A Walk Through Philippians – #7

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. (Philippians 1:12-13, ESV)

This text yanks us out of comfortable, pain-free, easy American evangelicalism and hurls us into prison. Prison. Discomfort. Futility.

God’s prison.

God’s prison? Yes, that’s exactly the way Paul sees his current circumstances. He is not enslaved to meaningless fate nor finding himself forsaken by God. Rather, he knows his trouble is precisely where God would have him be. This is faith clothed in courage, lived out in Paul’s everyday situation among the people God has placed him with. God is big enough to guide Paul in trouble and trial for eternal benefit, including the here-and-now. Including the here-and-now of prison. What an irony, that the glory and blessing of the gospel would be worked in the midst of imprisonment. This is from the Lord, and confounds all so-called ‘wisdom’ of the flesh. It is not the plan we would conceive for furthering the gospel. It is much better than any plan we could imagine, just as the cross is much better than any salvation we could dream up.

How do you draw from a deep well? This text is a deep well of truth. It merits your effort to understand it. Meditate on it. Mull it over. Chew on it. Draw every last fragment of faith-building from it. Why? Why spend your time and your mind considering this little passage? Aren’t there better, more successful things you could be doing? This is no theoretical, abstract truth. It is not merely a text. It will be reflected in your life. Are you prepared to clothe faith with courage when trouble comes? Is God big enough to guide you in trouble and trial for eternal benefit, including the here-and-now? Will you see your trials as Paul did, purposed by the loving hand of God? Or will you be crushed by the weight, convinced that God’s blessing is demonstrated through riches, beauty, and ‘success’? It is my prayer and hope that Paul’s imprisonment will be a fountain of faith and courage for you, pointing as it does to our hope: fashioned by the hand of God in Christ, purchased by Christ on the cross, and lead on our path by the Good Shepherd. Trials are not the end of the story, brothers and sisters.

Oh to be used of God to advance the gospel! Can you imagine a higher aspiration for your life than this? Osteen, Copeland, Hinn, and many other preachers spew lies by denying the reality of God’s purpose in tribulation. Do not fall for their poison. Ironic again, that slick messengers packaged in expensive suits and toothy veneers obscure the gospel proclaimed clearly by the prisoner Paul. Rather than chase their private jets in the hope that today will be trial-free, pursue the God of Philippians 1:12-13 to bring you to and through trial and trouble to advance the gospel.

A Walk Through Philippians – #6

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV)

After several weeks on the shelf, we resume our walk through Philippians. Speaking of “walking”, recent travels have given me an appreciation for a wide variety of walking styles. Having visited both Chicago and San Francisco on business this fall, I can heartily testify that walking in the city is much different than walking in the rural midwest. Given my bent towards a slower pace of life, perhaps a more fitting title for this series would be “ambling around Philippians”, or “moseying in Philippians”. In a tip of the hat to our Aussie readers, perhaps “walkabout Philippians”? I can appreciate the rapid pace of life in the big cities through a brief visit but I wouldn’t trade my slower-moving life for a bajillion dollars. And with that, on to the text.

Paul seeks a three-fold blessing for the Philippians in his prayer. First, overoverover flowing love that continues to overflow more and more. We looked at this part of his prayer earlier in the series. The blessing of overflowing love is no small gift of God. How many blessings would arise out of the generosity of abundant love? They cannot be numbered. Surely this is the pinnacle of blessings, and they have their beloved friend Paul pleading their case before the Almighty. And yet…

Isn’t it interesting that Paul pleads for more than love? He alloys overabundant, overflowing love with both knowledge and discernment. While love is the greatest virtue, it does not stand best by itself. Love needs the sound and sure footing of knowledge and discernment in order to stand strongly in the face of a wicked world. Due to the twisting of reality by sin even the highest form of love must be bolstered and supported.

In today’s world it is common to think of love as simply an internal emotion, a warm feeling that you have inside. Sin has so twisted us that love is no longer seen as an outward-directed commitment to do good to others but rather it has been turned in upon itself, becoming the driving force fueling a quest for feelings and emotions experienced by and for our self. But this is not love. It is a sin-soaked lie. Feelings take wings and fly away. We are as fickle as the wind if our lives are founded on feelings. One minute we enthusiastically pursue a goal, focusing our entire life around it. The next minute it has become a curse to be replaced as quickly as possible with something that makes us feel better.

Paul is not seeking to bless the Philippians with a warm fuzzy feeling. He desires that they abound in and overflow with active love informed by real knowledge and full insight. In doing so, they will live blameless, holy lives that redound to the praise and glory of God. Love like this is action-packed, just as God’s love for the world is. And it does not simply make good in the lives of the Philippians. They are able, through use of knowledge and judgment, to perform the greatest acts of love for their fellow man.

How fitting it is that Christians earnestly pursue active, abounding, overflowing love in accordance with knowledge and insight. In so doing, they earnestly demonstrate the infinite love of the Savior for a lost world. Dear brother and sister, here is real fuel for your prayer fire. It is a rich and precious vein of ore to return to time and time again on behalf of your brothers and sisters. Mine riches for the household of faith and ask God in Christ for His treble blessing of love, knowledge, and insight on their behalf.

How fitting indeed that the God who demonstrated infinite love would have us abound in love mixed wholly with understanding and wisdom. What great light shines daily in the kingdom of darkness that is this brokenness when we understand what our lives are to be about and know how to pursue it.

A Walk Through Philippians – #5

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV)

Paul loves the Philippians. He knows it. They know it. And we know it. We looked at that in the prior post of this series. Right on the heels of his profession of Christlike love for the Philippians – God as witness of Paul’s heart – Paul explains the subject of his prayer for the Philippians. He prays for the Philippians frequently and with joy, but what does he pray for them? He approaches God out of the sincere desire of his heart for the benefit of his dear friends and the glory of his God. Paul wants the Philippians to grow and grow and grow and grow in their already abundant and overflowing love. It’s something he requests of God on behalf of the Philippians, ultimately for the glory and praise of God.

Paul is looking to the Lord to show his might in the lives of the Philippians. It’s not like they are starting at ground level and need to learn to love. They were no slouches in the love department, already displaying overflowing love repeatedly since their conversion to Christ. Here comes Paul, piling grace upon grace in his prayers for them. To paraphrase the missionary apostle, he is asking God to help them overflow deeper and deeper, again and again. Not simply to love. Not simply to reach a pinnacle of love and remain there. No, overflowing more and more. What a tremendous blessing he is seeking for the Philippians.

[Time for a praise break] If this is the case on this earthly plane, what does eternity with God hold in store for us who know Christ? Dare we hope for an eternity of abounding more and more in love, more in 10,000 years… more in 10,000,000 years… more in a trillion years! There is so much more to heaven than our puny, sin-soaked minds can even begin to grasp. Praise be to God who has shown us love in humility, in sin-bearing, in mercy and forgiveness.

In our current “it’s all about me me me” culture, our first inclination on hearing what Paul was praying for is to turn it on its head and pray this blessing for ourselves and our own church. But that’s not what’s happening here. Paul is praying for others… one of the churches he helped establish and which has helped him in ministry and in trouble repeatedly.

Brother and Sister, this type of prayer can rightfully take its place in your worship vocabulary, following Paul’s example in praying this blessing for others. How often we struggle with prayer, not knowing what to pray for on behalf of our missionaries and churches once we exhaust the short list of immediate concerns they give us. Here is biblical fuel for your prayer fire.

A Walk Through Philippians – #4

For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:8, ESV)

Paul commits himself to the Philippians with a most solemn vow. Words can be easy, but these are not easy words. These are words with a long history of action behind them. They are words carried along on the blood, tears, and suffering which Paul paid out in his care for the Philippians and others. Paul isn’t handing them a bagful of good intentions as yet unfulfilled. No, those would be easy words.

In this brief little verse I come under conviction again and again. How often I find myself offering heaping portions of good intentions to those around me but never fulfilling them in action. The royal robes of Christian love must be fitted to the body of Christian servanthood, else they are empty and useless.

So often we have it backwards. We want to speak, then act. To say ‘I love you’ and then put it on display. Oh how different our testimony could be if we lived love first, rather than merely stating our as yet unfulfilled good intentions. Which are blessed, the feet of those who bring good news or the lips of those who talk about bringing good news someday?

The Philippians themselves have each witnessed Paul’s love for and commitment to do good to them in the way he has lived. Their heartstrings, tuned by the gospel of Christ, ring in unison for their beloved apostle as they help him in chains, in beatings, in lack. In Christ, their love has extended beyond their means but they continue to give help to Paul again and again, as he has also helped them. Why? Because Paul has loved them with the love of Christ.

Even though Paul has proven his love in action many times, he calls upon God as his witness. The Philippians themselves are eyewitnesses of Paul’s external acts of love but this is not enough. Paul seeks to assure them that his love for them lives in the heart, which they obviously cannot see or know. Think about it for a minute… calling God as his witness. The ultimate Witness from whom nothing is hidden, before whom the hearts of men are laid open. The Witness who sees all, including Paul’s own heart. Paul calls on Him as witness of his genuine longing for the Philippians. And even here, normal patterns of speech fail Paul. He longs for the Philippians, not merely with his own affection, as deep as that is. Rather, he longs for the Philippians with the bottomless affection of Jesus.

Christ and His affection are what brought Paul to and through all he has experienced with the Philippians. It is not a mere abstract concept or even Paul’s own affection. It is the sacrificial love of Jesus himself, moving within Paul and moving Paul to serve them. What a profound commitment Paul has made, calling God to witness his love, which wasn’t even his. It was the supernatural love of Christ.

In all of this we have an example to follow. May we seek to act in Christ’s love for others before saying it. What does this look like in your specific circumstance? I will not attempt to reduce this to some sort of rudimentary checklist. It is lived in your life, not merely or only in your thoughts and heart. It is Christ at work within you, dear Christian, to live love towards those around you. Then, when you finally say it, no one wonders what you mean. They already know.

What is the Principal Exercise of Faith?

Pastor Ian Hamilton writes a brief contemplation to stir our affections for Christ. His reference to Paul in Philippians applies to our current series walking through that letter.

It is part of our humanity, and of our redeemed humanity, that we give our minds and affections to the people and places and ‘things’ that have most captured our imagination and impacted our lives. Think of how obsessive many men (and women) are today about football. They even talk about their favourite players as ‘gods’ and ‘messiahs’. They cannot stop thinking about, speaking about, singing about their heroes. Their hearts rise and fall depending on the success or failure of their ‘first love’. When you read the New Testament and especially Paul’s Letters, you cannot help being struck by his obsession with Jesus Christ. He tells the Philippians, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ He tells them that he is ‘a one thing I do man’: ‘One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind . . . I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ He tells the Corinthians that Jesus is God’s ‘indescribable gift’. He tells the Ephesians that God the Father has blessed believers ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ’. Is it any wonder Paul was obsessed with his Saviour?

You can read the full article here.

A Walk Through Philippians – #3

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7, ESV)

Paul loves the Philippians. Truly loves them. In our age of busyness, constantly struggling to achieve one goal so we can get on to the next, we fly by Paul and the Philippians as merely a blur in our window while rocketing higher and higher towards a fully sanctified, devoted, and fruit-bearing life. And we miss so much.

Ok rocketboys and rocketgirls, let’s turn off the afterburners for a few minutes. Re-enter the atmosphere… put on the airbrake. Sit down and take a couple of breaths.

Paul loves the Philippians. They have shared time, energy, work, labor, effort, preaching, teaching, learning, money, food, housing, prayer, concern, suffering, torture, imprisonment, criticism, poverty, questions, doubts, fears, generosity, laughter, meals, tears, sweat, illness, friends, death, life, the gospel, and ultimately Christ. Christ has been all and in all of these things with the Philippians and Paul. Through all of this, Paul loves the Philippians. That’s what he’s telling them. “It is only right for me to believe that God will finish the work He began in you because I have you in my heart.” Paul knows God’s love for the Philippians, and he knows and owns his own love for his friends.

Paul has been in trouble, both in Philippi and several times after. They never abandon him. He ministered the grace of the gospel of Christ among them, which they received full-heartedly and shouldered Paul’s burdens as much as they could. What love they have shown for Christ and for Paul in sticking with the apostle through thick and thin. They put their own skin on the line in many ways to help their beloved friend.

I’ve held my tongue until now, but I need to say something about the trouble Paul had. Paul suffered for the sake of the gospel. Suffered. He was beaten. He was stoned. He was imprisoned. He was shipwrecked. He went hungry. He was disowned, berated, and rejected. Many of today’s media superstar preachers have “trouble” also. They don’t have a large enough house in an exclusive enough neighborhood. They don’t have a big enough corporate jet. They don’t have enough cars or garage space to hold them all. They don’t have a big enough yacht. They don’t have long enough retreats at lavish enough resorts. They don’t have white enough veneers for their toothy smile. They don’t have enough money in the bank or a big enough church. They don’t have enough designer suits in their closets or enough designer shoes for their feet. They don’t have enough, but it is their calling to “suffer” these things for the sake of the gospel.

They do have enough of one thing. They have enough greed to last a lifetime. No danger of running out there. In distinct contrast, Paul shows what suffering for the sake of the gospel really looks like. The Philippians show what loving their preacher and brother really looks like. Can we suffer with and love the people in our lives like this? Well, has God changed? Has Jesus scrapped the gospel since it’s so much trouble and switched to delivering a message of gospel-lite, otherwise known as prosperity? God has not changed. The good old gospel is still good news. And yes, by God’s grace we can suffer with and love the people in our lives like this.

While I desire that these thoughts magnify Christ and are a help to you, they can only help if they are lived by you in your life right where you’re at. Today. Reading Philippians together won’t make a lick of difference in your life without application to your heart and your life touching the lives of those around you. Reading Philippians without loving those around you makes the message ring empty. So turn off the touchdown-achieving afterburners and love the dear people in your life as Christ loves them. Spend and be spent for them with time, energy, work, labor, effort, preaching, teaching, learning, money, food, housing, prayer, concern, suffering, torture, imprisonment, criticism, poverty, questions, doubts, fears, generosity, laughter, meals, tears, sweat, illness, friends, death, life, the gospel, and ultimately Christ.

By His Grace. For His Glory.

A Walk Through Philippians – #2

Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Philippians 1:6, ESV)

Paul, having greeted, blessed, and encouraged the Philippians all in the space of the first five verses, gives them a double-dose of gospel courage. His love for them could not be more obvious. Paul surprises us a little when we see this side of him. We tend to think of him as hard and driven and always aggressively pressing forward. Rarely do you hear anyone speak of ‘gentle Paul’ but that is exactly who shows up in this letter of friendship to a church he helped establish. His heart is tender towards them. He is concerned for their well-being in the midst of persecution and trouble.

First, Paul expresses his own assurance in the work of God on their behalf. He is confident, sure, convinced. Now, it is an easy thing to say we are confident in God’s ability, sure of His love, convinced of His concern. It is quite another to own assurance where people are involved. God can do whatever he wants when he chooses to act (we profess), as long as He is the only party to the action. As soon as people enter the picture, all bets are off. Is it any wonder that we think this way, given the shining failures displayed in the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, and nearly every other biblical character, not to mention our own lives, the sin and failure we experience daily? Thinking of God and the church this way is a trap. It’s not how Paul views the Philippians.

The first part of the double-dose of gospel courage he gives them is a profession of his assurance for them. Not that they are giants in the land or super-human in their devotion and purity. No, Paul’s assurance on their behalf is not rooted in the Philippians themselves. Paul’s assurance is rooted in God, who has begun a good work in them and will see it through to completion. Paul digs a deep well for the Philippians to draw from whenever they stumble or doubt – the well of God’s providential care for them. When trouble comes, when their hearts are faint, when the accuser raises his objection, all is not lost. Paul reminds them to come to the well, draw, and drink deeply of their God. He is confident, sure, convinced of God’s promised and sufficient care for the Philippians.

The second part of the double-dose of gospel courage is to set their eyes firmly on the return of Christ. Paul knows that he knows that he knows that God will continue His good work in them until the day of Jesus Christ. From our perspective, we might say “God will continue this good work in you until you die”. In essence this is what Paul is saying but rather than setting their eyes on death, which is precious little encouragement when viewed in the midst of trouble, Paul displays Christ and his glorious return as the fountainhead of courage for the beleaguered church. Troubles, conflicts, and doubts fade in the light of Christ’s glorious return. They are released from their battle stations only when the war is finished or they pass into glory. Until then, God is their shield and fortress.

Dear brother and sister, Christ has saved you and brought you to life. Press on in the battle until He returns. We don’t know when He is coming, so set your sights today to live for Him today. Don’t forestall your life by targeting some unknown years in the future when you think death will likely come calling. Live today for your Savior and Lord. I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.

A Walk Through Philippians – #1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
(Philippians 1:1-5, ESV)

Both Paul and Timothy were present at the founding of the Philippian church, sowing gospel seed in the previously unplowed region. The church at Philippi holds a special place in Paul’s affections, as he also does in theirs, demonstrated by their repeated gifts of help for Paul and his ministry. Quite simply, he loves them with the love of Christ. They love Paul sacrificially. You can see this clearly when you read the letter as a whole. Paul does not express his deep affection for them in flowery speech. No, he calls God as witness of his love for them. This is no small testimony of his commitment to them. They had observed Paul in very troubled times and had endured their own persecution for the sake of the gospel. Shared persecution has welded the apostle’s heart to the church.

There is one specific point we will meditate on in this opening post. The Philippian church is a partner with Paul in his missionary work. From the very beginning of their walk in Christ, birthed through Paul’s preaching ministry, they have freely given their time, energy, and means to further the ministry of the gospel through Paul. They have forged a mutual partnership in Christ, even though their individual circumstances are quite different. Paul is a missionary apostle, traveling and preaching widely. The Philippians minister in their locale but also support Paul in both theological and practical ways.

This account raises questions for our times, for our churches, and for us as individuals. How does my church relate to the missionaries we support? Stop and look at the bigger picture. This is a relationship, a partnership, a friendship. Relationships need effort. They go deeper than the dollar figure on your missions budget. Are we freely giving our means to further the ministry of the gospel in missions? If we are, great. But that’s not the whole picture. Are we giving our time and energy also? Are we partners in the gospel like Paul and the Philippians? Does my church intentionally support our missionaries in theological and practical ways?

Please consider your own personal part in your church’s relationship with its missionaries. I do not ask this as a means to lay a guilt trip on you. It is a fact that everyone is not called to do everything all the time (but sometimes it feels or looks like it). No, I’m simply asking you to consider if and how you might spend your time, energy, and means as a member of your church to partner with your missionaries. They are real people with hopes and fears, triumphs and failures, and a million other things that make up a life. I know they would appreciate your partnership and, as Paul, would thank God in all their remembrance of you with joy.