All posts by John and Stephanie

Loving Jesus and making our way in this world

Great Art: You Must Linger to See it

When the soul needs respite and the heart needs the vexing challenge of soul-stirring intellectual engagement, art offers a haven. On the nights when one cannot recognize the eyes of the individual in the mirror and the world seems as though it is failing to maintain its own rotation, art gives us a perspective that can rescue. When the everyday monotony of life begins to drain our souls of joy, art refreshes and revitalizes our hearts. Art: three simple letters used to label the concept of expression in total. The word seems wholly inadequate. It should be longer and have an “x” somewhere in it. Perhaps it is simple and short because art is easy to overlook and pass by?

Art is a powerful medium to express that which is inexpressible by any other means. Great art transcends cultures and time. It has no limitations and only grows in its appreciation as it is engaged. Great art refracts through layers of expression that expose a deeper truth, often revealing things that cannot be understood without equally deep investigation.

As of late, I have been inspired by the work of Makoto Fujimura. He uses a particular style of Japanese art to produce works that are masterful. Fujimura’s work is literally done in layers. Several translucent layers, one on top of another. The result is stunning, but only if the viewer allows them to linger. You see, the eye has to adjust to seeing the layers. In our modern world, this is extremely difficult to do. Yet, to appreciate the beauty of Fujimura’s work, the eye must hold fast to the piece. We must train our eyes to linger and rest on the expression. As the eye grows accustomed to the peculiar focus required to see the layers, the piece will spring to life. The greater attention given to grasping the work, the more beautiful it becomes.

So it is with all great art. The soul must be allowed breathe deeply the scent of expression. We must permit our souls the time to linger… to gaze upon the beauty and understand. Our souls, like our eyes, must adjust to the refraction of the light. As the light illuminates the layers of the canvas, our eyes slowly gain the necessary perception and begin to see the glory of the painting. We begin to see the work of the artist.

The Greatest Artist has displayed His work in layers that have become common to our eyes. We fly past His work constantly, seldom stopping to admire the layers of His glory. But if we would linger a bit, we would find our eyes adjust to an ever increasing beauty in the Father of Life. If will settle our souls to seek and savor Jesus Christ, we will find the much-needed respite from this present monotony. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Now a brief word of warning: Jesus is The Artist, who created everything. He is also the Light that exposes the work. When you stand in His presence to see His work, you will inevitably find some layers of yourself exposed. And that can be uncomfortable. But, to see the beauty of The King and to know His work is worth it.

Linger over the great truths of Scripture. Engage the incredible artworks produced by God’s people. Gaze at the beauty of what and who God has created. Listen to the music that He provides upon the winds. Seek beauty in Christ’s display of His glory. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Who’s in Charge?

If someone were to ask you, “who is in charge at your church?” What would be your answer? Is it the senior pastor? The Deacons? The elder board? Maybe the congregation? What would you say?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was a young seminary student and my professor asked the class, “Who is in charge at your church?” To be fair the question is a loaded one to begin with. First, take note that the question is not, “who makes decisions” or “who has the most influence.” It is who is “in charge.” “In charge” is kind of an ambiguous descriptor.  Second, take note that you have some ownership in this church. It’s not called “the church.” It is “your church.” So, who is in charge at your church? The burden is not to identify who should be in charge but who is in charge. This question is designed to make you answer quickly without much thought.

I remember thinking about staff structure, doodling something in my notebook, and anxiously looking around. I thought, “Well, we have a pastoral staff and a deacon body that kind of work together in submission to and under the direction of a congregation that has regular meetings?” Others fired off similar answers. The Bible-church guys spoke about elders. The SBC guys about their staffs. Others spoke about the power-broking members. And still others about deacons and senior pastors. Then the answer was given by a guy in the back.

I got the question wrong. I remember starting to tear up as I considered my answer. I was WAY off. I thought we could be in charge. In my simple answer, I recognized men as those in charge. The question threw me. The question referred to the church as mine, it asked who is in charge. The truth is: if the answer to the question is anything other than Jesus, then you don’t have a church… But, coming to some realizations can help you become one.

In order to answer the question of who is in charge well, we must recognize some things about God:

God is in Charge… of everything!

In Psalms 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” In Daniel 3:34-35 it says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “what have You done?” Further in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only is God in charge, but humanity is incapable without Him. Indeed, His church is incapable without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge, whether we like it or not. Practically, spiritually, and actually. God is in charge.

God Does What He Wants

He is not passive. He does what He pleases and He is constantly involved in what we do (c.f. Isa 45:5-7). Consider the testimony of the Old Testament. He radically saves His chosen from Egypt through signs and wonders. He leads them across the red sea. He heals them at the waters of Marah. He directs their every step into the promised-land. He confronts kings and destroys wicked people over sin. He directly intervenes on numerous occasions. And He identifies and calls a people to Himself. He is not passive. He has called His church, even now, to walk in holiness with Him and under His direction (1 Peter 1:15).

God Speaks Through His Word

He is not silent. God speaks clearly through the Bible. His words are recorded in the Scripture. The Lord values this truth so much that He insisted that His people cling to His Word (c.f. Deut. 8). They were to admonish each other with it and teach it to their children. When the people of God return from the exile, Ezra spends 13 years teaching the people the Scriptures. When Jesus begins His ministry, it is by opening the Word of God in Luke 4 and proclaiming the truth of Scripture. God is always speaking and He has given His people instructions. 2 Timothy 3:16 calls the Scripture, “God’s breath.” Think about that for a moment. God’s breath is what gave life to Adam and it is what animates our souls now! (The New Testament is included in the reference to Scripture. It self-identifies as such in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and in 2 Peter 3:15).

God is Present

He is not distant. All through Scripture God is intimately involved with His people. He feels their pains, rejoices in their successes and interacts with their failings. He is not emotionally separated from us. One of the most profound illustrations of God’s intimate connection with those He loves is John 10:37. Jesus weeps with Mary because He knows the pain she feels and He feels it as well. Jesus is an infinitely personal God, who loves His people and is purposefully connected to them. In John 1 we are told that The Word (Jesus) came down and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). Jesus purposefully made Himself nothing, became and man, took on our infirmities, lived a perfect life, and died in our stead (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, He promises He will never leave and that He will give a “Helper” to us who will dwell within those who believe (John 14:16; c.f. John 14). He is present within those who trust in Him.

This is Jesus… Your church belongs to Him… He is in charge.

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out. http://www.sgfbrazoria.org.

Two Kings, a choice of allegiance

There are two kingdoms in view from this life. One is visible and tangible. The other is invisible and requires faith. The first has a great many adherents and seems to offer great reward. The second offers eternity.

In Genesis 14:17-24, Abram returns from rescuing his nephew from a group of Kings who plundered Sodom and conscripted its people into slavery. Upon his return, Abram is greeted by two very different Kings. The first is the King of Sodom. This king has wealth and prestige. He comes out to greet Abram in the King’s Valley, an area outside of the city of Sodom. He brings no reward for Abram, for he has none to give… after all, Abram just reclaimed all the plunder that was taken from Sodom. The King of Sodom offers Abram the plunder and requests only the return of his people. The second King is Melchizedek the King of Salem (Literally translated from Hebrew, “The Righteous King, King of Heaven”). This King brings Abram “wine and bread,” and a blessing from the Most High God (v.18-20). This second King offers Abram something ethereal and invisible. He offers Abram God.

Abram is confronted with two different kings and their respective kingdoms. One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible. One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram

One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible.

One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram keep the plunder and that king is given all the plunder.

Abram’s response to these two kings is perplexing. He is offered riches by the King of Sodom and he refuses, claiming that only God can make him rich. It’s perplexing because the King of Sodom could easily argue that God has made Abram rich by giving him victory over the 5 kings and the plunder is his just reward. Surely Abram is permitted the reward for his victory! He would be well within his rights to claim the spoil of war. Yet, he insists that he will not take it. He insists that He will not be given riches by anyone but his God.

Melchizedek brings Abram bread and wine on behalf of God. It does not take much stretching to recognize that Melchizedek is representative of (if not an actual Christophany) Jesus Christ. He comes to Abram and offers him communion. The covering of Jesus’ body and blood. He hands Abram righteousness and then blesses him in the name of God. Note the descriptors used to describe God in his blessing: Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, and The Deliverer. Melchizedek’s descriptions are pointed. The Lord is the greatest King, He owns everything, and Abram is delivered from death by His hand. Viewing God through these descriptors, is it any wonder that Abram would turn away from allegiance to the King of Sodom? No… it is not (just gonna go ahead and answer that for you). For Abram, only God has the ability to provide and only God can give reward.

Still… to the people of this earth, Abram’s response is peculiar. He rejects the one king who has the visible wealth and respect in favor of The King he cannot see and must trust to provide. We are offered the same choice in this life. We can choose to make ourselves look good to the world, secure ourselves with the labor of our own hands, and accept the rewards that the kings of this world will offer. Or we can trust in a King that we cannot see, secure ourselves in His labor, and hold fast to a coming reward that far exceeds anything we could ever imagine.

If we see this earth and success on it as our chief end, then we will inevitably accept whatever reward this earth offers. However, if we have a covenant relationship with the LORD Most High and grasp (however slightly) the value and greatness of Heaven, we will reject this world’s wealth and fleeting pleasures in favor of something much greater. Abram’s eyes were open to the reality of God and His immensity. In view of Him and His greatness, our world seems minuscule. Consider this: You work for 60 years to secure your finale 15 on this earth, or do you work for 75 years to secure an eternity? The trouble many of us have is we can see the 15 years. We can see the kingdom that is laid out before our eyes here. But, in comparison, eternity far outweighs this life.

Our response needs to be the same as Abram’s. We must trust in the Righteous King of Heaven to make us righteous. We must have the perspective that recognizes that He is the King over all things and owns everything on this earth. We must trust in Him to provide for our every need, especially our eternal dwellings. Trust in Christ for your rescue.

Philippians 4:14-20 pt. 2; Brief Thoughts

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was troubled, to say the least. He entered the local synagogue there and labored to explain who Jesus is and what Jesus had done. Though many of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, a mob formed and tried to seize Paul and Silas to bring them up on charges of treason against Ceasar and have them arrested or even killed. After some bribes were paid by the believers, Paul and Silas fled the city by night (C.f. Acts 17:1-9).

What a terrifying reality to face. Imagine entering a city and preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ with some measure of conversion and success in persuasion, only to find out that a small minority of hateful people have rejected the gospel, formed a mob, and are seeking your death. Certainly, Paul knows what rejection feels like. From an external perspective, Thessalonica appears to be a failure in Paul’s missionary journeys. He was unable to peacefully develop a church community and faced such violence that he was forced to flee. His rejection was evident and the failure was palpable. Yet, the Philippians supported his efforts and maintained concern for his work. It was their contribution that permitted Paul and Silas to work in Thessalonica without cost (1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-8). The Philippians have been consistently supportive of Paul’s missions from the beginning and have maintained that support even in locations where it seemed as if there was no fruit.

Paul did not have to produce reports for the Philippians or send them pictures and testimonials from the field. Instead, they pursued his work and his affection. They sent messengers to him with care packages and pursued him to learn about what was going on in the places he was ministering. While it would have been easy to discount Paul’s ministry at times and insist that they could spend their resources better elsewhere, the Philippians trusted in the Lord to fulfill the work and entrusted their resources to God’s minister. It is this sort of giving that validates the affection of the church for the mission of God. If the church is openhanded with its giving and actively involved in pursuing knowledge of the work, then that church is proving its own affection for the gospel ministry.

Epaphroditus traveled to Paul, risking his life for the opportunity to share in the work of the gospel through the gift of resources to Paul. It is a tremendous blessing to the missionary when others who are like-minded are willing to sacrifice in order to join in the work. This sort of support sends the message to the missionary that they are not alone. One of the most common hindrance to the Christian leader is a feeling of loneliness. In the face of rejection and seeming failure, it is easy to feel alone on the mission. When fellow believers pray, support, investigate, and get involved with the work, missionaries can rest in the confidence that they are not alone and they can lean on the emotional and material support of the broader family of God.

All this support is to the glory of God. Paul’s growing confidence in the Philippians is not only assuring him that he is not alone in the work. It is also fortifying his confidence in the sovereign Lord of all things. Through the provision of support for the gospel ministry, the Philippians are actually validating God’s own sovereign work. The surrender of possessions and commitment to Paul’s missionary efforts serve as validation of their affection, but also of God’s approval and efforts. So Paul’s extreme confidence in God’s provision and sovereignty is only strengthened through the efforts of the Philippians.

When a church submits to sacrifice for the work of the gospel, there will inevitably be a hesitancy to continue with the work as their own resources and ability to provide for their own work diminishes. In times when resources are depleting and efforts seem to be stretching too thin, the church needs the reminder of verse 19: God will “supply your needs.” It is a common struggle in modern western churches to place their security in their own supply of money and resources. Western churches are extremely wealthy. Even the poorest of churches in the west is more financially stable than the average church in the rest of the world. At first, this appears to be a benefit that God has lavished upon His people. However, a careful observer can see that wealth is not always a blessing. Attend one or two business meetings at a local church and the heart of the leadership will quickly be revealed. How much time is spent debating frivolities that cost money and how much time is given to prayer and reports from the mission field or church planting? Does the church spend the majority of its time debating how money is spent or do they spend their time praying and investigating where to send their money? When the money and resources are beginning to be exhausted, the church leaders should remind the people that God will meet their needs. It is confidence in the sovereign God of all things that will bring security, not money. Surrender the finances in obedience to God and He will provide your needs.

The above questions are good questions to ask. Though they are not exhaustive in their determination of the heart of a church, they will give some indication as to the church’s dedication to the mission and their confidence in God’s provision. When you are seeking a church to partner with in ministry, seek out the heart of the leaders in that church. Then see if the people are following the Word of the Lord. If their confidence is in the Lord and His word, then they’ll be able to lead well and the people will be able to join in the mission. If not, keep searching.

Philippians 4:14-20; brief thoughts pt. 1

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs once and again.17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

One of the most prominent marks of the authenticity of a Christian community is a concern for the expansion of the gospel. When a pastor or missionary begins a new work, other Christian groups prove the veracity of their faith by their own support of the work of the gospel. This is the reason that modern division and dissension over new church starts and gospel ministries is so disheartening. When a church plant begins, often the new work has met a sort of passive rejection. Churches will express sentiments such as, “We’re not going to help and if this is the Lord’s work, it will survive.” Behind closed doors, the same churches will exclaim that their town does not need new churches. This sort of rejection is the same sort of rejection of the gospel ministry that the early church dealt with (Acts 5). Of particular interest is the statement of Gamaliel in which he advises the other Pharisees that they should leave the Christians alone because their work will fail if it is not of God (v.38-39). It is a tragic reality that many modern churches would assert the same instruction given by the opponents of the gospel in the first century.

The heart of the Christian church ought to be the increase of the mission of the gospel. When one body of believers hears of another work that is proclaiming the gospel, their response ought to be an immediate and powerful desire to join in the work. The Philippians joined in the work of the gospel from the beginning of Paul’s ministry. So great was their partnership with him that no one else joined in the work. Consider what they are being commended for: “giving and receiving.” The Philippian church joined with the work in both giving and receiving. It is easy to receive. It is easy to take the benefits that ministers and churches provide. It is quite a different when the support of another ministry requires sacrifice. The easiest way to test the authenticity of a church and its dedication to the mission of the gospel is to examine their budget and finances. Churches will allocate their money to what they deem most important.

Paul’s motivation for the commendation of the Philippians is that they would be inspired to increase and maintain their work for the gospel. He does not need nor want to gain more money from them. His motivation is for the proliferation of the gospel. Paul is glad to receive the gifts that the Philippians send because the resources sent result in the increase of the gospel. Paul has already exhibited a tremendous confidence in the provision of God for him. For Paul, the advance of the gospel message into the world is the chief purpose of the resources he is given. Concern for his own welfare and provision are secondary to the call to obey the gospel ministry.

Oh Christian, if you would submit to the calling of the gospel in the way Paul demonstrates, you would find that you have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. You will see that the Lord provides for those who follow Him. Paul surrendered every comfort for the gospel. He allowed himself no luxury and sought no benefit or provision beyond what the Lord would provide. Yet, in obeying the gospel’s call to engage his community with the gospel, he found peace, happiness, security in God’s provision, and a renewed purpose of life and ministry. You have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. Obey what the Lord calls you to do, He will meet your needs.