Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Paul's Desire for the Church: A Desire for Growth (Part III)

"That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;" (Philippians 1:10)

The word approve means to put to the test, to examine or to discover. It portrays the idea of examining something in order to discover whether or not it is genuine. The Greek word behind excellent consists of a basic verb and a preposition which, when coupled together, mean to carry through. Discovering the things which will carry through into eternity is the result of allowing the Spirit to grow the believer in biblical love.

Although a Christian could be occupied with many good things, God wants him to be occupied with the best things, the things that are excellent. Actions which are born out of a heart of obedience to Scripture are things which will carry through. A believer can be very busy and still not be practicing the things that carry through. Church activities will not necessarily carry a person through; however, the study and daily application of the Bible will. Man's opinions and religious politics will not carry through into eternity, but the pursuit of God through obedience to His commands will. The simple act of being present in a church service will not carry a person through; however, gathering together with fellow saints out of a love for God and others will see a man through. Many things look good on the outside; however, not every philosophy, activity, motive or desire is excellent. Some carry through, and some do not. Submission to God's Spirit, the study and application of Scripture, prayer and time all serve together for the purpose of guiding the believer toward discovering the things that are excellent.

The Lord wants His people to be mature. Many Christians are content with a surface understanding of the Scriptures. Many are content with the trappings of church, but God commands His people to move forward. He wants the believer to recognize religious hypocrisy in his own life and in the lives of others. He wants him to distinguish between busyness and genuine service. The Lord wants his people to put to the test those things which they are taught. This is done by comparing all teaching and doctrine with the doctrine of Scripture. If what is being taught does not match the teaching of the Bible, the believer is to reject such things. Growing in the love of God results in discovering and clinging to the most excellent things that will carry a person through. In Luke 12:33-34, Christ said, "...Provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Being blameless before Jesus Christ at His coming is the result of discovering and clinging to excellent things. The believer cannot lose his salvation, but he can lose eternal rewards. He is quite capable of suffering embarrassment when standing before his Savior. Concerning this subject of eternal rewards, Paul wrote, "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is (I Corinthians 3:13)." Many Christian's are engaged in beliefs and activities which may look good on the outside but will not necessarily abide the fire of Christ's judgment seat.

Paul's desire for the growth of these people may seem extreme to some, but the Holy Spirit knows man's tendency to become distracted. He knows the flesh's tendency to follow glamorous things, to become preoccupied with the trappings of service rather than be concerned with the heart behind the service (Luke 10:38-42).

Friday, April 24, 2015

Paul's Desire for the Church: A Desire for Growth (Part II)

 The text reveals in what two things Christian love is to abound. It is to abound in knowledge and in all judgment. God does not want a Christian to practice the world's version of love. The Lord wants His child to understand what biblical love is, and He wants him to live it. The word for judgment carries with it the idea of discernment. The believer is required to discern between worldly love and godly love, because they are vastly different. Biblical love is centered in God. "God is love (I John 4:8)." Therefore, because God is holy, true love will be characterized by holiness. It will possess certain traits that are found in Scripture. For instance, love should be unconditional. This characteristic of love is seen in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for unworthy sinners. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)." Christ-like love does not give only when it hopes to receive.

Biblical love also corrects. "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Proverbs 13:24)." The world views correction as unloving, but God views the proper administration of correction as an act of loving concern for the ultimate welfare of the soul.

Separation also characterizes biblical love. II Thessalonians 3:6-15 clearly teaches this principle.

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

The believer is not to fear separation from the disobedient, yet the end goal is always restoration. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional fellowship. God loved, and does love, the nation of Israel; however, Israel's fellowship with Him was broken because of disbelief and disobedience. The carnal Christian believes that he can live as he pleases while enjoying fellowship with everyone, but Scripture teaches that true love separates from sin because God's holiness is the ultimate focus of that love. The believer who will not correct or separate when needed does not truly love people, because he is refusing to warn the rebel of his impending destruction.

The world says, "Do not judge; just love," but the Spirit of Christ says, "Let your love abound more and more in biblical knowledge and discernment."   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Paul's Desire for the Church: A Desire for Growth

"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;" (Philippians 1:9)

Through Paul, the Holy Spirit expresses a desire for Christian growth. Concerning progressive sanctification, II Corinthians 3:18 says, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." The Spirit expects His children to grow in their dedication to Christ. The failure of an infant to grow physically would be considered a tragedy, yet many believers are not alarmed when they experience very little spiritual growth.

Paul's prayer was that the Philippian believers might grow in Christian charity. The word used here for love is the Greek word agape. It is the same Greek word translated charity in I Corinthians 13. This is the type of love that characterizes God. Agape love gives and expects nothing in return. It is self-sacrificing, and it transcends human passion and emotion. It accompanied Christ to the cross when everyone had forsaken Him, and it enables the Christian to keep on giving when others do not reciprocate his love. This agape love is given by the Spirit, and it is maintained by the Spirit. God's desire is that the Christian grow in this type of love. Bitterness and resentment are always a temptation. The longer a man lives, his chances of being severely hurt become greater; therefore, the believer is commanded to allow the Spirit to grow him in the ways of Christian charity. For a believer, time should not yield less love, it should yield greater love. Sadly, many believers have traded the love of Christ for the "root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15)," and in so doing, they have become caustic and self-righteous with age. This happens when a man's focus shifts from Christ to self. The Spirit warns the believer against such things by saying, "Let your charity abound more and more." Christian charity is not to plateau or decrease with age; it is ever to be growing by the power of Christ.     

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Affection of the Greeting (Part V)

"For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:8)

Paul qualifies the genuine nature of his love by soliciting God as his witness. In so doing, he is making it clear that what he is about to say is no mere statement of formality. Uttering expressions of concern and goodwill are often done in insincerity. In an effort to mask feelings and show politeness, people will often express love and concern that they do not feel. The believer should use such expressions with caution. Politeness is good, but it does not have to lead to lies. Far better it is to beseech God that He would warm the heart so that such expressions might be genuine than to speak such things with dissimulation.

The bowels of Jesus Christ is an expression of compassion. In those days, the bowels were linked to emotion (I John 3:17).

Such ability to love others comes only through the grace of God. It is highly unlikely that every saint at Philippi was mature in the faith. Undoubtedly, each one had his struggles. Being people of like passions, they probably had unruly people in their midst. Surely, there were those who were weak and feebleminded (I Thessalonians 5:14). What church or group of churches is without such people? Yet, God's grace enabled Paul to say, "I long after you all." Not some, but all. Against the weakness and carnal desires of his own flesh, Paul chose by faith to love people unconditionally. He was willing to put them first, minister to their needs, discipline them when necessary and see it all through to the end. This is exactly what Jesus did during His earthly ministry, and it is what His Spirit still desires to do through the Christian. Such ability to love might well be termed grace loving.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Affection of the Greeting (Part IV)

"Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace." (Philippians 1:7)

Paul's expressions of warmth continue. He saw each Philippian Christian as precious in God's eyes, and he was extremely grateful for God's work of grace in their lives. When a saint becomes so carnal and self-centered that he can no longer rejoice over other believers with such joy, he has lost sight of salvation's warmth.

The word for meet literally means just or righteous. It was just for Paul to feel this way toward those for whom Christ died. The grace that he mentions was not his own but God's. The Philippians had witnessed and personally experienced this grace that enabled Paul to preach the gospel at Philippi, suffer persecution at the hands of its angry citizens and continue on to carry the gospel of Christ into the next town (Acts 16). Being spiritually benefited by Paul's grace-empowered ministry, the Philippians were partakers of God's grace through Paul; and by the time this epistle was written, they had personally experienced God's sustaining grace in their own lives.

Paul's confesses that these people were in his heart, not just his head. Anyone is capable of carrying a head-knowledge of people, but it is quite another thing to have someone in the heart. Human nature often tends to limit people to the mind while denying them access to the heart, but the Holy Spirit of God wants to love others through the believer in a sacrificial way. Allowing people into one's heart involves sacrifice and pain. It involves exercising agape-type love toward others, that Christ-like love which seeks nothing in return. Due to selfishness, inconvenience or emotional pain, Christians will often attempt to keep certain people out of their hearts; however, this type of behavior is against the nature of the One Who feels every aspect of the believer's infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus Christ did not, and does not, deny people access into His heart; therefore, the believer has no right to do so.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Affection of the Greeting (Part III)

"Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:" (Philippians 1:6)

This verse is one of the clearest concerning the subject of progressive sanctification. In Christ, the saint's position is one of absolute perfection; however, in practicality, the believer struggles with his old nature. He needs to grow in Christ-likeness.

The word confident means persuaded. In the Greek text, the word behind confident is a participle which is in the perfect tense. This tense is expressing force concerning Paul's conclusions. Paul was fully persuaded, and nothing could change his mind. The first thing to notice concerning his conclusions is that God is the initiator of this sanctifying work. He alone has begun a work in the soul of the believer, and this work is intrinsically good. Once a person comes to faith in Christ, the Holy Ghost moves in and makes a change. The believer will continue to battle his old nature as he grows spiritually; he will sin, and he will need to repent; however, he now belongs to God. A change should take place, because God's Spirit is at work in that man's soul (II Corinthians 5:17). If the believer chooses to rebel, God's Spirit will not simply leave or sit by; and if the believer refuses to respond to the Spirit's chastening, God may have to kill His child (II Corinthians 11:29-30). Yet, through it all, God's Spirit is encouraging the saint to become more and more like Jesus.

The second thing to notice is that God is the perfecter of this sanctifying work. The word for perform means to complete, perfect or finish. In II Corinthians 7:1, the same word is translated perfecting. In Hebrews 9:6, it is translated accomplishing; and in II Corinthians 8:6, it is translated finish. In this verse, God has promised that He will never forsake His people. His Spirit has commenced the work, and His Spirit will bring it to completion. Even when the Christian struggles with sin and rebellion, the Lord's sanctifying Spirit will not forsake him.

In every way, God is responsible for the sanctification of His people. The believer does not grow in holiness through the performance of good works. He grows in holiness by submission to the Spirit, and the Spirit is the one who brings forth the fruits of righteousness. After all, the fruits of righteousness are His fruits, not the believer's (Galatians 5:22). The Christian is also not the one responsible for ensuring that the work of sanctification is completed. God is responsible. The believer need only submit to God's power and respond in obedience to the Scriptures.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Affection of the Greeting (Part II)

"For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;" (Philippians 1:5)

This verse declares the reason for the joy which these people brought to Paul's heart. They held fast to the doctrine of Scripture. Longevity characterized their Christian walk. The first day is referring to the founding of the Philippian church in Acts 16. Their obedience enabled Paul to have full fellowship with them. Their separation from the world, and their dedication to Christ were a joy to Paul's heart.

Many professing Christians of the present day hold to the belief that believers need not practice separation from the world in order to have fellowship with one another; they need only believe that Jesus died and rose again; however, uninhibited fellowship in the gospel goes much deeper than that. True fellowship in the gospel is characterized by a willingness to be obedient to every command and principle of Scripture. After all, Jesus Himself said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15)." These commandments are not limited to four or five aspects of gospel truth; they consist of the entirety of Scripture. The Philippian believers were not attempting to escape obedience to the Bible in order to have fellowship; they were striving to be obedient to the Word, and this attitude caused Paul to say "Thank You" every time he entreated God. Obedience to all the doctrines of Scripture engenders deep and lasting fellowship.

A Christian's steadfastness can greatly encourage other believers. The Philippian church had held to the Word from the day that Lydia was saved to the time of Paul's imprisonment. The man who does right most of his life is not the man whom most people remember and respect. The most encouraging life is the one that begins and ends in strict obedience to Scripture.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Affection of the Greeting

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy," (Philippians 1:3-4)

Paul had deep affection for these believers at Philippi. Every time he mentioned them in his prayers, he thanked God for them. The word prayer and the word request are the same Greek word. The basic meaning of this word is supplication. When Paul made supplication to God for these people, he made it with joy. It is good to be thankful for people, especially when they are striving to live righteously. People have a tendency to become discouraged when they are not appreciated; therefore, words such as these are often necessary.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Paul's Greeting to the Church: The Audience of the Greeting

"Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:1-2)

As with all of Scripture, the Author of the epistle is the Holy Spirit; however, the penman is Paul. Timothy's name is also mentioned because he was Paul's faithful minister. Paul also intended to send Timothy to the Philippians so that he might inquire as to their welfare (2:19).

Paul and Timothy were the servants of Christ. This same word is translated slave in numerous other passages. Paul never forgot from whom he received his marching orders. It is vital for the believer to view himself as the slave of Jesus Christ; if he does not, he will pass his days fulfilling his own desires. He will also tend to rebel and complain when God's will goes against his own plans.

The audience's position is first presented. The Philippian believers were in Christ Jesus. The word saints means holy ones. Through faith in Christ, every believer is made a saint by the merit of Christ's blood. The status of saint is not achieved by means of good works or exceptional deeds. It is a position imparted to the believer the moment he trusts in the righteousness of God. Reminding God's holy ones of their unshakeable position in Christ is a fitting way to begin the epistle. Life's troubles can be overwhelming and the opposition at times unbearable; therefore, it is good to be reminded of Christ's sufficiency.

The audience's placement comes next. They were the saints who resided at Philippi. Although they possessed an eternal standing in Christ, God had left them at Philippi so that they might reflect His holiness in the middle of a sin-cursed society. Every living Christian has been left where he is for the same purpose. If God did not care about souls, He would simply take His people home; however, He is intent upon seeing the lost come to saving faith in Christ; therefore, each believer should shine forth Christ's Spirit (Matthew 5:16). Some Christians spend so much time worrying about where they are not, they do not shine where they are.

The word bishop means superintendent or overseer. In the New Testament, this title is an alternate term for pastor. The qualifications of the bishop, or pastor, may be found in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. These men presided over the various churches which met in the homes of certain members. In the days of the early church, homes were commonly used as gathering places (Colossians 4:15).

The deacons were those who had been selected to meet the various physical needs of the church's members. The inception of this office may be found in Acts 6:1-7, and the Holy Spirit clarifies the qualifications of a deacon in I Timothy 3:8-13.

Paul opens the letter with a desire that the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ might be with these believers. By seamlessly affiliating this mercy and peace with both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is declaring the deity of Jesus. The believer's need of Christ's grace is presented at the opening and closing of this epistle. The grace of God expressed through the Person of His Son is the sole means by which a man may live for his Creator. A man's talents are not a substitute, and neither charisma nor religious politics will suffice. God's work is accomplished by means of His grace.