Friday, September 23, 2011

Winning the Race and the Prize

The Search for Joy
Winning the Race and the Prize
Philippians 3:12-16
Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, where to we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
Paul was noted for his athletic metaphors used in his writings and judging from this, he most likely was an avid sports fan. He made reference to boxing, wrestling, and running comparing the Christians life to a footrace. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:  But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Paul had a indelible passion to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and pursued sanctification (Christlikeness) with all of his might.
Because of Paul’s remarkable testimony and transformed life, he felt that some of the people of Philippi would think he had attained spiritual perfection. He reduced the process of sanctification to one simple thought,“but this one thing I do,”–– pursue Christlikeness conforming to the image of Christ––here and now. Paul explained that the believer must not rely on past achievements in ministry or dwell on sins or failures of the past. Dwelling on the past, with all of it’s disasters, disappointments and defeats, can only have a debilitating effect on a true believer and his present work for the cause of Christ.
 “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”  means; When God calls all believers to heaven and into His glorious presence he then will receive the prize that was unattainable in this earthly life. The spiritual perfection of Christlikeness is only available to the Christian when he is called upward to heaven. Paul was not speaking of spiritual perfection but of spiritual maturity in Christ and walking in a manner that would cause one to keep growing spiritually until the day all believers are called home.
Thought: Be determined to: “exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (I Timothy 4:7,8). Be disciplined in the race for God and obedient to His High calling. The direction of your focus should be on the Person of Christ, for He holds the crown of glory awaiting you as He has promised. Run determined, run disciplined, and run in the direction of Christ to win the final and eternal prize of glory.

Friday, September 16, 2011

No Confidence in the Flesh

The Search for Joy
No Confidence in the Flesh
Philippians 3:1-11
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.  Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.  Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,  And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul appears to be concluding his letter, but in reality, he is not. He is giving instruction to,“Rejoice in the Lord,” a sphere of life a true believer experiences not because of his circumstances, but because of his relationship to the Lord. Paul is sending warnings in this letter as a safeguard for the church, reporting the danger of false teaching approaching them. The warnings are strong and in repetition emphasizing three distinct groups:  Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.  
Dogs roamed the streets during the first century and were considered dirty wild scavengers. The Jews likened the Gentile people to filthy dogs but here, in Paul’s exhortation, he is describing the Jews, specifically the Judaizers, as dogs, to portray their wicked, malicious, and uncontrolled character. Judaizers prided themselves in being workers of righteousness. Paul called their works, evil, because their attempts to please God only drew attention to themselves drawing away from Christ’s work of redemption. When Paul wrote, “Beware of the concision,” he was speaking of the Judaizers and their claim of righteousness by ceremony which ironically, had no spiritual symbol, it was merely physical mutilation. Christians do not possess a symbol of a contrite heart; they have been cleansed by the blood of Christ for their sins and therefore, truly possess a repentant heart and mind.
Paul encourages the Philippians to worship God, rejoice in Christ, and have no confidence in their flesh. He gives them a run down of his religious attributes prior to salvation and refers to himself as being a righteous man, “blameless,” which was, “but dung,” or useless, compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. To know Christ was not just an intellectual knowledge but it was to know Him experientially and personally, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) In accepting Christ, Paul was turning his back on Judaism and Phariseeism and therefore he literally would, “suffered the loss of all things,” to gain Christ.
Paul concludes this portion of Scripture with the phrase, “That I may know him...”  How could he say he wanted to know Christ when he had already met the Lord on the Damascus Road? (See Acts 9:1-31). Paul desired a sincere personal intimacy and deeper knowledge of Christ. He realized the Supreme power of His resurrection, and the intense communion of the sufferings of Christ through other believers enduring hardships and through his own personal sufferings. Paul was proving his salvation by his willingness to suffer loss for the cause of Christ. True salvation produces a transformed life, exchanging death for life and as a result, expressing and demonstrating a passion for the cause of Christ. 
Thought: Where does your passion lie? Are you resting in the hope of your salvation in a past event or in the power of the Gospel to convert sinners to Christ? Is your confidence in yourself because you think you are a good person or in the fact that; “All have sinned, and come (fall) short of the glory of God?”(Romans 3:23) Does your life show distinct signs of a transformed life or are you living a false or dead faith (James 2:14-26)? I pray that you truly know Christ as your Lord and Savior and that your conversion experience is validated by a changed life to the glory of God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Example of Christian Faith

The Search for Joy
Example of Christian Faith
Philippians 2:17-30
Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.  For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.  I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.
Paul was embracing and holding onto an example and standard of living to show the Philippian church that all who claim the name of Christ should live by. If anyone had the right to complain about their circumstances, it was Paul who had already spent many years in prison as a direct result of his faith in Christ. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;  In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.  Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? ( 2 Corinthians 11:23-29) Paul was willing to die, if necessary, for his faith and be a sacrifice poured out, if it would further the spread of the gospel. 
Paul’s concern for the church at Philippi was weighing on his heart and he wanted to send Timothy to personally attend to their spiritual needs. This would give Paul the opportunity to point to Timothy as an example of Christian faith in his faithful service to Christ. Timothy’s background was that of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father but Paul considered him a “dear beloved son” in the faith (2 Timothy 1:2). Timothy showed himself as a submissive servant naturally caring for the needs of people. Paul waited to send Timothy as part of the “missionary team” until he had grown in the faith and matured in spiritual matters. He did not want to send Timothy to minister as a new convert.  Paul was awaiting the outcome of his trial (v. 23) before he would send Timothy, so the Philippians would know the result of his circumstances and legal state of affairs.
Epaphroditus was a Christian, a Gentile as far as we know and a member of the Philippian church who risked his life and health to take a missionary offering to Paul while he was in Rome. Paul called him, “My brother and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier.” These three men, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus were companions in the faith knit together in love for the cause of Christ in spreading the gospel. Epaphroditus was like Timothy in that he cared for the needs of others. He left Philippi to bring Paul a love offering protecting the money with his very life becoming extremely ill almost to the point of death. Paul assures the people in Philippi that Epaphroditus’ sickness is over and that he is well by the mercy of God for Paul himself would have suffered, “sorrow upon sorrow,” had he died. Epaphroditus was a blessing to Paul as he encouraged him during his prison experience and didn’t allow his own sickness to hinder him  from being a sacrificial servant.
Thought: It would be a sad state of affairs if we, as Christians, were never considered a blessing to anyone while living on this earth. Paul’s writings exhort us to live sacrificially in service to our Lord and admonish us to be a blessing to others in need. Paul proves to us that the joyful life is a life of sacrifice and service with no thought of reward. What joy Timothy and Epaphroditus brought to Paul during one of the most difficult times of his life.  We too can bring joy to others as we strive to serve them sacrificially relinquishing any thought of reward to the glory of God.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Exhortation to Triumph and Not Complain

The Search for Joy
Exhortation to Triumph and Not Complain 
Philippians 2:14-16
Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. 
To do all things without murmuring or complaining is a command given by God but unfortunately, it is rarely obeyed by most Christians. Have you ever lost sight of the grace of God and found yourself grumbling against His provision? (I know that I have come to that place in my life and failed.) Murmuring is an expression of thanklessness and disobedience to God whether expressed openly or hidden secretly in the heart. We know what it sounds like––that low muffled tone of voice directed towards God or others in a negative light. Usually this is because something unpleasant, irritating, or distasteful has happened and we are not pleased by this interruption in our lives. A Christian is called to unquestioning obedience to God and therefore, must adhere to the command, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings,” Why? “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as light in the world.” 
Paul is not necessarily talking about the Philippians’ murmuring against God Himself, but quarreling with one another within the church. When quarreling begins in the church, the worlds view of the church and Christ begins to pale becoming disgraceful and unacceptable. Our lives should not be characterized by sin or evil but, “blameless,” a life that is pure, wholesome and above reproach before God. This world that we live in is “crooked and perverse,” straying from the path that God has purposed as His standard. We as Christians must show the character of Christ in this dark unscrupulous culture––bringing the light of the Gospel to those who are lost and in bondage to sin.
One day, Christ will come again and we will either be found rejoicing in the work of the ministry  or laboring in vanity and pride. To labor in vain means: to labor in uselessness with no purpose or fruit. We need to be able to look back on our lives and see that our laboring here on this earth was worthwhile and profitable to the glory of God. What determines effective labor in the life of a Christian? What did Paul say was the conversation or manner of living that is worthy of the gospel of Christ? That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;  Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.  Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” Philippians 1:10,11,27.
Thought: We live in a society that is unhappy and loves to complain about what they don’t have when they have so much. We are breeding a generation of complainers because the more they have the more they want. It is a sin to complain against God, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20) Complainers have a devastating effect on the church and their grumbling is contagious bringing anxiety, misery and discontentment with it. Be careful about complaining, for as Christians, we are to live consistently with who we are, “Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children” free from complaining to be all that God wants us to be.  As God does His work in us, our part is not to murmur, complain or grumble against His working. God wants us to shine as lights in this dark world so that we may have a startling effect on the lost. The character of the Christian life is the truth on which we stand, a platform, from which we share our personal testimony of the Gospel of Christ.