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.”]

30-Days of No Complaining Challenge

grumblingNicole Pajer, a freelance columnist for Rolling Stone and The New York Times, discovered something interesting about complaining. After deciding to participate in what she called a “30-days of No Complaining Challenge,” her entire perspective on her circumstances changed. She realized much of what she complained about were “what-if” situations that had not happened yet. She also found that she was able to be more present generally in life and specifically with others, more grateful for what she did have, and overall she experienced more joy in her life.

As I mentioned this past weekend in my message “Shared Joy,” I’d like to take Pajer’s concept of the “30-days of no complaining” and connect it to spiritual growth in light of Philippians 2:14-15, which says:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’

Following on his discussion of living as citizens of a new kingdom in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and after highlighting Jesus as the example of selfless love and humility, Paul the Apostle calls the Philippian believers to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (2:12-13). Unexpectedly, Paul’s chief application of this is toward our words and speech. Specifically, he calls believers to let go of grumbling and arguing so that joyful witness to Christ might rise up. This is a veiled reference to the failure of Israel to live as a blessing to the nations, instead to devolving into grumbling after their deliverance in the Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea.

For those of us who follow Jesus, this exhortation from Paul is both challenging and helpful. Paul is basically saying to us: do not let anything in or from your mouths hinder your witness. He is saying to the early church, and through them to us: learn from Israel’s failure and respond to God’s grace from your hearts, in your lives, and with your mouths. Yet how challenging that is!

Now, there is a difference between complaining and pointing out something that is wrong. There is a right and good place to say hard things in a way that contributes to the good in ourselves and others. One example is that famous proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).  Grumbling and complaining, however, is rooted in a disposition of discontent that leads to murmuring or muttering in every direction. In a sense, grumbling and complaining are expressions of how much we feel out of control in life or our circumstances. Likewise, arguing, at least in the sense that Paul is addressing here in Philippians 2:14, is an attempt to assert control when we feel out of control. Grumbling, complaining, and arguing are contagious in the worst ways possible.

Yet, a basic truth of life that we all must realize is that we are truly out of control in life. Although we do have domains of responsibility, all of our spheres of control are ultimately contingent or delegated to us. As those who know God through Christ, the freeing truth is that we are out of control yet we are held by the only One who is ultimately in control. This realization can move us from complaining to rejoicing, from grumbling to gratitude.

So, I want to invite you to join me in a “30-Days of No Complaining Challenge.” Think of it as a form of fasting within your speech. Maybe you want to choose with me to take the next thirty days to:

  • turn away from ourselves and our grumbling, complaining and arguing
  • turn toward God in prayer, rejoicing, and gratitude
  • learn from our failures in our words about our tendencies to grumbling and complaining
  • surrender to God in new ways, particularly in our speech, in order to reflect Him more truly

Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). Grumbling and arguing arise from a disordered heart. Join me in allowing God to do a new thing in our lives that begins in our hearts and minds and overflows into our lives and mouths, so that we might “shine like the stars” in our witness to Him and He might get the most glory out of us.

Shared Joy

This last weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances.” This weekend we continued with Paul’s outworking of our kingdom citizenship begun in Philippians 1:27, turning now toward the outworking of our salvation joy in Philippians 2:12-30. I love this passage because it holds some of the verses that captivate me most in the entire letter.

Below you can view the video and sermon outline of this message, “Shared Joy.” You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Joy that Gives

As we continued our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I walked us through Philippians 1:27-2:11, where the Apostle Paul shifts his attention from his present circumstances to the situation of the Philippians.

You can view the video and sermon outline of this message, “The Joy of Faith,” below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Deep: Changed with God (discussion questions)

Jesus Changes Everything Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Deep: Changed with God,” which is the second part of our series “Jesus Changes Everything” at Eastbrook Church. This study walks through Philippians 2:12-13.

  1. When have you experienced the need for a total change in your life? What lead you to that place and what happened next?
  1. We continue our series, “Jesus Changes Everything,” by looking at two verses from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi found in Philippians 2:12-13. Begin your study in prayer, asking God to speak into your life, and then read Philippians 2:1-18 aloud.
  1. The Apostle Paul is writing from prison to the believers in Philippi about their life with God. He begins chapter 2 by expressing his desire for them to in unity as a community by relating to one another selflessly (2:1-4). Jesus is an obvious illustration of what this looks like (2:5-11). He then returns to his discussion of their life together as a community beginning in verse 12 with a call to obedience. Why do you think Paul begins this next section with the theme of obedience? To whom are they to be obedient? What does that obedience look like?
  1. Verse 12 continues with the call to “work out your salvation.” From Paul’s other writings we know that this does not mean “work for your salvation” (see Ephesians 2:1-10). What do you think this phrase means?
  1. Paul says that they are to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” What does fear and trembling have to do with this sort of work?
  1. With verse 13, Paul clarifies that, of course, we must rely on God to do this and to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. How does the knowledge of God’s work in our lives encourage you in the process of growing with God?
  1. Last week, Pastor Mark Lynch talked from John 2 about how Jesus changed water into wine, and how that illustrates how Jesus changes everything about our lives. What is one area that you know you need God to change in your life? Take a moment to pray, simply expressing to God your desire to put that area of your life into His hands. Sit quietly and surrender every aspect of the situation, every person involved, every feeling you have, every timeline…Simply ask Him to take it all and transform you.\
  1. What is one specific way that you sense God is calling you to grow more deeply with Him these days? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray about what you share together. If you are studying on your own, write it down, pray about it, and share this with someone during the next few days.


Deep: Changed with God

Jesus Changes Everything Series Gfx_Web Header
This weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Jesus Changes Everything” by looking at what it means to enter into the deep life with God. I jumped off from Paul’s powerful statements in Philippians 2:12-13 to get a deeper understanding of what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us to.

You can watch the message here or subscribe to our audio podcast, following along with the outline below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site.

If you’re interested in getting to know us more at Eastbrook, please take a moment to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo. You could also join our community by downloading the Eastbrook app.

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