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

Opportunity to Serve

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 6:5-9

Just as Paul had instructions for the relationship between children and parents, as well as in our marriages and the church, he also gave instructions for the relationship between slaves and masters. We can apply these words of wisdom to our relationships on the job or in our ministry teams.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.

Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites. – Ephesians 6:5-9

SERVE THEM SINCERELY…with all your heart…as though you were working for the Lord. We looked at very similar instruction from Paul to the Church at Colosse when we recently studied Colossians.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites.

Masters, be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master – in heaven. – Colossians 3:22-4:1

SERVE THEM SINCERELY…as though you were working for the Lord…the Master you are serving is Christ.

God calls us to have a servanthood attitude in everything we do and in every relationship – whether we are the child or the parent, whether we are the leader or being led. It all comes down to the fact that we all have the same Master – God.

Last month was Pastor Appreciation Month. There are quite a few incredible pastors in my life who serve God with a servant attitude. They work long, hard hours – pouring their lives out in response to God’s call. Pastors are willing to go where God sends them, respond as the Holy Spirit leads them and sacrificially dedicate their lives to the Great Commission.

To all the incredible ministry leaders reading this today, whether you are a pastor or a Sunday School teacher or Director of a pro-life pregnancy center, I speak these words of Paul to you: Do the will of God with ALL your heart. Work with enthusiasm, because you are working for the Lord and not to please people.

SERVE SINCERELY out of the reverent love you have for your Savior, Jesus Christ.

WORK WILLINGLY at whatever you do – whether it’s this incredible moment of ministry or it’s the toughest thing you have ever been asked to do.

SERVE HUMBLY, knowing God loves you SO much but that He also loves those He has called you to serve.

PERSEVERE – On your toughest day, hold onto the beautiful promise that the Lord has an inheritance waiting for you, a reward for your faithful obedience.

STAY FOCUSED – The Master you are serving is Christ.

To everyone: Whatever God has called you to do today, wherever He has placed you – serve God today with your whole heart. Consider every task ahead of you as if you are doing it for the Lord, as if it is another great opportunity to serve. Remember that the Master you are serving is Christ.

Have you told your pastor how much you appreciate them today, how thankful you are for the role they play in your walk with Christ? The enemy is daily seeking to discourage and defeat them. Let’s always be an instrument of encouragement in their lives. With deep respect, let’s follow their leadership and serve God with all our hearts. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to let your pastor(s) know how thankful you are for them.

Opportunity to Lead

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 6:1-4

God calls us to make the most of every opportunity. He calls us to show His love to one another – to embody both SUBMISSIVE LOVE and SACRIFICIAL LOVE. As we looked at yesterday, submission and sacrifice should be evident in our relationship with God, our marriage relationship and our relationship within the church. As we continue reading in the next chapter of Ephesians, God calls us to this same submission and sacrifice in our relationship with our parents and with our children.

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3

Paul is repeating a familiar commandment to the Church, the 5th commandment of the 10 found in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. This is the first commandment where God is promising blessings on anyone who will obey – which shows us how important this is to God.

But the phrase that sticks out the most to me in these first three verses is “because you belong to the Lord.” We are God’s children – we belong to Him! Notice He gave no exceptions to this command. It doesn’t say, “If your parents are good to you…” or “If your parents deserve honor…” God’s instructions are for us to show honor to our earthly parents because He is our Heavenly Father.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

God has a purpose in parenthood that goes far beyond supplying the physical needs of our children. It is in the parent-child relationship that God wants us to learn about the relationship He wants with us. When we discipline our children as God teaches us to, they begin to understand God’s love for us and why He disciplines us. He is calling us to make the most of this OPPORTUNITY TO LEAD our children.

BECAUSE WE BELONG TO THE LORD, we teach our children that they, too, belong to the Lord.

Hebrews 12:6-11 explains this further: “For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children…For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

Oh, there are the blessings again – the blessings of a peaceful harvest of right living! This passage comes right after the familiar FAITH chapter in Hebrews 11, which is followed by Paul’s instruction at the beginning of chapter 12. He says to throw off anything that is hindering us, whether it is sin or not; to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and run the race marked out for us. He continues this analogy of running the race in verses 12 & 13, referring to the discipline we receive from our earthly Father:

So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. – Hebrews 12:12-13

We have a legacy to carry on to our children. Just as we learned from the discipline we received from our parents (that God at times disciplines us with this same kind of love), so we need to help our children understand the love of their Heavenly Father. In doing this, we are impacting generation after generation.

But perhaps the discipline you received from your earthly parents is not a good reflection of the loving discipline God carries out. Our earthly parents are not perfect like our Heavenly Father is and they sometimes miss out on God’s plan for how a parent should discipline their child. But this does not change God’s instructions to you. Perhaps you are the one who will make a difference for the coming generations by following God’s commandment – by honoring your parents and by training your children in the ways of God.

BECAUSE WE BELONG TO THE LORD, teach your children and grandchildren that they, too, belong to the Lord. Make the most of this OPPORTUNITY TO LEAD.

“…Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” – Ephesians 6:4b (The Message)

Opportunity to Love

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 5:21-33

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:21

The next passage of Scripture can easily be connected with what God had for us in yesterday’s Morning Coffee when we were called to make the most of EVERY opportunity. We have choices to make in our relationships with others. We can put ourselves first or INSTEAD submit to one another out of our love and respect for Jesus Christ.

SUBMISSIVE LOVE

Before I can go any farther I need to decide if I love Jesus enough to do this for Him – if I respect Him enough to submit to His authority and live as He has asked me to live. We cannot take that for granted because sometimes it is the very thing that is keeping us from doing what He has asked us to do. What He asks of us is not always easy but there is a secret to making any of these relationships work as God designed and it goes back to yesterday – to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

First, Paul instructs us regarding the marriage relationship:
For wives, this means submit to your husbands, as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or a wrinkle or any other blemish. INSTEAD she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must LOVE his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must RESPECT her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33

I do not think we can do what God is asking here, or at least maintain it for a significant amount of time, without an infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is not always easy to submit in love and respect to our spouse. In the same way, we as the Church have difficulty submitting to God’s authority over us as the body of Christ. This kind of love and respect is also made possible with that key ingredient – the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

To truly love each other the way Christ loves the church, let’s consider again Ephesians 5:2, “Live a life of love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

SACRIFICIAL LOVE

This is what God is calling us to in our marriages and in our relationships with others – sacrificial love. He is calling us to love to the point of sacrifice, putting others before ourselves as a reflection of our relationship with Christ.

It goes back to yesterday’s flavorful ingredient in our morning coffee – to make the most of every opportunity. Today we will be given opportunities to love sacrificially. Starting our day off in God’s presence, allowing Him to fill us fresh and new with His Spirit, will empower us to love and respect each other the way God calls us to – whether it is to our spouse or our family or the Church or anyone God puts in our path today. Today, let us once again set out determined to make the most of every opportunity.

Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for you wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. – Ephesians 5:1b-2, 22-27 (The Message)

Father God, thank you for not only challenging us to make the most of every OPPORTUNITY TO LOVE, but also for equipping us for that task with the infilling of your Holy Spirit. As we enter your presence this morning, help us to keep our eyes focused on you as we become the person you created us to be – a person who embodies both SUBMISSIVE LOVE and SACRIFICIAL LOVE. God, help us to live a life of love. We desire to be a pleasing aroma to you in the way we serve you and the way we live out our relationships with others. Lord, we put our day into your hands and we ask for you to bless our country, our churches, and our marriages. Amen.