I have a sister-in-law who has four kids. In her dining room there is a big sign that reads, “Thou shalt not whine.” If God had given Moses eleven commandments, “Do not grumble” may well have been the addition. Through Paul, God does prohibit complaining. We read in our text for today: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”
I find it interesting that after one of the most eloquent and poignant sections of scripture (namely, the Christ hymn of Philippians 2:5-11), Paul’s application to the Philippians is “Don’t grumble.” Why is that?
Grumbling is the expression of discontentment and unbelief. Grumbling, murmuring, and complaining is simply the verbalization of a lack of trust. A whole generation of Israelites died in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in God, voiced through their grumbling and complaining. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me’” (Numbers 14:26-29).
Grumbling destroys relationships. Notice that Paul couples grumbling with “arguing.” We begin by complaining about circumstances, but it quickly becomes personal. We find someone to blame, someone to point a finger at, someone to argue with. And this undermines relationships. Instead of grumbling about and arguing with each other, believers should be “of one spirit and one mind.” What makes believers different is their unity and harmony. Their love for each other is what causes them to stand out like stars shining in the night sky. Jesus didn’t grumble when he found himself as a human being. Instead, he served others, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God.
Finally, grumbling kills joy. Joy springs out of the soil of gratitude. Grumbling is the opposite of gratitude. Our reading for today begins with the words “Do everything without grumbling…” and ends with the words “…be glad and rejoice with me.” There’s a book on my office shelf titled “Happiness is a Choice.” We don’t choose all of our circumstances or the people we’re “chained” to; however, we do choose our responses. Grumbling kills joy. Gratitude grows gladness.
God doesn’t expect us to ignore pain or live in denial of suffering. However, he does want our joy to be rooted in a permanent, underlying gratitude for his saving work through Jesus Christ. So, which will it be today? Grumbling or rejoicing? Your choice.
“Work out your salvation.” Wait, did I hear that right? Did Paul actually write that? Didn’t he write elsewhere that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works? (See Ephesians 2:8-9.) Is this a contradiction of fact or just a puzzle to resolve?
Are there any life experiences that can help us understand Paul’s intent? Did your parents ever begin a project and then ask you to finish the job? “Oh, by the way,” they said, “we’ll be away for awhile and we want you to have it completed when we get back.” You had obeyed them in the past, and they were not concerned about your following through in their absence. Was it more difficult to follow their instructions when they were absent than when they were at home?
What might it be like today in current society? Is it easier to cheat on the rules a bit, when supervision is close by or farther away? Well, that’s almost a rhetorical question, isn’t it? The older we grow, the more freedom we have to exercise our own judgment regarding our behavior. In today’s story, Paul had confidence in the Philippians; he commended them for their obedience “not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence,” So, maybe it’s not a question of environment or companions or distance from oversight, but a matter of integrity and honor, the character we develop as we grow physically and spiritually.
Paul wrote, “Continue to work out your own salvation.” To paraphrase, he said, “I’ve given you instructions; now I want you to work at it continually until I return.” He was speaking of something that was deeply embedded in them, something that was the inward cause of every good action. It was the transforming work of God that enables the believer to live in ways that honor him and edify others.
The New Living Translation puts it this way, “work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” Those who are familiar with New Testament Greek tell us that the word Paul uses means “to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.” While our salvation is secure in Christ, it has not yet been completed. Remember, what Paul wrote in 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” The maturing of our salvation will continue until “the day of Christ Jesus.”
As others have said, Paul is telling Christians to “work out” what God “works in.” He is writing to believers who have experienced the saving work of God’s Holy Spirit. “Therefore” (v. 12) in light of their salvation, they should demonstrate it by living a transformed life. And, just as it is God who worked in them to save them (by grace) it is “God who works in you [now] to . . . fulfill his good purpose” (v. 13).
Well then, what is God’s “good purpose”? There might be many answers, but one is quite clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “. . . God works for the good of those who . . . have been called according to his purpose . . . to be conformed to the image of his Son . . .” (Romans 8:29-20). jbd 9/24/18
Oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, streams—they’re everywhere; hundreds, probably thousands. Anyone heard of “Divide Creek”? How about “North Two Ocean Creek”?
Divide Creek, a stream in northern Canada, is an example of streams and rivers that divide. One branch of the stream flows to the Pacific Ocean, the other to the Hudson Bay—eventually making its way to the Atlantic. Similarly, North Two Ocean Creek, a stream in Wyoming, splits at a point known as “Parting of the Waters,” with some of the water flowing into the Snake and then Columbia rivers—eventually reaching the Pacific Ocean, and the rest flowing into the Missouri and then Mississippi rivers—eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Wow!
(Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could drop some rubber duckies into one of these streams and follow them through thickets and prairies, over rapids and waterfalls, pausing in pools and eddies—eventually ending up in different oceans thousands of miles away!)
Unfortunately, water that divides surprisingly applies to Christians. Different practices of baptism are part of what causes division within Christ’s body. The water of baptism often divides, rarely unites.
For the sake of unity in the body of Christ, it would be great if believers could set aside their differences. Maybe the best we can hope for is to make progress toward proper attitudes about the differences.
The passages in Philippians and elsewhere in this week’s readings emphasize what Christians share in common. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (see Eph 4:4-6).
Fundamentally, though Christians have many baptisms in form, they have one baptism in function. While it’s unlikely that any one church has a perfect theology and practice of baptism—and they are arrogant if they think they do!—we should be able to appreciate the significance of various forms that believers practice. There can actually be good theology in the waters that divide.
Baptism by immersion embodies being buried with Jesus in his death, being cleansed, and rising from death to resurrected life. Being baptized in a river suggests that confessed sin can disappear downstream, forgiven—never to be seen again. Going into the water three times or immersing three times symbolizes the trinity and recalls the three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Coming out of the water and putting on white garments pictures new life and righteousness.
Baptism by sprinkling or pouring recalls the sprinkling of blood on the doorframes of houses at the first Passover (when God saved the Chosen people out of Egypt), as well as the sacrificial sprinkling in the tabernacle (which represented atonement). Being anointed by the Spirit and being sprinkled by Jesus’ blood are also emblematic in baptism by sprinkling.
Some churches have a baptismal font at the back of the church, instead of the front—not hidden behind a curtain. As worshipers pass by, they’re reminded of the cleansing and new life in Christ.
Despite all the differences in baptismal forms, there is good news. It is ONE baptism into Christ: one Lord, one faith, one baptism—yes, it’s ONE body of Christ. Exalting Jesus puts everything else in perspective.
APPLICATION: Fortunately, unity does not require uniformity. But it does require the things Paul emphasized (see the summary in this past Monday’s blog): “Agree with each other wholeheartedly; love each other; work together with one heart and purpose; value others above ourselves; be interested in others and what they are doing.” As others have noted this week, humility is an essential virtue. “Ego? Forget about it!” (quoting Wednesday’s blog). In other words, we’re basically rubber duckies—among a whole lot of other duckies—floating down the river of life. And this river won’t divide.
“He received nothing from others; his was a life of giving, and the giving of a life…No service is greater than to redeem sinners by his own death, no ministry is lowlier than to die in the stead of sinners.” (Spurgeon)
Last night at sundown, 9-19-18, Yom Kippur ended. Yom Kippur is Hebrew for Day of Atonement and is observed by Jews all over the globe. From sundown on 9-18-18 to sundown on 9-19-18 they fasted and spent time in prayer for and study of sin and atonement. They do this because they do not have a temple to make sacrifices to atone for their sins.
Today our Scripture focuses on Matthew 20:17-28 where Jesus foretells His death, the final sacrifice to atone once and for all for our sins. There is no greater example of humility than that of the cross of Yeshua. Second Corinthians 8:9 says “ For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
In Matthew 20:20-28 we see a request made by the mother of James and John that they might sit at the right hand of Jesus in His Kingdom. Jesus knowing that they did not understand tells them that is not His decision but the Fathers. Jesus tells them that whoever among them would be great must be a servant, because even the Son of God came not to be served but to serve.
Christ came not to do His own will, but the will of He who sent Him. That is how we should live our lives, not to do our own will but to do His. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are the ultimate example of humility and when we live as He lived we will stand apart. Christ makes all in the difference, and those who do not know Him can see that difference in our lives as believers.
On Yom Kippur in 1983 Orit sat in a synagogue in Haifa, Israel. As she observed many of the Jewish traditions for this sacred day she couldn’t help but notice it all felt a bit empty. She tells One for Israel in an article called Finding True Atonement On Yom Kippur “I just knew there wasn’t anything that could cleanse us from sin, and bring us closer to God, but we needed something much bigger – I asked God to reveal Himself to me, and He did.” On that day she came to know Yeshua as Savior. Jesus makes all the difference and as we grow to become more like Him we will grow in humility that sets us apart from the world.
In Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood you were made to feel good about yourself because you are soooo special. Does being special have inherent rights? American citizens have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Do you claim that right as a Christian?
The antithesis of grasping rights is found in the life and death of the incarnate Son of God. He chose obedience when he laid aside the full scope of the attributes He had in heaven so that He could take on human frailties when he came to live in the spiritual desert of our world. Not only did He enter this wilderness, but the wilderness of the world entered into Him. He became homeless, despised, rejected, spit upon, and murdered – all for love. Genuine love trumps a demand for rights. Because of our Savior’s humility we can love Him because He first loved us. He gave us a supreme example of being sacrificially humble.
I often reread Tim Keller’s booklet, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. It delves into the dichotomy between self-esteem and humility. Keller quoted from a New York Times article that debunked the popular belief that our society’s ill stem from low self-esteem. Whether a person is obsessed with a high or a low self-esteem, that person is still too interested in self. (Pause a moment here to pray.) To be Christ-like, we magnify the Lord and worship Him, not our reputations or status.
Believe me when I tell you the following illustration is ficticious. Let’s say two people volunteer to help with a “Helping Hands” project led by WL’s Reimink family. One of the helpers gives up getting a free massage in order to load boxes onto a moving truck. The other person also loads boxes but then creates a Facebook post so that everyone can see what a great person he is. Shouldn’t we help each other out for the simple joy of it? Let’s help people to help people instead of doing good deeds to feel good about ourselves or perhaps to assuage some guilt or an empty feeling.
Ego? Forget about it!
Traffic roundabouts terrify me. They are confusing if you aren’t familiar with them. I have mapped out long routes to avoid them. One fine summer day, I was cruising down my favorite, roundabout free, State Road 37, and then traffic dropped to a crawl. To my horror, there in the distance, shimmered a brand new roundabout. Traffic roundabouts have become unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that I like them, or have any desire to get more intimately acquainted. I admit it, I am biased against traffic roundabouts.
Romans 15:1-13 addresses points of conflict and bias within the newly formed church; Traditionally, the Jews and Gentiles had maintained clear cut separation from each other. Jesus’s sacrificial death began to erase some of those lines of separation, blending Christ followers together on their spiritual journey. Traffic roundabouts terrify me because I am unfamiliar with them. They represent a significant weakness in my driving skills arsenal, separating me from other skilled drivers. Paul addresses our separation in Romans 13:1-2, “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak…each of us should please our neighbor for their good, to build them up.” Often, I remain separated from my “neighbor” because I am unfamiliar with them and their practices. Does the fit athlete, in their mind, judge the person in their pew who is taking up a little extra space? Do we make a widening gap between those in our church who don’t practice proper church etiquette or have words like immutable and omnipotent in their vocabulary? Is our “christianeese” separating us from our “neighbors”? Are our biases and fears separating us from our “neighbor” who needs our encouragement, just because we are unfamiliar with them?
Paul reminds us in Romans 15:7, “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” How often have I ignored the opportunity to praise God because I am avoiding someone? How often have I walked by the lonely, the disenfranchised, treating them as though they were invisible? I have eagerly sought out my friends and those who look and think like me. Ephesians 4:2-4 calls me to oneness. Do I separate myself from others out of fear and discomfort with the unknown? God’s grace should overshadow me. It should inspire me to sacrificial worship on my life’s journey. My worship should be to serve God by serving others.
What we love is often reflected in how we spend our money, our time and energy. For instance, I have burned up a lot of gas money avoiding roundabouts because it was worth the expense to me. Will my love for others be reflected in how I sacrificially spend my money, my time, my energy? Paul calls me to set aside my differences. He asks me to become a servant like “Christ became a servant of the Jews on the behalf of God’s truth…and moreover that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy…” Romans 15:8-9 We should not be consumed by our differences. It is God who should consume us. As we travel with our “neighbors” through life, our own hearts should be burning with who God is and what He is doing and His praise will drive our passions and erase our differences and that will be reflected in how I spend my money, time and energy.
How can I become more intimately acquainted with traffic roundabouts? How can I close the gap that separates me from becoming a more skilled driver? I can tell you from personal experience that avoidance is not creating less roundabout bias . Obviously, the only way to close the skill gap is to face my bias and start circling. How can I begin a journey with my church and community that is filled with encouraging acceptance? I have to be willing to lay aside my biases, my assumptions and judgements about others. I need to start circling and become more intimately acquainted with them. How can I put other’s needs and weaknesses ahead of my desires and rights? Picture those roundabouts that run smoothly as drivers’ yield appropriately to other drivers. What are we willing to choose to sacrificially yield today so we can build up our “neighbors?” Let’s start circling on that journey and live lives characterized by overflowing fountains of hope that splash onto our “neighbors.”
Have you wondered why our studies in Philippians are called uncommon joy? What makes joy uncommon? The word’s synonyms may give us a clue: rare, unusual, infrequent, or scarce. Unfortunately, for many today, joy is a rare thing. Furthermore, joy isn’t something you can acquire; it’s the result of the way you live. So what can you and I do to have some of this very scarce commodity?
Paul has two lists as guidelines: one is things to do, the other, things to avoid. And – interestingly enough – he says, “If you do these things, you will bring me much joy!” That’s the same kind of thing a parent might say, “You’ll make me very happy if you do what I tell you.” Spoiler Alert! You’ll be more joyful, too.
So here are Paul’s lists: On the positive side, he says:
The negatives include:
Living this way requires a humble heart and mind. You could write “Be humble” after each of Paul’s admonitions. Genuine humility means having a right attitude about yourself – both your strengths and your weaknesses. The question is: “How can I be realistic about myself, live with humility, and have joy?” Recognizing what God has provided for you and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can live unselfishly.
Paul prefaced his lists with some reminders of God’s provisions to make it possible to fulfill his request to give him uncommon joy. “Be encouraged,” he wrote, by the fact that you are “united with Christ,” comforted by “his love,” and “sharing in the Spirit” (v. 1). Not only does he encourage them with those promises, but he proceeds to give them the only perfect example of complete humility in all of human history. Read verses 5-8.
That is not the subject of today’s discussion, but in those verses Paul gives us a picture of the experience of Jesus in his incarnation. The Gospels tell us how the angels, the shepherds, the Wise Men, and Mary and Joseph viewed Messiah’s coming, but here we learn of the humbling of the Son of God, taking on human flesh to fulfill God’s divine purpose.
For the glory of God and our own peace and uncommon joy, humbly fulfill your role as God’s chosen child.
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. . . . Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. (Proverbs 11:2; 29:23) JBD 9/17/18
If we purchased a car . . . but it turns out to be golf cart, or bought a computer . . . but it turns out to be a toaster, or came home with a new dog . . . but it turns out to be a Tasmanian Devil, we will feel betrayed. And we’ll definitely want our money back.
There are many examples of false advertising: car manufacturers have been known to brand their cars with more horsepower than they produce; cereal makers have branded their products as improving children’s immunity to disease; sneaker manufacturers even brand their running shoes as burning calories faster. These falsehoods have been duly exposed. Beware: you can’t put a label on something and claim whatever you want it to be.
There are also examples of advertising gaffes. “Celebrate your birthday here. Bring in this card and receive one free child.” “$50 off any purchase of $30 or more.” “After taking the medicine, do not eat or lie down for 30 days.”
So what does false advertising have to do with today’s passage? Paul was encouraging the Philippians to make sure their product matched the advertising, that their lives manifested the transforming gospel of Christ, that they lived up to the label of being “God’s holy people” (vs.1).
Shockingly, under the guise of Christianity more and more examples of false advertising are in the news. Over 300 priests in Pennsylvania are accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 parishioners. Bill Hybels, well-known evangelical pastor and author of Becoming a Contagious Christian and other widely read books, was recently accused by nine women of inappropriate conduct, in particular by his executive assistant who claims he coerced her into a sexual act. (Hybels and the entire board at Willow Creek Church have resigned.) Ted Haggart, also a well-known pastor and even president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was accused in 2006 by a homosexual man of sex acts over a three-year period, all while Haggart was preaching against homosexuality. Haggart initially and repeatedly denied the accusations, but faced with clear evidence, he has since admitted his actions, including other sexual encounters. He was terminated as pastor.
But is this kind of sinful conduct really shocking anymore? Are we reeling from the open wounds of depravity, or do we look the other way? Unfortunately, the more commonplace sin becomes, the less shocking to our senses. We shrug our shoulders. What’s the problem?
In Paul’s day, the world was a threat to those who claimed to be Christians. Paul had suffered repeated forms of persecution, and the Christians in Philippi were facing similar struggles (vs. 30). In that context, the boundary between saint and sinner tended to be high. But today, especially in the west, we find it easy to be friends with the world. We’re not persecuted, and our resistance to sin is at an all-time low.
APPLICATION: What can we do? Paul encouraged the Philippians to “strive together as one for the faith of the gospel” (vs. 27). That should be our strategy too: to stand together with all true followers of Jesus against impurity, to be involved in each other’s lives and hold one another accountable, to make sure our advertising and product are the same, to separate ourselves from phonies and hypocrites. The world needs to see a new brand of Christianity—actually, the original brand. Can you and I help lead the way?
In Philippians 1:18b-26 we see a beautiful example by Paul that the life we have been given is not ours. It does not belong to us. Paul starts off in verses 18b-19 by saying that he rejoices because he knows this situation will end with his deliverance. Paul trusts that the Lord has everything under control in his life, even when it may feel far from it. Regardless of what our life looks like, when we embark on our journey of following Christ, things are always under His control.
In verse 20 Paul states that Christ will be honored either in his life or in his death. Paul was honest with himself and those receiving his letter, making them aware that while this will end in his deliverance it may also end with his life. When we choose to follow Christ with all of our hearts and give our lives to Him we give up the right to do what we wish with our lives and instead commit to follow His every lead. That does not mean our lives will be easy or that every path we take will feel safe. However, we could not be in any safer place than the center of God’s will. Paul had hope, not because he had an unrealistic view of his life but because He knew the One who was in control of his life.
Paul goes on to say in the rest of our passage that he desires to go home to be with his Savior but also desires to finish whatever work He may have for him here on this earth. While Paul’s desire for one may be stronger than the other and he may struggle between the two, he can rest in God’s timing. Knowing that God is in control of his life and that His timing is perfect Paul can have peace in knowing his Guide and trusting in Him. When we realize our life does not belong to us we can become a willing vessel used to fight the Kingdom fight. Whether in our life or in our death we will be a vessel that points directly back to Him.
Paul says (v21) “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When we follow passionately after Christ as a willing vessel our lives can be used to point continually to Christ. And if in our passionate pursuit of Jesus we give our earthly lives we have nothing but gain, death is not a loss in His book.
Chairman Mao Zedong led a campaign for the Communist Party of China in the mid- 20th c. called the “Great Leap Forward.” In all ways but one it was a dismal failure as it led to famine and the death of millions. In this scourge all religious institutions were supposed to be banished. Did this bring equality for all? No, it was suffering for all.
But God preserved a remnant of believers who were able to travel into rural areas of China to share the gospel on a system of new roads. Mao had ordered roads to be constructed for communism’s “fair” grain distribution. We don’t have record of how many lives were changed upon receiving the Bread of Life.
The Apostle Paul explained that he was put in chains because he preached the gospel. But God’s purposes of advancing the salvation message occurred because of his arrest. After all, how could the guard chained to Paul’s ankle not witness Paul’s sturdy joy? Others were impacted as well and angels rejoiced as new members joined God’s family. Hmm, I wonder if those preachers with selfish ambition were ever arrested?
Last week I mentioned that a non-Christian friend and I had to face a difficult situation. But God has helped me trust Him in spite of ongoing misunderstandings and unfair judgments and I’ve had opportunities to tell unbelievers about God’s grace to me.
This morning I heard a message by John Piper who said, “We must FIGHT FOR JOY!” Everything in the world wants us NOT to desire God. Apostle Paul knew this when he exclaimed he had an unceasing anguish in his heart yet he could rejoice always. We cannot do this in our own ability. But God can do this miracle for us.