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Subjection Before Christ May 27, 2015

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“who will change our body of humiliation to be similar to his body of glory according to the act by which he is able to subordinate all things to himself.”

(Philippians 3:21)

Here is the other half of Philippians 2:10-11. Indeed, there will come a time when all will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, though some will do so under judgment for indeed, in that day when he returns in the air, Jesus will subject all things to himself — even all things in subjection under his feet (Hebrews 2:8). Those who reject Christ will be perfected in that hatred and crushed under the boot of the Lord of Glory, forcing them to admit that which they most hate is true — that Jesus is Lord of all.

Ordinarily we don’t think of our fleshly bodies as “bodies of humiliation,” but what better word could Paul have chosen for what we experience? We are fallen and as such, we suffer all sorts of diseases, ailments, injuries, and ill effects from weather changes, hard work, as well as just overall weariness. We get frustrated at our own limitations as well as with the limitations of others and death is before us all. Add to that those things that are the common lot of living in this fallen world…storms and natural disasters, crime and the presence of the wicked in our midst, accidents and turmoil. The bottom line is that this world is not “okay,” and though we endure, life in this world has a manner of humbling us and wearing us down. As a pastor, I cannot begin to count how many older people I have sat with who have outlived spouses, children, and other loved ones and have simply asked, “Why hasn’t God taken me home yet.” Indeed, this world is not okay and humiliation is as operable a term as any to describe the overall struggles of life.

Yet, we have here, Paul echoing his reminder that we have something to look forward to — glorified bodies made similar to the glorified body of Christ. No, not exactly the same, Paul uses the term su/mmorphoß (summorphos), which means to me remade in a similar form. So, we might not be able to fly or walk through walls, but we will be raised whole from the dead to live forever without the effects of sin in this world. Is that not enough? Is that not more than you can imagine? Is that not the greatest and most marvelous thing? Indeed, how greedy we unworthy beggars are, who have been brought into the household of God. May our souls never cease to give thanks for all that God gives to us.

Colonists Away from the Homeland May 26, 2015

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“But our country exists in heaven, from which we also eagerly await a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ,”

(Philippians 3:20)

While many of our English translations will render this, “our citizenship is in heaven,” to do so requires a degree of inference. Literally, Paul writes that “our country” or “our homeland” is in heaven. The language paints a picture of a group of colonists living in a land that is not their own. One must recognize that in Paul’s era, this was a common experience. Rome was expanding its borders and oftentimes Roman citizens would relocate to newly expanded territories for economic reasons and thus found themselves as strangers in a strange land.

Some of our translations, then, infer the language of citizenship to emphasize the permanent connection to where the people of the church belong. This world is not our home. Peter describes us a sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), the author of Hebrews says that we await the permanent city to come (Hebrews 13:14), and Paul contrasts the Jerusalem above with the Jerusalem below (Galatians 4:21-28). Satan is referred to as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2 — often used as a reference to this world but also a reference to idolatry — vanity of vanities says the Preacher!). Like Abraham, we are travelers amongst a people who are unlike us.

How are they unlike us? Go to the previous verses. They are those whose end is destruction, who revel in their sin and seek to satiate their bellies. They are those who will not follow the model of Christ but who pursue the things of the flesh. In contrast, we live a different lifestyle, pursuing the pattern of behavior that we have observed in Paul and in other faithful believers before us.

I find it interesting that when I travel, everyone knows that I am an American even before I open my mouth. Perhaps it is the cowboy boots and the blue jeans, perhaps it is the way I carry myself, whatever it is, when I travel it is as if I carry a neon sign over my head that says, “American.” And note that I am not complaining about that reality; I am grateful to have been born in this great nation. I simply make an observation that should carry back to Paul’s language here. By the way we live, the people of this world (unbelievers) ought to recognize that we don’t belong to this world. Sadly, for many professing Christians, that is a stretch.

But Paul does not stop with the idea of belonging to a different country. He also speaks that while we are colonists here in this world, we are awaiting the coming of a Savior — the Lord Jesus Christ — the Prince of Heaven who will return to this world in glory and call all his citizens to himself. Therein lies our hope. Our hope is not in simply returning to heaven in spirit after our death, but it is in the physical resurrection, like Christ’s resurrection, that will come when our Savior returns from the homeland to claim his own people. That is our hope. Sadly, too, it seems that many professing Christians do not have this hope in sight either.

Like Abraham before us, we are sojourners and aliens in a land not our own. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are a church moving through the wilderness on the way to the promised land…but we are not there yet. Yet, let our lifestyles reflect the land to which we belong.

What is your God? May 25, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame — they are setting their minds on worldly things.”

(Philippians 3:19)

I can’t help but anticipate the contrast with Paul’s language in 4:8 as to what Paul would have believers think upon — that which is true and honorable and righteous and pure… The unbeliever — those who reject the cross of Christ in word and action — they set their minds on the things of this world: wealth and sensuality and vengeance and fame. These two notions could not be further apart…but nor could the two ends…heaven or hell. How often, even as believers, we are tempted to set our minds on things that do not belong to us.

The wording of this verse is a little awkward, which causes a degree of variation in some of our translations. Paul is stringing together some ideas, as he describes those who will not follow the imitation of Christ through his own example, and he is doing so in a quick staccato, much like a preacher might do in a sermon. Even so, as he describes those who reject the cross, they are headed for destruction. He goes on to say that their god is the belly and the glory that accompanies their shame. In other words, in these things they revel.

I expect we have all known those who not only pursue sin, but flaunt that sin. Many in the pro-homosexual movement and in the pro-marijuana movement seem to be doing just that in our American culture today. Yet, we see it all over. People brag because they “get one over” on a business or on another person, people break civil laws and then tell eagerly listening ears of their exploits, and people perform all sorts of immoral behaviors and revel in the shamefulness of their actions. These are those whom Paul is speaking of most directly here, but do not stop there, what Paul is saying is that this kind of thing is the end to which their rejection of the Cross takes them. It is a reminder to us that the notion of a “moral atheist” is little more than a folk-tale. They might start that way, but as one pursues their atheism with integrity and mind set on worldly things, they will speed further and further from that which is good and righteous and pure.

Worldly things pass away, but the Law of God is forever. While the former may be tempting to us, for they can be seductive, the latter will bring lasting peace and joy. Which is more valuable?

Hatred of Christ May 22, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions on Philippians.
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“For many are walking — as I frequently told you, and even now tell you with tears — as ones who hate the cross of Christ.”

(Philippians 3:18)

What happens when someone refuses to follow the model of Paul as Paul follows the model of Christ? Sadly, Paul reminds us, that person demonstrates their hatred for the cross of Christ and for the redemption that was achieved on that cross. The Heidelberg Catechism words it that we have a natural tendency to hate God and to hate fellow man.

But why such a strong word? What is someone is just ambivalent? Could there just be a kind of agnostic position where a person is just not interested but is not actively engaging in hatred? The answer is clearly, “no.” Jesus stated very clearly, “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus further builds on that notion that “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me…and will be loved by my Father” (John 14:21). In other words, obedience is the mark of one’s love for the Son and if we do not love the Son we will not be loved by the Father. That in itself should be a convicting message.

But why hate? There are some, for example, that will argue that ambivalence is the opposite of love, not hatred. There is something to be said there…but let me suggest a different explanation, as I would argue that ambivalence is a form of hatred…typically expressed in passive-aggressive behavior. Hatred can be lived out either passionately (we might call that enmity) or passively (passive-aggressive behavior, ignoring the person, etc…). Either way it is hatred and in both contexts, obedience is not present.

Jesus tells a parable about two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) and each was asked to work in the vineyard. The first said yes but didn’t (passive-aggressive behavior) and the second said no (active refusal — an expression of enmity) but then repented and went to work. The first clearly represents the priests and the Jewish establishment who committed themselves to obedience in their vows yet didn’t; the second represents the active sinners who had openly rebelled against God and then repented and did what God commanded. Jesus asks the question…which did the will of the Father? Doing the will of the Father is another way of speaking about obedience and thus when Paul looks upon those who are actively or passively in disobedience, he speaks of them as hating Christ.

With this before us, we should be reminded, then, that Paul’s language is not just speaking about those who are outside of the church, but of those who are inside of the visible church but who, by their very actions, demonstrate their hatred for Christ and the cross. Most who are in this group in the church would not like to think of themselves as hating Christ, but if they do not walk in obedience as they live out every corner of their lives, then what does that say about their hearts? What does it say about our own hearts, too, when we choose to be disobedient in small things or in great things in our lives? And no, we don’t get the choice of picking and choosing either…Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, that means that all of Scripture is ultimately what He has commanded and what we are to obey in its proper context. No, we will not get it correct perfectly in this life, but we ought strive in that direction. Will you?

Fellow Imitators May 19, 2015

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“Become fellow imitators of me, brothers, and pay attention to the ones who walk in this way — according to the pattern you have from us.”

(Philippians 3:17)

So, to whom do you listen? To whom do you pay attention? Whose life do you seek to model your own life after? Is it the rich and famous that you seek to emulate? Or are it the godly that you seek to model your life after? How important this question is for us to answer, but how rarely we get this answer correct.

The Apostle Paul is clear, if you claim to be a Christian, you must emulate the life of mature Christians…namely the example set by Paul himself for Paul seeks to emulate Christ for us (1 Corinthians 11:1). And even Christ sets the same pattern for us as he is the very image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). A pattern has been laid out for you and for me; the question is, will we follow that pattern? And, if we intend the follow that pattern, how will we go about following that pattern? Will we simply guess at what we think that Paul or Jesus would do? That practice sounds pretty subjective to me. Or will we immerse ourselves in the scriptures so we know that Paul and Jesus did do — further — so we know what the Father commanded given such things.

Broadly, as I look over the evangelical landscape in America, I am concerned that we have turned Paul’s command here into either a suggestion or into a context that is open to pure speculation. People often live multiple lives in the sense that they behave one way in church and another way in the community. Or they belive that just about anything goes as long as it “feels” spiritual. We find churches even incorporating pagan practices into their worship under the umbrella of being “inclusive” or “culturally sensitive.” Yet, if the Bible is able to prepare us for every good work, why do such churches seek practices outside of the scriptures to guide them?

May I simply close with the observation that the phrase above: “pay attention to…” is an imperative in the original Greek text. In other words, what it says and what follows is not a suggestion nor is it just a good thought. It is essential for the believer to submit to and follow. So, beloved, pay attention to those who are truly godly (in a Biblical sense) in the world around you, seek out the model of the Apostle Paul in the scriptures, and seek out the model of Christ. Then apply it to your life and live it out. If you lament the collapse of the church in America today, understand, that if more professing Christians lived out their faith with such intention, that hunger and thirst for righteousness would become contagious and God may very well use our example to point people to himself.

Conforming to the Status May 14, 2015

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“Nevertheless, in that which we have attained, to it shall we conform.”

(Philippians 3:16)

The principle that Paul is placing before us is that God has brought us out of our sinful estate, yet, having been given that great gift or forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we should strive to conform our lives to the new “status” we have been given. Or, in other words, in salvation we have been brought into the presence of God, pardoned, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and adopted as sons and daughters of the King. We should now live like it. Our behavior should reflect the new household into which we have been brought and not the old household from which we came.

All too often Christians take a passive attitude toward their own sanctification. They think that it is time to sit back and enjoy the ride. While certainly the power of sanctification comes from God, we also share a role as ones who actively participate in said growth or who resist the work of the spirit in a kind of passive-agressive stance.

But how do we do this? The simple answer is that we actively seek to apply the Law of God to our lives and try to obey it in every area, disciplining ourselves in the hopes of conforming to God’s law. I should note that in our culture sometimes people wrongly label this as a form of legalism. Yet it is only legalism if I judge you with a standard by which I am unwilling to judge myself. When one examines the Law of God one can either use the Law as a sledge-hammer or as a mirror. If we use it as a sledge-hammer to beat one another up for each other’s failings, then we will fall into legalism. If we use the Law as a mirror to examine our own life, then it becomes an effective tool in God’s process of sanctification in our lives…this is what Calvin referred to as the “Third Use” of the Law (first two uses are civil morality and to drive us to Christ as we recognize how far short we fall).

Beloved, let us not conform to the things of this world. Let us be conformed to the standard of God’s Kingdom into which we have been brought by Christ.

Spiritual Maturity…”Think Like this” May 07, 2015

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“Therefore those who are mature will think thus. And, if you think differently in something, God will also make that known to you.”

(Philippians 3:15)

From a pastor’s perspective, this verse is one that I would love to see painted over every doorpost, placed by every bathroom mirror, and embossed on decorations throughout the homes of my people. This is not the first time that Paul has given such a piece of instruction, but here he is short and succinct. He has spoken of living for Christ and not for self and he has spoken of how (as a believer) he makes nothing of his own work. And then, in the wake of these very powerful Christian teachings, he makes this statement… “Those who are mature will think this way.”

Wham. Right there, we see Paul take the majority of the western church today to the mat. Paul is essentially saying, Do you think that you are mature — then how do you live your life? Are you proud of your own accomplishments? If so, you are not a mature believer. Do you seek to draw attention to yourself? If so, you are immature in your faith. Do you wish to do things your way instead of the way God teaches in the Bible? If so, you are immature in your faith. Are you not studying the Word with the intention of applying the Word to guide your every action? Yep, you guessed it, that is a sign of your immaturity. Do you consider your own needs more important than the needs of others? Yes, you too fall into the category of the immature. Are you willing to sacrifice…not just give of your excess, but really sacrifice…for the wellbeing of the church? If not, you are being childish in your faith…and notice that I said, “childish” and not “childlike.” There is a huge difference. If as a church, you only focus on the “milk” of the Word (that which is easy to swallow and digest), then yes, you too are not mature as a church body.

As a pastor, I often engage with people who are in conflict. And truth be told, after some sermons, that conflict has been directed towards me! My grandfather, who was also a minister, used to say, “if you don’t step on some toes, you are not preaching.” Jesus said that if we belong to him, the world will hate us (John 15:18-21). And yes, Jesus also reminded us that there will be unbelievers (people of the world) who will be a part of the visible institution of the church (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). The point being, don’t be surprised when persecution comes from within the church, there are unbelievers mixed amongst the immature…and sometimes the two can be difficult to tell apart.

Yet, in times of conflict, after we have prayed, I typically begin by showing them what the Bible says concerning a given struggle that is being had and what the Bible says about resolving and working towards reconciliation. How often people respond by saying, “I know the Bible says that, but…” And I say, “sorry, there are no ‘buts’ about it.” Paul would say that when people will not submit to the plain teaching of scripture, they are immature. So, where are you this day? Are you making excuses for your spiritual immaturity? Don’t. Instead, apply the word to your life and grow mature. Are you struggling to grow mature but the abuse and discouragement of growing up alongside of the weeds is weighing upon you? Then remember Peter’s words, “God knows how to rescue the godly from trials while keeping the unrighteous under punishment…” (2 Peter 2:9). Be encouraged, you are being refined in the Lord’s hands. Are you a leader in a church surrounded by the spiritually immature? Take the council of the author of Hebrews:

“For everyone who partakes of milk is unpracticed in the word of righteousness since he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have been trained in the practice of discernment, distinguishing good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not again building a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 5:13 — 6:1).

The Highest Call May 01, 2015

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

Attaining the Goal… April 30, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Not that I have already received this, nor have I already been perfected, but I pursue it that I might attain it, for I was made to attain it by Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 3:12)

As we discussed above, the language of “attaining” the goal of the resurrection is not implying a doctrine of merit…that we somehow are able to earn the work of salvation. Instead, the final clause in this verse is the key to understanding the whole…why do we strive forward toward this goal? We do so because Christ has made us to strive forward to this goal. It is God’s work, not ours.

Some of our English translations vary in how they render this final clause. The verb, katalamba/nw (katalambano — “to attain a goal”) is used twice, the first time as an active subjunctive (“that I might attain”) and the second time as passive indicative (“I was made to attain”). This sets up parallel ideas — I run to attain it because Jesus is drawing me irresistibly to this goal.

On a practical note, the question is whether or not we think like this. Do we really think that we are growing in our sanctification because God is working in us? Or, do we fall into the trap of being prideful about our growth in sanctification. Often it is the latter. Often we like to focus on what we have done rather than on what Christ has done in us…and what a colossal difference there is between the two.

Arriving at the Desired Destination April 29, 2015

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“so that I might arrive at the resurrection from the dead.”

(Philippians 3:11)

It seems that the majority of our English translations do us a bit of a theological disservice when rendering this verse. The phrasing that is typically found in our English Bibles is, “that I might attain the resurrection…”. This implies, in contradiction to what Paul has been writing in the previous verses, that somehow this resurrection is something that we participate in earning for ourselves. And such could not be further from the Truth.

The verb in question is katanta/w (katantao), which can refer to the attaining of a goal, but it also refers to the arrival at a desired destination. In the New Testament, this word is most commonly found in the book of Acts (9 of the 13 uses of the term) and it always refers to the arrival of a person at a given destination.

Why is this significant? It is significant because if our resurrection from the dead is based on our works or even on our personal sanctification, we are all hopeless. Paul has already spoken of his own works as dung…how can we even hope to compare? Will we not fall short every time? Yet, while arrival at a desired destination is something with which we participate, it does not rest fully on our shoulders. How often, in ancient times, we find Paul stepping onto a boat as part of his travels, yet when you are on a boat, while you hope for a particular destination, you are at the mercy of the boat’s crews…and the boat’s crew is even at the mercy of the winds and waves. We know too, as Paul sometimes traveled on land, that God guided the travels, protected him from brigands and other terrors on the roadways. Even today, when I get onto an airplane to travel from place to place, while I have a reasonable assurance that I will arrive at my destination safely, I am in the hands of the pilots and the crew. Ultimately, my trust is in the Lord to guide our plane by his hand of providence so that I might arrive at the destination I seek.

Thus, Paul’s desire is to arrive at the destination…the destination of the resurrection from the dead. Here Paul uses the term ejxana/stasiß (exanastasis) rather than simply to use the more common term,  ajna/stasiß (anastasis). This seems to imply a sense of completion — an arrival at more than just the state of being (when it comes to resurrection), but an arrival at the New Creation and a dwelling therein as a resurrected person. For this promise, Paul is willing to let go of anything worldly and to be stripped of anything that would become a stumbling block toward that end.

Our struggle, then, is do we yearn for the destination of heaven so greatly that we care for nothing of this world that might be a stumbling block? I honestly don’t think so. Like Christian, in Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, we are often distracted by the things of Vanity Fair, the discouragement of the Giant Despair, or the fear of the Valley of Death. Yet, what are these things in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that lies ahead of us as believers? What can this world offer that does not pale in comparison? A hunk of glass might look like a diamond to the untrained eye, but under the inspection of the master its forgery is discovered. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that the forgery has value.

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