Tag Archives: goodness

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.

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Philippians 4:1; Cling to the Therefores

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Concluding his general exhortations to the Philippian church, Paul gives a final encouragement to them before discussing specific details. It is a fitting instruction to “Stand firm” (4:1). Amidst a culture that despises and rejects those who are devoted to the cross, the call to remain constant in faith is truly a bold exhortation. The Philippians live in an error of discomfort with Christianity. The Christians in the little Roman colony experienced the same rejection that every seemingly inconsequential religious minority experienced. However, in this case, tension mounted as the tiny sect was altering the state of their community. Persecution under the Romans began to rise, Christianity became an outcast’s religion, and adversaries who held to Judaism heightened their rhetoric and disdain for all things Christian.[i]

The weight of the encouragement to “stand firm” must have come with tears as Paul reflected on his previous years of ministry. Knowing the pain of the loss of community, the sacrifice of social standing, and the forsaking of the world’s admiration for the sake of Jesus, Paul’s exhortation to stay strong in the face of these realities is a hard encouragement to cling to. This encouragement is a recognition that the world is against Christianity. It is a rallying call to battle. It is an admission that this life is not favorable towards the faith of Christians. In this recognition, it is necessary to cling to the “therefore” and the “thus.” Christians remember the power of Christ and what He has done within them. In the face of persecution, it is imperative to remember the work of Jesus Christ in the soul. It is important to focus on the change that His work has wrought, the reward He has prepared, the power He has granted to believers, and freedom He has given them. This is why doctrinal truths are so important. In times of suffering and struggles, when the world seems to be imploding and one cannot see the victory, Christians must cling to the therefores and remember what Christ has done.

There are few letters in the new testament that are expressed with such love as the letter to the Philippians. Paul gives the Philippians four different descriptors in this single verse that give some considerable insight into their relationship. First, they are family: Paul calls them, “brothers.” The Philippians share a familial relationship to Paul and all other true Christians. When a person becomes a believer, they are adopted into a family that is united in a common purpose and affection (c.f. Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5). This is the reason for such compassion being poured out between Christians who live across the globe from each other. It is the reason that believers can weep for another believer who they have never met. Christians are family.

Like any family, Paul has a deep affection for them and desires to see them. His absence from them has only served to deepen his desire to aid them trough the instruction of the Gospel life. So it is, with great love he wrote this particular epistle to them. His words are an attempt to express that love in the best and most powerful way he knows: through the instruction of the Gospel life. Indeed, instruction and encouragement in the great work of God is the greatest love one Christian can lavish on another.

These Philippians are also a reward to Paul. They serve as a source of joy to him and they are the crown that he will present to Christ when the Lord returns. It is a remarkable truth that Christians will answer for the impact they have had on the lives of those who they have shared the gospel ministry with. This truth ought to cause Christian leaders much trembling and trepidation in their work. The fodder many so-called Christian leaders in the modern western church will present to the Lord will prove to be just that. Consider Paul’s claim of the Philippians as his crown. They are not a large church like Jerusalem, they have no famous preacher like Corinth, there is little appeal to the masses, and they are currently experiencing suffering. By modern standards of success, the Philippian church was a wasted minority. The modern church emphasizes size of the crowd and monetary gain. Pastors clamor to achieve greater numeric growth and to fill their resume with happy people who joined their private clubs. The jewels they will eventually present to Christ and the efforts they make in teaching others the Gospel life will come to naught, precisely because they have misunderstood the appropriate measure of success. Paul calls the Philippians his “joy and crown” because they have proven faithful amidst a culture’s attempt to entice them. The measure of success in ministry is the steadfastness of the faith of those that are taught the Gospel life.

It is these brothers whom we call beloved. Those for whom we would lay down our own comforts to see them rejoice in eternity. It is the believers such as those in Philippi who make the heart of the teacher/ pastor/ missionary rejoice and weep with love.

[i] Herring, Ralph A. Studies in Philippians. Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1952.

Philippians 3:7-11 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [1]

Comparative analysis is necessary when determining the course of action that best serves to benefit the individual making the decision. On the one hand, there is option A with its benefits and on the other, option B with its own rewards. A wise person will weigh the cost of each option and select the one that reaps the greatest reward. So, Paul has considered the cost of following Christ and weighed the benefits on each side and has arrived at the conclusion of these verses. The apostle determines that his former victories and life are not worthy of comparison with the reward and benefit derived from knowing Christ.

Paul explains that he has surrendered all things to Christ. Take note the language he uses to describe this surrender, “I have suffered the loss of all things…” (v. 8). Paul does not diminish the feeling of loss or the pain of suffering. He admits that it is difficult to follow the way of Christ. Paul has suffered loss and pain in his efforts to know Christ. Indeed, a brief read through the book of Acts will illuminate Paul’s difficulty quite clearly. He has lost prestige, friends, community, wealth, and even physical well-being. Along with the suffering of loss, Paul’s opinions have been transformed and he now sees worldly gain as “rubbish,” meaning something that is revolting and worthy only to be tossed out (v. 8).[2] These accolades that so thrill the soul of men are now viewed through the lens of Christ. They are no longer appealing but now pale in comparison to the glory of Christ. The pain of suffering loss is not diminished by the mental ascent toward the value of rubbish. Rather, the perspective of Paul is transformed to accept the truth of God’s proclamation. God’s proclamation is always greater than man’s perceptions. So, when the truth of Christ is proclaimed, the hearts of believers rejoice. This rejoicing does not negate the reality of loss. Indeed, it heightens the depth of loss and the present desperation that only can be filled with Christ.

Paul explains two purposes for his surrender and suffering. First, so that he may be covered in Christ Righteousness. Second, so that he may overcome death and be resurrected from the dead.

Paul’s hope for redemption is found in Christ’s righteousness and not in his own works. He knows that in surrendering all things, he will be found in Christ Jesus. To “be found in Him” is a rather profound and intriguing statement. He states not that he wishes to be covered by Christ or that he wishes to be standing by Christ. He says he wishes to be “in” Christ. Paul wants to know Christ to such a degree that the character of Paul and the character of Christ are indistinguishable. That he would be found in Christ, dependent on a righteousness that he could not earn. His longing to be so associated with Christ is coupled with the reality that he will be covered in the righteousness of Christ.

It is necessary to pause here for your sake, oh reader. Sin has separated humanity from God. Every individual has been found guilty (Rom 3:23). No one has been righteous on their own and will not be (Rom. 3:10-20). The consequence of this sinfulness is death and hell (Rom. 6:23a). God, in His kindness and mercy, has provided a way of salvation for anyone who will believe (Rom. 6:23b, 5:8-10). The believer must confess with their mouth and believe in their heart, then they will be spared the punishment and judgment against them (Rom. 10:9,13) Once a person has believed in Christ, then there is no condemnation against them any longer and they are free to follow Him (Romans 8).

To attain this righteousness, it must be given by God. The righteousness that Paul seeks comes from God, not works of the law or merit earned in some sort of service. This righteousness is granted through faith in Christ. All other righteousness is “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).

The second purpose for Paul’s surrender is resurrection. We will look more at this tomorrow.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 3:3–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] O’Brien, P. T. (1991). The Epistle to the Philippians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 382). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Philippians 3:4-7; brief thoughts

…put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

It is a common tendency of humanity to place upon oneself accolades based on performance. Human beings are accustom to receiving praise for a job-well-done even when the performance offers no actual basis for pride. The accolade brings pride in self which, in turn, gives the person heightened confidence the next time they face a similar circumstance. Religious people are no different. Like every other sub-group of humanity, religious people seek accolades of success and self-righteousness based on their own efforts. Religious people place confidence in their own efforts to be holy and righteous. The Buddhist is confident in his efforts to empty himself. The Muslim in his efforts to submit to Allah. The Atheist in his efforts to know science and think rationally. The hedonist in his efforts towards pleasure. The acetic in his efforts to deny himself. Almost all religious groups derive their righteousness from their own efforts. There is one exception: followers of Christ.

The followers of Christ do not place their confidence for righteousness in their own efforts. In complete defiance of common beliefs, Christians do not derive their assurance from their own efforts, pedigree, or self-made affiliations. The confidence of eternity and assurance of righteousness are drawn entirely from the work and love of Jesus Christ. No matter how great a man is, his righteousness cannot exceed or even match the righteousness of Jesus Christ. There is no place for arrogance in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a beggar’s religion: people who could not, persist in their inability. In turn: a God who can do all things, works his pleasure of holiness in the lives of those who believe in Him. Look again at chapter 1:6. God begins the work, continues the work, and accomplishes the work.

In an effort to explain that Christians draw their confidence from Christ and His life, Paul testifies to his own worldly successes. Paul had good reason to believe that he was capable of righteousness. He was the quinticential Jewish Pharisee. He had the pedigree of righteousness and he knew the law. He was so zealous for the law of God, that he persecuted those who tried to defy it. His religious education was obscenely advanced and exceeds most of our modern PhD’s programs. Paul’s education and pedigree would have most-likely made him one of the most prominent rabbis in his time, had it not been for Christ’s intervention.

When Christ interrupted Paul’s pious religious attempts at self-righteousness in Acts 9, all of Paul’s self-righteousness was exposed for what human attempts at righteousness are: waste. Paul’s pedigree was better than ours, his education was more extensive, his position more holy, his work more devoted and zealous, and his life exemplified near-perfect religious adherence. However, when placed before a holy God and a perfect Savior, all efforts of self-righteousness become vain. Paul calls them “loss” in verse 7. Any confidence placed in human efforts will fail in the face of the perfection of God. Humanity will not be acceptable to the perfect and Holy Judge of all things.

Consider for a moment what it means that Paul, this incredibly religious person, throws off all his religious accolades for the sake of confidence in Christ. This man had more reason to place confidence in his ability and religious faith than most every person. Yet, all efforts of self-righteousness were cast off in the face of a loving, perfect, just, and holy Savior. Knowing Christ and resting in the confidence of His love for those who believe, is the central confidence of Christianity. It is good to know that He is good and that we can trust Him!

The confidence of Christianity comes from knowing Christ. For it is in knowing Christ that Christians are granted victory over this world. Where is your confidence?