A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 3)

This is the third in a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the PhilippiansA Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1). These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

I have always been captured by Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good pleasure.

These two short verses provide what I see as the best description of the mysterious tension that exists in our lives between God’s power and our effort. Paul is challenging his readers to obey God – and his teaching about God – even though he is geographically apart from them and in prison. He offers a kind, yet challenging, word to the believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

In essence, Paul is telling us that we need to put in hard work to work this all out. It will not just ‘happen’ without energy expended and effort given to the work. I cannot help but think of Paul’s encouragement to his young pastoral trainee, Timothy, to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). His comparison in that passage to physical training seems to echo through the current words to the Philippian believers. ‘Get to it! Don’t stop working at it!’ Paul says.

But the other half of the equation is the reality that “it is God who works in you.” This working out of our salvation is not something based in human effort alone. Our own efforts find strength and their source in the truth that God is at work within us. This should encourage us, but also give us that “fear and trembling” Paul references here. Right now and right here in our lives, the Living God is at work. He will do His work in our lives. That’s why Paul said that God will “fulfill His good purpose” in us or, as he wrote earlier in this same letter, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

So, we find ourselves resting in this mysterious tension that we are to work out our salvation, while knowing that anything that comes worth talking about is fully from God’s gracious work in us. We cannot wait for God to do something without putting some effort into it. Yet, we cannot believe our efforts will do a thing apart from the powerful working of God in our lives.

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 2)

This is the second in a series of posts in which I reflect on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

Paul looks at the motivations behind how we live. He wants his readers, and us, to live worthy of the gospel, be like-minded, and have a Christlike attitude with each other:

  • “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27)
  • “Not only to believe in Him, but to suffer for Him” (1:29)
  • “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (2:2)
  • “in your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had” (2:5)

It seems like our motivation for doing this should come from understanding our heavenly citizenship and from Christ’s example. At times, we may be motivated by the presence of a godly leader or mentor, like Paul, but that should not be our primary motivation.

Instead, Paul tells the Philippians, we should derive our primary motivation in life from a firm focus upon Christ’s example and our eternal destiny. When we face struggles in our life, just as Paul was enduring imprisonment when writing this letter, these larger realities will keep us going in life.

What motivates you to keep going in life? How has Christ’s example or focus on your eternal destiny helped you to keep going?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 1)

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to share some thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

At the beginning of his letter to the Philippian believers, Paul is eminently thankful and joyful:

  • verse 3: “I thank my God in all my remembrances of you”
  • verse 4: “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy
  • verse 5: “thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now”
  • verse 18: “what then? only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice
  • verse 19: “Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance”

Paul is imprisoned while writing this, yet his letter bursts forth with life and joy. What is it that makes Paul able to write with such exuberance? It is his confidence in God.

By divine coincidence, while reading these words from Paul, I came across Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s words on thankfulness in community in his masterful work Life Together:

Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts….How can God entrust great things to those who will not gratefully receive the little things from God’s hand?

If Paul can live with joy and thankfulness in prison, how can we not be thankful and joyful in our daily lives today?

What are you thankful for today? What life situation or setting makes it a challenge for you to be thankful?

[If you want to explore Philippians further, consider viewing the 2018 preaching series, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances,” beginning with the message, “The Joy of Faith.”]

Our Lives a Journey of Joy

In the midst of our pursuit of God, we can sometimes focus so much on the seriousness of discipleship that we miss out on the joy of our life with God. For me personally, there are times when I emphasize the challenges or trials on this earth to the point that I ignore or unwittingly downplay the gracious gift of our joyful life with God.

Of course, it is true that we are citizens of a heavenly home, who are, in a sense, just passing through this land of earth for a limited time. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear as he rehearses the faith-filled pursuers of God in the Bible. We read:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

Our sense of displacement is an unavoidable aspect of our life on earth. As the old song says: “I am a pilgrim and a stranger traveling through this wearisome land.”

Yet it is also true that God is the creator of joy, who longs Read More »

Becoming a Multiplying Church

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If we are going to move toward Revelation 7:9-10 as the church of Jesus Christ, then we must pursue growth as disciples – both through developing new disciples and going deeper in life as existing disciples.

If we are going to become a Revelation 7 type of church, then we must reach out as a church and as individuals through evangelism (word), community outreach (deed), and more.

But if we are going to do grow disciples and if we are going to reach out, then we have to also intentionally pursue multiplication as a church. Some may say, ‘but what’s biblical about all that?’ It sounds very programmatic and organizational.

Let me say this about “intentionality.”  We are either intending to become something or we are sliding toward something. I would rather intend to become God’s best for us as a church than unintentionally slide toward something else.

Multiplying in ministry is actually one of the most biblical things we can do, so let’s turn back to the Bible to see how this concept plays out through the entire Scripture. Let me share some notes on multiplication from the lives of Moses, Jesus, and Paul.

Moses on Multiplication (Exodus 18)

  • The man of God redeemed from his wrongs
    • Birth (Exodus 2:1-14)
    • Early errors and murder (Exodus 2:11-15)
    • Purification in the desert (Exodus 2:16-25)
    • Calling at the burning bush (Exodus 3-4)
  • The work of God in the Exodus
    • The challenge to God’s people (Exodus 5)
    • The conflict with Pharaoh (Exodus 6-13)
    • The deliverance (Exodus 13:17f)
    • The Red Sea showdown (Exodus 14:5-31)
    • Provision of Manna (Exodus 16)
    • Defeat of Amalekites (Exodus 17)
    • The Sinai revelation (Exodus 19)
  • Advice from Jethro (Exodus 18)
    • Moses is exhausted (18:1-12)
    • Jethro’s advice (18:13-23)
    • Moses’ change of approach (18:24-27)
      • Capable men (18:25)
      • Leaders of groupings (18:25)
      • Task of leadership/shepherding (18:26)
      • Moses’ change of role (18:26)

Jesus on Multiplication (Luke 5:1-11, 27-32; 6:12-16; 9:1-6; 10:1-20)

  • Luke 5:1-11, 27-32 – Jesus calls the first disciples
  • Luke 6:12-16 – Jesus chooses the 12 apostles
  • Luke 9:1-6 – Jesus sends out the 12 apostles to do what he did
  • Luke 10:1-20 – Jesus sends out 72 to do what the 12 did

Paul on Multiplication (Acts 20:4-5)

“He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas.” (Acts 20:4-5)

Paul’s apprentices:

  • Some we know nothing about: Pyrrhus; Secundus; Gaius; Trophimus
  • Aristarchus (Col 4:10; Philemon 24)
  • Tychicus (Col 4:7-9; Eph 6:21-22; Titus 3:12)
  • Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-30)
  • Demas (Philemon 24)
  • Titus (letter)
  • Timothy (1 & 2 letter)
    • Acts 16:1-5 – beginnings with Paul
    • Acts 17:13-15 – teaching the faith
    • Timothy writing with Paul (2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 & 2 Thess 1:1; Philemon)
    • Timothy described by Paul (Philemon 2:19-24)

Paul talks about this in a specific way in his words to the young pastor, Timothy. Timothy was one of Paul’s young leaders who had accompanied him on much of his mission work and he is now a young pastor in the city of Ephesus.

Paul writes:

“The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

The Multiplication Principle (2 Timothy 2:2) 

Why we must multiply:

  • If we are healthy disciples, we multiply disciples
  • If we are healthy in our service, we multiply servants
  • If we are healthy in our ministry, we multiply ministers
  • Why?…our need (Moses)
  • Why?…development of the other (Paul)
  • Why?…the missions of the Master (Jesus)

When we must multiply:

  • Right away!
  • Share whatever God is teaching us with someone today

Who we must look for (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

  • Desire
  • Character
  • Capable
  • Mature
  • Available

So may we be a disciple-making church that is also a multiplying church. May we live toward the Revelation 7 vision of the church, which is also God’s dream for the church, where people from every tribe, tongue and nation are gathered around the throne of God.

Turning the World Upside Down

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When I was a fairly new Christian, someone described the early church as a group that turned the world upside down. I don’t remember who that was or when I heard it, but the speaker’s point was that the early church really made things happen for God in the world. The idea enamored me, but it was only later that I discovered this phrase was drawn from Scripture. Specifically, it is found in Acts 17:6, where Paul and Silas are described by locals in Thessalonica in this way: “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also” (NRSV).

As time went on, and I read the book of Acts more closely, I realized it wasn’t that the disciples were so good that they were described as turning the world upside down, but rather that they were causing so much difficulty to be described in this way. The phrase was, in fact, applied to the church in a derogatory manner. The NIV translates the Greek along these lines when it says: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.”

The other day I read this passage again in my morning time in prayer, and something new caught my attention. It is something that ties in quite clearly with something I preached on this past weekend at Eastbrook Church in my message “The Multi-Everything Church: a Multi-Ethnic, Kingdom-Oriented Community.” Let’s look at that passage once more, this time in the ESV:

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. (Acts 17:6-7)

Notice the specific thing that bothers the locals in Thessalonica. While certainly they are upset that one of their own, Jason, has extended hospitality to these trouble-makers, Paul and Silas, the primary concern is that “they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar.” How are they doing that? By “saying that there is another king, Jesus.” This is a good reminder that the fundamental declaration of faith for the early Christians was “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3). This declaration of faith was counter-cultural in the face of the fundamental declaration of allegiance to Rome, which was “Caesar is Lord.”

For the early church, the primary allegiance to Jesus as king superseded all other calls of allegiance, including that to Rome and its emperor. Such an approach to life could be nothing but trouble for the empire and would, certainly in the ears of the hearers, eventually turn the world upside down. This echoes Paul’s resounding claims in Philippians when he writes “Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27, TNIV) and “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20).

Disciples who turn the world upside down are so troublesome to the world order because the speak and live as if there is a new king in town, whose name is Jesus. His kingdom reigns over all kingdoms, and He graciously calls for the allegiance of all to Him and His new kingdom. The kingdoms of the earth feel the shaking of their foundations now before such a king, but one day “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:10-11).