The Answer is “No and Yes”

ambition

The question: “Is this as good as it gets?”

          Ambition can get you in a lot of trouble.  Too much is a problem, as is too little. If a person has ambitions that are selfish or materialistic, they’ll find the pursuit of God to be frustrating.  Ambition that creates competition can be divisive.

Pastors are not immune to this issue; there’s a surprising amount of literature on the subject.  For example, I read an article titled “The Ambition Engine” by Pastor Skye Jethani.  He wrote about how his seminary experience revealed a dark side to pastoral ambition. “On the first day in a small class, when asked to introduce ourselves and say why we had entered seminary, the first student said, ‘I’m here because I’m going to be the next Bill Hybels.’ Really, I thought. Hope that works out for you.

“The next said, ‘My grandfather was a pastor, my father was a pastor, and I’m supposed to be a pastor too.’ Daddy issues? The third student revealed his three-year plan to become senior pastor and then transform his congregation into a megachurch. ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div. degree,’ he said, ‘but once I’ve proven I can grow a big church, I don’t think they’ll make me finish the degree.’ Good grief, I thought.”

https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2010/fall/ambitionengine.html

Yes, ambition can cause some particularly stupid notions.  Achieving a balance requires deep knowledge of one’s self, obedience to the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to change to meet changing circumstances.

On way to promote a healthy balanced ambition is to keep asking yourself, “Is this as good as it gets?”  The answer will lead to maturing faith if your ambition sits squarely on God.  In Philippians, Paul evidences a good balance of ambition and contentment.  We’ll look at it this morning following the “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” method.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. No way – God is not finished with you (Philippians 1:6).

CONFIDENT in the Greek meant “persuaded, convinced, trusting in the object.”  You might say this word refers to an earned trust.

Paul used this word five times in his letters, twice here in Philippians (see Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2:24; Philemon 1:21; Hebrews 6:9).  Of these references, twice he was CONFIDENT IN THE LORD (Galatians 5:10 and Philippians 2:24).  The other three times his confidence was in the recipients of his letters.  Paul never expressed confidence based on himself, only on t LORD and His people.  The LORD had earned Paul’s trust and though church folk disappointed him, Paul knew t LORD would never abandon his people.

The phrase BEGAN…CARRY ON TO COMPLETION encompasses the scope of salvation.  God took the initiative with each of us; He BEGAN the process of salvation right after the sin of Adam and Eve.  God has not abandoned or forgotten any of His people; He will save everyone who calls on Him.  The beginning and the end are in God’s hands; let there be no doubt about that.  But we are all still in process; let there be no doubt about that either.

How long will the process last?  Paul’s answer here was UNTIL THE DAY OF CHRIST JESUS.  The DAY OF CHRIST JESUS occurs just six times in the New Testament; three of them here in Philippians.  This DAY is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the event that signals the completion of God’s work of salvation.

The life we know right now cannot be as good as it gets because we are in process, and the process is not complete.  The Bible calls this process “sanctification,” a word that means becoming increasingly holy.

If we are convinced that some day in the past or the present life is as good as it gets, we must be frozen at a point in our maturing.  All of us need to cultivate a little “godly discontent” in this regard.  We should always acknowledge that the biggest room in our home is “room for improvement.”

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes – be content (Philippians 4:12).

Paul has seen it all: times of NEED and times of PLENTY.  He did not exaggerate in the least.  On the PLENTY side, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to purchase Roman citizenship.  On the “needy” side, he suffered a great deal because he faithfully preached the Gospel (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 for a lengthy list of all Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel).  This fact proved that Paul’s joy did not depend on his circumstances.  Even in all his sufferings he was CONTENT will all God provided.

Having seen it all, Paul learned the SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION.  It was a “SECRET” in the sense that contentment is something learned by experience and by individual commitment.  No one can be content for you or teach it to you.  It must come from within your heart.  Again, Paul’s contentment was not limited to moments of ease; EACH AND EVERY SITUATION includes all the normal and extraordinary situations he faced.

Isn’t contentment the opposite of ambition?  On the surface, contentment can feel like saying “I don’t need or want any more.  I am fine with what I have/what I am right now.”  On the surface, ambition can feel like a hunger that cannot be satisfied, a dissatisfaction that motivates movement.

To me, it’s more helpful to see these emotional conditions as two ends of a balancing pole.  Wire-walkers sometimes perform with a pole in their hands, using it to achieve balance on the wire.  Similarly, contentment and ambition are two virtues we hold in balance to keep us steady as we make our way through life.  There will be circumstances where we need to be more content and others where more ambition is needed.  God supplies wisdom so we know the difference. Our final note on this passage narrows the issue down for us.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

  1. Yes and no – be content with God’s material provision;

be ambitious for godliness instead (Philippians 3:13-14).

In humility, Paul admitted he hadn’t TAKEN HOLD of all Jesus had done for him.  The phrase TAKEN HOLD means to “seize, grasp the meaning, understand.”

He hadn’t yet been raised to heaven.

He hadn’t been MADE PERFECT (12).

Those things happen on the other side of this life.  And yet, at that moment, Paul had as his ambition to take hold of as much of it as possible on this side of life.

Paul noted two steps in achieving this ambition.

One: FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND.  God gave me a series of one-liners to understand and apply this truth:

– Resist the urge to gold-plate the past.  The days behind held their share of sorrows too.

– Resist the urge to hold grudges.

– Forgive and forget the offense, but hold tight to the lessons learned.

– Seek forgiveness from people and God wherever offense and sin is unresolved.

– Reject the devil’s false guilt.

– Love unconditionally, as God has loved you.

– Remember people in the most positive light.

– Sentiment clouds our judgment; best avoid it.

– Discard limitations your past places on you.

Two: STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD.  Imagine the victory, then pour yourself into achieving it under God’s direction.

No amount of effort will change the past.  Some of your efforts may immediately change the present.  Every effort will have an effect on the future.  That fact alone ought to dictate where we devote our attention.

For the believer, Jesus awaits us on the other side of the finish line.  We pour our heart and mind and strength into faithful obedience because we await His welcome on the other side of that line.  If our eyes are on anything other than the finish line, we tend to veer off course and/or slow down.

The Apostle Paul undertook one method in realizing his ambition: I PRESS ON.  The phrase PRESS ON pictures a runner stretching forward to cross the finish line.  The athlete is pouring every last bit of strength into finishing the race; his effort leaves everything on the field of competition.  Nothing needs to be reserved for after the race of life because there is nothing left to be done after this race.

For many of us, life is a marathon, not a sprint.  The effort required to be faithful does not relent until death comes to us.  Quitting is not even an option.  When weariness comes, we may have to change our pace, but we keep moving on toward our heavenly goal.

Paul had one goal in life: TO WIN THE PRIZE FOR WHICH GOD HAS CALLED ME HEAVENWARD IN CHRIST JESUS.  The PRIZE in this case is eternal life; a forever spent in God’s presence and in fellowship with the rest of His people.  We know that because verse eleven ends with a reference to THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

There is nothing this world can offer that compares with heaven.   Our problem is not so much having trouble believing that, but our problem is more often remembering that.  We don’t always behave like people who are headed for heaven, do we?  The world can easily distract us and our human nature can easily betray us so we don’t act as heaven-bound folk.  That’s called SIN and we need to avoid it and repent of it when we fail to avoid it.

The parts of us that survive the death of the body are the good and godly things.  Nothing evil or worldly makes it into heaven.  It’s upon us to partner with the Holy Spirit in filling our days with godly words and deeds.

“Is this as good as it gets?”

          A man became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to go through it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions about it and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house your describing.”

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/1126/house-for-sale/

God revealed to Paul that he should be continually ambitious for spiritual maturity but content with the material things God had already provided.  This allowed Paul to be undeterred by circumstances, numbers, or any other material signs of success or failure.  That is a worthy example for us to follow.

Here’s one way we can put this into practice.  The next time you feel compelled to upgrade to the bigger, faster, newer, or prettier version of something we already have, require yourself to make a matching contribution to church or charity.  Doubling the expense will cause you to think twice about buying the item at all and might just simplify your life.

Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (2 of 7)

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

Mary Ann

“Mary Ann,” a character on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.”  Actress Dawn Wells played this character in all 98 episodes of the series.  She and Tina Louise are the only surviving members of the cast.

The character of Mary Ann is chosen as a symbol of ENVY because it was clear that she envied the beauty and glamor of the movie star character named “Ginger.”  In fact, in episode 92, “The Second Ginger Grant,” Mary Ann suffered a blow to the head and took on the persona of Ginger, wearing her clothes and acting like her.

Mary Ann’s envy of Ginger was purely a plot device and exactly at odds with reality.  Of the two, Dawn Wells was the beauty queen (Miss Nevada, 1950), she was “Gilligan’s” personal favorite, and received more than twice as much fan mail as cast mate Tina Louise.  In 2005, Wells consigned her costume for sale and it sold for $20,700!  In forty years of polls on the subject, men have expressed a preference for Mary Ann over Ginger that is 3-1 or even 4-1.  If art had imitated life, Ginger would have been envious of Mary Ann!

ENVY is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a list formulated by the Church in medieval times.  We are examining this list and each week offering a virtue to take the place of the vice.  Today we’ll see how and why believers must replace ENVY with CONTENTMENT.

  1. The vicious vice of ENVY (Genesis 4:1-16).

What is envy?  ENVY is wanting what you don’t have, often paired with an unwillingness to wait for it or earn it.  It is a form of materialism that reflects on what others possess.

In his book, 7 Deadly Sins, the late Billy Graham wrote, “The envious man somehow feels that other people’s fortune is his misfortune, that their success is his failure and hat their blessing is his curse.” (p. 42)

Why is envy so deadly?  It puts a priority on things over God and others. An envious person values material things over persons.

It drains happiness and prevents satisfaction.  When your attention is fixed on worldly things you can never be satisfied, because the things of this world – even the good things – always end in an appetite for more.  The other thing we must learn and relearn is that the things of this world – even the good things – are temporary.  Even if they last generations, all worldly things are temporary.

Cain is a biblical example of envy’s deadliness.  When we read the account of Cain and Abel, God’s choice of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of Cain’s is obvious.  As the text states, GOD LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON ABEL AND HIS OFFERING (vs. 4+5).

What’s not spelled out is why. We infer the reason for God’s choice by a close reading of the text, particularly Cain’s reaction.  He became envious and angry.  So angry, in fact, he murdered his brother.  Verse six says Cain was ANGRY AND DOWNCAST.

Cain’s anger motivated him to be disrespectful and evasive when God asked him about Abel; “Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9)”  The best answer is “YES.”

Cain gave into envy.  He looked upon Abel’s success and wanted it too.  Abel’s sacrifice was motive by gratitude and/or love; some other God-honored motive, as seen in God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice.

This was a murder that God tried to avoid.  In v. 7, God gave Cain an unusual warning: SIN IS CROUCHING AT YOUR DOOR.  He should have heeded God’s warning and dispensed with ENVY.

Cain’s consequences were isolation and failure.  Cain was sent away, separated from his parents and condemned to be a wanderer on the earth (vs. 12+14).  We don’t know what the MARK of Cain was, but it was a two-sided thing: it separated him from every other human being who had no such marking, but it also warned off anyone who might want to take revenge.  It was God saying; “This one is mine.  Leave him alone.”

We see Cain cursed to failure.  In 3:17-19, Cain’s father Adam received God’s discipline for his sin; the GROUND was CURSED because of Adam and it was only by hard work that it would yield any fruit.  Cain’s discipline is worse, in that the GROUND will never YIELD CROPS for him.

Cain later enjoyed some worldly success as an urban developer (v. 17); in fact, the Bible credits him as inventing cities. But envy destroyed his brother, his family relationships, and worst of all, estranged him from God.  ENVY is deadly; it demands to high a price and delivers only unhappiness.

2. The vital virtue of CONTENTMENT (Philippians 4:10-13).

What is contentment?  Contentment is a sense of satisfaction that exists apart from your circumstances.  It is an abiding trust in God that He will provide what is needed, when it is needed.

A contented person trusts in God’s provision, not their own.  As the song says, “Put your hope in things eternal.”  Unlike worldly things, heavenly things truly satisfy and their effects are everlasting.

Why is contentment a vital virtue? There are many reasons; here are a few.

It is God-honoring and faith-based.

It is part of a maturing faith.

It removes the distraction of materialism.

It prioritizes our relationship with God, the Source of true satisfaction.

It allows us to use things without being used by them.

Let’s look at Paul as an example of contentment.  Paul’s philosophy of financing ministry was simple: while he deserved each church’s support, he preferred not to need it.

The occasion for this letter to the church in Philippi was Paul acknowledging their gift to him, recently sent by Epaphroditus (v. 18).  Keep in mind Paul was in prison when he wrote this.  He said their gift gave him “immense joy” (v. 10).  I’m sure Paul was happy that they’d remembered him, especially in his chains.  But Paul wrote that his joy was IN THE LORD.

What’s important for our purposes was that Paul the prisoner had been content when he’d been with them and still practiced contentment while in prison!  This was because Paul had learned the SECRET of contentment in EVERY SITUATION; keeping his priorities in order.

WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY was not a rhetorical comment: prisons of that day did not feed their prisoners.  Food had to be supplied by outsiders.

WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT is one way of summarizing Paul’s life.  The Apostle Paul had been born into a wealthy family, but since accepting God’s call on his life, there had been lots of occasions for being in need, not the least of which was being shipwrecked!  The SECRET is this; contentment is found in GOD in not self.

There is good evidence that Paul was well-educated and steeped in the Greek-influenced culture of his time.  It’s likely he’d read what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the contented man; “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.”  What Plato misunderstood as an achievement of will, Paul rightly understood as an act of God’s grace.  He wrote, I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.

God’s strength and His love never fail.  The love and strength of people will ultimately always fail, despite our best intentions.  God never does.  Philippians 4:13 is often taken as a promise of empowerment and it is that, but it is also the basis for our contentment, regardless of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment.  To be content, we must seek to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENT on each other, and

INDEPENDENT of the support of others so we can avoid idleness and support others.

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

FB

        Facebook is an online social media and networking company. It was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg, along with some fellow Harvard College students, with membership initially limited to Harvard students.

As of January 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has become so commonly used that most of the people you know use it.  In fact, some Millennials have abandoned Facebook because it’s gotten so full of “old people!”

We chose Facebook as a symbol of ENVY because, like the cartoon character in this illustration, Facebook becomes a way of looking into the lives of others, a view that can easily degenerate into envy.  However, here’s a disclaimer: just because someone put something on Facebook doesn’t make it true.  No, I’m serious!

In an article on the Independent’s website, Peter Walker cited an experiment by the University of Copenhagen involving 1,095 people, half of whom were asked to continue their Facebook habits and half ordered to abstain from logging on.

The data suggests Facebook causes people to suffer what they called “Facebook envy” and become particularly depressed.  Users taking a week-long break from Facebook were found to be more satisfied with life and gave higher scores to their own well-being.  So “Facebook envy” is not something made up to benefit this message, there is a reasonable connection between Facebook and the vice of ENVY and users suffering the consequences of ENVY.

God’s people are to practice CONTENTMENT instead of being guilty of ENVY.  This leads to our final question:

How do I practice contentment?

One, simplify your life.  Adopt the motto “Less is more.”  Imagine what the object you want to buy sitting neglected and dusty on a shelf or in a closet, as that’s how it will probably end up.  Hum or sing the song “The Bare Necessities” as you shop. Understand the “Inverse Rule of Possessions” – “The more things you own, the more things own you.”

Two, keep your ambition within your means.  This is a financial philosophy: “debt is dumb” as financial guru Dave Ramsey says.  It stresses relationships and creates financial chaos that will take more effort to undo than it did to do.  This is also a philosophy for all of life.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Envy happens when we mistakenly think we ought to have things that are not actually in our power to possess.

Three, put your priorities in order.  Do we need to be reminded that God is to come first, others second, and self last? We may not need a reminder to believe it, but we probably need a reminder to ACT on that principle.  We affirm this truth in the way we act & speak.

It’s a fairly easy thing to say that the Bible is true and that we ought to follow God’s commands as revealed in the Bible.  However, so much more than a nod of one’s head is required.  We must act as if it is true by having our attitudes and actions be determined by what the Lord says.

Take ENVY for example.  Envy is a poison we take hoping the other person will drop dead.  Don’t do it. Replace ENVY and worry and all other forms of materialism with CONTENTMENT and trust in God.

What’s it Worth to You?

time is money

Please read Philippians 3:7-11 in your Bible before answering this question: “What’s it Worth to You?”

A pastor went to the hospital to visit a lady named Maggy, who was in the last stages of her life because of cancer.  She was heavily medicated and unresponsive, so he went to support her family, who was taking it hard.

When he got there, he was surprised to see the youngest daughter, Kimmy, putting lotion on her mother’s body, starting at her feet. The pastor recognized it as an expensive lotion and guessed it was more than she could afford.

As he walked in, Kimmy smiled and made him promise not to tell her children. Her kids gave it to her for Mother’s Day, since, in their words, “you never do anything for yourself, Mom.” As Kimmy put it on her mother, she remained unresponsive.

But this is the nature of a self-sacrificial love.  God knows and sees these acts. They are not unnoticed, but are precious and valuable in His sight. Acts like these put others first. They point us to Him.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-nickolas-kooi-stories-service-100035?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

We live and die to attain eternal life.

  1. Spiritual maturity requires self-sacrifice.

We are blessed to have a number of biblical examples of heroic sacrifice.

“Father Abraham’s” sacrifice is dramatically recounted in Genesis 22.  As we learned recently-concluded study in the Wednesday morning Bible study group, God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation.  However, at age 100, he had no children.  So when Isaac, the son of promise, was born it seemed at last God’s promises had been fulfilled.  Try to imagine how devastated Abraham must have felt when God demanded Abraham sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham is credited as a hero of faith because he acted immediately and in complete obedience.  God spared Isaac’s life and fulfilled every promise.

John the Baptist’s act of self–sacrifice is recounted in John 3:30 where he makes one of the greatest but most brief statements of faith.  When one of his disciples complained that Jesus and His disciples were getting all the baptisms and attention, John replied, “HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS.”  John knew his role and he knew his place.  He selflessly sacrificed the spotlight to the One he had come to proclaim.

Remembered as “the Doubter,” Thomas showed courage, when Jesus could not be persuaded to stay away from Jerusalem where danger threatened.  In John 11:16, Thomas said to the other eleven disciples, “LET US ALSO GO, THAT WE MAY DIE WITH HIM.”  I grant you that Thomas’ courage faltered in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There he abandoned Jesus at the moment of His arrest.  But here and years later, Thomas was ready to sacrifice his life for Jesus

In John 13:37 Simon Peter is recorded as saying, “LORD, WHY CAN’T I FOLLOW YOU NOW?  I WILL LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR YOU.” I grant you that Peter’s courage deserted him a few hours later when he three times denied even knowing Jesus.  Tradition tells us that years later, Peter refused to share His Lord’s form of death and asked to be crucified upside down.

Whether our sacrifices are heroic or mundane, we move from self-centeredness to self-sacrifice as we mature spiritually. Paul demonstrated great self-sacrifice in his attitude toward worldly things (7-8).  WHATEVER WAS TO MY PROFIT I NOW CONSIDER LOSS FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.  I CONSIDER EVERYTHING A LOSS COMPARED TO THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD.  The words PROFIT and LOSS are key in vs. 7+8.

In vs. 4-6 Paul listed his reasons to have CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.  – He recites his religious history as if it were important in order to prove that it isn’t.  He’s effectively saying, “If there was ever anyone who deserved salvation by satisfying the Law, I’d be the guy.”  His religious achievements and circumstances were the things others might see as “profiting” Paul.

In contrast, the word LOSS sums up the stuff Paul gave up in order to have faith in Christ instead.  The word PROFIT is actually in the plural form in the original language: “profits.”  But the word LOSS is singular.  It’s as if Paul dumped all his achievements and advantages into a single trash can and declared them together a LOSS.  In order to achieve his goals, Paul had to dump the junk that kept him from Jesus.

Paul was clearly thinking about Jesus when he wrote, FOR WHOSE SAKE I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS (8).  This statement elaborates on verse seven, explaining that Paul made this essential sacrifice for Jesus’ sake.  As he explained in 1 Corinthians 13:3, self-sacrifice not done in love is worthless.  Paul is establishing his sacrifice as worthwhile

The phrase I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH (8) is a stronger condemnation than LOSS.  The word RUBBISH is a polite translation; the literal translation of Paul’s choice of Greek words is “dung.”  I was amused to see one commentary placed a picture of an outdoor latrine in the city of Philippi next to this verse.  A picture is worth a thousand words and conveys emotion pretty well too.

  1. Paul’s life goals evidence spiritual maturity.

Goal #1 = KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD (8).

Biblically, KNOWING is not just “book smarts,” but includes knowledge gained by experience.  Paul’s goal was to know Jesus by living with Him.  Daily living is supposed to be ongoing experiences of God at work in our lives, personal experiences of His presence.

Goal #2 = Receive true righteousness by FAITH (9).

True righteousness is both salvation and the godly lifestyle that goes with it.  It is not something we create ourselves or by keeping the Old Testament Law, it is something we receive from God by faith.

Paul’s desire was to be FOUND in Christ.  It is as if he is picturing Judgment Day and declares here his hope that his name will appear in the Book of Life, the list of those who are genuinely God’s people.

Goal #3 = Know the power of His RESURRECTION (10).

Jesus conquered death through the power of God the Father.  His Resurrection is the most important display of divine power.  This is not only a historic event, however, it is a power for living every day.

Goal #4 = THE FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH (10).

I don’t often see t word FELLOWSHIP combined with suffering and DEATH.  This is another way of saying that Paul desired to FOUND in Christ.  Shared experiences (good and bad) are a form of FELLOWSHIP that can bond people together.  This is also true of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Without actually dying on a cross, how can we become like Jesus IN HIS DEATH?  In our living, we demonstrate the sacrificial purpose of Jesus’ death to help others find eternal life too.

Goal #5 = SOMEHOW, TO ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD (11).

The word SOMEHOW seems to imply Paul felt some uncertainty about whether he was saved or not.  My guess is he’s saying, “I can’t save myself, but SOMEHOW God can.”  Paul refers to the promise of eternal life as THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.  Notice that is a singular event.

We live and die to attain eternal life.

          The Church in America has, for the last sixty years, become more about self-improve-ment than self-sacrifice.  We’ve gone from being crucified with Christ and dying to self, to settling for a “spiritual makeover.”  We are content with an appearance of godliness but miss t power because we won’t pay t price.

What is the price?  Jesus said, “IF ANYONE WOULD COME AFTER ME, HE MUST DENY HEIMSELF AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS DAILY AND FOLLOW ME.  FOR WHOEVER WANTS TO SAVE HIS LIFE WILL LOSE IT, BUT WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR ME WILL SAVE IT.”  (Luke 9:23-24)

The question this morning is not whether or not you want to go to heaven: the question is, “What’s it worth to you to get there?”  A paradox of faith is that we cannot earn or buy our way into heaven and yet, it requires the sacrifice of everything, giving even life itself over to God and His direction.

Did Paul achieve these goals?  Not in this life, of course.  These goals are aimed at heaven, not the horizon.  As Paul wrote in verse twelve, NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED ALL THIS, OR HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE PERFECT, BUT I PRESS ON TO TAKE HOLD OF THAT FOR WHICH CHRIST JESUS TOOK HOLD OF ME.  In this life, God calls us to PRESS ON, even though we know the fulfillment of these goals lie beyond the reach of our earthly years.  We are to continue to obey, continue to grow, continue to mature as the years roll on.  This life is precious and not to be wasted on self-centeredness.  Instead, we are to spend our days investing in eternity by means of the sacrifices we make in love and in the name of Jesus Christ.

Death Benefits

Please read Philippians 1:18-26 in your own Bible.  I’ve used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

We so typically think of death as an enemy (and biblically, it is) that it sounds strange to talk about “death benefits.”  When I went looking for a definition of death benefits, I was surprised to find out there is actually a website called “Investopedia.”  It seems Wikipedia has really started something and has imitators.  Anyway, Investopedia defines “death benefits” as “the amount on a life insurance policy, annuity or pension that is payable to the beneficiary when the insured or annuitant passes away. A death benefit may be a percentage of the annuitant’s pension. For example, a beneficiary might be entitled to 65% of the annuitant’s monthly pension at the time the annuitant passes away. Alternatively, a death benefit may be a large lump-sum payment from a life insurance policy. The size and structure of the payment in either a pension or a life insurance policy is determined by the type of contract held by the annuitant at the time of death. It is also known as ‘survivor benefit’.”
<Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deathbenefit.asp on 10/06/17.>

So, once you can think of death as benefitting someone, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to think of death as benefitting YOU.  In this section of Philippians, Paul wrote about death as being a benefit to him, even something he desired.  Why might he think that?

When you read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, you get a summary account of all the things the Apostle Paul suffered as he was persecuted for his faith in Christ.  He’d been through a lot and this might be a partial answer to the question of why Paul was entertaining these thoughts.  You could understand if he welcomed death as a release from suffering, which it certainly is.

However, when you read this passage you see something more profound than relief being sought.  Paul viewed death as a means of realizing complete fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Paul was eager for heaven, but not as a place of escape.  He was eager for heaven as a relationship with his Savior in all its fullness.  We who share Paul’s faith must also share his hope.  Let us be encouraged to learn that death is an enemy, but not one to be feared.  Jesus defeated death.  For people of faith, death is the consummation of life; a better life lies beyond this one.  Also, God is with us in both death and life.

  1. Historical context: Paul was in a life & death situation.

Philippians is one of the last letters written by the Apostle Paul.  It is part of a group of letters written while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial by the emperor, AD 61-62.

The events that lead to his imprisonment have been preserved by Luke in the book of Acts.

Paul had been arrested under false charges in Jerusalem, the victim of a plot against him by the Jewish religious leaders (see Acts 21-22).

He endured trials under two Roman officials and a king (see Acts 23-26) until it came to Paul’s attention that the Jewish leaders had plotted to kill him.  To save his life, Paul appealed directly to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

The last two chapters of Acts (27+28) record Paul’s journey to Rome.

Conditions in Rome were not good at all for Christians.  The ancient Roman historian Tacitus recorded some of the horrific persecution of Christians perpetrated at that time:

“Besides being put to death, the Christians were made to serve as objects of amusement. They were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Others were crucified. Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display and was putting on a show and a circus where he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer and drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, for it was felt that they—the Christians—were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

Nero was the very man to whom Paul had appealed.  History tells us that Nero condemned Paul to death by beheading.

All that to say this – when Paul wrote to the Philippians about life and death it was because both of them were very real possibilities at that moment.  This was not an academic discussion, but the wrestling of his soul.

  1. Jesus Christ is our reason to live.

In our world, people want to live for various reasons.

Death is an unknown; they fear it.

We dread separation from loved ones and/or have anxiety about how our loss with affect them.

The things of this world hold our attention and we hate to lose them.

Our ambition to achieve can be so great that we fear death will thwart or undo all our achievements.  (This is the “legacy” talk we hear too often.)

Some fear God’s wrath on their sins.

Truth be told, we more often fear dying than we fear death.  Dying is one of those transitional times we typically hate.  We don’t like the thought that dying may involve pain and/or loss of our customary quality of life.

In faith, we have only one reason to live: to be of service to Christ His people: TO LIVE IS CHRIST.  Paul recognized this fact among his deliberations. He foresaw FRUITFUL LABOR (v. 22) if he were to be released.  Isn’t this the part missing in too many of our churches?  He also promised, I WILL CONTINUE WITH ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR PROGRESS AND JOY IN THE FAITH (v. 25) if this imprisonment ended with his release.  We long to experience progress and joy in church life but are so easily thwarted by sin and self-centered folk.

However, life – especially the Christian life – it is not just sorrowful obligation.  As depressing as it may seem, Paul brackets this passage with expressions of joy.  In the beginning (v. 18), he wrote I WILL CONTINUE TO REJOICE.  What brought joy to Paul was the fact that the Good News was still going out; Jesus Christ was being preached.  Would that make you rejoice? Toward the end of the passage (v. 25) he wrote, YOUR JOY IN THE FAITH.  Of all people on earth, followers of Jesus have the best reasons to be joyful.  What a shame when we aren’t!

Discussing death does not have to be doleful and dreary.  Death gives meaning to life and it affirms the things that have been important to us in life.  Paul saw life as ministry and ministry as joy.  If anyone are not characterized by joy, something is wrong at the base of their spiritual life.

  1. Jesus Christ is our hope for life after death.

Paul’s “death benefit” as expressed in Philippians 1:21 is the most important: we will be with Christ.  Jesus Christ is the focus of our hope and being with Christ is the summary of all our hopes for afterlife.  In v. 19 Paul attributed his hope to the PRAYERS and PROVISION offered by that church.  Because the Philippian church prayed, Paul had hope.

Paul predicted the result would be his DELIVERANCE.  Is he talking about DELIVERANCE from Nero or going to heaven?  Why not both?  The text itself does not allow us to make a definitive choice of either, so hanging our hat on both actually makes good sense.

For example, the Greek word for DELIVERANCE has a variety of meanings, but most typically meant to be saved from dying.  It is used in a phrase that is a quote from JOB 13:16.  Perhaps Paul thought he would, like Job, be delivered from his trials and his faith vindicated.

The point is this: because of his faith, Paul believed he was in a “win-win” situation: if he was released from jail, he would win as he would continue to preach the Gospel.  If he was executed, then that was a win, because he was released from the troubles of this life.

Its clear to me that this passage, Paul struggled for a clear sense of which he wants to happen, or which he thinks will happen.  Note the way he described his thought processes.  YET WHAT SHALL I CHOOSE?  I DO NOT KNOW! (22)  I AM TORN BETWEEN THE TWO. (23)

He is certain of one thing: in his life or death he wanted Jesus to be EXALTED.  In either case, his fondest desire is to have SUFFICIENT COURAGE to remain faithful.  His imprisonment was one of many trials Paul had to endure; each one was a temptation to call it quits.  I guess you could say Paul saw benefit for himself and for the Gospel in his life or his death, so whichever one happened was incidental.

He resolved the struggle in vs. 25-26 where he expressed a confidence in his survival and even his release, resulting in continued ministry to them.  Historically, we know that’s not what happened.  He was a martyr for his faith.  He never saw the Philippian believers again in this life.

Was Paul wrong?  Did he display a false confidence to comfort the Philippians?  I doubt it.  Paul’s confidence lay in the truth, so even well-intentioned falsehood was out of the question.

This holds meaning for us as we have faith and pray: we want God to do specific things for us and we faithfully pray about them.  But sometimes God has a different plan and those prayers are answered with a “no.”  It’s tempting to abandon one’s faith in that moment and conclude God is not real or He doesn’t love us after all.

Paul had no such reaction.  It’s clear in this passage he was prepared for whatever time would reveal as God’s will.  Paul had his priorities in order.

“Death Benefits” are also promised elsewhere in the New Testament.  (My thanks to John Piper, who identified four additional reasons that inform us of the biblical scope of Paul’s assertion TO DIE IS GAIN.  In the following Bible quotes, the emphasis in italics is Piper’s.)  (See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-great-gain-to-die.)

Our spirits will be made perfect.  Hebrews 12:22–23 = But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just which have been made perfect.

We will be relieved of the pain of this world. Revelation 21:4 = He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, f/t old order of things has passed away.

We will receive profound rest for our souls.  Revelation 6:9–11 = I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer.

We will experience a deep at-homeness.  2 Corinthians 5:8 = We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

I read a wonderfully illustrative story recently.  “A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mix-up at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, ‘With our deepest sympathy.’

“The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, ‘Congratulations on your new location!’

“A sentiment like that is appropriate for Christians, because they move to a wonderful new location when they die. They go to be with Christ, and the sorrows and heartaches of this earthly existence are gone forever. Near the end of his life, Paul said that to be with Christ is ‘far better’ than to remain on earth (Philippians 1:23).”

<Retrieved from http://www.preceptaustin.org/philippians_illustrations_1 on 10-06-17.>

The point of Paul’s message is not to minimize the impact death has.  It is devastating to be suddenly and completely cut off from our loved ones.  The loss is real and we need to be gracious about it, assisting people in their individual expressions of grief.

However – contrary to those who refuse to have faith – we know that death does NOT have the last word.  The word of God reveals to us the great and grand hope that death is a doorway that opens but once and leads us into the eternal presence of God.  Beyond that doorway awaits Jesus and all our loved ones who trusted Him with their lives.

God gave Paul these words to comfort him and his church.  He gives them to us as a living hope and a firm foundation for our faith.

Death is the consummation of life: God is in both.

Wage War on Weariness

It has been talked about and reported so often that Americans are too busy, too driven, and, as a result, chronically fatigued, that it’s not news any more.  But it is worth talking about, because it affects every aspect of our lives AND because God created us to rest.  Remember our discussion of Genesis 1.  From the beginning, before there were calendars and clocks, before businesses and bosses were even thought of, God commanded that one day of the week be set aside for rest, recreation, and renewal.

As I have thought about this topic the last three weeks, I decided a little context might help.  I went looking for some information that might objectify this sense that we are a nation of walking weary.  I found a couple items.  I’m not offering them as proof, but as numerical anecdotes that illustrate the pervasiveness of the problem of weariness.

            “Americans Are Tired Most Of The Week”by Niall McCarthy, Jun 8, 2015

“How many days of the week do you wake up feeling exhausted? If you really feel like a slave to your alarm clock, you aren’t alone. Only one in 7 Americans wake up feeling fresh every day of the week, according to a poll conducted by YouGov. Experts have recommended eight hours sleep, though seven hours should also be sufficient.
“45 percent of Americans sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night reported feeling tired or fatigued up to three times a week. 27 percent of people said they wake up tired on 4 or more days per week. Those only managing six hours sleep or less each night are, quite unsurprisingly, the most tired. 54 percent of people getting six or less hours sleep wake up tired 4 or more days a week.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/3534/americans-are-tired-most-of-the-week/ on 2/16/17.>

            “The Enormous Cost Of Sleep Deprivation” by Niall McCarthy, Dec 2, 2016

“Are you getting enough sleep every night? According to a new study from Rand Europesleep deprivation is a serious and costly problem for the globe’s major economies. In the United States, 1.2 million working days are lost every year due to insufficient sleep, costing a whopping $411 billion. That equates to 2.28 percent of the country’s GDP. Japan is also suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, losing 600,000 days and $138.6 billion annually.”

<Retrieved at https://www.statista.com/chart/7052/the-enormous-cost-of-sleep-deprivation/ on 2/16/17.>

These statistical snapshots seem to support the general conclusion that we are weary and our weariness is costing us.  Fortunately, God has provided several things we can do to combat weariness.  We will continue that study today and learn another step faithful people can take when trials threaten to weigh us down.

What do we do when we are wearied?

REVIEW:

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.

NEW:

  1. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

Do not take your eyes off the prize.  Please read Philippians 3:12-16 in your favorite Bible, I have used the NIV for these remarks.

In vs. 12-14 Paul admitted that he had more to learn and room for improvement. But he did not focus on his failures or the wearying parts of life. Instead, he oriented himself toward the future.  We clearly see that orientation in the following: I PRESS ON…FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND AND STRAINING TOWARD WHAT IS AHEAD, I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL.

PRESS ON is a hunting term; “to pursue, chase, run down.”  This is an aggressive term, indicating the passion Paul had for knowing Jesus Christ and expressing His character in the way Paul lived.

FORGETTING WHAT IS BEHIND means whether we see the past through rose-colored glasses, exaggerating its good points, or through dark glasses, exaggerating its ills, the fact is that it is behind us and will always remain unchanged.  A concentration on the past contributes to weariness.  Looking to the future – with optimism or pessimism – gives us strength and excitement.

STRAINING TO WHAT IS AHEAD = STRAINING is an athletic word, picturing a runner giving everything he’s got to finish first.  Think of that final lunge across the finish line.  His emphasis was on the time frame over which we can exert the most influence: the future.  Human nature is such that we move in the direction we’re looking.  That is a physical truth and a spiritual one as well.

I PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL turns the hunting imagery to track and field.  In any case, “pressing on” is not necessarily easy and does not always feel like a success, but it is necessary, and it is a path toward healing weariness. The Greek word translated as “goal” pictures a physical marker that indicates where the finish line is located.  In spiritual terms, the GOAL is becoming more like Jesus as we move ahead toward eternal life.

In v. 15 Paul confidently asserts that all maturing believers will share this orientation toward the future.  There is no room for disagreement on this matter.  Well, he was an APOSTLE, after all!

In v. 16 we are told the bottom line is that we don’t regress.  We are committed to not moving backward.  When we are weary we may be truly incapable of moving forward, but we should at least not give up any ground.

Please read Hebrews 3:1-14; 4:14 in your favorite Bible.  I use the NIV.  Keep the faith you received.

In 3:6 we read BUT CHRIST IS FAITHFUL AS THE SON OVER GOD’S HOUSE. AND WE ARE HIS HOUSE, IF INDEED WE HOLD FIRMLY TO OUR CONFIDENCE AND THE HOPE IN WHICH WE GLORY.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the essential role of Jesus Christ in our salvation.  Based on that fact, we have something substantial on which we can HOLD FIRMLY.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

When we dilute that truth by allowing modern culture to change our minds, then our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are less reliable.  Notice the phrase IN WHICH WE GLORY.  This means that our CONFIDENCE and HOPE is what gives us true joy, real strength.

In 3:14 it is written WE HAVE COME TO SHARE IN CHRIST, IF INDEED WE HOLD OUR ORIGINAL CONVICTION FIRMLY TO THE VERY END.  We tend to focus on beginnings, don’t we?  We get sentimental about firsts and that includes our Christian faith.  We also lump beginnings and endings into one, deleting the process in the middle.

These tendencies come back to bite us when we think that baptism or joining a church is the end of it.  This is why people sometimes disappear from church once they have achieved milestones like this.

However, Paul here reminds us of a central truth: how we begin our journey of faith is important, but it is of greater importance how we continue it and how we end it.  Commitments to Christ can be easily made in a moment, but professions of faith must be proven true by doing the hard work of living for Jesus each day, through the end of your life.  Our CONFIDENCE and HOPE are safe and secure as long as they are based on the truth about Jesus Christ.

For example, He is superior to any human priest because He is THE SON OF GOD.  Our faith asserts that He is fully God and fully human at the same time.  Any teaching that shrinks from this assertion is false.  The human side of Jesus’ nature assures us that He is sympathetic with our condition, having experienced it Himself.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature assures us of our salvation: because He is God He is able to save us.

In 4:14 we are told THEREFORE, SINCE WE HAVE A GREAT HIGH PRIEST WHO HAS ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, JESUS THE SON OF GOD, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.  The object of this verse is to teach us about the priestly role of Jesus Christ.  In the OT system, a PRIEST was a mediator between God and His people.  The HIGH PRIEST had an especially important role in that he offered the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice for the sins of the nation.  Jesus is superior because HE ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN, a greater feat.

Notice Jesus is our GREAT HIGH PRIEST, far superior to any person who ever held that office.  He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins and that was done once and is effective to save all people in all places at all times.  Everyone who accepts this act of grace will be saved.

This is a question that pains me as a Minnesota Vikings football fan.  HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF WALTER PAYTON?  Walter Jerry Payton from the state of Mississippi. Payton lived from July 25,1954 until November 1, 1999. He was 45 years old when he died of a liver disease.

Mike Ditka was Payton’s coach and he said: “Walter was a great player, but he was even a greater man.”  Payton’s nick name was “SWEETNESS.”  Payton played for the Chicago Bears and so was constantly a thorn in the side of the Minnesota Vikings.  The worst was setting a single-game rushing record that I believe still stands.

Because it is too painful for me to recount and to avoid boring you good folks, I will spare you all the statistical evidence and just say it can be argued that Payton was the greatest running back of his time, perhaps of NFL history.

Someone once asked Walter, “Where did your greatness start?”  Walter said: “When I started playing my junior year the coach told us to run up and down the hill behind the school 25 times.”  Most of the players ran up and down the hill a few times and went to the locker room. I started to go with them and then I thought: “No, the coach said run the hill 25 times, so I went back and was the only one who would run the hill 25 times. That may have been a turning point for me.”

Payton’s Motto?  “NEVER DIE EASY — ALWAYS GET UP — NEVER QUIT — KEEP ON TRYING.”

<By Wade Martin Hughes, Sr. Kyfingers@aol.com, retrieved from https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-wade-m-stories-84249 on 02/17/17.>

“Never die easy;” that has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?  But I think it has a great similarity to the words we’ve just studied in Hebrews.  Weariness is going to happen.  Discouragement sets in.  When these trials come against us, what are we to do?

One of the things we are to do is resist the urge to quit.  Instead of giving up as a way to try to ease our pain, we need to hang on more tightly to the truth.  Here is one essential truth to which we must cling: Because God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us.  If we remain in Him, the outcome is assured.  We will triumph.

PREVIEW:

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.
  2. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not yours. (RMS 8:13)
  3. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  4. Spend your sorrow on service.
  5. Invest in wellness.

Obviously Gentle

(Please read Philippians 4:2-9 in your Bible.  I have based my research on the NIV.  Also, a brief explanation.  This post is twice the usual length because it represents two weeks’ of messages.  Rather than reproduce it in two parts, I’ve put it all in one post.)

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. The principle stated: Evident Gentleness (5).

The biblical standard for gentleness is expressed here in terms of both quality and quantity.

First, “quality.”  What are the qualities that define “gentleness?” GENTLENESS is a virtue that places others before self and emphasizes process over product.  For a gentle person, the ends never justify the means.

I was surprised to read that the Greek word very nearly cannot be translated into English.  It refers to a “sweet reasonableness” or magnaminity.  Greek philosophers said that it was the opposite of “strict justice.”  So, legalism and nitpicking are the enemy of GENTLENESS.

The word is defined as being generous and allowing exceptions to the rules where circumstances merit it.  Gentle people uphold the SPIRIT of the law, by occasionally violating the LETTER; as paradoxical as that sounds.

Harshness, stubbornness, and abrasiveness are the vices that stand in opposition to GENTLENESS.  These vices betray a heart that is not yet touched by the Savior.

Another way GENTLENESS manifests itself is in a person who is not always insisting on their “rights,” who is not exclusively concerned with doing things “right” (as they define it), but in treating people in a loving way.

Unity in the church is not achieved by uniformity.  Persons who insist on doing things exactly the same for all persons and at all times are betraying a spirit of harshness.  Instead, true unity is achieved by being of the same mind – the mind of Christ.  True unity is a grace God gives us, not something we achieve by force or will.

Second, in “quantity;” GENTLENESS is a virtue that is to be universal in scope.  It should be EVIDENT TO ALL, not just one’s family or little circle of friends.  God-given GENTLENESS is offered to all persons all the time because that’s how God has treated every single one of us.

The motive Paul offers here in verse five is preparedness; for THE LORD IS NEAR.     THE LORD is the Gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23.

He is NEAR in terms of proximity; He is nearby, present with His followers at all times.  When we remember He is always watching, we should not assume anything in our homes or even our heads is secret from Him.  So – you can’t fool Jesus; if you are ungentle, He knows it.  And – chances are – everyone else in your life does too.  If you haven’t been confronted about it, that does not mean you’re not guilty of it.

The LORD is also NEAR in terms of time.  His Second Coming can happen at any time. There are at least two consequences in this situation.

One, this means that every moment might be our last opportunity to do to good, to grow in godliness, to show love.  It also means that in the end God wins and we don’t have to go about pushing and punishing; God will take care of it.  His justice is perfect.

Two, even if this were not true, we all have a limited amount of time in this world: life is short.  Wise people will therefore cram life full of good things, godly actions, and avoid the negativity.

  1. The principle applied: Feuding Church Ladies (2-3).

Notice that 2000 years later, no one remembers what they were feuding about.  There are at least two reasons for this.

First, because the true causes of feuds are rarely about the presenting issue.  People complain about things to act out their emotions but mask them by transferring their feelings to another issue.

Second, because feuds are, by nature, exercises of pettiness, the presenting issue is almost always something trivial blown out of proportion.  So when you have a “ten dollar” reaction to a “fifty cent” problem, start asking probing questions to get behind the façade to the real issue.

The real danger with feuds is not the presenting issue, but the divisive effect on the church; the ruination of relationships and progress deterred.  Relational carnage happens because these squabbles never occur in a vacuum; collateral damage is created as the combatants naturally seek allies and draw others into the disagreement.  Others will join in even if they’re not invited; sometimes with good motives.

They were good church ladies.  His reference to their feud is not a slur on their character, but a situation that is impeding the progress of the church and needs to be acted upon by the church to move them to resolution.  There are two clues that tell us how Paul felt about them.

First, because Paul identified them as colleagues in ministry.  He made this point in two phrases.  He wrote that they CONTENDED AT MY SIDE. “Contended” is a word picture of a team of athletes engaged in competition or teams of gladiators fighting in the arena.  Brotherhood is born in battle.  He also referenced  THE REST OF MY FELLOW WORKERS, thus including Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul named Clement specifically, who may have been one of the elders in Ephesus as an example for those persons he saw as collaborators.

Second, he reminded of what’s really important: WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE. The BOOK OF LIFE is one of the ways the Bible depicts God’s knowledge of His own people (see Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 3:5; 15:21+27).  It is a symbol that is meant to give us confidence that God knows us by name, that He has not forgotten us, and assure us that we have a future in heaven.

We’ve already looked at how the presenting issue may not be THE issue. Therefore, one way of resolving conflicts is to drain away the emotions that make molehills look like mountains.  To regain a truthful perspective, we need to look at the big picture.  Here’s the best example; we’re all going to be in heaven; the rest is temporary and trivial, so dial down the “emo.”

Paul hinted there were problems of this sort in the Philippian church in 2:14, where he commanded them to DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING.  That is one of God’s standards for church life.

In very emotional language, Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile.  He plead with them to simply AGREE.  That should not be as difficult as it may seem in deep feuds.  The biblical standard for church relationships is to be so close and so frequently in agreement that it could be said that we share one mind: the mind of Christ!  (See 1 Corinthians 2:16; Acts 4:32; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

We know nothing about these ladies or their feud and I believe that’s what God wanted.  Though Paul specifically named them, we are not to focus on their situation, but instead see it as a universal example of how God’s standard is to be enacted in our church.  The bad actors and miserable situations that we experience should be resolved to achieve God’s standards.

Paul wisely sought the help of a third party to help end the bickering and reconcile the two church ladies.  An alternate reading may be footnoted in your Bible names this mediator as Syzygus, which means “the Unifier.”  As is frequently the case in the Bible, we can’t say with certainty that word is a title or a name.

  1. The principle extended: Virtues and Practices Joined to Gentleness (4, 6-9).

Because August is the month of the Spiritual Fruit of Gentleness, we are emphasizing it as we interpret this passage.  In truth, all virtues overlap one another and share one another’s attitudes and actions.

Verse four develops the virtue of JOY.  I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE! Paul wrote.  Philippians is the “Book of Joy.”  It uses that word more frequently than any other book in the Bible except Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, which are all much longer books.  Joy is a virtue and it fits with gentleness because gentle people are not engaged in a 24/7 mission to find faults in others, a mission that results in making one’s self miserable and others too.

Note it is REJOICE IN THE LORD.  The prevalence of joy is one indicator of genuine faith.  True followers of Jesus are marked by cheerfulness because they have received God’s grace and in turn, extend it to others.  REJOICE clearly refers to an emotional experience that is grounded in God, not the empty-headed or mean-spirited or obscene kind of merriment that the world can provide.

In verse six we are instructed to annihilate anxiety by the practice of prayer.  Anxiety robs us of JOY and works against GENTLENESS because it makes self the object of our attention again.  Even if we think we’re anxious for others, anxiety is not manifest in legitimate concerns.

Anxiety is carrying unreasonable burdens of care for self or others.  It can be an excuse to justify our being bossy, a busybody, a gossip, or any kind of sin. Oddly, it can also provide an opportunity for someone else to be bossy, a busybody, to gossip to you.  Don’t give them that opportunity!

Look at the scope of Paul’s command – there are no exceptions – DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.  Stop making excuses for your anxiety, that only puts worry on “life-support” and keeps it working on you.

The antidote to anxiety is not an exercise of will or positive thinking, for those things keep the emphasis on self.  We’ve got to get our minds off ourselves and on the LORD instead.  One way to do that is by prayer.  Turning to God in prayer is NOT a means of avoiding responsibility or making light of things that really are serious.  Instead, it is a faithful and reasonable act when we remember that God is greater than all our troubles: see Psalm 54:22; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

God can handle all the things that cause you to be anxious; dump them all on Him, trust Him, and move on to something more pleasant or to a place where your sense of responsibility will do someone some good.  Turn off anxiety by being assured that God hears and answers your prayers.  Always.

Stop trying to be God or manage God, for that is the way of anxiety. Instead, accept His will and His timing with the absolute assurance that He is acting in your own best interests.  It will turn out better than you can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  As Hebrews 11:6 says, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  Prayer relieves anxiety to the degree that we release our problems (real and imagined) into God’s care.

I think Paul uses three different words for prayer not because we’re to see them as three different forms of prayer, but so that we will see that all prayers are to be done WITH THANKSGIVING.  You can define PRAYER, PETITION, and REQUESTS in such a way as to emphasize their differences, but that serves this point, too: all prayer is to include THANKSGIVING.  This principle is true of all experiences of life, but especially prayer.

If we go to complain, list grievances, expand divisions, emphasize things that seem large because of our anxiety, we are not doing God’s work.  Whether we’re talking about business meetings or prayer meetings, THANKSGIVING and other acts of positivity are a necessity, not an add-on (see Romans 1:21).  To thank God is to give Him glory and to give Him glory is to make Him known, to bring our focus to His presence among us.  All good begins here.

In verse seven, Paul sets forth the virtue of peace.  A result of prayer is the elimination of worry.  Into that emotional/spiritual vacuum rushes God’s PEACE.

PEACE is tranquility, calmness, serenity that is not based on circumstances or emotions – which swiftly change – but on the unchanging character and purpose of God.  This isn’t worldly peace, but THE PEACE OF GOD.  It is not peace with God, for that is assumed; that is a prerequisite of discipleship.  It is PEACE from GOD, an act of grace that is positive and positively other-worldly.

Godly peace is so wonderful it TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING.  It is not reasonable or explainable in any typical worldly sense.  It exists in spite of experience, circumstances, and the ill will of Satan and his human accomplices.

It has a stabilizing effect; God’s peace will GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.   As they lived in a imperial colony city, the Philippians would’ve understood and appreciated this word GUARD, as they were a protected city; a garrison of Roman legionnaires were tasked with keeping them safe.  This is the picture this word is meant to give a feeling of being projected.

But it’s fair to ask; GUARD YOUR HEARTS from what?

– From what has happened. Your past does not have to determine your present or future.  You do not need to feel anxiety that what has happened before will happen again.

– From what is happening. We’ve all experience the shock of unexpected and unwanted things intruding on us suddenly.  God’s peace will proof us against the present if we will make it a matter of thanksgiving and prayer.

– From what will happen; say nothing of what we fear may happen. Prayer puts God in charge of the future and trusts He knows how to make it good.

By HEART, Paul refers to the place from which our thoughts, emotions, and moral decisions come.  Modern science tells us all that happens in the brain.  The battle for your soul is fought between your ears, so naturally that is the very place that should be characterized by PEACE.

MINDS might have been understood by Paul’s readers as describing our character, the ways that we typically behave.  Character is the accumulation of all the decisions we’ve made.  We need a GUARD there so we will make good decisions and continually improve our character.

Verse eight develops the benefits of the practice of positive thinking.  Given Paul’s reference to HEARTS AND MINDS in v. 7, he naturally turns to our thinking in v. 8.  Positive thinking means to focus our attention on God and the good things that surround Him.  Paul lists a few representative examples of God’s good things, the things that should dominate our conscious thoughts.

Truth = everything of God is true; everything untrue is of Satan; sincerity doesn’t enter into the picture.

Nobility is another Greek term that cannot be adequately translated with a single English word.  It takes in “honest, honorable, venerable, worthy of respect or reverence, esteemed, majestic.”

Righteousness is also justice.  To be just, each of us must give God and other people what they are due.  It is fulfilling our obligations, satisfying our duty, keeping responsibilities.

Purity is a comprehensive term that takes in moral and religious dimensions, being free from sin in motive, word and deed.

Loveliness includes everything that prompts a loving reaction; things that are “amiable, attractive, winsome.”

Admirability refers to one’s reputation; especially anything that is “gracious, kindly, auspicious, winning, attractive.”  Living an admirable life means giving people more reasons to like you (positivity) than reasons to be offended by you (negativity).

Excellence includes all virtue.  It is a word that is comprehensive in all things good and moral.

Praiseworthiness: Paul elsewhere uses this word in reference to praising God (see Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5), but here it is a conduct of life that makes everybody happy, having universal approval.

We’re to do two things with this information: First, THINK on these things.  The word THINK means to “reckon, calculate, evaluate, take into account, ponder, dwell on, reflect upon.”  We are to consider these virtues fully.

Second, this is not to be just an exercise of brains, as Paul ends with the words PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.  These virtues are not just to be admired at a distance and put on a shelf as trophies, they are to be increasingly part of our character, increasingly manifest in the decisions we make.

In verse nine we learn that we can receive peace by following our leaders. This is a case of Paul taking the theoretical ethical discussion and putting in into concrete, personal terms: “Inasmuch as you have seen these things in me, practice them.”  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 & Philippians 3:17 Paul urged his readers to follow his example as he followed the example set by Jesus.

He also reminds them to stay faithful to the faith as they LEARNED it from him.  False teachers would inevitably come in behind him, sowing seeds of doubt and division.  The easiest way to resist them was to stick with what they already knew to be true. (See Acts 20:20-21.)

They were also to stick with what they had RECEIVED from him – the ways of ordering church life and the specific practices that Paul instituted from the founding of the church until that time.

PEACE is the result of following our leaders.  THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU means that God wants His people to be at PEACE.  Knowing our nature, He knows that PEACE is only possibly in submission to godly leaders.

People who place self-interest ahead of the good of the church often manifest this sin in rebellion against established leaders.  We all know that in any situation where the “leaders” outnumber the followers, confusion and division are rife.

This reference to the presence of God and His peace forms the benediction to six of Paul’s letters.

Shut Your “I”

(Please read Philippians 4:10-20.  My remarks are based on the NIV.)

As we all know, even gifts and other forms of support can be a double-edged sword. It can create some awkward and even bad situations.

1 = A common awkward situation (more common here in the Midwest) is when people argue about who is going to pay a bill. Most of the time these are friendly exchanges, but they are an example of how being on the receiving end of a gift is something we try to avoid.

2 = It becomes awkward when gifts are not appreciated or taken for granted. Being careful to be thankful is important tho’ neglected in our culture.

3 = When a gift results in either the giver or the gifted incurring a sense of obligation or entitlement, the relationship can become tense.

– The worst form of response is when support creates a sense of total obligation. This is what underlies someone complaining and saying, “I pay your salary!” This becomes a parody of a “master/slave” kind of relationship. That attitude is wrong & won’t work.

– An “employer/employee” relationship is good, but not ideal, especially when one party or both feels entitlement they don’t deserve and complain when they don’t receive it. Both employers and employees need to remember they share responsibility and the success of their work depends on a mutual respect.

– A “partnership” is the best for all parties. Because it involves a shared responsibility, combines the strengths of group members, and spreads out the joy of accomplishment, this is the best way for supporters and supported to see each other.

When it works is when givers and receivers of support see themselves as Paul saw the Philippians – as partners.

MESSAGE: Godly living requires our total attention be fixed upon God.

CONTEXT: Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is a celebration of ministry. The key word is joy, which is repeated several times in the text. There are a number of parallels between this passage and chapter one, suggesting Paul is “bookending” his letter. The themes are repeated at beginning and end to make sure they’re communicated

1. Paul could have depended on his own strength and/or the support of the Philippians.

Verse 10 = Paul “rejoiced greatly” because the Philippians had RENEWED their CONCERN for Paul. The source of his joy was not the cash or any other material things that were part of their gift. His joy was much more personal – He was made happy by this demonstration of their love for him. The feeling the gift occasioned was more important to him than the gift.

He already knew the Philippian Christians cared for him: YOU HAVE BEEN CONCERNED. It was a matter of timing and circumstances; they had not yet had OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW IT. Paul understood & was patient. That kind of patience flows from the kind of contentment Paul described in v. 11-12. Discontented people are more likely to be impatient people. People who are content have less reason to fly into impatience. This is human nature.

In verses 14-16 Paul commends their sharing as good. Other Macedonian churches had not shared with Paul, but he did not condemn them for it. Their apathy merely highlights the Philippians’ generosity. Paul had a godly love in his heart for this church. In 1:3-8 he wrote about their PARTNERSHIP IN THE GOSPEL. What’s behind this comment is a first century Greco-Roman social structure of friendship and patronage that is too complicated to even highlight here. For our purpose, it’s sufficient to say that Paul did not want there to be any sense of obligation between him and the Philippian church members, that duty and honor had been given and received both ways. Instead, he wanted them to see themselves as his partners in ministry, with the mutual responsibility to love and support each other in all ways; materially, spiritually, and socially with loyalty.

IT WAS GOOD OF YOU TO SHARE IN MY TROUBLES (14) is another very personal statement. While the material support was needed & appreciated, it was the love behind the gift that gave Paul the deepest reason for joy.

Verses 17-18 are Paul’s statement of intent: he wanted to give credit where it was due. He wanted them to know he was aware of their generosity. FULL PAYMENT AND EVEN MORE… AMPLY SUPPLIED both convey a fullness of provision. While there may have been room for more or better, the fact was, all Paul’s needs were met by their generous gift. Thanks to them, Paul did not want.

But more to the point, all credit is due to God, who supplies everything, including our acts of generosity. Paul is directing attention back to God; what all disciples are to do. He described their gift in terms of God’s perspective:

– A FRAGRANT OFFERING: Like incense

– AN ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE = or the smoke of a burnt offering,

– PLEASING TO GOD = acts of love and worship rise up to God like a pleasing aroma.

This also implies that gifts to a Gospel ministry are, in reality, gifts to God. (Similarly, gifts withheld are an act of disobedience against God.)

  1. Instead, Paul chose to depend on God.

In vs. 11 and 12, Paul made a tremendous claim, that he had learned to be CONTENT. I AM NOT SAYING THIS BECAUSE I AM IN NEED is Paul’s verification of the statement. He is not writing this thank you note as a hint for more support. The principle being demonstrated here is one of the key truths of this passage. Our sense of well-being is based on who God is, not on what’s going on around us. Paul’s joy was not based on the necessity of the gift or its’ timely arrival.

I HAVE LEARNED TO BE CONTENT…I HAVE LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT. The important word here is LEARNED. It’s safe to assume Paul learned this by experience, and from all he experienced. Paul not only attended the “school of hard knocks,” he was it’s president (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33)!

I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE IN NEED, AND I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO HAVE PLENTY…WELL FED OR HUNGRY. Part of Paul’s learning was in prison! At this time, prisoners were completely dependent on outside sources for survival. The jailer did not feed or clothe his prisoners. So the support he received was essential for survival, not just paying ministry expenses. I believe it needs to be added that contentment persists in all kinds of emotional states as well – even though Paul refers only to material states here. He adds the emotional element in Galatians 6:9.

The phrases WHATEVER THE CIRCUMSTANCES…IN EACH AND EVERY SITUATION reveal that true contentment is not based on satisfaction of needs but exists regardless of one’s circumstance. This is similar to peace not being merely the absence of conflict, but a sense of well-being that exists regardless of one’s surroundings.

Various religions and worldly philosophies attempt to achieve contentment by withdrawing from struggles, avoiding desire, detaching from relationships, and/or not engaging with life in its fullness. God’s standard is higher: be fully involved and fully content.

In verse 13 Paul reported that he had been strengthened for all contests of faith. This verse is lifted out of context almost as often as John 3:16. Remember, Paul is writing here about contentment. Paul is saying that the SECRET of contentment is in being focused on Jesus. Philippians 4:13 should never be quoted without quoting verse 12 first.

The other mistake we typically make in this verse is to focus on the word “I.” The purpose of the verse is to focus on HIM. Jesus is the source of our strength, the fountain of contentment that wells up in our lives to the degree that we truly focus on HIM. Contentment with ALL THINGS is possible because of HIM, not because of self. This is the “I” we need to “shut.” This is the truth behind the title of this message. We need to stop putting first person singular in the center of our vision and focus attention on Jesus. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:9. The word SUFFICIENT you’ll find there is a similar Greek word to the word “contentment” here.

In verse 19 Paul promised that his God WILL meet ALL the NEEDS of the Philippian Christians (and by extension, all of His people). True sacrifice is never the leftovers, but the first-fruits of our labors. Our human nature rebels against this, because our nature tends to put self 1st. So Paul writes to assure them that acts of sacrificial giving may appear to involve risk, may seem to require deprivation, but the fact is that God’s SUPPLY is so much greater than our gifts, that we are always much better off. This means we can always afford to be generous, we can always courageously err on the side of grace, because God is trustworthy.

Hear and act upon Paul’s reassuring words: MY GOD WILL MEET ALL YOUR NEEDS. This verse is essentially saying the same thing as v. 13. ALL THINGS can be done in the Lord’s STRENGTH because He meets ALL our NEEDS!

The phrase HIS GLORIOUS RICHES directs our attention to heaven. There is no chance of god failing to notice our NEEDS, no chance of Him failing to meet our NEEDS. Relax. God has got this.

In conclusion, verse 20 direct our attention where it should be, noting that OUR GOD is worthy of worship. While you’re relaxed, in a trusting and content state, remember the ONE who got you there. Worship the ONE who made this possible His great grace. Here too, the temptation is to allow our focus to shift to self and congratulate ourselves and think that we’ve “earned” this somehow. DTY 8 ought to remove any lingering trace of that foolishness! Instead, we ought to follow the example of the Apostle Paul who, after reflecting on all these things, paused to praise because God is worthy of worship.

Material things consume our waking hours. We busy ourselves with activity at an unsustainable pace. We must PLAN to PAUSE to PRAISE God.

Now that we have discussed what this passage means, let me tell you what it does NOT mean. to do this, I want to share with you some very apt words by Dr. Lynn Cohick, who wrote a commentary on Philippians:

“Paul does not imply that God promises health and wealth, as though God is a great vending machine that dumps out blessings if we put in a few coins. This (admittedly crass) description of God’s character has been called the ‘health and wealth gospel’ or ‘the prosperity gospel,’ which I believe is one of the greatest dangers to the Christian faith today. This ‘gospel’ holds that God will bless his followers with wealth and health as they give payments of tithes and offerings. Because it promotes that every believer should be healthy and wealthy, if a believer is not, then one of two options is left: either God has failed them, or they have failed God. Yet God never fails to love us, and we can never fall so far that God cannot reach us, (RMS 8:31-39), for his love operates now and extends into eternity.” (The Story of God Bible Commentary, Philippians, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2013, p. 255, emphasis hers.)

I agree.  If we understand that gifting is not supposed to create an obligation but a partnership in HUMAN relationships, then it makes sense to know that it will not create a partnership in our DIVINE relationship either!!