Monday, December 21, 2009

Philippians 4:6-9 (Part 2) -- God meets the needs His people

Text: Philippians 4:6-9

The entire section of the first nine verses of Philippians is one cohesive unit. The individual thoughts within are interrelated. As mentioned in the previous section, these verses are a gold mine of Bible riches.

In this section, we see the needs of the people of God. First among those needs is a need for a "guard". We need our hearts and minds guarded (v. 7). The phrase "hearts and minds" describes a totality of man's thinking, emotion, reasonings, and doing.

Do we feel the need for a guard? Are we faced with the knowledge of our inadequacies? Do we live out this knowledge in day-by-day dependence on God? We are inadequate; we need a keeper.

We need a keeper for our spiritual selves. We must live with constant awareness of the dangers we face. We face dangers from outside in a wicked world that seeks to tear us down, and dangers inside from remaining sinful tendencies within us, such as pride and self-centeredness.

Also, we need a keeper for our physical selves. We are at risk from ailments, illnesses, and accidents.

Secondly, we need God to be with us. We know, intellectually, that God is with us at all times. We know "where two or three are gathered", God is in our midst. But we need more than just the head-knowledge that God is with us -- we need God's manifest presence, for God to speak to us in an undeniable manner.

Let us not take God's presence for granted! When we meet together for worship, let us be coming together in the earnest hope that He will be there, speaking to us through His word, enabling us to worship by His Spirit, changing our hearts and lives to make us more like Him.

Paul discusses prayer in this section: "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God." What is prayer, beyond just making requests to God? Real prayer involves entering into a oneness with God. If you have a relationship that allows you to go into the presence of God, that is prayer.

And the result of this communion is "the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension". It has been said that this peace is "felt by all the truly godly, but can be explained by none." Let us seek to enter more fully into this communion and be fuller partakers of this peace!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Philippians 4:1-9 (Part I) How to Live in Harmony: Rejoice Always!

Text: Philippians 4:1-9

This section in Philippians may be one of the most preached-upon in the Bible. This is a "goldmine" section of verses, full of deep riches to be discovered.

In the first verse, Paul encourages the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. Paul's language demonstrates his deep love for these believers, his "joy and crown" and his "beloved". He would hate to hear that they had in any way slipped back.

The next two verses, (v. 2 and 3) are particularly interesting. Paul urges two women, Euodia and Syntyche, to live in harmony in the Lord. We know that these are fellow laborers in the gospel with Paul. True Christians and even effective workers for the gospel can and will have disagreements.

Beyond that, Paul urges the reader, his "true companion" to help these women. Our goal and priority among the body, the church, is to not allow divisions and strife. We must banish bad thoughts about one another. If we have disagreements, we need to go to each other. We should seek to be peacemakers, trying to facilitate reconciliation among the brethren, never spreading gossip and causing strife.

Verse four is extremely well known: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" Considered in the context of this passage, it seems as though Paul is saying, "I know there will be disagreements and differences, but this is how I want you to work them out: "Rejoice always!" You cannot maintain an attitude of bitterness and rejoice at the same time. This is so important to Paul, he says it a second time!

What does it mean to rejoice? What is the joy of a rejoicing Christian? It is "joy", not "happiness". The pursuit of happiness is what we see in the world around us, and it is an endless pursuit because this happiness is strictly external, based on our circumstances. Yes, we can change our situation, buy some new "stuff" and be happy... for a while. But the happiness wears off and then what? Or what if our situation, for whatever reasons, is not a "happy" one?

The Christian's "joy" is an inward thing. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) (and is not limited by "any law" - you can't rejoice too much!) Inner joy is a supernatural thing the Holy Spirit has given to all Christians.

Our joy as Christians is not affected by external situation. We rejoice because of what Christ has done as our High Priest to bring us into a relationship with Him. We rejoice because He preserves and keeps us -- we are not kept in relationship with Him through our own righteousness, but it is all of Christ; He continually keeps us. So we rejoice in being in Christ and being one with Him. This rejoicing is all through the Bible, in the Old Covenant as well as the New.

Is it possible for a Christian to have inward joy and not to show outward joy? How absurd! Christians should have outward joy more than all others; we should be known as people who are rejoicing no matter what our situation is!

Verse 5 continues on the theme of getting along: "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men." Other translations use the word "moderate" or "forbearing spirit". The meaning is clear: Christians should have a willingness to get along with, to agree with, their brothers and sisters in the Lord. We should live at peace with all men, gently bringing along the weakest of the brethren. We should show reasonableness, and not be unduly rigorous about secondary matters. Someone who always insists that his way is the only way, who always demands his "just due" is in violation of this principle.

We should remember that "the Lord is near". He is with us at all times, to help us and see us through. Is this just a theological truth to us, or are we experiencing it in our lives in a real way? The truths in this rich section are not to be merely known with the mind, but to be deeply experienced: God being near to us, the "peace that passes understanding".

More to come next week...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Philippians 3:13-17 -- Forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to what lies ahead.

Text: Philippians 3:13-17

In this section, Paul offers himself as an example for the Philippians to follow. As we saw in the previous passage in Philippians, Paul has no confidence in himself. Yet, he has confidence in the Lord to make him a worthy example to follow. He exhorts us to follow him, as he is following Christ.

Four observations can be made from Paul's exhortation to follow his example. First, observe that Paul calls his audience "brethren" (v.13). Paul - a man who wrote so many of the epistles in the New Testament - is not on a special plane above all other believers, and that is reflected in the way he addresses his readers. He is "just" another brother, one of us. He knows he hasn't reached perfection. He has been humbled by Christ. He still has no confidence in himself and knows he needs to be brought further along by the Lord.

Secondly, Paul is putting forth a great effort. He's not satisfied with where he is; he's pressing on towards the goal. And he is not dwelling on the past. We can fall into two main traps in dwelling on the past: excessive fondness for God's workings in the past, resulting in nostalgia and discouragement that things aren't as good as the old days. Or, brooding over past sins now forgiven to the point of discouragement and despair. Paul could have fallen victim to both of these tendencies - discouragement that he was now in prison after a vibrant missionary career, or depression over regrets for the sins he committed against the church as Saul. But he does neither -- he forgets all these things in the past and presses on. Likewise, we should leave behind forgiven sins, arguments, bitterness, strife, etc. -- all these things that so easily entangle us -- and press ahead to the goal.

The goal! That is the third point. Paul has his eyes fixed on the target! What is our goal? Hopefully, it is the same goal as Paul had: hearing his Master say "well done" at the end of his life. We know that we will not achieve perfection in this life, but we strive for it, being convinced that we will one day take on a renewed, glorified, sinless body.

A fourth observation concerns the nature of our goal. Paul says that he presses on "for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus." We are called to aim for this goal. We are not in panic mode, trying to possibly reach an uncertain goal. Rather, we are in a race that is certain. This is God's calling, and we can strive toward the goal with confidence of achieving it.

Verse 15 contains a very mild exhortation. Paul is essentially saying, "Those who are mature will be of a same mind. Pay no attention to those who have a different attitude (for example, that sinless perfection can be instantly achieved, or that Christians should just "let go and let God", rather than striving for holiness.) These people are just immature in the faith and Christian walk. God will eventually teach them."

A further exhortation is contained in verse 16 - we are called to keep living by the standard to which we have attained. Christians are called to live a thought-out, disciplined, and regulated lifestyle. Note that these are very general principles, not a Step A, B, C approach to godliness.

Some people may have a defeatist attitude towards striving for holiness. "Nobody's perfect," they say. Our mark is perfection, however. We are called to give a complete effort to live a disciplined life intent on on giving glory to God and pleasing Him in whatever we do.