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Philippians notes

Daily Bible thoughts 867: Thursday 30th April 2015: Philippians 4:21-23

 Philippians 4:21-23

‘’But God’s word is not chained.’’ (2 Timothy 2:9b).

The final words in Philippians disclose the amazing insight that the gospel had penetrated as far as ‘’Caesar’s household.’’ It is believed that this letter was written from Rome, where Paul was a prisoner. As Romans 16 shows, the church in the capital city of the Empire was made up of a diverse group of people. There were Jews and Gentiles in the congregation; the wealthy and the poor; those who were influential (in worldly terms) and those who were slaves. Here we see that there were even believers in the Emperor’s own household. We can add this titbit of information to what we already saw in (1:12, 13): ‘’I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him.’’ The Message.

There are no locked doors to the risen Jesus (see John 20:19-23). The gospel is unstoppable. It will triumph in this world (2 Timothy 2:9).The Romans had not actually conquered the world, only a part of it. They ruled over the then known world we might say. But here are the first fruits of what is to come. ‘’Caesar’s household’’ and all it represents (i.e. every other world power system) is going to be replaced by the Kingdom of God. His Word and His will are going to prevail, while everything else crumbles to dust Daniel 2:34, 35, 44 and 45).

As we come to the end of our journey through the ‘epistle of joy’, I want to share in Paul’s closing greeting and speak it to you:

‘’The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’’

‘’Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.’’ The Message.

Only by God’s grace will we be able to live out the truth we have discovered in Philippians, and be a joyful people in all circumstances. Thank God for His amazing grace, because it is available to you and me.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that out of Paul’s suffering you brought something as beautiful as this gem of a letter. It sparkles with joy and makes me want to be a praising, thankful person always.

Daily Bible thoughts 865: Tuesday 27th April 2015: Philippians 4:10-13

 Philippians 4:10-13

The Philippian church had supported Paul financially, and this letter was, at least in part, a ‘thank you’ note to them.

The Christian life does not necessarily move in a straight line. We can have ‘ups and downs’ on the chart. I realised a little while ago that I had always thought about Paul as a poor man. But in fact he said, ‘’I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.’’ (12) ‘’I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little.’’ The Message.

Now I’m sure that Paul’s ‘plenty’ was significantly less than mine, and that his ‘need’ was more severe than anything I have ever known. But I resonate with his words to some extent. Like many, I’ve known times when it was a struggle to ‘make ends meet’. One church I served could give little financial support. It was a joy to serve them, and as I was a single man, living in a small one room bed-sit, I didn’t need much at all. In later years God has blessed in ways I could never have asked or imagined. But in some ways I found it easier to be the relatively poor man with little than the more affluent person with plenty. Paul says here that whatever our financial or material circumstances, whether we are abounding or in shortage, the only way to face the situation is ‘’through him who gives me strength.’’ (13)

If you’re in a place in life (or a ‘season’) where money is tight, you can look to Christ to be your sufficiency, and to provide what you need (18). You will face those tough times in and with Jesus. You’re not alone.

But if we have an abundance (and let’s face it, most of us in the West have) we need the help and strength of Jesus to steward it wisely; to use it as He directs. The challenge is to live generously, sharing our bounty so that we can glorify God and help build the church. We don’t have to apologise for what God has given us, but we do need to realise that we will be held accountable for its use. So may Jesus strengthen us to invest His money wisely.

Paul was grateful for the Philippians’ concern for him. He didn’t want them to think otherwise. But he wanted then to know that whether they were able to get gifts through to him or not, he was ‘’content’’ in the Lord Jesus. But contentment doesn’t come naturally. It is something we have to learn. Such learning comes through the help of Christ.

‘’But godliness with contentment is great gain.’’ (1 Timothy 6:6.)

Prayer: Thank you Lord that whatever my outward circumstances, you are always there.


Daily Bible thoughts 864: Monday 26th April 2015: Philippians 4:4 -9

Philippians 4:4 -9

In a French lesson, at school, we read a story entitled ‘the naïve peasant.’ It was about a simple man who was walking down a lane, carrying a heavy pack on his back. A passer-by, on horse and cart, offered him a lift. After a while of travelling along in silence, this kind man turned to his companion and saw that he still had the bag over his shoulder. ‘My friend, why don’t you take that heavy load off and lay it on the cart?’ The peasant replied, ‘Because I do not want to tire your horse!’ We can be like this with prayer; giving our burdens to the Lord, yet retaining them at the same time. (See 1 Peter 5:7. You can’t ‘’Cast’’ your anxiety and keep it at the same time. If you’ve ‘cast’ it, then you’ve let it go.)

This passage shows important ways in which we can overcome anxiety:

  • The most obvious way is by thankful prayer (6, 7). The message seems to be, ‘Give God your heavy load of cares and He will give you His own indescribable peace. ’’Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life.’’ The Message.

However, there are other verses around this that indicate how we can live peacefully:

  • Choose joy (4): We can’t necessarily choose our circumstances, but we can choose attitude. Choose a ‘count your blessings’ kind of life. Cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’. This message is so important it is worthy of repetition (see 3:1). ‘’Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! ’The Message.;
  • Be gentle (5a): You tend to reap what you sow, and gentle people don’t normally trigger storms around them. Some people create lives of stress and tension for themselves by being aggressive and belligerent and harsh. They live in ‘bad weather’ conditions because, to a large part, they create them;
  • Recognise the closeness of Jesus (5b): His presence is near; His coming is near;
  • Think clean (8): Your mind matters. As you think, so you will be. Watch where you allow your thoughts to alight. ‘’Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.’’ The Message.
  • Live right (9): Choose holiness; follow good examples. Godliness and peace go together (Romans 8:6)

There is a way to cruise, free of turbulence, in blue skies, above the storm clouds of worry. We don’t find it easy to reach that ‘altitude’, but the Bible says we surely can.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your prescription for living without worry. Help me to use it.

Daily Bible thoughts 863: Friday 24th April 2015: Philippians 4:2, 3.

Philippians 4:2, 3.

Diversions in the church!

Many years ago, somebody spoke to me about ‘’the diversions in our church!!’’ Well, she meant divisions of course. I wasn’t aware that we had a significant problem, but I do recognise how trouble between members of a congregation can divert us from our true work.

There is some indication that there was division in the church at Philippi. At least it was there to a degree. It would appear that two key women were involved. Perhaps there was the possibility that people would take sides and line up behind one or other of these ladies and escalate the trouble. Good leadership moves towards problems and not away from them. Paul wanted to nip this thing in the bud. He had already written about the kind of attitude that leads to unity (2:1-11), and here he makes a strong appeal to the women in question to put down the rope and stop playing ‘tug o’ war’. He also asks for another person, who he refers to as ‘’loyal yoke-fellow’’ to pitch in and help broker the peace. (We don’t know who he is.) Jesus said: ‘’Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’’ (Matthew 5:9). It is an enormous privilege and responsibility to be a peace-maker. It’s what the Son of God Himself came into the world to do: to make peace between God and men, and between all kinds of people as they trust in Him. But clearly it can be costly. Are there those you are aware of who are at odds with one another? What can you do to ‘’help’’ them? They are no doubt good people who have just lost their way a little. Go and fetch them back.

You will see from the pleading language in (2) that unity in the local church is important beyond words. It is vital that we remember where the real enemy is, and we fight him and not each other. It is ‘’in the Lord’’ where we find our centre of unity. If we will focus on Him and not on ourselves we will pull together for His sake and not pull apart.

Really good people can go wrong. It’s sad to see, but it happens. Paul does not write them off. He remembers their service record as stout-hearted soldiers of Christ. He honours what they have done in the past. They have fallen into sin, but he has no doubt that their names are ‘’in the book of life.’’

‘’These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans – worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the book of life.’’ The Message.

‘’There but for the grace of God go I.’’ We cannot afford to feel superior. We ourselves are fallen, frail and fragile. Let’s go and deal gently with any who have gone astray – treat them how we would want to be dealt with if we were in the same circumstances (Galatians 6:1).

‘’I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.’’ The Message.

Watch out for the ‘diversions’!

Prayer: Lord I pray for the true unity of your church that the world may believe in you.

Daily Bible thoughts 856: Wednesday 15th April 2015: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Philippians 3:17-4:1


Good examples (17): The best examples to follow are those Christians who, like Paul, are ‘’straining’’ after holiness; those whose minds and hearts are set on things above, and whose hopes are all centred in Christ. ‘’Let my example be the standard by which you tell who are the genuine Christians among those about you.’’ J.B.Phillips. Bill Hybels says ‘’Speed of the leader, speed of the team.’’ In days before the New Testament was written down, Christians needed living examples of what would eventually be put into writing. Emulating good examples and constantly living in the light of the Lord’s return is the way to ‘’stand firm in the Lord.’’ (4:1)

‘’It was as much necessary for Paul to live the kind of Christian life that others could follow as it was for him to preach a pure gospel for them to believe…Our situation is not exactly the same today, as the NT is people’s basic guide to Christian life-style, but it is still the case (as Paul puts it in 2 Cor.3:1-3) that the Christian is called to be like ‘a letter from Christ’, ‘known and read by everybody’, including many who would not turn to the Scriptures.’’ Francis Foulkes: ‘The New Bible Commentary, p.1257

Bad examples (18, 19): ‘’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.’’ The Message.

It seems that the people described by Paul were professing Christians, but I think we would call them ‘backslidden’, or ‘worldly’ at very least. The big problem was that ‘’Their mind is on earthly things.’’ They didn’t like the cross. The cross is central for our understanding of discipleship, but they were not inclined to take it up and die daily! They didn’t want it getting anywhere near their flesh life, and slaying it. They weren’t into self-denial. Rather, they wished to give free rein to their carnal natures. Be careful about which ‘Christians’ you spend a lot of time with. Deliberately choose friends who will be ‘firelighters’; who will inspire you and spur you on in the life of faith and holiness.

Great expectations (20): Somebody wrote about ‘living in the future tense.’ True Christians have their minds set on things above, for that is where they really belong (Colossians 3:1-4). Philippi was a colony of Rome in the heart of Greece. Its citizens were Roman citizens. Philippi was ‘Rome from Rome, you might say. It was a little bit of Rome found elsewhere (just as an embassy is a piece of one country located in another.) This idea surely forms the background to Paul’s words here: that of citizenship elsewhere. I often like to think of the church as heaven’s ‘embassy’ here on earth. When people come in among us they should experience a little bit of heaven; sense it, feel it, encounter it. Heaven is where we really belong.

‘’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.’’ The Message.

Daily Bible thoughts 855: Tuesday 14th April 2015: Philippians 3: 12-16

 Philippians 3: 12-16


‘’I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.’’ The Message.

Paul had not yet fully experienced all that was his in Jesus, but he was certainly reaching for it. (Note that there was no ‘sinless perfection’ in this life; not even for Paul.)We have seen Paul ‘the accountant’ and here we see Paul ‘the athlete’, running for the prize; straining and stretching to hit the tape (see also Hebrews 12:1, 2).

But although Paul was not yet ‘’perfect’’ he was ‘pressing on’ to become everything God wanted him to be. He knew that Jesus had taken hold of him for this purpose (12b). He would not settle for moral mediocrity. His heart said to him, ‘I want to have everything Jesus wants me to have.’

‘’…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.’’ The Message.

There was single-mindedness about Paul’s approach to living the Christian life: ‘’But one thing I do…’’ (13). He also realised that Christianity takes effort. He uses the word ‘’straining’’ (13) and he twice employs the expression ‘’I press on’’ (12, 14). (It literally means ‘pursue’, the same word he used for his persecuting activities in verse 6. At one time he went after Christians; now he was going after Christ!) Paul did not think that anyone could live the life of discipleship in their own strength. The effort he expended was God-enabled (Colossians 1:29). But he did know that it takes work to be a good Christian, and he was prepared to roll up his sleeves and labour. He went after God’s best with every fibre of his being, all the while leaning on God’s ability. Do you? Do I?

He believed that ‘’mature’’ believers would see things the same way as he did about progressing in the life of holiness (15). So sure was he about what he was saying on this point that he believed God would put right anyone who disagreed him. ‘’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!’’ The Message.

Here, then, are two key challenges from this passage:

  • ‘Press on’ to enjoy everything that is yours in Christ;
  • ‘Live up’ to what you already know (16); keep on doing those things you know you’re doing right. There is the idea in this verse that we should do this together and not just individually.

Prayer: Lord help me to live this Christian life with an appropriate intensity of desire. Enable me, please, to go hard after all you have for me.

Daily Bible thoughts 854: Monday 13th April 2015: Philippians 3: 4b-11

 Philippians 3: 4b-11


In terms of Judaism, Paul was as good as it gets (4b-6). He was a prize specimen of a Jew. He had first rate credentials, religiously speaking. He worked hard to get right with God and believed he was accepted by Him. If anyone was ‘in’ it was surely Paul. He’d totted up lots of ‘brownie points’. Probably everyone who knew him thought it, and he certainly did. Paul belonged to ‘’the tribe of Benjamin’’. This was a prized heritage among the Jews. Israel’s first king, Saul, came from this tribe (1 Samuel 10:20-24). The tribes of Benjamin and Judah were the only two tribes to return to Israel after the exile (Ezra 4:1). He was also ‘’a Pharisee’’: a member of a very devout Jewish sect that scrupulously kept its own numerous rules in addition to the laws of Moses. He felt he had so much going for him.

But ‘’After showing that he could beat the Judaizers at their own game…Paul showed that it was the wrong game.’’ ‘The Life Application Study Bible.’ There came a point when Paul repented (7). He changed his mind about the things that matter most. He saw everything in the light of Christ and so came to see everything in its true perspective. It’s been said that in this seventh verse he is like an accountant. Everything that was at one time ‘’profit’’ to him, he now put down in the ‘’loss’’ column.

‘’All I once held dear, built my life upon, All this world reveres and wars to own. All I once thought gain I have counted loss, spent and worthless now compared to this.’’ Graham Kendrick.

Paul came to see that knowing Jesus matters more than anything. Nothing comes anywhere near in value and worth. The things Paul once valued he now considered ‘’rubbish’’ – and I understand that here he uses a strong word that our translation may not fully convey.

For Jesus’ sake he had ‘’lost all things’’ (8) Compare this with chapter 4 verse 12. He had not literally lost everything, but the point is it cost him dear to be a Christian. He lost everything that had been most important to him in his pre-conversion life. None of these things mattered to him anymore; not compared to knowing Jesus (8b-10). He had tasted the sweetness of Christ, and could not want more – or be satisfied with less. Everything he now wanted was wrapped up in Jesus, even if that meant suffering, along with resurrection life and power. Jesus was the only way to be right with God.

 ‘’’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.’’ The Message.

‘’Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you; there is no greater thing. You’re my all, you’re the best. You’re my joy, my righteousness, and I love you Lord.’’

Prayer: ‘’The greatest thing in all my life is knowing you; I want to know you more.’’

Daily Bible thoughts 853: Friday 10th April 2015: Philippians 3: 2-4a

Philippians 3: 2-4a


Paul’s steps were frequently dogged by certain people we refer to as ‘Judaizers’ (2). They were Jewish legalists. They wanted to supplement the simple message of trust in Christ. They said, ‘You need Jesus plus certain other things in order to be saved.’ They were into additives. In particular they said, ‘You need to be circumcised in order to be saved.’ That’s why Paul calls them ‘’those mutilators of the flesh’’. He also pulls no punches, calling them ‘’dogs, those men who do evil’’. Paul was never in doubt that false teaching is dangerous and viciously harms and even destroys people. We must similarly ‘’Watch out’’ for any form of warped teaching that might encroach on the church. We must guard our hearts and minds against any erroneous thinking. Only the truth which set us free will keep us free! ‘’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 Message

True Christianity is so simple (3). It is:

  • Christ-centred;
  • Spirit–led; and
  • Grace-filled. It is ‘’not by works, so that no one can boast’’. (Ephesians 2:9). The gospel of grace tells you that your good deeds can’t get you into heaven and your bad ones won’t keep you out, if you’re trusting Jesus to save you (see also 9). ‘’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 ’’ The Message.

A book title proclaims ‘Jesus plus nothing equals everything.’

But at one time Paul was a stranger to grace (4a). He was full of self-confidence before God. However, a meeting with the risen Lord Jesus on the ‘Damascus Road’ was to puncture his pride.

His wonderful story is coming up next

Prayer: Lord, deliver us from a performance based mentality and the pride that goes with it. Help us to feel and know what is so amazing about grace.

Daily Bible thoughts 852: Thursday 9th April 2015: Philippians 3:1

 Philippians 3:1


Paul says ‘’Finally’’ then continues for a further two chapters – rather like some preachers! But he is beginning to pull things together. He’s coming in for a landing.

This is a command, so it can’t be primarily about feelings. The rejoicing is ‘’in the Lord’’. In Him we will always find reasons for rejoicing, and we need to ensure that our focus is continually on Him. An Argentinian pastor, Juan Carlos Ortiz, wrote a book entitled ‘Disciple’. It came out in the 1970’s and created quite a stir. He filled it with some outstanding and thought-provoking lines. I seem to remember him saying that if he preached a sermon, and it clearly wasn’t obeyed in the congregation, he would preach it over and over until he did see it being lived out. It is a fact that preachers will need to repeat familiar truths (even if not always in consecutive sermons! But I could understand why he did that.) It seems obvious that Paul had said this before, and he would say it again (Philippians 4:4). Here is a message we believers need to hear, i.e. that we can choose a stance of joy before 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…’’ The Message.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a ‘’safeguard’’ against many things – like, for example, pessimism, low spirits, bitterness and ‘poor me’ ism! But in the context it is specifically presented as protection from false teaching. It seems to me that the more our vision is taken up with who God is, the more we will be guarded against error. How could you be seduced into some pitifully small erroneous view of God while the truth of who He is shines so brightly in your heart?

So how might you ‘’rejoice in the Lord’’ today? Well, there’s nothing exhaustive about what I’m writing, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Think about Him: meditate on the Person of God. Reflect on His nature and attributes. Read Scripture and good quality Christian materials;
  • Thank Him: count your blessings (How about taking a day, or part of a day to simply thank the Lord?);
  • Sing to Him: you may or may not have a good singing voice, but God delights in love songs that come from sincere hearts. What’s more, it will do you good;
  • Play Christian music; listen to Christian music; watch (some!) Christian T.V. (Be selective!!) But have a God-filled atmosphere around you;
  • Do every needful thing you can do to absorb yourself in God.

The challenge, of course, is to do this in bad times and on difficult days. But it may help to remember that ‘the epistle of joy’, as Philippians has been described, was written from prison by a man who did not deserve to be there. He spoke from experience, and maybe he was even reminding himself. (The first person to preach to is yourself!)

Again, this not principally about your emotions. Make a decision today to ‘’Rejoice in the Lord always.’’ (4:4). Probably your feelings will eventually catch up with your commitment. But even if not, it’s the right thing to do.

Prayer: Lord I choose to thank you and count my blessings.

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