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Having Been Filled November 21, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“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.

Examination or Approval? November 20, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“for you to examine that which is superior in order that you might be sincere and blameless for the Day of Christ,”

(Philippians 1:10)

Many of our English translations render the first part of the phrase, “that you may approve,” or something very similar. This is one of those remnants of the old King James English. In the 17th century, the word “approve” meant “to prove, to demonstrate, to show worthy” whereas today the idea of approval carries with it the connotations of permission. I might “approve” of that movie or of how you spend your money…or I might not approve.

The word that Paul uses here is dokima/zw (dokimazo), which carries with it the idea of examining something to determine its quality. The NIV chooses the word “discern” to insert here, which is arguably a better term. I chose the word “examine” to capture the idea that dokima/zw (dokimazo) implies a critical examination of such ideas…as we spoke above in verse 7 of the word frone/w (phroneo). Paul is not calling the Philippian church to give permission to those things that are superior and excellent, but he is calling them to examine that which they encounter so that they can critically discern that which is good and excellent…those things that will keep them sincere (we might say, “transparent” here) and blameless for the Day of Christ.

What is the Day of Christ? This is a reference back to the Old Testament notion of the “Day of the Lord” (see Isaiah 13:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 2:1; Obadiah 15; Malachi 4:5 and elsewhere). There was a notion in the ancient Mid-East that there would one day rise a king who was so mighty that he would defeat all of his enemies in a single day. That which the Old Testament prophets looked forward to was completed by Jesus on the Cross. Yet, the New Testament authors carried the idea into the Church age as a time when we anticipate the return of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Indeed, on that great day, all of the enemies of God will be gathered together and destroyed underneath his crushing foot (Revelation 20:7-10). Will you be ready for that day?

Until that day takes place, Paul sets before us once again the significance of examining things around us carefully…not with our passions but with a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) where you examine (and pursue) that which is good and pure and excellent and right so that we will have nothing to hide from or be ashamed from on that great and awesome day. How far short of that goal we tend to fall, though. Will you, this day, this minute even, turn to God and repent of your wayward heart and draw closer to Him? Discern what is good and excellent and flee from that which you would keep hidden in the dark recesses of a wicked heart.

Love guarded by Knowledge and Discernment November 19, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“And this is my prayer: that your love might overflow more and more in knowledge and all discernment.”

(Philippians 1:9)

And so, out of Paul’s love for his friends in the church in Philippi, he offers up his prayer for them as they seek to grow in their spiritual maturity. He begins with a prayer for agape love…there are several different words in the Greek to reflect different aspects of love; agape love reflects the idea of a sacrificial love that loves regardless of whether the love is reciprocated on the part of the beloved. Ultimately, it is the love demonstrated by Christ who died for the sins of the elect while we were yet dead in our sin and in rebellion against the King of Heaven. It is also the kind of love that all believers are to strive toward as we live our our lives in community…as the old hymn based on John 13:35 goes: “They shall know we are Christians by our love.”

But notice something. Often Christians seem to end there when they talk about God’s design for our lives. There is an assumption that we are just to love one another, love the world, and all will be happy. And what we end up with oftentimes is this mushy, sappy, love that has no real backbone to it. Yet, Paul does not end his prayer here. Paul asks that the agape love that the church would have would indeed overflow (arguably a reference to Psalm 23:5), but that it would overflow in knowledge and discernment.

In other words, love does not stand on its own, but is guarded and guided by something else in the life of the believer. The term that Paul uses for knowledge is ejpi/gnwsiß (epignosis), which is typically used to refer to a knowledge of the transcendent — a knowledge of that which is outside of you, whether moral or spiritual. And while the term ai¡sqhsiß (aisthasis), which we translate here as “discernment” only shows up once in the New Testament, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is found 22 times in the Book of Proverbs (no great surprises there). Thus, according to Paul’s prayer for spiritual maturity, love does not stand alone, it is accompanied by both the knowledge of God and the discernment that comes from the fear of the Lord.

The idea virtue seems to have been replaced by freedom in our culture today. People champion personal expression and personal pleasure over the idea of chivalry, honor, integrity, and duty. People seem to value personal experience over transcendent truth. And that shift is a dangerous one for the culture; more significantly, it is our calling as a church to pull the culture back from the edge of the cliff. But we cannot do that unless we, as Christians who make up the church, also embrace a Biblical model of knowledge and discernment that guides and guards our love. May indeed Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi be a prayer that we embrace in our lives and may we strive to cultivate the knowledge of God (found in the scriptures) and godly discernment (begun with a fear of the Lord) in our lives in every way.

My Fear… November 18, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“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! November 12, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“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.

I am Persuaded November 11, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“being persuaded of this: that the one who began a good work in you will accomplish it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 1:6)

This verse is well known to many of us, and what a beautiful statement it is and indeed, it is the true source of joy for Paul as he reflects upon the dear saints in the Philippian church. Yes, they have been his helper and have provided him with a gift so he may continue the work of ministry in Rome, but more importantly, Paul has the assurance that the work the Spirit began in this church will be continually worked out in faith until that glorious day when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ will return.

The language of the “Day of Christ Jesus” is a reference to the Old Testament language of “The Day of the Lord.” In the ancient cultures there was a notion that one day there would come a king who would be powerful enough to defeat all of his enemies in a single day and thus conquer the known world. Indeed, the ancient world never saw such a king for the one to whom that pointed was Christ Jesus. And indeed, on the cross, Jesus slew the great and powerful enemy, Satan, and demonstrated that he had defeated death by raising from the dead on the third day. In addition, when our Lord comes again, the scriptures speak of a time when all of the armies of the world will raise up against the righteous one and will be crushed under the foot of our Lord’s judgment. Indeed, what a glorious day that will be!

In the meantime, there is a promise that we can cling to as well. The work that has been begun in us by God is not work that rests on our skills or abilities to bring to completion. Indeed, it rests on God for His completion. And that is good news. How easy it is, sometimes, to get discouraged that the work you are seeking to do in a church, in a community, or even in a family is not bearing much fruit or any fruit at all. We set our timetables and our agendas for such things, but God has his own timetable and it is in God’s timetable that we must learn to trust and it is in his power (not our efforts) we must learn to rely. For indeed, as Paul says of this church, I too am persuaded that our God is able to continue his work in this world and even in this particular church until that day when he sends his Son to bring judgement upon his enemies once and for all time.

A Military Model November 10, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always and every prayer of mine for all of you, making prayer with gladness because of your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

(Philippians 1:3-5)

In the military, there is something that they refer to as a “Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R).” This is a measurement of the ratio between combat troops who are fighting on the front lines and the support personnel. While this ratio has varied between different wars and at different points in history, the idea that if someone is going to be on the front lines that they need people who can support them, is a practical one that dates even back to Roman times.

As Christians in the west, we often struggle to think of the church according to military terms. Things seem to be at peace and we have relative freedom to worship in the way we wish. At the same time, our real enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is found in the spiritual forces of evil that are at work in this world and if we are going to tell ourselves that such forces are not at work in the west, we are deceiving ourselves and hiding our heads from reality. Indeed, those forces may be more visible in the oppression that Christians face elsewhere, but Satan is indeed at work in our lives, tempting us with sin and placing stumbling blocks in our midst while at the same time, twisting and warping the culture in such a way that people around us celebrate death and Satan rather than celebrating life and God. Whether we like it or not, the church is a church at war.

And since we are at war, it is useful to remember once again that soldiers on the front lines need teams to support them. How then does this apply? First of all, in many cases our missionaries are on the front lines…and not just our missionaries on other continents, but local missionaries in our communities that focus on reaching the poor, addicts, or perhaps a hard-to-reach group of people. Yet, let’s not stop there. The primary task of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That means the saints (all the saints) are given a job to do. Those who are still at work or in the community are again on the front lines in a sense and the job of the church leadership is to make sure that they have the tools they need to lead Bible Studies or evangelize co-workers, family members, and people in the community. Many of our older members may not feel that they are engaged on the front lines any longer (though often a nursing home is a great field for evangelism!), but here they are given the wonderfully blessed task of committing time to prayer for specific believers and teams of people who are on the front lines as it were — not to mention for the wisdom and equipping work of the church leadership. Our children, who are being prepared for the front lines can also be taught to pray for those in the church as well. Done well, in a multi-generational church, this creates a huge pool of “support personnel” for those on the front lines.

As Paul is reflecting on the Philippians, he recognizes how significant their support has been to his ministry and that recognition causes him to celebrate and to thank God for the gift of those who have assisted him in ministry through their financial gifts, through their presence, and through their prayers. That said, I wonder how often, when we face trials on the front lines of spiritual battle, we recognize that we have a large group behind us, strengthening and supporting us with their prayers and sometimes even, with their resources. As a pastor, I am truly grateful not only for the commitment of my people to supporting my family so that I can focus my attention on equipping the body for ministry as a full-time vocation. Having been bi-vocational before and having many pastor-friends who are bi-vocational, this is a privilege I do not take for granted. In addition, I am thankful that the leadership of my congregation also recognizes that while my ministry begins on the hill here in New Sewickley Township, PA, it does not end on the hill here, but through technology, can extend to other places in the world through blogs, books, and other forms of communication. And indeed, I make my prayers with gladness for the support personnel that stand behind me in prayer and provision. Let us all not think of ourselves as lone-believers on the battlefield, but as members of a larger body — a network of believers brought together as a church to do a task: make disciples and tear down the powers of Satan in our world. We are a people at war, let us not forget that.

Remembering You November 06, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you.”

(Philippians 1:3)

Our experience, C.S. Lewis wrote, does not end with the event that causes the experience, but the experience works on us, matures within us, and grows into something beautiful as we reflect on and remember the original event. Biblically, remembrance of the works of God is seen as something that helps keep us living faithfully when tempted to go astray. Our lives are filled with experiences and interactions with people and ideas, but it is our remembrance that ties all of these experiences together into a unified story…it provides cohesion and continuity and of course, is one of the reason that diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease is so devastating…for it robs a person not only of individual memories, but also of the continuity that binds these memories together in a unified way.

Thus Paul, as he remembers back to the people that form the church in Philippi, rejoices, for their kindness and grace stirs in him good memories and a greater reminder of God’s own grace. This, of course, is especially important, for Paul is in jail as he writes this letter. Thus, these memories must also provide a piton of hope upon the mountain of trial that he sees before him. How, indeed, we all need such reminders of God’s grace to us through others to remind us why we press onward in the calling to which our Lord has called us.

It is my prayer that remembrance of God’s people that have influenced your life in the past would also bring you thanksgiving and that the faithfulness that such people demonstrated would spur you on to faithfulness. It is my prayer that you would rejoice in the God that has given you such people in the past, no matter how dark or difficult your life may seem at the present. It is my prayer that the memory of God’s hand in your life directly and through others may also remind you that you have a God that will never leave nor forsake you. And it is my prayer that these memories will serve as the unifying theme of your life, helping us to rejoice in the successes and learn from the failures, that we might grow more faithful as we mature in faith. Friends, may we rejoice in the memory of one another and give our God thanks that he has seen fit to bring us together in the way he has so done.

Grace and Peace to you… November 05, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:2)

When you greet others who are Christians, how do you greet them? Do you have a sincere wish for them that God would give them grace and peace or do you greet them begrudgingly, perhaps because of something that has happened between the two of you in the past? Or, do you even think about these things at all? Do you just say, “Hello, how are you?” and then just keep on walking satisfied in the pleasantries but not really caring about the answer to your question. Isn’t it interesting, so often, that we want people to be genuinely concerned about our welfare or about what we happen to be doing but don’t have the same concern about our neighbor…even that neighbor who happens to be a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul sets for us a model that would serve us well to follow. May God give you grace and peace. The idea expressed by Grace as Paul presents it is that of God having a disposition of goodwill toward you, that he might bless your steps and your actions and that the world indeed would see God’s hand in your life. This is not a health-wealth or prosperity Gospel, though. For the evidence of God’s grace is not seen in money or physical well-being, Paul presents the evidence of God’s grace as peace in your life. Peace denotes a resting in God’s hand of mercy. It is a deliverance from the Evil One and his power. And later in this letter, Paul will refer to this peace as that which “passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), because it is a peace that can be had despite the fact that you are facing trials in this life. Such peace, such resting in God’s mercy, is the result of God’s gracious hand upon your life (and while not always, often abundant wealth is a sign of God’s judgment…).

Yet, Paul also makes it clear where this grace and peace come from…God. Grace and peace are not found in wealth, careers, politics, sports teams, fancy cars, electronics, entertainment, computers, movies, status, fame, or anything else we might think of that captures our attention (and sadly also, our hearts). True grace and peace come from the hand of God and thus we should seek it in no other place but in God alone. How often we fall into the trap of looking elsewhere. John the Apostle closed his first letter with the words, “protect yourself from idols.” Indeed, how we need to here those words over and over again. And while we do that, may we train ourselves to take a genuine interest in one another’s welfare and the condition of their soul. Such is the heart behind the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Elders and Deacons November 04, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“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)

Finally, we see that Paul not only addresses this letter to the people of the church, but to its leadership — the overseers and the deacons. It is certainly true that Paul speaks of other sorts of servants in the church…administrators, teachers, evangelists, etc… (1 Corinthians 12:27-30; Ephesians 4:11), but it would seem that these two offices serve as broader categories within which the other offices find their definition and qualification. Thus, however many offices in the church that a particular group happens to hold to, offices fall under the broad category of oversight or service.

What should also be noted — and is arguably more significant — is the reminder that the church itself does not exist as a broad and extended group of individuals. Believers are not autonomous, to put it another way. God has brought us together as one body — a larger institution — under the leadership and direction of officers. Like the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:9), we are all men and women under authority…one of which is the godly leadership of the church that God the Father has raised up to honor his Son. True, there has been much wicked leadership through the generations — the unfaithful shepherds that God condemns (Ezekiel 34:1-6) — and while these wicked shepherds are often the ones that sear themselves into our memories, history has been filled with many, many faithful shepherds who labor in quiet obscurity amongst their flock. Though we like our independence, when we wander independently, we wander astray.

Thus, Paul addresses the entire church, a unified body of Christ, called and purposed to tear down the strongholds of the devil in this world (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and making disciples  of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20), all that the Father draws to the Son (John 6:44). This is a body made up of believers in covenant with one another under the leadership of Elders and Deacons, all to God’s glory. Were more of our congregations to think this way, I imagine that we would not have as many struggles within our churches and we would be quicker to weed out false shepherds from our midst.

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