Posts Tagged ‘stand fast’

Finding Joy and Peace

Finding Joy and Peace

© C. O. Bishop 4/16/2018

Philippians 4:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Philippians, and we have finally arrived in chapter four: Paul is beginning to sum up his teaching, and is offering encouragement to the believers at Philippi. The first thing he says is to “stand fast in the Lord.” But he says it, completely wrapped in his love for them, as his “offspring” in the Lord.

Stand Fast

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul was so pleased and satisfied with the Christian lives of the people in the church at Philippi, that, in this passage, he comes the closest he ever came with anyone, to saying “I’m SO PROUD of you!” But this is a clean joy at the work of God in their lives. He was taking no credit for them, though he did lead them to Christ and teach them virtually everything they knew about Jesus and their new life with Him.

He actually referred to them as his “Crown”—he felt so honored to have been a part of their beginning. The Greek word he used here is “stephanos”—a victor’s crown. It has nothing to do with kings, or rulership, but rather a prize for excellence: the “blue-ribbon.”

When my students excel in the steel-fabrication industry, it is because they studied hard and did the necessary work to excel; they earned their credentials…but I am thrilled to have had a part in their training. They took the risks, and paid to take the exams, but when they passed their exams, I was thrilled for them. Paul felt that way toward these people, as they stood fast in Christ.

Maintain Unity, and Labor together

They were still human, and they had their failings. But they had a good enough walk with God that there were no rebukes or corrections, at all, in the entire letter. Philippians 4:2 is as close as he comes to a correction; he asks that they maintain unity and that they labor together:

2 I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

There is some small problem being addressed here: He begs Euodias and he begs Syntyche, to be of one mind—to be in accord with one another—to not bicker. We can only assume that these two women were at odds with one another, at one level or another, and he knew about it. He begged them to drop the contention, and choose Love…choose peace. And he asked the person to whom the letter was primarily addressed (un-named, but blessed) to help them do so; to be a peacemaker, a healer of rifts, a gentle voice of reason. He says that these women already had a track-record of faithful service, with Paul himself, and with Clement (we don’t know who that is, either), and with others who shared in the work of the Gospel. Interestingly, the Greek word for “labored with” is “sunathleo”…it means “strove alongside”. The word for strive is “athleo”…the word from which we get “athlete.” They were on Paul’s team, and he considered them valuable assets to the team. These women were two soul-winners who had evidently had a falling-out. Paul begs them to restore peace, and begs the others to help them do so, so as to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” (as it says in Ephesians 4:3)

I also treasure the phrase “true yokefellow”, here…(Greek, “suzuge gnesie”) It was once common to place a yoke across the shoulders of a man, so he could lift more, pull a heavier load, etc. And, if two men, closely matched in height, were yoked together, they could move very heavy loads as a team, just as a “yoke of oxen” means a team of oxen, matched for size and strength, which, if trained to work as a team, have tremendous potential for work accomplished.

When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” he was inviting the believers to join him in double-harness, and learn obedience from him, as a young draft animal learns from an older animal. We are invited to become “true yokefellows” with Jesus, and we are encouraged to work together in the same manner. We encourage one another, and bear one another’s burdens, and together, we accomplish more than we could do separately.

Rejoice!

4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

I have to confess, this one is hard for me. As one who has suffered from depression for nearly 50 years, it is a hard thing, for me, to see in the Scripture a clear command to rejoice: but there it is! It is a command, too, not a suggestion, or a request. In Nehemiah 8:10, the command was given that the people not weep at the sound of the Word of God, but rather rejoice—in fact, they were told to go have a party and come back for more, because the “Joy of the LORD is your strength!”

The people were weeping in grief for the lost years of lost fellowship and the lost glory of the lost Kingdom of Israel…all lost because of the sin of Israel. They had gathered to rebuild the temple and the city walls. They wept in grief and in repentance. It was not that they were sad that the scriptures were being read. They were sad for all they had lost. But Nehemiah commanded them to stop mourning, and stop weeping. He did not tell them to stop being sorry for what was lost, but he did tell them to refocus on what was currently regained: They were being restored to fellowship with God, and were free, once again, to worship Him. He told them to throw a national party, and make sure and include any among them who had nothing. They were to change their thinking (repentance is a “change of mind”), and take heart in the grace of God.

Now: I think this is where the problem lies: When I hear “rejoice in the Lord!” I think it means “feel happy”. But it doesn’t: to “rejoice” is to express joy regarding something or someone, not to “feel happy”. It is something we can choose to do, in praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings we KNOW we have. (How about eternal life? Is that enough cause to express joy, and relief? How about people in whose lives you have seen the Spirit of God at work? Is that something you can rejoice over? Answered prayer? Your daily food and health? Safety?) Gratitude, expressed in word and deed, can lay the foundation for Peace and Joy. Dwelling on the truths of God’s provision in our lives, and His proven character, instead of how we feel about things not having gone the way we wanted, can relieve us of the anger and fear we feel, and allow us to begin to experience a genuine joy; one that is not dependent upon circumstances.

Maintain your Testimony

5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

The word translated “moderation”, here, is the Greek word “epieikes”—it is only used a half a dozen times, but in every case except this, it is translated “gentleness”, or “clemency”… a sweet-spirited reasonable character. If that is how people see you, then your testimony will not be damaged by the opposite, which would definitely render your testimony valueless. Christians who are constantly griping, or criticizing, or arguing, or who are frequently angry, are daily undermining their own testimony, and, regardless of what they say, their actions outweigh their words. Paul commands us to maintain an active life of gentle interaction with those around us. He punctuates the idea with the fact that “the Lord is at hand”. The time is short! You don’t know how much time is left! Besides, He is also our Judge, not just our Savior, so perhaps we should be careful how we deal with others. He is right there, watching, in every situation.

Repent of Worry, and Embrace Peace

What about anxiety, though? Some of us are worriers. Do we get “special treatment?” No! Paul makes no accommodations for us. He says to stop it! He says that we DO have a choice:

6 Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

That is the command: it has both a positive and a negative clause. The negative comes first: Be anxious for nothing. Stop the worrying! How? That is the positive side: Replace it with prayer, faith and thanksgiving. If we are faithful to pray, and to believe that God hears, and that He has our best interests at heart, then we can “leave in his lap” the things we have brought to him in prayer, and go away in thanksgiving and peace. If not, then the fact that we “pray” means nearly nothing, as, effectively, instead of “placing the issues in God’s lap and leaving them there”, we snatch them back and take them away to gnaw on them some more, in fear and anxiety. That is not the same as what he has commanded. How can I tell the difference? The results tell the tale: if I do what He actually commanded, I will experience His peace. I do have a choice!

7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Notice the word “shall”: Today, when a legal document, a building code, or any other such thing, uses the word “shall”, it means that it is mandatory—it must happen. It seems that if we are truly faithful to handle life the way he said to do it, then peace must follow.

Psalm 119:165 agrees with this idea: it says “Great peace have they which love thy Law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Nothing shall cause them to stumble.) I really can’t diminish this and make it say, “Great peace have most who love thy law, and it takes a lot to offend them.” It simply says that those who love God’s Word find great peace. Can they fail from that peace? Yes, they can…but only because they fail to focus on God’s Word, and His promises.

8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

One commentator suggested that, since all these things were supremely exemplified in Christ, therefore, the passage must be telling us to meditate on the person of Christ. I could live with that, because it is certainly true that all these things (truth, honesty, justice, purity, beauty, good news, virtue, and praise) are exemplified in Jesus…but…it says “whatsoever things”—which is

  • all-inclusive, and
  • plural

Jesus is not plural, and he is not the only place we find those things…He is the author of it all, however, and it makes sense that, as we are giving thanks (verse 6) and looking for the various good things to think about, we would see those things and give thanks for them, honoring the Author of Goodness, not seeing “good” as potentially separate from God. He created the whole world as “good,” originally. Sin has corrupted it to a horrible extent. But what “good” is left in the world, at the very least, is the remnant of the “Good” that God proclaimed at the Creation. And much of it is “good” that he has inserted since the fall into sin: mercy and blessings in which we recognize His hand. In either case, we are exhorted to choose what we will dwell on.

We do have a choice about what we think about. 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5 tells me that we are to take every thought captive for the obedience of Christ. I am not given the option to say, “Well, I can’t control what I think about!” God says that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (it really is a war, you know!) “…but are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”. (Do you think maybe worry has a stronghold in our lives?) “…casting down imaginations” (What else can worry be called? I am imagining and fearing the possible results of events beyond my control!) “…and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” (Has it occurred to you that worry exalts itself against the knowledge of God? That it presumes to know the future when it cannot possibly know it, and it even supposes that “God’s will is a terrible burden to bear, and something to fear?”) Finally, He says, “…bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (And that is why we are told not to worry! Every thought is to be subjected to Him, and worry is not from God! Fear is not from God!)

9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Paul concludes the passage on peace, by saying that if they would carry out the things they had seen in him, learned from him, and gladly received from him, they could expect the pleasant consciousness of the presence and the support of God. That the God of Peace would be with them, supporting them in their obedience to Him. Jesus said that He would manifest Himself to those who love Him. (John 14:21)

Since He is omnipresent, He is always “with” every person, believers and unbelievers, but that is not the sense in which the word is used, here. This is not just talking about location, but also his abiding Grace and Blessing, which unbelievers do not have.

It is also in reference to His fellowship, which even sinning believers do not have. How do I know? In 1st John 1:5, 6, He tells me so!  He says, “This is the message, which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all! If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we do not the truth!” So, the phrase, “the God of Peace shall be with you” has to do with the conscious fellowship with the living God, and the enjoyment of His peace, His blessing, and His grace for living, on a moment by moment basis.

That is why it is worth learning not to worry: it is a part of “Standing Fast in the Lord.” We can choose to rejoice, and we can choose to experience God’s Peace.

Lord Jesus, allow us to feed on your Word and grow strong, believing your Word, so as to Stand fast against the Enemy, and to experience your Peace. Teach us gratitude, so that we can have both peace and Joy.


Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

© C. O. Bishop 3/17/2018 Cornell Estates 3/18/18

Philippians 3:17-4:1; 2nd Peter 2; Acts 20:17, 28-31

Introduction:

We ended, last time, on Philippians 3:17, where Paul had instructed the Philippian believers to be followers together of himself, and to take note of their other human leaders who lived in the same way as the apostles, so as to use their example and see the same fruits in their own lives.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Paul says that there are others (especially church leaders, we hope) whom we can imitate, but warns that we are to “be picky”—take note of those who walk as Paul and the other apostles did, and imitate that kind of individual, not those who live as counter-examples to that faith. He said, back in verse 15 that, if we are trying to imitate this pattern, and if there is a “glitch” of some sort, so that our walk is being misdirected in some way, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to reveal that fact to us, and re-direct our path. That is comforting to know.

But then he notes, parenthetically, that there are some bad examples, too: People whose lives we should absolutely avoid imitating.

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

It is entirely possible for a true believer to be misinformed and misdirected. That is not what is being warned against, here. Our defense against such a thing is to be in the Word and in Prayer, specifically seeking to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, all the while recognizing that He, the Holy Spirit, will never lead contrary to the written Word of God, but that it is possible for us to misunderstand the scriptures. However, in this passage, he is talking about licentious behavior along with bad teaching…definite sin. He goes on to describe the false teachers who are a deadly danger to believers:

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

I don’t know who Paul is referring to, specifically, as he describes them only in general terms: no information specific enough to identify a group. Remember, however, that, while we are all described (Romans 5:10), as having once been the “enemies of God”, we were not described as being the enemies of the Gospel, or the enemies of the Cross. I believe the people he is referring to must be those who are deliberately false teachers, though they may be hard to define, except by observation. Not all who teach false doctrine are doing so deliberately, and not all who act as our enemies are also an enemy of the Cross. Paul gives some examples, elsewhere:

Unbelievers

Romans 11:28 definitely refers to unbelieving Jews as being “enemies” as regarding the gospel, but the enmity is a “one-way” enmity: The unbelieving Jews despised all the believers for the sake of the Gospel, and even were enemies physically, in that regard. Paul cautioned the Gentile believers that those unbelieving Jews were still precious souls for whom Christ died: that they were beloved for the sake of Israel, even when they were acting as enemies. They were still not enemies of the Cross, or enemies of the Gospel, as the false teachers were. They were simply responding as enemies because of the Gospel.

Unbelieving Gentiles were sometimes equally dangerous, but usually were less volatile, as, while the Gospel does indict the Gentiles as sinners, it does not tell them that they have crucified their own Messiah. That one is a pretty tough thing for the Jews to hear.

False Teachers

It is possible for a genuine believer to be sadly mistaken about something, but to teach it with a clean heart, because he simply does not understand a particular concept in the Bible. We don’t hold that against a brother, because there are bound to be things about which we are mistaken, too. We just keep honing our understanding of the Word of God, and bear in mind that it all has to agree with itself or else we are reading it wrong. These are not what the Bible calls a false teacher. It requires an unregenerate heart, and a corrupt motive for teaching the false doctrine.

All of the descriptors here in verse 19 seem to closely match those listed in 2nd Peter 2, (read it!) where Paul is definitely describing deliberately false teachers, and their habitual sin, along with their false doctrine. These are very heavily condemned for their lifestyle (“…whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (here in Philippians,) and “bringing in damnable heresies; …denying the Lord that bought them; …they that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness;” etc. (in 2nd Peter chapter 2))  Eternal judgment is predicted for them (“Whose end is destruction; who bring upon themselves swift destruction; whose judgment of a long time lingereth not; they shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” etc.).

They are said to be knowingly deceiving the believers: “…sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you…” It makes them feel smart to be fooling the believers around them. And, according to Acts 20:30, they will draw away followers after themselves. Some of you may recall a false teacher, Jim Jones, who led away 900 followers, and moved them all to Guyana…and there, in the jungle, he induced them all to commit suicide, and shot all those who refused. He was a classic false teacher, who began by using the scriptures, but finally threw his Bible down, and said “You don’t need the Bible; you need me!” Those who continued to follow him eventually died, as a result. It is a very sad story, but it was entirely avoidable.

Not all false teachers have such a dramatic end, but all result in souls being drawn away from Christ, either believing false doctrine that prevents them from being born again to begin with, or, in the case of those who are already saved, following teachings that can prevent them from living for God, and experiencing the liberty and peace of God.

It is these false teachers, in 2nd Peter 2, regarding whom the apostle says, “But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog has turned unto his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2nd Peter 2:22)

Notice that it does not say, “…The sheep has turned back into a dog, or a pig.” What it says is that a dog, who had, for a time, abandoned his ordinary canine ways, has returned to behaving in accord with his true nature. And, a pig, who had been outwardly washed, but who, at heart, was always a pig, has returned to her old ways. Why? Because given the opportunity, a dog acts like a dog. And a pig is always happiest when he or she is acting like a pig. Sinners are most comfortable in Sin. People who are pretending faith, but have never truly placed their faith in the Savior, will eventually go back to their real comfort zone, and follow their true nature.

So, Paul is warning us that it is possible for an unbeliever to deceive the believers, and finagle his way into a position of leadership. But a combination of bad doctrine that clearly sets aside the authority and holiness of God’s Word, and bad behavior, specifically moral corruption, is a “red flag” for us, warning that they are really a false teacher. Could there be a false teacher who lives a moral life? Yes, I think there can be, but it is uncommon. I think I may actually have known one: He claimed to be a believer, and he had good Bible and ministerial training. As far as I could tell, he lived a blameless life. BUT: he did not believe the Bible was the Word of God, and he taught such things from the pulpit. We confronted him, and he laughed it off, as though we were simple-minded, primitive believers, and that his unbelief was a mark of sophistication. I don’t know what to make of that. I don’t know if he was a genuine believer who was badly deceived by the enemy, or a false teacher who thought he was getting away with something.

Wolves Among the Sheep

Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus to be on guard against this very thing: He said that, after his departure, “grievous wolves” would enter in among them, “not sparing the flock;” and that, furthermore, some would spring up from among the leadership, teaching “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:17, 28-31) The motive could be money, pride, lusts of various types, or just the desire for power and control.

We need to be careful, though, who we label as an “enemy of the Cross,” as that is a pretty heavy accusation. If it is really true, then so be it; but if it is not, then we may fall into the snare of Satan, becoming, with him, an “accuser of the brethren”. I really do not want to go there. Genuine believers can fall into the condemnation and the snare of the devil, according to the warnings in 1st Timothy 3:6, 7. We want to avoid that.

Please note, too, that Paul said he was weeping for those who were enemies of the Cross, not despising them. Were you ever truly grieved for the eternal destiny of an enemy: someone who constantly torments you, or is deliberately dangerous to you? Personally, I find it difficult to care for their destiny: it is far easier to secretly be glad that judgment is coming, and ignore Jesus’s clear command (Matthew 5:44) to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who treat us badly. That is what Jonah did! He ignored the command of God! It takes deliberate repentance, confession, and day-by-day obedience, for me to change that pattern.

Our New Citizenship

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

This is an interesting passage, partly because of the word “conversation,” here in the KJV. The Greek word usually translated “conversation” is “tropos” meaning “way of life.” But this Greek word “politeuma”, means “commonwealth”, or “citizenship”. In the case of either Greek root, the King James Bible word, “conversation,” has nothing to do with “two people talking together.” In the one case, it means our lifestyle. In this particular case, though, the statement is that because our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be imitators of Christ, who ultimately, Paul concludes, will completely change us into his likeness, both physically and spiritually. We will lose our tendency to sin, as we will no longer have a sin nature. We will see things from God’s perspective, and understand things that were mysteries before.

That is the living hope of the believer. Every one of us knows that we are a sinner: Every one of us grieves over our sin, and longs to be set free. And the day of release is coming. Paul rejoiced over that in Romans 7:24, 25, saying “…who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, and again in Romans 8:21-23, saying that the whole creation is looking forward to that day, because they will be (mostly) freed from the curse, when the Kingdom age begins, during which time we will have our new bodies…and no sin nature.

In 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52, Paul says that, for those believers who are still alive, the first step of that time will happen in a flash: we will get our new bodies at the moment of the rapture. But the kingdom age will not begin until seven years later, after the rapture of the church. Here, in Philippians, he gives us a little insight about what those new bodies will be like:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

I am really looking forward to that “change”. Although our physical body does not “cause sin”, it is still true that, so long as we are living in these bodies, we will still be subject to sin. Paul experienced this, too, and grieved over it, just as we do. There is coming a day when our old nature will be gone, and we will be free at last.

In the meantime, our freedom has already been provided for, and we are to stand fast in Christ. In Romans 6, we see that we are no longer enslaved to sin: we do not have to sin. We face temptation and we fall prey to it, but we have a choice: we can submit to Christ and obey His Word, instead of our old habitual submission to Sin.

Chapter 4

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul considered this church to be the best of those whom he had led to Christ. They were a total joy to him, and a “victor’s crown.” The Greek word for “crown” here is “stephanos.” It is not the crown of a king, but the victor’s laurel wreath that was awarded to the winner in the Olympic Games. It is translated “crown”, but it always means a victor’s crown. Paul considered these believers to be his trophy…his “blue ribbon.” And, he says, on the basis of all that went before, for them to “stand fast”: To remain steadfast in the face of hard times, in the face of temptation, in the face of tribulations and persecutions. To remain steadfast against false teaching, and to steadfastly follow the leaders God had given, as those leaders steadfastly followed Christ.

That is what we are to do, as well! This letter is to us, as well as to those who first received it. All the epistles are to the churches, not to some high-ranking church leaders: the letters are to YOU.

We need to absorb these truths, and allow them to change our lives. Allow God to use His Word to remake you in His own image. Believe his promises. Obey His commands. Allow His love to flow through you to those around you. That is what it means to stand fast and to walk with God, Following Christ.

Lord Jesus, remake us in your own image: make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be. Allow us to follow you, and to serve faithfully as ambassadors of Christ, offering your love to the World around us, and living in the practical holiness you have assigned to us.