Philippians 2:1-2; Brief Thoughts

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

The fellowship of the saints in a unified spirit and the encouragement of watching brothers and sisters striving to live holy lives is a completion of joy. In Scripture, joy is called a fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, it empowers believers to do the mission of God in Acts 13, and it grants perseverance to Christians in suffering in 1 Thess. 1:6. (C.f. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament entry on “chara” or “joy”) In western Christianity, joy alludes us. And by joy I mean: soul satisfying happiness. (For a more full explanation of happiness I commend Randy Alcorn’s book on the subject). It does not allude us because we can’t understand the definition of joy or process the significance of such a powerful disposition. The absence of joy for the western Christian is most often simply because we don’t believe joy is found in Christ.

Western Christianity has espoused that Christ is sufficient for religious function and atonement for sins, but is not necessary for everyday life. I know this, because I live in the western Christian culture and have pastored western Christians for the past 13 years. We attend a church, participate in a work of benevolence, or live by a code of morality while simultaneously seeking to fill our affections with entertainment, possessions, and activities. These things are not necessarily evil or antithetical to Christ, but they are not Him. Instead of pursuing joy in knowing Him, most so-called believers portion some time to Him and then allot the rest of their time to other things. Our churches attempted to capitalize on this mindset by setting up programs and activities based on affinities. We tried to get people to the gospel utilizing some other means than presenting them with Christ. We won people with things and entertainment. As a result, Christianity in the west is dying… or is at least sick. (This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is necessary to recognize the problem before you can identify the solution). The trouble with portioning time to an infinite God in whom there is infinite joy is that in doing so, we are limiting the infinite. We cannot claim the joy that rightly belongs to us and hold Jesus, The Spirit, and Father at arms-length. In order to have fullness of joy, Christ must be all consuming.

What then, can complete our joy? According to Paul it is the unity of the saints being lived out in holiness. Look again at verse 1. Paul begins this exhortation with a challenge of faith. The exhortation is a conditional one. If verse 1 is true of the believer, then do verse 2. The implication is, if the first part is not true, the second part is not possible. Examine closely how Paul challenges faith. The condition he lay down is that these Philippian believers are finding their encouragement in a consistent relationship with Christ through the Spirit.

Believers find encouragement in Christ and walking with Him in obedience to His precepts.

Believers take comfort in the uncomfortable self-sacrificing love that is born out in their hearts for the people around them.

Believers participate in the mission of God by obeying His Spirit and following where He leads.

Believers have affection and sympathy for each other because Christ’s affection and sympathy for His bride is poured into the hearts of believers and overflows from the Christian to all.

Do those 4 statement describe your Christian life? If not, then you are either: seeking joy somewhere else and need to adjust your lifestyle or you do not know Christ. Consider this carefully, your eternal destiny is at stake. Stop trying to find joy on your own, confess your inability, and follow Christ.

What greater joy is there than the fellowship of saints walking together in holiness? There is no greater joy for a teacher than the students applying what they have been taught. Likewise, there is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the congregation he is a part of living in mature Christian community.

The evidence of mature community are unity in mind, love, and mission. First, to be unified in mind implies some sort of discourse and common agreement. Be careful, dear reader. Unity is not achieved through avoidance or pacification. Unity is achieved when we wrestle through deep topics and truths together. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you do have to wrestle together to reach agreement. All true Christians can agree on this simple fact: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. This truth stands as our foundation. Everything that follows is exposition on the topic and is necessary to the Kingdom. The second evidence is a unity in love. Christians have been given love that transforms the soul. If that love is not transforming their actions, they have not been given it (C.f. 1 John 3-4). The final evidence of mature Christian community is a unity of mission. Paul asserts that Christians are in agreement on their journey. In other words, believers walk the same path and follow the same shepherd. They are joined together by their common Spirit which sealed them at redemption (Eph. 1:13).

This connection is unique to Christianity. It is not found in other religions. Christians have a unity that transcends circumstance and preference. While this unity can be mimicked through affinity, activity, and preference, it can never be truly achieved apart from the gospel. This is why it is so important that the foundation of our church communities be in the message of Jesus Christ’s life-giving gospel. Christian brother or sister, find a church that is founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. Whenever we add an “and” to the gospel, we cheapen the power of it. This is truly a massive subject and one I do not have time for in this short work. For more on this particular subject and the implications thereof on the local church: read The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks) by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop.

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Philippians 1:29-30; Brief Thoughts on suffering

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have

The perspective that asserts that suffering is a gift is perhaps the most foreign concept in Western Christianity. However, for first century believers, suffering was a privilege. For a believer, suffering has some implications that can only be understood in the context of submission to a sovereign God. First, suffering is not apart from the hand of God. God does not simply leave humanity alone to suffer. Rather, in an unfathomable sympathy, He walks through pain and suffering with us. Second, suffering has purpose. Consider for a moment that God may actually intend suffering for your good. (C.f. Romans 8:12-30) This radical notion was not radical to the early church, it was normative. Perhaps if modern Christians could grasp that suffering is a good thing, we would have fewer problems in our churches and greater impact on the world around us. Third, if you are given the opportunity to suffer, it means that Christ thinks you are worthy and able to suffer well. If God is not distant when we suffer, and He is sovereign, and suffering has a purpose, then it stands to reason that Christ thinks you can handle it. Finally, suffering is temporary. Suffering will not last forever, it is a temporary condition that will end. Although suffering may seem eternal and you may not be able to recognize it’s end, it is a temporary affliction.

Keeping the aforementioned implications in mind, re-read verses 29-30. Suffering has been granted! This is a gift for the believers in Philippi. Suffering is a gift to be cherished, not a condition to be denied or avoided. Too many in this world claim God does not want any sort of suffering to befall His children. However, Paul says, “it has been granted.” Suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ is a glorious affliction that will bring maturity to the believer and glory to Christ. When we suffer well, we exalt the name and character of Christ while simultaneously learning to overcome the trials and travails of this life.

Over the last 6 years I have been afflicted with a disease that causes chronic pain. Through this experience I have found the Lord molding me to be a more sympathetic and loving person. My experience in this momentary trial has led me to greater praise to God, deeper love towards others, and a greater appreciation for the labor of knowing Christ on this earth. I can personally attest that Christ is sufficient to lead you through affliction. Further, I experience the blessing of the Lord on a deeper level than those who deny that God intends my suffering. By embracing the truth that suffering is “granted,” I have found joy where it is not supposed to be. God gave me an affliction.

Christians do not suffer alone, we are granted the privilege of sharing in suffering of other believers. Such is the case with the Philippians and Paul. Amidst Paul’s suffering, the Philippians have been privileged to join in the conflict with him. They share in the same persecution that Paul endures and they are commended for it. When Christians suffer, their brothers and sisters in the faith suffer with them. This is why you need a Christian community around you. Not so that you can be comfortable or have adequate activities to fill your days and weeks. Not so that your children can be entertained or even taught the Bible. But so that you can model the life changing effects of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Find a community that will rally around you in your suffering. A community that will allow you to partake of their suffering. Find a community that will walk through suffering, continuously pointing you to Christ and His word. In this way, you will exalt the savior and delight in Him.

If you live in the Brazoria Texas area and do not have a community in which to enjoy this kind of community, come check out Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We are a small community trying to live out the gospel together. For more information check out our website: sgfbrazoria.org.

Philippians 1:27-28; Brief thoughts

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 

The life of a true believer is manifest in holiness and knowledge of Christ. If you are a believer, you will live like one. Paul’s call for Christians to live a life worthy of the gospel is not unusual or radical, it is normative and expected. What should shock our modern sensibilities is that this exhortation seems difficult. The call to live a life worthy of the gospel is both obviously simplistic and impossible.

How can someone be worthy Jesus Christ, the perfect spotless God-man, surrendering His perfect righteousness on behalf of a world that will not accept Him? It is impossible to earn His favor or work to be worthy of His mercy. Yet, this is the particular goal Paul urges us to pursue. That we would live a life that is worthy of the gospel we have received. Clearly an impossible task, and a completely logical one. If you have been given the life-transforming gift of grace that is the gospel, then you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish its purposes. So, the impossible becomes ordinary. Not just possible, but ordinary and expected. Your life should reflect the grace of God that has been giving to you.

Paul gives us three evidences of a worthy life. First, they are united in resolve. Believers share a common mission and are resolved to “stand firm” together. Second they are in agreement in the mission of God. They work alongside one another for the sake of the message that Jesus has come to rescue. Finally, they are not afraid of the opponents that surround them. There is no fear in the proper perspective of Christian dependence on the Lord.

This particular unity among believers even in boldness and bravery in the face of opponents is utilized for the evangelism of the lost. The unity shared among believers is so peculiar and unique that it is evidence of God’s wrath on other people and coming salvation for God’s people. This is the power of true gospel community. When your community is founded on and secured in the gospel, then it baffles the minds of people who do not know the gospel. There is no affinity, age group, or personality type that cannot be bridged by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth of the gospel extends beyond the norms of society. Further, the collection of saints that are united in mission and gospel proclamation is a powerful tool, calling people to repent and trust in the Lord.

Oh, Christian! What a world of change we would see if we pursued this kind of fellowship. When you seek out a church, do you look for temporal/ material reasons to join? Or do you seek a church that you can unite with based on the truths that we proclaim together? Too many of us seek to unite with a fellowship over the activities that fellowship provides or the programs we can participate in. We seek communities that match our current state of life or age bracket. Yet, when we seek community based on these things, we deny the life changing effect of the gospel. When you seek out a place to worship, look for the gospel message being lived out in changed lives. Test the community by examining whether or not the gospel has extended across cultural and material divisions. Seek out a community that is founded on the gospel in the lives of the saints. Then you will have some semblance of what it is like to be in a community like that of Philippi. Then you will glorify the Lord in a way the world will be baffled by. Then you might call everyone around you to believe, simply by living.

 

Philippians 1:21-26

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Perhaps one of the most profound and powerful statements in Christian history is written almost as an afterthought to Paul. Since the words were penned, Christians have labored to discern the deep spiritual meaning behind life being Christ and death being gain. Yet, for Paul, this seems to be a logical afterthought. He is in prison and knows he will either be released or die. Trusting in the Lord’s sovereign hand, Paul asserts that he is in prison by the hand of God for the purpose of advancing the truth of the gospel. He thereby validates the truth that his suffering serves a purpose in the Kingdom and is designed by God’s hand for the sake of the gospel. So, verse 21 makes perfect sense. No one should be surprised by such a statement, and still the bold rejection of material gain leaves us baffled.

Why are modern Christians so confused and befuddled when we read this? There are a few different reasons for such a struggle:

  1. Our modern conception of God attempts to deny that He would do anything that would harm our physical and material well-being. Paul does not suffer this particular false understanding of God. For Paul and Timothy, God directs, plans, and even causes suffering at times. God uses struggle and trial to advance the gospel. Thus, for Paul circumstance does not matter, only the Kingdom and the advancement of the gospel message is of paramount importance.
  2. We cannot imagine death as better than some things in this life. Modern Christians tend to treat heaven as the place you go once you’ve done on the fun things on this earth. This is a common thread of thought in western minds. Somehow the truth that heaven is exponentially better than earth has escaped us. We believe that we want to go to heaven but not until we travel here, or have this experience, or meet that person. As if the things of this earth could compare with the perfect, infinite God and his continuous creation that we are going to engage for eternity.
  3. We do not believe that life is satisfied in Christ or that death brings reward. This is the most difficult truth for modern Christians to recognize. It is the reason this passage is often reduced to a trite explanations or sayings of half-hearted dedication. When Paul says that life is found in Christ, that is precisely what he means. Further, when he explains that he gains in death, that is precisely what he means. This statement is an afterthought for Paul. It is assumed that you will be satisfied in Christ and knowing Him fully. It is also assumed that Heaven is better than earth and leaving earth to be in perfect communion with the Lord is preferable to any other circumstance no matter how great that circumstance may be.

The implications of this brief assumption of Paul’s are explained in verse 22-26. His heart is rightly torn between Heaven and earth. Note the reason that he is pulled between these two places. It is not because he feels as though he will have a comfortable existence on this earth. It is because there is work to be done that could benefit Heaven. The tension Paul feels is between labor that could enable others to see his Christ to greater measure and being with Christ. The press is great between the two hopes. One hope: that he would honor The Master here on earth. The other hope: that he would be physically with The Master in Heaven.

Verses 24-26 introduce us to the first of a few statements Paul is going to make throughout this letter that have an odd encouraging condescension. He recognizes that he will be denied his Heavenly hopes for a little while longer, because the Philippians have not yet fully grasped Christ. It is necessary for Paul to stay on earth until they see more of Jesus. To what end does he stay? For their “progress and joy.” Paul knows that these brothers and sisters need him so that they can see Christ.

Consider for a moment the joy of this perspective. Can you bring yourself to recognize that God is sovereign, ruling over all things and that your joy is truly complete solely in Him? Rejoice in the truth that it is not in the gifts He gives us that satisfaction is gained but in knowing Him. Once we assimilate this truth into our lives, the struggles and trials that beset us will fade.

Philippians 1:19-20

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

The power to rejoice in all circumstances is not achieved in the means of self-reliance or disciplined efforts. Rather, the power to rejoice is born from a complete reliance on God’s sovereign activity and the fellowship of believers. Paul explains in verse 19 why he can rejoice so freely in the gospel message. It is precisely because he will be delivered. Paul knows the power of prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to forget that prayer has value. After all, it often feels as though we are simply talking to the air. Seldom does God respond in an audible voice, and sometimes our prayers are so distant from ourselves that we cannot see the fruit of our labor. But pray we must. Though we do not see, the Spirit moves. We do not rest in the confidence of what we see. We rest in the confidence of our God. He is faithful to fulfil all his promises and He is sovereign over all things. It is in knowing Him and His character that our confidence is complete. The closer you are to Jesus, the greater your confidence in prayer and the working of the Spirit becomes.

Prayer and the help of the Spirit are the two comforts that Paul is sure of. When all else is stripped from him, prayer and the Spirit are the two things that cannot be taken. It matters not what material means are torn away from the believer, the fellowship a believer enjoys in prayer can never be taken away. Further, the prayers of the saints are connected through the Spirit. The Spirit is not confined by temporal means. It does not submit to prison walls or gates. The Spirit goes where it wishes. So Paul can rejoice, because Paul is not alone. Indeed, no Christian is ever truly alone and every believer can rest in the truth that God is actively involved in their struggles and trials.

When Paul uses the term “deliverance” in verse 19 it is within the context of extreme uncertainty. He is not sure that he will live or die under his current circumstances. He explains in verse 20 that he could live or die and that would still be deliverance. Most people don’t consider death to be deliverance. Yet, Paul implies that death or life would be deliverance. Life or death, Christ is in control and Paul is in His hands. This sort of contentment in circumstance is miraculous. There is no anxiety or fear in Paul’s words. He knows he will be delivered.

The deliverance he speaks of is not mere freedom from prison or material well-being. It is deliverance from shame. The shame of being justly rejected by God. Paul’s work in the ministry has been one of faithful obedience. His constant proclamation of the gospel will prove to validate the faith he so tenaciously defends. When Paul speaks of deliverance, he speaks of deliverance from futility and meaninglessness. He has a purpose in this life. Jesus Christ is honored in the body of Paul through the surrender of his own comfort and well-being for the sake of the gospel.

Oh that we would maintain such an attitude as Paul and Timothy. Consider what power the church would have if the believers therein practiced this sort of hope for deliverance. What a majestic sight for the world to behold: believers who think of deliverance as the validation of our ministry and the honor of Jesus Christ. Make up your mind that you are going to redefine what it means to be delivered. Change your definition from one of material rescue to gospel validation of the faith you hold so dear. If you can reckon this true in your hearts, your lifestyle will become Christian and you will exhibit the fruit of contentment in all circumstance.

Philippians 1:12-17; brief thoughts

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What we believe about God dictates how we perceive our circumstances. Paul and Timothy have a tremendous view of who God is and how great He is. Paul has been imprisoned and horribly mistreated for preaching the gospel message and yet he recognizes that God’s hand has guided every trouble that Paul has suffered.

When Paul was placed in prison and was exposed to suffering, his trials served to make God’s message known. His imprisonment led to the proclamation of the gospel to imperial guards and prison officers. (c.f. Acts 16) Such is the nature of Paul’s tenacity in teaching people about the love of Jesus. He is placed in prison and takes joy in converting the guards. He is beaten and praises God that he has been counted worthy to suffer. He is cast out from society and sees it to be an opportunity for holiness. He is a man who cannot be defeated or displaced by circumstance. Why? Why is it that Paul can face every circumstance with such a perspective? It is because of his view of God. For Paul, God is actively involved in every circumstance. Things do not happen apart from God’s hand, especially for those who follow Christ. Christ sovereignly directs every step for the purpose of the gospel. So Paul recognizes that his imprisonment serves to exalt and advance the gospel message.

The imprisonment of Paul and the boldness with which he approaches his circumstances emboldens the believers around him. This is how Christian suffering ought to be. When we suffer well, we increase the zeal of our brothers. When Christians pursue holiness and righteousness they inspire fellow believers to do the same. Can you see your struggles as God’s design to advance the gospel? The bigger your picture of God, the greater your ability to endure all circumstances.

It is necessary to pause and note: Paul’s grand view of God does not necessitate happiness or comfort. In fact, his view of God gives him fortitude in the opposite circumstance. He is not resting in comfort while proclaiming God’s sovereign hand. He is chained in prison awaiting trial for simply believing truth. He is not comfortable. He is not healthy. He is not well off or financially stable. He is a prisoner with no possessions who is suffering for his beliefs. A big view of God does not come from wealth and prosperity. It comes from trusting Him in difficult circumstances and results in a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Perhaps it is this same understanding that propels the confidence in verses 15-18. As Paul is attacked from all sides by false teachers who see the gospel as an opportunity for their own advancement, he proclaims a joyful spirit over their preaching of the gospel message. What a profound example. A man who is slandered and imprisoned rejoices because even his adversaries proclaim Christ.

Cultivate a big view of God so that your heart could be so dedicated.

Philippians 1:7-11; Brief Thoughts

7 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.For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

The expression of love in verses 3-6 is absolutely justifiable because of the mutual love that is shared within the hearts of believers. As discussed previously, believers share a great many truths in common. Mission, love, and allegiance tie all believers together. It is especially fitting to use the word, “partakers” to describe Christians. It is the word partnership or fellowship used in verse 5 and the prefix “sun” meaning together.[i] Believers share fellowship together. They are in battle together for the truth. It is vital for Christians to understand the depth of their own bond: Christians share in each other’s trials and victories.

The connection of the saints is a tremendous encouragement, but it is easy to forget. It is easy to forget that your brothers and sisters are laboring with you in prayer and working to see the same gospel truth proclaimed in the face of a dying world. It is difficult to remember, but it must be remembered that Christians are not alone in the mission of God. You are not alone in the advancement of the Gospel.

Pay close attention to Paul’s prayer in verses 9-11 in light of the connection that he has with other believers. His prayer is specifically targeted toward the advancement of the Gospel. His prayer is progressive in nature, beginning in love and being built up to the display of the character of God.

First Paul prays for the love of believers to increase. This is not surprising. Love is the greatest mark of a believer in Jesus. When a Christian exhibits an unconditional love for a world that rejects them, they validate their faith by their similarity to Christ. The world will recognize Christians by their love. (John 13:35) If you do not have love, you do not know Jesus. (C.f. the whole book of 1 John) Paul prays for the increase of this love among the saints. This is how believers ought to pray for one another: that love may increase, for in the increase of our love, the glory of God’s love will be displayed all the more.

This prayer for the increase of love is coupled with a specific charge of growth. Love must grow with “knowledge and discernment.” (v. 9) These two words indicate both a deep foundational and penetrating understanding of truth: knowledge; and an external, perceptive, almost environmental understanding of truth: discernment. When combined, these two words summarize Godly wisdom. Wisdom that is the result of disciplined searching to find truth as well as experienced.

In order for love to abound this way, it must be practiced. The prayer for love to grow in this way demands action from those who read these words. One cannot learn to discern if they do not dare to venture out in love. One cannot seek deep foundational truths of love if they are unwilling plumb the depths of what this knowledge implies. To grow in this way demands action, for there is no other way to learn such love.

Verse 10 gives the reader the motivation for such a prayer: holiness. Paul and Timothy are concerned for the righteous lifestyle of their readers. Through their prayers they are calling the Philippian believers to pursue a life of holiness and devotion to the Lord. So that on the day when Christ returns to claim His bride, they will be found to be without blemish.

It is a peculiar belief that Christians hold. The belief that the church is the bride of Christ and that He will one day return to claim His own. Seriously, think about that for a moment. Christians believe that God became a man, living a perfect life; forgave all who believe in Him by dying on a tree; rose three days later, giving life to those who trust in Him; ascended into heaven; and is going to come back on a white horse to reclaim His beloved (those who believe). We sound a little crazy. But only if it is not true. If it is true, then it is the most precious of all truths and demands that we live accordingly. We pursue holiness because Christ is real and what He says about Himself is true. He really is God. He really is good. He really does love. And He really is returning.

So now we pursue knowing Him to the fullest. We seek after His great name and yearn for His presence. In doing so we become conformed to His likeness and enjoy the “fruit of righteousness” afforded in knowing Him. (v.11) It is in knowing Him and following His commands that these truths are made manifest in our lives. He is the source of righteousness and it is by His strength that you are able to be righteous. Cling to Christ. You have a little time on this earth. Get to know Him, that you may see glory.

 

[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 68). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.