Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Rejoicing

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 3:1a)

Choosing to rejoice in the Lord at all times is vital if the believer is to remain steadfast. The tense of this command renders it a continuous action. "Rejoice and keep on rejoicing." Rejoicing in Christ is something of which the believer should never grow weary. The blessed nature of God commands the unceasing praise of His people. He should be praised because "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory (Isaiah 6:3)." The Lord should be praised because He is "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6)." The saint is encouraged to continuously rejoice in God, because the Lord never leaves a man just as He found him. God's Spirit encourages and draws the sinner toward repentant faith in Jesus Christ. His Spirit is constantly at work in the believer, transforming him into the image of Christ. Who truly appreciates a friend that never encourages his acquaintances to better themselves? Of what value is a friend who never challenges his peers to reach a higher goal? God is the greatest Friend of all, because He is constantly encouraging men toward a true and lasting spiritual relationship. He does not sit by passively and allow His children to do as they please; but rather, His holy Spirit is actively at work in the soul of the saint, providing conviction, chastening, comfort, healing and growth. Yes, rejoicing in the Lord is a worthy endeavor.

Giving mental ascent to the value of rejoicing is often easy; however, the daily and consistent implementation of rejoicing is quite another story. When faced with difficult circumstances, a man often fails to rejoice. As a man journeys through life and finds his daily needs being met, his soul tends to forget the value of rejoicing; and even when he does remember to rejoice, he oftentimes falls short in sincerity and expression. These three pitfalls (failing, forgetting, and falling short) will be expounded through the examination of scriptural examples.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Reception (Part IV)

"I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me." (Philippians 2:28-30)

The adverb carefully means speedily, hastily or with special urgency. Paul wasted no time in reuniting Epaphroditus with those he longed to see. What amazing charity and affection the grace of God brings through salvation! Love and fellowship which never would have existed are suddenly born in the believer's heart through the regenerating work of Christ's Spirit.

The Philippian church was commanded to receive Epaphroditus in two ways. First of all, they were to receive him in the Lord. The work which he did was not his own but his Master's. True Christianity leaves no room for selfish and prideful personality conflicts and power struggles. The work is the Lord's and not any man's, and it should be treated as such. This is not to say that just anyone professing Christ's name is to be received. Indeed, there are many with whom a God-fearing saint should have little or no fellowship; however, there are those who are humbly serving God, and these should be received as such. To refuse the reception of such people is to follow the example of that dictator Diotrephes who loved to have the preeminence in the church and who refused to receive or to minister to the servants of Christ (III John 9). A refusal to receive sincere servants is often motivated by pride and insecurity. God's people have no business practicing such attitudes. God's ministers are in the Lord's work and they are to be received as such.

Secondly, the Philippian church was to receive Epaphroditus with all gladness. Having the God-given opportunity to minister to God's servants is not a chore; it is a privilege. A self-centered man will fail to see the blessing in ministering to others because he is far too concerned with his own comfort and convenience. However, when the Lord allows one servant to aid another in his work, He is affording that man the opportunity to be a part of God's will and to fulfill the heart of Jesus Christ who said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)."

The Holy Spirit commanded the Philippian church to hold Epaphroditus in high respect because he had openly demonstrated his selfless service on behalf of Christ. The principle behind this command is timeless. Those whose lives have proven their sincerity should be respected. This is not a command to worship a man. It is simply reminding the naturally rebellious human heart to give respect and deference where such things are due. Pride, selfishness and rebellion will often encourage a man to challenge the authority of God's sincere servants, but the Holy Spirit refutes such things by demanding an attitude of respect. Not many people can honestly say that they have expended themselves to the point of near death; however, Epaphroditus could. Many would like to believe that they have been on death's doorstep in their zeal for the Lord, but exaggeration and self-exaltation are often behind many testimonies of self-sacrifice. However, Epaphroditus' life was worthy of respect. May the Lord enable His people to walk in absolute humility, giving respect where respect is due.

Paul was not castigating the Philippian church for a lack of service. He was simply acknowledging the reality of an inability on their part to provide the needed assistance as well as the reality of God's ability to provide a substitute.

As the Philippian church was encouraged to receive Timothy and Epaphroditus, every believer is encouraged to receive the faithful and selfless example of these two men and to apply personally the example of their Christlike character.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Reception (Part III)

"Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow." (Philippians 2:25-27)

Epaphroditus is quite likely the one who carried this epistle back to the church at Philippi. The Holy Spirit gives Epaphroditus five titles. He is called a brother, fellow-worker, fellow-soldier, messenger and minister. Believers are spiritual brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus Christ. This bond is far greater than that which physical relation affords. A person may be part of a large family yet find himself quite lonely due to differences in belief; however, God's spiritual family provides an environment where God-fearing men and women may find love and fellowship around the common Head which is Christ. In light of this blessed reality, each believer has the inescapable responsibility of behaving like a loving brother or sister toward others. The work of God has never been about any one man. It has always involved the family of God. If earthly family members can exercise a certain amount of charity and responsibility toward one another, how much more should the members of God's household consider the need to be a familial example?

Next, believers are co-laborers. "Commando Christianity" encourages pride, but cooperative Christianity encourages humility. Paul needed and appreciated the help of others, and the saints of today need the help of fellow saints. This is not to say that one should set aside separation from disobedient brethren for the sake of finding fellowship. God does not expect His people to disobey one doctrine in order to fulfill another. The Lord is well able to place a believer in the midst of others who have a heart for truth. Saints who believe that they are self-made people are self-deceived people.

Christians are also co-soldiering in a spiritual battle. Whether he likes it or not, the believer enlisted in a war against the powers of darkness the moment he trusted Christ. This is a serious matter. Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Too many believers have forgotten the importance of maintaining spiritual awareness through the study and application of Scripture. Too many saints see the world's allurements as a friend rather than a foe. In order to be a fit and ready soldier of the cross, the Christian must make prayer and Bible study a priority. He must heed the command of Ephesians 6:13-18 and take to himself God's panoply. The earthly soldier who refuses to train and to maintain both a disciplined mind and lifestyle will most likely become a casualty of war, and the believer who refuses to practice the disciplines of a spiritual warrior can expect the same.

Lastly, Epaphroditus is called a messenger and minister. The word behind minister has special reference to accountability before God. The same word may be seen in Romans 13:6, 15:16 and in Hebrews 1:7 and 8:2. The Christian pastor is not the only minister. Every saint is made God's minister (servant) through Jesus Christ; therefore, the admonitions of Malachi 2:7 should be heeded. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts." Christ's ministers should have His words on their lips. They should be ready at all times to give godly counsel. Prayer should be natural to them and not something that is used only in a crisis. God's ministers should love their Master more than anything. They should love to talk about God. They should long to pursue Him through Bible study, prayer and the application of good works. However, all too often, God's ministers are guilty of discussing the world's happenings more than they discuss God's doctrines. Many Christians know far more about their jobs and hobbies than they do about their God. Too many ministers are more concerned about the religious politics of man than they are about the righteous precepts of the Master. Such things ought not to be so. God's ministers need to remember their accountability before Christ.

Even though Paul had healed many people in his lifetime, he was apparently unable to recover Epaphroditus. This fact illustrates the reality of the temporal nature of sign-gifts such as healing (I Corinthians 13:10). The Lord used the sign of healing to confirm the truth of His written Word; however, upon the completion of the New Testament canon, such gifts became unnecessary. Paul had not fallen out of favor with God because he was no longer able to heal as he once had. It was simply time for the inferiority of the sign-gift to make way for the superiority of the preserved Scriptures.

Paul acknowledged that God was responsible for recovering Epaphroditus. The apostolic gift of healing was given by God and it was removed by God. God's power and not man's power has always been at the center of spiritual gifts. Charlatans who claim to possess the gift of healing are wrong on at least two accounts. First of all, they claim to possess a gift which was temporary and has since passed from the scene. Secondly, the manner in which they display and practice this so-called gift is conspicuously self-focused rather than being God-focused.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Reception (Part II)

"But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." (Philippians 2:22-24)

The word behind proof means the quality of being approved and could be understood as character in this instance. Timothy's character had been demonstrated by his willingness to remain faithful to Christ's service. Timothy did not simply serve alongside Paul, he served as a son who is close to his father. Such commitment and teamwork are not possible unless both parties have the same love - God's glory. When the personal ambitions of either individual become more important than the will of God, such unique closeness and commonality of interest will no longer be possible.

Timothy's attitude toward the work of Christ is a rare thing to behold in the modern-day church. Many professing Christians are unwilling to put aside their own plans long enough to attend three services a week much less serve together with such harmony as Paul and Timothy enjoyed. How many youth groups would assemble if the food and entertainment were removed and substituted with Bible study, prayer and ministry to others? Timothy's display of such godly character should not be the exception; it should be the norm. However, this type of character does not come by giving God the leftover portions of one's flesh-ridden life. This type of character comes through diligent study and application of Bible truth. It comes by yielding one's soul, spirit and body to the Master's use.

Paul's desire was to send Timothy to the Philippian church; however, he first needed to assess the outcome of his bondage. The word for trust is the word persuaded. Paul was convinced that God would allow him to visit his brethren in Philippi. It is possible that he returned to Philippi for a visit between his first and second imprisonments at Rome.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Reception

"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." 
(Philippians 2:19-21)

To some people, out of sight means out of mind, but not with Paul. He remembered those he had left behind, and whenever possible, he sent back messengers to inquire as to their welfare. As much as possible, the saint should keep fellow believers in mind. Time and the monotony of daily routine encourage forgetfulness, but heartfelt prayer and genuine inquiry are powerful antidotes.

Finding people who are passionately focused on the welfare of others is not an easy task. Paul was not saying that Timothy was the only one whom he could trust. Onesiphorus, Luke, Prisca and Aquila (II Timothy 4:11, 19) are a few examples of others who were faithful to the cause of Christ; however, generally speaking, Paul was surrounded by people who were more interested in their own pursuits than in the selfless charity of Christ. The word naturally could be translated sincerely or genuinely. People are masters of show. They often convey an outward appearance of dedication, but when put to the test, their service is found to be insincere. Sincere servants are hard to find. Believers are often disappointed by the failure that they witness among professing Christians; however, insincerity will often be encountered. The sincere believer needs to commit these things to God and take courage in the power and comfort of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing has changed down through the years. To this very day, numerous pastors, evangelists, missionaries and teachers are using their positions as footholds in their climb up the ladder of religious politics. Too many churches are filled with people who express an outward show of concern but who would not be willing to give up their own agenda for the cause of Christ and the service of others. Professing to be surrendered is one thing, and practicing surrender is quite another. May each of God's children strive to be sincere in their surrender to Christ's service. If a man is not willing to put the welfare of others ahead of his own desires, he has missed the heart of Christianity.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Good Works (Part V)

"Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me." (Philippians 2:17-18)

The word for offered means to offer a libation or drink offering. Quite likely, Paul is saying that he is willing to be poured out upon the sacrifice of the Philippian Christians' service as a drink offering might be poured out upon an Old testament sacrifice. Paul used the same wording in II Timothy 4:6 when, speaking of his death, he wrote, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand (author's italics)." If the expending of Paul's life would prove to aid fellow believers in spiritual victory, he was willing to be expended. Not only was he willing, but he actually rejoiced in the prospect. This attitude is completely foreign to the self-focused drama that pervades most of the professing church.

Two commands occupy the last verse. If the heart behind the last verse were to be translated, it would read something like this, "For the same cause also you, you rejoice and keep on rejoicing, and you rejoice together with and keep on rejoicing together with me." Paul did not want the Philippian believers to pity him in his sacrifice for Christ and neither did he want them to shy away from having a similar heart of service.

God wants all of His people to be willing to give of themselves for the needs of others. Not every believer is called to give up his life in the exact same manner as Paul did; however, every Christian, old and young, is commanded to rejoice in the prospect of forsaking his own pursuits in exchange for the pursuit of servanthood. The Holy Spirit wants His people to stand fast in the Lord with one mind. Good works focused on the welfare of others will greatly aid the saint in fulfilling this charge.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Good Works (Part IV)

"Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain." (Philippians 2:16)

The Scriptures are to arrest the believer's loyalties, and they are the motivating force behind a life that is free from complaining and questioning. A man who has little respect for the Author behind the written Word will find himself falling into the trap of ingratitude and grumbling. How can a man hope to obey this exhortation to good works if the Scriptures are not primary in his life? Glancing at the Bible here and there, if at all, while placing every other activity ahead of focused study will lead to frustration and failure. God's Spirit wants to speak to the souls of His people; but in order for this to happen consistently, Christians need to learn the art of being still and focused. If a believer truly loves God, He will want to study that which God has written.

Upon Christ's return, Paul did not want to be embarrassed over the failure of those to whom he had ministered and neither did he wish for them to lose any eternal rewards. Paul took seriously the spiritual welfare of those he had led to Jesus. He did not simply lead them in a patterned-prayer and then leave them to fend for themselves. Rather, he labored in giving the word and dealt one-on-one with others. He did not settle for only mental assent to the gospel; but instead, he insisted upon humble faith. After salvation, he was always careful to ground the new converts in biblical truth either personally or through some trusted assistant. Paul considered evangelism to be a race of labor. This view is quite different from the flesh-centered form of modern-day witnessing that is so often practiced. Many false cults are very careful to ground their new converts in cult-doctrine. Believers should be even more careful to ground new converts in the Bible so that they might hold fast scriptural truth and finish the race well.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Good Works (Part III)

"Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;" (Philippians 2:14-15)

A simple definition of murmuring would be a mumbled or private expression of discontent. It is very easy to be guilty of such expressions especially when dealing with imperfect people. Frustration brought on by the stubbornness, failings and idiosyncrasies of others is a reality. Yet, God wants His people to keep their focus on the faultless Master and not on faulty people. Unfair situations and difficult circumstances are also catalysts for grumbling, but God is greater than any situation that the believer will face.

Disputings could be translated thoughts, reasonings, arguments, dialogue etc. Such things coming from a disgruntled Christian only lead to further trouble. People are never edified by muffled complaints and irritated arguments. "...Grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1)." These things lead to hurt feelings, bitterness and all sorts of problems; therefore, the Lord commands that the Christian life be lived free of such attitudes. This command is quite convicting. Who has not been guilty of murmuring and complaining? Human nature tends to pass over the seriousness of these offenses; however, it was the sin of faithlessness that brought about the murmurings of Israel in the wilderness, and their continued discontent eventually led to God's judgment upon the congregation on more than one occasion.

This passage is not forbidding an individual or church from dealing with human sin and failure. It is simply forbidding the practice of a spirit that circumvents the biblical process of dealing with things and chooses rather to handle people and circumstances in the flesh.

A godly testimony in an ungodly world will be the result of shunning a grumbling and questioning spirit. By practicing the sin of murmuring, the Christian enables the world to get a hold upon him; but when he is not a complainer, the world is far less likely to find a legitimate case of failure against him. The word perverse means twisted or distorted. The world in which the believer finds himself is a twisted one indeed. Ingratitude toward God expressed through murmuring and questioning is a hallmark trait of the unregenerate. By refusing to practice a spirit of ingratitude, the Christian has a tremendous opportunity to make a very positive impression upon others.

The word translated lights appears only one other time in the New Testament (Revelation 21:11). It carries with it the idea of splendor and radiance. Through a quiet and grateful spirit, the believer not only has the opportunity to shine but to radiate the overwhelming light of Christ's holiness. Such an attitude is entirely impossible without submission to God's Spirit. If a man loves the temporary satisfaction of murmuring more than he does God, he will never experience righteous consistency in this area.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Paul's Exhortations to the Church: An Exhortation to Good Works (Part II)

"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." 
(Philippians 2:13)

"The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Psalm 14:2-3)." Apart from God's grace, man has no desire to seek or to perform that which is right. God's Spirit is responsible for giving a man the ability to desire and to perform righteousness. This verse does not negate man's freewill, but it does teach that God's Spirit draws, convicts, regenerates and enables those who choose to respond.

Apart from the Lord's working, the believer would have nothing. He could not even desire to do righteously were it not for God's enabling. This truth should foster a genuine sense of humility. I Corinthians 4:7 asks the Christian this question, "...And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" Self-deception comes easy to the flesh. A man is often tempted to glory in his dedication to God as though he were responsible for such feelings of loyalty; however, the Scriptures cast a different light on the matter. God gives the will to love and to perform that which is good.