Philippians 3:3; Brief Thoughts

For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

Throughout history, the people of God have been marked by a particular physical mark. Circumcision has marked the Hebrew people as God’s special covenantal nation since Abraham. For more than 4,000 years the Jewish people (men particularly) have been identified by this unique covenantal mark. Circumcision is a physical metaphor for the pure lifestyle that the Jewish people were to exemplify as set-apart people in the world. Their entire life was to be especially dedicated to their God and the worship of His name. He specifically designated them as a people upon whom He would set His affections. They were to be people who lived radically different lives than the world around them: lives that were dedicated to the mission and worship of the LORD. The physical mark was important and set them apart from the world around them, but it was a physical mark that indicated a deeper spiritual truth. The true people of God were those who had the sinful flesh nature removed by faith in God’s messianic promises. The true follower of the Lord were not those who simply obeyed the law of circumcision, but those who trusted in “Jehovah Mikodeshkim,” meaning – The LORD who sanctifies you (Ex. 31:13, c.f. Romans 9).[i]

Paul remains consistent with the theology of the Old Testament proclaiming that those who are worshipers of God by the Spirit of God are those who are truly transformed and circumcised in their spirit. Three identifying marks are given for those who are truly the people of God.

First, Christians are people who “worship by the Spirit.” Believers give to God devoted acts of service to Him by the power of His Spirit. Their worship in unique because it is accomplished in the power of His Spirit and not by any power of their own. The only way a person is capable of worshiping the Lord, is if the Lord changes the heart of that person. Romans chapters 1-3 articulate very well the nature of man: a nature that is bent away from righteousness and away from God. The only way for that person to change is for an outside force to enact some sort of change on their nature. Thank God for Jesus Christ who, while we were still sinners, demonstrated God’s love for us when He died for us (Romans 5:8). It is by His Spirit that we are able to worship and it is in the power of His Spirit that we worship at all.

Second, Christians find their identity in Christ Jesus. The concept of glory can best be understood as an accurate depiction of reality. For example: the glory of a frog is that it is slimy, hops, and croaks. The glory of cat is that it purrs, meows, and causes allergies. The glory of man is that he is sinful. So, when a man has been transformed from the heart, by the Spirit of God, that man’s glory is now found in the life of his creator, or more accurately: his re-creator. Christianity is an exchange of glory. The believer exchanges his/her former glory of sin and self for the glory of Jesus (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). This is an important truth to grasp: that God has changed the nature of a Christian and has begun the process of sanctification, conforming His adopted children to His own image or glory.

Third, Christians place their confidence in what Christ has done and not in their own life achievements. A believer’s confidence is built upon what has been done for them in Christ. It is not the greatness of the individual who worships the LORD, but the greatness of the LORD that compels the Christian’s confidence. Because Christ has rescued believers, the believer is confident in their present state. Because Christ continues to work in the heart of believers, believers are confident in their abilities. Because Christ has secured the future resurrection, believers are confident of their own personal destiny. This confidence is unshakable because it is not built on human efforts. It is a confidence founded on the greatness of God and His character.

Rest in this confidence, Christian. His greatness is the foundation of our strength.

[i] At the conclusion of the law in Exodus, God tells His people that they will keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. On that day they will remember that it is not their work that makes them Holy, but the LORD who does it.

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Philippians 3:1-3; Brief Thoughts

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 

Christian are people with a particular affection for joy. There is a unique capacity within the soul of a reborn man/woman for joy in every circumstance. Because of Christ and His sovereign control and activity in all things, Christians are especially suited toward a joy-filled life. So, Paul writes the constant affirmative exhortation to rejoice. By this point in the epistle Paul has established that there ample reason to rejoice in the life of a Christian. Consider what has been accomplished in the hearts of believers through the work of Christ. He has rescued and has started the sanctification process which Paul observes that God will complete (1:6). With the confidence of an active God who cares deeply for your needs and is engaged in their lives, Christians can rejoice in any and every circumstance.

Sometimes, it can be exhausting to remind people of the truth of who they are. But in the area of rejoicing, it is a delight to remind brothers and sisters that they are privileged to rejoice. Moreover, the particular reminder of rejoicing in the Lord is safe for those to whom the reminder is given. Consider what Paul means by “safe.” He is not here insinuating that there is some sort of physical or material security in rejoicing. Rather, there is a security in the Christian walk when believers focus their attention on living a lifestyle of joy. As Christians focus on rejoicing, it becomes increasingly difficult to allow circumstance to overrule that joy.

Cultivating a lifestyle of rejoicing starts by developing a heart of gratitude. The person who can be grateful to God for the circumstances in which they find themselves will have little difficulty rejoicing. Oh Christian, learn to express thanks in all things and joy will come with much greater ease. Further, when a Christian is genuinely seeking joy, they will not afford the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27). If one is busy about cultivating joy in their lives, they will have no time for the sins that so easily ensare. So, it is safe for Paul to write these words to the Philippians.

Verse 2 begins Paul’s conclusion to the Philippians. What follows are warnings and reminders beginning with a warning about the Judaizers. These were a group of Jewish Christians in the first century who demanded obedience to the Old Testament Law. Legalistic at their core, they insisted that Christians must observe the ritualistic practices of the Jewish religion, especially that of circumcision.[i] This distinction is why Paul refers to them in such graphic terms. Judaizers were literally insisting on physical harm to the body in effort to uphold the Jewish law. Yet Christians are not bound to the Law. Having been set from the Law, they have now bound themselves to grace (c.f. Romans 6 and the whole book of Galatians).

Paul calls the legalists, “dogs,” warning his hearers to be on guard for them and watch for them. Even in modern culture, the same tendency exists to insist on morality over faith. There are numerous examples of modern legalists in the western church. There are those who espouse a political label, who are dominated by a culture of traditionalism and moralism. There are those who follow ritualistic practices that are nowhere to be found in the Scripture. There are those who espouse a doctrine of morality without faith. Friends, this is not Christian at all. The Judaizers were not believers. Neither are many self-proclaimed Christians in the west.

Paul asserts that there is evil among these people. He explains that they are evil-doers. People who place a legalistic morality above faith are practicing evil. It is simple. Anytime one puts the Gospel into a system that demands morality in order for the Gospel to save, then the Gospel has been nullified and replaced with a moralistic legalism.

There is one group that can claim to be God’s chosen people. That is those who have come to Christ in worship by the Spirit of God. These are the people of God. They are the true circumcision: those who have had the flesh nature removed from their heart and are new creations (c.f. Col. 3 and Gal, 5:24, and 2 Cor. 5). Believers can claim this title because it was given by God. It is not earned or claimed because of some sort of moral excellence. It is bestowed on those who have trusted in Christ. It is in surrender and trust that believers find their confidence. Likewise, the confidence of a Christian must be centrally located in the work and character of Christ. The flesh is of no benefit. Only the worship of Christ in the Spirit can one find the ability to rejoice always.

 

[i] Poole, M. (1853). Annotations upon the Holy Bible (Vol. 3, p. 695). New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.

Philippians 2:25-30; Brief Thoughts

25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul sends Epaphroditus bearing the letter. Paul hopes to send Timothy soon and Epaphroditus will be sent ahead to deliver Paul’s message to the Philippians. Paul views Epaphroditus as a “brother,” “worker,” “soldier,” “messenger,” and “minister.”[i] There is a comradery in Paul’s relationship with Epaphroditus that is common to all Christians and these five descriptors display that fellowship in various facets.

First, Christians have a familial relationship. The Scripture is clear, those who believe in Jesus Christ are brought into a family. God is Father to Christians. Jesus is brother. Believers are “fellow heirs” (Rom. 8:17). Christians have been adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5). The first connection made between people who believe is that of a family. It is particularly important to recognize the implications of this relationship. Family is not something you choose or something that is decided upon by one’s volition. Family is assigned and prescribed by parentage. The parents either bear or adopt the child. So it is with faith: God has adopted those into His Kingdom by His own volition. The parentage of the Christian is not dependent on the will or work of the Christian (Rom. 9:16). Rather, it depends on God. This should give Christians great encouragement: Christians cannot lose their place in God’s family, precisely because they are members of His family. What great security!

Second, Christians share labor in the gospel. Epaphroditus has labored next to Paul working for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was faithful to deliver the gifts that the Philippians sent to Paul and he has successfully related the concern of the Philippian believers to Paul. Ephaphroditus has served the congregation at Philippi and is anxious to return to the brothers and sisters.[ii] He is truly united with Paul in labor and mission.

Third, Christians are united in the shared mission of God’s gospel advancement. Paul recognizes that there is a military-like mission in which Christians are engaged. Christians are in the midst of a battle. It is not a battle against flesh and blood or rulers on this earth. But a battle against sin and rulers of darkness in Spiritual realms (c.f. Eph. 6).

The fourth descriptor is quite simple: Epaphroditus bears the message that Paul has written to the Philippians. Therefore this title needs very little attention except to illuminate that all Christians bear the message of the Gospel to everyone they encounter.

Finally, Epaphroditus serves as a minister to the Philippians. He is faithful to be concerned with their needs and to serve them in the gospel. The title of minister ought to be consistently exemplified in all Christians. Christians are changed by the gospel and, as such, live changed lives in relation to those around them. When the Gospel demands that a brother or sister in Christ lay down comfort or even life itself for the sake of ministry, then the Christian submits to the Gospel in joy and surrender. Likewise, The faithful Philippian minister has surrendered his life in favor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Epaphroditus came to Paul, he fell ill. In service to relate the love of Christian brotherhood, he almost surrendered his own life. Yet, the Lord was merciful to him. Paul expresses that this mercy is shared. The loss of a brother, even to heaven, is still a difficult ordeal to walk through. So God spared Paul sorrow and Epaphroditus recovered. In his act of self-sacrifice, Epaphroditus is a hero. Paul admonishes believer to treat men who sacrifice comfort, and well-being in the face of the gospel ministry as heroes. One who is willing to lay down his or her own life for the sake of the gospel is worthy of a hero’s honor.

Who do you know that deserves such honor? How can you honor them? Get to work figuring that out.

[i] ESV

[ii] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 329). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

 

Philippians 2:19-24; Brief Thoughts

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

Christians are part of an army of faith. They are connected in a cause that is greater than themselves and that establishes them in unity through battle. So it is with Paul and Timothy. Timothy and Paul have found themselves battle-hardened together. As they have been knit together through the gospel, they have come to value the connection they share based on the gospel. So deep is their connection that they share affection and concern for the Philippians.

The connection exemplified in Paul and Timothy is not unusual for Christians. It is a profound connection that unites Christians. They are not united around the same principles as the rest of the world. For others, there must be some commonality in order for communion to occur. People seek others who share the same affinity, preference, interest, life-stage, vocation, etc… Yet, for the Christian there need only be Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the sole foundation of the community of faith. All other disunities and divergences are overcome and surpassed by the great truth of who He is and what He has done. This is why Christians across the world can weep for one another’s burdens and can rejoice in each other’s successes. There is a common mission and a common soul-bond between those in the household of faith. Timothy exemplifies this bond. Whereas everyone else is concerned for their own interests, Timothy seeks the interest of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting that Paul does not cite Timothy as seeking the interest of the Philippians, but that of Christ. Christians find their common interest in Christ Jesus, not in their affinities or affections. Consider what the churches in the west would look like if their common bond was based on Christ and His mission alone. The beauty of this sort of community could change the world.[i]

Paul hopes to be released to see his brothers and sisters soon. While he has yet to have received a verdict in his case and his future is technically uncertain, he recognizes that his verdict is already in the hands of God and his future is, in reality, certain. This is why his hope for release “in the Lord.” Paul is certain that the Lord’s will is going to be accomplished and he hopes that he will be reunited with the brothers at Philippi soon. The confidence of a believer to endure through any circumstance is remarkable. This confidence is based entirely on the work and life of Christ in the heart of His people. So Paul can say with confidence that he hopes to join them soon, because he is trusting that, whatever the outcome may be, it is the Lord’s design.

Often, when a Christian speaks of sovereignty or providence, the discussion upsets immature believers and non-believers. There is a sense in which the reality of God’s providential care over all things should upset weak and non-believers. The recognition that man is not in control of his own destiny ought to bother the independent spirit. So, the young believer is no exception and the struggle to trust Christ with control of all things is a difficult one. But, for Paul, the providence and sovereignty of God is critically important and is part of the foundation of his confidence. Likewise, true believers will cling to the truth that God is ultimately in control of circumstance and that no circumstance is outside of His purview. It is this confidence that allows Christians to hope for what is to come, no matter how difficult it may be. Christians are confident in the future because they are confident of God’s presence in and engagement of their current circumstance.

Oh brother or sister, can you boast of such a confidence? Can you be brought low to a prison and have the confidence that you are right where God has placed you? Can you overcome circumstance and trust that the Lord will accomplish His purposes even amidst your suffering and seeming failure? I hope in the Lord that you can.

[i] For a more thorough examination of gospel centered community, check out Mark Dever’s work: “The Compelling Community.”

Philippians 2:16-18; Brief Thoughts

holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The eternal weight of God’s glory and presence is precious in the heart of a believer. So dear is it to the heart of a faithful servant of God that all the labor of their hands and motivation of their hearts are for the purpose of God’s praise and eternity.

Paul urges the Philippians to maintain a consistent life of obedience to the gospel because he wants to insure that his work has not be wasted. Vanity is a constant reality for those who place their confidence in the temporal rewards of this life, be it money, fame, or number of people one claims as their own. If one desires to be thought a success in this life or to please men, then their end will be destruction. For Paul, the joy of his work and race here on earth is found in the steadfastness of the faith in those whom he has taught. Paul has spent all of his life on the gospel of Jesus Christ and has come away from that with a contentment that is impossible to find elsewhere. Only in pouring one’s life out for the gospel can such a content fulfilment be achieved.

Take note of the confidence with which Paul asserts this powerful and profound truth. Even if he dies, he is able to rejoice with the Philippian believers. This confidence exceeds all circumstance. Christians are able to say that they have joy no matter what the circumstance they find themselves in. This is the value of an eternal perspective: that your present condition is overruled and overwhelmed by your future reality. Remember: God’s proclamation overrules one’s present perception. So, if God says something is true of His people, then it is true regardless of their perceptions.

As a pastor in the west, I sometimes find it difficult not to associate my success with the standards that this world affirms. It is hard to seek to measure my work by the faithfulness and consistency of those I teach rather than the number of people who walk through my ministry. For my part, I take heart in the faithful examples of Scripture. I remind myself that Jeremiah was faithful to proclaim God’s word and only ever had a handful of converts. Apollos was one of the greatest orators in the New Testament and the church he pastored (Corinth) was one of the most morally bankrupt churches (although our modern western churches may be far worse). Paul started multiple churches and raised up numerous pastors whose names are lost to history but will be lauded in Heaven. Indeed, the number of obscure men and women who have changed the course of history through their faithful obedience is incalculable. At least, not in this life.

With a perspective such as Paul’s, Christians are unstoppable. When our barometer for success is the joy of fellowship with Christ and the faithful walk of holiness, then there is nothing to lose in this life. Oh Christian, reckon within yourself this truth: there is nothing for you to lose here. No fame, accolade, or reward on this earth can compare to the reward of heaven and the delight of God. Seek to obey and call others to obedience and you will find lasting joy in your Christian walk.

A special note to pastors:

When will you cease to judge your success by the standards forced upon you by a worldly system? Paul exemplifies for us our measurement: are our people faithful to the gospel. Your measure of success is not how many or how often or how much. Your measure of success is how faithful. First, how faithful am I. Then how faithful is what I teach. Then how faithful are my brothers and sisters.

In asking the first question we must be willing to be transparent. If you are not faithful to obedience and a consistent walk of holiness, then you need to repent and do so now! You must pursue holiness over success.

In the second question, you must seek understanding of Scripture. Your teaching must be consistent and devoted to truth of the gospel. Be faithful to teach the Bible for what the Bible says. Remember, God will judge teachers based on what and how they have taught.

Finally, labor hard to insure that your people are able to articulate the Gospel. Remember: it is the Spirit that changes the heart, it is your responsibility teach people what the Gospel says. It is His responsibility to convert the soul.

Philippians 2:14-16a; Brief Thoughts

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 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, 16 holding fast to the word of life…

Consider what life would be like for someone who never complains or grumbles about anything. It is difficult to imagine this in a world where the majority of conversations, news, and entertainment are based on sarcasm and complaints. This is one aspect of life in which Christians are to be separate and radically different from the world. Paul admonishes the believers, “do all things without grumbling or disputing.”[i] Following verse 1-11, this exhortation is perfectly logical. If a believer exemplifies the same humility that is present in the character of Christ, then it stands to reason that the believer will be submissive and obedient to the will of God, accomplishing the tasks that God has set before them without complaint.

It is intriguing that Christians are encouraged not to dispute. This is one of the chief accusations leveled at the church in modern times. It seems Christians would rather argue over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary then discuss real world issues. The denominational arguments and inter-denominational disputes have displayed a character of argumentative division.[ii] To be clear, it is imperative that Christians struggle with one another to understand God and His nature. It is necessary for disagreements about theology to arise as we discuss what we see in Scripture. These kinds of discussions are not what Paul is addressing in verse 14. Rather, the Philippians are encouraged to live a humble lifestyle that does not complain or argue about the circumstances that they find themselves in.

When Christians strive for holiness, the world takes notice. Christians stand out, not only because what they do is different from the world, but because of what they do not do. Christians do not respond with the same selfishly-divisive attitude when the stresses of life come upon them. They stand in humility, willingly submitting to God’s design and accepting what seems impossible to accept. When humanity is pressed and stresses are placed on those who do not believe in Christ, it is rare for that person or people to respond with anything other than complaint and division. However, these two characteristic responses are to be absent from the Christian. If grumbling and disputing are the normative response in a person’s life, that person needs to repent and trust in Jesus. Only Jesus can change the heart so that when life shakes you, grace comes out.

God changes the heart of those who believe in Him (c.f. Ezekiel 36:22-38). In changing their hearts, He engages the world with His own image. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that believers are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [their] creator.”[iii] The Lord has established Christians as the image bearers who would live a lifestyle so contrary to the world around them that they improve their surroundings simply by living in them.

Are you cultivating beauty in the world around you? Does your presence make the lives of those who are around you a better place? Christians are lights, bringing illumination to a dark world ruled by selfishness and death. For a believer, truth and love are the guiding principles of life. As such is the case, Christians rest in the truth that God is in control of everything and that they need not argue over the trivialities that consume the rest of the world.[iv] Further, Christians improve society. The humility and service modeled by Christ changes the world. If believers would simply live as they are made to, then the world would be a more beautiful place. Unfortunately, many in western Christianity have decided it is more important to have a beautiful building and nice carpet than to engage in making the world a better place for the name of the Gospel. Saints, it is time to work to improve our surroundings. The Gospel changes souls, indeed it also changes the way those souls live on this earth. Strive to cultivate beauty, effect change, and serve the world. In doing so, you will shine!

We cultivate this lifestyle and improve our world by “holding fast to the word of life” (v. 16). Obey the Bible. It seems almost too simple, but it is true. If Christians will obey the Bible and live by what it says, they’ll see the world change.

[i] ESV Philippians 2:14

[ii] This particular division is extremely prevelant in the Southern Baptist denomination, which has been arguing and disputing as of late on soteriological matters which are important and policy issues that are unimportant.

[iii] ESV Col. 3:10

[iv] In the west, these trivialities extend all the way to our political systems.

Philippians 2:12-13; Brief Thoughts

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Having exemplified the character and nature of Christ, Paul admonishes his hearer to obedience. As Christ is humble, so Christians should be humble. As Christ is obedient to death, so Christians should obey. If a believer bears the name of Christ, then they should behave accordingly.

Take note of the nature of this admonition. Paul’s appeal for obedience does not hinge on an obligation, law, or even assumed merit. Paul’s exhortation is based entirely on the character of Christ. Verses 1-11 serve as the premise for the exhortation of verse 12. Rightfully so, because: the character of Christ establishes the motivation for the Christian life. It is the work of Jesus that calls us to obedience, not the work of our hands or the desire of our will. Consider what Christ has done. Think about the work He accomplished. Now, consider what lay ahead of you. Is there any trial or turmoil you cannot withstand given the work that Christ has done in you?

The Philippians are marked by obedience to the Lord. Paul encourages them to continue in obedience and by doing so, “work out their own salvation” (v 12). Their working out of salvation is connected to their own obedience. When Christians pursue holiness and righteousness, they are working out their salvation. It has been common amidst pulpits in the western church to debate the meaning of “work out your own salvation.” However, there is little merit for the debate. After all, this passage is incredibly simple and self-evident. Believers are called to obey and in that obedience, their salvation is proven as genuine.

Challenge yourself! How strong is your faith? Will you be able to obey in the midst of difficult circumstance? Test yourself in this. Strengthen your faith by walking in obedience to Him with deep respect and fear. You will discern the power and effect of your salvation by your obedience to Christ.

Paul follows his exhortation with the reminder that it is God who does the work (v. 13). In the heart of a believer, God is the active agent for transformation and the subsequent evidence of obedience. The power to obey does not emanate from the human will or spirit. The ability to conquer sin does not come from a desire born within and from the heart of a man. Rather, it comes from God. God calls to Himself a people and in doing so, begins to transform and sanctify their hearts to be more like Himself.

Ponder, for a moment, the power that is given to a believer to accomplish the mission of God. Jesus has accomplished the works of humiliation and obedience on behalf of believers. He sacrificed His own majesty and kingship, became a servant, and died on a cross. He lived a life of perfect obedience on behalf of those who believe, so that they would be able to claim His righteousness. Following His death, God the Father resurrected Jesus in power and made Him King over everything, effectively establishing Jesus’ dominion over every being.

God, who resurrected Jesus, now works in those who believe to accomplish His purposes. His divine power is evident in the obedience and righteous lives of those who believe. A Christian has the power to obey, not because of their own ability or self-righteousness, but because of what God has, is, and will be doing in their hearts. He works in the believer to the ultimate end of supreme value. That is to say, God works within the hearts of believers so that His pleasure would be fully realized in them. It is the great joy of Christians to delight in God. It is God’s delight for believers delight in Him.

So then, get to work! If you are empowered by Christ to obey and God is the one who accomplishes the work, then what do you have to lose? It is not in your power that you are able to overcome, it is by His strength and His power. So… get to work! Pursue holiness and knowledge of God. Get to know the creator of all things and delight yourself in Him.