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Daily Bible thoughts 844: Monday 30th March 2015: Philippians 2:25-30

Philippians 2:25-30

‘Working models’

My friend, Alan Norton, died just a few weeks ago. He was a real Christian gent who overcame all kinds of handicaps to live a full and happy life into his 80’s. When I was 15, I spent 10 days in London with ‘Uncle Alan’ (as I knew him then) and his mum, Bessie. Alan took me all over. I remember an outing to the Science Museum. At the time I thought it was the best museum I had ever visited. I was thrilled with all the working models that illustrated what might otherwise be more abstract principles.

Earlier in ‘Philippians’ 2 Paul has written: ‘’Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. ‘’ In the latter part of Philippians 2, we are introduced to two men who were just that: Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Paul was no ‘prima donna’ (25) who saw himself as Christianity’s big star. In fact he probably had no idea of how future generations of Christians would view him. He had no sense of superiority to Epaphroditus. (Notice that this relationship was close and respectful, but also different to the more intimate ‘father-son’ language used regarding Timothy.)

Epaphroditus was an example of (20, 21) working in the opposite direction. He was their ‘Timothy’ to Paul. Think of the humility and servant-like spirit it took to go and be with Paul in prison and take care of his needs. He nearly died in the cause (26, 27, 29, and 30). In those days prisoners were not provided with food. They would starve if there weren’t family and friends to care for them and their needs. The church at Philippi, it appears, sent Epaphroditus to be with Paul in his imprisonment: to cook his food and take care of his needs.

Even in his serious illness, Epaphroditus had profound concern for the feelings of others (26). Such unselfishness and generosity is truly counter-cultural. It can be a rarity, even in the church (20, 21).

Timothy and Epaphroditus appear at the end of chapter 2 as living illustrations (working models) embodying the principles set out in (1-11). They offered humble, sacrificial service, putting themselves on the line for the sake of others. This is our calling too.

Prayer: Lord let my only aim be to give and not to get.

Daily Bible thoughts 843: Friday 27th March 2014: Philippians 2:19-24

Philippians 2:19-24

‘’But you know yourselves that Timothy’s the real thing.’’ The Message.

I am reminded, as I read (19, 20) of Paul’s words in Romans 12:9a: ‘’Love must be sincere…’’ (‘’Love from the centre of who you are; don’t fake it.’’ The Message.).Timothy had an exemplary attitude. He was willing to serve Paul and put himself out for the benefit of others (see also 22) He had ‘’proved himself’’ in the eyes of Paul and the church. His excellent reputation was the same as his character. It was not the case that he was reputed to be something that he was not. His high standing in the Christian community was entirely appropriate.

Compare (21) with (2:4). Note how the ‘’interests…of Jesus Christ’’ are linked with the ‘’welfare’’ of the church. Jesus bought it with His own blood, so His heart is there, with His people. Whatever we do to the ‘least’ of Jesus’ brothers we do to Him.

When you think about the close bond between them (‘’…as a son with his father…’’) it must have been a sacrifice to Paul to release Timothy for other duties. This is an example, I believe, of Paul being willing to put the Philippians’ interests before his own. Someone said, ‘’People do what people see.’’ Timothy had seen a humble, sacrificing and unselfish spirit in his mentor, and it must have had a huge influence on him.

On (24) see (1:19, 25). Although the outcome of Paul’s imprisonment was not totally clear, he believed that he would be freed.

Our culture is rife with ‘Narcissism.’ According to mythology, Narcissus saw his reflection in a pool and fell in love with himself. That’s us, in the main. We are so self-focussed; self-absorbed. But when someone swims against the tide as Timothy did, and as Paul did, it is usually noticed and it is a powerful witness to Christ.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be ‘the real thing.’

Daily Bible thoughts 842: Thursday 26th March 2015: Philippians 2:14-17

Philippians 2:14-17 (click here for todays passage)

I got caught in the headlights this morning! I was immediately rebuked by these words in (14). While out on my run, I was ‘’complaining’’ and ‘’arguing’’ in my head in that futile, time and energy-wasting way we probably all do occasionally. Then I read my Bible and got put in my place. To many , these are ‘little’ sins that we justify. They’re not like the ‘big’ sins such as murder, theft, adultery and looking at porn etc. Yet if we allow these things to have free course in our hearts, they will keep us from shining as brightly as we should. Dealing with such sins as ‘’complaining’’ and ‘’arguing’’ is part of the process of growing in holiness, so that we may shine ever more brilliantly in this gloomy world. (It seems to me that Paul is saying that dealing with these seemingly little things will help us to grow significantly in holiness.) A high degree of holiness is envisaged in (15a) – even for our life in this world. In the Christian life you tend to get what you go for. So how holy do you really want to be? Someone said, ‘Lord make me holy, but not yet!’ We will never achieve significant progress in the life of holiness if we do not ‘’Catch…the little foxes that ruin the vineyards.’’ (Song of Songs 2:15). The antidote to these ‘little foxes’ in (14) is to be found in (4:4) – a thankful heart.

The darker the night the clearer the stars appear. When I studied at Bible College in Capel, Surrey, the evening walk back from the main college campus to where I lived was pitch black. It was quite frightening and took some getting used to. I’d never seen darkness so dark that you felt you could reach out and touch it. There was no street lighting at all going down the ‘Rusper Road’. But that lack of light pollution made for some magnificent night time viewing of the bejewelled heavens. The stars stood out so clearly. May we shine brightly as ‘’children of God’’ showing that there is a Heavenly Father, and something of what He is like. We are called to be truly counter-cultural. One day I was walking on the walls in York. I was doing nothing wrong, but a whole crowd of people came towards me. Groups of them kept coming. For a time it felt like I was the only one walking in the opposite direction, and that maybe I was in the wrong. It reminded me of the lonely path Christians have to walk, moving against the tide. It won’t always feel comfortable. But ‘’Wise men still seek Jesus’’. May we be the stars who guide them to Him (Matthew 2:2, 7, 9 and 10). ‘’Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night…’’ The Message. This ‘’shining like stars in the universe’’ is about character. That much is obvious. It’s about ‘keeping short accounts with God’ and growing in godliness. But it is also about communicating ‘’the word of life’’ (16a). Witness is both visual and verbal. It’s not either/or. It’s about what people see in us and hear from us; life and lip in sync. There should be no ‘’credibility gap’’ between our walk and our talk. May we ‘’hold out’’ the truth about God and not hide it in our pockets; not be ashamed of it. I grew up watching my parents (and many other believers I knew) unashamedly carrying their Bibles to church, on bus journeys and so on. I learned to do the same thing, but I confess I haven’t always felt comfortable with doing it, and have sometimes tried to justify feelings of embarrassment. Now this wasn’t what Paul had in mind, yet I do think the boldness these lovely Christians showed was very much in keeping with what Paul was after. Paul saw the success of his ministry as being measured by bright, twinkling, changed (and being changed) lives. What a ministry he had (17, 18). It was one of commitment and sacrifice and yet great joy. He gave his all in the cause. This is what it takes to plant churches; to see people won to Christ and brought to maturity. He was willing to die, and he did die every day – maybe several times a day. Christian leaders should not expect ease and comfort. But they can anticipate supernatural strength for the task (Colossians 1:28, 29).

Daily Bible thoughts 841: Wednesday 25th March 2015: Philippians 2:12, 13

Philippians 2:12, 13

‘’Character is what you are in the dark.’’

A call to integrity (12a; see 27b): God is much more concerned about who we are than who we appear to be. Integrity means being integrated. It’s being one and the same person in all settings; whether in a crowd or alone. We can be so concerned about ‘impression management’. There is such an emphasis on image in our culture. But our concern should be with character; who we actually are. Abraham Lincoln said, ‘’Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.’’ So cultivate the tree!

A call to practical Christianity (12b): ‘’…continue to work out your salvation…’’ Some years ago a student wrote to me, and in her letter she said she’d been reading this verse. It had suddenly struck her that Paul didn’t mean ‘’Suss it out’’ (as she put it), but live it out! The word ‘’continue’’ says you have to keep at it; persevere in living as a Christian, even amid difficulties, seeking to live worthily of Christ (1:27).

A call to seriousness (12b): Whatever the ‘’with fear and trembling’’ actually means, it surely includes the idea of taking the Christian life with utmost seriousness. We need to take God seriously and take His Word seriously. It is right, I believe, to have a serious concern to not displease God; to not move away from Him. For a few years I was a visiting lecturer at ‘Elim Bible College.’ I heard that a student had commented about me to a fellow-student: ‘He’s very serious isn’t he?’ It may well be that, feeling out of my comfort zone I was a little too intense and earnest. I know from my Bible College days that the lecture room can be an arena of much levity. I’m not against fun and laughter. On the contrary, I love it. But I do actually want to be someone who is serious about the things of God. Humour can have a helpful place in the work preachers do, but we are not called to be comedians. A few years ago, Jilly and I were leaving a morning Bible Study at the ‘Elim’ conference. We had just listened to a theologically serious and powerful talk given by Dr. R.T.Kendall. It was by no means difficult to understand, but it was substantive in content. We felt we had listened in the very presence of God. I’m sure we were not the only ones to sense this. In fact a number of people indicated a desire to be converted at the close of the sermon. We heard someone close to us, in the queue leaving the building, comment that they hadn’t really enjoyed it, and preferred the funny preacher they’d heard the day previously. It made me wonder, ‘Do you want to be entertained or hear from God?’ Those comments were not a bad reflection on the preacher of the previous day. He is a great man, and a serious student of the Bible. He just happens to also be very gifted with humour. I’m more concerned about an attitude in hearers that would rather be made to laugh than hear from God. Sometimes these two things will go together. Often they won’t! ‘’Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God.’’ The Message.

A call to trust (13; see 1:6): You have to continue to work at the Christian life, but you can only do so in God’s strength, because He ‘’works in you’’. It’s not about our own unaided efforts. We are totally dependent upon God’s presence in us and His strengthening of us. God gives us the ‘want to’ and the ‘can do’; He enables us ‘’to will and to act’’. His Spirit within us as a congregation (and personally) causes us to want to keep working out our salvation, and He also helps us to do it. ‘’That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you. God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.’’ The Message.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 834: Monday 16th March 2015: Philippians 2: 5-11.

Philippians 2:5-11.

To be Christ-like (5) is at the core of what it means to conduct yourselves ‘’in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’’ (1:27). It’s been said that Paul regularly ‘’uses a steam hammer to crack a nut’’ and here he takes the profound doctrine of the incarnation and uses it to make a practical point about Christian behaviour. Here are some elements of a Christ-like attitude:

You don’t cling on to status or any perceived rights (6): If doing the will of God means letting go of these things, then you will gladly do so, trusting the Lord to take care of you. There are times when we must choose the path of relinquishment. ‘’He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.’’ The Message.

Humility (7, 8a): If you struggle to put yourself in a place where you are considered ‘’nothing’’ (at least, ‘nothing’ great in this world’s estimation), just think what this was like for God Most High in the Person of His Son. If humble service was not beneath the Son of God, it should not be beneath you and me. Someone said that the ‘flesh’ hates service, and, even more, screams against secret service. But we needed to understand that the highest position on offer in the Kingdom of God is that of a servant. How humbling it must have been for the second Person of the Trinity to lay aside His glory and be ‘’made in human likeness’’; to be ‘’found in appearance as a man’’ (7b/8a). There is a translation of (7a) that reads that He ‘’emptied himself’’. Theologians have debated what this means, and still do. The answer seems to be that He did not empty Himself of His God-hood (His divinity), but of His glory. As someone said, ‘’He did not empty Himself of His deity, but emptied Himself into humanity.’’

Willingness to die (8b): As a Christian you have got to learn to die. These may be the most important words in today’s thought. Jesus’ obedience to God was to the extent of dying. Submission to God’s will cost Him His life. That’s what Paul is saying. And it was such a terrible death – so shameful and barbarous. It was the worst form of cruel torture this fallen world has ever invented. But Jesus’ obedience was so total that He went through with that. ‘’He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.’’ The Message.

Realise, then:

  1. That you are into something that could cost you your life;
  2. That you are into something that does cost you your life (quite apart from physical death.) Even if you are not killed for your faith you will have to die a thousand deaths, and more, to live this Christian life: death to pride, position, ego, social status, reputation, and the like.

But if we give up our honour for Jesus, we can know that it is safe in the Father’s Hands. God will honour those who honour Him (9-11). The pattern we see in God’s dealings with His humble, sacrificing, servant-like Son will find a parallel in the lives of believers who follow the pathway of Christ (James 5:10; 1 Peter 5:6). However our focus should not be on receiving any honour, but on serving God with humble, sacrificially obedient lives.

Prayer: Lord make me like you.

Daily Bible thoughts 833: Friday 13th March 2015: Philippians 2:1-5.

 Philippians 2:1-5.

The repeated ‘’If’’ in (2:1) is not one of doubt. Paul knew that they did have those things. So do we. So these words also apply to us. Because of all they had ‘’from being united with Christ’’ they could fulfil these injunctions (3-5). So can we.

There are intimations in the letter that there may have been some threats to the church’s unity (E.g. 4:2, 3.) So it was important for them to understand and implement Paul’s teaching.

There are things we get from knowing Jesus and being in Him, such as ‘’encouragement’’ , ‘’comfort’’, ‘’love’’, ‘’tenderness’’ and ‘’compassion’’. We are to share them; pass them on to others.

It does a pastor’s heart good to see his people loving each other (2). In fact, my greatest griefs in pastoral ministry have probably stemmed from disunity between Christians. I remember one church I served. The people were lovely and I loved them deeply. But one or two of them could get a bit fractious with each other at times. I confess I probably didn’t handle those situations well, but they caused me a lot of pain. Around the same time I read in ‘Time’ magazine how President Ronald Reagan was such an affable chap, he hated it when his staff didn’t get on. I felt I could identify with such an outlook. It mattered to Paul to see these Christians living together in harmony.

I have long believed (and said) that the application of (3, 4) alone would transform every church in the community. There can be no mistaking the clear calling to put others before yourself. Like Jesus, we are called to humbly serve, give and sacrifice for the sake of others. This is the key to unity. You cannot afford to dwell on what you’re receiving or not receiving; getting or not getting. You have to concentrate on serving, giving and sacrificing. Everything else is in God’s Hands.

Our goal, in this world should be ‘’to give, and not to count the cost; to fight, and not to heed the wound; to labour, and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do your will.’’

‘’Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.’’ The Message.

Ultimately, living ‘’in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’’ (1:27) is about being like Christ (2:5-11).

Prayer: Lord, give me the grace to become more like Jesus every day. Cause Christ to be formed in me.

Daily Bible thoughts 832: Thursday 12th March 2015: Philippians 1:27-30

Philippians 1:27-30

‘’Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear it from a distance.’’ The Message.

As we have seen, Paul believed he would see the Philippian Christians again (25, 26), but whatever happened (27) he wanted them to live in ‘’a manner worthy of the gospel.’ (See also Ephesians 4:1). I have one or two observations to make about this injunction:

  • it is a tall order;
  • we can only do it in God’s strength;
  • we can do it in God’s strength (4:13);
  • but we won’t always feel like doing it!

Yet it should be the measure of all we do today, and every day. People can let you down. You may feel that they don’t come up to your standards for behaviour. Perhaps you are disappointed and hurt. But you can’t ‘fix’ anyone else. What you have to focus on is your ‘’conduct’’, regardless of how anyone else is acting. ‘’Whatever happens’’ with any other individual in your life, concentrate on being the person God is calling you to be.

When Paul wrote about living in ‘’a manner worthy of the gospel.’’ he had especially in mind:

  • Unity (27b; See Ephesians 4:1-16): ‘’Stand united, singular in vision’’ The Message;
  • Witness (27b): In particular their corporate witness, being ‘’a city set on a hill’’ as Jesus put it (Matthew 5:14);
  • Courage (28), in the face of persecution. ‘’Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you – and both because of God.’’ The Message. In all of this their experience was similar to Paul’s (29, 30) which would no doubt encourage them – to think they were in the same boat as their beloved apostle. And he would be an example to them of how to be and what to do in suffering. Paul saw this suffering as a gift. (Along with it there surely also went a gift of being enabled to suffer for the cause of Christ). ‘’There’s more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.’’ The Message. Perhaps you have to go through a time of fierce opposition (28) and ‘’struggle’’ (30) to appreciate what a gift it can be. It’s not something to be sought, yet within it believers discover precious treasures. Hostility towards you can cause you to ‘draw a line in the sand’ and take a stand on what you believe to be right. It can also push you more firmly into the arms of God. I go back to that word ‘’contending’’ (27). May we not be ‘chocolate soldiers’ ( as C.T.Studd put it) who melt in the heat of battle, or spiritual draft-dodgers who don’t really want to fight. Above all, ‘’Consider him…’’ (Hebrews 12:3).

‘’Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’’ These words have spoken to me significantly today. What, in your reading, has particularly spoken to you? Don’t let go of it easily. Write it down if necessary. Keep coming back to it and meditating on it; pray about it and consider what it will mean for your life. Seek to apply it.

Daily Bible thoughts 825: Tuesday 3rd March 2015: Philippians 1:18b-26

Philippians 1:18b-26

‘’Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…’’ (18b).

As we have noted, everything in Paul’s circumstances was not hunky-dory, but he was determined to rejoice. It was his decision; his commitment. You can choose joy, as Paul shows (e.g. 3:1; 4:4). You may not be able to choose your situation, but you can choose your attitude.

One big reason for Paul’s rejoicing was because he knew the power of prayer (19). There is a definite link between ‘’your prayers’’ and ‘’the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.’’ Although the final outcome of his prison term wasn’t clear, in his heart Paul knew it was settled (25, 26). He was prepared to die, but expected to live.

But regardless of what did happen (20), Paul did not want to be ashamed of being a Christian. He desired to have ‘’sufficient courage’’ to ‘’exalt’ Christ in his body (his whole life) whether he lived or died. He saw their prayers as playing a part in this. He says ‘’now as always’’: this was a particularly testing (even tempting) time in his life. But Paul did not want to cave in to fear, or anything else. He believed there was a distinct connection between the prayers of the church and his boldness. (See Ephesians 6:19, 20 for words written at about the same time during the same prison sentence.)

Maybe you are not ready to live until you are ready to die, and when you are truly ready for death you will live better. Paul had so many brushes with danger and death that it may have helped him to get ready. He was no doubt tired; battered and beaten by life in many ways. The prospect of going ‘home’seemed sweet to him. Someone said, ‘Life is what you’re alive to.’ For a musician it may be music. I heard an interview with a famous conductor in which he said something like this: ‘I believe it is important to have other things in your life, but I sometimes think music is all there is.’ Music is what he is alive to. For a football supporter, his/her team may be their life. Everything rises or falls on the fortunes of their team. For Paul, Christ was his grand obsession. If death meant seeing Him and being with Him, that could only be ‘’gain’’ in his eyes, and ‘’better by far’’ (23).David Watson said, when he had cancer, that he had to change his thinking from wanting to stay on earth, but being willing to go, to wanting to go but being willing to stay on earth.

Paul was in the place where he was ready to go, but willing to stay for the sake of the church (23, 24). There was a death involved in that willingness to stick around. Paul knew that his continuing to live would be:

  • For the ‘’progress’’ of the church (25);
  • For the ‘’joy’’ of the believers (25, 26).

Paul was ‘’torn between’’ (23) going and staying. But he felt it was for the good of the church that he should stay, and that’s what he believed the outcome would be.

‘’Life versus even more life! I can’t lose…The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here.’’ The Message.

Prayer: Lord help me to see life and death through your eyes, and think about it in a way that honours you.

Daily Bible thoughts 822: Thursday 26th February 2015: Philippians 1:1-8

Philippians 1:1-8 (click here for passage)

Paul does not come across as a big shot leader, but as a humble ‘’servant’’ (1). All leaders in Christ’s church should view themselves as servants, and all believers should see themselves as ‘’saints’’.

Saints shine!

As the little boy observed, having seen some of the ‘saints’ in stained glass windows in a local church: ‘’A saint is someone the light shines through!’’ One of the ways in which the Philippian Christians shone was in giving practical/material support to Paul (see 5 and chapter 4:10-20). They excelled in ‘’the grace of giving’’ (2 Corinthians 8:7). Although Paul was on the front line of Kingdom advancement (7b), he did not feel superior to them. They were his partners in the gospel. They were the ‘supply lines’ and were making their own essential contribution to the cause. When Paul was in prison, they sent one of their own, ‘’Epaphroditus’’, to be with him; to take care of his needs and cook his meals etc. Paul was aware that he and these Christians in Philippi were sharers in the same ‘’grace’’ (6). They were all, together, fully dependent on the grace of God. They stood on level ground before the cross. They were together in salvation and ministry.

Saints are not ‘extra special’ Christians.

They are not a ‘suped up’, turbo-charged variety. They are not an elite squad of believers – a kind of spiritual ‘S.A.S.’ It’s not the case that there are ‘ordinary’ disciples, then a higher tier called ‘saints’. No not at all. The truth is that all Christians are saints, and all saints are a work in progress (6). They are a dish still cooking; they are a painting yet on the easel. Saints are not yet finished, even if they’ve already come along way. (Some, maybe many, haven’t yet travelled a great distance. But they’re on the journey, and the Lord is guiding them to His appointed destination. He will get them there at the end of the day. They may not look impressive as pilgrims, but they have a great Guide.) ‘’There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.’’ The Message

To pray with thankfulness is a key to joy (3, 4). Learn to interlace your requests with thanks. Be thankful for your fellow Christians. Be specifically thankful, as Paul was. Paul could thank God for these Christians he was writing to; they were in his ‘’heart’’ (7). He had a supernatural love for them (8). This is the love that is the ‘’fruit of the Spirit’’ (Galatians 5:22). It is the love of Jesus. ‘’Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does.’’ The Message. One preacher was talking to his congregation, giving them suggestions of things they might consider ‘giving up’ for Lent. One of his points was, ‘Give up looking for people’s bad points. Start noticing their good qualities and give thanks for them!’ Just think what that kind of Lentern ‘fast’ might do for you – and others around you!

Paul proved in his own up and down experience that the ‘’Grace and peace’’ (2) you need to live the Christian life, with its many challenges and trials, is always available. This was his fondest wish for his fellow-believers in the Roman colony of Philippi.

Prayer: Teach me, dear Lord, to always combine thanking with asking.

 

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