Ruth week 1: Not the way it’s supposed to be

Ruth is probably the best short story in all of Scripture. It’s riveting, it’s real, it’s engaging with our hearts and emotions, and it’s got the a great ending! The big picture of Ruth serves as the means of recording how Yahweh continues to sovereignly bring salvation to earth through Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:1-3; blessed to be a blessing), to the seed of Jesse (king David), to the seed of Mary (Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit).

This is in part, why the Hebrew word hesed is used to describe this book. Many people define hesed as mercy, loving kindness, faithfulness, and goodness. But Bruce Waltke (the main OT theologian who I’ve used to unpack technical terms in this series) defines hesed in the book of Ruth in many ways, one of them being “help for the helpless”; thus, the title of the series. That’s all for now. Let’s get right into the story:

Act 1: Ruth migrates from Moab to Bethlehem (1:1-22)
This first act has two scenes: Elimelech’s household migrating from Bethlehem to Moab, and its grieving widows returning to Bethlehem.

Scene 1 (1:1-5):
v. 1a: In the days when the judges ruled… The book’s setting is during the time of the Judges, where we see the cycle of rebellion (apostasy), slavery (taken captive by other nations), repentance (crying out to God to be delivered), and redemption (being delivered from the hand of their oppressor by a judge that God sends for the sake if Israel) among the Israelites.

The last passage in the book of Judges says this: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (25:21) There was no fear of God, no love for neighbor, and no sacrifice for the greater common good. This was a godless and wicked time in the history of Israel.

v. 1b: …there was a famine in the land, Scripture isn’t clear in this passage, but there was a famine in the land more than likely because God had raised up oppressors to come against unfaithful Israel and plunder all their grain. Then God withholds the rain to create a famine.

vv. 1c-2a: a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech

There was famine in the land, and the land this family was from was called Bethlehem, which means “house of bread”; go figure! People are hungry in the house of bread. The man’s names is Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King” acts like He has no king to trust in. Why do you say that?

Well, we need to understand a little more about Moab. The whole city began from an incestuous relationship, when Lot’s (nephew of Abraham) daughters got him drunk on 2 different nights, slept with him and had children; the first child being named Moab, the father of the Moabites. This is where Eli is going. To the nasty forbidden Moab, an incestuous perverted pagan city, where they worshipped pagan perverted gods, namely the god Chemosh, simply because there were financial opportunities in the city compared to the bread shop.

Eli has camped his wife and kids in the middle of a foreign land with no church family, no prospects for his sons to marry (at least prospects acceptable to Jews who were supposed to marry other Jews) and the whole reason he went to Moab was because of a famine at the bread factory! This proves to be a bad move for Eli and sons!

v. 2: and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. Here we meet Eli’s wife Naomi (whose name means “Pleasantness” or “Sweetheart”) leave Bethlehem with their two sons Mahlon (whose name means “Sick) and Chilion (whose name means “Dying”). Great names for sons, huh?

v. 2b: They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. (cf. 1 Sam. 17:12). In short, this would have sounded to the listening ear in this day, that this family is possibly of great prestige… they were like a family from north Scottsdale.1 This also means there were other options to stay rather than uproot your family, go on your own, and try to survive.

v. 2c-3: [So,] They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.

So Eli moves to Moab, why? So he doesn’t die. What happened to wise old Eli? He died! Bad move Eli. Bethlehem was under the care of God, not to mention the place where his church family was, and now Eli dies and leaves his family in Moab, alone!

v. 4a: These (her 2 sons) took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth.

Naomi loses her husband, and then as her two sons find wives (Ruth and Orpah) to carry on the family name, from Moabite women because their entrepreneur dad left them no other options. We need to understand what this meant. Moabites were not allowed into the house of Jewish worshippers because they worshipped pagan gods. That’s like marry a woman (dudes) or a man (ladies) who isn’t allowed to be a member at Kineo. They can’t worship together which proves to be a bad way to build a family!

vv. 4b-5a: They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, Oh man, this went from bad to worse. In v. 1 we learn that there is no grain seed (“there’s a famine in the land”), and in vv. 3-5 we learn that there is no human seed (“the death of all the men in the family”).

Eli leaves the house of bread, goes to a pagan land to live because there’s financial opportunity there, and he dies, and so do his sons. Would you call that bad planning?
v. 5b: so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. This phrase seems to minimize the pain and loss of Naomi. Naomi buried her husband, and her two sons! Not to mention without having an heir to her name. In these days, without an heir, Elimelech’s household will lose its inheritance and will socially become an outcast in Israel. This is losing more than loved ones, its also losing any chance to live a normal life, if she survives herself. As an old woman in these days, her situation is dreadful.

The young widows (Ruth and Orpah) can remarry and haves sons because they are young, but Naomi is stuck as an older woman. It seems that Naomi’s life as she knows it would be better if she had never been born.

Her grief and demise has stirred up a lot of deep struggles with God, His goodness, and love for her (1:20-21). Naomi’s pain and struggles are very similar to that of Job’s. We must remember where Naomi is at right now. She is suffering and God is asking her to trust Him even though He has not revealed to her major pieces of the puzzle. But Naomi is even worse off than Job because she’s a woman who is childless and post-menopausal if you know what I mean! This is a road Job didn’t have to go down.

Job could work again, rebuild his wealth. Naomi can’t. He may endure unjust accusations from friends, but he will not face degradation, discrimination, possible physical/sexual abuse, or social oppression. Naomi has all that to navigate through and live in fear of. This is a terrible situation, worse than we could imagine, or maybe many of us this morning can unfortunately imagine it more than we would like.

But Naomi must go on. Death has stripped her down until she stands naked before God without anything else that women culturally have to rely on to give them significance (husband, children, a home, provision, ability to have kids, ability to work, etc.)

She is stripped of everything and has nothing to hide behind, and neither do we if we are honest with ourselves. We are all naked before God and our only hope is Him. Is this resonating with anyone? Have you ever felt hopeless, powerless, devastated to the point of quitting? This is Naomi. She does not look like a candidate to play a leading role in salvation history.
Scene 2 (1:6-22):
v. 6-7: 6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.

This new scene begins with a small ray of hope for Naomi as she hears that the Lord had lifted the famine in Judah, and has given them food. God, the name used here is Yahweh, whom we know to be Jesus. Jesus visited His people and gave them food! Naomi is headed home, back to the house of bread, and back to her people who worship Yahweh with her 2 daughter-in-laws.

Here, in this verse, we see God’s sovereignty at work, behind the scenes, yet still at work. God works by the means of miracles sometimes, but most of the time God works in invisible ways, at least to the normal eye. God works in very normal ways, among very normal people like you and I, to accomplish His purposes. And within His purposes, God works sovereignly (He is the highest authority, He rules and reigns, He’s over Satan, demons, death, He is even over the accidents and in all that He is good!)

vv. 8-15: As Naomi is headed home with her two daughter-in-laws, she turns to them and urges them to go to their mothers’ home, find husbands, remarry, that the Lord may “deal kindly” with them. Here is where we learn of that beautiful word that permeated this story of Ruth; “Hesed”.

May Yahweh bless you and bring you hesed, loving kindness that will never abandon you, but be kind to you in rich ways. And as Naomi is weeping, Ruth and Orpah respond and say “No, we will return to you to your people.” (1:10).

So Naomi turns up the heat and says: “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (1:11-13).

In short, Naomi tells them that they have “No!” future with her. “According to the Israelite law of levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-9), other sons or close relatives of hers should marry the childless widows and use their seed to preserve the deceased relative’s name and land inheritance.”2 This is where we get the phrase “kinsman redeemer”.

In the time of the judges, Naomi has little, to no hope that a relative will sacrifice his fame and fortune to help a young widow by bearing her sons that will neither bear his name nor add to his property or wealth (or in her bitterness forgot about Boaz or other relatives).

By law, God set this law up to protect women in these situation and to keep families from poverty. A kin (relative) to Naomi was to step up and sacrifice for the sake of Naomi’s family, marry Ruth, and he will get no payoff from this, and will be looked to by many as a fool, not mention the child would be Naomi’s, not his.

So Naomi says to Ruth and Orpah, that the only practical and sensible thing to do is to go back to your home, and marry and live a normal life. Naomi says that she is a dead end road; “forget about me” is essentially what Naomi says.

She places their interests above her own and makes the decision to face her own dark future alone. This is not the right decision, as she is sending these women back to their homes to serve vile false gods (Baal, Chemosh, etc.). Naomi is bitter and angry and acting in the flesh.
vv. 14-15: 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

They weep together, but Orpah takes her up on it. She chooses to live by sight, not by faith. She would rather fall back and serve false gods than risk losing a normal life. She was a pretending Christian… But Ruth… this is a really good “But” that we find in Scripture. Oh the beautiful “but’s” of Scripture:

vv. 16-17: 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me [literally: stop afflicting me] to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Facing the same realities that Orpah couldn’t handle, Ruth divinely insists that she remain with Naomi no matter what! She is sticking to her covenant she made with the house of Elimelech and her deceased husband Mahlon. Ruth uses the Hebrew word [pagaʿ]: “Stop afflicting me!” She is set on what she is called to do and she backs her word up with an oath: “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Like Abraham, Ruth leaves her family and homeland to follow Yahweh to an unknown land. This is a clear picture of God providentially planning to establish His kingdom here on earth. But this seems to be a bigger act of faith than even Abraham’s obedience, if I dare say that! Abraham is told by God to go, and to our knowledge, Ruth is going with what she believes to be right, not necessarily because she received a word from God.

So they return to Bethlehem together and upon their arrival, the years of anger and bitterness had aged Naomi to the point where her friends and family say: “Is this Naomi?” And Naomi interprets what has happened in her life like this:
vv. 20-21: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Naomi basically says, “Call me old hag for I am miserable and bitter”. That’s at least being honest. I love Naomi for her honesty! We could learn from Naomi’s honesty about where she’s at with the Lord (expound on this).

v. 22: So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. But ironically, Naomi is able to return to her hometown because the Lord had ended the famine, and she is not alone, and it just so happened to be harvest time for the barley.

This paints a picture of many of our lives in different ways. Some of our lives truly resemble Naomi’s life, and other’s lives resemble her life emotionally. You feel abandoned by God. You truly think He’s publicly against you and wants to punish you.

You feel like He’s playing one big joke on you that isn’t funny. You don’t believe that He is good or that He is “for” you… you think his sovereignty means that He’s in control of everything, but He’s not not good. God is sovereign and He is eternally good! But sin is bad! Humans are bad! Demons are bad! God is good! He is sovereign and He is good!

But I don’t think any of us would say about how Naomi feels, “That’s crazy! Why would she feel that way! She’s over doing it a bit!” We wouldn’t because we know her story and we have seen all that has happened to her. But we are not angry for her as we would be if we didn’t know the end. (the prodigal daughter and she doesn’t know it!)

We see the end. We see how God is working. Even before the big moment of redemption. Ruth is with her. The famine is over. She is back home. Even though Naomi can’t see the hesed of the Lord yet, the end of this journey home is the beginning of a new journey. Two destitute women arrive safely in time for barley season!  This is true for you and I today. We may not be able to see what God’s doing, but we do know He is not against us, in the same way we know and see that He is not against Naomi.

We read the Hebrew used of God here in chapter 1 is Lord, Yahweh; which we learn in the NT that Yahweh is Jesus. Jesus is the One who visited His people in Bethlehem. And He has visited us through the cross. He gave it all up so that we could gain it all. God is for you today because He sent Jesus. No matter where your story is at right now, the end can be sealed in sure redemption and reconciliation.

But to do that, we must be honest with ourselves today. We must learn from Naomi. Instead of coming in here with thoughts about God that are concealed (“How are you?” “Oh, I’m good, it’s a beautiful day!” and inside you can’t figure out why God seems so far from you today or that He would let this or that happen to you.)

Are you like Naomi today? Are you bitter and angry at God? Be honest. Let Jesus visit you this morning as He did Bethlehem.

Maybe you’re Eli, and you have taken the reigns of your life and think you’ve got everything figured out, but you’re headed towards death. You’re producing sons called “Walking pneumonia” and “Tuberculosis”. Submit, acknowledge you need help.

Maybe you’re Ruth and you’ve made a tough decision, and you don’t know what’s next and are afraid, but you’d rather trust Jesus. Be encouraged today. God is with you and you are not alone. Let someone here know where you are and let them walk with you.

Let’s Pray!

Philippians Week 12: He’ll Take Care of the Rest

As Paul closes out this letter this letter, he is closing as a good friend and pastor would. You make me happy. Thank you. Keep looking to Jesus for contentment. Keep being generous, for it is a sure sign of the gospel at work within you to the watching world. And when times are tough and provisions are slim, remember that God will provide all you need….and then the benediction.

Paul’s a good leader. He’s a faithful under-shepherd of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head pastor/shepherd of His Church. Let’s close this series by taking a deeper look at the six sub-topics that Paul intentionally tacks on to the end of his letter to the Philippian church; joy, contentment, confidence, generosity, provision and grace.

Joy: 10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

The theme of joy is weaved throughout the entire letter as Paul uses the word chaírō in different forms. Let’s take a look at them:

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (1:3-5)

17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (1:17-18)

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith (1:25)

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (2:2)

17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me (2:17-18)

In regards to Epap being sent back to the Philippians Paul says: 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men (2:28-29)

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord (3:1)

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved (4:1)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (4:4)

Joy repeatedly bursts forth from the apostle’s heart. But now Paul expresses the intensity of his joy: the adverb “greatly” in v. 10 is used only here in the NT, and it serves to strengthen the verb “rejoiced” to the point that Paul’s joy surpasses the joy of his friends.

In the context of this paragraph, the past tense “rejoiced”, seems to reference the gift that the Philippian church brought to Paul while he was in prison (4:18). The gift that he received made him “happy” it seems. But notice what Paul says he “rejoiced in”: it was not the gift that Paul rejoiced in, rather it was the Lord who is the Giver of all good gifts.

Paul is always aware of the Lord’s faithfulness. Good gifts never distract Paul from the  central focus of the gospel: God, the ultimate Provider of all good gifts, namely, Jesus! I believe this is why he moves right into him being content and how he has learned contentment.

Contentment: 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

When Paul uses the word “autarkeia” (contentment; autós: self and arkéō, to be sufficient) it was meant to shock the Philippians’ and to get their attention because the word he used came straight from pagan Stoic philosophy.

The Stoics viewed contentment as the fundamental quality of all virtues. To a Stoic, contentment described the mind-set of the person who had become self-sufficent, not needing anything or anyone. Their mantra was, “man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his will, to resist the force of circumstances.”

Seneca, a well-known Stoic, put it this way: “the happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances.” So the picture we get is some kind of a superman who could rise above any circumstance on his own and attain euphoria through contentment.

But like the word “gospel”, which was a secular Greek term, Paul redeems the word “contentment” and brings it into a proper understanding for the Philippians.

Because Jesus is the source of contentment, Paul knows how to share in his sufferings (I know how to be brought low), and Paul knows how to share in his glory without boasting in himself (I know how to have plenty). Paul learned (key word here) how to be content through not only intellectually learning the gospel, but through living it out day in and day out (1 Cor. 4:11-13; 2 Cor. 4:8-12; 6:4-5; 11:24-27; 12:9-10). This is called maturity through obedience (sanctification).

Contentment is a secret that only those on the inside know about. It is not until you enter into the satisfaction of the Giver, that you can know about this secret.

Most people search for happiness, and they never get it. You never find happiness when you search for it. It isn’t until you encounter and trust in the Giver, that you can be confident in your happiness, or contentment. This leads us straight into v. 13.

Confidence: 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This has to be one of the most quoted verse in the Bible. It is pasted on posters, t-shirts, bumper stickers, slogans in the weight room or locker rooms. “I can kick your butt in cage fighting because of Jesus!” And when it doesn’t happen, we wonder if this passage is even true. We wonder because this verse is mostly used out of context.

We have turned this into an individualized passage that gives us confidence that God wants us to do anything our heart desires because He strengthens us. And because of this verse, well meaning Christian parents who are both no taller than 5’4” and together weigh less than 250 lbs, ignorantly tell their son who wants to be an NFL football player that “he can do all things through Christ!” Poor child’s dreams are gonna be shattered.

Let’s quickly bring this passage to it’s proper meaning and then move on to Paul’s next point: “As with every other line of Scripture, the assertion ‘I can do all things’ is controlled by the context. Thus what Paul says is that in whatever circumstances I find myself, in whatever extremes — whether experiencing abundance with the wealthy or fellowshipping with the poor or struggling to proclaim the gospel to people who don’t want to hear or enduring the wrath of the establishment or bringing peace to the church or languishing in prison — I can be content and ‘can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ Paul is confident that he will be divinely strengthened to do anything and everything that God calls him to do. Not only could Paul be content and confident in every circumstance, he could also be sure that he would be equipped with divine power to deal with it.” 1  And if we’re content “with” and “in” the Lord, we hold very loosely to possessions.

Generosity: 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

In this passage, we see the thread of “partnership” (v. 14: share “sunkoinōnéō”; sún, with, and koinōnéō, to partake. To participate in something with someone) that came through being generous in all areas of life (sacrificial giving).

Do you remember when Paul began his letter? He began with this: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-5). Then, 2 verses later: 1:7: “for you are all partakers with me of grace.”

Paul uses that word 6 times in this letter, and the last place we see it is right here as he is closing. This serves as somewhat of an inclusio (a literary device that creates a frame around a unit by placing similar material at the beginning and at the end) just like the language of joy and rejoicing serves as an inclusio as well. Paul begins with these words, carries them throughout the letter and closes with them as well. He is driving home some very important themes to us in this letter.

And in this passage, Paul wanted his readers to know that “giving to support his ministry was taking up fellowship with him as a partner in his present tribulations. Though the Philippians were not in prison with Paul, they participated in his afflictions by their sympathy and [financial] sacrifice.” 2 No other church did this but Philippi (15b-17).

Then in verse 17, Paul says that your financial generosity and partnership has been more of a credit to you than to me. It has served as your spiritual growth and a sign of your faith in God. And this is where we all go: “Now you are going too far. You’re saying our giving is part of our spiritual growth? Okay, maybe, but it definitely can’t be a sign of our faith in God! You’re getting to be like all the money hungry pastors who just wants to make a good living by guilting people into giving!”

Turn with me to Luke 19:6, 8-10 and let me show you something that Jesus teaches us:
6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully… 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord (and here’s the key of the whole verse), “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him (now Jesus interprets to us and to Zach what just happened), “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

The generosity that welled up in Zach’s heart was a sign (but it isn’t always a sign just like a profession of faith isn’t always a sign that one is truly saved) of his heart being regenerated and maturity taking place (spiritual growth).

If we were to look at the kind of fellowship Paul spoke of and the context that the fellowship in this letter involves, here’s what you get, and it ain’t no venti caramel frappachino and apple fritter kind of fellowship: 1) participation in the great task of getting the gospel out; 2) the grace of participation in others’ suffering for the sake of the gospel; 3) participation in the Holy Spirit, through whom we are all baptized into one body; 4) the longing to participate in the sufferings of Christ; and 5) participation in the spread of the gospel through the generous giving of material resources.3

Giving sacrificially is a sign of partnering in the gospel. But when you add financial sacrificial giving, you are now attaching a string to our heart because we love money. You need money to live. You must eat, have a place to live, buy clothes to wear so you don’t embarrass yourself or others.

And we all struggle with the love (or finding comfort from) money. When we can freely give to God’s kingdom sacrificially, it is a sure sign that we are growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus and His kingdom. When we get there, this next verse becomes real to us and we believe it.

The kind of fellowship Jesus is after involves the generous sharing of our material substance for the proclamation and display of the gospel.

Provision: 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

He’ll Take Care of the Rest. God loves you and will take care of you. You help him in  taking care of His business, and He’ll take care of your business. Do you believe it? We have had this 12 week series to challenge us and move us to be a people who believe Jesus is who He says He is, and you really are who He says you are in Him.

This belief in the gospel is what produces, joyful, sacrificial, partnership with God and people which leads to satisfaction, contentment, and more joy knowing that you have all that you need in Christ. There is nothing anyone can do to you or take from you that can rob you of what Christ has given you. They can rob your $100 bill in your pocket, but you have billions in the savings account that no one can touch. So in light of the gospel…

Grace: 21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

About this final greeting, John Calvin notes: “it is evidence of divine mercy that the Gospel had penetrated that sink [pit] of all crimes and iniquities.” Yes! Though both the Philippians and Paul were under Roman oppression, there were brothers and sisters within Caesar’s walls who were on their side and praying for them.4

Love one another. Partner with each other for the gospel/ Resolve your differences. Model Christ’s humility. Live like children of the King. Pursue Jesus and do not fear suffering. Seek the glory that comes from God, not from man. Rejoice in the Lord. Bless one another. Give radically. Then trust that God will take care of the rest by His gracious love for His saints. For everything depends on Jesus. Consider Col. 1:15-23:

15-18    We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18–20    He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

21–23    You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. (The Message)

As Christians, we believe acknowledge that Col. 1:15-23 is true, but we often struggle with believing our beliefs. Such a story such as God’s story and revelation of Jesus Christ demands we ask some honest questions of ourselves:

Am I believing that God can take care of me?
Am I believing that God loves me?
Am I believing that I am not a twig tossed about by the tides of life, but that God is actively working on my behalf precisely because is the the Creator, Sustainer, Savior, and Lover of my soul?
Am I believing that God actively rewards those who honestly seek Him?

If you say yes to these truths, or desire to say yes to these truths, then your belief is deepening and it will change your life.

Why? How?

Because such belief assures that you are not a random thought that is thrown to and fro like a branch in the ocean, but a product of a sovereign God, who care for you, loves you and is actively blessing you right now in Christ through the power of His Holy Spirit!

Let’s pray!

Philippians week 11: A User’s Guide to Joy and Peace

Read Philippians 4:1-9

v. 1: Therefore, my brothers and my sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. The “Therefore”, points back to all the “imperatives” (commands) that Paul has given us to stand firm and be of one mind. But I want you to notice something here. All of Paul’s imperatives are based on Biblical “indicatives” (reality, truths).

For example: the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ  (3:7-17), the tragic destiny of the enemies of the cross (3:18-19), the present reality of our heavenly citizenship, and the expectation of Christ’s return to restore all things (3:20-21) are all the indicatives (realities, truths) that Paul uses to motivate or compel us to stand firm and to be of the same mind (4:1-3).

Paul’s commands are not random statements of his personal authority. He always bases his imperatives on the solid ground of the indicatives of what Christ has done and will do. Grace always precedes, surrounds, and empowers the life of obedience. I pursued my wife before I asked her to spend the rest of her life with me and to love and be with me. You tracking? God redeems, and asks us to obey in light of our redemption.

v. 1: Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown… Okay, it doesn’t get much more personal and endearing than this in Scripture, other than from the mouth of Jesus or the pen of the Psalmists. Paul loves the Philippians. They are his joy and crown.

As your pastor, I really want you to feel this passage and get the heart of Paul in this. This is my heart for you today. “I love you and long for you all to live in harmony with Jesus. I am jealous for your affections to be for Jesus and not things that perish and destroy. I love being your pastor and laboring along side you for Jesus’ sake!

v. 1b: my joy and my crown: Paul has the theme of joy threaded throughout this whole letter. The Philippians are Paul’s joy because the are family (adopted by God into the same family; brothers and sisters) and share in the community and fellowship of the gospel. This is a relational joy that came from sharing life together, not a situational joy that is contingent upon performance (blood brothers, parent to child, brother to sister).

Paul says in my own words, “Because of you O Philippians, I joyfully celebrate a great victory: you are my crown.” This indicates that Paul envisions a great celebration, much like a celebration that one would see at the end of the Olympic games, where the champions are given their wreaths on their heads and there is a great celebration!

“Since Paul refers to his friends in Thessalonica as “the crown in which we will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when he comes” (1 Thess 2:19), he may have the time of the Lord’s return in mind when he refers to his Philippian friends as his joy and crown. He told them earlier to hold firmly to the word of life so that he would be able to boast on the day of Christ (2:16). And his announcement of the Lord’s imminent appearance from heaven to transform our lowly bodies (3:20-21) sets the immediate context for this reference to his friends as his joy and crown.” 1 Kineo, you are my joy and my crown!
After Paul addresses the entire community in love, he turns to address two women who are in conflict:

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Surprise, surprise! Women in conflict? (Come on, laugh with me!) These are two women who are leaders within the community are divided and have taken separate stands and different members of the community have been asked to stand with them in support of their argument. Paul avoids favoritism by appealing to both women with a plea (he entreats both of them separately).

This also shows that their conflict was not one of doctrine or one that at least distorted the gospel. So why would Paul call these women out? Why would Paul speak to these two women so urgently if their conflict did not have any impact on the church? “

“If their conflict seriously threatened the unity of the church, then his reference to them by name in a letter to be read to the whole church appropriately and understandably identifies a major cause of the problem of disunity addressed in numerous ways throughout the entire letter. Paul’s call for these two women to be of the same mind in the Lord repeats his major challenge to the entire community to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (2:2).” 2

To be of the same mind means to have the same attitude or goal. What attitude or goal is Paul referring to? Well, we can go back in the letter and see where he gives an example of an attitude to model and a goal to press in after:

2:2-5: 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind (attitude), having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind (attitude) among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,

3:14-15: 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (boasting in and attaining the Kingdom of God). 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Paul’s asking them to humble themselves, think of the others’ needs before their own because they are family. Press to know God’s kingdom and advance it, not your own.
“When their common bond in the Lord becomes central, their attitude toward each other will be the same as Christ Jesus expressed on the way to the cross: they will not claim their rights for their own advantage; they will take the form of a servant; they will humble themselves (2:5-8).” 3 And when treated like a servant, they will not shriek in anger or cry injustice. Rather, they who are mature will see the bigger picture and seek peace.

Paul is concerned with this conflict to the point of not only calling out both women to be of the same attitude, but he also brings in a third party, a moderator which is a great idea when two believers are at an impasse. “Help these women”, Paul says, “as they are believers who are a part of God’s family. Entreat them to live like they are.”

Now Paul turns again to fire off imperative after imperative (command after command):

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice: This command extends the theme of joy that Paul is after in this letter. This Imperative (command) serves to set the tone for all that follows in this passage. Paul is writing this letter from prison to Christians who are suffering for aligning themselves with Jesus and His kingdom more than Caesar and his kingdom.

This command calls for an attitude that is cheerful in every circumstance as being the dominant theme in the life of a Christian. All other satisfaction is birthed out of rejoicing in the Lord (being satisfied in/with HIm). Ultimately, the source of our joy “comes from what the Lord has done in the past, from what He is doing now, and from the hope of what He will do.” 4

Until the return of Jesus we are all going to endure loss, pain, disappointment, stress, sickness, humiliation, and even our own death. The only joy that lasts is joy found in God. Satisfaction in Him. Remembering our conversion like King David did: 1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. (Ps. 40:1-3a)

5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; “In light of your rejoicing” (or “As you rejoice”), be reasonable with it. The Gk. word here is “epieikḗs” which means gentleness, compassion, or sympathy. So we can say “let your softness” be known to everyone. The KJV gives us the word moderation. Don’t be a Joseph who rejoiced with his brothers when they didn’t even get it. Be gentle with those who aren’t rejoicing or don’t get why you should be rejoicing in all things. Jesus was gentle and lowly in heart, so should we be (Matt. 11:29). He is with us, and He is coming back!

So we get the kind of rejoicing that Paul is after in v. 4 is gentle, humble, caring for others kind of rejoicing, that is patient with others, not in a self-righteous kind of way.
6a do not be anxious about anything: Don’t worry, be happy now… This wasn’t some happy go lucky comment that is detached from reality kind of statement. He was in prison, tomorrow was uncertain, suffering was his reality at that moment. Danger was everywhere. Same with the Philippians. They were in danger of poverty, hunger, isolation, heretics that sought to destroy them, and a government that wanted them dead in Rome.

This sounds much like the words that Jesus rendered to his listeners at the sermon on the mount: 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?… 28b Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you… 31 Therefore do not be anxious… 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt. 6:25, 26-27, 28b-31a, 33

6b but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God: Don’t worry, but wait and pray with a thankful heart! Pray with a thankful heart. Prayers that are devoid of thanksgiving are prayers that come from those who are devoid of grace (or at least being able to see evidences of God’s grace). Grace produces thankfulness. Pray with a thankful heart for who Jesus says you are, and what He has promised for you today and in the future.

7 And (here is the implication of obedience to the imperatives)…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. What a trade off! “Seek me first with rejoicing and thankfulness, and I will give you peace.” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:26

This peace transcends all rational thinking or any reality that you are facing today. This peace is, as Paul says in Ephesians 3:20 is “far more” than we could ever ask or even think of. Peace in our souls is what is at stake here. Peace that guards (garrisons) our hearts and our mind through the good news of Jesus! Peace will overwhelm-ingly flow to those who with thanksgiving, make their requests known to God!

This is how you get to what Paul closes with. Rejoicing in the Lord and conversing with Him with a thankful heart allows us to think in the way that he closes with only because God’s peace that is more than we could ever imagine has garrisoned our whole selves:

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

In other words, think about and preach the gospel to yourselves. Talk about how God, by the power of the gospel, has transformed your life, restored relationships, brought you out of despair, gave you hope, etc… Whatever is “good”, think and talk about that. There is enough bad gossip that we like to run to naturally because of our love for sin, so fight it by talking about the gospel! ) Give brief reference of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3 vs. Joseph in Gen. 39. Adam and Eve focused on the forbidden fruit and never looked up at the thousands of trees that were provided. Joseph looked away from the forbidden fruit at all the Potiphar had entrusted to him. Think about all that God has given and stop desiring that which is forbidden.

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. This is a “work out what God has worked in” statement. Indicative: All that Christ has done for you. Imperative: Now practice, or put to use what you have already been given by Christ. Then peace… No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace!

Let’s Pray!

Philippians Week 10: God’s Plan for Biblical Hermeneutics

Read Philippians 3:17-21: 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

This passage we have before us this morning comes on the heels Paul talking about himself, how Jesus is his righteousness through faith and how that radical grace has propelled him to not pursue anything else with more intensity but to attain all that Christ Jesus has prepared for him. Let’s review over what Paul has just said to us:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…

10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…

This gives us a little glimpse into where Paul may be headed this morning; basically, Jesus is everything and there is nothing in this world that is worth giving ourselves to in any way that would rob from the glory due to the High name of Jesus!

He purchased my salvation! He robed me with a white robe of righteousness! He absorbed my blood stained clothes and clothed me in beautiful white robe! He sealed me with His promise by His Spirit and forever dwells in me! He is making me more like Himself day after day! He remains faithful even when I am not! He is coming back again to reclaim His lost sheep to dwell with Him forever! He holds all things together and in Him and for Him all things were created! This is our Jesus!! You get me?

Now Paul is inviting us into this radically different life when he says: “Brothers, join in imitating me…” literally, mimic me. To casual readers, this could sound totally arrogant in our day and age. But notice what Paul says after this statement: and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

The “those” Paul is talking about is probably understood to be Timothy and Epap (2:19,25). Remember that these excellent men had followed the example of Christ by not seeking their own interests but rather the interests of others (cf. 2:4, 20, 21).

Modeling godly men and women who have gone before us is of grave importance. It is how good athletes become great, good musicians become great, good writers, and dancers, and mothers, and teachers all become great by being learners and having great models to watch and observe and follow after their way.

Consider Hebrews 13:7: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

Observe those godly leaders whom God has placed around you and consider their outcome of life, and model them. This is a good thing. It seems arrogant, but look at it in perspective to the rest of life. We all mimic mentors and people training us at jobs, parenting, school, sports, etc. This is how God set it up.

Who are you imitating? Who’s influencing you? What kind of crowd are you running with? You running with Tim’s and Epap’s? Or are you running with the dogs and cannibals (3:2)? We must choose our friends and mentors wisely.

And for you leaders, “it is of greatest importance that…[you] not descend to be professionals — that we constantly desire to know Christ and “the power of his resurrection” and the fellowship of his sufferings — that we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call” with all our being. Those who pursue Christ will produce those who pursue Christ. And it is only those who continue to run after Christ who will stand firm.” 1

The Problem: We are all worshipers, but the problem is that we worship wrongly. We were created to worship and imitate God, but instead we worship and imitate what He created. This always leads to destruction.

Paul is so concerned with imitating godly men and women because there are enemies of the gospel that Paul has warned them about who are in grave danger: 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. These guys are the exact opposite of Paul’s above examples.

Their lifestyles mocked the gospel and the life of accepting suffering was foolishness to them and sacrificing for Christ’s sake was a joke. They are enemies of the cross; claiming the benefits of the cross, but not living in the power of it. Paul uses such strong words to oppose these opposers with 4 strong phrases. He says:

v. 19a: Their end is destruction. (cf. 1:28): “These people had faces and names familiar, and even beloved, to the Philippians. Nevertheless, their cross-denying behavior…is destructive to their souls and to others who follow them.” 2

v. 19b: their god is their belly: Essentially their appetite for lustful glutenous and sexual delights made gods out of good things that God gave to man. Their pursuit of worldly comforts and pleasures have drowned out their necessity for the cross of Jesus Christ.

“Today the professed Christian whose own physical and personal needs come before the Lord, whose bodily comforts (what and where he eats, how and where he lives, and what he spends to satisfy his own pleasures) displace the cross, had better take note because his god has become his belly. Beware of any pleasure that impedes the passionate pursuit of Christ.” 3

v. 19c: and they glory in their shame: This refers to the sexual excesses and exploitation of our bodies and others’ bodies. The word shame to a first century Jew or Greek would bring to mind shame of nakedness (with their bodies). This brings to mind:

1 Cor. 5:1-2, 6: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you…. 6 Your boasting is not good! Bragging about their sin because of misapplied grace. This is an offense to the gospel. Playing with sex by the means of your own rules, forsaking God’s great plan!

v. 19d: with minds set on earthly things: Their whole disposition in life was driven by the sinful culture or worldview, without any consideration of God being the Creator and sustainer of all.

This all smells so much like the words of John in 1 John 2:15:17: 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

John gives us 3 things to focus on in this passage: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The first two are pleasures, things we don’t have/want, and the third one is possessions, things we do have:
– lust of the flesh (raw carnality/what my body wants, crude or cultured)
– lust of the eyes (image/what we want people to think of us)
– the pride of life (cars, job, house, education, power, money)

The Greek first century world was driven by these three things: power, pleasure, possessions which are all fueled by pride. This all starts in the heart, internally, yet we focus on the external. We put out the outward fires, but the problem is a huge forest fire destroying our heart. Outwardly, we look great, happy and content. Inwardly, we are withering away with discontentment, anxiety and sadness. What we thought would make us happy is working out to be our destruction (Phil. 3:19a).

What Paul is trying to say to us is that the way we live (our appetites, desires and motives), the things in which we find comfort and joy, and our character when no one is looking all tell which worldview we are living by or believe to be true.

Many of us as believers live this way. We know God, we have been purchased and redeemed by His love, but do not experience Him. We live in recognition that there is a God, yet see no connection between that belief and how we go about our daily affairs.

We never consider or factor God into our decisions, or pattern our lives after His values. Consequently, we believe in God but behave and live life as if He doesn’t exist.

It’s a dichotomy, a split between what we say and what we do. It explains the chasm between what many people say they believe and how they live out their lives. Statistics about our culture bear this out:

Many of us believe God exists:
– Almost 9 out of 10 (88%) Americans claim to believe in God (Gallup, 2007)
– More than 3 out of 4 Americans (77%) claim to be Christian (Gallup, 2009)

Yet few of us live like God exists:
– Less than 1 in 10 (9%) of people hold to a basic Christian worldview, including a Biblical understanding of Jesus, Satan, salvation and heaven (Gallup, 2009)
– Slightly more than one out of ten people (13%) attend (or are apart of) a Bible-believing church (ARDA, US Census 2009)

Many Christians speak of feeling disconnected from God and discouraged with life because they have come to believe that it isn’t possible to genuinely experience God or that a great move of God will change our life as we know it. We’ve lost sight of the “good news” of Jesus being a reality now, not just in the future. This destroys the beauty of God in our lives and to the world.

The Answer: You are a citizen of heaven. You await a savior to give you all your heart has ever desired. He will transform your lowly body. You will reign with Christ!

Look back at Phil. 3:20, this is where it gets good. Paul says: 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

So Paul moves from the earth dwelling enemies of the gospel, to the kingdom dwellers who have a citizenship in heaven and live differently because of it. Do you see the problem and answer in this passage?

v. 20a: But our citizenship is in heaven: This takes us back to Phil. 1:27 when Paul tells the Philippians to let your lives be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel. ”In 1:27 it is the verb politeúes-the, and here in 3:20 it is the noun políteuma. Both are built on the noun polis, which means “city.” All kinds of English words come from this: police, metropolis, political, politician.” 4

The reality of Paul’s words means that there is a city that you are aligned with (citizens of) more than you are a Roman. This is a direct assault against patriotic love for nation being supreme over your love and loyalty to God and His kingdom. These are fighting words for the “Don’t mess with Texas” mentality in Philippi. Paul is making a clear and HUGE statement here!

v. 20b: and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: With eager expectation, we long for (wait for) the return of Jesus Christ, the one who saved us. This is the name that is highly exalted, by which every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We wait for this glorious King…v. 21: who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself: The outcome of the great and glorious King who is coming will be the transformation of our lowly, sinful and broken bodies into the likeness of His glorified body. Our future bodies will be like His post-resurrected body that the 500 witnesses gazed upon, talked to, ate with… Jesus!

All this is done and is enabled by the same power that Christ used to subject “ALL” things to Himself. There is a sure-ness, an absolute-ness to what God can promise because of His power. Only Christ Jesus can command our destiny, our future. It’s all about Jesus!! Let’s all live like we believe it:

Lesslie Newbigin took the pastorate of a tiny church in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of London when he was 80.  Here in 1987, he talks about how the Indian, Muslim and Caribbeans in the community around where he is pastoring are easier to talk to about the gospel than the typical Westernized American. It is a good reminder of the upward battle we have to witness to the gospel to people who have become immune to it.

“To the Muslim the gospel is shocking but at least it is significant. To Hindus and Sikhs it is something really worth listening to – even if one finally decides that it is just another version of the ‘religion’ which is common to us all. Many of the Afro-Caribbean people in our inner cities are devout Christians whose faith, hope and love put most of us to shame.”
“But for the majority of the natives, the Christian story is an old fairy-tale which they have put behind them. It is not even worth listening to. One shuts the door and turns back to the TV screen where endless images of the ‘good life’ are on tap at all hours. How can this strange story of God made man, of a crucified saviour, of resurrection and new creation become credible for those whose entire mental training has conditioned them to believe that the real world is the world which can be satisfactorily explained and managed without the hypothesis of God? I know of only one clue to the answering of that question, only one real hermeneutic of the gospel: a congregation which believes it.”

Closing Exhortation:
May the body of Christ provide you with many examples to follow.
May the lives of the enemies of the cross be cause for tears and alarm.
May the wonders of your citizenship and your future dance in your soul.
May you live by and believe the gospel in your daily life.
And may you “stand firm” in your pursuit of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14).5

Let’s Pray!

Philippians Week 9: Facing Your Brokenness (3:12-16)

Read Phil. 3:12-16:

Last week we read that Paul’s desire was to “know him (Jesus) and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

And in verse 12, he says, I am not there (obviously), but this is my goal! This is what I am after in life. I am not swayed to the left or the right! I want to know Jesus. His power. His suffering. To be like Him. To be raised with Him.

Paul says that he is not already perfect which is in opposition of other opposers of the gospel who say that they have reached a state of perfection, in effect, “They have arrived!” They got heaven now. Here’s the tragedy with those who want heaven now or who think heaven is now; they are living their best life now. This is sad, because last I checked, we are still stuck in a sin-filled world with effects of the fall all around us.

If anyone could get there, it would’ve been Paul who wrote most of the NT and enjoyed intimate fellowship with Jesus like no other and was trained by none other than the Holy Spirit in person, in the desert of Arabia. But here he openly confesses that he isn’t perfect, he hasn’t arrived. “But” he says…

v. 12b: but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Paul uses some strong language here. Press in Greek is diṓkō; to pursue, prosecute, persecute, but also to pursue in a good sense (with repeated acts of enmity or intensity)

“To make” my own and “made me” his own are the word “katalambánō”; this is a military term which means to lay hold of, seize, with eagerness. Paul uses such strong words because God so strongly took hold of him and he is getting across to us a war-time mentality.

Do you remember that story? On the road to Damascus God shined a bright light on Paul, knocked his butt off his horse, blinded him, spoke directly to him, and told him what his plan for him was. God forcefully took hold of Paul in a loving way. God took hold of Paul, now Paul is taking hold of His kingdom, with force.

Doesn’t this sound familiar to a quote that Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew? Let’s go there to see if maybe this is what Paul is getting after with the language he uses here, because the what he says after he uses this language is that important as Paul says “But one thing I do” with this kind of intensity…

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12

The kingdom of heaven is the topic here and I believe it’s the topic Paul is referring to in the passage in Phil. 3. The goal is to take hold of the kingdom of God and inherit a new body (Phil 3:11). So we need to unpack what the kingdom is that Paul speaks of.

The kingdom of God is about Jesus our King establishing his rule and reign over all creation, defeating the human and spiritually evil powers, bringing full order, exacting justice, bringing up the lowly and poor, bringing to nothing those who are arrogant, clothing for the naked and destitute, and being knelt to by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, being declared Lord!

The kingdom is both a journey and a destination, both a rescue operation in this broken world and a perfect outcome in the new earth to come, both already started and not yet finished. Praise God!

Just how exactly is the kingdom of God advanced and entered or how is it forcefully pursued with an upward call of God in Christ Jesus? Jesus is essentially saying this: “the kingdom of heaven is forcefully or violently advancing, in a figurative sense, against the kingdom of darkness (Matthew 12:28; cf. Luke 10:18) and those who enter it through faith in Jesus exercise a sort of divine force or violence against all things that oppose it.”

The church needs more “violent” men and women who take the kingdom of heaven by force. The church is in need of men and women who have been captivated by faith in Jesus to pursue him passionately and powerfully, doing whatever it takes to live the life of faith required by the radical message of the kingdom and to share that message of hope and healing with others in word and deed.

Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom, not through retaliation or force, but through a way of preaching and living that was at once peaceful and relentless. He was willing to die, and did die, for our sake and for the sake of His kingdom. Through His example we learn that the manner of the kingdom’s arrival must reflect the nature of the kingdom itself. And those who belong to His kingdom must live in a manner worth of His kingdom (Phil. 1:27).

We cannot say that we have tasted of God’s kingdom, and know parts of it, and have received a heart to inherit it and not say and do as Paul says and does to some extent:
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,

(The following notes have been adapted from Mending the Soul, chapter 8, by Steve Tracy)
Okay. We need to stop here for a bit before we close up shop for today and address this passage because of the utter misuse of it in the past and currently. Many Christians argue that we don’t need to understand all the things that happened in the past to be able to move forward victoriously into the future because of this passage.

Looking back at our past wounds is often said to be “blame shifting”, which only leads to destructive bitterness. Others say that revisiting all the junk of the past only serves to prolong the pain. “What’s done is done. Why stir up the past? It can’t be changed. Just focus on obedience to God in the present.”

Time after time I’ve heard Christians use Philippians 3:13 to prove these points. Actually, it was used on me this past week from someone who wants to just overlook past sexual sin and abuse, as well as recent neglect and manipulation. This is an ignorant and completely misguided view of this passage. The painful events of our past have more than likely created a deep-seated trauma, shame, and distorted perceptions that negatively shape the present until they are exposed and challenged, not to mention the destructive nature of hidden and neglected sin.

“Facing the reality and impact of our past is implicit in Philippians 3:13. When Paul tells the Philippians that believers should forget what lies behind, he isn’t saying we should simply put the past behind us, forget about it, and focus on the future. He can’t be saying this, because just a few verses earlier he gave a detailed account of his past (3:1–7), including his previous abuse of Christians (3:6). It must have been very painful for Paul to reflect on the fact that in the past he had personally abused Christians, but he doesn’t shrink back from such reflection and confession.”

It was Paul’s self-righteousness apart from Christ that gives us the correct context of “forgetting what lies behind”. Paul clearly understood his past, that’s how he could so freely speak of it without shame. In short, we can’t put the past behind us until we have wrestled with the reality of what we’ve done, and/or what’s been done to us. Actually it is the abusers most of the time who want to put the past behind so they won’t be found out. Also, the abused can think the past is behind because of toxic shame and minimizing the sin done against them.

So let’s do this briefly. Adapted from Mending the Soul, I’m gonna lay out four main reasons why believers should face their brokenness (take an honest look at their past abuse and pain) as they seek to become spiritually and emotionally healthy and ”press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

1) To Express Faith in God: Facing your sinful past or deeply wounded past, is a huge statement of faith in God. Dan Allender, in his book, the Wounded Heart puts it succinctly: “Denial is an affront to God. It assumes that a false reality is better than the truth. It assumes that God is neither good nor strong enough to help during the recall process. Ultimately, the choice to face past [abuse] memories is the choice not to live a lie.”

Refusing to deal with your junk is a passive denial of God’s existence or power to heal your pain. Because our denial of our painful reality is so natural to our sin nature, it is rarely labeled as sinful. But it is deeply sinful and it deeply affects you and others in your life and it hinders you from being able to live out today’s passage.

Nor do we understand how much our “not dealing with it” dishonors the God who loves you. The Bible says that God is a God of truth (John 14:6). God is the Lord of history, who will ultimately triumph over all human evil (1 Corinthians 15:25–26; Revelation 20:7–15). Scripture declares that nothing, not natural disaster, abuse, or demonic powers, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). Thus, refusal to face the truth about our brokenness is no trivial matter.

“To state it positively, as we refuse to deaden ourselves to the truth and to the pain of our past abuse, we throw ourselves into the arms of the only one who can heal us. This is why Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who are willing to mourn (and to keep on mourning); they are the ones who will experience divine comfort (Matthew 5:4). As long as we minimize the ugliness of our lives, we short-circuit the divinely ordained means of grace. We also short-circuit the experience of God’s power and sufficiency. It is only when we stand naked and broken before him, refusing to ease our pain by lying to ourselves, that we fully taste his sweetness.”

2) To Live in Truth: Facing our brokenness forces us to live in the truth and helps us to identify and extinguish the destructive lies created by the shame of our sin, or the sin done against us. Thus, looking at our painful past is necessary for correcting the distorting effects of shame.

The reality in life is that most children who are abused either blame themselves for the abuse done to them or they minimize their pain or sin done against them. When they become adults, they have to learn to live in truth and place proper blame on the abuser and for themselves, they need take proper responsibility for own sin, without bearing the sin of their offender.

We often do not live in truth when we carry the shame of someone who acted shamelessly. We must go back and deal with that so we do not carry shame of sin that is not ours to carry. You tracking with me? As we face the reality of our brokenness, we can begin to embrace the truth and reject the lies.

3) To Heal: Facing the truth and the pain of our past is necessary for us to do if we are to relieve and heal from the ongoing pain and trauma of past wounds. Unresolved sin and pain from the past always makes it’s way into present life and relationships. Many of us here today have broken relationships today because of our junk being unresolved, thinking if it’s out of sight, then it’s out of mind. This is simply not the case.

What we do is blame-shift and make other people or things the problem in our lives and we leave a trail of destruction and make a fool of ourselves by trying to numb the our pain by controlling others, manipulating, gossiping, judging to make yourself feel better, etc…All this is us trying to be real and feel better, but we are just being frauds! We must heal which means we must go back and deal with our junk.

Let me clarify one thing before we move to the last reason. “The goal of facing our brokenness is not to wallow in the past but to reclaim it in such a way that it loses its destructive grip on the present. In short, trauma symptoms are not healed by ignoring past trauma but by facing, processing, and reinterpreting the trauma.”

4) To Experience Healthy Relationships: Facing the truth and the pain of our past is also necessary in order to experience appropriate, healthy relationships. In other words, we must be honest about others’ sins against us in the past in order to experience appropriate relationships in the present. As we relate in an appropriate manner with abusive people—setting boundaries, reconciling only when they have repented, and so forth—we minimize the risk of additional abuse to ourselves and others, and we increase the likelihood that they will be convicted of their sin.

This is what we are after here at Kineo. As long as we do not relentlessly pursue the wholeness of truth, we are going to be dysfunctional,angry, bitter, hopeless, confused, never fitting in and always blaming others or the system. We long to be healthy, but un-health is rampant and it takes courageous people who get the gospel and believe it to be able to face their past, heal and move forward like Paul closes out here today.

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

At the end of the day, as Christians and citizens of God’s kingdom, we will be changed and will begin to live differently with more intensity for God’s kingdom and against the sin which tries to distort and destroy God’s kingdom and God’s people. Paul says in verse 15 that we should think this way (make it our one goal to take hold of God’s kingdom and not press in after anything that perishes).

He also says that if we don’t think this way and we are believers, then God will reveal this to you and will change your heart. The implied message is, if you are not a son or daughter of God, you will not believe this or live in light of this kingdom minded news. But for those of us who are children of God, let’s live like we are and “hold true to what we have attained”, the kingdom of God.

The good news is that we know Jesus wins in the end, and as his church, we are privileged to be used by him to usher his kingdom in. His kingdom has come, is coming, and will ultimately be established in the new heaven and new earth, where the wicked will face judgment and the righteous will go unto eternal life where there is no more pain, tears, or death. For Christians, this is the great hope of our salvation. For those who are not Christians, Jesus calls you to come to him and receive this gift of eternal life in this life before that end does come.

Let’s Pray!