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Righteousness from God dependent on Faith April 17, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“And that I might be found in him, not having my own righteousness from the Law, but rather through faith in Christ — a righteousness from God that is dependent on faith.”

(Philippians 3:9)

“Therefore, having been justified as a result of faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 5:1)

This is one of the most theologically significant verses in Scripture when it comes to the nature of the righteousness we have in Christ. Paul is making it very clear that the Christian does have a righteousness … a righteousness that comes not from the works of the individual (for our works are surely dung) but instead that comes from Jesus himself — the works of Jesus imputed to the believer. We might even say, on the basis of this text, that this righteousness is a sign that genuine faith has been given to the believer (a sign of rebirth).

I think that it is worth clarifying a distinction here between Paul’s language in this verse and the language he uses in Romans 5:1…namely the distinction between righteousness dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) and justification dikaio/w (dikaio’o). We should note that both are related words, the first being a noun and the second being a verb. They also both deal with a legal standing that one might have before a judge or a court of law. The verb, dikaio/w (dikaio’o) — “to justify” — refers to a pronouncement made by a judge that a person is righteous. The noun, dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — refers to that actual righteousness that a person has which is the basis for the pronouncement by the judge.

Why is this important? It is argued by some (incorrectly so) that the reason those justified are righteous is because of the pronouncement that they are righteous. Yet, that presumes righteousness to be an adjective and not a noun, and thus a description and not a thing. Yet, when the term dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — is used in Paul (and also in the LXX), it is a term that refers to the actual righteousness of the one coming under judgment.

Are we splitting hairs here? At first, it might seem like it, but let me explain a little further. If righteousness is something that is based on the declaration of God as judge, then it has been argued by some that the personal nature of salvation becomes something that God does for a group or a body of people — God declares the church to be righteous…further, your standing before God then relies on the standing of the church and not your own standing before God.

While Jesus did establish the church, our righteousness does not come from the church or our relationship to it. What Paul is teaching here is that God pronounces us to be justified because we are righteous. And why are we righteous? Certainly not because of our own works … they are dung … we are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. God gives rebirth, generates saving faith within us which imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, and then he declares what is so — that we are righteous…not by works of the law, but by the work of Christ. And faith, which Paul writes is the basis on which righteousness stands or falls, comes from and finds its power in Christ.

And folks, that is good news because our works are dung and the church has often misled, falling far short of what Christ instituted it to be. That does not mean that we abandon the church as some in the emergent movement have sought to do, but simply that we recognize that our standing before God is not built on the church. Yet, as people who have been made righteous, we are to work as the church to be salt and light, to disciple the nations, and to tear down the high places that this world has set up to rail against God. We have work to do as the church, work not done in our own strength, but in the strength that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit…and work that is done righteously not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.

Surpassing Value April 08, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I rather count all things as forfeit because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Because of him, I count all things as waste in order that I might gain Christ.”

(Philippians 3:8)

Often, when reading comments that people make on this verse, they begin with the notion of sku/balon (skubalon), which refers to rubbish, waste, or even to human excrement…something that has no place in the presence of the people of God — its only value is to be taken out and burned. And that is a powerful image, but as I reflect on this verse, I would prefer to start with the notion of counting all things as forfeit in exchange for Christ. For, whether your works are of any measurable value or not, the heart of the matter is that you count the relationship you have with Christ as more valuable.

Of course, that is a notion that is far easier said than done. We like to hold on to the trappings and comforts of this life. We like to hold on to the notion that we are doing things our way. We like to hold onto the notion of “our accomplishments” and contributions. We like to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Such is our fallen state and such is our stumbling block. We might give lip service to the notion that our works are rubbish but rarely do we give heart-service to them. We like the acknowledgement of men no matter how that acknowledgement pales in comparison to the acknowledgement of the Lord.

That is perhaps why I think it valuable to begin with whether we are willing to count all things as loss for Christ. Because if we are not willing to lose all things for Him, we will not be willing to count all things as waste, rubbish, or dung.

And how great is the value of knowing Christ? Is it not everything? Without the knowledge of Christ there is no hope for life beyond the grave. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope of knowing true joy, peace, and happiness. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in finding meaning in the suffering we experience in this world. Without the knowledge of Christ, there is no hope in truly appreciating the beauty of the world around us — for to fully appreciate the beauty of something, you must also appreciate the skill and mastery of the creator. When you see a piece of artwork, is it not more meaningful when you know the life of the artist behind the piece of art? When you read a novel, does it not become deeper and more meaningful when you have engaged with the life of the author? When you hear a piece of music, does not the composer’s life add depth to what you hear? And the better you know and understand the author’s person, do we not more carefully appreciate the work they have created? If we say this of the works of men, shall we not also say this of God’s works? And since the created order is far surpassing in majesty and beauty anything that man might create, is not the knowledge of God far more surpassing than any human knowledge we might encounter?

Oh loved ones, how often we choose the poorer and shallower thing to pursue. Pursue Christ and do so through his Word and you cannot help to see the surpassing beauty of our redeemer and the surpassing greatness of his person. And you will see that knowledge of him is infinitely more valuable than knowledge of any other thing we might encounter in life.

Forfeit Because of Christ March 30, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Although I have confidence — even in the flesh! If anyone else think that he has confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, a descendent of Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee according to the Law, a persecutor of the church as to zeal; as to righteousness under the law, I am faultless! But whatever profit was mine, this I regard as forfeit because of Christ.”

(Philippians 3:4-7)

As Paul recounts his Jewish qualifications, what strikes me is how often, as Christian pastors, we fall into arrogance as a result of our qualifications. No, we are usually not worried about bloodline in today’s world (unless we happen to be related to Billy Graham, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, etc…) but we do present ourselves often as having come from the right seminary, having attended the right church, having served on the right Presbytery committees, etc… How quickly we fall into the trap of desiring to be elevated amongst men.

In contrast to our sinfulness, Paul is not using his credentials to point to himself. Instead, he is using the credentials to point to Christ. Paul is essentially saying that if anyone thinks they have impressive credentials, that he can “one-up” them…but further, Paul still counts everything as loss compared to the work of Christ. Jesus is everything; our human works are nothing in and of themselves.

Think of it, as men we make monuments, but God raised the mountains. As men, we struggle to make it off of this rock we call earth, but God created the cosmos. As men, we create art; but God created the flower and the butterfly. As men, we might make sacrifices for one another; Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice to pay the debt of sin that is owed by all of His elect. Folks, Paul’s point is not only that there is no room for comparison…but it is also, why bother comparing? Everything, Paul says, he counts as loss or forfeit because of Christ.

Does that mean that training, education, seminary, or background is a bad thing? If God is using it for His glory, no, it is not a bad thing at all. If we are using it as a matter of pride and arrogance, it is a bad thing. If we are using it as a measure of personal standing, it is a bad thing as well. If we are not able to say, with the Apostle Paul, that I regard all things as forfeit because of Christ, then even the best credentials can be stumbling blocks. When a mechanic uses tools to repair an engine that is out of tune, one does not praise the tools. One praises the skill of the mechanic. God is the mechanic and we are the tools in his hands. We deserve no praise for he is the one doing the job. We are at his disposal…they key is to be ready for use.

The True Circumcision March 27, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“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

Beware! March 25, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Beware of the dogs! Beware of those who work evil! Beware of the mutilators!”

(Philippians 3:2)

Having told the Philippian church to stand on firm ground, he now warns them about predators who will seek to draw them off of that sure ground of scripture. In the larger context, Paul is speaking of the danger of those who would trust in their own works for either glory of salvation. Here, Paul speaks more specifically.

To begin with, Paul warns to beware of the “dogs.” Some commentators understand the reference of “dogs” to be euphemistic for male prostitutes and the sexual activity that would be engaged in during many of the pagan practices of worship. There is some evidence for this, though I would suggest that, given the character of the Philippian church, male prostitution was not a great threat. The term, kuw/n (kuon) in Greek is also used to refer to those who are infamous criminals (again, not a likely threat to the Philippian congregation) and to those who are spiritually unclean. The Didache (an early, second-century manual for the Christian church) refers to those who are unbaptized and not yet ready to commune with the body as kuw/n (kuon). In a young and thriving church, this seems the most likely use of the term as Paul is employing it…essentially to warn them to be cautious and, as new people come into the fellowship, make sure that they are genuine believers before they are embraced entirely into the body.

The second warning is a little more plain. While there are many things that are referred to as evil in the Bible, one seems to be preeminent…that of idolatry. In fact, it can be argued that the other sins that are considered evil also flow out of an idolatrous heart. So, beware, Paul warns the church, of those who would introduce idolatry into the context of worship. One need not examine church history in that much depth to discover that idolatry is a matter that the church struggled with (and still struggles with) through the ages. Early in the life of the church some people started introducing images of Jesus and of the Apostles as “aides” to worship. The images were joined by statues, relics, praying to various saints for blessings, praying to Mary as a co-intercessor with Jesus, teaching that Mary lived as a perpetual virgin and was physically assumed into heaven, and raising up the councils as being of equal authority to scripture. Even in Protestant circles, how often strong personalities are seen to speak with authority not on the basis of content but simply on the basis of popularity. How often pastors take advantage of their congregations, using the people as little more than a stepping stool to achieve their own agendas. We are fallen people; we are prone to fall into idolatrous sin.

Finally, Paul warns to beware of the “mutilators.” In light of the context of verse 3, where Paul speaks of the true circumcision — what he elsewhere calls a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29) — it seems that he is speaking of those who would teach a works-based religion founded in the Jewish ritual practices. Those who would insist on physical circumcision (and not spiritual) in the church of Christ would be those who are the mutilators. Does this mean that Paul condemns his own circumcision? Not at all, as you will see (though he does not put weight in it). Circumcision of the flesh was the sign and mark of the people of God, but it was never meant to save. It was simply meant as an outward sign of an inward reality. In Christ, the sign has changed from a bloody sign on the males only to a bloodless sign on males and females both (for their is neither male nor female, but we are one in Christ — Galatians 3:28). If there is no inward reality, the sign avails nothing. And, where the sign has changed (circumcision to baptism), to insist on the physical, bloody sign is simply an act of mutilation (see how Paul speaks of those who so insist in Galatians 5:12).

Thus the warning is offered. The question is whether or not we will apply it, for the same wolves prey about our church doors even today. There is a tendency by many in the church to be broad and shallow in their teaching and, hoping not to offend anyone, no spiritual food of any value is offered. There is a tendency, in the hopes of ministering to everyone, to accept all things as equally valid and to embrace all practices as acceptable in the eyes of God. Beware those who would lead the sheep astray. Flee from the wicked. Flee from those who see ministry as a popularity contest, teaching only those parts of scripture that the people want to hear and not those parts of scripture that the people need to hear. Woe to the shepherd who does not open up the whole counsel of God. Woe to the pastor who is more concerned about his popularity with men than with his popularity with God. And church, beware these wolves, for they are clothed with the fleece of sheep, but exist only to destroy. Flee from them! And if you have been led astray as a shepherd and are guilty of acting this way or of abetting such actions from others; repent for the sake of your soul and for the sake of the souls of those in your charge. Beware those like this, says the Apostle Paul.

Food for the Soul and Guidance for Your Life March 18, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Having said this, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write this to you is not something from which I shrink, on the other hand, for you it is firm ground.”

(Philippians 3:1)

This verse is a little bit idiomatic, but should not be too hard to sort through. It begins with the phrase to\ loipo/n (to loipon), which literally means: “the rest.” In other words, Paul is changing gears here with this statement. We are not just at the middle of the book, per say, but it is as if he is saying, “okay, I am done talking about the sickness that Epaphroditus has suffered…it was mentioned because it needed to be mentioned, but now I am getting back to the real reason that I am writing to you, and that is to offer counsel to your souls.” That, at least is the notion that is being conveyed.

So, having said all of this about his sorrows, Paul turns to words of counsel and begins with the statement, “Rejoice in the Lord!” But, Paul, what about all of the sickness and suffering of you in prison and Epaphroditus on the sickbed? Paul is saying to us that while those things are earthly realities, our God is not earth-bound and there is glory waiting for those who are faithful to the end. So, why our long faces? Rejoice!

In light of this…something that Paul will soon repeat…what I am going to say may very well frustrate some of my Reformed brethren…but they will get over it. Sometimes Christians hear and even affirm this language that we are to rejoice in the Lord, but we hardly communicate that when we gather to worship. We often find ourselves gathering with long faces and somber attitudes, like one would expect at a funeral, not like one would expect at a celebration of the Resurrection (which is every Sunday, by the way!). Even people’s attitudes before they arrive have not been helpful to their demeanor…how many times have we heard, “Do I really have to go to church today?” As if it is a chore!

Folks, don’t misunderstand me…I am not talking about dancing in the aisles or charismatic kinds of things. I am simply saying that when we gather to worship, everything from our thoughts to our actions ought to communicate what a wonderful salvation that we enjoy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our obedience to God ought to reflect the joy it is to serve the Lord we serve. And when visitors join our midst and see everything done in good order, they should not see that order as a bored routine, but as a glorious way to guide and train our affections toward an attitude of worship…genuine worship in Spirit and in Truth. We should look forward to Sunday worship for indeed, it is meant to be a taste of heaven…or at least practice for heaven. Yet, in how many churches was Mark Twain correct in saying, “They talk about heaven where they will worship God eternally but they dread doing so for an hour a week here on earth” (Letters From The Earth)? So, brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, rejoice! But I get ahead of myself.

Finally, Paul begins a transition back to practical points of spiritual counsel. Again, the phraseology is a bit awkward in English, but what it seems to be that Paul is saying is that counsel is something from which he does not shrink. Sometimes it can feel awkward to say, “You need to do this or that,” but Paul recognizes not only that offering such counsel is his calling (so he does so) but that it is also good for the people of Philippi to receive this counsel.

How often professing Christians are faced with such counsel in scripture and act as if it were optional for them. “I can do this or that,” they think, but then they ignore the other things. Yet, Paul is making it clear that this counsel is a solid foundation on which to base their lives. And if it is good for the church in Philippi, it is good for our churches today. Take heed, beloved, to the words of the Apostle (as well as to the words of all the Scripture!) for they are food for your soul and guidance for your life.

Honor March 17, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all joy and to such as these show honor, for he came close to death because of the work of Christ, exposing his life to danger in order to fulfill what was lacking in your ministry to me.”

(Philippians 2:29-30)

The question that presents itself to our curiosity is what does Paul mean when he speaks of, “what was lacking”? Is he seeking to rebuke the people for something that they missed? Is he suggesting that somehow Epaphroditus has done something that the people of Philippi have been unable or unwilling to do? No, I don’t think that would be consistent with everything else that we find Paul speaking about when it comes to his affections for the people of the church in Philippi. Instead, I think that of which Paul speaks is a ministry of presence. Truly, Paul yearns for fellowship with the people in the church in Philippi, but it would be nearly impossible for the entire church to pick up and leave to go visit Paul…but not impossible for one man to do…and that one man is Epaphroditus.

There is a power to the notion of a ministry of presence, being able to spend time face to face with another person and not just communicating by letters from a distance. A childhood friend of mine is currently spending time in prison. We write, but those occasions where I can travel to see him are particularly valuable. As a pastor, too, I have found that often my presence alongside a family who is grieving the loss of someone means a great deal. It has nothing to do with me nor does it have to do with anything that I might say or actively do. Yet, to know that someone is just there, with you, during a difficult time, means a great deal. And for Paul who is in prison as he writes this letter, Epaphroditus provided this kind of ministry.

And thus honor should be shown. The Greek word that Paul uses here is e¡ntimoß (entimos), and it is a word that refers to something that is precious or valuable in one’s sight — distinguished and set apart. And Paul is not attributing this word only to Epaphroditus. Note that he says, “and such as these…” So to all, who give of themselves sacrificially, who suffer (even to the point of death) to minister to God’s people, to those who practice the ministry of presence to fulfill that which the broader church is unable to fully do…treat them as the precious gift to the church (and community) that they are. Treat them with honor. Yet, how often the servants of God are taken for granted and not seen as a honored gift from God.

Loved ones, strive to be like Epaphroditus in your service to others. They may not be in prison nor may they be at great distances from yourself. You may also not need to risk your life for them. Yet, strive to bless others with your ministry, even if all you do is just be present with them during their time of trial. And those who serve in your midst, who give of themselves to care for others, seek to recognize them as a good gift from God and worthy of your honor.

Selfless Living March 02, 2015

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“Therefore I urgently send him in order that you might rejoice in seeing him again and also that I might be free from anxiety.”

(Philippians 2:28)

Now that Epaphroditus has recovered, it is Paul’s desire to return him home…not because Paul no longer wishes this man to minister to him in prison, but because it is clear that he needs to be home and around those who can care for him well in times of sickness. Again, we don’t know exactly the sickness that Epaphroditus had, but we do know that it was grave and that the church “back home” in Philippi was concerned.

Here we find in Paul an illustration of what he was speaking about earlier in this chapter about counting the needs of others as more significant than your own. Though it is clear that he would rejoice to have Epaphroditus stay on, it is better for him and for his church family to return to Philippi and thus he prepares to send Epaphroditus home. How often we fail to intentionally live this way. How often Christians compete with one another for what they want, seeking to take care of “ole number one” first…yet no human is truly “number one.” God and God alone is “number one” and if we will genuinely seek to follow him, making sure his wishes are fulfilled before our own, then selflessly is the way we will live. And I should also note…that when genuinely living selflessly, there is little room for anxiety to raise its ugly head in our lives as well.

Grief February 27, 2015

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“And he was ill, coming near to death, but God showed mercy on him — but not him alone, also on me so that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow.”

(Philippians 2:27)

As Christians we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We grieve with a knowledge that those who depart from us in faith are being taken into the presence of Christ and there they will know no end to the fullness of their joy. So, we rejoice for the believer who passes from this shadowland to the presence of the light of the glory of Christ, but we grieve our own loss of fellowship as those whom we love move out of our presence and into Christ’s.

What disturbs me is that I have heard many Christians saying things like: “there is no room for grief when a believer passes away” or that “a funeral is only a time of celebration.” On one level, we do celebrate…a beloved believer has traveled on to glory — that person has moved on from being a part of the “Church Militant” and has become part of the “Church Triumphant.” But is there no room for our own grief? The Apostle Paul reminds us here that there is room for our own grief as we lament what the person who has departed means to us here in this life.

Indeed, it might be said that remaining in grief indefinitely is not healthy for our souls and often distracts us from the calling that God has placed in our lives. Yet we all grieve differently and sometimes we go through seasons that are a kind of “re-grieving” process. These are seasons…it is not that we don’t grieve, we just grieve with hope — hope of joining the departed in the presence of Christ and hope that one day all death will be cast into the lake of fire and it will be no more. So, the next time that someone tells you not to grieve…point to this text where Paul speaks of God sparing him grief while at the same time remembering that while there is a time to rend your garments (a Hebrew expression of grief) there will be time for sewing them back together (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

An Apostle February 19, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Now, I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and comrade in arms — also your apostle and a minister to my needs — for he was longing and anxious to be with you because you heard that he was seriously ill.”

(Philippians 2:25-26)

We are introduced to Epaphroditus; we don’t know much about him apart from what we read here, yet from that we can infer that Epaphroditus was the representative of the Philippian church who brought the love gift and stayed on for a season to help care for Paul. We also see that he had become ill — seriously ill — during that time, and Paul speaks further on that in the verses which follow.

What strikes me is the term that Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus…he is called an “apostle.” Some of our translations use the term “messenger” here, but that isn’t entirely accurate. Were Epaphroditus simply a messenger, we might expect Paul to use the term a¡ggeloß (angelos) or were he more of a courier, we might expect the term specoula/twr (spechoulator). Yet, in ancient times, an apostle was more than just one who brings a message on behalf of others; an apostle also carried with him the authority of the one who sent him — much like the modern notion of a political envoy.

The question is, are we then to understand Epaphroditus as an apostle in the same way that Paul was an apostle. The answer to that question is, ‘no.’ The reason for this answer is because we must also ask of whom a person is an apostolic representative. Paul refers to himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1, etc…). In turn, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as “your apostle.” Thus, Epaphroditus is serving as an apostle, an authoritative representative, of the church in Philippi. In addition, Epaphroditus is also a believer, a servant of Christ, which makes him Paul’s brother in Christ and a comrade in arms — spiritual soldiers against the powers and principalities of this world.

What is worth noting is that while some people call themselves “Apostles” in our modern times, that office has ceased with the establishment of the church and the close of the Canon. None of these so-called apostles speak with the authority of Jesus Christ and if they claim to, we must be wary. Indeed, they might claim to be apostles of their church if that authority is so given to them, but the Biblical term for those of us who lead churches is that of Shepherd — Pastor. And a Pastor is a servant first…terms like Apostle (at least when used today) only tend to reflect a person’s ego. Better to be called a fellow-worker.

Notice too, how important these people are to Paul. When one is incarcerated, to have contact with others is a gift of God’s grace. I would encourage you that if you know someone who is in prison — write them a letter today or make a plan to go visit them. Be that Epaphroditus to them; it will mean the world to them as they serve their time behind bars…and what a wonderful opportunity to witness the grace of Christ.

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