A Letter from Prison (Philippians, pt 6)

This is my final post in a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

As he concludes his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers some final ‘secrets’ to living well for God.

The first is to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This echoes Paul’s theme of thankfulness from chapter one, that there is a grateful joy we can have in life. The secret behind such rejoicing is to turn our anxiety in to prayer, presenting God with our requests and living in His peace (4:6-7).

The second ‘secret’ to living well is to fill our minds with the right sort of things. Paul knows the power that inner thoughts have to shape the life of a person. Because of this, he encourages the Philippian believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (4:8).  What we think about impacts our lives through our attitude, words, and desires. Thoughts have power.

A third ‘secret’ Paul mentions from his own life is contentment. He writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want” (4:12). Obviously, we know from Paul’s life that he has been in a variety of situations. Even now, he is writing from prison. In it all, however, Paul is content. The secret to Paul’s contentment is knowing God’s strength living in him: “I can do all this through Him who gives me  strength” (4:13). Paul points these words toward the Philippians’ situation later: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

As he begins, Paul concludes by rejoicing in God’s good gifts, thinking on excellent things that God does, and content because of all God provides.

How are you doing at living into these spiritual ‘secrets’ Paul outlines at the end of his letter to the Philippians?

[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 5)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are written from devotional reflections on the Scripture.

Paul is driven by an all-consuming desire to know Christ. In one sense, Paul already knows Christ, as he writes: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (3:8).

Because of this saving knowledge of Christ, Paul has set aside all earthly accomplishments or religious means of proving himself. He even counts those things as rubbish – or dung – so that he can “gain Christ” and a righteousness of Christ by faith. Paul has a focused perspective on Christ’s impact on his standing before God.

But, in another sense, Paul has more to know of Christ. He says immediately after this: “I want to know Christ” (3:10). There is a sense that something needs to be filled in with Paul’s knowledge of Christ. Paul outlines i this way: “I want to know the power of the resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead” (3:10-11).

Paul wants to know Jesus’ death and resurrection, His suffering and His glory. This all seems to point toward an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ that is far beyond what Paul knows now. He has not yet fully experienced this sort of knowledge of Christ (3:12).

How are you growing in your experiential knowledge of Christ these days?

[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 4)

This post continues a series of posts with thoughts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These posts are personal reflections taken from devotional reading of the book.

Paul mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians when writing to them. From Paul’s laudatory words, we see that both of these men are examples to the believers then and us today.

Paul describes Timothy as:

  • “I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (2:20)
  • “Timothy has proved himself” by serving with Paul “as a son with his father” in the work of the gospel; apparently being one who looks out for the interests of Christ Jesus, not just himself (2:21-22)
  • he will faithfully report back to Paul (2:19)

Paul describes Epaphroditus as:

  • “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (2:25)
  • “your messenger” sent to take care of Paul’s needs (2:25)
  • became sick while with Paul, almost died, but is now well (2:26-27) by God’s mercy
  • “risked his life” for the gospel work by caring for Paul (2:30)

These two believers were examples that Paul could hold up for the church in Phillipi. We all need examples of faithfulness to God toward whom we look in our daily lives. Those examples help us as we try to continue to pursue God and work for Him in this world.

How have examples of faith been an encouragement to you in your faith?

[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 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 »