is who God sent. And He perfectly obeyed His Father’s will and plan. Our choice is to receive Him as He is, not as we want Him to be, or to reject Him, to our damnation, because He doesn’t match our expectations. What is your choice?

The wise men didn’t find what they expected, but they wisely worshipped the Lord as He actually was and gave Him the very best they had. Should we not do the same for the real Christ who came? When you find that Jesus isn’t what you expected, do you hold back, reluctant to give Him your best? Or do you without reservation give Him all you have - your life?

This Christmas, what do you make of the one born in a stable and laid in a manger? John Maxwell stated it this way: “If Christmas is about anything, it’s about a baby – God’s baby, born in a stable, who changed the world forever.”

Luke 2:11 says: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Is He your Lord?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why Did God Exalt Jesus? Why Would He Exalt Us?

Philippians 2:9
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.
Why did God exalt Jesus? If you look at verse 9, you see that it begins with the word, “therefore,” so it refers back to what was just written. It refers to His humiliation in the incarnation. The New American Standard translates the beginning of the verse this way, “For this reason also.” This is His reward for His willingness to humble Himself in the incarnation, especially, His willingness to go to the cross as our substitute. His exaltation is His reward for the cross.

That’s the payoff. That’s why Jesus was willing to go through the excruciating humiliation of the cross. He did it because that isn’t the end of the story. His humbling was a path to His exaltation.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us:
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
How could Jesus go to the cross? Jesus could go to the cross because He looked beyond the cross to the other side. He looked beyond the pain and suffering and beyond all that humiliation, and He looked into eternity where He would sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven fully glorified again and exalted again above all of creation.

Listen! Our humbling, our sacrifice - that isn’t the end of our story either – No way! We can look beyond the grave to eternity as well. We can look to that day when we too will be exalted. In Matthew 23:12, this is what Jesus tells us: “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Amen! Our humbling is also our path to exaltation.

Now look at: James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

Also, 1st Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”

If we humble ourselves to do Christ’s will, God the Father will lift us up and exalt us – that is His promise! Our humbling is the path to our exaltation.

That’s one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. The more we give, the more we receive. The more we sacrifice, the more God blesses. The more we humble ourselves, the more God exalts us in heaven. Which is precisely why Paul can say in Romans 8:18, “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.”

What an awesome truth. If we could quantify the amount of suffering we endure in this life, than compare it to the exaltation we receive in heaven, the exaltation will be exponentially greater. And listen, the more we suffer here, the greater the reward will be there. Increased suffering for Christ now will exponentially increase our exaltation there. That’s God promise, and that’s our motivation!

But that is also God’s plan for us, just as it was for His Son, Jesus. From the book of Romans again we read in Romans 8:29-30:
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.
That’s our destiny. We have been called by God and adopted as His children, and as such, He has “predestined” us to be “glorified” just like God did with Jesus. And if God promised it, you can count on it.

1st John 3:2 also gives us this assurance,
“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.”
Doesn’t that make any sacrifice we make in this life seem worth it?

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Rest of the Story

Philippians 2:9 – “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.”

What a Scripture trip this has been. When we ended our study last time on this portion of Scripture, things were looking pretty gloomy for Jesus. Jesus was nailed to a cruel cross to suffer and to bleed and to die the most excruciatingly painful death that man could think up.

And He did it for us. He died to be our sacrifice for sin. He died in the place of we who were His enemies, and unrighteous, sinful people. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world so He willingly laid down His life for us suffering our shame, punishment, and humiliation. He took our place, becoming our substitute on that cross. He gave up everything that heaven offered, every perk and privilege to humble Himself by become a man, but not just any man, a servant; a slave – even to the point of dying on the cross. That’s where we left Jesus last time - humbled to the point of death, even the death on the cross.

But, remember? We always read and understand Scripture in context. And the context is found in Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” If Jesus thought this was what He ought to do, we ought to think the same way, right? We ought to have an attitude of humility and sacrifice just like Jesus had, right? We ought to have the mind of Jesus even if it means laying down our lives for the brethren. That’s what we read earlier.

We looked at 1st John 3:16, which said, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” But isn’t that what Jesus often taught? Aren’t we to emulate Him? He told us in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We read that right. Jesus was on His way to the cross, and on the way, He tells us to grab up ours. That’s an invitation to accompany Him to Calvary, to take a place alongside him. This is a requirement of discipleship. Jesus willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for us, we are required to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for Him. But He gave up His perfect divine life, and we live the lives of wretched sinners. What He gave up was so much more, yet total sacrifice is what He demands of us – all we have! Does that scare you?

But, can we really be expected to do that? To give our lives to Him? To sacrifice our wills to Him? Especially in light of the history of the church that is filled with the bloody martyrdom of the church’s finest? Should we be willing to make even that ultimate sacrifice?

The Scripture is clear – Yes! That is exactly what Jesus demands. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him, He gives us an invitation to an execution. At the very least, our old nature must die. Our old nature must be nailed to that same cross that Jesus hung on. Only then can we say, with Paul in Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Can you say that? That your old nature, that sin nature, has been crucified? Can you say that Christ lives in you?

But how? How can Jesus ask so much of us? I know Jesus did it Himself, but He was God! How? It’s because He knew a secret - a not so secret, secret - but a secret that makes it all worthwhile. The truth is, death is not the end of the story. Death is merely a transition into eternity. And that’s where we’re going next, we are going into eternity. As Paul Harvey used to say (bless his dearly departed soul), “And now for the rest of the story.” The rest of the story is that the cross and the grave are not the end.

What is the rest of the story? What is the ultimate result of this short account of world history - an account that has taken us from eternity past all the way to eternity future? The answer is obvious –the rest of the story is the glorification of Jesus Christ. His humbling gave way to His exaltation. The grave could not hold Him. We are told in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.”

That was what God really wanted to do all the time. He wanted to highly exalt His Son. He will also exalt you, if you are found faithful to the end.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Obedient Even Unto Death

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.
We began this long discussion by talking about the lies told about Jesus. False teachers will either deny that Jesus was fully God, or they will deny that He was fully man. Hopefully, we have convinced you beyond a shadow of doubt through our study that Jesus is fully God. Now today we will look at the second lie, and I will try to convince you that Jesus is also fully man.

We read in verse 7 about Jesus, “and coming in the likeness of men.” This deals with the second lie or heresy we talked about – whether Jesus was fully man. “Likeness” is the Greek word homoioma, and it refers to something that is made to be like something else, not just in appearance, but in reality. Jesus’ forever essence is as God, but He was made into the essence of a man. Jesus became exactly like other men, minus the sin nature part, of course.

He wasn’t some freak of nature, half God and half man. He was 100% God and became 100% man. No one would have suspected that He was anything other than a man. If the angels hadn’t revealed His identity at His birth, the shepherds couldn’t have found Him. And if God hadn’t put the star in the sky, the wise men couldn’t have recognized Him. Had His miracles not attested to Him, He could have been overlooked because Jesus was 100% human.

Jesus began as a human in the normal fashion. His mother gave birth to Him, albeit as a virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit. He had to be cared for as an infant, and be taught, Yes, even have His diapers changed. He became hungry and thirsty. He experienced pain, loneliness, sorrow.

As Hebrews 2:14-15 says,
14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Jesus was fully, totally, completely human. Except that when He was tempted to sin, just as we are, He refused that temptation.

But then, Paul seems to repeat that thought in Philippians 2:8. We read:
“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.”
In English this seems to be a repeat, but it is not in Greek. Verse 7 used the word, “homoioma,” or likeness. It refers to something made to be like something else, not just in appearance, but in reality. Jesus was “coming in the likeness of men.”

Then, in verse 8, Paul uses the Greek word “Schema,” a word that refers to simply the outward appearance. Jesus could have come as a superman, with superhuman strength and ability, or grown to be fifteen feet high. Then nobody would have ever confused Him for being just a man. His deity would have been apparent. But He didn’t, He looked like everyone else. That’s why, then and even today, He was faced with those who could never look upon Him as anything more than a mere man.

But what did he do as a man? Verse 8 says, “He humbled Himself.” This isn’t talking now about His essence or His form. This is talking about His attitude. This is defining the mind of Christ that we are called on to emulate in verse 5.

Obviously, Jesus had to have humbled Himself below his Father, to empty Himself of His divine prerogatives, in order to be born a man. But it didn’t end there. He made Himself even lower than other men. That goes beyond even being born in stable and laid in a manger or living in poverty with no home. He was mocked, falsely accused, spit upon, beaten and scourged, and crucified on a cruel cross

Philip Reese writes:
“Look at Him – this amazing Jesus! He is helping Joseph make a yoke in that little carpenter shop at Nazareth. This is the one who, apart from His self-emptying, could far more easily make a solar system or a galaxy or systems.
Look at Him again! Dressed like a slave, with towel and basin for his menial equipment, He is bathing the feet of some friends of His who, but for their quarrelsomeness, should have been washing His feet….‘He humbled Himself!’ “Don’t forget this,’ cries Paul to these dear friends of his at Philippi. ‘Don’t forget this when the slightest impulse arises to self-assertive and self-seeking, and so to break the bond of your fellowship with one another!’”
Do you see this? The mind of Christ? We’re to have that mind.

How far did Jesus humble Himself? Verse 8 says, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death.” Wow, what a statement. J. Vernon McGee said: “We have to die, but we don’t want to; He didn’t have to die, but He wanted to.”

We’re all going to die. We don’t have any choice in that. It is a necessary part of our existence because of our sinful hearts and the curse. But Jesus had a choice, and He chose to die. He chose to die in obedience to the will of His Father. He could have called it off. He could have all the way up to that last breath. But out of love, He stayed on the path leading Him to His death. He did it in obedience to His Father’s will.

Look at the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of his betrayal. Three times he prayed for this cup to be taken from Him. He knew the horror that awaited Him in a few minutes as the palace guard came to arrest Him.

Look at His prayer in Matthew 26:39:
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
The Father didn’t force death upon Jesus. Jesus willing humbles himself to the point of death, because it was also His will.

Look at what he said in John 10:17-18:
17 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
But His death wasn’t an ordinary death. “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” He didn’t die of a heart attack, or cancer or in a war, or from old age. He died on a cross. He died by being executed as the most vile of criminals. Rome perfected the execution of the cross.

Quoting John MacArthur, “Crucifixion is perhaps the most cruel, excruciatingly painful, and shameful form of execution ever conceived.” They would never use it on a Roman citizen, but they reserved it for slaves, the lowest of criminals, and enemies of the state.

But isn’t that what Jesus was? Not a criminal or an enemy of the state, but a slave? He willingly made Himself a bondservant, so He was the kind Rome would put on a cross. It was the most humbling of all possible forms of death, and Jesus took that upon himself. It would be like saying in our day, He humbled himself to the electric chair, or the gas chamber, or the hangman’s noose.

Frederick Farrar, in The Life of Christ, describes crucifixion this way:
“A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly – dizziness, cramps, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of intended wounds – all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness . . . The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish.”
Add to that the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and Jews considered crucifixion to be hanging. They considered those who were hung to be cursed by God.

Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23 in pointing that out in Galatians 3:13 -
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).

Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because He was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was our final and perfect sacrifice - a sacrifice that was pictured in the Old Testament. The Old Testament sacrifice was a bloody thing. The priests were blood splattered butchers as they killed the sacrifices and drained their blood. Christ, likewise, as out High Priest shed blood, but it was His own blood He spilled for us to pay the penalty for our sin. And this is the essence of Jesus’ mission – He came as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He came from heaven to earth, from glory to shame, from master to servant, from life to death, even the death of the cross – WHAT GRACE!

If we are to have the mind of Christ, this is the mind that He exhibited. He was willing to give up everything to come and die for us. And this is the kind of attitude we are to have as well. That is our daunting task. As it says in: 1st John 3:16 – “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Are you willing to sacrifice for one another?

Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything, but if there’s a price tag, people suddenly lose interest. But Jesus was obedient to death. As J.H. Jowett said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” It cost Jesus His life. What are you sacrificing for God? What are you sacrificing for one another?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Kenosis

We’ve spent a lot of time making the case that Jesus is God. But, even though He was God, He didn’t think He needed to cling to the privileges of Godhood. He was willing to hold them loosely, which allowed Him to come to earth on His mission of redemption. Rather than grasping at His position and prestige, He was willing to forgo it all. Philippians 2:7 says: “But [He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”

The word, “but,” means: “not this but that.” It means: not grasping and clinging to all the perks and privileges of Godhood; but becoming a servant. When the King James translates it as, “But made Himself of no reputation,” we can understand it. It seems to fit what Jesus did. And it certainly would have been a good example for us to follow. But it fails to convey the expansive meaning and power of what Christ really did.

What did Jesus do? He emptied Himself of the prerogatives of His deity. The word used here in Greek is “kenoo,” and it is often translated as “emptied.” That Greek word gives us the title of the doctrine of Kenosis, or the emptying of Christ at His incarnation.

But what did he empty Himself of? Certainly not His deity. He never ceased to be God; that was made clear in the last verse. Had He ceased being God, He could not have died for the sins of the world. The great Lutheran commentator, R.C.H. Lenski wrote, “Even in the midst of His death, He had to be the mighty God in order by His death to conquer death.”

So what did He empty Himself of? Quoting John MacArthur, what Jesus did was to empty Himself “completely of every vestige of advantage and privilege, refusing to assert any divine right of His own behalf. He who created and owned everything forsook everything.” He did not ever cease to be God, He simply refused to use the prerogatives of God for His own benefit.

This is an issue that so many get wrong. Even one of my favorite hymns, “And Can It Be” by Charles Wesley, states, “Emptied Himself of all but love.” It sounds nice, but it is untrue. He did empty Himself because of love, but He never ceased being God.

What did He empty Himself of? Certainly not His power, or He couldn’t have performed all those miracles like walking on water, calming the storm, feeding the thousands, casting out demons, or healing every manner of disease, and raising the dead. Certainly not His omniscience, or he would not have been able to read men’s thoughts and hearts, or see the demons hiding within people. But He never exercised any of that apart from the will of His Father.

What else He emptied himself of was the divine glory of heaven, not His godhood. He appeared to be a regular person. He displayed no Shekinah glow or halo. Those pictures of Him with a halo are pure fabrication. He was totally indistinguishable by His appearance.

Also, He refused to act independent of His heavenly Father. He never acted on His own authority or desire. In John 5:30, Jesus told us: “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”

In John 6:38, He said: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

Jesus gave up the riches of heaven and the close face to face fellowship with His father all to come to earth and become a man, living without privilege and rank. He took upon Himself the “form of a bondservant.” His forever “form,” essence, morphe, was as God. But, He took upon Himself the “form,” the morphe, the essence, of a doulos - a bondservant. Totally, completely, and voluntarily, He placed Himself into the hands of His Master, His Father God. He owned not even the clothes on His back as a bondservant. It says in Matthew 8:20: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’.” Jesus lived His life as a servant. Read any of the Gospels, and you see this. Jesus always serves others, not the other way around.

But that was why He had come. As He said Himself, in Matthew 20:28, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

This is what we are called upon to do as well. We are to submit ourselves totally to God so that we can serve one another. This is why we were urged to have the mind of Christ back in verse 5. It only happens when we, like Christ, make the choice to give up the right to be in charge. It is then that we become available to God having no rights in ourselves. Then we can lose the fear of being stepped on and manipulated and taken advantage of by others. And isn’t that what we fear? But what joy comes when we submit to God and serve those He asks to serve rather than taking upon ourselves the right to determine who we pick to serve and when. What pride that is. Christ asks us to be bondservants to God, just like His own Son Jesus.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nine Guys Who Missed Thanksgiving

Some of you noticed the title to the sermon already, and you are thinking, “Man, that doesn’t apply to me. My belly is still full from the feast I had. I sure didn’t miss Thanksgiving.”

Well, you may not have missed Thanksgiving dinner, but thanksgiving is more than turkey and stuffing. And even cranberries and pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is an attitude, an attitude of gratitude.

That’s the part of Thanksgiving that was missed by the nine in the story we are looking at today. I fear, that is the attitude that is severely lacking in a lot of us in our day. We, the most blest people that have ever lived, are often the most ungrateful.

So, perhaps we can learn something from this story too about the “nine guys who missed Thanksgiving.” By the way, the title isn’t original with me. I’ve heard it used a number of times before, I just can’t remember where. But it does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? So let’s look at a time when nine out of ten guys missed thanksgiving.

First, let’s set the stage:
Luke 17:11 - 12
11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off.
Obviously, Jesus is traveling. We haven’t read enough of the context to know more than this, but Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. The reason He is heading there is to present Himself to the Nation of Israel as her Messiah and to be rejected and crucified. He will become the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb, dying in place of His people.

But on His way to Jerusalem, He encounters a distraction. Off to the side of the road, “afar off,” stood a group of lepers. They were required by law to stay separate from everyone. They were even required to yell to everyone, “Unclean! Unclean!” They lived in isolation; it was like a living death. And that’s what they were doing, waiting to die because leprosy was a fatal disease. Nobody wanted to look at them with their disfigurement and their weeping sores. Nobody would touch them. Nobody wanted to catch the dreaded disease - a disease rampant in that day.

But, they must have heard about this traveling miracle worker that some were claiming was the Messiah because when they saw Him go by, they ignored all the social requirements. Instead, they cried out to Him for help. Luke 17:13 tells us, “And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”

This is quite a bold thing to do, not just that they had the audacity to speak to someone, but in what they were asking. The word “master” here meant “top commander, head general of an army, the one in command.” It was a synonym for Lord - the expressed faith that Jesus is in command, yes, even that He could command the disease of leprosy. This was a cry of faith to the one they believed could help, to the one who could truly show mercy to them.

What will Jesus do? He has made a habit out of healing everyone who came to Him with a need. That’s why the multitudes flocked to Him. And He healed them all. Often, it was through His touch. Yes, He actually touched the untouchable.

But not this time: Luke 17:14 says,
“So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.”
What? That’s it? Nothing flashy? Nothing dramatic? No laying on of hands? No theatrics? No loud proclamations or prayers for healing? No! None of that! Just act like you are healed, fellas, and go show the priests so they can certify you are clean. That was the requirement of the law according to Leviticus 13. They had to be examined by a priest. They had to have their skin examined and be certified they were clean before they could return to society.

But they weren’t were they? They were still just as repulsive as ever with their oozing sores. This would totally be an act of faith. But they obeyed, amazingly, they obeyed. And as they were going to the priest, they were healed. One second their skin was white with dead, rotting flesh, and the next second, as pink and soft as a babies. Truly a miracle had taken place.

I assume they were long gone from Jesus’ presence when his happened. I don’t know where the priest lived, but it was far enough that the one had to turn around and come back. Luke 17:15-16 says:
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
Wow! He was even a hated Samaritan? Had you caught that in the story before? Yes, Jesus compassion even extended to a Samaritan - one of those people no self-righteous Jew would have anything to do with. They wouldn’t even talk to a whole and well Samaritan, let alone a leprous one. But Jesus did! That’s what it says. And Jesus healed him. Remember from verse 11 that Jesus was going “through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.”

But this Samaritan didn’t just come back to say “Thank You!” He “fell down on his face at [Jesus’] feet.” This is worship. This was a common Scriptural expression of worship. By falling on his face before Him, he was acknowledging Jesus as God. Who else could do a miracle like that?

And “with a loud voice, [he] glorified God.” This is praise. Not sedate, fundamentalist praise where we don’t make any noise or ever get excited, but this was Pentecostal praise – loud and exuberant. Nobody could doubt this man’s joy and excitement.

But Jesus looked down at the man, and remembered there were ten, not just one.
Luke 17:17-18 –
So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
We don’t know what Jesus is feeling, we only what Jesus said. But it seems logical that in His human heart, he felt hurt by the nine men’s ingratitude. Nobody wants to feel unappreciated, and God is not too big to feel slighted. Yet, nine of them received the healing without a peep of thanks. What a shame!

But, I wonder how we would have acted in a situation like that? Do you know how you would have? You bask in the goodness of God, but do you ever give Him thanks? And I’m not talking ritualistically. Most Christians would routinely say grace at meals to thank God for their food, or pray in the morning thanking Him for the day, but do you, you personally, truly have a heart of gratitude? Is gratitude a good description of your attitude? Or do you take God’s blessings as your due, that it is somehow your right as a Christian?

It happens all the time. On a human level, the ones you pour the most energy into, who take up the most time, who cost you the most money, are quite often the least appreciative. They think it is there due. And you say, “After all I’ve done for you, how could you do this to me? I bailed you out. I lent you money. I was there for you. Now you turn on me?” And they will respond, “Well, yeah, but what have you done for me lately?” You are only as good as the last thing you have done for someone, and if you haven’t done what they want this time, man, you are history. There is no residual gratitude that carries over. And they will turn on you quick as a wink.

But they are that same way with God. God showers them with blessings. They enjoy this good earth, good health, good food, sunshine and rain, and material blessings. But a little trouble comes along, and “I’m mad at you God!” becomes their attitude. It is amazing the number of truly blessed people who are ungrateful and mad at God.

But even in the best of times, we don’t tend to have a gratitude gene in our nature. We mostly are dominated by grumbling, complaining, and whining. We need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Good times, bad times – it doesn’t matter. We must be grateful people because God is always good.

Well, Jesus was real good to ten lepers, and only one came back to say thank you. Ah, but this one did came back. And to him, Jesus said: Luke 17:19 – “And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’”

This is something new, something incredibly new. This is more than physical healing, since he had already been physically healed. This is spiritual healing. The word, “well,” in verse 19 is the word, “sozo,” in Greek. It means to save, or to rescue, and it is the standard Greek word used for salvation. Physically, he had been made well, but spiritually, he was now made well. He was saved by faith.

And that’s the only way. Ephesians 2:8 affirms, “By grace are you saved, through faith.” So this is the story, not of ten men being physically healed, but of one man being saved through faith. Ten had enough faith to go to the priests to have their healing verified, but only one had the faith to return to Jesus and glorify God.

OK, let’s bring this home now. Leprosy, in Scripture, is symbolic of what? The disease of sin. The disease to the soul caused by sin is an ugly, revolting thing, and if not healed, is a progressive thing. Sin continues to eat away at us until eventually it causes death, the second death where we are cast into the lake of fire. And only Jesus can make us well, only Jesus can “sozo” us, save us from sin.

But how many of us who have been saved are truly grateful for that? How many of us even think about that on a daily basis? We concentrate so much on the physical, we become ungrateful over the smallest inconveniences. And when real tragedies come along, well, forget about thankfulness. But there should never be any inconvenience big enough that it over-shadows our gratitude for salvation. No matter what, we can always be grateful for that. Therefore, gratitude should be the natural state of every believer. We should live lives that are characterized by grateful hearts and grateful lips.

This one man who returned, you might have expected him to run on to the priest to get his certification of a clean bill of health just like the other nine did. But he turned around and came back - back to express his thanksgiving. That’s what you would have expected all ten to do. They should have returned and started an impromptu choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” But wouldn’t you expect us unworthy people who are saved by grace, to also be singing perpetual praise? Thanksgiving is always appropriate, no matter what our circumstances.

Gratitude makes so much difference in your attitude. For instance: There is the story about a balloonist at the end of the 19th century who planned a trip over the Alps in Europe. Each day he would carefully plan out his itinerary, but who can control the wind? So instead of going to point A like he had planned, he ended up at point B. And the next day, instead of point C, he ended up at point D. But instead of being all upset about it and grumbling and complaining, like so many of us would, he took it in stride, saying: “I didn’t know about this place. Had I known, I would have planned to land here.”

Each day was a new adventure, and a new and welcome surprise. He was delighted with the experience. But likewise, each day, no matter what it brings to your life, can be a new opportunity to experience the grace of God even in times of pain and loss, we can experience God’s grace.

The moral? If you plan to go to from point A to point B and end up in point C, rejoice anyway. Maybe God has something exciting for you there. This is part of what Paul was talking about in Philippians 4:11, where he said: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Gratitude can be a part of every area of your life, because we can learn gratitude in any situation, just as we learn contentment.

For instance, Paul recommended being single. There are great advantages in being single. You control your life, and decide when and where to go, what to eat, you are free to do what you like. But the Bible also says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing,” so being married is a good thing. There are great advantages to being married. I won’t elaborate on them here, but life is fantastic when you have a good partner, especially one warm and cuddly. Whatever state you’re in, you can praise and thank God.

You can give thanks in good times and bad. Pastor Martin Rinkhart wrote the words to “Now Thank We All Our God,” during the 30 Years’ war in Europe. It is Number 556 in our hymnal. During the war, he conducted as many as forty funerals a day, one of them was that of his own wife. Yet, he still wrote this beautiful hymn as a table grace to be recited by his family:

“Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices
Who from our mother’s arms,
Hath blest us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.”
War raged, personal heartache was his daily companion, yet, he still had a thankful heart toward God. And that is the right attitude. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 adds, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Do you see? Whatever your circumstance, you must rejoice. You must live an attitude of gratitude. And you must praise God. The one leper who returned came worshiping and glorifying God, and that is what we must do.

Bruce Larson asserts: “It’s at the level of praise where I suspect God’s power can break through in the most dramatic way.” Do you think he might be right?

As we close, let me ask you, as Warren Wiersbe does: “How is your GQ? – that is, your Gratitude Quotient?” Psalm 107:8 says: “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!”

That is what God wants. He wants us to be grateful. Are you? Jesus healed ten men of one of the most terrible diseases known to man. He gave them back their lives, but only one returned with thanksgiving. The other nine missed Thanksgiving. You be the one with the grateful heart. Don’t you miss out on Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jesus, Both God and Man

Philippians 2:7-11
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.
It’s impossible to over-estimate the importance of this portion of Scripture. It is of utmost importance because it tells us who Jesus Christ really is. Paul very carefully outlines exactly the essence of Jesus’ being, and he does so through the course of eternal time - he takes us back into eternity past all the way through eternity future. We get to follow Jesus as He leaves heaven, comes to earth in the incarnation, and is eventually glorified again in heaven.

Why is this so important? Because there has been a relentless effort on the part of Satan to confuse the issue. As we said last time: Jesus is God. But God has a lot of enemies, and His chief enemy is Satan. Satan is a liar, so lies and deception are his most common tactics of attack.

Yes, Satan is a liar. That’s what Jesus called him in John 8:44: “For he is a liar and the father of it.” Those who follow him follow that same pattern. They lie about Jesus and His nature. They either lie about Jesus being fully God, of one essence with the Father, or they lie about Him becoming fully man. Satan’s false teachers, planted within the church as wolves in sheep’s clothing, simply lie about Jesus.

2nd Corinthians 11:13-14 describes them:
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers [translate that as liars], transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
The easiest way to tell if someone is a false teacher following Satan is to check out what he says about Jesus. He will either lie about the deity of Jesus, or he will lie about the humanity of Jesus. Both heresies were rampant in the early church. The Gnostic heresy denied the true humanity of Jesus, while the Arian heresy denied his deity.

The truth is: In heaven in eternity past, Jesus reigned as the Son of God, the second person of the Triune Godhead, equal in form and substance with the Father; but He did not cease to be God as He came to earth to become a man. The truth we believe is that Jesus is 100% God and then became 100% man without the incarnation ever, in any way, lessening His godhood.

In our Church Constitution, we have the Apostle’s Creed printed, and it says:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
That creed was born in the catacombs by the early church - probably not by the apostles, but by the persecuted church as they tried to distill the truth they were willing to die for and what beliefs really constituted being a Christian. But, the liars continued to spread their false teaching about Jesus while true disciples died for this truth. The onslaught was non-stop.

Since the Apostles Creed didn’t stop the onslaught, the Church convened the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 to settle the issue once and for all, they thought, and they adopted a new creed – the Nicene Creed. This creed basically followed the format of the Apostle’s Creed but strengthened the declaration that Jesus was eternal, not a created being and that He was God.

The pertinent part reads:
We believe . . . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
The argument between the two sides centered around a single letter of the alphabet. Was Jesus homoousios, of one substance with the father? Or was He homoiousis, of similar substance with the father? The difference is on little “i”, or the iota in Greek. But the “i” was left out. The church affirmed that Jesus was fully God with the same substance as the Father. The heretics could not affirm this doctrine and the church was protected from their lies. The council of Nicaea thought they had officially resolved that Christ was God, at least for those who believed the Bible.

But, the question remained as to whether He was also truly man, and whether it was even possible that He could be both God and man. To answer this heresy, in 451 AD, a council was called in Chalcedon. The Council of Chalcedon was a gathering of 600 Bishops from across the church, and they met to search the Scriptures to see what they said concerning the humanity of Christ. What they published was a statement known as the Chalcedon Definition that affirmed again 1st, the full deity of Christ, and 2nd, the full humanity of Christ. That is what the church believes, because this is what the Scriptures teach. This is the truth we believe, preach, and stand on. Jesus is fully God and fully man.

No doubt, one of the principle places the bishops looked was Philippians 2 which declares both. If the heretics had only taken time to study this passage, they could have been straightened out (But only if they were willing to be taught by Scripture).

Already, in our study of this passage, we’ve learned that Christ was eternally God. We read this in Philippians 2:6 – “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” We’re not going to rehash the last sermon, but if you were here, you remember, that the word “form” is morphe, a word, in Greek, that means the essential form that never altars. The essential form that Jesus has always had, and always will have, is God. But when Christ was born in Bethlehem, he took upon Himself the flesh of a human in order to die for our sins. All the while, He never gave up being God. That is truth.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Willing to Give It All Up

Philippians 2: 5-7
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.

As this verses teaches: when Jesus came to earth to be born in a stable in Bethlehem, He never diminished or forfeited His absolute equality with God. The word “equal” in verse 6 refers to exact equivalence. The incarnation did not change that.

Yet, as a man on earth, Jesus never used the perks of deity for His own personal benefit. He never used His power and authority independently of His Father’s will because He didn’t consider that power and authority things to be grasped. He would not use them for His own benefit.

That attitude was what set in motion the incarnation. He willing left heaven to be born into poverty knowing that the path He took would take Him to the cross. He took upon Himself all that humiliation and abuse willingly. At any time, Jesus could have called down uncountable multitudes of angels to rescue him from the cross. He could have appealed to His father to be excused from the mission. He could have independently used His power to annihilate His opponents. But He did not. And that demonstrates the mind of Christ.

For us to have this same attitude, we would have to stop clinging to everything we hold onto so dearly. We would have to be willing to give it up to God for His control even if He asked us to give it all away. That’s what Jesus did to the rich, young ruler in Mark 10:21 when he tested His faith. The young, up-and-coming ruler of Israel thought he was pretty good and that God should accept him for his works. But this is what Jesus told him, Mark 10:21:
21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
What would you have done if Jesus had asked you to do that? But the truth is, Jesus says the same thing to every one of us. In Luke 14:33, Jesus flatly states: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Being willing to forsake all to follow Christ is having the mind of Christ. He was willing to forsake heaven for you, even dying in your place on the cross. What are you willing to give for Him? You should be willing to give up our own life if He should ask you.

But all too often, even Christians grasp tightly to all that they have making things most important to them. And then they are so unwilling to die because that would mean giving them all up anyway.

No! We must have the mind of Christ. That will so liberate us to serve God and to serve one another.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jesus - Being in the Form of God

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.
Paul spent the first part of chapter two encouraging us to be concerned about the needs of others. We are to be concerned more for their needs then our own even. But how is that possible? It flies in the face of our human nature. Can we humans really do that? Yes! It is possible by having the mind of Christ.

Paul is encourages us to adopt the mind of Christ in verse 8. From the context of this passage, it would seem that the particular attitude of Christ that Paul wants us to adopt is the attitude of humility. You can see this in verse 8. But how did Christ demonstrate a humble attitude?

As the second person of the triune Godhead from eternity past, He condescended first to be born a human. Even in His birth, He wasn’t born as a king in a Caesar’s palace, but He was born into poverty as a baby in Bethlehem, born in a stable, to live a life of poverty on earth without anywhere to lay his head, and to die on the cross to provide redemption for you and I. And He did it all out of His great love for us.

If Jesus could do that, and we have His mind, why should we have this much trouble treating other people like we should? Why should we have trouble esteeming others better than ourselves and looking out for their interests? We just need to follow the example of Jesus.

As Paul Rees writes:
“Don’t forget,” cries Paul, “That in all this wide universe and in all the dim reaches of history there has never been such a demonstration of self-effacing humility as when the Son of God in sheer grace descended to this errant planet! Remember that never – that never in a million eons – would he have done it if He were the kind of deity that looks ‘only to His own interests’ and closes His eyes to the interests of others.”
Amen! Jesus was willing to give up living in the opulence of heaven, basking in the glory and adoration of myriads of angels who flooded His presence with adoring praise, existing as the second person in the Triune Godhead, all to become a man – AMAZING! He was born into a peasant family to be despised, and misunderstood, to be abused, rejected, cursed, and crucified. That is the ultimate in humility. And He humbled Himself willingly. And He did it fully aware of the outcome without any grumbling and complaining, but with sheer joy.

Hebrews 12:2 says:
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What an example for us to follow. And this is exactly what Paul has asked us to do. If you are a believer, Christ lives in you. So you can do this if you let Christ live in and through you.

Let’s look more closely at His example: First Paul starts with Christ’s condition in heaven before he came, and he forcefully conveys that Christ was God: Philippians 2:6 affirms Christ’s deity, “Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”

Now, some people try to say, “Oh, look, Jesus just had the form of God. He wasn’t really God. He just tried to look like God.”

Don’t be ridiculous! This has nothing to do with the shape, size or composition of God, nor of Christ trying to take on the form of something that He was not. Jesus wasn’t just sort of like God, He was God. If you have the form of a worm, you’re a worm. If you have the form of a man, you’re a man. If you have the form of God, you are God.

The word translated as “being,” or “existed,” in the New American Standard version, denotes the continuance of a previous state or existence. It stresses the essence of a person’s nature. It talks about that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable.

William Barclay writes that this verb refers to “that part of a [person] which, in any circumstance, remains the same.” Jesus, being in the form of God, is a constant, because Jesus was always God and always will be God.

The word “form” is morphe in Greek, as in metamorphosis – The changing of forms as in a butterfly. But whether the butterfly is an egg, a caterpillar, a chrysalis, or a butterfly, the thing is always a butterfly. It always has the same existence – the same DNA. The Greek word, morphe, refers to the essential form that never altars. Jesus is, always has been, and always will be God whether in His exalted state in heaven or His humble state as a man.

That’s the same truth that John wrote about in His Gospel. John 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

And who was the Word? John 1:14 answers the question, “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 Bible affirms it - Jesus is God.

That’s why Paul was stressing the deity of Christ in verse 6, and why Jesus was fully aware of His deity. Philippians 2:6 asserts He “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”

Do you understand the meaning of this? If I tried to pretend to be something I wasn’t, like a king, a doctor, a lawyer, or something, that would be robbery. It would be trying to take something that wasn’t mine. Jesus didn’t have to “consider it robbery to be equal with God,” because He was God. You can’t steal what you own.

The New American Standard puts a different slant on this, and one that is almost harder to understand because it seems to be saying the opposite of what it should say. It translates this as, “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” You might think that means that He didn’t dare try to grasp equality with God - that it would be too far out of His reach. But that’s wrong. This isn’t talking about grabbing something you don’t have, it is talking about letting go of something you do have. The word refers to clinging tightly to something.

The idea is, Jesus didn’t think that hanging on to that equality was something that He had to cling tightly to. He didn’t have to hang on to His position. There wasn’t any danger of His losing His place if he went on this mission to earth. There was no danger that He might not do a good enough job, or that there was a somebody waiting in the wings to take His place, like Michael or Gabriel just waiting their chance. Being equal with God was totally, irrevocably His because He was God. He always was and always will be. He didn’t have to go to school to become the Son of God, and he wasn’t promoted up from a lesser position. He was totally, irrevocably God.

That freedom allowed Him to participate in the incarnation giving up the prerogatives of heaven to come to earth because, face it, there is only one way for God to go, and that is down. But Jesus didn’t have to worry about that because He knew He was going back up.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Getting the Mind of Christ

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 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.
To this point, the book of Philippians has been entirely practical. Paul has concentrated on our walk - on how we should live as Christians. He’s been discussing the nitty-gritty stuff of the everyday Christian life - the nuts and bolts of Christian conduct. But all that changes here because Paul goes doctrinal on us.

In this portion of Scripture, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul writes some of the most wonderful words that have ever been written; beautiful, awesome, mouth open, gaping, awe filled words – and it is doctrine! He’s written words so deep and filled with so much meaning that we could spend years talking about them; and we could never, ever plumb their depth. That’s how profound this passage is.

Some commentators consider this the greatest doctrinal statement in the New Testament. Concerning the person of Christ, it is by far one of the most definitive. It is a passage that earns a place on most everyone’s short list of favorites.

Maxie Dunham expresses my feelings about the passage as he writes:
“I am breathless before such a passage and tremble at the thought of commenting on it – that I may say too little or too much and detract from the majestic truth that is here.”
AMEN! How do we do it justice?

What this passage does is tell us about Christ’s journey from heaven to earth and back again. It tells us about how He humbled Himself to become a man in the incarnation, and then, about His subsequent glorification again as God.

J. Vernon McGee writes:
“I wish I were capable of sketching for you the magnitude of what is being said in these next few verses. I wish we could grasp how high He was and how low He came. The billions of light years across known space are nothing compared to the distance he came.”

How does Paul get us here? – Very simply: Paul had just implored us to get along. The preaching of the Gospel was what made Paul joyous, and disunity was the one thing that would most hinder the effectiveness of that preaching. So Paul has given us an impassioned plea for unity. Philippians 2:2 records this, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” We are to be united in love and doctrine.

“But, you tell us, Paul, that we are all supposed to have the same mind? How? Isn’t that impossible?” On our own it is.

Harry Ironside agrees; he said,
“It is very evident that Christians will never see eye to eye on all points. We are so largely influenced by habits, by environment, by education, by the measure of intellectual and spiritual apprehension to which we have attained, that it is an impossibility to find any number of people who look at everything from the same standpoint. How then can we be of one mind?”

Good question, Harry. How can we have unity? How can we be “of one mind?” Yet, that is exactly what Paul is demanding from us. The answer, Paul tell us, is this: Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” The answer is Christ-likeness. We follow Christ’s example in the way we think. And this passage will tell us about the way that Christ thinks.

But Paul didn’t end there, Paul also told us about having right motives – we must demonstrate humility. It is through getting rid of all selfishness in our motives, and then through looking out for one another.

He writes in: Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

Fine words, Paul, but as we said last time, they fly right in the face of all that we are as humans; at least fallen, sinful human beings. The truth is, as humans, we are dominated by pride and selfishness. In our day, we are more likely to take a course in assertiveness training than we are to ever even think about humility. Because, nowadays, winning is everything, even if we have to win by intimidation. We all want to stand on our own two feet and get credit for the things we’ve done. None of us want to be ignored or overlooked. None of us deal well with being offended.

So how can we actually live humbly? How can we live in selfless humility? How can we esteem others better than ourselves? The answer is the same: The answer is - we have an example to follow, and that example is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus gives us the perfect example of an unselfish attitude.

Unfortunately we are more likely to follow the examples of James and John, the sons of thunder, the brothers whom Christ chose to be His apostles. We all too often are bitten by the same prideful motivation as them. In Mark 10:37, you can see this: They asked if they could sit on the right and the left hand of Jesus when He came into His kingdom, and Jesus had to set them straight about what really constituted greatness in His kingdom. It requires servant-hood.

In Mark 10:42-44, Jesus teaches:
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.

And He Himself was the pattern for that: Mark 10:45 records, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus is to be our pattern. That’s why Paul writes: Philippians 2:5 – “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” That’s the answer to our behavioral issues. We are supposed to respond, and to think, and to feel the way Jesus felt. We are to adopt the mind of Christ. If you’ve got a New American Standard, you have probably noticed that there it is translated this way: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ.”

We are to have the same attitude that Jesus had. Another way of saying attitude is outlook. What kind of an outlook do you have on life? Do you look at life as ending with the grave so that you have to grab all you can now, in this life? If so, you will live selfishly, trying to get everything you can in this life. Selfishness will dominate your motivation. But if you live with eternity in mind, you realize that this life yields to eternity with God where all the good that you do here on planet earth will be rewarded.

You will live as Jesus told us to live in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:19-21
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

You will live unselfishly on this earth knowing that your reward is in the next – in eternity in heaven

Well then, if you live that way, you will esteem others as better than yourself and look out for their interests. As Warren Wiersbe points out: “Outlook determines outcome.” If you have the outlook, the attitude, the mind of Christ, than you can live humbly as He did.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What's Good For Me, or What's Good For You?

Philippians 2:3-4
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

What’s the answer to the selfish streak that runs through most of us? It’s a “lowliness of mind” that continually causes me to “esteem others better” than me. The key word here is “others.” It’s not self but “others” we think about. If it is a simple matter of preference, why shouldn’t we defer to the other person? Isn’t that a mark of spiritual maturity? Isn’t that what God would want from us? Isn’t that something that would go a long way preserving the unity Christ demands in His church?

Romans chapter 14 is all about that. It is about giving up our own personal rights for the well-being of the other person. I don’t have to have my own way if it is going to cause you to stumble. I would give up my rights in deference to you. Spiritual maturity does that - it causes us to defer to each other. This is what genuine Christian humility is all about.

As Andrew Murray said, the humble person isn’t someone who thinks poorly of himself, he doesn’t think of himself at all. Well, who then, do you think about? You think about God, and you begin to want what God wants. You decide to do what God wants you to do. You know that Jesus wants us to dwell together in unity as His body so you will do all you can to protect that unity because we are seeking His glory first and foremost.

Isaac Watts wrote one of the truly great hymns of the faith that begins:

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”
That truly reflects the heart of a Christian. At the foot of the cross, everything else seems meaningless and cheap. We are willing to give it all up to the Lordship of Christ. Our selfish ambition means nothing, because the Lord’s desire consumes us so we are willing to defer to one another for the glory of Christ and for the unity of His church. Our love for Christ is like the magnet that holds us all together.

Listen to this analogy given by MacArthur:
“Consider a bag filled with marbles. There are many marbles of various size, color, and composition packed closely together. But they are bound together exclusively by the container. If the bag is opened or ripped, the marbles spill out in all directions because there is nothing internal that binds them to each other. In contrast, consider a magnet placed into a pile of iron shavings. By their nature, the shavings respond to the power of the magnet and are drawn together. If some outside force causes them to be pulled apart, the attractive force remains and they will reunite as soon as the separating cause is removed. In the same way, faithful Christians who are separated by circumstances beyond their control will maintain their mutual attraction through the magnetic power of the Spirit working within them. Like a close human family that is tragically divided by war or natural disaster, they will continually seek to be reunited as the spiritual family they are.”
It’s our love for God that provides the unity

When we considering how Christ sacrificially loves us, that’s why we can (verse 3), “esteem others better than” ourselves. Are other people better than us? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some people are smarter, and some not so smart. Some are more talented, and some not so talented. None of us are the very best and none of us are the worst.

But that’s not the issue. This isn’t saying that someone is better. This is saying you “esteem” him better. You regard others as more important than you. This reflects a carefully thought out conclusion in which you determine to give that person your esteem knowing the perfect Son of God was willing to give all He had for you on the cross of Calvary knowing that you were an ungodly sinner set against Him, as Romans 5 described us.

But you’ve got to look out for yourself, right? Of course, you do. And this next verse agrees. But we can’t do that exclusively. Philippians 2:4 teaches, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

We are to look out for our own interests. Scripture expects us to work hard and put something away for a rainy day. Every husband and father is expected to look out for his family, to protect them and to provide for them. All this is Scriptural. Today’s passage has nothing to do with negating our responsibilities. You all know the Scripture. 1st Timothy 5:8 concludes, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” We’re required to look out for our family first.

But yet, isn’t that exactly what this verse is talking about? Isn’t it talking about giving of yourself for the benefit of another person? It’s that husband putting in 40 + hours a week at a job that he really doesn’t like so he can make the house payment and put food on the table for his family. It’s the wife changing mountains of diapers for a baby that cries and never says thank you and serving countless meals and washing endless sink loads of dishes. This is servant hood - giving of yourself for another person.

It doesn’t mean that you have to be a religious doormat that everyone uses and abuses. As Warren Wiersbe points out, “Some people try to win friends and maintain church unity by ‘giving in’ to everybody else’s whims and wishes.” That’s not Paul’s intent.

Use some God-given common sense. You don’t appease your child to get him to obey. All you’ll get is a spoiled child. This isn’t about appeasement. It isn’t about becoming a Santa Claus to anybody who makes a demand, or sacrificing your family because someone wants to make you feel guilty. It is about meeting genuine needs whenever and wherever you can.

The world is full of needy people, and you would never have time and resources to meet all those needs. But you can meet some needs, and God expects you to. But, you certainly have to take care of your own first, and the needs of your family first. The verse says: (verse 4), “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests.” So your own interests do count, “but also for the interests of others.” Your responsibility does not end with you and your needs.

As Chuck Swindall writes:
“Being unselfish in attitude strikes as the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, our own desires for another’s benefit. And that brings us back to Christ. Perhaps you never realized that it was His attitude of unselfishness that launched Him from the splendor of heaven to a humble manger in Bethlehem . . . and later to the cross at Calvary. How did He accept all that? Willingly!”
We will never be able to treat others as we should until we begin get rid of selfishness as the motivation for our actions. And until we do, we will never experience true unity. But that attitude doesn’t come from first loving others better than ourselves; it comes from first loving Christ with all our heart, soul, and mind. Only then can we start to love the things He loves, and give up our self-love that causes all the problems.

What motivates your actions? Is it selfish ambition? Or is it the love of God? Who are you serving besides yourself?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Do Nothing Out of Selfishness

Philippians 2:2-3
“Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

In Philippians 2:2, “having the same love” means having a common love for Christ, which will translate into a love for one another. If disunity is the problem (and that is what we discussed last time), love is the solution. There won’t be any disunity if we all truly love each other, will there? Dissention and lack of unity within a church ultimately stems from a lack of love one for another.

That goes hand in hand with the next phrase in the verse. “Being of one accord” is translated as “being of one spirit” in the New American Standard version. It literally means, “being one-souled.” That means we are all in total agreement about the greatest issues of life. That means we have faith in the same Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we believe the same things about Him and about salvation. And we have all agreed how we will serve Him. That is where our unity comes from, and why we can be “of one mind.” We have a common love, a common faith, and a common mission within the church. We are “of one mind.”

Not to be is sin. And it is spiritual immaturity as well.
Look at 1st Corinthians 3:1-3
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
Envy and strife are a sign of spiritual immaturity within the church. That is a great and ever present danger. Don’t let that ever be true of you. It should be the prayer on the lips of every one of us that no one should tear apart what God has divinely joined together. Our constant prayer should be for unity.

But, what prevents disunity from rearing its ugly head?
Philippians 2:3
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
Not anything – not one solitary thing - not one word, not one action, not one thought - not one thing should be done selfishly. Can you say that’s true in your life? I sure can’t. I have a selfish streak in me that sometimes seems a mile wide. It’s a trait in me that can easily dominate my life, and so I have to continually try to dominate it. Isn’t that true in your life too?

It caught up Lucifer and caused him to rebel against God. It tripped up Adam and Eve who wanted to be like God. It can trip up you and me, if we let it.

Selfishness is nothing but a loyalty to ourselves over anything else. It is a determination to make sure that our desires always take precedence over anyone else’s.

In the last chapter, Paul talked about those who preached Christ from envy and strife in verse 15, so he was familiar with that awful motivation. But nothing should ever be done from selfishness – NOTHING!

Yet, here, there, or anywhere, whenever there is a disagreement within the church, the root cause is usually envy or strife. Rarely is it over some significant doctrinal issue. J. Vernon McGee says that “I think it would solve 90 percent or maybe even 100 percent of the problems in churches today . . . if we could follow this injunction.” What injunction? Verse 3 – “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or deceit.”

McGee, of course, quoted from the Old King James, and so he used “strife or vainglory,” which means the same thing. But isn’t that a descriptive word, “vainglory?” The New American Standard uses “empty conceit” here referring to a highly exaggerated view of ourselves -a view that thinks we are always right. It’s like the gal sadly admitted after she married the person she thought was Mr. Right, “I didn’t know his middle name was always.”

Listen: None of us are always right, so why should we think we are? We have to cut that out. It only causes strife. Yet, all the time, you hear of a church torn apart over something as silly as what color carpet to lay in the church. Now, you all know, don’t you? The real issue isn’t the color of the carpet? The real issue is who gets to decide the color of the carpet. The real issue is power and control, and who wields that power. And people zealously guard the power and control they have at all cost, even at the cost of destroying the church. They’ll get their way, or else.

And why do people get their nose bent out of shape when they feel slighted? If someone forgot to say thank you to them and did to someone else, or greet them, or they didn’t get asked to sing a solo or do something special while someone else did; they get into a huff. Why do we wear our feelings on our sleeve? Isn’t that envy? Isn’t it “selfish ambition?” Why are we so easily offended? Isn’t it envy? Isn’t it worrying that someone else will get the glory instead of us? Isn’t it worrying that they will get something that we want, or that we think we deserve?

Yes! It’s selfishness through and through. And we all seem to have a bit of that selfishness running through us. I know I do, don’t you? Which is precisely why we do nothing from selfish ambition

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Disunity in the Church - Part Two

Philippians 2:1-2
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
For all the good things the church of Philippi had going for it, you’d think things were looking rosy. But, they did have some serious disunity, which is why Paul had to remind them to be “like minded,” and to be “of one accord.” Therefore, it was a church in danger. Disunity is always a danger to a church.

William Barclay observed: “The one danger that threatens the Philippian church was that of disunity. There is a sense in which that is the danger of every healthy church. It is when people are really in earnest, when their beliefs really matter to them, that they are apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide.”

Barclay is right! Quite frankly, nothing gets us so riled up, nothing gets our passions aroused more, than to have someone challenge us over a power or control issue, even over some of the silliest preferences. We can all say, “Been there, done that!” We all can use this admonition to unity.

Now, Paul isn’t asking us to be carbon copies of one another. We aren’t all cut out with the same cookie cutter. This is talking about unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is forced compliance, by rules and regulations, by peer pressure, or even at gunpoint. It comes from the word, uniform, where we dress alike, talk alike, act alike, and think alike. That’s not what Paul is demanding that we be. I don’t even think that’s healthy.

It’s not uniformity we’re looking for, but unity. Unity comes from deep within us. It is our inner desire to live our life in a cooperative manner - to participate on the same team, working toward the same objectives. But we’re not working on my objectives or your objectives, we want to cooperate with Christ. We want to be on His team and accomplish His objectives. That should be our goal.

“Being like minded” means to think the same thing, not about everything, but about Christ, about His truth, and about His will. It is striving together to achieve a common understanding and a genuine agreement. It is working together to find God’s truth, and to find God’s will. And then we all do it together.

God doesn’t have a divided will, does He? So if we can’t agree on a course, one of us, if not both of us, has missed finding God’s will. At least one of us is wrong and pushing the wrong agenda. The answer is to keep looking till we both come to it. Keep praying together until God brings you into sweet unity.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disunity, the Greatest Hindrance to the Gospel

Philippians 2:1-2
1 Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
As we start Philippians chapter two, notice that it begins with the word, “therefore.” Whenever you see a “therefore,” you always have to look to see what the “therefore” is there for. “Therefore” always refers back to what was written before; and it means, in light of all we’ve discussed to this point, now “therefore.” So we can’t take this out of the context of chapter one. Indeed, chapter breaks, and not even verse designations were in the original text. It all flowed together as one unified letter. So, just consider this a continuation of the ideas that Paul presented in chapter one.

Then, after the word “therefore,” Paul says, “if.” But this isn’t a conditional “if;” not according to Greek grammar. None of the things Paul lists are conditional, so we need to read this as if it were saying “since:” “Therefore [since] there is any consolation in Christ, [since] any comfort of love, [since] any fellowship of the Spirit, [since] any affection and mercy.”

All of those things are true, aren’t they? Have you ever been consoled by Christ? Have you ever been comforted by love? Have you ever had any fellowship with God through His Spirit or His people? Have you ever experienced affection and mercy? Of course, you have as a believer. And since you have, then what are you supposed to do?

The answer is found in Philippians 2:2, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Paul says, “Fulfill my joy,” or as the New American Standard says, “Make my joy complete.” If there is one thing the Philippians could do to make Paul happy, this is it. This one thing could fill up his cup of joy. It’s that the Philippians would have unity. And by extension, as another church reading this letter, that we also would have unity.

Let’s think about this concept for a minute, and let’s think about it in the context of chapter one, since this section started off with, “therefore.” What has Paul’s theme been? Sure, I know, it’s been joy. But specifically, what made Paul joyous?
Look back at Philippians 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”

What brought Paul the greatest joy? It was to have the Gospel preached. So, think about it: What things can hinder the preaching of the Gospel? Well, certainly persecution can, we’d think? Paul had been arrested and thrown in prison, right? That ought to bring his preaching to a screeching halt. Oh, but remember, that didn’t stop the Gospel. Philippians 1:12 assured us, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” The persecution didn’t hurt, it helped.

Paul even told us that persecution was a gift from God to us in Philippians 1:29,
“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Persecution does not hurt the church, rather it strengthens the church.

So what hurts the church? What is Paul concerned about? What hinders the spread of the gospel? The answer is: disunity, the very opposite of the way Paul begs them to be in Philippians 2:2, “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Of all the things that can destroy the ministry and the outreach of a church, disunity is at the top of the list. And by disunity, we’re not talking about the necessary battles against false doctrine; but we’re talking about the preference differences that people like to make into such a big deal.

Isn’t this typical in churches? What I want is more important than what you want, we think; so I will go to battle against you to get my own way. We will go to the mat, tooth and nail, to see whose will wins. But, that, my friend, is sin. And our battles over personal preferences or personal slights are what often split a church. And it doesn’t take many bad apples to spoil the whole barrel. It just takes a couple of strong willed individuals to go at it toe to toe, and the rest start to take sides.

In Philippi, there were two strong women going at it, and so Paul warns them, in Philippians 4:2-3, “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel.”

He urges others in the congregation to help them make peace. These women had been a great help to Paul at one time in the ministry of the Gospel, but now they needed help because they couldn’t seem to get along, and it was threatening the church. That kind of bickering threatens any church. And this is exactly what Paul is addressing here. This is exactly why we must continually strive to be “like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Quoting John MacArthur:
“Perhaps the greatest danger facing the church is an attack on its source of authority, namely, the Word of God. . . . Equally to be feared is whatever attacks the unity of the church. All of these can disrupt, weaken and destroy a church by causing discord, disharmony, conflict, and division. . . . A divided, fractious, and bickering church . . offers little threat to the devil’s work and has little power for advancing the gospel of Christ.”

Don’t you be one of those who help to fracture your church. Instead, be a peacemaker.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Gift of Persecution

What does the Bible says about those who oppose the Gospel? This in particular is what Philippians 1:28 says: “And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” Paul was writing about those who stood against the church in Philippi as they attempted to spread the Gospel through their city.

First, their opposition is “a proof of perdition.” The fact that they are opposing the Gospel is proof that they are lost and hell bound, Unless they repent of their sin and trust Christ, their fate is the lake of fire to burn in conscious torment for eternity.

Remember, God has the last laugh. Like someone said, “I read the back of the book and we win.” Our side is the winning side. In the early Roman Empire, a scoffer asked a Christian, “What is your carpenter doing now?” And the Christian replied, “Making a coffin for your emperor.” Their persecution is proof of their doom.

The second thing this verse teaches is, “But to you of salvation, and that from God.” Whereas their opposition proves their lost-ness, it also proves your salvation. The fact that you are out witnessing is evidence that you have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light - it’s “proof” you are saved.

Being in the battle on the Lord’s side really does show which side you are on. So the opposition isn’t supposed to be a discouragement to you, but an assurance of your salvation. It should give you confidence that you are on the right track. So, don’t think of opposition as something dreadful, as though God were punishing you. Instead, it is a privilege to suffer for Christ.

Philippians 1:29-30 teaches:
29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
Do you see this? It says that suffering for Christ’s sake has been “granted” to us. That word, “granted,” is charizo in Greek. It comes from the same root as charis, which means grace. God’s grace is what really brings us the suffering. The suffering is a gift from God. It is a special privilege reserved for God’s choice servants. Therefore, suffering shouldn’t be something that robs us of our joy, but it should almost be considered something that brings us joy. We have been counted worthy, Amen?

But the only way we can make it through our sufferings is because God first gives us faith. See the verse? Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Faith is given to us first.

Ephesians 2:8 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” What is the gift of God? Salvation? Oh, yes. But also, according to the Greek grammar of this verse, so is the faith. God provides us the faith we need. He gives us the faith we need to believe Him for salvation, and He gives us the faith we need to live for Him in spite of suffering and persecution. So there is nothing to be alarmed about when it comes. And believer after believer down through the ages by the multitude has faced their suffering with courage and grace. This is a gift of God to His chosen ones. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a chosen one of His. And as the verse says, what He gives us to do is all “for His sake.” So what a glorious honor He has bestowed on us.

So again, let’s go back to Paul’s motto in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Is that becoming your motto? Your code of conduct? You can live for yourself or you can live for Christ. The choice is yours. But Paul wants to make sure we know the importance of our choices. So he tells us in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ."