Doing Things God's Way.

1 Chronicles 13-14, Philippians 4

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:5-7 ESV

One of the things that had gotten King Saul into trouble was his tendency to do things his own way. Rather than obey God and follow His commands, Saul would come up with his own plan. Sometimes it was only a slight variation on what God had commanded, but even a minor deviation from God's will was considered disobedience and sin. As the people of God, we will always face the temptation of doing things our own way. One of the problems we face is that we do not adequately know God's will. It could be that we have not familiarized ourselves enough with His Word and, therefore, we are ignorant of what He expects or demands of us. Other times, it is a case of knowing His will, but simply refusing to obey it. We would rather do things our own way. David found himself facing these same predicaments. After having ascended the throne of Israel, David exhibited some mixed signals when it came to his relationship with God and His will. On the one hand, he seemed anxious to do things God's way. When trying to determine whether to go into battle against the Philistines, David “inquired of God” (1 Chronicles 14:10 ESV). He sought God's counsel and received it. The result was a resounding victory over his enemies. When the Philistines rose up a second time, David turned to God again and received his marching orders. “And David did as God commanded him” (1 Chronicles 14:16 ESV) and “and the fame of David went out into all the lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations” (1 Chronicles 14:17 ESV).

But we also see several instances where David didn't bother to do things God's way. He didn't even seem to seek God's thoughts on the matter. One was in his relationship with women. The text simply says, “And David took more wives in Jerusalem” (1 Chronicles 14:3 ESV). This was in direct violation of God's command regarding the kings of Israel. “And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” (Deuteronomy 17:17 ESV). Now this could have been a case of ignorance on David's part. He could have been unfamiliar with this particular command of God. But nowhere does the passage say that David sought God's counsel as to whether or not to marry multiple wives. His decision seems to have been driven by desire. Even in the case of David's attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his newly formed capital of Jerusalem, David failed to do things God's way. His intentions were good, but the outcome was bad.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God desires the obedience of His people. His rules and commands are not just arbitrary and optional. They are not up to debate or open to interpretation. Our obedience is a direct reflection of our trust in Him. When we disobey Him we are indicating that we do not trust His will for our lives. We are expressing our doubt regarding His love and questioning His wisdom. When we don't know what God's will is regarding a particular decision or situation, we should seek it. When we do know what it is, we should obey it. David's desire to bring the Ark into the city of Jerusalem reflected his love for God and his desire to honor God's law (illustrated in the form of the original tables given to Moses on Mount Sinai and contained in the Ark). But the problem was that David tried to do the right thing in the wrong way. In his attempt to honor God, he actually disobeyed Him. God had made it perfectly clear that Ark was to be carried by the priests only and that if anyone touched the Ark, they would die (Numbers 4:15). But in his zeal to honor God, David had the Ark placed on a cart. He didn't bother to check with God beforehand and see what He would have him do. The result was that a man died when he attempted to keep the Ark from falling off the cart. David had failed to obey God and an innocent man suffered the consequences. David had disobeyed God's commands. Whether he did so knowingly or ignorantly, the text doesn't tell us. But in doing so, he expressed disdain for God's will. His heart was right. He wanted to celebrate God and worship Him rightly, but he went about it in the wrong way. And when God justifiably and righteously punished those who disobeyed His commands, David's joy in the Lord turned to anger and fear.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Every day of our lives we are faced with all kinds of decisions. It is impossible for us to always know what God would have us do in each and every one of those situations. But there are times when God's will is perfectly clear to us and we simply choose to ignore it. The apostle Paul reminds us, “The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5 ESV). In other words, He is always present and available. As a result, Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). There is no reason we should fret or worry about what to do or how to do it – “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 ESV). Simply put, we are to take our requests to God. Rather than get anxious and worry about the situations of life and what to do about them, we are to do as David did and inquire of God. We are to seek His counsel and try to ascertain His will. When we do, Paul tells us, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV). When David did things his way, the result was anger and fear. When we seek God and do things His way, the result is peace.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

One of the keys to living obediently is to remain intimate and personal with God. That requires that I spend time in His Word, immersing myself in His revealed will and constantly exposed to His Spirit's leading. The more familiar I am with His Word and the more submitted I remain to His Spirit, the more peace I will experience in my life. And in those times when I don't know what to do, I must learn to ask Him before I act. I must discipline myself to wait before I know what He would have me do. Better to delay than to unknowingly disobey. I must constantly remind myself that the Lord is at hand. He is nearby and He is always ready to respond to my requests for wisdom. James reminds me, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5 ESV). I must learn to ask God. But I must also learn to obey Him when I hear from Him.

Father, thank You that You have not left us in the dark regarding Your will. You have given us Your written Word. You have placed provided us with the example of Your incarnate Word. And You have placed Your Holy Spirit in our lives to provide us with the capacity to understand Your will and to obey it. Amen

An Army of God.

1 Chronicles 11-12, Philippians 3

For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God. – 1 Chronicles 12:22 ESV

The chronicler provides us with a flash-back that revisits the time in Israelite history when David was running for his life, hunted relentlessly by King Saul. He was a fugitive, hiding in caves and moving from place to place in order to escape the professional assassins who had been hired by Saul to eliminate David from the face of the earth. Those were dark days for David. And to make matters even worse, the Scriptures tell us that David quickly found his situation becoming increasingly complicated as time passed. “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him” (1 Samuel 22:1 ESV). David, living in the rough confines of a cave and forced to eke out a living from the harsh Judean wilderness, suddenly finds himself having to care and protect all his family members. Then the real fun started. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:2 ESV). Here was the man who had been anointed the next king of Israel, hiding in caves, and commanding an army made up of misfits and malcontents. These people were depressed, indebted, stressed out and more than a little bit disappointed in how things had turned out in life. What a way to start your reign as king! But God was not done yet.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Chronicles tells us that God was not finished providing an army for His new king. Chapters 11 and 12 tell us of the mighty men of David. As David continued his period of exile in the wilderness, God brought a host of highly qualified fighting men to his side. “From day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God” (1 Chronicles 12:22 ESV). While David's situation was less-than-ideal from a human perspective, God was providing him with a team of individuals who were “mighty and experienced warriors, experts with shield and spear, who faces were like the faces of lions and who were as swift as gazelles upon the mountains” (1 Samuel 12:8 ESV). They are described as valiant men, doers of great deeds, and mighty men who were renowned for their bravery and courage. God was not going to leave David defenseless and alone. Yes, David would have to suffer through a period of difficulty and unimaginable confusion as he watched Saul's reign continue and his own kingship languish in obscurity in the desert. But God was preparing David to be a king and providing him with the army he would need once he ascended to the throne. And when David finally did take over as king of Israel, God would be there with him, providing him with a new capital, Jerusalem, and an army of faithful, seasoned warriors to fight by his side. “And David became greater and, for the Lord of hosts was with him” (1 Samuel 11:9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

It would have been so easy for David to have thrown in the towel and given up on any hopes of every becoming the next king of Israel. But he continued to trust God. Even when given the opportunity to take the life of Saul and end his exile, he refused to take advantage of the situation by taking matters into his own hands. He would trust God and His timing. He may not have fully understood why God was doing what He was doing, but he knew that God's ways were preferable to his own. God's plan would be better in the long run. He just needed to keep pressing on. If his path included a bit of suffering and difficulty, so be it. God was in control. Paul had a similar attitude. He wrote, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV). In those years David spent in the wilderness, he had suffered the loss of his job on Saul's royal payroll, he had lost his wife, his reputation, and his spiritual mentor, Samuel. But he pushed on. So did Paul. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV). And Paul encouraged his readers to do the same thing. In essence, Paul was raising up an army of individuals who would be willing to face the obstacles of life and trust in the promises of God. “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There are days when it feels like I am facing life all on my own. Like Elijah the prophet, I can feel like I am the last man left standing. But I must never forget that God is always raising up “a great army, like the army of God.” He is sending men and women who are of like mind and like heart, who share a passion for His cause and a commitment to His Kingdom. Like the mighty men of David, they are brave, valiant, faithful, and doers of great deeds. We should all aspire to be those kind of individuals, fighting together for the faith and in the strength provided by God's Spirit. Like Paul, we need to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:17 ESV). We need to keep our eyes focused on the promises of God and the consummation of His divine plan. He was not done with David. He was not done with Paul. And He is not yet done with me. He is making me a part of His great and powerful army, transforming me into a mighty man of God.

Father, I ask that You continue to raise up Your army on this earth that we might stand strong, fighting together side by side and carrying out Your divine battle plan against the spiritual enemies of this age. Amen

Lights In The Darkness.

1 Chronicles 9-10, Philippians 2

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life. – Philippians 2:14-16 ESV

Over in 1 Chronicles, we read these sobering words:

“And Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith.” – 1 Chronicles 9:1 ESV

“So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord.” – 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 ESV

The nation of Judah broke faith with God and ended up a broken people living in exile in a foreign land. King Saul broke faith with God and not only lost a battle, but his son, Jonathan. Defeated and alone, the great king would end up taking his own life in a final act of faithlessness and desperation. He had abandoned God, not the other way around.

Broken faith always has its consequences. This wasn't just a case of a lack of faith. If we're not careful, we could easily conclude that Judah and Saul just couldn't muster up enough faith to trust God. But theirs was a sin of commission. It was more a case of what they had done, not what they had lacked. The nation of Judah had ended up in exile because they had committed acts of unfaithfulness against God. They had sinned. Unfaithfulness is always a sin. It involves disobedience and infidelity. The chronicler makes it clear, Saul had not kept the Lord's commands. When he needed help and direction, he had turned to a witch rather than God. He did not seek guidance from the Lord, and his choices resulted in the loss of his kingdom and his own life. Saul was one king out of many who failed to live in faithful obedience to God. The entire nation of Judah was marked by infidelity and sin. They had failed to live up to their responsibilities as the children of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was not shocked or surprised by the failure of Judah or the fall of King Saul. He had not been caught off guard by their breach of faith. He had fully expected it and had even warned the people of Judah that their exile was coming. He had already anointed David as the next king and had told Saul, “now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). Their unfaithfulness had been expected by God. He knew that they would find it impossible to keep His commands. He was fully aware that Saul would prove to the kind of king the people wanted, but not the kind of king God required. He had allowed the people of Israel to have a king of their own choosing, a man who met their own standards. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV). But when Saul had failed, God had a replacement ready to step into the gap, a man after His own heart. And when the nation of Judah found themselves languishing in captivity, God had a plan for their ultimate restoration. He was not done with them yet. After 70 years of exile, He would bring them back to the land and orchestrate the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the restoration of the Temple, and the repopulation of the city.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All of the events of the Old Testament point toward a day in man’s faithfulness to God could be not only a possibility, but a reality. They foreshadow the coming of the Son of God, who would make faithfulness achievable by making our sinfulness fully forgivable. God did for us what we could have never done for ourselves. He made our own righteousness a reality by providing it for us through the death of His Son. He made sinlessness possible by providing us with new natures and His Holy Spirit to guide and empower us. God not only made our salvation possible, but He made our sanctification or holiness possible. We don't have to break faith with God. We don't have to live in disobedience. We have the capacity to live differently and distinctively, holy and blameless, all because of what He has done for us through Christ. That is why Paul calls us to exhibit our new lives through changed behavior. He challenges us to “be blameless and innocent, children of God, without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). He encourages us to “work out” our salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, we are to love out the reality of our salvation in everyday life. Our changed lives should result in changed behavior. But he reminds us that the power for change has been provided by God “who works in you” (Philippians 2:13 ESV). God has provided the power for us to live like Christ. We don't have to live our lives controlled by rivalry and conceit. Instead, we can live humbly, obediently, and sacrificially, counting others as more significant than ourselves. We can care about others more than we care about ourselves. We can have the same attitude that Christ Himself had, willingly submitting to God's will for our lives and faithfully following His Spirit's leading in our lives. We can be lights in the darkness as long as we hold fast to the word of life. We must remember that the same power that saved us is available to change us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Because of Christ's death on the cross, my sins have been paid for in full. By recognizing my own sinfulness and my incapacity to save myself from the penalty of death, and placing my faith in His sacrifice and payment for my sin, I was given a new nature and a new status as a child of God. I am fully forgiven and stand uncondemned before God. I am righteous before His eyes because He sees me through the blood of His own sinless Son. But I have also been called to live a life that reflects my new nature. I have been given the Holy Spirit to make this new life possible. I have the capacity and power to live differently, like a light shining in the midst of darkness. I am not to rest on my salvation and find comfort in my ultimate guarantee of a place in heaven. I am to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I am to take my position as God's child seriously, and reflect my new nature in all that I do. My old sinful habits and nature are to become increasingly more a thing of the past. I am to put on Christ and reflect His character in my daily life. The more I become like Him, the brighter my light will shine in the darkness. God has redeemed me, not just to some day take me to heaven, but to reflect the character of His Son while I live on this earth.

Father, I want to be a bright light in the midst of the darkness. I want to live faithfully committed to Your Word, submitted to Your Spirit and reflective of the nature of the character of Christ. I want to have His mind. I want to live as He lived. I know that I still have the capacity to break faith with You and fall back into my old sinful nature. But help me to work out my salvation daily, with fear and trembling, never forgetting what Your Son has done for me and what You expect of me. Amen

In Need of Nothing.

Philippians 4:10-23

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:11-12 NLT

Thanks for your gift, but I never really needed it.

That sounds like a strange way of expressing gratitude to someone who has just shown you generosity. But in essence, that's exactly what Paul writes as he wraps up his letter to the believers in Philippi. They had sent him a gift through Epaphroditus. We don't know the nature of the gift, but it was not the first time they had helped Paul out. His reaction to their generosity seems somewhat strange at first glance, even a bit rude. But Paul is genuinely grateful – for them, not for the gift. "How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again" (Philippians 4:10 NLT). He doesn't thank God for the gift, but sees it as an expression of their growing Christ-likeness. Their generosity was evidence of their increasing maturity. And he wanted them to know how proud he was of them. "…you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty" (Philippians 4:14 NLT). For Paul, the emphasis was not on the gift, but on the givers. He even let them know that he could have done without their gift. He had been perfectly content before their gift had even arrived. This is the part that most of us have a hard time getting out heads around. Paul comes across as rude and ungrateful, almost arrogant. But his point was that his contentment was not contingent upon material goods or circumstances. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He has limited freedom and no known source of income. And yet, throughout this entire letter, Paul has spent no time complaining about his circumstances or the less-than-perfect conditions under which he is having to live.

Instead, Paul reveals that he is perfectly content. Why? Because over the years, he had learned the secret to contentment. Their gift, while it may have improved Paul's circumstances to one degree or another, had nothing to do with his outlook on life. Whether he had a lot or a little, Paul was content. Material things did not improve his mood. An empty stomach and hunger pangs could not ruin his day or shake his confidence in God. The degree of his neediness had no bearing on his joyfulness. "I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is why a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little" (Philippians 4:12 NLT). So what was this secret? Paul expresses it in the very next verse. "For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength? (Philippians 4:13 NLT). Paul didn't simply harness the power of positive thinking. He wasn't an optimist or some kind of Pollyanna who had an unrealistic outlook on life. He had Christ and Christ was all he needed. His relationship with Christ made it possible for him to endure any and all circumstances. Christ had become everything to him. He was even content to suffer on behalf of Christ. Paul didn't see his suffering as a punishment, but a privilege. It allowed him to experience a little bit of what His Lord and Savior had experienced on his behalf. Which is why Paul wrote earlier, "I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death" (Philippians 3:10 NLT). Rather than focus on his circumstances, Paul had learned to keep his eyes on Christ. He focused his attention on the one who had given His life and made possible abundant life for all who placed their faith in Him. Paul knew that circumstances were a lousy litmus test of God's love. Which is why he had written to the believers in Rome long before he ended up in prison there, "I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

Paul knew that Christ had made it possible for him to have a right relationship with God, and nothing could ever change that. A prison sentence couldn't alter Paul's relationship with God. Lack of food didn't represent a lack of God's love. Less-than-perfect circumstances were a lousy indicator ofGod's unwavering faithfulness. Paul was content to know that he was in Christ and right with God. With Christ's help, he could endure anything and everything. You could take away everything Paul had – his freedom, health, relationships, rights – and he would be content, because he still had Christ. The greater English pastor and theologian, C. H. Spurgeon put it well in his poem, The Soul Satisfied in Christ.

He who delights in the possession of the Lord Jesus has all that heart can wish. As for 'created things', they are like shallow and deceitful brooks-- they fail to supply our needs, much less our wishes. "The bed of earthly enjoyment is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it."

But in Jesus there is room for imagination's utmost stretch and widest range. When Jesus is enjoyed, He puts a fullness into all other mercies.

The creature without Christ is an empty thing, a lamp without oil, a bone without marrow. But when Christ is present our cup runs over, and we eat bread to the full.

A dinner of herbs, when we have communion with Him, is as rich a feast as a stalled ox; and our narrow cot is as noble a mansion as the great house of the wealthy.

Go not abroad, you hungry wishes of my soul-- stay at home, and feast on Jesus; for abroad you must starve, since all other beloveds are empty and undesirable. Stay with Christ, and eat that which is good, and delight yourself in fatness.

Father, we tend to love the gift more than the giver. We put way too much stock in the things of this earth, instead of in our relationship with You and Your Son. Help us learn to be content with and satisfied in Christ. May we grow ever more content with knowing that we are loved by You and understand that we are heirs of a much more valuable kingdom to come. Our circumstances on this earth are not a reliable reflection of our worth and should not be the source of our joy. If we have Christ, we have all we need. Amen.

Stay Focused.

Philippians 4:1-9

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 3:8 NLT

As Paul begins to wrap up his letter to the Philippian believers, he summarizes his thoughts and gives them one last set of directives. He had a special affection for these people and wanted to see them grow and prosper in their relationship with Christ and one another. They were under constant pressure from the Judaizers to compromise their freedom in Christ and submit to Jewish laws and rituals as a means of earning favor with God. Paul vehemently stood against that heresy. But on the other end of the spectrum, they were being encouraged by the antinomians (anti-law), to reject any kind of moral law whatsoever and give in to self-indulgence. Both extremes were wrong and dangerous to the well-being of the church. So Paul urges them to maintain their focus. He doesn't want them to get distracted from what is truly important.

First of all, he calls for unity, and he uses two specific individuals as examples of disunity within the local body of Christ. He appeals to them to settle their dispute because they belong to God. Their mutual disagreement with one another was to take a back seat to their common bond in Christ. Loving one another as fellow believers was more important than being right. They were to find their joy in the Lord, not in winning a dispute or being proven right. He would rather they be known for their reasonableness and consideration than their resilience in winning an argument. Paul reminds them, and the other readers of his letter, not to forget that the Lord is going to return some day. They were to stay focused on what was really important, because on that day, all disputes and arguments are going to seem petty and unimportant.  And they were to replace their worry and anxiety with prayer. If they had a need, they were to take it to God. If they had anything happening among them that was disrupting their unity, they were to bring the matter to Him, praying for one another and thanking God for all He had done for them. As a result, they would experience the peace of God, a supernatural calm in the midst of the storm, protecting their hearts and minds from harmful influences. I can't help but think that Paul had in mind Isaiah 26:3, which says, "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!"

That seems to be the point of this entire section of Paul's letter, because he goes on to say, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8 NLT). It would seem that Paul is encouraging his readers to keep their minds focused on God and all that He has done and is going to do for them. Rather than worry about the things of this world, they were to focus on the world to come, the one that God had promised and was preparing for them. Rather than argue over worldly issues and concerns, they were to fix their thoughts on heavenly ones. It was a matter of focus and priorities. This world is full of distractions and plenty of things to take our eyes off of God. We can easily be persuaded that He is not enough and that this world offers us the things we really want and need. But Paul would argue that the things of this earth are nothing compared to what is to come. Materialism is no match for what God has in store for us. This temporary world can't compare to the eternity we will spend with God and His Son. So keep your focus. The author of the letter to the Hebrews shared this same sentiment. "…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne" (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT). When Paul tells us to fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and admirable, he is telling us to stay focused on God. Nothing in this world has those attributes. No one in this world shares those characteristics. They are the essence of God Himself. What is true is to be found in God alone. What is right will be found in Him who is righteous alone. Whatever is to be admired in this life will be found in the one who is the source of all life. He is to be our focus in this life, not just in the one to come.

Father, this world can be a distracting place. It is so easy to fix our thoughts and our attentions on the things of this earth, and lose sight of You. Material things can become our fixation. We can end up placing our hope and trust in things that won't last and can't deliver. We can try and find fulfillment and satisfaction in the temporal rather than the eternal. Keep us focused on You. Help us learn how to keep our eyes fixed on Christ. We need the capacity to endure and to finish strong, keeping our eyes on the goal. Amen.

Divine Discontentment.

Philippians 3:12-21

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 NLT

Paul is the one who wrote, "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). He knew that discontentment was a dangerous thing in the life of a believer. The context of that verse is important to understanding what Paul was saying. He was addressing the love of money and the mistaken understanding of some in the church who believed that a life of godliness was going to bring them financial gain. Paul was telling Timothy that godliness should produce contentment in the life of a believer, not an insatiable desire for worldly goods. If you have something to wear and food to eat, that should be enough to keep you content and satisfied.

But there was also a part of Paul that was constantly dissatisfied. He displayed a divine discontentment, but it had nothing to do with material things. His discontentment was spiritual in nature. Paul was never willing to rest on his laurels or grow content with and complacent about his spiritual maturity. He was always striving toward a deeper and greater relationship with Christ. He wanted to know Him more intimately, conform to Him more completely, and reflect His holiness more readily. Paul was far from content when it came to his spiritual life, and he expected other believers to share his passion for ever-increasing perfection. Paul knew he had been justified completely by Christ and would one day be glorified with Christ. But in the meantime, his attitude was, "I press on to possess the perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me" (Philippians 3:12b NLT). The Greek word Paul uses that is translated "press on" is dioko, and it means "to pursue, to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire." It is an active verb that was used of a runner competing in a race who runs swiftly to reach a goal. Paul knew that he would one day be made perfect in Christ when he experienced glorification with Christ. But that was a future event that would take place at his death or with the Lord's return. So in the meantime, Paul pursued perfection. He was not content to remain as he was. The goal for Paul was always Christ-likeness – ever-increasing conformity to the character and nature of Christ. He knew that the goal would only be achieved at the end of his life or at the return of Christ, but he kept his eyes focused on the end line.

Paul says, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14 ESV). The Greek word for goal is skopos, and it means "goal marker, the object at the end of the course on which the runner fixes his gaze." For Paul the goal was not heaven, but complete knowledge of Christ and conformity to His image. Paul wanted all believers to share that same goal. He didn't want them to get distracted by the things of this world. His desire was that their lives would be possessed by a holy discontentment, not a worldly one. That's why he described some "whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth" (Philippians 3:18-19 NLT). There were a growing number of individuals outside and inside the early church who were "anti-law." They believed that it really didn't matter how a Christian lived their life because they were saved. There was no law. They took the idea of freedom from the law to an unhealthy extreme. These people were driven by their passions. They were shameless and obsessed with the things of this life. Their satisfaction was based on earthly, temporal things. Any discontentment they experienced was only because they wanted more of what this world had to offer.

But Paul reminds his readers, "But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior" (Philippians 3:20 NLT). Paul reminded them to remember who they were and what the real goal was. They were to never forget about their future glorification and perfection. And in the meantime, they were to live with a healthy sense of divine discontentment, keeping their eyes on the goal and running towards it with everything they had in them.

Father, it is so easy to make this life and all that it offers, the goal. We can so easily become transfixed by the things of this world and end up seeking them more than we do our relationship with Christ. Paul was never content to stay where he was spiritually. He was always striving, pursuing, eagerly seeking, and working his way toward the final goal. He was not content to wait for his future glorification, but made knowing Christ and conforming to His image, his lifelong obsession. May that be true of me as well. Amen.

Knowing Christ.

Philippians 3:1-11

I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

What a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of verses these are. In verses 10 and 11, Paul actually stresses three things that he has made it his aim to know. In the Greek, the sentence would literally read, "to know him, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings." So Paul wanted to know all three. The Greek word he uses is not just intellectual or "head" knowledge. It conveys an intimacy and experiential aspect to it. The Jews actually used this same word to refer to sexual intercourse between a woman and a man. There is no question that Paul knew Christ. He had come to know Him years ago on the road to Damascus. But Paul had a desire to grow in his knowledge of God, and he seems to link the three things he mentions in these verses together. Knowing Christ, the power that raised Him from the dead, and sharing in His sufferings. For Paul, they all went together and were essential elements for a vibrant relationship with Christ.

Intimacy with Christ will include a ever-increasing replication of the character and qualities of Christ. Paul wanted it all. He was not content to have a surface-level awareness of Christ. He wanted to truly know Him. He wanted to experience the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. He knew he had that power available within him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you" (Romans 8:11 NLT). Paul wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in his life on a daily basis. He wanted to know what it was like to be raised from death to life, from not just at the resurrection from the dead, but here and now – in this life. And Paul wanted to know and experience the same kind of suffering Jesus had experienced. He wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ, learning first-hand what it was like to undergo trials and tribulations all for the sake of obedience to the Father.

It's interesting that Paul makes this statement at the end of a section where he addresses the false hope of human effort. As he has had to do elsewhere in his ministry, Paul was addressing the problem of circumcision. The believers in Philippi were being hounded by converted Jews, known as Judaizers, who were trying to convince them that they had to become "card-carrying" Jews if they wanted to truly be saved. This meant that all males had to be circumcised, and everyone had to keep all the Jewish laws and rituals. Paul stood vehemently against all of this. He would stand for nothing that added to the simplicity of the Gospel message of faith alone in Christ alone. There was absolutely no place for works or human effort. If merit or achievement were the standard, then he had a resume like no other. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, a keeper of the law, and even a persecutor of the church. But as far as Paul was concerned, all of that was literal garbage compared with knowing Christ as His Savior. Paul was no longer a law-keeper, attempting to make himself right with God through self-effort. He was a Christ-follower, relying on the work that Christ completed on the cross for his sake. "For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

So for Paul, human achievement was dead-end street. It achieved nothing and provided a false sense of hope. Knowing Christ was everything. Growing in his awareness and understanding of His Savior was the highest priority for Paul. He wanted to know in his own life the same kind of power that had raised Jesus from death to life. Paul wasn't interested in some kind of sterile, intellectual knowledge. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life, even if that meant having to suffer. As Paul stated earlier in chapter two, "When he appeared in human form,he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names" (Philippians 2:7-9 NLT). For Jesus, humility, suffering and obedience preceded glorification and honor. The same should be true for us as His followers. Paul wanted to experience what Jesus had experienced. He wanted his life to be marked by the same qualities and attitudes that Jesus had. The power of God showed up in Jesus' life at the worst possible moment – in His death. Jesus experienced the presence of the Spirit even in His greatest times of suffering. It was how He survived the ordeals surrounding His trials and crucifixion. Paul wanted to know what it meant to experience those same things. So should we. Suffering as a result of our faith lends our walk a sense of legitimacy. It is proof of our fellowship with Christ. It also provides an opportunity for the power of God to show up in our lives. When we are weak, He is strong. God shows up in our darkest moments. His light illuminates our darkest days. Paul wanted to know Christ. He wanted to experience the power of God in his life. And he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ in order to understand and appreciate what Christ had done for him. Every other goal or achievement is worthless in comparison. But how odd these words sound in our happiness-obsessed, comfort-at-all-costs society. What a difference it would make in our lives and in our world if the words of Paul became our daily prayer: "I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!"

Father, these are hard words. I want to know Your Son better, but I am not fond of suffering. I want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in my life, but I am not always willing to let go of my own power and rely completely on His. I want all that a relationship with Christ offers, but I still hold on tightly to what I think this world has to offer as well. Continue to work on my life, giving me the capacity to view life the way Paul did. So that one day I might be able to express his words with equal enthusiasm. Amen.

Real Men.

Philippians 2:19-30

I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. – Philippians 2:20-21 NLT

What does a real Christian look like? How do they behave? What are the characteristics of their life? In these verses, Paul gives a glimpse into the lives of two men who meant a great deal to him. They were his brothers in Christ and his fellow workers in the mission to which God had called him. Timothy and Epaphroditus, while not household names to most of us, were icons of spiritual virtue in Paul's mind. He couldn't have done what he did without them. And he commends both of them to the believers in Philippi as men whom they could not only trust, but emulate. Both were evidently young men, but that didn't stop Paul from praising their value and virtues as men of God.

Paul described Timothy as one of a kind, who showed genuine care for the people in Philippi. He didn't view his efforts on their behalf as work, but legitimately cared for their spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Paul then describes what appears to be a consistent problem among leadership within the early church at that time. "All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:21 NLT). I don't think Paul is saying that there is no one else who cares, but that there is a prevailing presence of self-centeredness among many within the church, especially among the leadership. Sadly, It was a rare thing to find a believer who puts the interests of Christ before his own. Timothy was such a man. Timothy had served Paul well, and had become like a son to him. Paul even referred to Timothy as "my true son in the faith" (1 Timothy 1:2 NLT). He was a faithful, loving, reliable, godly young man who modeled Christ-likeness and ministered faithfully alongside Paul even at his darkest moments. He was a real man.

Paul describes Epaphroditus as "a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25 NLT). He had visited Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome, bringing a financial gift on behalf of the Philippian believers. Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to them because he was anxious to see his friends and fellow believers back home. And Epaphroditus wanted to put to rest any concerns over his physical well-being, because he had been ill, but had now fully recovered. Upon Epaphroditus' return home, Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to "welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve" (Philippians 2:29 NLT). Obviously, Paul thought highly of Epaphroditus. He had risked his life for the cause of Christ, having been close to death, all in order to serve Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul appreciated and valued men like Timothy and Epaphroditus. He knew that he could not accomplish the ministry without them. He was under house arrest, unable to travel, and restricted from ministering to the various churches he had helped plant around the world. He had to depend on faithful men like Timothy and Epaphroditus to be his hands, feet, eyes, and voice; delivering his messages and expressing his love for the body of Christ.

The church today needs men and women of character like Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is a shortage of reliable, faithful, loving and selfless individuals who put the needs of the body of Christ ahead of their own. Paul knew that men like Timothy were going to be constantly tempted to compromise their character, and the same thing is true in our day. So Paul warned this young man, "But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT). The church needs men and women like that today, who have that same attitude and focus. The church needs to raise up and recognize those kinds of leaders, men and women who are willing to risk their reputations, careers, comfort and even their lives for the cause of Christ. While men like Paul were vital to the church in those early days, the spread of the Gospel was dependent upon men like Timothy and Epaphroditus for its long-term survival and success. They were the faithful foot soldiers in the battle for the lives of men. And we need more like them today.

Father, raise up more men and women like Timothy and Epaphroditus today. Show us who they are. Help us to find those who have the selfless, sacrificial attitudes like those men had. Too often, we look for the wrong things in our leaders. Give us the insight that Paul had, so that we might recognize those men and women who have the true heart of a leader – like that of Christ Himself. Amen.

Shining Brighter Together.

Philippians 2:12-18

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:14-15 NET

According to Paul, our lives should reflect the reality of our salvation. Jesus didn't just reserve us a permanent place in the life to come. He provided a means by which we can experience abundant life in this life – right here, right now. He has placed His Spirit within us so that we have no excuse if our lives fail to reflect our new nature. But some of us are a bit surprised when we learn that living the Christian life is hard work. I'm not quite sure where we got the impression that becoming a Christ-follower was going to be easy. It certainly wasn't for the disciples, Paul, or any of the members of the early church. Paul was brutally honest about the high call to commitment required of all believers. He told the Philippians, "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear" (Philippians 2:12b NLT). A more familiar translation of that passage might be, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Either way you look at it, there is a clear responsibility given to the believer to do his or her part in the process of sanctification. While it is true that we can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves, there is still a vital part that we are to play in the process of our transformation into Christ-likeness.

One of the key words left out in the New Living Translation's reading of this passage is the word, "therefore" that appears at the very beginning of verse 12. It is the Greek word hoste, a word of transition that means, "now then." It ties the verses to come with the ones that just preceded it. Paul had just finished talking about the mind of Christ. His was an attitude of humility, service and sacrifice. And as a result of His life of obedience, even unto death, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor. He is worthy of honor and glory. His name is above all other names. He is the Lord of all – the one who all will eventually recognize and kneel before. As a result of that fact, Paul tells the Philippians, their behavior should be different. They should want to put every effort into seeing to it that their salvation, placing their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, will produce fruit. Paul tells them to work out their salvation, not work for it. There's a huge difference between those two phrases. Believers are to eagerly put effort into the cultivation of their new life in Christ. Paul told Titus, "all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good" (Titus 3:8 NLT). As always when reading the letters of Paul, we must constantly remind ourselves to keep the content within its context. Paul is writing to the church – the corporate body of believers in Philippi. He has been telling them to not live selfishly, focusing on their own interests, but instead they were to focus on the needs of one another. They were to love one another and work together with one mind and purpose. Paul is still addressing the body of believers. He is calling the church to display the reality of their salvation through tangible acts of kindness, compassion and love.

When Paul tells them to "do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world," he is speaking to the entire body, not just to individuals. This passage is a call to Christ-like community. We shine the brightest as believers when we do so together, not alone. The Christian life is to be a corporate experience, not a solitary one. We are children of God together, not just individually. How sad it is when our earthly children can't get along. Think about how much it saddens you as a parent when your own children can't seem to get along. How much more so for God when His adopted children, who have been given so much, fail to love another and live in harmony with one another.

Paul tells his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There should be a real sense of awe, reverence and legitimate fear in the lives of all believers when they consider what Christ has done for them. Paul describes Christ as being in the place of highest honor. He has the name that is above all other names. One day all men will kneel before Him, acknowledging His Lordship. The day is coming when every tongue in heaven and on earth will confess that He is the Lord. As believers, because of what has happened in our lives as a result of Christ's work on the cross, we know exactly who He is right now. So we should pursue our own personal sanctification and that of the corporate body of Christ with a sense of awe, reverence and fear – for what He has done and what He is doing in our midst. Our lack of love and unity is a slap in the face of Christ Himself, reflecting our disdain for His sacrificial death on our behalf. Our failure to live as lights in the world discredit His redemptive work on the cross, giving the world the impression that His death was ineffectual. So because of who Christ is and what He has done, we should work out, pursue, and make as our highest priority, our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And nowhere does our Christ-like character show up best than in the community of fellow believers.

Father, Your Son has done so much for us, the least we can do for Him is to pursue our transformation into His likeness with a vengeance. Forgive us for making our transformation into His image a low priority, allowing too many other things to distract us. You have called us to be lights in this world, shining out and illuminating the darkness around us as we live out our lives in love and unity. We shine so much brighter when we shine together. Show us how to work out our salvation together. Show us how we can continue to grow in Christ-likeness together, not just alone. Amen.

The Mind of Christ.

Philippians 1:27-2:11

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

Paul starts out this section with a reminder to "live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ" (Philippians 1:27 NLT). But because this statement could be taken in a thousand different ways, Paul clarifies what he means. For one thing, it entails "standing together with one spirit and one purpose fighting together for the faith" (Philippians 1:27b NLT). Living as a citizen of heaven involves living in unity as part of a community and sharing a common cause. There is to be a mutual care for and dependence upon one another as together we do battle against those forces that would oppose the Good News of Jesus Christ. And because we are in a war for the faith, Paul tells us not to allow ourselves to be intimidated by our enemies. They are real, but so is our God, who will stand beside us, fight for us, and ultimately save us. The battle in which we find ourselves is proof that our faith is real. Jesus Himself told us that we would suffer in this life. He also told us that the world would hate us. The battle is part of the cost and the privilege of following Christ. But we are to do it together, not alone.

Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions designed to accentuate the value of our relationship with Christ. "Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?" (Philippians 2:1 NLT). The obvious answer to each of these questions is, "Yes!" But we experience the encouragement, love, fellowship, and tender compassion in the midst of community. That is how God has chosen for this to work. The body of Christ is the context in which the love of Christ is lived out. It is the environment in which we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News. And Paul gives us a very vivid description of just what that should look like. It is to be characterized by a single-minded, unified expression of love, focus and purpose. While the local church is a unique blend of different individuals from diverse backgrounds, with a variety of gifts, talents, and personality types, it is to reflect a Spirit-enabled unity that is not of this world. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News is to live together in such a way that our actions and attitudes toward one another reflect the change that has taken place within us. Our new lives are to be characterized by selflessness rather than selfishness, humility rather than pride, a senses of mutual care rather than individual concern. The attitude or mindset that we are to have is the same one Jesus Himself displayed when He walked this earth. And Paul carefully and eloquently describes just what that mind of Christ was like.

Jesus, though God, willingly demoted Himself to the position of a man by taking on human flesh. He did not become any less God, but He left His place at the right hand of the Father and allowed Himself to be born as a human baby, the most helpless, dependent, weak and non-influential form He could have taken. Not only that, when Jesus was born, His whole intent was to become a slave to all men, to serve all men by giving His life as payment for their sins. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NLT). He came in order to take "the humble position of a slave." And in His human form, His life was characterized by complete and total obedience to the will of His Father. "For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will" (John 6:38 NLT). "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work" (John 4:34 NLT). And the obedience of Jesus was so complete that it resulted in His death on the cross as a substitute payment for the sins of men. That was God's plan and Jesus fulfilled it willingly and completely. Humility, selflessness, obedience. Those attributes represent the mindset that Jesus had and are to present in the lives of those who call themselves His followers. Paul tells us we are to have the same attitude or mindset. We are to reflect His character, and the most logical place for this to show up is within the body of Christ, the church. We are to live as citizens of heaven, which is where we will all spend eternity together. But we are to live that way here and now, conducting ourselves in a way that is in keeping with the life-changing, heart-altering power of the Gospel. We have been saved by Christ in order that we might live like Christ. Our greatest testimony is not just what He has done for us, but what He is doing through us as we live out our salvation in mutual love, selflessness, sacrifice, humility and unity. We truly are the hands, feet, heart, and voice of Christ on this earth. May we live as He did. May we love as He did. May we impact lives as He did. Together.

Father, give us the mind of Christ. May we learn to live our lives in such a way that they reflect His presence within us. Oh, that we would allow His Spirit to empower and direct us, causing us to live increasingly more selflessly, instead of selfishly. Show us how to live as citizens of heaven, where we will one day spend eternity together. Bring these verses alive in our daily lives in a real and tangible way. Amen.

All, Not Some.

Philippians 4

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. - Vs 13

That's the secret. Paul has learned the mystery to contentment and he shares is with us right here. He has discovered the hidden key to a life of contentment, regardless of the circumstance he finds himself in. And he is writing this while sitting in a prison cell!

In verse 12, Paul shares what this life of contentment looks like: "I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little." (NLT). He lists three sets of polar opposite circumstances: Poverty vs abundance. Hunger vs fullness. Plenty vs want.  These are extreme opposites that reveal what Paul means when he says he has learned to be content. The word translated "content" means sufficient for one's self, strong enough; independent of external circumstances. Paul has learned to be self-sufficient, independent of external circumstances. In other words, he has learned not to have to depend on circumstances to bring him joy, peace, and true contentment. But while he has learned to live independent of his circumstances, he has also learned live dependent on God. That's the secret. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." The Message says it this way: "Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am."

Paul's secret was God's strength. It was his dependent relationship on a dependable God. That's why Paul could sit in a prison cell and write about contentment and really mean it. His joy was not based on his freedom or lack of it. His contentment was not based on things turning out the way he wanted them to. He was willing to trust God and "be anxious for nothing" (Vs 5). He was willing to prayerfully trust God with his circumstances and enjoy "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension" (Vs 7). He was willing to keep his mind focused on those things that were "true and honorable and right," "pure and lovely and admirable," and"excellent and worthy of praise" (Vs 8). Poverty is no more true and honorable and right than plenty. Instead of focusing on our circumstances, we should focus on those things that really matter for eternity. The faithfulness of God, the promises of Scripture, the reality of Christ's resurrection and coming return, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the power available to us because of His presence, the unfailing, unchanging love of God. That's what we should learn to think about. Not our circumstances. Because as we all are seeing happen all around us today, circumstances can change. One day we can be on top of the world, and the next, at the bottom. We can go from plenty to poverty in a flash. We can lose our popularity, our health, our wealth, our position,our power, but we never run low on the enabling power of God. Now that's something to think about.

Father, help me to truly believe that I can do ALL things because You provide the strength I need. I don't have to live according to my circumstances. But the truth is, I do allow my circumstances to control me. I pray for my circumstances to change, instead of asking You to change me in the midst of my circumstances. I view my circumstances as obstacles rather than opportunities to see You work in me. Give me a new perspective. Help me to learn the secret that Paul learned. That I might learn to be content in whatever circumstance I am. Amen

An Unpleasant, Destructive End.

Philippians 3

…they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is their destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. - Vs 18-19

Paul has just invited his readers to "join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us" (Vs 17). Now he warns them about a pattern or example NOT to follow. The example being set by those who are enemies of the cross of Christ. In other words, they refuse to accept the cross of Christ and the gift of salvation that it makes available. Instead, they have chosen to "walk" or live their lives pursuing a different agenda. They have chosen to worship another god. The NET Bible describes them this way:

Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.

We live in a world that hates the cross of Christ. Because the cross requires us to admit our sin and acknowledge our shame. It demands that we confess our open rebellion against God and admit our need for a Savior. We must give up our independence and come to God in complete dependence. For many, that's just too much to ask. So they reject the cross of Christ and remain His enemies. And their lives are marked by the worship of their own appetites – physical, sensual, emotional, and psychological. The NIV says, "their god is their stomach." They are driven by sensual desires. They live to meet those desires and are completely controlled by them. Whether it's the desire for food, drink, satisfaction, success, or sex. These people actually glory in their own shame. They exult in their own shame. They find worth in what should embarrass them. They brag about what should humiliate them. They find their sense of self-worth in the very things that should bring them shame. Their world is turned upside down.

These people set their minds on earthly things. The New Living Translation says it this way: "all they think about is this life here on earth." These people are dominated by what Paul Tripp calls "earth-bound treasures." They were obsessed with the things of this world, instead of the next. Because this world is all they have. Paul reminds us that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Vs 20). We are not of this world. He told the Colossian believers, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). Jesus said that, as believers, we were to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). But the people Paul is warning the Philippians believers about are seeking their own selfish kingdom of one and their own warped brand of righteousness. God is nowhere in the picture. And their future is one of destruction, not blessing.

So what's the point? Why does Paul take the time to even discuss these people? Because even as believers, it is easy for us to fall into their way of living and thinking. We can allow our appetites to control us to the point that we virtually worship them. One definition of worship is "adoring reverence or regard." So when we give our physical desires and cravings adoring reverence or regard by giving into their every wish, we are worshiping our appetites. We are allowing them to control us. It's the I've-got-to-have-it-and-I've-got-to-have-it-NOW syndrom. We begin to believe that fulfilling our desires is what will bring us true satisfaction. One more bite, one more purchase, one more indiscretion, one more flirtatious look, one more look at that image on the Internet. We begin to expect our sensual desires and appetites to meet our needs rather than God. That is misplaced worship and Paul warns us to stay away from it.

We can easily end up finding glory or value in the very things that should shame us. We find our sense of worth in our abundance and live selfishly while those around us suffer in want. We become prideful and even obsessed about the kind of physical shape we're in, while neglecting the health ofour spiritual lives. We laugh and joke about movies and TV programs that once would have been considered shameful. And slowly, we begin to set our minds on the things of this earth. We begin to forget that we are citizens of heaven. We neglect to remember, as the old hymn says, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue." We stop eagerly waiting for the return of Christ and remembering that He is in the process of transforming us into His likeness. A job He will finish one day.

Father, I don't want to live like those whose end is destruction. I don't want to spend my life following their example. But it is so easy to do because they are all around me. Keep me focused on You and Your kingdom. Don't allow me to give in to my sensual appetites, the desires of the flesh. But let me learn to listen to You. Let me find my glory or sense of worth in serving You, not in doing things that should embarrass me. And help me set my sights on things above, not on the things of this earth. I want to live like a citizen of heaven, with my hopes and desires focused on the reality of Your Son's return. Amen

Have This Mind.

Philippians 2

Do nothing from selfishness of empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. - Vs 3-4

Maybe it's an ego problem, but I keep wanting to read Paul's letters as if they were written to me alone. Like he was my best friend writing to encourage me while I was away at camp. So I tend to read them from a self-centered perspective and forget the fact that he was writing to a group of people who were probably hearing his letter read out loud to them as they met together for fellowship. If I read chapter two with that group context in mind, it changes the message for me. It reminds me of Paul's obsession with living out the power of the gospel in the context of community.

In verse 2 he tells them to make his joy complete by "being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." Listen to that same verse from the New Living Translation: "Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one heart and purpose." Paul's joy was focused on the believers in Philippi having a unity of heart and purpose motivated by a genuine love for one another. Paul wasn't interested in raising up individual believers with their own personal agendas and spiritual growth plans. He wanted to see a local body of believers who were living out their faith in loving community. It is as if Paul was saying, "You want to make me happy? Then get along!" It's the same thing I say to my kids whenever they ask me what I want for Christmas or my birthday. I always say the same thing. "I just want me kids to love one another." They always roll their eyes and say, "Come on Dad, be serious. What do you really want?" But what they don't understand is that is exactly what I want. Their love for one another is my greatest desire. Paul felt the same way. And he knew what was the greatest roadblock to this kind of community. He names it in verses 3-4.

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

Selfishness. Self-centeredness. Individualism. Pride. Wanting things your own way. Having your own personal agenda and demanding that everyone else follow it. Thinking of yourself as more important than anyone else around you. Paul knew all it would take is one person with this kind of attitude to destroy any sense of community in the body of believers at Philippi. There was no room for selfishness or self-centeredness. No one had the right to consider himself or herself better or more important than anyone else. In fact, they weren't to consider themselves at all. Instead, they were to have an attitude of humility. Some say that humility is thinking less of yourself. No, humility is not thinking of yourself at all. It is not a belittling of yourself or lowering your estimation of your own self worth. To do those things you would have to spend precious time thinking about yourself. Paul seems to be saying, stop thinking about yourself so much and start thinking about others. The truth is, we think way too much about ourselves and of ourselves. It's a "the-world-revolves-around-me" mentality that is a cancer that will destroy and sense of community, whether in a family, a small group, a Bible study, or a local body of believers.

So Paul says, "have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." In other words, he is saying they should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. And so should we. An attitude of humility, selflessness, sacrifice, servanthood, and love that puts self so far in the background that it is willing to see self die in order to put the needs of others first.

Paul goes on to say, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Vs 12-13). Paul is talking to the "beloved" – the body. He seems to be addressing the group, not the individual. God is at work among them. He wants them to individually and corporately to be extra careful to put into action God’s saving work in their lives. Why? So that they will be "blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach" (Vs 15). Their unity and love will make them stand out like bright shining lights in the midst of a "crooked and perverse generation."

Isn't that what our world is dying to see? Our lives shining like a bright light in the darkness? But they won't see it if we are all living for ourselves, selfishly focusing on our own individual needs and concerns. When we live like that, we are no different than the world. God has called us to imitate His Son. To live lives of humility and self-sacrifice. To love others more than we love ourselves. To be willing to give rather than get. To serve rather than be served. To die to self and live for the sake of others. To be willing to be "poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service" of one another's faith (Vs 17). What a difference that kind of attitude would make in our churches, our homes, and in our community.

Father, you have called us to live in a way that is so foreign to our natural inclinations. My flesh doesn't want to die. I want to be the center of my own little world. But You are calling me to die daily. I know I don't have the power to do that in and of myself, but with the help of Your Holy Spirit, I can put that selfish, self-centered part of me to death and live for the sake of others. Show me how to do that even today. Amen

The Concept Of Community.

Philippians 1

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. - Vs 27

I don't think I ever really noticed how many of Paul's admonitions in his letters were not for the individual believers, but for the body – the community of believers. Somehow, in Western Christianity, we have turned all of this into a solo-sport. It is all about my walk, my relationship with Christ, my quiet time, my sanctification. And while there is not doubt that there is an individualized aspect to spiritual growth, God intended it to take place in the context of community. I cannot and should not to grow alone or in isolation. I should not attempt to live my life in Christ alone.

In fact, my disconnectedness and individualism can actually harm or prevent the kind of community God intended and Paul encourages. Listen to what Paul says. "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." This is a team endeavor. It is our living out our lives together, in community, that truly reveals the power of the gospel among us and the to the world around us. The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fruitfulness, gentleness, and self control. Every one of these is meant to be lived out in community. How else will we know if we have them? I can't exhibit love if there is no one to love. I can't show kindness without having someone to receive it. I can't practice self-control if there is no one to put it to the test. All of these fruits are for the benefit of others, not me.

Paul is concerned about their mutual or shared conduct. It is the body of Christ for which he is concerned. He wants them to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. He knows that our ability to love one another in the power of the Spirit is what will attract a lost and dying world to the gospel. It is the unity we exhibit, in spite of all our differences and flaws, that marks us as Children of God. "Spirit formation is a very public, corporate exercise. Unlike diet or and exercise program, God's program for getting us into spiritual shape requires our working out alongside others" (Darrell Bock, New Testament Community and Spiritual Formation). Community. It's an over-used, misunderstood word today. I live in a "community," but I barely know my neighbors. I can join a "community" group, (small group) and never really get to know the other members beyond a shallow, surface lever. I can become part of a "community" of believers and live out my life in isolation and hiddenness, refusing to open up, reach out, join in, lift up, and grow up together. Instead, we tend to cover up, and attempt to live out our faith refusing to let anyone really get to know the real us. But that's NOT biblical community. What Paul describes is so much more and so much more fulfilling. It is doing life together with other believers – sharing, caring, failing, falling, loving, lifting, rejoicing, crying, and growing more like Christ together.

Father, may I really learn to love true, blblical community. Forgive me for my stubborn isolation and independence. For wanting to live my Christian life on my own and for me alone. Thank You for the body – Your body. May I learn to love it and see myself as an integral part of it. Amen