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Lean on Me…

“Only, live as a citizen worthy of the Gospel of Christ, in order that if in coming and seeing you or in being absent, I might hear in regards to you that you are standing in one spirit — of one life, struggling along in the faith of the Gospel.”

(Philippians 1:27)

There are few things more gratifying than seeing a person that you have mentored in the faith growing on his or her own and flourishing in the faith. And, in this case, it is not just an individual, but a church. Indeed, there are many who participate together in this process, for it is one who plants, another who waters, and God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9), so often we are not privileged to see the fruit of our labors while we are still alive on this earth…it is about God’s glory and not our own, nevertheless, when God graces us with the privilege of seeing that fruit, it is a rich blessing indeed…and even if not in seeing, but in hearing, again, there is much joy in seeing the fruit develop that you have been privileged to care for.

Thus, it is Paul’s desire to see or hear of the Christians in Philippi being of one spirit and struggling together as one to live out the faith of the Gospel. And the reality is, living out a genuine faith, whether in times of persecution or not, is challenging. All too often Christians seek to live out their faith as individuals standing alone rather than as individuals who are part of a Christian body. All too often, for fear of embarrassment, Christians turn down the help of their brothers and sisters in faith who would be more than willing to walk alongside of them during times of trial…like the old pop song, goes: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be a friend, help you to carry on…” That should be the mantra and expectation of life in the Christian church. To what end? To the end that we walk in spiritual strength and the sins that so often cause us to stumble and fall, do not plague our lives any longer.

What is More Needful…Glorying in God’s Work!

“In order that your glory might abound in Christ by me, as a result of my returning again to you.”

(Philippians 1:26)

I wonder whether we genuinely rejoice in God because of the spiritual mentors that God has placed in our lives. Often we can remember the baseball coach or the Scoutmaster that helped us grow or achieve excellence in a particular area, but what of our pastors, our Sunday School teachers, and those other people that God has placed in the community around us that have pointed our minds and hearts towards heaven?

Paul is not making this statement because he is prideful or because he desires to “bask in the glory” of what he has worked in the lives of the Philippians. He says that it is more needful for them that he return so that they can celebrate what God has done in their lives through him. Why is it more needful? I believe that again the answer lies in the relationship that Paul had with those in this church. He had guided and mentored them and they were engaged in his ongoing ministry not only through financial gifts but more importantly, through prayer. As the writer of Hebrews sets forth, we are to remember those in prison as well as though we are in prison with them for we are one body (Hebrews 13:3). Thus, Paul’s release would be a kind of release for them as well and they would be able to celebrate the answered prayers that they had lifted up.

Obviously, God does not answer all of our prayers in the ways that we would like or expect them to be answered, nevertheless, God is Good. The question that then we must raise is not whether or not God answers as we would like — He is God, we are not, such then is not purview — but to ask ourselves, are we so invested in our missionaries and our mentors in prayer that we would glory in God for what God has done through those we have sent off or through those who have cared for our spiritual needs? All too often, we are selfish and when we fall into selfishness, we fail to recognize that often our greatest need is to celebrate that which God is doing in another part of the body of Christ.

So, what is the doctor’s remedy for our selfishness? There are two parts. First, find someone who has mentored you spiritually and thank them. Trust me, it will mean a great deal. Second, find a missionary or a ministry that you or your congregation has supported that is healthy and growing and celebrate it to the glory of Christ. Take pleasure in what God is doing in the life of others even if he is not doing the same kind of work in your life…right now at least.

Preferences and Desires

“Now, I am absorbed by the two. The longing I have is to depart and be with Christ for that is much more preferable; but to remain in the flesh is more needful on your account.”

(Philippians 1:23-24)

This is one of the major themes of the book of Philippians…considering the needs of others as more significant than the desires of oneself. We will see this idea developed more fully in chapter 2, but it is scattered throughout the theme of this letter. Such was the mindset of Christ, was the mindset of Paul, and is meant to be our mindset as well. I earnestly believe that the great majority of our conflicts…whether marital or in social settings…stem back to pride and selfishness…we want our way and what we desire and the needs of others are seen as secondary. If we could genuinely say with the Apostle Paul, “I would rather, but you need this more…” then I suggest that the vast majority of our conflicts would be resolved very differently than they are resolved now.

Paul begins these verses with the reflection that his mind is absorbed by these two things that are before him…he is not entirely sure what is going to take place next. He is pondering God’s direction. He goes on to assert his longing to be with Christ. He has had a long ministry that was filled with great triumphs but also with great hardships — just read 2 Corinthians 11 to put the hardships in perspective — Paul is waiting to complete his race. At the same time, he recognizes that the timing of that race’s completion is in God’s hands, not his own. He also is aware that there is still need that he continue to labor for the good of the church that is in its infancy around him. Thus, he recognizes the need for that which is preferable to be placed on hold so that what is necessary can be done. Fruitful labor will be God’s choice for Paul’s life, and though he desires to depart, what we see in this saint is that he will change his desires to align them with God’s desires.

And this is the lesson we must learn ourselves. Often, when God leads us into a new area of our lives or opens a door to minister to others, we may go through and do so begrudgingly. Often, we even say, “Yes, I would have much rather done something different, but God led me here.” While that statement may be true (at least at the outset), as Christians, we must not allow that statement to remain true for us. A big part of following God is that of taking our desires and aligning our desires with God’s desires. We should learn to desire what God desires and when God shows you his design, you should re-align your desires along the path that he reveals. I won’t suggest that is an easy task, but I will put forth that in Christ it is possible.

Thus, as you go forward this day, keep this model of the Apostle Paul in front of you. Seek to give priority to the needs of others around you rather than your own preferences and then seek to find your joy and desire in the things God would have you set them in…not in those things you prefer. And in doing so, see what God does through and in you.

Making God’s Desires Our Own

“And, if I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful work for me, but which I will choose, I do not know.”

(Philippians 1:22)

Here is the simple message of the Christ-focused life. God gives us work to do; we must do so to His glory and by reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. How often we live lives that are marked by distraction. How often we live our lives focused on ourselves, our reputations, our goals, and our own ends, not on the glory of God. How different our lives would look, would they not, if we to embrace and pursue Christ instead of self.

The idea of “choosing” in the Greek is rooted in the notion of that which is more desirable for our lives. In a world where different schools of theology debate the nature of human free-will, people sometimes excitedly declare, from a passage like this, “Look! The Apostle Paul is affirming his absolute freedom of will when he speaks of choosing one over the other.” As a Calvinist, my response is to say, “Look at the text.” Paul is speaking about life and death — yet, scripture also teaches that God numbers our days (Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16), surely Paul understands that there is nothing that he can do to even add an hour to his life (Matthew 6:27). So how is it that we are to understand the “choosing”?

To begin with, though God is sovereign, we are not unthinking robots. We make real decisions in a way that is relatively free…at least free in the sense that our decisions are consistent with our character. Note, God’s freedom is constrained by his character as well (he cannot lie, sin, cease to be God, etc…), so this notion of our freedom constrained by character should not throw us much.

So, by Paul’s character, what is it that he will choose? What will be most desirable for him? We have just spent verse after verse seeing the intensity of Paul’s focus on the glory of God. What Paul wants, what he desires more than anything, is exactly what God wants for him. And this Paul does not yet know. Will he soon die or will he live? He will speculate some in the verses that follow, but above all else, he wants his desires to be aligned perfectly with the desires of God himself. Everything else is secondary.

What a remarkable model for us to follow. How different our culture would be if Christians were committed to God above all else. In a world where pluralism has crept into many people’s theology, how different our churches would be if everyone would be as committed to the scriptures and their authority in life as the Apostle Paul presents himself. Jesus said that if you love me you will obey me (John 14:15)…that means not only obeying the commandments that we like, feel comfortable with, or are acceptable in the community around us, but all. That means embracing not only the parts of scripture that you appreciate or happen to agree with, but all of the scriptures as one unified book of God. As Paul will later write, they are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Let us throw to the wind our hinderances and pursue Christ. May we love him in every sense of the term and serve him. And may our desires for our life be found to be in tune with God’s desires for us…not just in some things, but in all areas of life and thought.

“Take my life and let it be,

Consecrated, Lord to thee,

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall by thy Royal Throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour

At Thy feet its treasure store,

Take myself and I will be,

Ever, Only, All for Thee.”

-Francis Havergal

Come Out of the Closet!

“Now, I want you to know, brothers, that which has happened to me is rather for the advancement of the Gospel, so that it became known to the whole of the Praetorium and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ and many of the brethren, being persuaded in the Lord through my chains, are even more bold to speak the Word without fear.”

(Philippians 1:12-14)

And this is the end of Paul’s attitude that all experiences are opportunities to glorify God. It is not that Paul gets noticed or honored. It is so that Christ gets noticed and honored and it is lived out in such a way that should encourage other believers to live boldly as well. Thus even in the Praetorium (the Praetorium was the term applied to Roman governmental bodies and thus the Praetorian Guard were those soldiers charged with protecting the government and its officials). Because of the boldness of Paul there are some who are coming to faith even within the ranks of the Roman government and becoming bold in their own testimonies as to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Thus, O Christian, I set these words in front of you once again. Will you strive to be like the Apostle Paul? Will you speak boldly of Christ in whatever context you find God placing you in? Will your testimony be such that it encourages other “closet Christians” to come out of the closets and proclaim the good news that there is salvation from sins in Jesus Christ. Will your testimony of “Repent and believe!” be such that the Holy Spirit will use you in the glorious redemptive work of our Lord? So, Christian, will you do just that? The job of the pastor is not to fill the seats of the sanctuary…if that were the case, we best be entertainers and not preachers, teachers, and exhorters…the job of the Christian is to go out and to witness in such a way that people are receptive to the invitation to come. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration, repentance, and conversion, but will you be such a tool in the Spirit’s hands that he can use you in this glorious task? Paul bids you to follow his model.

Having Been Filled

“having been filled with the fruit of righteousness because of Jesus Christ to the glory and honor of God.”

“Having been filled…” Notice the language that this verse begins with. We do not “fill” ourselves but we are filled. It is God’s work in us from the beginning to the end. We take no credit, we can only ever give praise for what our God has done in and through unworthy lumps of clay such as we. With the Apostle Paul, I can say that my works are but dung…something to be cast out lest they defile the holiness of the camp. Yet, in Christ, I can also say (again, with the Apostle Paul) that I have been filled with the fruit of righteousness. What a blessed tension there is between the two.

Thus, the righteousness that I have been given — the righteousness in which I stand  clothed before the throne of God — is not my own. It is Christ’s. Everything that is good or admirable that is found within me is because of Jesus Christ. I bring nothing of my own to the table when it comes to things of value. Without Christ’s work, I would be but a hollow shell in line to be crushed…destroyed under God’s wrath for God’s glory. Such is the man that I am and such is the cause for my praise. He has done for me that which I could never have done for myself. My debt of sin has been paid and I have been redeemed from death and Hell. I have been purchased by the blood of Christ, forgiven, reconciled to God, adopted as a son of the Most High, and am being prepared, along with the rest of the church, to be part of the bride of Christ. What more can we say but, “Glory!” and “Hallelujah!” What more can we do but to tell others the good news of this wonderful Savior!

And to whom is the honor given for this work? To God himself. May we never be “stingy” with our praise to our Redeemer-King. May we never hold back the honor that he is due. May we sing our praises to the Triune God without compromise and may we strive to live lives that are honoring to Him in everything we do. Such is the heart of a believer. Such is my prayer for you.

My Fear…

“For God is my witness how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 1:8)

What a beautiful line this is as he expresses his desire to be with the Philippian believers. His desire is to be with them and the desire is great. This is more than a man simply being homesick while he sits in chains, wishing to be out of bondage. Were this simply an expression of Paul’s homesickness, we could write this statement off, but such would not be consistent with the character of the Apostle Paul who has discovered (as he will later write) that he has discovered how to be content in all things. Here is a man with a genuine affection for the church of Jesus Christ.

As we reflect on the nature of Paul’s affection for the church, it ought to cause us to ask whether we share the same affection for Christ’s church in our midst. Do we love the people of Christ’s church in the same manner or with the same intensity as Jesus loves them? Would we gladly be willing to suffer for the church? Would we gladly be willing to die for the church? If not, are we ready to repent? For is this not the model to which we are called? And if we are not able to love other believers, with whom we will spend eternity and with whom we are counted as one body, then how will we show the love of Christ toward unbelievers?

Loved ones, my fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living with a wester-self-centered mindset. My fear is that the church has fallen into the trap of living for itself rather than sacrificing itself for others. My fear is that the church would not be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” And if my fears are true, what of our witness to a watching world? May the world look upon us as a people that seek to serve Christ and not ourselves nor our institutions. And as the world looks at us, and sees the love of Christ in us for one another, may the world desire to partake of that which God has done in us.

Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings…Argh!

“In so far as it is right for me to think this way regarding all of you, because you are in my heart, in both the chains and in the defense and validation of the Gospel, all of you are partakers of grace with me.”

(Philippians 1:7)

This is one of those points that, when I look at our modern translations, I just want to say, “Bah!” and “Shame on you!” Grump… Okay, now that I have that out of my system, let me explain why. You see, in our modern culture, people tend to make decisions based on their feelings and not based on their reason. People say, “what do you feelabout such and such when they ought to be asking, “what do you think” about such and such. The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and we ought not to rely upon it for life decisions…we ought to rule over our hearts with a renewed and sanctified mind (Romans 12:2).

Okay, with all of that in mind (not in heart), we arrive at Philippians 1:7 and we find (in our modern translations) the Apostle Paul telling the Philippian church how he “feels” towards them. Bah! Shame on you, ESV, NIV, NASB, and other translation committees for bowing to the culture on this. Yes, this is how the culture communicates, but it is not how the Apostle Paul communicated. And while I am not always fond of the KJV/NKJV translations, to ye who have provided such, may God be praised, for you have chosen to be faithful to Paul and not to the modern culture. For the word that Paul uses here in the first part of this verse is frone/w (phroneo), which means “to think about something, to hold an opinion on a matter, to reason in such a way, to give careful consideration to something, or to develop an attitude on something because of careful thought.” The term has nothing to do with one’s feelings and everything to do with the way one thinks. Let God be true and every man a liar! Ha, it is truth we are after, it is what is reasonable that we seek, not what the fickle heart might set its affections upon; it is not about what we may feel. How far we have fallen as a culture to permit feelings to trump reason!

Thus, as the Apostle Paul reflects on the Christians in Philippi, he discerns that it is correct, accurate, and proper to think in this manner concerning the other believers (to rejoice in them, as he speaks in the previous verse, and to count them fellow partakers, as he speaks in this verse). Why is it right to think of these believers in a positive way? Because through their gift and through their prayers they have become fellow workers, even partakers, with Paul in his labors — even his labors from behind chains.

It is a remarkable statement that Paul is making here, that through prayer and support, we become partakers in the work of the Gospel just as we are partakers in the grace of the Gospel given to us by Jesus Christ. At the same time, ought that not be the case? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God, we would desire to support those called to take the Gospel to other regions in the world? Ought it not be the case that having received the grace of God that we would be burdened with a desire to pray for those who are actively laboring in such a task and for those facing difficulties and persecution for having done so? Ought it also not be the case that we find ourselves yearning to share this good news also with those in our own midst, to participate in the task of the Gospel actively by living it out and by reasoning with others about Christ? Or, have we become too busy, too distracted, and too self-centered to do so? My prayer is that were the Apostle Paul with us today, he would say of our church, “It is right for me to think this way of you.” And it is my prayer that when we hear the judgment of Christ, what we hear is, “Well done.” May Jesus think this way about us as well.