Sunday, November 29, 2009

Philippians 3:4-12 Paul's example of counting all things as loss in light of Christ

Text: Philippians 3:4-12

In this section of Philippians, Paul offers his own life experience as a personal example to the Philippians. First, in verses 4-6, he describes his life as Saul. He was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews". He was the ultimate specimen of law-keeping, of zeal, and proper heritage.

However, in verses 7 and 8, he states that all those things are as nothing compared to knowing Christ. Actually, he states that they are worse than nothing, as dung, in comparison.

The application of this can be made to our own lives. Like Paul, we may be thinking we are "doing the best we can". Like Paul, our best is not good enough to be made right with a holy God who can only be satisfied with perfection.

So why was Paul so enamored of Jesus? Why did gaining Christ make all his astonishing previous experience so repugnant to him? Three components of the answer can be found in the following verses.

First, in verse 9, Paul describes how he has received righteousness. He could not achieve righteousness through obedience of the Law, as hard as he tried. But Christ's righteousness - a righteousness from perfect obedience and submission to the Father - is imputed to those who have faith in Christ. This is justification, by grace through faith.

Secondly, in verse 10, Paul describes the great value of knowing Christ. For him and for us, knowing Christ involves much more than just mental assent. It includes a mental understanding and an application of that knowledge to our lives. And it includes an intimate personal relationship, a union with the thing that is known. This is sanctification, a growing understanding of God affecting our lives.

Paul had "resurrection power" (v.10) of the Holy Spirit empowering Him to live this new life. He experienced the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. This isn't referring to some means of earning favor with God through physical affliction. Rather, by experiencing sufferings (mental or physical), we can obtain a deeper understanding of Christ. It is a way He can only be known by those who follow Him.

Verse 10 mentions that Paul wished to be conformed to Christ's death. This is to be understood in a spiritual sense, rather than a physical one. We are conformed to Christ's death when we die to our own selves, our own ambitions and desires, and take on the trust in God that Christ displayed. His death was an utter emptying of Himself, a life of complete self-giving love.

Thirdly, Paul looks forward to His resurrection from the dead. He is saying that in whatever path God has ordained for his life, he will follow Christ, living with Him, dying with Him, and following Him to live in eternal glory. This is glorification.

Paul concludes in verse 12 by acknowledging that he is not perfect (although positionally he is perfect in Christ). His imputed righteousness is perfect, but his imparted righteousness is still being worked out. And Paul commits himself to pressing on vigorously. This is always the pattern; here, as we have seen previously, salvation is all of God, yet our proper response is to follow after him with all of our ability. We do not know all the specific purposes and services for which Christ has "laid hold" on us for this life. All we can do is follow after, like Paul. Then we can "lay hold" on the purposes He has for us in this life. We do know the ultimate purpose of Christ's laying hold on us, and that is so that we may be with him in glory. What a great calling!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philippians 3:1-3 Marks of a True Christian

Text: Philippians 3:1-3

This passage begins with the word, "Finally". This gives us an indication that we are reading a summing-up and application of what we have read. So, we should "rejoice in the Lord". This is the conclusion of what we have read in the first two chapters.

Paul also delivers a hearty endorsement of repetition: "To write these same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard to you." This is an encouragement to preachers and teachers who feel that they seem to be constantly repeating the same things. Repetition is good! And, it is a safeguard. We should be especially wary of anyone who comes along proclaiming a new doctrine.

Hopefully, as hearers of the preached word, we do not grow weary hearing the same themes. If, for example, we are at a conference and we hear a speaker begin to teach from a well-worn passage, we should be careful not to tune out the message. God speaks to us through the preaching of His Word, even on familiar topics.

Verse two in this chapter contains a strong warning against false teachers. In this harsh warning, Paul is not speaking against mistaken or misguided brothers and sisters -- we remember from Chapter 1 that Paul said he would rejoice if Christ was preached whether in pretense or sincerity. His warning was against those who teach a particular wrong doctrine, the doctrine of "Christ - AND...". Salvation by Christ alone was not enough, they said, you needed to be circumcised; you needed Christ - AND observation of the traditional ceremonial law.

We need to be careful in our theology that we are not preaching "Christ - AND..." Even many of the Reformed denominations, though their motto is "Sola Christo," fail in this. They suggest that baptism is the "new" circumcision, and that the baptism of a child confers a spiritual benefit to him by joining him into the covenant.

The third verse here describes the marks of the true Christian. "We are the true circumcision", the "true seed" of Abraham who will inherit the promise. Three marks of the Christian are then given:

1. We worship God in the Spirit. Our worship is a spiritual worship, not one of repetition of forms. And our life, in all that we do, should be a life of living in the Holy Spirit. This is a life of worship.

2. We rejoice in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is our boast. We speak of Him and glory in Him. It's not enough to glory in what He has done; we also glory in who He is.

3. We put no confidence in the flesh. True Christians are humble and thankful people. We see our own inability to "work" our way into favor with God. Furthermore, we cannot have confidence in our own intellect - if we have arrived at a particular doctrinal truth, it is not because of our own mental capacity, it is because of God's grace in revealing the truth to us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Philippians 2:17-30 Examples of Faithful Servants

Text: Philippians 2:17-30

This portion of Philippians shows Paul's appreciation for his fellow faithful servants of Christ. In verses 19-24, Paul discusses sending Timothy to the Philippians. From this passage, we can see that even in the early days of the church described here, it was difficult for Paul to find faithful men - he said he was unable to find any other kindred spirits besides Timothy; all others were seeking after their own interests. We would like to be found faithful as Timothy was!

Paul refers to his relationship with Timothy as "like a child swerving with his father". From this we see that Paul had a great fondness for Timothy, and we can see from this that he wasn't just a cold, dry theologian. There is a reality and depth in Christians' love for each other.

Verses 25-26 discuss Paul's sending of Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was incredibly selfless. He literally wore himself out helping Paul, but he wasn't concerned about his own health. Instead, Epaphroditus was distressed because the Philippians had heard he was sick, and was concerned they would be worried about him! Epaphroditus is a great example of a Christian giving the best he can in service. He was deeply and emotionally invested in the work he was doing; he didn't see his service as merely an occupation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Looking for God in all the Wrong Places - A Summary, Part 7

This is the final posting in the series summarizing the booklet Looking for God in All the Wrong Places. If you would like to buy a copy, they are available from Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service

What about Music?

We should not reduce a discussion of corporate worship to a discussion about music. Many problems would be avoided if we begin by locating music within the category labeled "the ministry of God's Word". (Col. 3:16) Music is to be a tool for teaching and admonishing one another, thus making it functionally similar to preaching.

Church music must answer the questions we put to church sermons:

1.) Is it doctrinally true?

2.) Does it display Biblical content?

3.) Is it excessively shallow?

4.) Is it theocentric (centered on God)?

5.) Does it accurately represent the character of God?

6.) Is the tone or mood reverential?

Good songs perform the essential service of distilling profound truths into memorable phrases, thereby planting truths deep in our souls. Good hymns remind distracted worshippers of the appropriate things to say to God in worship.

Professors D.G. Hart and John R. Muether point out that the contrast between the church and the world should perhaps be most obvious when the church is worshipping.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Looking for God in all the Wrong Places - A Summary, Part 6

The Protestant Reformation as a Reformation of Worship

The Roman Catholic church, with its architecture, and the Latin mass with all the rituals, was nothing if not regal, mystical and moving. The church thought it was this ceremony that mediated to them the presence of God. One of the main things the Reformers did was to bring the Scripture back to the worship meeting. Luther's work of translating the Bible was done so people could know God in His Word.
Word-based worship leads to simple worship. Why? Because worship in Spirit and in truth is inherently internal and spiritual. The Holy Spirit presses scriptural truth upon the heart, which provokes a soul-level response of worship. The enemy of inward spiritual worship then, is external distraction. Rituals, novelties and visual props usurp the Holy Spirit's role of triggering worship in the heart. Excessive sentimentality and casualness also distract. Timothy Keller says, "Both spectacle and sentimentality [or what Keller calls folksiness] work directly on people's emotions rather than trusting God's Spirit to bring truth home." J C Ryle: "Simplicity should be the grand characterisitic of New Testament worship.....because.....the inherent wickedness of human nature is such that our minds are only too ready to turn away from spiritual things to visible things."
Does the Holy Spirit use means to promote true worship? Yes, but He uses means that have been revealed to us in the Bible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Poem by John Newton

I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know;
And seek more earnestly His face.

Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair!

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He'd answer my request;
And by His love's constraining power,
Subdue my sins - and give me rest!

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part!

Yes more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe!
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds - and laid me low!

"Lord, why is this!" I trembling cried,
"Will you pursue your worm to death?"
"This is the way," the Lord replied,
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
Thay you may seek your all in Me!"

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Philippians 2:9-16 -- Working Out Our Salvation

Text: Philippians 2:9-16

This section of the text begins with a "Therefore," so it is wise to consider what was covered earlier. Christ humbled himself, leaving the glory of heaven and becoming a man, suffering and dying out of love for us and obedience to the Father. For this reason, Christ was highly exalted and given a "name above every other name". What does this mean? For one, we know that there is no other name given for men's salvation (Acts 4:12). Contrary to today's popular "get-along" philosophy, all religions are not many different paths all leading to the same place. Jesus holds the preeminent position of being the only Redeemer through whom sinful man may be reconciled to God.

Verse 10 expands further on Christ's exaltation. At His name, every knee will bow. God calls all men to repent - every knee, as in the KJV, should bow to Christ. But the natural man is not reasonable, and refuses. Yet one day, every man shall. (Interestingly, this promise - that all shall bow to Him, is same thing that Satan tempted Christ with in the wilderness. Christ was offered the glory without the suffering, and turned it down.)

This exaltation is God's response to what Christ has done. What is our response?

First, to be obedient (v. 12). This is not a new obedience, Paul notes: "just as you have always obeyed" - continue in the obedience that has marked your life. We are called to "work out our salvation". This is OUR OWN salvation. The state of our own hearts must be a high priority for us. What does it mean to "work it out"? This means to spend our energies, our mental abilities, our love, exploring and enjoying the salvation that is ours.

What is salvation? If we think of salvation only as escape from sin, we have a very shallow view of it. What is eternal life? To know God. As we work out our salvation, we begin to understand how the attributes of God work out in our own lives. We take possession of and explore more fully the outworking of the spiritual realities that are in Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones referred to this as the romanticism of the Christian life, of asking God "What are you teaching me now, and how will it work out in my life?"

This salvation should be worked out "with fear and trembling". With a dread of God? With a concern that we will lose this salvation? No, we are instead to work this salvation out with sensitivity...
  • to our own weakness. We are not self-sufficient and invincible. We fail and fall, and need constantly to call on God for help.
  • to the power of temptation. The powers of darkness are real and are constantly tempting us to sin, to do things our way instead of God's way, relying on Him.
  • to the possibility of offending God. We should be afraid of offending such a great God as we serve, concerned that sin might break our communion with Him and tarnish His name before unbelievers.
Verse 13 provides a great encouragement, on several fronts. First, it is God who is at work. He is the Master Workman, and He always accomplishes what He sets out to do. The outcome is guaranteed.

Secondly, He is at work in each of us. God isn't just at work in the super-Christians, or the extra-spiritual people, but rather He is at work in each of His children.

Furthermore, He is at work for us "both to will and to work". God first shows us what to do, then gives us a desire to do His will, then enables us to do it. It is all of grace; we claim no merit.

Finally, He is at work "for His good pleasure". It is a pleasure to God that we should enjoy him, know Him, and be used of Him. In another sense this means that we work as God is pleased for us to do so. He doesn't enable us to serve Him when we make enough progress, or when we show enough desire. Instead, He works freely and sovereignly according to His own choice and purposes.

We can rest and give thanks to God knowing that our salvation is all of Him. He gives faith, regenerates, and gives the Holy Spirit to enable us to serve Him. Why does He do all this for and in us? Because of His great love! Praise Him!