Category Archives: Philippians

A Non-Anxious Presence in an Anxious World

Christianity Today (September ’16) featured the findings of a LifeWay Research survey that asked 2,000 people who do NOT attend church what would draw them to one. The results were revealing:

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Skye Jethani, on the Phil Vischer Podcast, insightfully asked the following question while discussing this survey: What does it say about our deepest concerns and highest societal values that the number one draw for people to darken the doors of our churches would be a community meeting on neighborhood safety?  I think it reinforces the fact that we live in a fear-mongering, paranoid culture where many feel uneasy, afraid, anxious about our safety and we are committed to providing safer environments in which to live and raise our children.

No doubt, these are troubling times. Global terror has become a threat on our own shores, in our own cities. Mass school shootings are too common. Racial tensions are high and there’s a growing lack of trust in those called to protect us (e.g., police officers). I heard a radio ad today warn me that a home burglary happens every 16 seconds and I ought to invest in home security cameras to alert my smart phone every time anyone steps onto my property.

But I have a newsflash: Threats to human safety is not a new thing! Ever since the first the crafty serpent trespassed in the Garden of Eden, human beings have been at risk for theft, personal harm, pain and suffering. We live in a fallen world.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians addresses anxiety head on. Now, its important to remember he didn’t write from a comfortable office at the city hall calling a meeting on neighborhood safety. He wrote the following words from a dirty prison cell, probably bandaged from unjust beatings, and his own life hanging in the balance. (He would be put to death by beheading eventually.)

His audience were living in far more troubling times than we. They were facing far harsher persecutions and had far more to fear than we do. So, with this background in mind and with our own society’s epidemic of fear, anxiety and general uneasiness on the front page of our consciousness, let’s read one of Paul’s most famous passages:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

Overfamiliarity breeds unfamiliarity. We’ve read this so many times as to now gloss over it without really grasping the profound message. Don’t let this passage become watered down Christianese or an empty cliche. Let it ring out fresh today, and let its rich contents wash over your troubled, anxious, fearful and comfort-seeking soul.  Continue reading A Non-Anxious Presence in an Anxious World

PHILIPPIANS 32: Think On These Things (4:8-9)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8-9).

The presence of the Holy Spirit in our life should affect our sensibilities.  Growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom should gradually affect our desires. I remember a rather sudden awakening of new desires, passions and sensibilities when I became an active disciple of Jesus in college. (I still don’t know if this was the moment I was truly “born again.”)

  • I quickly developed an new interest in reading and relishing God’s Word. I was bored stiff prior this experience.
  • I became acutely aware of lukewarm Christians who were going through the motions but lacked a genuine passion for the things of God.  I grew very lonely because I knew very few people who shared my newfound obsession with God. (I went through a funny phase where I spent my Friday nights alone in my apartment watching every Bible-related, Jesus movie I could find. I was baffled why my college roommates weren’t really interested in joining me.) Unfortunately I also became quite impatient and even judgmental during this season.
  • More to the point of this particular passage, I quickly grew more sensitive to what the Bible calls “worldly” behavior and all the ways we’re prone to “gratify the desires of the flesh.”  My conscience was awakened and began to take seriously such teachings as Ephesians 6:3-4:  “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

I remember one particular crisis of conscience like it was yesterday. A bunch of my college buddies went to see a movie together. Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 32: Think On These Things (4:8-9)

PHILIPPIANS 31: Don’t Worry, Be Happy (4:4-7)

rembrandt-apostle_paul1“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:4-7).

If believers begin to experience the indwelling power and transforming effect of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they will begin to taste a joy that transcends one’s particular circumstances.  Remember Paul is writing from prison to believers being threatened and persecuted by the power brokers of the Roman Empire.  Still, Paul urges Christians to rejoice (it is an imperative).  He repeats himself followed by his concern for their witness to the onlooking world.  As people observe these followers of Jesus what do we want them to see in our lives?  Here’s how one commentary addresses it:

“Joy, unmitigated, untrammeled joy, is–or at least should be–the distinctive mark of the believer in Christ Jesus. The wearing of black and the long face, which so often came to typify some later expressions of Christian piety, are totally foreign to Paul’s version; Paul the theologian of grace is equally the theologian of joy. Christian joy does not come and go with one’s circumstances; rather it is predicated altogether on one’s relationship with the Lord and is thus an abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life” (IVP New Testament Commentary).

This “abiding, deeply spiritual quality of life” is rooted in the conviction that “The Lord is near” — both in the sense that (a) His comforting presence is nearby when we call out in “prayer and petition” during anxiety-inducing circumstances and (b) in the eschatological sense of his imminent Second Coming to make all things right. Jesus is our example again here. Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 31: Don’t Worry, Be Happy (4:4-7)

PHILIPPIANS 30: I Plead with You Whom I Love (4:1-3)

rembrandt-apostle_paul1“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Phil 4:1-3)

Paul is bringing his thoughts to a conclusion at last as we near the end of his letter — “that is how you should stand firm in the Lord…dear friends” (v. 1). His words are saturated with emotion and heartfelt good will — “you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown.”  We’re reminded again that this is a personal letter of pastoral nature and real, actual human lives are the focus. How often do we read the Bible as stale depositories of truth and Christian principles?  I love the raw humanity that ooze through Paul’s writings.

Paul takes an opportunity to make it very personal as he mentions two individuals who are not seeing eye to eye.  As one commentary says, Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 30: I Plead with You Whom I Love (4:1-3)

PHILIPPIANS 29: Follow My Example (3:17-21)

rembrandt-apostle_paul1“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:17-21).

When we’re children we’re encouraged to find good role models to emulate.  When we grow up we still do well to have godly people whose faith and virtue we try to follow.  Interestingly, however, we might question the humility of a person who boldly tells an entire community of believers, “Join with others in following my example” (v. 17).  But this is precisely Paul’s invitation above.  “Follow me!”  And I think to myself, “How arrogant and rude!”  But perhaps I’m missing his point altogether.

Upon further reflection I believe Paul is not primarily lifting up himself as the example to follow but rather drawing their attention to “the pattern we gave you” (v. 17). In other words, Paul urges people to follow his example insofar as his own conduct aligns with this same pattern of life. So, where does this pattern originate?   Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 29: Follow My Example (3:17-21)

PHILIPPIANS 28: Growing into Spiritual Adulthood (3:16)

rembrandt-apostle_paul11“Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.” (Phil 3:16).

There is a lot going on in this single verse. Paul is summing up a long, sustained argument (or lesson, if you prefer) on the essence of the Christian faith which involves, among other things, growing to full spiritual maturity through a lifelong process of imitating Christ’s example.  Remember the basics so far?

1. CHRISTIAN FORMATION IS A LIFE LONG PROCESS. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6).

2. THE GOAL IS TO BE CONFORMED TO CHRIST. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who…” (2:5).

3. THIS PROCESS INVOLVES PARTNERING WITH GOD (SYNERGY). “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (2:12-13).

4. GOD GIVES US A NEW PASSION & FOCUS. “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (3:8).

Paul is first and foremost a pastor.  Every pastor must grasp one simple but crucial truth of soul care: Everybody is at different places in their spiritual development.  Spiritual maturity is very similar to biological maturity.  There are newborn babes in the faith. There are elementary level folks just grasping the basics — the ABCs of faith. There are rowdy, rough around the edges spiritual adolescents with a fire in their belly and the determination to conquer the world for Christ.  There are older, wiser Christian adults much further along in their faith development — having been tested, strengthened and humbled by the trials of life.  Paul clearly grasps this truth, even if we often forget.

What can we learn from Paul in this verse then? Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 28: Growing into Spiritual Adulthood (3:16)

PHILIPPIANS 27: No Turning Back Now (3:12-15)

rembrandt-apostle_paul11“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us” (Phil 3:12-15 Message).

I remember well the 5K Cross Country meets of high school — the anticipation, the starting gun, the 3.1 miles of agony, self-discipline, pain, sickness, competition, endurance, sense of accomplishment, victory or defeat. CC runners have always prided themselves on the confused looks and baffled comments of fellow classmates who cannot imagine why anyone in their right mind would want to subject their bodies to such a seemingly miserable kind of sport. Still, those who’ve experienced some of the rewards — usually intangible — that come with this sort of personal challenge and physical test know that there is something special, something powerfully meaningful in starting, enduring and finishing a race.

The apostle Paul seems to be drawing from the imagery of an athletic race of sorts. The Christian life is a test of spiritual endurance as we fix our eyes upon the goal ahead. Paul makes it very clear that he’s still got a lot of road ahead of him. He’s well out of the gate and has plenty of miles already under his belt. The Christian race is not a 5K but marathon for sure. It’s a long, arduous challenge with many chances to throw in the towel and call it quits. But Paul is no quitter and his attitude provides a great example for us to follow in our own race towards that finish line that awaits us.

What can we learn from this passage about the race and how to run it? Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 27: No Turning Back Now (3:12-15)

PHILIPPIANS 26: My Interview with Apostle Paul (3:10-12)

rembrandt-apostle_paul1“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead. I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Phil 3:10-12 NLT)!

What do you want most out of life? What life experiences do you value most so far?  What gets you up every morning to face another day?  Many would say they want happiness, a meaningful career, a healthy family and so on in this life.  Many would want to experience adventure, joy and fulfillment, love and romance, fun and friendship. These are all wonderful gifts of God and worth praying for and pursuing with your life. Yet, Paul’s all-consuming passion and desires have a way of making our lives seem…well…shall we say less faith-filled and Christ-centered?  

This realization should not shame us but rather to inspire us to desire a life that is even more saturated with the life, death and resurrection power of Christ.  Let’s listen in on a short interview I had with Paul the other day as he answers the above questions. 

JEREMY: Paul, what do you want above all in this life?  

PAUL: That’s an easy one. I want to really know Christ. 

JEREMY: Of course. We all want to have a relationship with Christ.  Don’t we?

PAUL: Well, sort of. Many say they want to know Christ personally, but they are usually talking about the kind of knowledge that secures you salvation when you die. They want to know about Christ. That’s not how I want to know Christ.

JEREMY: Oh, so you want to really know Christ’s love and acceptance and to have a relationship with him that brings joy to your life now and salvation in the life to come?   Continue reading PHILIPPIANS 26: My Interview with Apostle Paul (3:10-12)