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Participation Trophies

October 14, 2017

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Philippians 3:1-7

Like a good teacher, Paul gathers his thoughts for a summary of what the class should remember for the tests of life.

First, an important caution: beware, beware, beware. Beware of everything false. This is akin to Jesus’ warning to “be shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Life must be navigated with the understanding that evil lurks around every corner. Square everything with what you know to be true, with the aid of the Spirit of God.

Here’s the operating principle: put no confidence in the flesh. In other words, don’t trust your own judgment. Submit everything, through prayer, for processing through God’s grid.

This may be quite difficult for those with impressive resumes. Paul counted up all his accomplishments and tossed them in the trash. I say we list only the things that we’ve had the privilege of watching God accomplish through us.

Some of us purists don’t like participation trophies. We think if you don’t win, you don’t get any hardware. But in this instance, we proudly display proof of our participation in God’s miracles, “Grade B” or otherwise.

Exhibits A and B

October 13, 2017

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. Philippians 2:19-30

In contemplating sending Timothy to the Philippians, Paul was planning to part ways with his right-hand man. But who better than Timothy, “Exhibit A,” to illustrate someone who “had the attitude that was in Christ Jesus?”

This would be a supreme act of generosity on Paul’s part. No doubt it would be tough cutting loose someone who served Paul like a child, who was his “kindred spirit,” and who always tipped the scales in favor of the interests of others.

While he waited to see how things went with him, he was sending back fellow Philippian Epaphroditus, a suitable “Exhibit B,” who risked his life for the gospel.

My questions, after reading this, are sobering. Have I over time allowed myself to be molded by a Paul-type of man? Have I become a Timothy or Epaphroditus to anyone?Have I consistently discipled a man effectively enough for him to become a true extension of myself? But most importantly, am I a compelling enough example of a Christ-follower for anyone to want to follow? Now that one hurt!

We’ve Got Something to Prove

October 12, 2017

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. Philippians 2:12-18

Once you really know what Christianity is all about, what salvation really means, there’s “fear and trembling” that you’ll get it right, so there’s obedience. Things will now be done without “grumbling and disputing,” whereas before, perhaps not, and this new spirit is noticeable to all.

Now the objective is to be “blameless and innocent,” putting you squarely at odds with the “crooked and perverse” generation in which we live.

If this brand of Christianity can be pulled off, our lights will stand out as stars in a country sky, and the word of God will be illumined for all to read.

Our faith will be practically implemented through “sacrifice and service,” actions increasingly rare in a dark world.

We all have something to prove (v. 15) in this race called life. The “day of Christ” is upon us! And know this, if we do the work, he will be pleased upon his return.

In the Form of God, in the Likeness of Men

October 11, 2017

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8

Before the incarnation, Jesus existed in the form of God. He came and “was made” in the likeness of men. John describes the event like this:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

As an aside, we might not need to die for mankind, but the world can really use men and women full of “grace and truth.”

Anyway, these great theological truths are given as an illustration of the practical out-working of Paul’s plea for likemindedness. That we have personal interests is acknowledged (2:4). That we allow room for others is encouraged.

This attitude was embodied in Jesus. Though he existed in the form of God, he spent his time on earth serving his subjects, even to the point of a humiliating and agonizing death on the cross.

All Paul was asking for was a little empathy in the church. It’d go a long way.

Keeping it Holstered

October 10, 2017

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11

Here comes one of the most important passages in the Bible, commonly known “kenosis.” Imagine if you had the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus. Apparently it’s possible, because Paul calls for the Philippians to possess it! I am slightly facetious in saying this.

We sit around wishing we had the “lives of the rich and famous,” yet we can acquire the key characteristic of Jesus Christ our Lord; only it’s humility!

We’d normally opt for his power like James and John, who requested permission to call down fire from heaven (Luke 9:54). This is the exact point. Christ holstered all of his power while on earth–his miracles being the exceptions. He could have rained down all manner of retribution on his enemies, but didn’t, choosing instead to momentarily shed his rights and privileges to become a bond-servant.

We’ve got the same kind of firepower residing in us, and he wants us to use it being humble. James and John–maybe like us–were thinking more along the lines of sitting on the Lord’s right hand and left (Mark 10:37).

Truth is, it’ll take all the power we (he on our behalf) can muster to accomplish this feat–to be humble! That’s why our Lord was the only one who was able to pull it off.

But note, we only need to possess the Lord’s attitude. It’s the mindset He’s after.

We may not be an elite athlete, but we can still think, and act, like one.

Perfection Perfected

October 9, 2017

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-4

An orchestra’s composed of gifted and trained musicians, led by a conductor who knows all the parts and capabilities of each instrument. At the highest level, the music has been written and arranged by a genius, and is considered a masterpiece. Despite all these factors, if each instrument is not in tune, or if one player decides that his or her part needs to be heard above all others, the performance will be ruined.

Paul observed all the necessary traits (encouragement, love, fellowship, affection, compassion) in the church at Philippi, but also the potentially ruinous presence of selfishness. He wanted to hear perfection, as would any conductor (or audience), and this could only happen with selflessness, perhaps the hardest Christian attribute to pull off.

That led him to the example of Christ (Phil. 2:5).

Rules of Engagement

October 8, 2017

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. Philippians 1:27-30

We don’t often think of the gospel as the “rules,” but if followed, it will create Christlike behavior, marked by unity and courage in the church. Paul needed the Philippians to “stand firm” in it, whether or not he returned. The gospel he left behind would graciously regulate them if allowed.

Philippi was a Roman colony, and following Roman law was a citizen’s duty. We, being citizens of heaven, should follow its rules, which were set forth in the life and teachings of Christ, the gospel, if you will, the crux of our faith. In doing so, we will draw fire from the world, as Christ did, and as Paul did, resulting in “suffering.”

We march to a different drum beat. We are out of step with the world. But we’re “not alarmed.”