Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Noble Aspiration

A NOBLE ASPIRATION

“Not that I have already attained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14.

Paul’s goal really sounds like pie in the sky, doesn’t it? It would be if this life were all he ever had to live for. It all depended on his perspective.

Paul had a powerful awareness that there was something far better awaiting him in the life to come. He viewed his earthly life, not as an end in itself but as an apprenticeship for the real life which began with his shocking encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road and would reach its fullness when he left his earthly tent for his eternal home with Christ.

Like an Olympic athlete who shed every unnecessary encumbrance in order to win the race, Paul ran his race with as little of his futile old ways as possible. His goal was to embrace the faith life that led him ever deeper into an intimate knowledge of his Lord. Why was knowing Christ so important to him? He was not straining to know about Jesus. The life of this unique Man could have piqued his interest but done nothing more for him than knowing about any other unusual or significant person of his day.

Knowing about his own spiritual forefather, Moses, would not have enabled him to become like him, nor would he have wanted to. He had his own weaknesses and failings to contend with, without aspiring to be like Moses!

But knowing Jesus was a whole different ball-game. “Knowing” in this context, implies something far deeper than knowing Him even as a friend. It has the connotation of intimacy that produces something, just as intimacy between a husband and wife produces an offspring in their likeness. Why did Jesus take hold of him? He called Paul into intimacy with Him so that He could impregnate him with His “seed”. His word would reproduce Himself in Paul first. Then Paul was to take it to the nations to reproduce Him in the life of every person who received the seed.

With this goal in view, Paul bent every effort towards fulfilling Christ’s purpose for him. This was not only his calling but the calling of every person who embraces Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul called it a “mystery” – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). God’s design from the beginning was to have a family of human sons and daughters created in His image and living in perfect harmony with Him and with one another.

Paul used this very imagery as he agonised over the Galatian believers who were on the brink of turning away from Jesus to Judaism.

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ be formed in you…” Galatians 4:19.

God sent Jesus in person to be the model son and to die in our place to remove all barriers between us and the Father. He sent His Spirit to live in us just as He lived in Jesus to ensure that His plan would work. But there is one thing God cannot do. He cannot invade our right to choose. It’s up to every believer in Jesus to do as Paul did – shed the baggage and run the race, unencumbered by any notion that we can win the prize through self-effort.

The whole enterprise is based on faith – faith in what Christ has achieved for us, and faith in God that He will accomplish His goal through us, to gather His family back to Himself from the ends of the earth and to restore in them the image of His Son. And what is the prize we are straining to win? Glory! God’s own nature, free from the ravages of sin that brought death to the human race and to God’s entire creation.

There were two others in the Biblical record, apart from Paul, who aspired to do “one thing”.

In Psalm 27, David expressed his fervent desire:

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4.

Jesus Himself commended Mary:

“…Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said… ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord said, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” Luke 10:39b; 41-42.

What guarantee do we have that God will do it? We have His word that it will happen.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride beautifully adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'” Revelation 21:1-4.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Righteousness God’s Way

RIGHTEOUSNESS GOD’S WAY

“If someone thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:4b-7.

From a Jewish perspective, Paul’s credentials were pretty impressive. He was pure Jew, pure Pharisee and fanatically religious. He did everything by the book and he did everything right – according to himself. Few could measure up to him, not even those with whom Jesus contended but, and that was just the point, like Jesus’ opponents, he measured himself by himself and came up shining.

The problem was not in his effort to be righteous – that was commendable – but in his confidence in his achievement which put him a cut above everyone else in his own estimation. This is exactly where God parted company with him. All Paul’s efforts to meet His standard fell horribly short and left him with zero righteousness. The trouble was that he did not know it until he came face to face with Jesus.

 

It was that one encounter that changed everything. All Paul’s impressive achievements were the result of self-effort and were stained and blemished with arrogant pride. Only in the pure light of Jesus’ holiness did he see himself for what he really was, a wretched sinner who was no better than anyone else. Not only was he knocked to the ground by the presence of the glorified Jesus, but he was also knocked out, figuratively, by what he saw. For a second he saw Him and then he saw nothing, completely blinded by the brilliance of the one he was trying to eliminate.

What was his response? He took his entire CV – his pedigree, his learning, his hard work, his religious zeal, his achievements, his confidence and his pride – and dumped it in the trash can. It was all of no use to him. It had got him nowhere in his effort to satisfy God’s demands, and it would only hinder him in the future in his new-found understanding of what God had done.

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Philippians 3:8, 9.

This is one of those typical Paul-sentences! We need to take it apart to understand what he was saying.

1. All his efforts to do the right thing according to God’s standards were a load of garbage and a waste of time which he regretted.

2. He had to dump everything he had ever achieved and start all over again.

3. Righteousness that satisfied God’s holiness did not come from what he did for God but from what Jesus Christ did for him.4. God’s righteousness was not achieved by working for it but received by believing what God said.

5. Jesus, not self-effort was Paul’s key to being acceptable to God. Only His perfection was good enough for God and He became his when he receive Him by faith.

And now?

“I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death and so, somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10, 11.

The way this is translated makes it seem as though Paul was back to having to work for the benefits of Christ’s salvation. He was not expressing a desire as much as he was stating a fact. It was through faith in God’s promise that he received Christ’s righteousness as a gift and through that same faith he received the benefits – knowing Jesus and experiencing the power of His resurrection.

From God’s point of view it was a package deal. Everything Paul ever needed was given to him in Christ; forgiveness of sin, a new standing with God, the Holy Spirit – the spirit of sonship – and the power of the Spirit to overcome the ravages of his fleshly nature to become a true son of God. None of this required effort – only continuing faith in God to make him what he could not make himself.

This is true righteousness!

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Rejoice And Beware!

REJOICE AND BEWARE!

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

“Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by His Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.” Philippians 3:1-4a.

The Christian life is a life of joy. If anyone had reason to complain, it was Paul. In spite of his loyal and sacrificial service for Jesus, he had gone through the mill at the hands of hostile hoards – from the Romans, despite the fact that he was a Roman citizen – and from the Jews. Nevertheless, the joy that was deep within him sustained him through the hard times. Why?

Paul’s joy did not arise from his circumstances but from his union with Jesus. What he counselled others to be and to do always passed through the laboratory of his own experience. His letters were not only the product of his understanding of the Scriptures, but also the witness to his personal life as a believer in Jesus.

Paul could easily have turned on Jesus. How could his Master, a God of love, allow him to be treated like that? Was he not a faithful and loyal follower? Was he not entitled to a reward for his hard work? Was this the way God treated His children?

This may be the attitude of some today, but we never read of Paul whining about his hardships. On the contrary, he rejoiced in what he suffered and counted it a privilege and an opportunity to put his Master on display. Instead of collapsing in a heap of self-pity, he waited expectantly for the outcome and he was never disappointed.

The very church he was addressing was, in part, the aftermath of an unpleasant incident in Philippi where he and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for delivering a slave girl of demons. Instead of bewailing their fate, they sang and prayed so enthusiastically at midnight that they kept the whole prison awake. And God’s response…an earthquake that shook the prison, freed the prisoners and resulted in the salvation of the jailer and his household.

Paul knew how to rejoice in the Lord and he also knew what rejoicing instead of complaining accomplished. He called it a safeguard. Praise is a safeguard against the wiles of the devil. He delights in luring us into feeling sorry for ourselves and hard-done-by when things go badly for us. If there is one thing that spoils our fellowship with God, it’s self-pity. And what is self-pity? Someone once called it “ingrown eyeballs”!

Rejoicing in the Lord is the antidote. After all, God is still in charge, not matter what happens in life, and He works it all out for our good when we trust Him. When we rejoice in Him and not in our circumstances, we will remain steadfast and unshakeable in spite of what is happening around us because He never changes.

With his counsel to rejoice in the Lord, Paul also issued a warning. Be careful of the “dogs”. Who were they? The very same ones who troubled the Galatians to the point that they were led astray. They were the ones who trailed after Paul and tried to undo his work by insisting that believers in Jesus be circumcised first and keep the Mosaic Law. For Paul they were nothing more than stray dogs, roaming around and opportunistically devouring whoever they could.

“Stay away from them,” urged Paul. The real circumcision party are those who are circumcised in heart, not mutilated in the flesh. The seal of God’s ownership is not in the flesh but in the heart – the presence of God’s Spirit who is the arabon, God’s engagement ring, and the promise of eternal life for those who are marked by the Spirit.

If there is to be any boasting at all, it is not to be about our achievements for Jesus, but about His achievement for us. This is the safest place to boast because it takes the gaze off ourselves and places it where it belongs, on Jesus, the one who did everything that God required for us.

Paul was about to launch into recounting his CV if it was of any value at all in impressing God, so that he could be considered righteous in God’s sight. He had every reason to boast in what he had become in the flesh but it was all to no avail. His best shot fell short and he was doomed unless…

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Give Honour

GIVE HONOUR

“Therefore I am all the more eager to send him to you so that, when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.” Philippians 2:28-30.

We can learn a great deal from Paul about how to treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The first valuable lesson is to acknowledge our fellow believers for what they are and what they do.  Paul did not ignore or treat lightly the sacrifice Epaphroditus had made to come to him all the way from Philippi and to serve him selflessly while he was in prison.  He was quick to recognise the risk he took either by travelling overland on foot or going by sea to Rome. Either mode of travel was long and dangerous but he did it out of love for Paul.

The next lesson is that there is no place for false humility in Christ’s body. As much as we are aware of our hopelessness outside of Christ as far as any effort to save ourselves is concerned, at the same time we are of infinite worth to God the Father as His sons and daughters. He gave His Son for us and He values us highly as people created in His image and redeemed by the blood of His Son to reflect Him in the world.

He has put His image in us and He gave us gifts and abilities to use for His glory. That includes His heart of compassion towards one another. Paul was in miserable and lonely circumstances, surrounded by hostile pagans to whom he meant nothing. The Philippian believers recognised Paul’s need and sent Epaphrodittus to serve him, to comfort him and to provide him with his everyday necessities about which the Roman authorities probably cared nothing.

It was natural that Paul would be grateful both to the Philippians and to Epaphroditus for their sensitivity to his need, and that he would express his gratitude to them and honour Epaphroditus for his willingness to come. Imagine how distressed he must have been when their care and generosity almost cost Epahproditus his life! Did they take that into account when they commissioned him to go to Paul?

Paul was not slow in giving honour to Epahroditus. This did not mean that he was paying more attention to him than to God. Not at all! It was right for him to recognise what Epaphroditus had done for him and to express his gratitude to him because it was only through God’s grace at work in him that he could have done what he did for Paul.

As much as he welcomed Epaphroditus with open arms when he arrived at the prison, so Paul urged them to welcome him back with equal joy. Mission accomplished! It was just as unselfish for Paul to send him home as it was for them to send him to Paul. After his brush with death, Epaphroditus was terribly homesick. He was happy to serve Paul but he longed for his brothers and sisters in Philippi. Paul recognised that and willingly sent him back, knowing that it would not be long before Timothy would return with news about them.

All Paul lived for at this moment was the reassurance he received from those who brought news about his beloved converts. Some of them caused his anxiety and heartache when he heard that they were caught up in the sinful practices of the world or deceived by false teachers. Others brought him great encouragement and joy by their steadfastness in the face of hardships and persecution.

He had time and opportunity in prison to pray long and hard for the churches across the empire. And pray he did! He was more concerned about them than about the thousands of unbelievers he had met and to whom he had preached the message of Jesus. He knew that the believers were the message. It was the witness of their changed lives that impacted people with the truth of what Paul preached. He knew that his prayers played a significant part in the multiplication of the church through ordinary Christians everywhere.

Paul did not rely on the “big shots” to do the work. God’s way of spreading the gospel was through people reaching people. Therefore it was imperative that his coverts learn to live pure lives in the midst of corruption and wickedness. And for that he prayed!

He was lavish in his expressions of gratitude and encouragement because he knew that they needed it in the face of the hardships they endured for Christ. How much better it would be if believers would take a leaf out of Paul’s book! There are many out there who look for opportunities to pull fellow believers down, either by failing to honour them for what they do or by exposing every flaw and fault they can find, real or imagined.

God came down hard on Ham for exposing and making fun of his father, Noah’s nakedness. I wonder what He thinks of those who show disrespect for the “nakedness” of others. Let us be quick to recognise the worth of our brothers and sisters and give honour where honour is due.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

A Peek Inside

A PEEK INSIDE

“But I think it necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.” Philippians 2:25-27.

Paul peppered his letters with little cameos of his life and his interaction with fellow believers. This is one of them.

He had a very special relationship with the people of the Philippian church. From what he wrote, we learn that they had taken care of his needs more than once, sending money to him and one of their members, possibly even a leader or elder to see to his needs in prison.

Epaphroditus could not hop on a plane from Philippi and land in Rome in an hour or two. He had to endure a long and hazardous overland journey to get to Paul. He may have contracted malaria or some other infectious disease on the way, causing him a serious and almost fatal illness. No doubt Paul and his fellow-believers in Rome must have prayed earnestly for his recovery. God was merciful and spared his life and Paul the sorrow of losing a beloved friend and companion in the gospel.

Look how Paul described Epaphroditus – brother, co-worker and fellow-soldier. He was a brother in the love that bound them together. Paul was not only the evangelist, teacher and mentor of these people. He was also their brother and they were his brothers and sisters in the bond of God’s family. Their Christian lives would have been sterile without the love that warmed them and drew them together to care for one another.

Epaphroditus was also a co-worker and fellow soldier. He was no spectator sitting in the grandstand cheering Paul on. He was right in the game with Paul, facing the dangers of the Christian life in the arena of misunderstanding, hatred and persecution at the hands of Jews and Romans. He soldiered with Paul in spreading the gospel and caring for the flock of God. Paul was not slack in giving him the honour he deserved for his willingness to labour with him.

I see in this little cameo something very precious in this church and something that is not always evident in many church fellowships. These people were held together by a deep love for Paul and for one another. Without that love they would have believed Paul’s message, come to Christ and formed a group of believers that met together and stuck together simply because they were hated by the world. It was their love for each other and for their beloved apostle which motivated them to give of their resources and themselves.

They gave their money to take care of Paul’s needs. They sent a representative to help Paul in prison. They were concerned for the wellbeing of Paul and Epaphroditus in Rome. They were certainly not indifferent to the circumstances of their “father” in the faith when he was far away. They cared and they showed their care by doing something about it.

Imagine what an impact the church would make on a world of selfish and greedy people if we truly loved and cared for one another as the Philippians did! The world largely treats the church with indifference because in many ways the church is no better than a religious “club”. There are power struggles, infightings, factions, competition among leaders, and all the sins off the world blatantly evident in the church as well.

Where is this alternative society made up of true followers of Jesus who have died to themselves and are reflecting the Master they serve as “stars in the universe”? Where are these companies of people scattered throughout the world whose love for Jesus and for one another convinces the world that they are really following Him?

How tragic that many of the big name leaders in the church are living in multi-million dollar mansions and driving the most expensive of cars with the excuse that their wealth is God’s blessing, while those who are desperately trying to reach the masses with the gospel are crying out for the funds to do so!

Come on, church! Let’s get real. Our treasure is not on this earth. It is laid up for us in heaven.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17, 18.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.