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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

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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.

Genuine Fellowship February 18, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Thus, I therefore hope to send him at once after I determine what will happen to me and I trust in the Lord that I too will come shortly.”

(Philippians 2:23-24)

What we don’t know for sure is whether or not Paul ever made it back to Philippi. Some scholars argue that he was released from his chains and given freedom to travel again and later arrested and executed (some even argue that Paul made it to Spain during this time). Others argue that this is later in Paul’s life and that he would remain in chains until the day that he was put to death. We simply do not know for sure.

What we do know is of Paul’s longing for fellowship with these believers. And how important that fellowship is. God has not created us to stand alone as Christians; he has created us to stand and be in fellowship with other like-minded believers. And how often we rob ourselves of those blessings.

Yet, Christian fellowship is not just a matter of mutual encouragement and instruction in God’s word; Christian fellowship is meant, in a small sense, to turn back the effects of the Fall. The Fall brought separation and social strata and isolation. Yet in the church there is no black or white, no rich or poor, no weak or powerful; we are brothers and sisters in Christ. In the church one need not struggle with sin alone, but one has other brothers and sisters who will walk alongside you during times of trial. And, when Truth must be upheld and battled for in the culture and community, one does so not as a single person against the world, but as part of a larger body that will battle alongside of you for what is true and right.

With this in mind, several trends in church life have come to grieve me a great deal. The first is a lack of transparency and genuineness amongst the larger body. The second is the trend of people to “church hop,” bouncing from church to church because one person’s preaching is more interesting (or less offensive!) or because one is frustrated with a decision made by the church leadership. And the third is the tendency of people to “pick and choose” what parts of scripture they wish to submit to. People often say, “yea and amen” to a given text, but often do not apply it to their lives and get mad at the church leadership for holding them accountable to the scriptures and to church membership vows. When these things happen, fellowship and what fellowship is meant to point to is undermined.

Like Paul, may we long to nurture a sense of anticipation of the fellowship we have with one another in the body of Christ. May we look to Sunday mornings with anticipation, for here the whole body gathers to worship our great and glorious King, Jesus. And may we yearn for this fellowship to be sincere, striving to live it out in our own practice.

A Good Report February 13, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“And you know his character, how as child of a father he has served with me in the Gospel.”

(Philippians 2:22)

Over the years, between my time as a school teacher/administrator and as a pastor, one of the more enjoyable things that I have had the privilege of doing is to write letters of recommendation for students and former students. Whether they were applying for jobs, to colleges, or for scholarships or other honors, it is always a joy to tell others of the character of one you admire. And this, Paul has been doing on behalf of Timothy — and indeed, based on these words, Timothy has much to live up to, indeed.

Notice too that these words of Paul’s about Timothy are not an empty compliment. Timothy has proved himself to be faithful and useful to Paul by labor, integrity, and sacrifice. It is the laboring of Timothy in faithful service that gives definition and meaning to this statement. Of course, as Christians, we too ought to strive, like Timothy, that the same might one day be said about us not only by those Christians who have mentored us but ultimately by God himself pronouncing the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We certainly do not earn our salvation nor can we ever do enough and sacrifice enough to warrant such a statement from God, but that statement of God takes on meaning in light of the sacrifice and faithfulness of the service for which we strive.

Indeed, let me reassert, we are not saved by or through our works…if works are added to grace then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:5-6). If even one single work is necessary…no matter how small or insignificant seeming…then grace is meaningless. Even if that one work is nothing more than a choice one makes to accept grace, then it is still a work and grace is nullified. Salvation is God’s doing from beginning to end and many of us are brought into the kingdom kicking and screaming…but even if we aren’t, it is still God who brings us. If we seek, it is because God is drawing us to seek Him. Apart from God we are dead in our sins and a dead man can do nothing to help himself. God must first give us life and then we can respond.

That said, we are also called to make our calling and election sure by building on the things that God has begun in us (2 Peter 2:5-11). My challenge to you is to do so in such a way that, like Timothy, a good report will be issued in that day we stand before Christ’s judgment seat.

Are You Pursuing Personal Gain or Serving Christ? February 09, 2015

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“I have no one who is as like-minded, who is sincere in his concern toward you, for all strive after their own aims, not those of Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 2:20-21)

If you recall, towards the beginning of this book, Paul writes that there are many around him preaching the gospel out of pretense and for personal gain; it is clearly these that Paul has in mind when he states that no one but Timothy is of a like mind. For Timothy, this statement is a huge honor, but what a statement of judgment upon those who, well, the others — those whose interests are only their own and not Jesus Christ’s interests. As great a compliment as it must have been for Timothy, what a rebuke for the others.

In a very real sense, though, Paul is setting up two categories of those who serve in the ministry — those that serve themselves and those that serve Jesus Christ. Or perhaps I could put it this way: those that labor and strive to achieve their personal goals and reputation and those that willingly pour themselves out to serve Christ and His church. You want the latter as your pastor, not the former…

Can we not also apply these categories to all believers? Indeed we can. There are many who will fill the pews of a church for their own purposes — the sermons are interesting or make them feel good, the fellowship is enjoyable, their family goes to the church, etc… Yet the reason to go to church is to be equipped to serve Jesus. In addition, the reason to live life is to serve Jesus. No man can have two masters, Jesus taught, we cannot serve Jesus and our own interests at the same time. Whose interests will you serve?

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