Tag Archives: Religious

Philippians 4:8-9; Brief Thoughts

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In Matthew 15 and Luke 6, Jesus explains that what comes out of a person’s mouth is the result of what is in their heart. What a person’s inner being is filled with will overflow into their outward actions and words. Likewise, what a person fills themselves with will be made evident when they speak or act. So Paul tells his readers to think about good things. As an attentive reader, it is important not to overthink this particular list. Paul is not offering an exhaustive list of characteristics to meditate on. He is not charting out a legalistic set of standards by which to judge one’s mental processes. Nor is He providing some sort of pattern by which to evaluate one’s entertainment choices. He is simply listing off characteristics that are good. These characteristics should be considered when discerning what activities to engage in or what to occupy one’s thoughts.

Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence, and value. What would a life that is consumed by meditation on these characteristics look like? To meditate on such marvelous subject matter changes the world. However, before it changes the world, such activity changes the meditator. The person who seeks to change the world around him must first seek to see the change within himself, for each person is a part of the world in which they live and if they cannot change their own part, then they cannot change the world around. If Christians will focus their attention on righteous virtues, they will begin to see the change that they desire in their world.

Examine this list closely. Ask yourself if these are the characteristics upon which you base your affections. For, if you will focus your efforts towards this sort of piety, then peace will be yours. Dear Christian, our brother Paul calls you to a life of obedience that will bring you peace. Direct your attention toward that which is righteous and good. Imitate Paul’s life and peace will abound. It is an intriguing thing to ponder – that the imitation of such a tumultuous life would bring peace. Yet, here is Paul’s claim. “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Could there be any greater peace than the presence of God?

Amidst suffering and struggle, this is the assurance we need: the God of peace is with us. We do not need assurance of our own strength or our own virtuous ability. We do not need self-confidence or motivational inspiration to soothe our troubles. We need His presence. We need to be assured that the God that we know and love is nearby and has not abandoned us. This is the theological foundation that will overcome our worries and strife. It is a pursuit of piety in the virtues that are listed that will establish this confidence within the core of our beings. The closer our pursuit of holiness, the bigger and fuller our understanding of God becomes, and the more intimate our fellowship with Him grows.

Paul encourages his readers to model what they have learned, received, heard, and seen from his life and testimony. Likewise, Christian, find older saints that you can learn from. Seek wise men and women who know the Scripture and teach it well. When you have discovered such a person, receive what is taught. Teachers are not perfect, so be discerning. Listen for what they teach that is based in Scripture and discard what errors may arise, forgiving the mistake. Learning does not benefit the one who will not receive the instruction. So, if we are to learn, we must be intentional about receiving what we learn.

In the western church, discipleship is often thought of as an intellectual exercise. We provide classes and instruction in front of a whiteboard for a group of students. Yet, in truth, the best form of learning is life-observation. We must submit ourselves to instruction, to be sure, but we also must be attentive to what we see and hear with regard to the teacher. Pay attention to the life of your leaders, imitate what you see and hear with regard to holiness. If your spiritual leaders are not practicing holiness, then it is time to find new leaders who know and follow after God. Practicing this pious pursuit of life will provide more assurance and confidence in the faith than any self-help or motivational book could ever bring.

Philippians 4:2-3; Brief Thoughts

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

In every place where people must stand together on principles, there is going to be strife and some contention. The stress of opposing viewpoints and passionate ideologies can and usually does lead to conflict. It is comforting to know that the Philippian church had some struggles among members. If the “jewel and crown” (4:1) of Paul’s ministry can have conflict, then the modern church should take encouragement. If such a compliment can be found among troubled Christians, then there is hope for the churches in the west, who find common the dissensions of trivialities.

Paul pleads with these two women, calling them to find some commonality in their faith in Jesus. He does not articulate a 4 step plan to resolve the conflict. He does not recommend a series of meetings with a pastor as discussion moderator. He does not even recommend eating pie together (everything is better with pie)! He calls them to found their affection for each other in their faith in Christ. His plea is a powerful example for Christian leaders. In times of conflict and strife, Christians must center their affections on Christ. Remind the people of God who it is they believe in. When strife and contention arise, it is Christ and deep understanding of His character that will resolve the troubles Christian’s often find themselves engaged in.

Deep thoughts about the character of Christ are important for two reasons. First, thinking deeply about Jesus puts in proper perspective the vanity of our passionate arguments. It is not uncommon to sit in church business meetings that have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus and everything to do with The arguments and debates over the color of the carpet, quality of kitchen materials, or the atmosphere of a room become trivial in the face of an authentic examination of Jesus’ character. When the church will put the deep doctrinal truths of Jesus before their eyes, the self-indulgent attitudes so common in the western church are exposed for what they are and they are replaced with appropriate and beautiful worship that glorifies God and unites believers. Second, thinking deeply about Jesus reminds the church of its mission. The mission of the church is to make God known in a world that rejects Him. When we examine Jesus’ character together and see that He was gracious to Judas and patient with Peter, the personalities that naturally frustrate one another are quickly forgiven and overlooked for the sake of the work of the gospel. Focusing on Christ puts the mission of Christ before the people.

Beloved leaders, please stop focusing on trivialities and attempting to resolve conflict with meetings that address felt needs and perceived offenses. You’re hurting Christianity. Instead, focus your efforts on teaching your people about the character of Jesus. Please. The church does not need unity of opinion, another program to answer disputes or even a good sermon series on resolution of conflict in the community. The church in the west needs Jesus. The church needs to know Him fully. Do not shy away from difficult doctrines that you think will be divisive. It is in this avoidance of an authentic examination of Jesus that the church finds itself arguing over preferences and methodologies. Please, point your people to Jesus’ character and nature, even if that character and nature are difficult for you to explain.

Take note of Paul’s exhortation to the leader of the church in Philippi. He reminds their leader four simple things. First, Paul calls him a “true companion” (v.3). Paul is not asking a subordinate to engage in this particular conflict. He is asking a friend who is joined together with him. The word used for “true companion” can be translated as “yoke-fellow.”[1] Paul reminds the leader that they are united together in the mission of Christ. What a tremendous thing to remember when confronting conflict in the church! Remember the tie that binds the church together. Disregard trivial offenses and remember that the members of the church are united in the mission of the gospel. Second, Paul calls the leader to help. Such a simple admonition. He does not insist that the leader solves the problem, or find a solution for their dispute on their behalf (though that may be necessary). Instead, he encourages him to, “help.” Leaders cannot fix the hearts of people, but they can point people to Jesus. Help your people by pointing them to Christ. Third, Paul reminds this brother that these women have served. Sometimes it is easy to forget the past service of a saint who is frustrating the work of the gospel in their personal conflict. Leaders need to remember when a person has sacrificed in the past. In acknowledging the past service of the saint that is in need of conflict resolution, the leader will be given hope that the relationship can be re-centered around the gospel, as the people in the conflict have exhibited a devotion to the gospel in the past. Finally, Paul reminds his friend that these ladies are believers. Believers ought to resolve disputes with the greatest of ease. The commonality of grace that has been given to the individual believer through Christ should serve to inspire the church and its leaders to extend the same depth of grace to one another.

Love well, work together, and strive together for unity.

[1] Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Philippians 3:7-11 pt. 2; 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.[i]

Death is the ultimate equalizer. Humanity is united in mortality. However, death does not have to reign over life. Death does not have to be final. Thus, Paul explains the resurrection of believers. There are two senses in which believers experience resurrection from the dead. Obviously and most apparent is physical-bodily resurrection at the second coming of Christ. The second and less obvious, albeit more tangibly apparent at present, is spiritual resurrection from a state of spiritual death at the moment of faith. (Warning: what follows makes Christians sound crazy… unless it’s true. Which it is.)

When a believer entrusts their soul to the work of Jesus Christ, they are granted the promise of eternal life. This life is not merely an ethereal existence in some other dimension. Rather, it is an actual physical existence in a physical, tangible, world. This world, to be precise. You see, Christians, like Christ, will be raised from the dead to live eternally in a re-created state. The earth as we know it will be re-created and the divide between Heaven and Earth will be stripped away (c.f. Revelation 20-21). In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul explains that believers will be resurrected the same way Jesus was. They will be given new bodies and will be granted life eternal in the New Heaven and the New Earth.[ii]

Another facet of resurrection is what occurs within the soul of a believer. Ephesians chapter 2 explains that non-believers are “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [all people] once walked…” (Ephesians 2:1-2). Romans 6:5-11 explains that the Christian’s old nature died with Christ and that Christians have been resurrected to a new life. Galatians 5:24 explains that those who believe “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24 ESV). Christians have been rescued from sin’s dominion and have been set free to live a new life in Christ (c.f. Romans 6). This new life is guided by the Spirit and is empowered through a new nature that has been given to the believer (c.f. Colossians 3 and Romans 8).

Consider the power of resurrection. It is not merely a shift in understanding or confidence. Resurrection is an actual change of condition. The dead man has been made alive and the dead man will be raised. Victory over the death of the Spirit has been granted and victory over the death of the Body will be as well. This great power has overcome sin and has given Christians the ability to live a holy lifestyle in the face of a world fraught with temptation and death.

Part of attaining and fully realizing the resurrection is suffering. Many believers, while truly possessing salvific faith, are lacking in understanding of the full realization of the resurrected life. Many see suffering as something to be avoided and scorned in life. Yet, the Biblical witness seems to venerate suffering as a part of the deep and abiding joy that Christians engage in and enjoy.[iii] Suffering makes Christians more like Christ, and in becoming more like Him, Christians find deeper soul satisfaction and happiness.

Immortal happiness is the single greatest condition to aspire to. Almost everyone attempts to become somehow immortal. Beit through literature, historical achievement, or long lasting legacy, every person strives for immortality in their own way. Everyone longs to overcome death. Only in Christ Jesus is victory over death possible. Only by trusting in His work on the cross and entrusting ones soul to His care can death be thwarted! So pursue Christ with all that you are. Chase Him down and cling to Him for resurrection. Labor to know Him and to find life in Him. In doing so, you will find life where there was once only death.

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

[ii] To refer to the state of Heaven and Earth at the end of Revelation as “New” is a bit miss-leading. They are really in a renewed state. When Jesus says in Revelation 21:6, “it is done,” it should really be translated, “it is born!” The concept that God is communicating through 21:6 is one of re-creation. The end of Revelation is merely the beginning of God’s creative efforts. For a more full examination of Heaven I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven.”

[iii] For a more full discussion of these ideas, check out Ravenhill’s work, “Why Revival Tarries,” Richard Wormbrand’s “Tortured For Christ,” and Watchmen Nee’s “the Normal Christian Life.”

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?

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.

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.”

The Seven “I Am” Statements, pt. 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series, you can find 1 here and 2 here

I Am StatementsRight in the center of the “I am” statements Jesus proclaims something great about Himself. The first three statements are made as invitations to those who are religious and do not believe. They are repeated. They are pleading statements. They are spoken in earthly terms. The concluding three are spoken to those who believe. They are eternal in perspective. They are spoken only once. In the middle of the two sets stands a transition between the plea to follow and the commands to obey. Right in the middle the Gospel writer records Jesus as stating, “I am The Shepherd, The Good One!”

As we have seen in the “I Am” statements, Jesus connects Himself to Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 34, God scolds the leaders of Israel as false shepherds who are killing the sheep. He calls them wicked for slaughtering the fat ones for themselves, for ignoring the lame, and for selfishly providing for themselves alone. God then says that He will be the Shepherd of Israel and will be done with these hired hands!  Jesus connects Himself to this passage rather blatantly. When Jesus speaks of hired hands you can almost feel Him pointing at the priests and leaders.

The Shepherd of Israel has come and He is all powerful and King!

It’s fascinating that Jesus uses the word “good.” It’s fascinating that Jesus uses this word because it means “intrinsically good.” Let me back up for a moment.  In the New Testament there are two words we translate as “good.” The first is “agathos,” meaning benevolent or charitable. The second is “kalos,” meaning intrinsically good. Jesus says that He is Kalos! He is intrinsically good. Jesus is not merely doing good things or being nice as a shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the One, The Shepherd that is Good. It is not merely that He does good things or behaves in a good manner, He IS good. Thus the call of Jesus to follow becomes a call to have Him define what is good or not good.  It is a call to surrender your rights to choose for yourself good or evil. It is a call to submit to His definitions of good because He is Good.

The call to follow Jesus is the call to surrender what you think makes you good in order to obey the One who is good in Himself.  The Shepherd has come.