Pursue His Plans

Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12 – 2:15

As we read through Paul’s letter to TImothy, we see a lot of instruction regarding church conduct. My prayer is that God will give us a word this morning as a church but also as individuals ready to learn from Him this morning.

As a woman called by God into leadership, I can take offense at some of what Paul says in his letter to Timothy. Take the following verses as an example, scripture the Church has used for years to define the role women should have in the Church.

Women, should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, holiness, and modesty. – 1 Timothy 2:11-15

We do not know what was going on in the Church in Ephesus at this time, but it is possible that Paul’s words were meant to correct a specific situation going on in the church. If we take these verses in context to Paul’s other letters, we are reminded that we are all ONE in Christ Jesus, no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

Instead of feeling defensive, I find peace in knowing that God’s love for women is not matched by Paul’s directives to the Church in Ephesus, which speak to the culture of those days as well as to the life that still exists for women today in the Middle East. In fact, being reminded of my call this morning and being humbled by the incredible opportunities God has given me (me, who deserves none of these blessings), I find myself relating to Paul instead of arguing with him.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:12-17

What a great opportunity to stop and consider what God has called us to do – what He has uniquely equipped each of us to do according to the spiritual gifts He has given us, male and female. Timothy was a young man called by God and Paul urged him to follow His calling in spite of the meaningless opinions of others around him. As a servant listens to his Master, so we should listen closely to our God and live as HE calls us to live – doing what HE tells us to do and saying what HE tells us to say.

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. – 1 Timothy 1:18-19a

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12-13

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:14-16

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed before many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12

Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness. May God’s grace be with you all. – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

Listen closely. What is God saying to you this morning? What does He have for you to do today, regardless of your age or gender? What words is He calling you to speak today? Hold tight to God, PURSUE HIS PLANS for your life and cling to your faith in Christ.

Pursue His Love

Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy 1:1-11

This letter is from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Savior and Christ Jesus, who gives us hope. I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy and peace. – 1 Timothy 1:1-2

Paul is writing this letter to his coworker, Timothy, who is now serving in the church in Ephesus. Paul obviously holds Timothy in high regard. He has assigned him to the Ephesian church to help the believers grow in their faith and stay focused on the truth of the gospel during a time when false teaching is rampant. Paul expresses affection for Timothy, showing us he not only trusts him with this great responsibility but he also cares deeply for him. Let’s look back in Acts to see how Timothy and Paul met and how God used them in partnership for the sake of the gospel.

Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. –Acts 16:1-5

From the start, Timothy’s calling was to the Church – to help them strengthen in their faith and grow, individually and as the body of Christ. Paul saw the potential in this timid young man and placed him in leadership. Timothy was highly respected by the church and deeply loved by Paul, who was now in prison and wishing he could give these words of advice in person instead of in a letter.

Notice Paul adds to his normal greeting. Instead of wishing Timothy grace and peace, Paul wishes him grace, mercy and peace.
Grace – May God give you unmerited favor, acceptance regardless of our guilt and sin – not favor we have earned but favor we have received out of God’s great love for us.
Peace – May God give you rest and tranquility in knowing you are His and that He has you in His care.
Mercy – May God have compassion on you in your time of need.

Timothy was facing trouble in the Church because of the false teaching that was popping up and distracting the believers from living a life of faith. Paul urges Timothy to stay right where he has been assigned and stop those who are teaching what is contrary to the truth (1:3-4). He has a new target for them to focus on in order to avoid the distractions – he tells them to make LOVE their target.

The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with LOVE that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions…

We know the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father and mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good news entrusted to me by our blessed God. – 1 Timothy 1:5-11

So what was their distraction? What were their meaningless discussions about? It seems from these verses that the believers in the Church were trying to make righteousness about following the law or a set of rules. But Christ died for a different kind of salvation – for believers to experience genuine faith in God and not in their own ability to live a good life; to have a clear conscience because of God’s grace and not because of their own good behavior.

Lord, help us as a Church to make LOVE our target instead of our own self-righteousness. Help us to keep our focus on the Good News of grace, mercy and peace instead of falling back into a mindset of legalism and rules. Remind us of what you have called each of us to do and help us to live a life of faith in YOU and not in ourselves. Reveal to us today what is distracting us from your purpose in our life. Identify every meaningless conversation we are participating in and help us to refocus on YOU. Lord, fill us with your love – the kind of love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience and genuine faith. We love you, Lord! Amen.

According to His Riches

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:15-23; Psalm 88 & 131

It seems like every day I hear of another family suffering from the loss or injury of a loved one or the diagnosis of a medical condition – life-changing or life-ending. When I hear of a parent watching their child suffer or a marriage falling apart, I hurt for them and wonder how I could bear it if I were in their situation. I hear of people who have been out of work for more than a year and I hurt for them. How will they provide for their families? Will their faith weaken or strengthen?

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

Paul’s wonderful words in the book of Philippians are a source of encouragement. I can be content in any situation or circumstance. How? Through Him who gives me strength and by the power of my God who meets all my needs by the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus!

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to BE CONTENT with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me STRENGTH…

At the moment, I have all I need – and more! I am generously supplied…And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. – Philippians 4:4-7, 10-13, 18-20

It seems to me that there is a lot of wasted energy focusing on things that I cannot change instead of giving time and attention to the things that, by His grace, I can change. I need to learn how to be content in any situation. This reminds me of the “Serenity Prayer”.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

The key is to live in TODAY…not to get worked up about what may or may not happen TOMORROW, and not anchoring my emotions with regrets regarding what happened YESTERDAY, last week, last year or ten years ago.

Here are a few things we cannot change, so they are not worth fretting over or worrying about:

– The weather.

– The past. Mistakes, sin and stupidity are just that…the past. With His help we can repent, ask for forgiveness and move on, leaving the past behind and focusing on the HOPE God has for our future.

– Other people’s attitudes and actions. I can only choose mine.

– Not having enough time. We are never going to get more time, so let’s stop wishing we had more. We have all the time we need to do what God is asking us to do. Time is never the issue, priorities and values are.

– Harmful words spoken to us. Let them go and move on. Use the past as a guidepost, not a hitching post.

– Family of origin. Use family as an explanation, not an excuse. Jesus can transform us into who He wants us to be no matter the influence of our childhood.

Here are a few things we can and should change…by His grace and with His help:

– My prayer life. I can choose my priorities and spend more time in prayer – praising God, confessing to Him, praying for others and yielding control to Him.

– My attitude, my perspective, my response to other people’s actions and, most of all, my words!

– My habits – getting rid of the bad habits and building new good habits.

– My current priorities and values. What is important and what is not?

– My weekly commitments. Am I overloaded and overwhelmed? What do I need to stop doing or do less frequently?

God, please give me the strength I need to be content in any and every situation. Fill my heart with the joy and strength needed to rejoice in you ALWAYS. Thank you for this letter to the Philippians and how it speaks into my life today.

My Strength is Powerless

Today’s Reading: Philippians 4:10-14

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8

As we wind down to the end of Paul’s prison letter to the Church in Philippi, let’s review what it means to be a servant as Jesus was – to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE THE SAME ATTITUDE AS CHRIST?

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. – Philippians 2:14-15

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for ALL he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me – everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9

THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!

Perhaps right now you are thinking that Paul’s letter is too hard – that it is too difficult to put everything we learn in the Scripture into practice. This verse holds the answer:

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

Remember what we learned in chapter 3 – God isn’t asking us to use our own strength to build a resume’ of good works to impress Him. I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who gives me strength. Let’s keep Paul’s words in mind as we start a new week dedicated to our growing relationship with Christ.

Philippians 3:1-11 (The Message)
And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.

Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. – Philippians 3:1-11 (The Message)

NOT BY MY OWN EFFORTS; NOT IN MY OWN STRENGTH.

Why? Because I cannot do it. So I fall on my knees before the Holy God and ask Him to fill me with His Spirit. Jesus, I pray for you to do great things this week in YOUR strength and through my willing and obedient heart. Transform my attitude and help me to trust in you and in your righteousness rather than trying to live by my own efforts and weakness. Give me the strength to be content and willing to do what you ask me to do today. Amen.

My Worry is Useless

Today’s Reading: Philippians 3:15 – 4:9

Paul is calling the Church to live like Jesus did, but not of human effort as if we are building a list of all the good things we have done FOR God. He is calling us to get to know Christ and let the Spirit do a work in us that produces fruit. It’s not about our attempts at living right but about God’s righteousness living through us.

Paul does not claim to be perfect, or to always get everything right, but he does encourage Christians to look at the example of his life and be encouraged to press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed us. To forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead; to look towards the end of the race and the heavenly prize waiting there for us.

FIX YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him. – Philippians 3:12-21 (The Message)

STAY TRUE TO THE LORD

Oh what a beautiful day that will be! Indescribable! What a day to look forward to – when Jesus Christ will come for us and transform our imperfect earthly bodies into GLORIOUS bodies like His! He will make us beautiful and whole! So, knowing ALL of this, Paul calls his readers to stay true to the Lord (4:1). Remember God has begun a good work in you and will continue His work until that day when He will return (1:6).

Not only will God transform us then, He is already transforming us now. The result of His work in our lives is evident as we submit to our Creator. As we grow and mature, our lives begin to look more and more like these words of encouragement to the Philippians – one of my favorite passages of Scripture and exactly what I need to soak in this morning:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all HE HAS DONE. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me – everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9

…God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. – Philippians 4:9b (The Message)

FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TRUTH

The enemy would love to steal our joy today but let’s be reminded to be full of joy in the Lord – to rejoice in every situation. The enemy would love to cause us to worry but let’s turn our thoughts to God and pray for everything going on in our lives. Tell God what you need and enter into a season of thanksgiving. God will give us a peace that exceeds our understanding, a peace that protects our hearts and our minds.

There is so much more to life than these earthly troubles so let’s fix our eyes on the prize and press forward, staying true to the Lord. When the enemy tries to distract us with lies, let’s fix our thoughts on what is true, what is honorable, what is right. Let’s focus on all that is pure, lovely and admirable. Let’s enjoy the harmonies of God as He makes EVERYTHING work together.

My Resume is Worthless

Today’s Reading: Philippians 2:12-3:14

Paul takes a moment in the middle of his letter to the Church in Philippi to call attention to a couple young men who are living out their faith in Jesus Christ – men who are a great example for us of what holy living and obedience to God’s call should look like. Here’s what he had to say about Timothy and Epaphraditus (affectionately nicknamed Timmy and E-Rad by yours truly):

If the Lord is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit…I have no one else like Timothy, who GENUINELY CARES about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. – Philippians 2:19-22

Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphraditus back to you. He is a TRUE brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need…Welcome him with Christian love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away. – Phil. 2:25, 29-30

Even though Paul is calling attention to these two servants of Christ, he wants us to focus on the Christ they serve and not on the human servant. He wants the Church to see that this kind of dedicated lifestyle is a result of God’s work within us, evidence that we are submitting to our Creator and not a result of our own human effort.

WE RELY ON WHAT CHRIST JESUS HAS DONE FOR US, NOT WHAT WE CAN DO ON OUR OWN.

C.S. Lewis made a similar point in his book Mere Christianity: “The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or — if they think there is not — at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

In his live version of the song Good Good Father, Chris Tomlin prays, “You’re a Father. You’re a good, good Father. You’re not loving us because we’re good; You’re loving us because You’re good.” Oh, what a difference it makes in our Christian walk when we accept that truth and stop trying to earn our salvation!

We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… – Philippians 3:3b

WE PUT NO CONFIDENCE IN HUMAN EFFORT.

Paul did not want the believers focused on their own list of accomplishments or good behavior. If that won us eternal life, Paul himself would have so much to brag about. But it is not about our attempts at righteousness but about the righteousness of Christ. It is not about building a resume’ of all the great things you have done for Christ in order to win His approval. Paul makes his own life an example and builds a resume’ of accomplishments, and then watch what he does with it.

I was circumcised when I was eight years old.
I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin – a real Hebrew if ever there was one!
I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.
I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church.
And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection of the dead.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling you. – Philippians 3:5-14

SO TAKE YOUR RESUME’ OF GOOD WORKS, CRUMPLE IT UP AND THROW IT IN THE TRASH CAN.

Those of us who answer this call to holy living aren’t saying that we are perfect or that we always get it right. It is more a devotion to allowing God to continue to do a work in me through my relationship with His Son. I don’t look back and see my past failures and sins and quit trying to live a holy life. I don’t look back and see what I have accomplished for His Kingdom and feel I have already arrived. No, I continue to look forward each day to what God wants me to do next and how He wants me to live – not by my own human efforts but as a result of His presence in my life.

Each day pressing on,
each day learning from my weaknesses and seeing His strengths,
each day striving for spiritual maturity.
I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST and experience His mighty power, having faith in the God who makes me right with Himself because His Son was willing to die on a cross for my sins.

In This Struggle Together

Today’s Reading: Philippians 1:27 – 2:11; Psalm 122 & 133

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ…standing TOGETHER with one spirit and one purpose, fighting TOGETHER for the faith…Don’t be intimidated by your enemies…For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle TOGETHER. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it. – Philippians 1:27-29

IN THIS STRUGGLE TOGETHER

One of the strategies the enemy uses against us is to make us feel like we are alone. He strives to create conflict between believers so that they focus their frustrations on each other instead of finding unity. When we unite in the battle against evil, we become stronger. To divide us is to conquer us and that is exactly what Satan sets out to do.

Paul gives great advice to the Church in this prison letter. He calls the believers to offer themselves as gifts to each other; to generously agree with each other, love one another and work TOGETHER!

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. – Phil. 2:1-2

In his letter, Paul encourages believers to grow into the person God calls them to be – bearing the fruit of their salvation for the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:11). Part of this growth is evident in our relationships within the Church. God calls us to unity, as each one of us seeks to have the attitude of Christ.

GROWING TO BE MORE LIKE CHRIST

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess the Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:1-11

We are a work in progress. The more we seek God and draw closer to Him, the more He works in us – molding and shaping us into the person He created us to be. We are “growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Ephesians 1:15), being equipped to do His work and built up toward maturity in the Lord (Eph. 1:12-13).

When we humble ourselves as Jesus did, we start loving with the same kind of love He displayed on the cross. Then our lives begin to show the results of our salvation – our obedience that comes out of a deep reverence and fear for God. We stop fighting with each other and begin uniting together in obedience to what God has called us to do; no distractions, no unnecessary conflicts, no bitter attitudes or gossiping. When we allow God to do this kind of work in us, we begin to shine brightly in this dark world we live in.

SHOWING THE RESULTS OF OUR SALVATION

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy. – Phil. 2:12b-18

Joy. That is what God wants us to experience as we gather together in the faith. He wants our lives to be an inspiration to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then, even in the darkest of situations, united TOGETHER we can find love abounding and joy unexplainable. We can pour out our lives like a liquid offering to God, faithfully giving God every relationship and every trial in our life. We can rejoice and share joy…TOGETHER.

Even When Life is Difficult

Today’s Reading: Philippians 1:12-26

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:4

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul teaches us that we should look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others – a lesson that is easier said than done. But first, Paul lived this kind of servant lifestyle as an example for the Philippians and for us to follow. His example shows us that looking out for the interests of others is really about serving to advance the gospel. He most definitely practiced what he preached.

And I want you to know , my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Phil. 1:12-14

Paul can find something to be thankful about EVEN IN THE MOST DIFFICULT OF SITUATIONS. In fact, he can be thankful for the chains themselves. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Paul praises God for the good that is coming out of the bad in his life. He is thankful for the effect his imprisonment is having on the whole palace guard. They know that he believes so strongly in Christ Jesus as the promised Messiah that he has been arrested and imprisoned for his faith. There must be something to this faith for Paul to give his life to it.

Paul is also thankful for the effect his chains are having outside the walls of the prison. Instead of running in fear, believers are gaining confidence in what God has called them to do. They are speaking God’s message of salvation through Jesus Christ without fear.

Listen carefully, sometimes our difficulties or our chains are more than just a chance for self-pity. Never in Scripture do we hear God telling us to feel sorry for ourselves. Instead we find verses like this:

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:3-4

Paul goes on in his letter to talk about others who are preaching the gospel with selfish motives. They have made a competition out of it, filling the church with undertones of jealousy and rivalry instead of partnership and encouragement. They preach with selfish ambition, wanting to be the best preacher out there. Unfortunately, we see evidence that this kind of competitive spirit sometimes exists among believers today, whether it is an attempt to build the largest church or see the most fruit from the ministry we lead or get the lead solo in the Easter production.

But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. – Phil. 1:18-19

What a great attitude! Paul rejoices about his imprisonment and the good coming out of it, and he rejoices about the wrong motives of preachers because at least unbelievers are coming to a saving knowledge of Christ in the midst of the rivalry and selfish ambition. Not only does Paul have a good attitude, he works hard to preserve it – determined to make life about Christ and how He wants to use Paul in the lives of others.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires; I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me. – Phil. 1:20-26

Joy – definitely a theme of Paul’s in his letter to the Church at Philippi. Paul is a wonderful example of how the fruit of the Holy Spirit can play out in our lives. He can give us joy in difficult situations – joy that is UNEXPLAINABLE in light of what is happening around us. He can give us joy even when we see faults in the believers around us. We can pray for others to experience joy in their faith. We can let the joy of our salvation make a difference in the lives of others – those close to the difficult situation we are going through and also those watching from a distance.

God, make this the desire of our heart. Take away any rivalry, jealousy or selfish ambition in our attitudes. Help us to do everything for your glory and for the advancement of your kingdom. Change our hearts so that we can look to the interests of others, and not selfishly try to impress others or look out for ourselves. Fill our hearts with a love that abounds and a joy that is unexplainable. We love you, Father! Amen.

Even When Life Is at It’s Worst

Today’s Reading: Philippians 1:1-11

We’ve been moving our way chronologically through the Bible and, more recently, through Paul’s prison letters. I really enjoy Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and how it speaks to God’s plan for our lives. Next let’s look at Paul and Timothy’s letter to the persecuted Christians of the church in Philippi.

Paul uses his own circumstances as an example of knowing what it means to be persecuted. After all, he is in prison for his faith. His desire is that his words to the Philippians will encourage and strengthen them in the midst of their difficulties. He calls them to holy living and joy – yes, joy and passion for Christ EVEN WHEN LIFE IS AT IT’S WORST.

Paul knows things have been rough for the church in Philippi, that they have suffered persecution for their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. He too was in prison and understood what it meant to be mistreated for his faith. He encourages them to continue living FOR Christ and LIKE Christ. Let’s go back and see how Paul starts his Philippian letter:

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. – Philippians 1:1-2

Grace and peace – a familiar greeting used in Paul’s letter but written with great meaning. Consider when we pass someone at the store and say, “Hi. How are you?” It’s a standard American greeting but we usually don’t expect the person to stop and give us a full explanation of how they are doing. We expect them to say, “Fine. How are you?” and be on their way. Not so with Paul. This is much more than a casual greeting. Paul is speaking a blessing over them as he starts out his letter. I wish God’s grace in your life. During good times and bad times, may God’s generous grace be evident and may His peace reign in your hearts.

He goes on to speak a blessing over them and let them know how he is praying for them.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:3-11

Paul prayed with joy and confidence regarding the persecuted believers – joy that they were fully committed to the gospel, and confidence that the same God who started a good work in them would faithfully carry it on to completion. Oh, how I love that verse! God will never abandon us. He took the initiative in sending His Son to die on a cross so that we could experience salvation and He can be trusted to continue to work in our lives beyond our salvation decision. He will take the good work that was started in our hearts and strengthen it, helping our faith to grow and our love to overflow.

Love – that is what Paul is praying God will grow in the hearts of the Philippians. Not just grow but ABOUND. Abounding love, knowledge and deep insight. Paul prays for these things because he knows that it will help the believers be able to discern what is God’s best for them and live a holy life until the day of Christ.

To have knowledge, depth of insight and discernment, while being filled with the fruit of righteousness – who wouldn’t want to have all of these things? But no matter how hard WE try, we cannot have any of these things of our own strength. It is God who started a work in us and who continues to work in us to make us who He wants us to be; not for our credit but for His glory, not for our plans but for His purpose. It is the fruit of our relationship with Him – of His Spirit living within us and producing within us a “good work”.

Lord, we open our hearts to you to this morning and pray that you will bless us with these same gifts. Will you fill us with abounding love? Will you give us deep insight and discernment as we study your word and consider your plan for our lives. Our desire is to grow in our relationship so that the fruit of your Spirit will produce good works and holy living for your glory. Help us to recognize your grace in our lives, EVEN WHEN LIFE IS DIFFICULT, and give us peace in all circumstances. We love you, Lord. Amen.

Resist the Enemy

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 6:10-24

How fitting it is that we come to this portion of Scripture just two weeks after Halloween – a day when our culture celebrates and makes light of the evil forces of this world. But Satan is much more than a red cartoon costume with horns and a pointy tail. His attempts to destroy us are much more serious than the clever line “the devil made me do it”.

BE STRONG IN THE LORD

At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes for us the armor of God and how to stand firm against the very real attempts of the enemy to block God’s plan for our lives.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12

Paul has spent his entire letter talking to the believers about God’s plan for their life – individually and in the Church. Now he gives a final word but it is much more than a simple conclusion. It is a strong warning! Be strong in the Lord who holds the plan and in His mighty power and strength. God has provided armor to make this possible, even when the devil is using all his tricks and strategies. Be aware that there is an unseen spiritual battle taking place and there are times you will find yourself right in the middle of it.

RESIST THE ENEMY

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17

There is no doubt about it – we have an enemy! We could potentially fight some kind of spiritual battle every day but there is no need to panic, no need to fear, for God is on our side and the battle has already been won. When the enemy tries to discourage us, we can remind Him of the Sovereignty of God; when he tries to block the path ahead of us, all we have to do is speak the name of Jesus and he has to flee.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you. – James 4:7b

I can tell you right now that the enemy does not like it when we are growing in our relationship with Christ. He tries to discourage us and speak lies into our hearts. I have had to make a very conscious effort to put on the armor of God and speak the name of Jesus, reminding myself that the devil is full of lies and wants nothing more than to block God’s plan for my life.

The best advice I can find in my morning coffee to prepare me for the battle ahead is found in the next verse of Ephesians 6: PRAY in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (v.18).

PRAY IN THE SPIRIT

Prayer is our strongest tactic – praying in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion, staying alert and praying persistently, not just for ourselves but for all believers everywhere. The next best thing I can do to prepare for the battle ahead comes next in the Scripture – I can ask you to pray for me. There is power in prayer and when we unite in prayer, the enemy has no chance.

And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. – Ephesians 6:19-20

Yet another reason why God calls us into fellowship with other believers – to pray for them and to let them pray for you. So stand your ground. Evil is much more than a funny Halloween costume. So suit up! Put on every piece of God’s armor so that you will be able to resist Satan’s attempts. Put on the belt of truth so that you can stand against His lies. Ask God to clothe you today with His righteousness. Spend time in God’s word so that He can fill you with His peace, fully preparing you for what is ahead. Hold high your shield of faith and the sword of the Holy Spirit, which is the word of God. Do not live in fear but in peace.

As we end our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, let me leave you with his closing words to us:
Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 6:23-24