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To God be the Glory!

“And my God will fill your every need according to his abundance in glory in Christ Jesus. And to our God and Father be glory from the ages to the ages, amen!”

(Philippians 4:19-20)

Amen. May God get the glory for all things, may he reveal his glory in all things, and may he be glorified for all things as they honor his name, now and forevermore, amen. Loved ones, this is what it is all about; here is the meaning in life. God is to be glorified and the glory of the things of this world pale in comparison to the glory of the risen Christ. What more can you desire? What more can you need? Nothing.

Paul also assures the church that God will provide for their every need. Not necessarily for their every want, but God will provide for their every need. So, too, he does the same with us. Why do we worry and fret about the things of this life? Our heavenly Father knows our needs and will provide them out of his grace. Instead of worrying, pursue God’s calling on your life and his Kingdom, trust the details to him. The pagans have the right to worry but the Christian (though we often worry) does not have that right for we have a God who knows our needs and who is capable of filling them.

Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church and what better way could there be to end? To God be the glory, great things he has done!

The Highest Call

“Brethren, as for myself, I do not think it something to attain — but one thing is indeed so, caring nothing about what is past, I stretch forward to that which is ahead — I move decisively toward the goal; to the prize that is the highest call of God in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 3:13-14)

If you know me well, you know that one of the things that I emphasize is that in God’s economy, there are no higher or lower callings — no higher vocation. If God calls you to serve him as a carpenter, a mechanic, a teacher, a farmer, a lawyer, an accountant, a musician, a doctor, a pastor, a garbage collector, a cook, or a missionary…whatever moral occupation you might pursue, it is a calling from God and is to be pursued to the glory of your savior, Jesus Christ.

So, what, then, does Paul mean when he speaks of the “higher call” of God? In this context, Paul is not so much speaking about calling in terms of an occupation, but in terms of a calling in life. Here there is a Biblical sense of a higher calling for in this context there are only two callings possible: the higher call of God in Christ Jesus and the lower call of this world and self. In this context, Paul is saying that he pursues the higher calling, making nothing of what has gone in the past…he will not be swerved from the goal.

When I was in school, I was a sprinter on the track team. As a sprinter, one must keep their focus only on the goal ahead. One must forget the crowd, one must forget the athletes that are coming up behind you, and one must ignore the distractions of the field events that are going on during the race. If a sprinter turns his or her head to look at something even for a moment, the straight path that they were traveling is no longer straight, but the runner will deviate from his or her lane because of this simple motion. Paul’s desire is not to run a race where he weaves back and forth all over the track, but to run straight and hard toward the goal. Again, not that he earns the salvation Christ offers, but because Christ has saved him, Paul wants to run in a way that honors his master and that makes the most out of his life. The work has been done for us, but we do affect how we respond to that work, will we labor to the glory of God or will we wobble all over the track?

How often we find ourselves in a very different position than Paul. We do care about the things we have left behind and often our hearts wander back to those things. We want praise and recognition for what we do and for what we say not to give all of that honor to Christ, using our accomplishments solely to point the eyes of others toward Christ as well. We wander all over the track and even sometimes go back to the starting blocks where the race began. Friends, let us not do so, but let us walk in newness of life and run the race that is before us without wavering or becoming distracted by the things of this world that cannot compare to the eternal weight of the glory of heaven. If we really believe that is better, why do we wobble all over the track?

The True Circumcision

“For we are the circumcision; those who worship in the Spirit of God and who boast in Christ Jesus and who do not trust in the flesh.”

(Philippians 3:3)

Indeed, in Christ’s economy, circumcision is no longer a matter of the flesh, but is a matter of the heart. To take the notion one step further, we should argue that circumcision of the flesh was always meant to be a physical symbol of an inward reality — an inward circumcision. And, as noted above, as the physical symbol changed (circumcision to baptism), the physical cutting is no longer deemed necessary while the inward reality (a circumcised heart) remains the same. Thus not only is Paul of the circumcision (physical and spiritual) the uncircumcised (physically) gentiles who were a part of the church in Philippi are circumcised in the eyes of God (spiritually). If the cutting is done out of ritual or as a sign of works it is an abomination…a mutilation of the flesh; the cutting that takes place in the heart is worked by God and by God alone upon us and is designed to prepare us for glory (as well as to equip us to live out our life in the here and now.

And ultimately, then, what is the visible mark of this inward circumcision? In addition to baptism, it is a life that is lived glorying in Christ and not trusting in the works of the flesh. It is a life marked by worship in the Holy Spirit and not by worshipping in the strength or pattern of the flesh. It is a life that is oriented around serving God (the word in this passage which we translate as “worship,” literally means “to serve in a liturgical or religious manner”).

The question we must set before us is whether or not this is how we live. Is this what we strive for? Do we still take pride in our flesh or is the only thing in which we glory the work of Christ in and over this weak flesh of ours? The former relies on an outward circumcision; the latter relies on an inward. And Paul will shortly remind us that the outward circumcision avails us nothing if we seek to stand upon it. The bottom line is that it is all about Christ, from beginning to end, it is all about Jesus.

My hope is built on nothing less

than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

— Edward Mote

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.

Bondservants of Christ

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”

(Philippians 1:1)

Philippians is one of Paul’s later letters, written while in Prison in Rome (c.f. 4:22), and towards the end of his life. This places the letter as having been written in the early 60s, AD. The Church in Philippi had sent him a gift (4:16,18). It was not uncommon, in ancient times, that those in house prison were to pay for their own lodging essentially, forcing them to rely on the generosity of friends and family. Such is the context of this letter where Paul is responding back and saying, “thank you,” to these generous Christians.

Though this first verse is little more than an introductory greeting, it contains a great deal of depth and ought not be overlooked. To begin with, we find Timothy with Paul. This is earlier in his imprisonment as Paul is speaking of sending Timothy to the church in Philippi with his greetings and for their aide (2:9). Yet, this is taking place before Paul writes for Timothy to return (2 Timothy 4:9) which is closer to his death. Again, this helps us to discern the timeline of Paul’s letters.

More importantly is the title that Paul applies both to himself and to Timothy. He says that they are slaves or (as is sometimes translated) bondservants of Christ Jesus. The term that is used here is douvloß (doulos), which is one of the terms that Paul quite regularly uses to describe his service to Jesus Christ. This term refers not to a mere hired servant, but to a servant who is bound (as a slave would be) to his master. As Christians, we serve Christ Jesus and Christ alone. We given permission to have two masters (Luke 16:13) and we do not serve Christ for a season and then serve another (as hired servants might do). We are bound to serve Christ until the very day we die.

This is a mindset that the modern church has largely forgotten. People are quick to live lives and expend energies for the things that they want, but when they get tired, weary, or frustrated at the direction that things are going, they bail out and do something different. Such is not the calling of a Christian. No matter what the cost, not matter where he leads us, we must follow for we are not our own. We, if we will be faithful, must grasp this notion and serve Christ, not self.