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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

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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

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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

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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?

Mentoring, Paul’s Way February 06, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon in order that I may be encouraged by the knowledge of you.”

(Philippians 2:19)

On one level, this is a continuation of the spirit that Paul has been expressing toward the people in Philippi. He holds them in high esteem and with great affection, so surely firsthand news of how they are going, brought to him through Timothy, will encourage his heart while he is in prison. How one mark of the believer is that he (or she) has a sincere desire to know how the church is doing, and a desire to rejoice with the saints (if even from a distance) with their successes. How sad it is when there is either no interest or, the interest is more of a competitive nature where one takes some degree of satisfaction in the struggles of another congregation.

On another level, we might also speak of the language that Paul uses when he speaks of how he hopes to send Timothy to them. He does not speak generically of hope, but places his hope in the Lord Jesus. This echoes James’ language when he speaks of doing this or that, “Lord willing” (James 4:13-15), remembering that God is sovereign not over our salvation, but over all of the occasions of our lives and over the opportunities that we may or may not receive. He numbers our days and we cannot move either to the right or to the left without God’s sovereign permission in our lives.

Yet, I do believe that the most significant notion in these words is that of Timothy’s role as a surrogate visitor for Paul to Philippi. We have already seen that Timothy has been mentioned as being present with Paul while he is here in prison and most of us know of the close relationship that these two men had as mentor and student. Even so, Paul is willing to send Timothy to the church, depriving himself of the comfort of Timothy’s presence, so that news might be brought from the church in Philippi.

Remember, these were times when news (and people) did not travel as fast as it does today. A departure by Timothy would not be a short event but likely would have lasted even for months (depending on the seasons and storms brewing). Yet, Paul was willing to make such a sacrifice for said knowledge. But more than that, for Timothy was essentially the one into whose hands Paul’s ministry would fall. Here Paul is preparing to send Timothy out to this church to minister to them on his behalf, essentially placing this responsibility on Timothy’s shoulders.

And that is the heart of mentoring. How often as leaders, employees, coaches, and even as parents we want to micromanage the lives of those we are leading or mentoring along so that everything goes smoothly and that they don’t make the mistakes that we made as we learned. Now, while I agree that I do not wish for my children (for example) to make many of the mistakes that I made when younger, we must always recognize often we learn more through our mistakes than we learn through our successes. Many of the mistakes we made getting to where we are now are mistakes that, in God’s providence, have guided us to where we are now. Certainly, there are mistakes that no one should make and only by the grace of God were we brought through them — these we should guide others away from — but other mistakes, when made, do not need to be the end of all things, but can be turned into a learning experience from which maturity can develop. Paul does not micromanage Timothy; similarly, we should not micromanage those whom we mentor.

Sacrifice February 04, 2015

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“In the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”

(Philippians 2:18)

The notion of sacrifice is so alien to our culture in the western world that this verse needs to be emphasized as well as the previous one. It is one thing to make a personal decision to pour oneself out even unto death for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. Yet it is entirely another thing to be prepared to rejoice when one that you love is doing so. How quick become filled with worry for others when those we care about make such a decision.

My favorite missionary from history is a man named John Paton. John discerned a calling from God to travel to the New Hebrides Islands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The problem? The tribes that lived on the islands were cannibals and had already slain (and eaten!) one group of missionaries who had traveled to that island group. When John announced that he would be going to Tana Island in the New Hebrides, a member in his congregation sought to change his mind. “But they will eat you!” said the man to John. John’s reply echoes the spirit of the Apostle Paul in this chapter; John said, “But when you die and they put your body in the ground, worms will eat you! Whether worms of cannibals, what difference does it make if I am serving God?”

How often, our response to those who are ready to pour out their lives for the Gospel is to tell them they need to pull back. How sad it would be if they were to die young, having spent themselves for the glory of God. How often it is counseled to young ministers that they need to slow down and pace themselves so they don’t burn out and so that they can have long ministries until they are ready to retire comfortably in old age. While I have no desire to disparage those to whom God has given a long and healthy ministry and have been able, in their old age, to look back and see how the hand of God was moving through them, we should be ready to “spend and be spent” for the Gospel, as John Wesley put it. And we should rejoice with those who have such a commitment.

As I write these words, my mind also thinks of those brothers and sisters of ours who come to faith in Muslim areas and who often face terrible repercussions for their conversion…many even losing their lives. Yet, would we be content to not evangelize them? Would we think that for them to live a healthy comfortable life here on earth is worth their losing their soul in Hell? Where a trade off needs to be made — comfort in this life or comfort in the next — which will we choose for others or for ourselves? Though we may live a hundred years on earth, what is that in comparison to eternity in glory? We place such weight in the here and now that we often lose perspective on the eternal. Rejoice, beloved, in the things that God has done in you but also rejoice and be glad for those that God has privileged to have their lives extinguished in the proclaiming of the Gospel. Grapple to taste just a bit of God’s eternal perspective rather than to be satisfied with the passing perspective of earth.

The Pastor’s Heart January 27, 2015

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“But even if I am made a drink offering over the sacrifice and worship of your faith, I rejoice — also, I rejoice with all of you!”

(Philippians 2:17)

Here, in Paul, we find the heart of a true pastor. His heart is laid forth that even if his very life is poured out from his veins as a drink offering as a means by which the faith of the people is built up, Paul would gladly do so. Paul will use this language again in 2 Timothy 4:6 as he closes in on that time when the Romans will put him to death on account of the Gospel…this is a man who is quite prepared to die so that those under his care might have true life. As David gladly fought lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-36) to protect the sheep in his charge, so too, Paul gladly fights the forces of the enemy, the devil, to protect his charge, even if it means laying down his own life.

While, as pastors in the western world, we are rarely (if ever) confronted with a situation where we might have to put our lives on the line to preserve a member of our flock, we are often called upon to make other sacrifices for the wellbeing and care of the sheep that God has placed in our care. Yet, how often the “professional clergy” fail to do this. How often, pastors sacrifice the wellbeing of their congregation to advance their own ends or their own reputation in the community or world. How often do we see pastors using a church as a means to an end (whether bouncing from church to church in hopes of bigger churches with bigger salaries or by manipulating the sympathies of the people in the congregation to gain gifts or other benefits).

Beloved, those who seek to use their congregation as a platform to serve their own ends are not serving as pastors. Pastors who are not willing to be poured out even as a drink offering for the strengthening of the faith of the congregation do not have the heart of Paul. As I was told many years ago by another pastor and as I have told many times to others, the pastorate is not a job; it is a lifestyle. We do not punch a clock at the end of the day; we are not given the luxury of not coming in because it is our “day off,” and we are by no means ever amongst those who can leave their job “at work.” We live our calling day in and day out and if we are unwilling to do so, we are unfit for the call.

Does that mean that pastors should resign their pastorate because they have lived poorly in this way? There are many who should. What it means is that, in understanding this great truth, we should repent. And all of us have room to repent daily for none of us fully lives up to the model set before us by Paul…and if not Paul, how far we are from the model Christ set before us. And, if you are not called to be a pastor, but the pastor that God has placed over you is not being faithful in this, do not set out with pitchforks and torches, but approach him in love and grace and encourage him in love to fulfill his calling. Sometimes, in the warp and woof of life, it is easy to be distracted from one’s first love by the busyness that can so consume our days. We all fall woefully short; praise God that there is forgiveness found in Christ.

Satisfaction January 26, 2015

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Philippians.
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“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”

(Philippians 2:16)

There are many things in which we can take satisfaction. We can find satisfaction in a hard day’s work. We can find satisfaction in a good meal or in a good book. We often find satisfaction in watching our children grow and mature, living as they ought. We can go on in our list and all of these things are good, but Paul presents us with another aspect of satisfaction…or another thing in which we ought to take satisfaction…that of watching those you have mentored stand strong in their faith. And for Paul, it is not just that he is taking satisfaction that they are living faithfully now…but he prays that in the end, when Jesus returns and brings all deeds both good and evil into judgment, that they will be still standing in that day.

I spent a number of years teaching Bible to High School students and repeatedly, I would set down for them a principle that I think echoes what Paul is speaking of in this verse. I would tell them that if they studied there was no reason that they could not earn an “A” on any given exam that I might set before them or on any assignment that they might have. At the same time, getting an “A” in a course I might teach was not the measure to see whether or not you did well in my class. I would go on to say that the real measure of whether you did well in my class is whether or not in 15 years, 50 years, 70 years, and on their deathbed they were still living out their faith. “If you get an ‘A’ in my class,” I would say, “but do not live your life out in faith, you are the one who failed because you have not understood what I am teaching.” I would go on, “But, if you struggle to pass my class but live out a life of faith until your dying day, you are the success.” Paul wants the Philippians to be a success — not just in Paul’s here and now — but for all of the days in their life so that he might take satisfaction in them and be assured that his labors on their behalf were not in vain (at least from a human perspective).

Beloved, don’t just take satisfaction in earthly things (work done, a meal served, etc…), take satisfaction in eternal things…one of which being the walking in faith of those whom you have mentored. May one day, when our Lord returns, we see the fruit of our labors and be humbled by the way that God has seen fit to use us.

Clinging to the Word of Life January 23, 2015

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“clinging to the Word of Life, that I will be satisfied in the day of Christ that I did not run in vain nor did I labor in vain.”

(Philippians 2:16)

Much can be said from these words of Paul, but I want to focus first on the initial words which follow the statement in the previous verse. What is the way in which we live our lives in a way that is blameless and pure? The answer is that we must do so clinging to the Word of Life. It is the Bible that provides us with every standard by which we may know the life we are to strive to live. It is the Bible that gives us wisdom and discernment for the decisions we make. And it is the Bible that records all of the promises of God that will give us the courage to live the way we are called to live…that is if we trust the Bible.

But Paul doesn’t simply say for us to trust the Bible. He says we are to cling to it like one might cling to the edge of a great cliff lest we fall to our doom on the valley floor below. This clinging is a life or death clinging. These scriptures for us are our very life (Deuteronomy 32:47). For we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3). And it is not only our calling to live by them, but to speak of this word to others at every opportunity and no matter the cost (Acts 5:20).

Yet, how many professing Christians reject this word that God gives to us…or at least pick and choose that which they want to follow and that which they wish to ignore. Selective hearing does not an obedient follower make.

Thus, friends, set the Word of God before you, which is God’s Word of Life. Do so in all things and in every way. Let it guide your steps and do not deviate to the right or to the left from that which it instructs and commands. Let the Word of God guide your speech and your attitudes as well as your reasoning. Do not let any idea into your life except through the sieve of the Scriptures. It will always prove faithful and reliable…cling to it for it is your very life.

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