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The Reality of Grace in You July 28, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, particularly the ones in Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with your spirit.”

(Philippians 4:21-23)

And thus the Apostle Paul concludes his letter to the Philippian church. As we noted at the beginning of these reflections, Paul is writing from Rome during that time when he is in prison, awaiting his trial before Caesar. Yet, these words remind us that he has been busy as well, for there are many Christians attending to him in prayer and fellowship, even some believers who are in Caesar’s household. The greetings of believers, no matter where they are from, is always a sweet thing.

The final words is both a common “benediction” at the close of Paul’s letters (see 2 Corinthians 13:14 and Philemon 25) as well as a statement of assurance that God’s grace is with these saints in Philippi. Grace can only come from God himself, but the actions of the church affirm that reality. This it is both a wish and a statement of affirmation. May such be said for all of our churches.

To God be the Glory! July 24, 2015

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

(Philippians 4:19-20)

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

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

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

Finances and Visits July 22, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I have all I need, even in abundance. I have been fully provided for, having received from Epaphroditus that which was from you, a fragrant offering — a pleasing sacrifice — acceptable to God.”

(Philippians 4:18)

I think that we need not emphasize once again the significance of Paul being satisfied with whatever provision God had provided him and being grateful for the blessings sent to him through the church in Philippi. He was not a man who was always “wanting more” (apart from of the Spirit); he was a man who desired to serve and who trusted that God would provide for his physical needs.

Many of our translations have taken to rendering the first word of this verse as, “I have received payment…” or something akin to that. The Greek word in question is ajpe/cw (apecho). While the term can refer to receiving payment for goods or services offered, it can also refer to having enough to meet one’s needs at the moment — context simply determines how the word is used. Given all of the language that Paul has employed across the preceding verses, it seems odd for him to change gears and start talking about making payments, thus here I have chosen to render it as “I have all I need.”

Americans have gotten accustomed to throwing more money at a difficult situation in the belief that all problems are caused by a lack of funding. Please do not misunderstand, neither I nor Paul are saying that financial gifts are unimportant. Oftentimes those financial gifts, when rightly applied, can go a long way. At the same time, blindly throwing money in a given direction is often foolish and wasteful. And instead of just sending money in Paul’s direction, they sent money with Epaphroditus, a faithful believer and representative of the church, not only so that Epaphroditus could ensure that the funds arrived safely, but so that Epaphroditus could minister to Paul and serve alongside of him for a season. As we read the text of this letter, it is clear that while Paul has appreciated the financial support, what he valued most is the partnership in ministry that the presence of Epaphroditus represents.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if each of our churches that support missionaries with our finances, would have people from the church who were committed not only to praying for the missionaries but also who were committed to making an occasional visit to the missionaries as they serve on the field to work alongside of them, engaging in the ministry. Not only would it encourage the missionary workers, but it would also strengthen the vision of the congregation toward missions…reminding people that our work does not end at the borders of our communities…but that we are to make disciples of every nation. Indeed, perhaps in doing so, the missionary update letters back to our congregations might start looking more like Paul’s letter to the Philippians than a form letter that gets sent out to those who fund the missionary’s work.

True Ministers vs. Prosperity Ministers July 21, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Not that I seek out the gift, but I seek out the fruit which abounds to your reckoning.”

(Philippians 4:17)

Here is the difference between Paul and the prosperity ministers of every age. Both receive the gift of the faithful gladly, but Paul is clear that seeking out the gift is not his intention; the prosperity ministers of todays age and every age are blatant in their seeking of the gift. Paul accepts the gift not because it will bring him comfort, but that he can use the gift to further the Gospel. The ministers of the prosperity gospel do seek their own comfort and revel in it. In receiving the gift, Paul is essentially giving it away for the building up of the kingdom; prosperity ministers keep the gift…to borrow the language of Jude, they are shepherds who only feed themselves (Jude 12).

But how is there a reckoning that is applied to us? Do we really earn merit from God? Not in the sense that you are likely thinking, we do not. Surely the most we can apply to ourselves is that we are unworthy servants (Luke 17:10). At the same time, being faithful with what you have and using it for the kingdom is a mark of a true believer (Matthew 25:40). Further, those who are faithful with the small things that are entrusted to them in this life will be given more responsibility (in this life — Matthew 25:21; Luke 16:10). Thus, the reckoning is that this church has been faithful in the work to which has been given to them not only in Philippi but also in the broader ministry of Paul the Apostle (and perhaps even others!). And the honor due their faithfulness will not be taken from them.

The question remains as to what motivates and drives each of us. Do we earn and gather money and gifts for our own comfort or to build the kingdom? Do we look inwardly and seek comfort or do we look outwardly and sacrifice the things of comfort for the spread of the Gospel? The latter is not an option for us if we are Christians. The bottom line is that God has called us to a task and that task is not one of personal comfort. Plus, why should we settle for the comforts of this fallen world? Of what account are they in comparison to the glories of heaven?

Be the Body July 08, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Nevertheless, your work was beneficial in sharing the tribulation with me.”

(Philippians 4:44)

While affliction…tribulation…is often a tool that God uses to refine his people and his church, the scriptures also insist that we not seek to do so alone. Part of the reason for being a part of the body of Christ is that when one portion suffers the others are able to walk alongside of the one who is hurting and minister to them. Whether this is a result of tragedy, trial, grief, challenges, etc…, this is one of the tasks to which the church must rightly apply itself. As Paul writes, when one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Though separated by distance, this church sought to live this principle out along with the Apostle Paul…and not just as a matter of principle once Paul was arrested, but as Paul will later write, throughout his whole ministry. And their compassion for Paul was sincere; a matter of love, not a matter of duty.

For all the emphasis that Paul places on the believer imitating him as he imitates Christ; this church also leaves us a wonderful model to follow: be a body not just with those in the pew, but also with your pastors and missionaries. Rejoice with them when there is reason to rejoice, but weep with them when there is cause for grief and suffer with them when suffering and tribulation arise. Minister to those who minister to you and serve them who serve you. Be the body, don’t just talk about it.

Initiated into Excellence and Failure July 07, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I also know how to be humbled and I know how to excel. In anything and in everything I have been initiated. Either food or hunger, excellence or failure, I can do all things in the one who strengthens me.”

(Philippians 4:12-13)

I expect that it is a fair statement to say that Philippians 4:13 is one of the most misquoted verses of the Bible. This passage is not stating that I can win an NFL contract just because I have faith (truly, I don’t have the skills!) nor is it even stating that Paul can be content in all things, though that statement is closer; the difference being that contentment often implies a degree of acceptance toward one’s situation.

In context, Paul has been stating that there is no circumstance that he fears — whether hunger or an abundance of food — whether success at what he does or failure (at least by human standards) — that he can face all of these things in the power of the one who strengthens him…namely, Jesus Christ.

How often we are tempted to judge success and failure solely on human terms. I recall when I began doing homeless ministry while in seminary, we initially envisioned that we would see revival on the streets of Jackson, MS. We didn’t and the temptation was to be discouraged. At the same time, God used this experience along with our initial setbacks and failures, to teach us an important lesson. My success or failure is not found in numbers nor is it found in terms of one’s fame or reputation; my success is found in whether or not I am being faithful to what God is calling me to do. Regardless of the fruit I see around me, the fruit that is most important is the fruit of my own obedience.

And that, loved ones, is the heart of Paul’s message in these words. The important thing is obedience. And if we face hunger or abundance, human success or failure, whether we are humbled or lifted up…the question that we must ask ourselves is whether we are being faithful to God’s call upon our lives. If we are being faithful, we can face all of these things that the world might throw at us in the strength of the Spirit. If we are not faithful, these things (even human success) will crush us under their weight.

A note should be made in terms of the word “initiated” as Paul uses it. This is the Greek word mue/w (mueo), which is understood to refer to being initiated into or made part of a group of people. The term is only found here in the New Testament, but is also found in 3 Maccabees 2:30 where it is used to refer to one who has learned the rules for living within a particular community. Today, we often use the term “initiate” to refer to one’s entrance into a secret fraternity or organization, but that is not so much the way the term was used in Paul’s era. In Paul’s era it referred to one who was not new to a given lifestyle…Paul was no amateur at ministry and in doing so, had faced plenty and hunger and he had faced successes and failures. Yet, Paul persevered in the strength of the Spirit. That is what it means to say that he had been initiated. Indeed, we should not forget that our Lord, too, endured both good times and bad times, successes and times of great humiliation and suffering, yet was infinitely faithful to the task for which he had been sent — and praise the Lord for that success!

Concern and Contentment July 03, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“So, I rejoice in the Lord greatly for even now you have blossomed in your thoughts for me. You did think about me, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I am in poverty, I have learned in everything to be self-sufficient.”

(Philippians 4:10-11)

I have ranted more than a few times in this series of reflections about our modern Bible translator’s tendency to express the idea of thinking and reasoning in terms of feelings and emotion. In verse 10 the word in question is frone/w (phroneo), which means to think or to form a reasoned opinion. Yet, as we have often seen, the ESV, the NIV, and the NASB have chosen to use the term “concern” and the KJV and NKJV have used the words “care.” While it is most certainly true, given all that Paul has already written, that when the Philippians thought about Paul and about his situation, these thoughts did evoke concern, that is an inference from the text, not what Paul wrote. Further, while we might also argue that concern should be considered a thoughtful activity, in our culture it often is nothing more than an emotional response to difficult events in the lives of those around us. So, concern is not out of line, yet the concern that is being expressed is a thoughtful concern based on reasoning through the situation their beloved friend, Paul, was in.

The last clause in verse 10 is a little awkward in English. What does it mean that they did think about Paul but lacked opportunity? The Greek word that is translated as “opportunity” is ajkaire/omai (akaireomai), which refers to the time or opportunity to act upon something. In this case, to act upon what they perceived that Paul had need of while Paul was in prison. So, he is saying that he is aware that they had been thinking of him all along, but now, in sending Epaphroditus with their love gift, they had opportunity and acted upon the thoughts that they had.

Paul reminds them that he has not been utterly impoverished but in all things he has learned to be self-sufficient (he has a marketable trade that he often used to provide for his own needs). Many of our Bibles, again, translate this as “content,” conveying that in all situations Paul knows how to be content in his trust for God…that is certainly what is being communicated in the two verses that follow this one…but not so much here. This term only shows up once here in the New Testament, but also shows up 5 times in the Apocrypha as well as once in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which helps us to discern its meaning. Literally, the term aujta/rkhß (autarkas) is derived from the Greek words aujto/ß (autos — or self) and ajrke/w (arkeo — meaning to be satisfied or to have that which is sufficient for one’s needs) — thus, “self-sufficient” as has been suggested by some scholars.

When looking at the Old Testament and Apocryphal uses of the term, it seems to be used in one of two ways, either to refer to being satisfied with the provision given (content) or that of being able to endure hardships. Thus, the idea of contentment is a legitimate translation of the term as reflected in most of our modern translations. At the same time, one must ask why Paul what Paul is doing during these times of hardship — namely, we know that he is working to provide for his needs (see Acts 18:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 11:9). One might argue that I am inferring just as I charged many of our translators of doing when they rendered “think” as “concern” above, and that charge would be accurate were the literal meaning of the term not before us, which reflects the idea of self-sufficiency.

The purpose of this point is not to parse hairs but to illustrate that Christian contentment does not mean that we sit back and just rest in whatever circumstances we may happen to be in. No, as a Christian, when we are in need (real need that is), we should strive to meet that need with the skills that we have or even by learning new skills.

In many cases, Christian missionaries were expected to learn a trade before they went onto the mission field. It was a means by which they could support themselves in the context and culture that they were ministering. For many small Christian churches today, pastors are bi-vocational, providing the majority of their own financial needs through a trade while serving a church that is not in a position to support them (this I did in my first calling right out of seminary). It is certainly the right of the pastor to have his needs provided by his flock (1 Corinthians 9:18, 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but because of the needs of the congregation, it is also his right to refuse that compensation. Too often Christians fall into the trap that conveys almost a poverty mindset — God will provide so I can be content! Indeed, God does provide, but often he provides through the sweat of our brow and the labor of our hands. In the end, we need to be content, but recognize that often our contentment comes through work.

Active Learning July 01, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“Those things that you have learned and taken and heard and seen in me, engage in these things. And the God of Peace will be with you.”

(Philippians 4:9)

The idea of the disciple being an imitator of Christ by being an imitator of Paul is a theme that we have already seen in Philippians and that is common to Paul’s writings. But notice just how specific Paul is when he speaks of this here. Paul speaks of those things that the Philippian church has learned from him — their reception of Paul’s verbal instructions is in sight here. He goes on to speak of that which they have taken from him. Some of our Bibles render this as “received,” which is an equally legitimate rendering of the Greek word paralamba/nw (paralambano). I prefer to translate this as “take” in the context of learning, though, for while “receive” can be understood in a more passive sense, “take” is always understood in a more active way. It is not good enough to passively receive the instruction that Paul offers, but we must be prepared to actively engage with the ideas that Paul presents and apply those ideas to our lives and situations. Further, Paul says to learn even from those things that have been seen and heard in him.

Paul goes on and says, all that has been learned in this sense…it is this that the people of the church are to live out in their lives. For many professing Christians, faith is practiced in a more passive sense. Yet, Biblical faith is lived out in every aspect of one’s life. For many more professing Christians, the corporate worship of God’s people begins when they walk through the church doorway on Sunday mornings. Yet, imagine how different our witness would be if we saw all of the week as a time of preparation for that Sunday service of worship? Think about how much more people would get out of the service and the sermon if Christians spent the night before praying that God would help them understand both the Word and its application in the Sunday message — and then if they took notes and actively tried to live out those things that were applied from the text! Oh my, would our churches and our public witness be radically different if we engaged in this way.

So, what of this language of the God of Peace? Often peace, when referred to in this way, refers to peace from the oppression of evil. And, while the enemy will attack at every corner when the Church is faithfully being the church, God will be faithful as well and preserve his own even in the midst of trials and tribulations. So, be of good cheer, learn from Paul’s words and example and live out those things in life and while the enemy will be relentless, God is infinitely greater than all the power at the enemy’s disposal.

Think on These Things June 30, 2015

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“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

There is one more aspect of Paul’s counsel to us here that we need to dwell upon…something of which we have spoken repeatedly throughout this letter that Paul writes. Paul writes of these things that are good and holy and praiseworthy and states that we must think on these things. Paul does not speak of how these things might make us feel or of how these things might move us. He says that we are to think on these matters — we are to reason them through and apply our minds in an orderly way to the ideas conveyed within that which is good and holy and praiseworthy.

The word that Paul uses here is logi/zomai (logizomai), and it means to come to a conclusion through a rational process. It refers to the notion of looking at all of the options that vie for our attention in a given area, to ponder them in our minds, and then to come to a reasoned decision about them. This is not a matter of feeling or of good wishes; this is not a matter of what emotions some experience might stir up within me; this is a matter of reasoned thought.

And if there is something that the church has abandoned over the past several decades, it is reason. Often worship services are all about how one feels. Often worship is only understood in the context of those happy songs that might be sung and one neglects that sitting under the instruction of God’s Word is also a vital aspect of worship. One also often forgets, when only the bouncy, happy songs are sung, that the Prophet-King, David, wrote more laments than he did bouncy-happy songs (not a surprise when you think about the fallen world in which we live!).

Even when it comes to doctrine…which simply is taken from the Latin word, doctrina, which means, “teaching,” people fail to use their reason. Every new idea is evaluated on the basis of preference and the feeling that it evokes rather than evaluating ideas as one rigorously reasons through the Word of God. This reasoning about the Word of God was the practice of the wise Bereans when Paul first showed up in their city (Acts 17:10-12). Shall this not be our practice as well? Woe to the church today that only moves only on the basis of their passions. Woe to the church whose feelings and emotions rule over their minds. For God has not called us to feel these things, he has called us to reason about them…to think them through…and to govern our passions with our minds and what we know is right.

There is no doubt that emotions have their place in the Christian life. God has made us with every expression of life that we attribute to the passions. Yet, the place of the passions is to be governed by the mind. The passions must be reminded by the mind what is right and true or the passions will descend into utter despair and irrationality. The mind must also defend the passions against the seduction of feeling, at least in the way feelings are often manipulated by those leading in worship or worse, from those leading into hedonistic error.

Further, the church in the west has dominantly bought the lie that there is a separation between our spiritual life and the life we live in every other context. The lie states that while reason is reserved for non-spiritual matters. Some even fear that they will lose their faith if they reason about what that which they say they believe! “If it makes you content and fulfilled,” the lie of the enemy states, “go on and have your religion, but keep it out of the marketplace.”

Yet, I tell you that Paul says that we ought to reason about our beliefs and further, if we do, it will mature and strengthen the beliefs we have! Further, Paul tells us that our religion belongs in the marketplace — do you not think that while Paul was making tents in Corinth that he was not “reasoning with” those for whom he made tents, to show the Jew that Jesus was the Christ from the scriptures and to show the Greek that Jesus was ultimately the reasonable redeemer whom we all need? Dear ones, do not give up on your minds. Do not “blindly believe” what is taught in church or in the Bible, but believe because you have reasoned them through, guided and instructed by the whole council of God. “Think on these things,” Paul says, and it will help keep you from error.

Studying God’s Honor June 22, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”

(Philippians 4:8)

Though in English the words praise and praiseworthy come from the same root, Paul employs two different words here in the Greek to emphasize his point. We already spoke above about that which is worthy of praise, as he closes this verse, he is speaking of that which generates admiration or approval within us. When applied to humans, this word is sometimes translated as “fame,” but perhaps honor is a better term. Towards God, it reflects the notion of giving praise and honor to His name (see Philippians 1:11).

All of that which Paul speaks about culminates in this…honoring God. It is this notion that drives our sanctification and our life as believers. Yet how often we choose to set our minds and thoughts on other things during the day, during the weeks, and during the years. How often we set our affections on the things of this world rather than on the one who is most worthy of our honor.

It has long been my position that while most relationships begin in the shared experiences that people have with one another; lasting and mature relationships make a transition. Instead of falling in love with the person through the things that are done together we fall in love with the person because of who they are — their attributes and personalities and things like this. Genuine love and relationship with God is nurtured in the same way. We may begin our relationship with God through a deliverance from sin, through a grace that was given, or through a recognition of our own wicked and fallen state. Yet don’t stop the relationship there, because the relationship you have with God will mature as you grow deeper in your understanding of God’s character as revealed in his Word.

Thus, spend time focusing on a character trait of God. He is love, he is Truth, he is a God of justice and grace. God is creative and powerful and while loving toward his own, he pours out his wrath upon the wicked. Think on these things. Study how God reveals these character traits of his in the Scriptures. Pursue him through his character. And note too, Paul’s language…think on these things. God has given us minds to understand; he expects us to use our minds to understand his character as he reveals it. Such an understanding will draw us closer to him but such an understanding will also draw us away from the things of the world that distract and pull us away from godliness.

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