Meet God in the Morning – Use this Free eBook to help

A lot of times, people take stock of where they are spiritually at the beginning of the year. They make resolutions to do different things that will help them draw closer to God throughout the year. Have you ever stopped in the middle of the year to evaluate how well you’re doing in meeting that goal? That’s an easy goal to let go of and forget because there are so many distractions. If you made that kind of goal at the beginning of the year and you’ve fallen behind, take heart. Our God gives second and third and fiftieth and one hundredth chances. If you want to begin to work on that again, let me introduce you to my devotional book series. I’d like to offer you a free eBook where you can spend five to ten minutes a day reading and contemplating God’s presence in your life. This site won’t even collect an email address! If you don’t know how to send a book to your Kindle, I can help you do that. Gain a habit that will enrich your every day life.

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Bible Versions and Permissions

Up until January 1, 2018, verses used in each devotional were from the New International Version of the Bible.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I will be going back and adding this passage to each page that used an NIV quotation per their website

I will be using the New Century Version in 2018.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

I am using the New King James version in 2019

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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How to Determine if a Message is #FakeGospel or #TrueGospel – 1 John 4:1-10

As I write this, we’re involved in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is dealing with the question of who to believe and who not to believe. It’s a problem in the secular world because the only standard seems to be that people will believe those spokesmen who reinforce their own beliefs. Of course, anything “the other side” says is obviously false or exaggerated. We hear an authority speak, and if we don’t like what they have to say, we bring up old quotes to prove that they aren’t always right, unless they agree with you. I don’t deal with politics in general, anymore, because the message of the gospel is far more important than any political issue, but I think it’s fair to say that most people would agree with this statement: “If you agree with me, you must be right, and if you disagree with me, you need to listen to me so that you can change your mind and become right.” All kidding aside, that seems to be the way of the world. John dealt with the question of authority as we begin chapter four, and the question is simple: what do people say about Jesus? That’s how you can tell what teaching should be looked at for further study and which teachings can be thrown out without going any farther

1. Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2.. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

The way to test if a spirit, a teaching, a prophecy, or any other message purporting to come from God boils down to the question of Jesus. If someone believes and teaches that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, then they are to be given an audience. On the other hand, if someone teaches that Jesus was a spirit, or that He didn’t really come in the body of a man, but just looked like that, then nothing they say should be examined. Those people are opposed to the idea of Incarnation. Those people are opposed to the truth that Jesus was God the Son who came to earth, born as a baby, to bring us into a relationship with God. Is is possible for someone to say that Jesus came in the flesh and still be wrong? Of course it is. If you need proof, think about some of the things that I’ve taught. There are probably men and women much wiser than me who could tell you how I was wrong in one teaching or another. I never ask you to believe what I teach because I believe that Jesus came in the flesh, that Jesus was God the Son who became a man. I ask you to examine my teaching and all other teaching by God’s word.

At the same time, the false prophets, the false teachers, deny that Jesus came in the flesh. They deny that God the Son came down to earth as a man. If they miss that basic truth of the Christian faith, how can you trust anything else they may teach. Is it possible that they may teach something true. Why give them the time of day? Why give them attention? Why send them your money? Anyone who denies that Jesus came in the flesh; anyone who denies that Jesus was God the Son sent to earth in the flesh to pay the penalty for our sins on the cross doesn’t have the understanding to live and teach truth, even if they say a few good things.

4. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

John was with Jesus when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees. How did this one man stand up against the political and religious weight of those groups? He was God the Son. Because of that strength, He stood up to people who seemed to be righteous in the eyes of the people, but were living and teaching contrary to God’s plan. John saw that happen. John stood up to the Roman authorities who sought to keep the gospel from spreading. How did he do that? The Holy Spirit lived in him. John put it this way: “greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” We can stand up to those who would seek to keep us from sharing the gospel; we can stand up to false teachers whose goal seems to be to build their personal prestige and bank accounts because the Holy Spirit living in us is stronger than anything they can throw at us. Those who reject the truth of Jesus, especially that He came in the flesh have one measuring stick for all things: what does the world think? How will the world perceive what we’re doing? Those who follow Christ should have one measuring stick also: what does God want? We seek to follow God and do what He wants. We know that God hears us. Those who don’t know God refuse to listen to those of us who are seeking to follow Him. We can know who’s following truth and who’s guided by a spirit of error based on their response to us when we live in tune with God. If that sounds like an arrogant statement, and it does to me, realize that John was unimpeachable as a witness to Jesus. He had walked with Him. Did he misunderstand Jesus? Yes. Lots of times, but still, he understood what it meant to follow Christ. I can’t remember the author or the story, but the author said “don’t quate what’s happening now to this book.” Someone responded, as a joke if I understand correctly, “Oh what do you know about that?” Sadly, as John taught, and as others taught based on John’s teaching, false prophets refused to listen to his teaching, as if he didn’t know anything about Jesus. They might spin their wacky theories about Jesus not coming in the flesh, which was part of the gnostic approach, but John had seen Him, touched Him, and lived with Him for three years. John knew the humanity of Jesus and anyone rejecting that was living in the spirit of error.

7. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 9. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

And John, knowing Jesus and His teachings, brought the discussion back to love – God’s love. When Jesus taught the disciples how people would know who was following Him, He taught about how much they loved each other. In today’s world, we’ve split up into our own denominations and groups. While we could make a case for the good reasons denominations have formed, the truth is, we don’t love each other the way we should. Apparently, the church at Ephesus had that same problem and John needed to remind them again. We should love each other as Christians. True love comes from God. The only way you can love people with the love that God has for them is when God gives you that love for them. It’s a love that thinks of the needs of others before self. It’s a love that’s willing to give up the temporary pleasures of this world to allow people to experience the amazing love God had for them. If you can’t love others like this, you can’t know God. God is the manifestation of true love in this world. How did He show His love? He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might experience an amazing relationship with Him. When Jesus came to earth, He gave up everything to live and eventually die among mankind. God has never loved us back, He took the initiative in showing us His love. We need to love others first. We need to love others sacrificially. When Jesus came, He was the propitiation for our sins – He paid the penalty for our sins and it is because Jesus paid this penalty that we can find favor with God. I have no doubt that John had the parable of the good Samaritan in mind as he wrote this. He could have said it explicitly: Since God has shown you this amazing love, love that you didn’t deserve, then you need to love others the same way God loves you.

I normally include next week’s Bible readings here, but, as the video explains, I’ve fallen behind. When I get my readings back on track, I’ll start including them again.

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Love One Another as God Loved You – 1 John 3:11-24

What’s the test of our Christian faith? John echoed Jesus when he wrote in this section that our faith revolves around love: God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others because of God. John also reminded us that our love shouldn’t just be seen in what we say, but also in what we do. As I write this, we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It would be easy to hide away and do nothing. While much can be said for the truth that this is the best practice, there are ways we can help even when we’re self-isolating. So, isolate, but reach out, especially through technology.

11. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.

If you search the history of God working in the world, He has called on people to love one another. This isn’t just the history of how God dealt with people since the time of Jesus, in the example that John used, he showed that Cain hated his brother and killed him because he was wicked. And how do we know that he was wicked, he didn’t love his brother. He killed him because his own actions and attitudes were evil, because he was of the devil, while Abel was righteous before God. As you look at that stoy in Genesis, there’s a hint of the issue when we read that Abel brought an offering of the best of the flock, and Cain brought an offering, too. I believe that Abel gave of his best out of the joy of giving, while Cain brought something because he wanted to get on God’s good side. He used his offering to manipulate God and failed. That failure enraged him and he killed Cain. (I should note that a lot of that is my interpretation and that anything that goes beyond the Bible is subject to revision.)

13. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. 14. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. 15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

I run into Christians who are dumbfounded when they meet non-Christians who don’t like them. They wonder what they did wrong to cause the problem. The truth is that their lives are built on hate for anything that has to do with God. They won’t acknowledge any good thing you’ve done, even if it’s to help them, and they’ll hold all of our failings, and, especially, all the failings of other Christians they’ve met or heard about against us. As a writer I’ve befriended many people who aren’t Christians and I can tell that somehow they’ve been hurt by the church in the way they vent their anger about God’s people. Usually, if I ask, which isn’t often, I get a “well, not you, but those other people I don’t know…” Not always. There is a lot of hate for Christians in the world. Sadly, many of those who hate the Church and God’s people do so because they’ve been hurt by the church or someone in the church. So, when they world hates you, don’t be surprised. At the same time treat those who rant against God and God’s people with as much grace as possible. God can still work on them.
The defining factor fo those who follow Christ, at least according to Jesus (John 13:35) is that we love our brothers (and sisters) in Christ. John uses that same idea to note that we pass from death unto life when we love our brothers and sisters. Love is a defining picture of the follower of Christ. If we live in God’s love for our brothers, we have eternal life. Conversely, if we hate our brothers and sisters, we’re dwelling with death. Perhaps John remembered the Sermon on the Mount when he said that the person who hates his brother is a murderer. Whether one murders the brother physically or spiritually through hate, the person who practices hate doesn’t have eternal life in them.

16. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

How do we recognize the love of God? We recognize and begin to understand God’s love as we think about Jesus giving up His life for us. He died on the cross to take the penalry for sin on Himself. John noted that we should be willing to sacrifice our own lives for our brothers and sisters just like Jesus did. According to the commercial, people will do a lot of things for a certain kind of ice cream bar, so let me ask what you’d do for a brother in need. John dealt with that in upcoming verses.

17. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

As I write this, the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much of the world is in need because of jobs lost as people were forced out of jobs when their work sites closed down. There’s fear and hoarding going on. John’s response today would be the same as his response to the needs of his day: if you have something to share, especially with the brothers, share it. In some ways, we’ve seen the worst of humanity during this time: a man who bought over 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and then sought to sell it for outlandish prices. People hoarding water and toilet paper – for whatever reason on those two things. People buying all the meat. While the man who bought the hand sanitizer ended up donating it to various agencies after a huge uproar, that wasn’t his original plan. Meanwhile, we’ve seen some of the best of humanity at the same time. People (and churches) buying groceries for those in need or people who can’t get out of the house, a CEO of a restaurant chain giving up their salary and bonuses for their employees, and numerous other small acts of caring and concern that will never make the news. If you act like the first group, how can the love of God be in you? If all you do is think about yourself, you obviously don’t have the mind of Christ who gave up everything to come to earth and die on the cross for us. If you have something, then, as my wife has said on numerous occasions, realize that God gave it to you so that you can share with others in their time of need. If you can turn your back on people who have nothing, how does God live in you? John’s admonittion is much like James’s here when James said not to tell someone to go in peace – warmed and filled – without doing anything to meet their needs. If you say you love someone or something, then back it up by how you live. Live generously with all God has given you. Our love for others should imitate the love God has for us, and we must remember that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) My wife knows I love her not just because of the things I say, but because of the things I do to work with her as we walk this earth together. Our love for others should embody that principal.

19. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.

While our actions don’t make us good enough for God to love us, because He loved us long before we turned to Him, the fact that our lives have changed and reflect the love of God to others is one way we know that we are “of the truth” or in a loving relationship with God. In our evangelism program we ask people to consider the question, “Why should God let you into heaven.” The answer, which should be obvious, has nothing to do with our works, but has everything to do with the fact that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sin. At the same time, though, the Christian should recognize that if he or she is really of the truth, really part of God’s family, then our lives should reflect God’s love to others. It’s an interesting phenomenon, though, that as we grow closer to God, we recognize more about our sin; we realize what we’re doing wrong. And so, rather than revel in God’s love for us, our hearts condemn us and we begin to seek ways to gain the assurance of God’s love. Our heart fails, but the great truth of God, the central core of Christian faith is that God knows and loves us. We can’t do anything to earn His love. When our heart may condemn us for what we say, think, or do, or what we don’t say, think, or do, we need to recognize that God, who is greater than our heart, knows all things and still loves us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing we do can surprise God and cause Him to rethink His relationship with us.

21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

I love that John reminds his brothers and sisters that He loves them at this point. After dealing with the concern about our hearts condemning us and giving us the key to overcoming that condemnation, John pointed out that if our hearts don’t condemn us, it’s because of what God has done and we can have confidence because of Him. Our hearts shouldn’t condemn us, but that’s not because we’re perfect, or, as some would describe it, living in sinless perfection, it’s because of our relationship with God. My wife doesn’t have a perfect husband, but he never doubts her love even when he messes up because of the relationship he has with her based on God’s love. This confidence allows us to come before Him in prayer, expecting God to answer those prayers. Now, here’s the thing: John mentioned in the last part of this verse that we keep His commandments and do things that please Him. If we do, our prayers will reflect our love for Him, our obedience, and a lifestyle that wants God’s best for ourselves and others. What does that mean for us as we pray. Janis Joplin sang a prayer song designed to ridicule the prayers of those who seem to think that God’s a gameshow host leading His people in the new game, “The Prayer is Right.” In this song, she asked for a Mercedes Benz, a color TV, and a night on the town. She came up with good justification for each of those requests. And let’s face it, some of the teaching on prayer sounds a lot like this Joplin satire on prayer. The truth about prayer is that as we become more aligned with God’s will in our lives, our prayers begin to reflect not our desires for stuff, but God’s desires for a lost and hurting world.

23. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

John was around when Jesus distilled all the commandments into two practices: love God and love your neighbor. When John said, “…because we keep His commandments…” in the previous verse, people attuned to the Law might have been thinking about ten of them or even over 600 of them. Here, her clarified that by recalling the teaching of Jesus. While he changes the wording from “love God” to “believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” we believe on His name because of our love for God who brought us forgiveness of sins through Jesus. You can’t really believe on the name, or, in terms more closely aligned to the language of today, believe in the person and nature of Jesus Christ, without loving God for what He did sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. So, the commandments involve loving God and acting on His love for us, and loving others. That was the command of Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40. John reminds us that if we keep those commandments, it’s not that we love some far distant God who may or may not have time for us; it’s that we are living in Him and He’s living in us through His Spirit. He lives in us and walks with us 24/7. We can’t hide from God when we sin, because He dwells in us and He begins the process of forgiveness immediately, even before we recognize that we’ve sinned. God loves us. As one commentator put it, He’s crazy about us. As we continue to live and work in this world, let’s walk in the love God has for us and share His love with all the people we meet. The world has enough sourpusses, let’s show them and everyone else the love of God.

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God’s Children Don’t Keep on Sinning – 1 John 3:1-10

John has a simple test to determine if someone is a follower of Christ or not. If they keep sinning in their thoughts, words, and deeds, then they obviously don’t have the love of the Father in them. It’s important to realize that the Greek construction of this concept doesn’t talk about a person sinning once or twice; it deals with people who sin and keep on sinning, living as though they were acceptable to God even though they disobeyed Him. Does God still love someone like that? Yes. If they’re God’s children, would they live like that? No. I believe that when the Bible speaks about Jesus taking away our sins, it also means that He takes away those behaviors that are sinful. We continue in sin because we’re in open rebellion to God. Our own actions prove the lack of relationship with God.

On the other hand, if we do have a relationship with God, our righteous living will show that also. This doesn’t mean self-righteousness. It doesn’t mean making it a point to let everyone know how righteous we are. It means that we’re living humbly in a right relationship with God and our actions will change to reflect the character of God in our lives.

1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.

I can’t help but think that John continued to be amazed at the magnitude of God’s love for us. Paul talked about how God adopted us as His children. Under the Roman system, a man could disown his natural born children, but couldn’t disown adopted children. While John didn’t dwell on adoption as his theme, he marveled, and expected his readers to understand and marvel as well, about the amazing love of God that allowed us to be called His children. Because we’re God’s children, we aren’t in synch with the world. The world doesn’t know us; we aren’t on the list of the popular people, society turns away – all because they don’t know our Father. In the world, you’re often judged on who you know, and your family lineage. As followers of Christ, we are, as the Sidewalk Prophets stated so beautifully in the song, “Come to the Table,” a motley crew of misfits with no family lineage that they recognize. But to those of us who are in Christ, we are the children of God the Father – the Almighty! the Creator! the Redeemer!

2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

At this point, John reminded us of our eternity. I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of what eternity or even heaven will be like. John reminded us that we don’t know what it will be like, we don’t even know what we’ll be like. What we do know is that when Jesus comes again, we’ll be like Him. We’ll see Jesus as He really is. We don’t need to know the future, we just need to know who holds the future. If God holds the future, and He does, we can rest assured that all will be well. We don’t know the future, but we know that we shall be like Him and that we shall recognize Him and see Him, Jesus, as He truly is in all of His glory.

3. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

This verse begs a question: why would anyone need to purify themselves if they’re already pure. I’ve seen people attack the idea that we’re sinners because of verses like this. In truth, God sees us as pure from sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus. At the same time, the truth is that because we recognize we we are in Christ, that recognition leads us want our earthly lives to reflect the purity that God sees in us to others on this earthly plane. We want people to see us like God sees us and so, we seek to become better in all we do. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that would make other people think poorly of God because I did it.

4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

There’s a teaching going around that because we’re in Christ, we can’t sin. Because we’re under grace our sin doesn’t matter. John, and I will reiterate a point I’ve mentioned many times before, walked with Jesus and was taught personally by Jesus; he was personally rebuked by Jesus for his sins, noted that anyone who sins goes against the law. Jesus not only took away the penalty for our sins, though, He takes away our desire for sin and that’s seen in the feelings of guilt when we know we do something contrary to God’s plan. If you live in Christ, you’re not going to be able to continue living in a sinful condition. We purify oursleves (vs. 3) and God keeps working in us to take away our sin. The picture of committing sin here in verses 4-6 is someone who continues in sin, not someone who commits one sin and then repents. If you abide in Christ, you won’t continue living in sin. If you keep living in sin, then it’s obvious that you really haven’t seen Him from a spiritual perspective, nor have you known Him. John’s really blunt about things here: if you sin, and you keep on sinning, it shows that you don’t have a relationship with Christ. The question each of us must ask is what’s more important: God’s desires for us or what we think we think we want.

7. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

Some people like to make life complicated and see it in shades of gray. The truth is that someone who does good things, someone who lives and acts righteously does so because they are righteous, or in a right relationship with God. On the other hand, someone who lives in a constant state of sin not only isn’t in a right relationsihp with God, their motivation comes from the devil. When Jesus enters our lives, He destroys that motivation and those works. We don’t do the right things because we’re forced to, we do the right things; we live righteously because we want to. When Jesus destroys the works of the devil, He restores a sense of righteousness in us.

9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

When John talked about someone who is born of God not sinning, he spoke of the idea of living a life immersed in sin. It’s not that we can’t commit the occasional si, it’s that the seed of God in us pulls us toward good. We’d be miserable in our sinful condition and our natural response to that misery would be to turn back to God and seek forgiveness, not continue sinning. And John makes it clear here: if you don’t live righteously and if you don’t love your brother, you are not of God. (And, just to be clear, John coud have included sisters in this discourse.) If you are practicing racism, sexism, classism, or any other kind of “ism” that lives by hate, you’re not coming from God, you’re coming from your father the devil. One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is the love that Christians have for each other.

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Abide in Him – 1 John 2:15-29

15. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

John’s warning in this passage is strong and deals with a problem that Christians have faced from the beginning of the church. Jesus reminded us that we can’t serve God and mammon, or worldly wealth. (Matthew 6:24) It may be easy to avoid the desire to gain earthly wealth, but there are other things of this world that draw us away from God: popularity, acceptance, position, and influence are just a few of the things this world offers us. In later years, as Christians became the majority in many countries, they exercised power. While they initially sought to use their power for God and do good, they invariable ended up repressing people who thought differently. We aren’t called to build an earthly kingdom, we’re called to a heavenly kingdom. When we let these things of the world interfere with our relationship with God, we’ve lost our love of the Father. The allure of the things of this world doesn’t come from God. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We like it when people like us. We like it when they respect our opinions. When we’re willing to compromise our faith to gain anything, we’ve shown that we’re willing to exchange the eternal things of God that will last forever for the temporal things of this world that will disappear in days to come. How should we then live? We must get rid of those worldly lusts and desires and do God’s will. Only then can we experience the true joy of living with and for God in all we do.

18. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

If you want to get Christians fighting, just tell people what you think John means by “the last time.” I won’t get into all the arguments, but I think it’s safe to say that from the earliest days of the Church, the apostles believed that we were in the last days. And yet, here we are today almost 2000 years later. I can’t tell you when the exact last day of this earth will be, but I believe that we’re in the time of the last day. To me, that means that there will be no new revelation of God until Jesus comes again. That doesn’t mean we don’t have prophets, as I understand it, since prophets tell forth the word of God. They speak for God. What that means to me is that since we’re in the last time, as John put it here, God will keep working in and through the Church as He has since the earliest days of the Church. John’s evidence for the time he was living in being the last time was that there were many antichrists running around. In what should be a shocking statement, he let us know that they used to be in the church, but they left because they were not part of the body of Christ. They showed that by leaving the Church and going off on their own tangent. We see that happening today whenever anyone builds a following that isn’t based on the life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ. If any part of the message someone proclaims overshadows this truth, then they have departed from the Church and they are, in John’s words, antichrists.

There are a couple of provisos here. First, in the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, there is mention of an Antichrist relating to the last times. I see the antichrists John is talking about here as false shepherds leading people astray so that they’ll welcome the one who will be the Antichrist. Those who are pastors of Jesus Christ are really undershepherds drawing people to Jesus, the true Shepherd. The antichrists present in the world today are drawing people to a false piety that will welcome the Antichrist. I also don’t think this applies to the various denominations that have grown since the time of Martin Luther, and even before. Any denomination that proclaims the life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ as the only way to have relationship with Christ is part of the true Church. Anyone who proclaims something else should look long and hard at their relationship with God.

20. But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

If you are a follower of Christ, you have guidance from God in making decisions. John calls it an unction. You can know the truth. Obviously, when John said that we can know all things, he was referring to understanding the truth about the things of God. I could make a list of things that would include at least one thing that no one knows about. The key is understanding that as John wrote at this point in time, he was dealing with the false teaching of those he referred to as antichrists. God will guide you into truth if you’ll pay attention to Him. John made the point that they really knew this, but I can’t help but wonder if he thought people might be wavering when they heard some of the heretical statements being made. The problem with heresy isn’t that it’s obviously false; the problem with heresy is that it sounds close to the truth. When we seek discernment from God, we can tell when we’re hearing truth or something close to the truth. If we understand that close to the truth, when speaking about spiritual teaching, is a lie, then we can live by the truth. No lie is of the truth, no matter how good it sounds.

22. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.

In the Church, among God’s people truth begins with one issue: who is Jesus? Is He the Messiah? Did He come bodily, born of a virgin? Did He live a perfect life? Did He die on the cross to pay the penalty for sin? Did He rise from the dead? Is He God the Son? Maybe I’m adding to what John said, but given what we believe today, I think this explanation covers the question. If you can’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, you are outside the faith. You are denying that Jesus is the Christ. And, if you deny Jesus as the Christ, as God the Son, you’re denying the Father as well. John was pretty blunt in noting that if you deny the Son, Jesus Christ, you are not in fellowship with the Father. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, then you have fellowship with the Father as well.

The heresies that John faced and the heresies that we deal with today deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. To them, Jesus may be a good man, a good teacher, or even a great role model, but He’s not enough in and of Himself to allow us to have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Something else has to be done. That’s bad old heresy. We have fellowship with the Father when we acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and that means that Jesus is God the Son.

24. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. 25. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

What did John ask of those who read this letter? Stay true to what you heard. The problem with any great truth is that people will try to twist or distort it for their own ends. John, who had lived with Jesus, taught these people the truth. He didn’t want them following some strange teaching that anyone who really followed Jesus would know was false. Steven King, noted horror author, talked to people who equated current events to the plot in one of his novels called The Stand. He told them that they were nothing alike. They shouldn’t equate current events with that book. Someone shot back, and I hope that it was a joke, “How do you know? Have you even read the book?” I can’t help but wonder if John could understand how Steven King must have felt as he dealt with heresies. People could try to justify their heresies by saying something like, “Well, how do you even know the truth, John. Did you actually listen to Jesus?” The end result of our faith, though is amazing: eternal life. This isn’t “some time in the future when we die things will be great” life. This is “walking with Jesus through all the trials and difficulties of life with hope for the future” life. There is no greater hope than the promise of eternal life with God.

26. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. 27. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Why is false teaching so seductive? I think part of the issue is that such teaching focuses on us, and not on God. It isn’t so important what GOD will do, it’s what God will do for YOU. False teaching focuses on the gift, not the giver (God); it focuses on the healing, not the healer (God). (And yes, I riffed on on the song “More Than Anything” by Natalie Grant.) It’s a subtle process, but that’s why John compares it to seduction. In an interesting comment, John noted that God’s people didn’t need any teachers because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that they had. The Holy Spirit would teach them all truth and nothing but the truth. He doesn’t teach lies. The most important thing we learn from the Holy Spirit is that we need to abide in God. Now, taken to it’s logical conclusion, you shouldn’t even need to read this blog post, or even the Bible. I think that’s taking John’s words a bit out of context, though. Most of the false teaching dealt with the nature of God and John’s point was that the Holy Spirit teaches us about His nature and how to abide with Him. Teaching that is in synch with the Holy Spirit is fine, but teaching that goes contrary to what the Holy Spirit says is contrary to God’s will and should be rejected. I learn much from the teachings of others, but I always check it against what God teaches me as the Holy Spirit guides me.

28. And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like, “What do you think Jesus would say if He saw you doing something like that when He came again?” While it may seem judgmental at times, it’s a good reminder that our lives should be consistent with what we claim to believe. John put that in a positive way by noting that when we abide in Christ, we can be confident when Jesus returns. The most important part of what John said here is that our lives should be consistent with living in the Spirit. We should live righteous lives. Ultimately, true righteousness only comes from God. When we’re living out our relationship with Christ, we should show righteousness in our lives without ulterior motives. As I write this we’re dealing with concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. While we should be concerned about safety measures, we should also remember that our ultimate call is to serve. We need to develop a ministry mindset, not a survival mindset, and, when the concerns about this virus are over, we need to continue to seek ways to use all that God has given us to minister to others. If we’re abiding in Him, our righteousness should make us minister in His name.

Daily Bible Readings for this next week as you read through the Bible in a year:

March 15, 2020 – Matthew 16; Numbers 1-2; Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
March 16, 2020 – Matthew 17; Numbers 3-4; Ecclesiastes 3:16-4:16
March 17, 2020 – Matthew 18:1-20; Numbers 5-6; Ecclesiastes 5
March 18, 2020 – Matthew 18:21-35; Numbers 7-8; Ecclesiastes 6
March 19, 2020 – Matthew 19:1-15; Numbers 9-10; Ecclesiastes 7
March 20, 2020 – Matthew 19:16-30; Numbers 11-12; Ecclesiastes 8
March 21, 2020 – Matthew 20:1-16; Numbers 13-14; Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

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Standing Firm for the Truth of Christ in Love – 1 John 2:1-14

At times, it seems like Christians have difficulty with the twin commands to stand for the truth and to show love to others. John shared the message of standing for the truth, but he also continued to proclaim the need to love each other. We should never accept falsehood, but at the same time, we should always show the love of Christ to others.

1. My little children these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

We begin this chapter with John revealing the nature of his relationship with these churches. He considers them his little children. John is old, probably around ninety years of age, and he recognizes all of those who follow Christ as his “little children.” This isn’t to demean them, it’s a picture of his love for them.
In the first chapter, John dealt with the idea of sinless perfectionism. (tldr: It can’t happen.) As John starts this next section of the letter, he hints at another problem in the church: the belief that since Jesus forgives all of our sins, it doesn’t matter whether or not we sin. He lets them know a few things about sin: first, we shouldn’t do it, second, Jesus stands before the father on our behalf, and third, that Jesus is our propitiation for sins, not only those who are His children now, but for all people. Propitiation being the idea that Jesus paid the punishment for our sins and opens the door for a Holy God to love those who have sinned. While Jesus did this for the whole world, this doesn’t imply that there is universal salvation for those who reject God’s love, it means that God’s love is available to all people at any time if they will accept the opportunity He gives to be reconciled to Him. He also reminds them through this discussion of the great price that Jesus paid for this reconciliation. If we understand that price, how can we go ahead and continue in sin?

3. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

One of the claims of gnostics is that they had a special knowledge of Christ. They believed that because of their special knowledge of Christ, they could live any way they wanted to and still be good with God. The problem they ran into was John. John actually had knowledge of Jesus that no one else at that time had. He had lived and walked with Jesus for three years. He knew what Jesus thought, to a point. He’d lived with Jesus as He taught. John made it clear that if you know Jesus, really know Jesus, you’ll keep His commandments. Mere talk isn’t enough, in fact, John called those people who claimed to know Jesus but didn’t keep His commands liars. They had no understanding of truth. I have no doubt that John could have said that there were groups of people who lived and talked like that – people we know today as gnostics who claimed that secret revelation. On the other hand, “whoso,” meaning anyone, keeps His commands, His word is in the process of being perfected by God’s love. He included himself as he noted that anyone who fit that bill could know that they were in Him. If we know Him, we’ll keep His commands. If we keep His commands because we now Him, we can now that we are in Him. Verse 6 makes perfect sense as John concluded this thought. If you say you follow Jesus, you ought to actually follow Jesus. You don’t get to pick and chosse your lifestyle, you make your lifestyle align with Him.

7. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. 8. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.

The Bible’s teaching doesn’t vary much down through the ages. While John wrote to both Jews and Gentiles here, Jews had seen the call to love as God loved down through the ages. Those Gentiles who accepted Christ knew that they were called to love one another. Jesus told His disciples that all people would know that they were His disciples if they loved one another. They had heard this call throughout the ages. At the same time, the love of Christ is new every day. When they loved each other it wasn’t supposed to come from the stale old habits they might have had because they were following some commandment; it was new and refreshing every morning because of our walk with Jesus Christ. I love sun rises. If you look at it through old jaded eyes, you might be cynical and remind me that it’s not really the sun that’s moving, it’s the earth. You might say something like, “Yeah, we had one yesterday and we’ll have one tomorrow.” When you see each day as a reminder that the darkness of our old way of life is past and we have new life in Jesus Christ, each day takes on new significance. Each day has a new sense of importance. Just as the beauty of the sunrise is different each day, so the opportunities to show our love to one another is new and different every day that we’re alive. We should celebrate the dawning of God’s love in our lives and share that love by shining His light into a world that needs the love of Christ.

9. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.

If we remember that light reveals all things and darkness can be a cover for sin, it helps us to understand John’s meaning in these next few verses. What does John mean when he says “if someone says they’re in the light?” Very simply, it means if someone claims to be walking with Jesus. If someone claims that they follow Jesus, yet shows hatred toward his brother, they aren’t walking in the light of Christ, they’re walking in the darkness of their sin. Hatred rears its ugly head in a variety of ways: racism, classism, indifference, failing to acknowledge the existence of another, and we could go on, but I want to look at the positive side of this. If I seek to take advantage of another person to benefit myself, that’s a form of hatred because it sees the other person as a tool to use to advance our own cause, rather than a human being loved by God. God seeks to reconcile ALL people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), He doesn’t seek to divide us, so anything that pushes people away from God, or brings division between people or between man and God should be examined to make sure that we’re not acting through hatred. Obviously, calling people to repent and turn to God may turn people away from God, but, if done in a spirit of love, that isn’t hatred. What do I mean by that. I don’t use “cuss” words. I don’t like them. It’s part of my past that I don’t enjoy. Having said that, suppose I were to post a meme on social media that came from one of those sites that included the kind of language that I just noted. (I did that once accidentally.) If you were to contact me and say, “Bob, did you realize that the meme you posted came from this site?” that would be a way of correcting me gently and with love. On the other hand, if you were to comment and say, “Bob is such a hypocrite because…” while the correction would still occur, it wouldn’t be done with love. The first example would exemplify verse ten: you would be showing love to me and helping me to correct an error. The second example would exemplify verse 9, because it didn’t show love, it sought to take advantage of my error to make me look bad, and you look superior because you caught me in my mistake.
The problem with hate is that we see everything else through dark glasses. I have a friend who wrote a book called, I Wear My Sunglasses at Night. We laugh at the title because we can imagine how difficult it would be to see in that situation. When you realize that it’s a vampire story, though, it makes some sense. Still, hatred for most of us, those who aren’t vampires, would be like putting dark sunglasses on at night and trying to walk around. You wouldn’t know where you were going and you’d probably stumble around fall given the condition of most sidewalks in the world. And most of us, filled with hatred, would make sure we had our sunglasses to put on again before we stood up. That’s what hate does to us.

12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. 13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. 14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

This passage is extremely interesting to me. The first point of interest upon examination of the text is the repetition of the groups of people John wrote to: children, fathers, young men. The second interesting part of that is that John wrote them to speak of strengths or accomplishments, and there’s a repetition of those: forgiveness, known Him (Christ), overcome evil, known Him (Father), known Him (from the beginning), strong, God’s word lives in them, and they’ve overcome the wicked one. The phrase “overcome the wicked one” is mentioned for the young men in both instances. As I researched this passage, it was pointed out that the word for children in verse 12 is the term John used earlier when he talked about all the readers, while the word in verse 13 seems to be more of an age-based term. As I read this, I thought at first that this was part of a song. I looked for some confirmation, but I didn’t see any. We know so little about the worship practices of the early church that it’s hard to be sure. That being said, as I’ve re-read this passage a few times, I couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t meant as a responsive reading of some sort designed for the various age groups mentioned. Again, in my limited research on this passage, I didn’t find any confirmation of this possibility. Of course, my thoughts on that are speculation, but while I wouldn’t make this a point of faith, I’d lean toward this passage being a type of responsive/choral reading.
My opinions are of little importance compared to the meaning of the text. The first thing I see is that the message of Christ is for all people of any age. While it seems to be focused on men (young men and fathers) that would seem to be in accord with how society in general addressesa group of people. The first teaching is forgiveness. We’re forgiven not because we did something worthwhile, or found a way to read it, we’re forgiven for the sake of the name of Christ. The fathers are addressed by noting that they’ve known Christ from the beginning. Obviously, some came to know Christ later in life, but the message seems to be that faith continues throughout the ages. Some men today seem to think as we grow older, faith doesn’t have a place in their lives anymore. John made it clear that faith begins at an early age and continues throughout life. There is a message of strength, strength that can overcome the power of the evil one. We are stronger than anything the wicked one can throw at us in large part because the word of God dwells richly within us. If you want to live a powerful life, live as forgiven children of God who abide in His word and seek to know Him throughout this life. That will give us the strength we need to overcome the wicked one.

This week’s Bible readings are below:

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Walking With Jesus – 1 John 1

John was an apostle of Jesus who had lived with Him and learned from Him daily. His words have special meaning for me.

As we begin this new study in the book of 1 John, it helps to have some background about the author and the purpose for the writing. While this epistle doesn’t identify itself as coming from John, there are a few indications that lead us to believe that it was, in fact, written by John, the Apostle. Chuck Swindoll notes that this belief has been around from the earliest times and includes Polycarp, an early martyr who knew John, as one of those attributing this to John. Verse 1:3 indicates that the author is one of the original apostles. There are some grammatical indications as well, including an emphasis on love and the identification of Jesus with the term “logos.” It was probably written between AD 85 and 90. If earlier, at Ephesus and if later, perhaps, from the Isle of Patmos. We don’t see a specific indication of the intended recipients, but it would be easy to guess that it was written to those in the churches around Ephesus, given the direct address to the seven churches in the book of the Revelation. John knew those churches and probably worked with them.

John seemed to address concerns relating to the fellowship of believers with God and with each other. He did that by encouraging them to be zealous in their faith, stand firm against false teachers, and live in the power of the eternal life that they had for sure in Jesus Christ. (paraphrased from Swindoll) In addition, there seems to be a direct refutation of what would appear to be early forms of a heresy known as gnosticism. One of the tenets of most gnostics is that God was pure and flesh was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh. John begins this letter talking about hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, whom he saw as God the Son.

1. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ goes all the way back to the beginning of time. It’s possible to consider the word “beginning” here as relating to the beginning of Jesus’s life on earth, but the gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word…” where it’s very clear that John meant the beginning of time, as he then continued with the role of the Word, Jesus, throughout creation. I believe John wants to remind his readers that we’re going back to the beginning of time and that this commentary is part of his attack on gnosticism. Part of the explanations of gnosticism deal with cosmology and how God emanated down through the ages until we got Jesus, or even any interaction with flesh. (Please note, an intense study of gnosticism will give you far more details than anything I can tell you.) Who is this Jesus, aside from the Word which was around from the beginning? He was fully human. He spoke, and they heard Him. He lived among them, and they saw Him. They touched Him on this earth, whether it be through embraces before the crucifixion, or feeling the scars after the crucifixion. This Jesus also was the origin of eternal life which they saw and shared with others, including the recipients of this letter. As John noted everything that they shared with the believers are things that they themselves saw and experienced, and his purpose for sharing was so that they could have true fellowship with other believers. Ultimately, that fellowship flows from the fellowship with the Father and with Jesus Christ that they all shared.

4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

If there’s one overarching theme about the Christian life is that it should be full of joy. As John wrote, he made that point that his purpose in writing wasn’t to bring sorrow; it wasn’t meant to scold his fellow-believers; it was so that their joy may be full, or complete. Let’s face it, as important as joy is in the Christian life, there are a lot of us who don’t show a lot of joy. At times, it seems like those of us who claim the name of Christ are more likely to be seen as joy-killers than joy-bringers. Sometimes that seems to happen because the only way to have true joy with God is through our relationship with Him, made possible by Jesus Christ. When we proclaim that message to people who’ve been satisfied with the ways of the world they tend to see us as eternal buzz-kills. We need to show people how to have an amazing and joyful relationship with God through our own lives.

5. This then 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.

In the gospel of John and in this letter, John contrasts the goodness of God with the world as the difference between light and dark. When we’re in the light, everything can be seen. Nothing’s hidden. Our eyes look for light. I remember many years ago, I took a trip to Las Vegas for a convention. If you walk around that city at night, it’s glitzy and glamorous. Neon lights flash, vying for your attention. Your eyes are drawn to the lights. Things are happening in this beautiful city. Only I didn’t stay up late. I woke up in the morning and walked through the streets in the light of day. That light didn’t draw your attention away from the dirt and grime in the streets, it revealed it by its very nature. What we missed at night, in the darkness, was revealed by the light. When John says that God is light he’s talking about a light that reveals the truth by His nature. God is open with us. He doesn’t try to hide anything from us and we can’t hide anything from Him.

6. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

John gets blunt here and notes that anyone who claims to be in fellowship with God yet walks in the darkness of their sin is a liar. They aren’t living in truth. You might say that they’re being hypocritical. Please note that this isn’t attacking someone who sins occasionally, since we all do that, but those who claim to live in fellowship with Him but live as if they didn’t need to live in that relationship. They are living examples of oxymorons. Recently I saw an article that talked about “Christian witches.” That would be an extreme example of claiming to be in fellowship with God, and yet, walking in darkness. God’s practices and witchcraft are incompatible. Don’t breathe too easily, though. Can we claim to have fellowship with God if we’re greedy and make money too important, almost a god? Can we claim to have fellowship with God and hate people because they’re a different gender, a different skin color, or have a different socio-economic status? If anything in our lives becomes as important or more important than God, then we’re walking in darkness and we don’t live the truth when we claim to follow Him.
When we do walk in the light, it affects our relationships with fellow Christians. When we live in harmony with God’s standards, we have fellowship with each other. When our hearts and our lives are in tune with God, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. That cleansing involves forgiveness and power to avoid living with that sin throughout our days. Too often we apologize for our sin, and then go back and commit the same sin again. When we’re cleanses from our sin, it becomes harder and harder to keep committing that same sin over again. Forgiveness from our sins is the beginning of cleansing from all our sins.

8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

One of the heresies that’s floated around the church from the beginning is that somehow, man can achieve sinless perfection. Baptism had the magical power to cleanse us from original sin and all other sins that we had committed and so many people waited as late in life as possible to be baptized. Others started living and believing that they were perfect since Jesus had forgiven them and that they were incapable of sin. Once again, John doesn’t pull any punches and calls people like that self deceived and separated from the truth. The cure for sin is confession. When we confess our sins, God forgives us and then cleanses us from all our unrighteousness. John finished the chapter (of course remembering that the chapters and verses were added to the Bible at a later date) by hammering home the point that if we claim that we haven’t sinned, we make God, whose word says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (yes, I now that’s Romans, but it’s still God’s word) a liar. If God’s word is in us, we’ll recognize our own sinfulness. I’ve talked with people who would proudly say that they never sinned. When I point out this verse, they get quite upset. We live in fellowship with God and with His people not because we’re perfect, but because we recognize our own sinfulness and bring that sinfulness to the Lord as we seek His forgiveness and His power to overcome our sin.

Bible readings for this next week:

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Rejoicing in God’s Provision and Thanking the Church – Philippians 4:10-22

And so we come to the end of the book of Philippians. In this part of the letter, or in this first letter, depending on your understanding, Paul spent the time to thank the Philippians for their gift. It’s interesting that while he’s doing that, he goes to great pains to say that he didn’t need what they sent, but he was thankful for it. He also noted that since God provided for him, he didn’t need their gift, but that their gift was a pleasing offering to God. The style at that point is similar to Paul’s discussion of baptism in 1 Corinthians 1 while discussing the problem of a church divided over leaders. That being said, while I have a few ideas about which book to tackle next, I’ll throw this open to suggestions. What book of the Bible should I go through in this semi-devotional, semi-Bible study approach? Comment below, or on the social media page you saw this and let me know what would help you the most.

  1. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.

If, and I emphasize if, Philippians was three letters combined, the verse 10 begins what scholars define as the first letter. Paul spent this part of the epistle rejoicing that the Philippian Church had renewed their concern for him and showed that in the way they cared for him while he was in prison. He made it clear that he realized that they had always been concerned about him, but that they hadn’t had the opportunity to do so. Now that Paul was facing serious trouble, they jumped on the problem and sent help. We’re a lot like that. You can spend time with people, enjoy their company, and think highly of them – but you don’t do anything to help them because they don’t need help. If you hear that they need help, though, you’d be there in an instant. That’s why Paul noted that they were always concerned, but now they had the opportunity to show it.

  1. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Paul tempered his enthusiasm for the gift that the Philippian Church sent by reminding them that as great as their gift was to him, he wasn’t grateful because he was in need. He had learned how to be content no matter what the situation was. I can’t help but wonder if Paul included this reminder so that the Philippian church wouldn’t think that they needed to buy Paul’s love, or be the sole supporters of his ministry. It would be easy, if Paul had done nothing but rave about the gift they had sent and how it met his needs, to think that Paul needed still more from them. He may have had a greater need for provisions, but if so, he didn’t want the Philippians to give out of a sense of obligation, he wanted them to give under God’s leadership.

The key to understanding this verse is to understand the concept of contentment. I have no doubt that if you asked people living in America how much money they needed, you could summarize most people’s answers in the words, “Just a little bit more.” Contentment doesn’t ask for a little bit more, contentment thanks God for all of His provisions so far.

  1. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

As Paul continued on this theme, he pointed out that whether he had a lot or a little; whether he was well fed, or fighting hunger pangs; whether he was accepted or rejected by the people he was sharing the gospel with; he was able to endure because his strength came from Jesus Christ. While it’s not obvious to us today, Paul took a dig at the mystery religions that permeated Roman society. As A.T. Robertson dealt with the word usage here he noted: “Paul draws this metaphor from the initiatory rites of the pagan mystery-religions.”

A lot of people take verse 13 out of context by applying this to any difficult task, often to the amusement of non-believers. I’ve heard reports of non-believers mocking believers over this verse by asking them why they won’t do an impossible task, since they can do all things through Christ. We should do everything we do in His power and through His grace, but this verse was written in the context of dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. We can endure persecution, because Jesus is with us. We can overcome the trial of great wealth and keep our faith because of Jesus working in us. Both persecution and wealth can be faith killers if we lose our relationship to Christ and His empowering love.

  1. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. 15. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

As Paul continued here, it’s almost like he’s debating himself. “Thanks, but I don’t need the help, but you’ve helped me before like no other church, and then we’ll see in the next few verses that he reminds them again that he didn’t have a need. Most of us don’t want to need help. Paul hated the idea that he had any needs because he wanted to make sure that people realized that all his trust was in God. Still, God used people like those in the Philippian church to care for him. Paul didn’t seek financial wealth from his call as an evangelist, he sought the wealth that only comes from strong relationships: from God first, and then from fellow believers like the church in Philippi. As Paul reminded them of their gifts through the years, the amount they gave wasn’t important to him; the fact that they thought enough about him to give anything was what moved Paul. Their gifts met two needs Paul had: financial and fellowship. The gifts that came from the heart because of the love and fellowship that they shared were the important gifts.

  1. But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

This verse speaks of the arrival of Epaphroditus without mentioning any illness. (Phil. 2:26) The omission speaks volumes to scholars about the composition of this letter and is one of the reasons Philippians is seen as a group of letters instead of one, single letter written from start to finish. In short, the belief is that Paul responded immediately to the Philippians with a thank you note. (Which convicts me, because I am the world’s worst at writing them.) Later, he sent the other letters as an update to his situation.

Notice that however this epistle was composed, the whole letter is the word of God as given through Paul. Paul, meanwhile, after mentioning that he was well taken care of by God, compared the gift they sent to an ancient sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. His vivid imagery not only recalls the sacrificial offerings in the Temple, they let the Philippians know that Paul saw himself as a beneficiary of their love for God first, and then for himself.

  1. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Too often, when we read this verse, we think of material needs. We often use it to justify taking care of ourselves without looking to the needs of others because we believe that God is taking care of our needs. While we have needs other than material needs, let’s examine this idea first. Paul wrote this to the Philippians after they had shown generosity in seeking to be used by God to meet his needs. Paul had needs while he was in prison, but he wasn’t worried because he knew God was going to meet his needs. One of the ways He did that was through the Philippian church. The people in the church itself weren’t rich, and it would be possible for some in the church to be concerned about their everyday needs. Jesus reminded His followers that God clothed the flowers and the birds as a reminder that He’d take care of their material needs. Paul echoed that sentiment in this verse.

At the same time, the riches in glory we gain from Christ Jesus is more than material needs: food, clothing, where we sleep. God cares about our spiritual needs. If you want true spiritual riches, develop a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he promised them Christ’s riches not because they had shared with him, but, because they showed their faith in God’s provision when they shared with him. It may seem like a small distinction, but that idea has huge implications. There are many people who will share out of obligation. Their heart isn’t in it. Paul recognized that this wasn’t the case for the Philippians. They were willing to sacrifice because of their relationship to God and their love for Paul as well. For this, they were rewarded with the riches of Christ Jesus which are far greater than material gain.

  1. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

It all comes down to worshiping and glorifying God. Paul talked about the riches of Christ Jesus in glory and then noted that we will all be giving God the Father glory for all eternity. We have a heavenly reward waiting for us. A reward that comes not from our goodness or even our giving, but from the grace and work of Jesus Christ.

  1. Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. 22. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. 23. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Paul finished the letter with a reminder of the need for unity in Christ. Salute all those who follow Christ just as those who are with me salute and greet you. Notice that most of those saints, or Christians, around Paul are part of Caesar’s household. In context, that doesn’t mean that these people were part of Nero’s family, but that they were part of the Roman government. The gospel was reaching people who were at the heart of the Roman government. God’s grace was influencing the government then, as it should today. Our faith doesn’t depend on which candidate is elected to any office, nor does our faith command us to vote for a specific candidate; our faith commands us to share the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with people of all political stripes and influence those in office for good. Lately, we’ve been more concerned with who we vote for and who wins than in ministering in the situation no matter who wins. If there’s anything we need to take away from these simple ending verses it’s that we’re called to make a difference for Christ in our world, no matter who wins any election, or who sits in worldly judgment.

I think I forgot to include the readings last week, so here they are for this week:

Posted in Devotional Thoughts

Change Your Life, Change the World – Philippians 4:1-9

As Paul begins the end of Philippians, we’re reminded that we can change the world, but we need to change ourselves by letting God do the work in us. We decide that our relationship with Christ is more important than our egos and petty disagreements. We recognize that our lives must match the goodness of the God who loves us and brought us into fellowship with Him. When we change our lives to be in harmony with God, we recognize the beauty of his world and we do all that we can to make a difference in this world.

Philippians 4

  1. Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. 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 fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life.

One thing Paul did when he ended his letters was give shout-outs to those in the community who furthered the cause of the gospel, or gave last minute admonitions to people who needed one last gentle, or perhaps not so gentle, reminder about their calling as followers of Christ. As he ended either this section, or the whole letter, he reminded them that his treasure on earth didn’t come from silver or gold, his earthly treasure came from his relationship with God’s people as they lived in harmony with God. Here, he reminded Euodias and Syntche to put aside any unimportant issues and focus on their commitment to the Lord so that they could work together for the spread of the gospel. What was the problem? There’s a lot of speculation because scholars are that way. Telling to me is that Paul didn’t address the specific problem, he dealt with the people involved in the problem, letting them now that their differences, the causes of which were unimportant to him, were hurting the spread of the gospel.

He then makes an interesting appeal to “true yokefellow.” I wonder if he meant a specific person. Perhaps it was to the person who would be reading the letter to the church, if it was a specific person. Because these letters were written to be read out loud, I think it was a generic address to anyone who considered themselves a “true yokefellow.” I can’t help but wonder if “true yokefellow” was an insider nickname that some, if not all, of the Philippian Christians gave themselves. True yokefellows, true believers were called to act as peacemakers for these two women who had worked with Paul in the proclamation of the gospel. How could people help? Perhaps the most important way to help in those circumstances is to avoid taking sides.

Have you ever noticed that when two people in a church are at odds with each other, sides begin to form? Oh, we may say that we love that person who’s opposed to our bff in the church, but we’re not going to talk with them. Taking sides, fighting in the church, sometimes even worrying about right and wrong in the ministry causes more problems that it solves. These women had labored for the cause of Christ with Paul, with Clement, and with others as well, and at that time, it appears that they wouldn’t even talk with each other. (I know that may be a big leap, but, that’s how I see it.) Paul wanted to remind them, and have his brothers and sisters in the church remind them, that nothing is more important than the cause of Christ and advancing the gospel.

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. 5. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

I’m going to do a little experiment here. Do these words flow together? “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” They seem to flow, and it’s interesting that the first part of this new paragraph let the Philippian church know that Paul didn’t remind repeating things, which he then did by telling them “Rejoice…again I say, ‘Rejoice.’” While the way the letter is made up isn’t important since we understand that the whole letter, as we have it today, is God’s word, it’s interesting to look at, in my opinion.

Whatever the situation may be, Paul’s closing words are an admonition to rejoice. We’re told to rejoice in the Lord always. The repetition emphasizes Paul’s call to rejoice. When we’re walking with the Lord, it’s a lot easier to see why we should rejoice in Him no matter what happens. Contrary to the old saying “he’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good,” our outlook should be “he’s so heavenly minded he can deal with the earthly bad.” Paul’s call for moderation here may be more accurately described as patience or reasonableness. The NIV uses the word “gentleness” to translate that word. We can be patient, or gentle, or reasonable no matter what may be happening because we know that in the end, God wins, as will all who walk with Him. If the Lord is at hand, if the Lord is coming soon, the problems of this world fade away. And what’s the worst that can happen to you if you face your problems with an attitude of joy in Christ even if His return is delayed? As you think about it, rejoice in the Lord.

  1. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

One of the problems understanding the King James is that our language usage has changed over the years. Without context, it would appear that this verse is advocating a wild, reckless life. What it means is don’t be full of cares about anything; don’t be anxious in modern verbiage. Do we have problems? Of course we do, but instead of worrying about them we’re to lift them before God in prayer and supplication, knowing in faith that He’s dealing with our problems even before we seek Him. How often are we afraid to bring things before God, perhaps because our concerns aren’t worthy of bothering Him, in our own minds. Prayer is just a special conversation with the one true God who accepts you and your needs as you are and loves you at your worst. It doesn’t matter what you tell Him, He already knows, has already forgiven, and He still loves you. This is why we can have peace no matter what the situation may be. This is the peace that drives the world crazy because they can’t figure out how we handle the issues that we deal with. As that peace grows, we grow closer to God; as we grow closer to God, our peace grows. It’s an amazing cycle that keeps us joyful in this crazy, modern world.

  1. 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.

We live in a world filled with bad news and terrible people. We can let the problems of this world overwhelm us, or we can follow Paul’s teachings and see the beauty of God’s creation and God’s way in any situation. A lot of the self-help gurus will tell you to fill your mind with positive things and avoid negative thoughts. While they approach the issue of your thoughts from a secular perspective, Paul calls us to look at the positive, at the beauty of the world from God’s perspective. We are to seek truth and honesty in a world of lies and fake news. We’re to work for justice in a world that oppresses people because of their beliefs or ethnic identity. While our world glorifies scandal and lewd behavior, we’re to seek and live in purity. We’re called to see the beauty in the midst of the ugliness, notice the good when the world points out the bad, live a virtuous life in relationship with God while the world does its own thing, and find ways to praise instead of criticize. Paul not only told us to think about these things and fill our mind with the good stuff, the God stuff, but he continued his message in verse 9 by calling us to act on our thoughts. Psalm 23:7 begins with the words, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (KJV) A call to think good thoughts, is a call to change the world by acting on them.

  1. 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 continued the teaching from verse 8 noting that they had heard teaching on these issues and seen Paul acting like that in life. As followers of Christ, we need to boldness to proclaim God’s plan for life, and we need the integrity to be an example of His plan. We should live so close to the words we teach that we should be able to tell people, “This is the right way, oh, and check my life to see that I live that way already.” When we teach one thing and do another, we’re hypocrites. That disconnect in our lives causes a lot of discomfort. We try to hide it from others, and ultimately from God. And we fail. And we’re miserable. When our lives are in harmony with God and His plan, we experience a joyful peace, a peace that passes understanding, that sustains us in difficult times.

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Pressing On Toward the Goal – Philippians 3:12-21

What’s your goal in life. Notice I didn’t ask for a list of goals, I asked for your goal, your one, overarching goal that all those other goals lead to. Paul’s goal was unity with Christ. He wanted to be so much like Christ that when people saw or talked with him, they would recognize the presence of Christ. I’m sure he had other goals along the way. Some would look at the goals they had achieved on the way to their main goal in life and be satisfied with that small achievement. Paul wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t claim perfection in his relationship with Christ. He didn’t think he could sit back on his laurels and stop following Jesus. He pressed on, continuing to grow in Christ. He recognized that his ultimate goal was to fulfill his citizenship: not his Roman citizenship but his heavenly citizenship. When we look at these verses, we’re reminded that we still have a long way to go to achieve the goal of unity with Christ. We aren’t perfect, but we keep striving to live for Jesus in all we do as we’re guided by the Holy Spirit.

  1. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

The quick and easy explanation for this verse is that Paul is talking about his growth as a follower of Christ. As strong as Paul was in the faith, he didn’t consider himself perfect. Instead, he recognized that he needed to grow in his faith and draw closer to God each day. There are some in the Christian faith who seem to think that when someone comes to Christ, they become perfect instantly. You see that idea expressed as “sinless perfection.” If anyone could make the claim of being sinless, Paul could, but he said, in effect, “I still have so much to learn to grow into this relationship with Christ.” We must always understand that a commitment to following Jesus may be the end of an old way of life, but it’s just the beginning of our new life in Christ and if we’re walking with Him daily, we still have a long way to grow. In our growth, we need to hold onto our goal of drawing close to Him. We need to hold onto becoming the person He’s called us to become.

  1. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

One of the things that hold us back is our memory. No, not the lack of memory, but the fact that we remember things. Two different types of memories hold us back. The first is when we remember bad things that have happened to us. We get discouraged and dwell on those negative memories. We may have tried to do something that we thought came from God’s leading and failed – at least in our own minds. Then, when we sense God speaking to us to go out and minister in His name, we shrink back and pretend not to hear, lest we fail God one more time.

The second kind of memory is when we remember good things. We dwell on our past successes so much that we miss the opportunities in front of us. Or, perhaps we rest on our laurels. We’re ready to let someone else take over because we’ve done our part. Like the farmer in the parable who had the bumper crop, we want to take life easy instead of moving forward. Paul makes it clear that he’s deliberately forgetting past defeats and past victories. To borrow a term from government, he’s basing his life on “zero-based spiritual growth” and he’s going to forget what’s happened in the past, seek God’s will, and then do what God wants. There’s no higher calling than the call God places on our lives today. (Well, until tomorrow that is.) Paul recognized that and he was going to make sure that each day began anew in his quest to follow God’s will. There is no greater calling that to follow the will of God in our everyday lives.

  1. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.

The easy way to get out of the message of this verse is to misunderstand it and say, “Well, I’m not perfect, so this verse doesn’t apply to me.” Paul used the word meaning “complete,” or “finished.” If we’re complete in Christ, we need to keep this same idea in mind that Paul had and keep on pressing for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We can’t stop working because we’re “perfect,” because we aren’t. If you think you’re perfect, God will teach you that you aren’t! If you think you don’t need to keep growing in Christ, God will let you know that you’re wrong. As followers of Christ, we may have grown a lot. We need to keep growing. We need to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing to keep growing. That may seem monotonous, but it has to be done. My wife and I have done a lot of traveling locally. We can tell you the most boring stretches of a couple of routes we take. There’s nothing different about the scenery. It’s, as my father-in-law used to say, “Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.” Because we have a goal in mind, we drive those miles and miles. That route’s the only way to get home. So we keep driving along that route. Sometimes, that may be a great description of the Christian life. Why do we need to read out Bible every day? Why do we need to pray if God already knows our needs? Why do we have to attend worship services? I could go on, but those are ways that God speaks to us. In the monotony of doing the same things, though, we continue to experience God’s presence and there’s nothing greater than that!

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

The typical words of a Christian call people to follow Christ. I might tell people not to follow me, because I’ll mess up, but look to Jesus because He’s our example. Paul demolishes that idea here when he told the Philippian church to follow him. He uses a word here that’s translated as example in the NIV. “Ensample” is an actual word meaning a mold or a pattern for imitation. He told them to look at each other and encourage each other to follow him. That’s a bold statement! I look at my sins and shy away from such language, knowing that if people follow me perfectly, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes/commit a lot of sins. Perhaps we’re so quick to forgive ourselves, that our sins don’t bother us unless we see them in other people. What we need is the boldness to tell people “Live as I live under the guidance and direction of Christ. Look at me as an example of God’s work in a person.” That kind of attitude would make us so much more accountable to each other. Instead, when called out for our sins, we lash out at the one calling us to repent and tell them that they need to forgive us.

Many who claim to follow Christ live as if they were enemies of the sacrifice of Jesus. They claim to follow Christ, but they live as if the cross pays for all sins but has no transforming power. The cross doesn’t allow us to keep living in our sin, thumbing our noses at God’s plan for living; the cross brings forgiveness for the past and power to live God’s way in the future. Yes, we’ll still stumble and sin, but He forgives us and continues to empower us to live as He would have us live.

Meanwhile, there were many who claim the name of Christ, but were, in reality, enemies of Christ. Paul wrote this weeping because he held fidelity to gospel as the highest importance. One of our problems is that we don’t get emotional about God’s word and staying true to God. If we sin, we ask, and get, forgiveness, so it’s no big deal. Someone else takes a wrong path, we chuckle and say, “God’ll get them for that,” and go about out way. Paul wept at such apostasy, not only for those who had lost their way, but also for those who would never find Christ because of the influence of those apostates. Some would be disgusted at the hypocrisy and be inoculated against the truth of the gospel, while others would fall prey to the false teaching and go the wrong way. They’d believe that they had the truth and wouldn’t listen to God’s teaching. They liked the finer things of life: good food, good wine, good looks, and as Paul put it, all those things that they loved and flaunted were actually reasons to be ashamed.

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

The word translated as “conversation” here in the King James should be translated as citizenship. Citizenship is an important status. Citizens of a country generally derive benefits while living in that country that non-citizens don’t get. I’m proud of my American citizenship, since I believe I live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. While I recognize that my country has flaws, I still love it and am proud of it. Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship as were the people of Philippi who were citizens by virtue of its status as Roman colony. Paul reminded the Philippians, and every person who follows Christ today, that more important than any allegiance to any country or kingdom is our citizenship in heaven. And, if our citizenship really is in heaven, then, we’re eagerly awaiting the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Why do we look forward to the return of Jesus? Of course we expect God to set things right in the world. We look at the injustice, we see prejudice rearing its ugly head, we live in a society that seems to be running from God’s standards. When Jesus comes back, I expect my King to “subdue all things unto Himself” and bring the world back into His plan. At the same time, I expect to be changed so that physically and spiritually I will be like Him. Ultimately, that’s where change begins. Institutions and society don’t change unless the people involved with them change. That’s why we strive to be better while we live on this earth. That’s why we seek to evangelize and share the good news of Jesus with others until that time. I seek inner change by the help of God that will make me become a person to change the world for the better.

I realized about halfway through the week that I didn’t include these readings last week. They are mentioned in my Facebook Group for Daily Enduring Truth, where I’m posting the intro and links for my February 2017 devotionals. Check them out at the above link and feel free to join the group. Meanwhile, here are the readings for next week.

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Philippians – Trouble Rears its Head! (Philippians 3:1-11)

Shorter video today:

Just like it looks like Paul is winding down his letter to the Philippian Church, we have an interruption. There aare different ways to look at this interruption and I discuss the problem of the transition from Philippians 3:1 to Philippians 3:2. Whatever the reason for the abrupt change in tone, it’s important to realize that as wonderful a church as the church at Philippi was, that church had problems, too. Sometimes, I hear Christians express a desire to go back to the ways of the early church as if, in some idyllic imagination, the early church was perfect. When you realize that most of the epistles dealt with problems in the churches, you begin to realize that the early church had its problems also. Rejoice in the church you’re involved in now and help draw it closer to Christ as you show God’s love and grace to others.

  1. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

If you subscribe to the idea that Philippians is actually three letters woven together, this verse is the last verse in the second letter. To put things into perspective, the first letter would be found in the verses we know of as Philippians 4:10-20. According to the three letter idea, this was a thank you note from Paul to the Philippine church thanking them for their support. Why do scholars put this last part first? Philippians 4:18 makes it sound like Epaphroditus has just arrived with the gift from the Philippian church, while in this section we’ve just looked at, Epaphroditus was deathly ill and despaired of his earthly life.

The second letter is found in Philippians 1:1-3:1 with some verses from chapter four possibly coming from the second letter. I won’t spend much time rehashing this letter, since we’ve just spent four weeks looking at it, but it’s a beautiful statement of faith in the face of his imprisonment. (Which could have been at Ephesus instead of Rome. I now lean toward that belief, but I am open to being proven wrong.)

The third letter found in Philippians 3:2-4:1 appears to be an angry outburst from Paul related to those Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. Paul reminded the Philippians that he had been a Pharisee and looking at the practice of circumcision and following the Law, he considered them as worthless due to the value of knowing Christ.

Those who argue for the idea that this was one letter from the start, would say that Paul was interrupted as he was closing the letter by news about the Judaizers who were trying to bring the fledgling church under the laws of Judaism.

Which brings us back to Philippians 3:1, which looks to be, in either case, the beginning of the close of the letter. (Read 3:1; 4:4-9, 21-23 and see if that makes sense as a closing.) It’s obvious that Paul is planning to wrap up his letter here. Perhaps, “Finally” meant the same thing to Paul that it does to preachers today. (Hint: nothing) If Paul hadn’t heard his verdict yet, which it appears he hadn’t, these might have been planned as his last words to the church at Philippi. What are his last words? “Rejoice in the Lord.” As much as he has told them to rejoice in the Lord before either through examples of how he was rejoicing in prison, talking about how he had joy in the Lord, or encouraging them to rejoice in the Lord, he said it again. He isn’t upset that he had to keep repeating it, telling people to rejoice in the Lord should be an everyday thing for followers of Christ – much like telling your spouse that you love them. I once joked with my wife and told her I was going to tell her that I loved her so often that she would get sick of it. She still hasn’t. As Christians, we should remind each other about having joy in the Lord no matter what the circumstances may be that we think others will get tired of it. Those who have true joy in the Lord will never tire of that.

  1. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

“No more Mr. Nice Guy!” This change in tone makes it sound like either a different letter as noted above, or that Paul got news while he was finishing this letter. In either case, we see that Paul may have rejoiced in the Lord, but he could get angry. He called these people who sought to bring the church under the thrall of the law three things: dogs, evil workers, “concision” as in the party that promotes the belief in the need for circumcision. Calling someone a “dog” or any variation of one has been a pejorative term throughout history including the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 23:18 it appears to describe a male temple prostitute who served the gods of the lands instead of the one, true God. Goliath asked if David considered him to be a dog. By the time of Jesus, the observant Jew used that term to describe the worst people of all: Gentiles. Paul carefully and deliberately turned the word back on those who would seek to inflict the laws of Judaism on followers of Christ. Paul will explain more about his conversion to Christ and his rejection of the Pharisaic way of life in a bit, but he considered those who spread the message of the Jewish law to be evil and, in other places, deceitful (e.g. 2 Corinthians 11:13) He didn’t consider them to be “nice people sharing the wrong belief,” he considered them evil. The King James translates the word here as concision, not circumcision, because the word used here means mutilation of the body. While those Judaizers thought they were promoting God’s Law, they were really only mutilating the body. Paul made it clear that the Philippians need to steer clear of these “bad hombres.”

  1. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul dismissed the Jewish practice of circumcision, part of the covenant with Abraham, as mutilation. He doesn’t do that to disown the covenant with Abraham, or the part that plays in the life of a Christian. He clarified his views here when he talked about the spiritual covenant of a changed heart instead of the physical practice of circumcision. The proof of a Christian is found in a changed life. Followers of God rejoice in Christ and worship in the spirit; they don’t depend on the flesh. They don’t depend on outward physical signs so much as seeing signs that indicate a changed heart. Paul made it clear that the key was to worship in the spirit and rejoice in Christ. (He does say that a lot, doesn’t he!)

  1. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

When someone comes in to tell you that you’re doing things wrong, they tell you their credentials. “I know my job because….” In school we used to joke that an expert consultant was someone who came from out of town, wore a suit, and carried a briefcase. The people who sought to turn the Philippian church back to following the Law most likely spent a lot of time explaining their background. I imagine the people of the church heard something like, “You may not understand the background, but as a Jew, here’s what you need to know.” I have no doubt that they spoke with confidence, riffed off what the people knew, and swayed them to first doubt Paul and then follow them. People who speak with confidence and passion can do that. I also have no doubt that they believed what they were saying. This is how so many “close-to-Christian” cults thrive: people who’ve been led to believe something that’s wrong speaking confidently about why what they believe is right, and you’re wrong.

Paul took no prisoners in his remarks to the Judaizers. He noted that if they had confidence in the flesh, in their own works, he had just as much, if not more, right to be so confident. Were they Jews? (And this is going to sound strange but think about it.) He was a Jewier Jew. He was born into the tribe of Benjamin and circumcised according to the Law. He had trained under Gamaliel. He was a Pharisee, who were considered the religious elite by most Jews. He believed so strongly in his Jewishness that he persecuted the church, and, in the traditional, Pharisaic interpretation, he was blameless according to the law. Paul could trade resumés of Judaism with anyone.

  1. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

If you could imagine Paul standing face to face with the Judaizers, each holding their resumés, you’d see Paul slowly bring that resumé up to eye level, and then tear it to pieces. His words would be simple: “This is nothing. Christ is everything.” There’s an advertising campaign that asks a silly question, expecting silly answers: “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” Paul answered a similar, but serious question: “What would you give up for Jesus Christ?” with a one-word response: “Everything.” There was nothing that Paul had, or could have, that was equal to his relationship with Christ.

  1. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

Paul got pretty graphic here as he described the value he attributed to anything other than knowing Christ. He called it dung, refuse, waste. We might use other words today, but I don’t need to repeat them. Why did he feel that way? Because he had come to know Christ and realized that there was nothing better than having and developing a relationship with Christ. Because of that, he wasn’t worried about sacrificing worldly wealth or his reputation among the Pharisees that had been built up over a long period of time. He wanted God to look at him not through the window of his works, but through the righteousness that came because of his relationship with God through faith.

  1. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11. If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Many years ago, I had my picture taken with a person who, at that time, was a celebrity. I didn’t expect to get to know him. I didn’t expect him to take my calls, recognize me in the street, go out to dinner with me, or anything like that. I was happy he autographed the picture. What do I want from my relationship with Christ? I’d love the same thing Paul wanted. I want to know Him. I want Him to be my friend. I want to experience the power of His resurrection. OK, I’ll be honest with you, I’d prefer to avoid His sufferings, but if the choice was between suffering what Jesus did or forsaking my relationship with Him, I’m going to join Him in His sufferings. When Paul talked about being conformed to Jesus’s death, he knew that as a Roman citizen, he wouldn’t be crucified, but he was willing to die, if necessary, for the sake of his relationship with Christ. Some see verse 11 as a sign of humility, which, to be honest, is not one of Paul’s strengths. He wasn’t doubting his ultimate resurrection after his death. I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “If I could do anything to further my relationship with Christ, I’d do it,” knowing that there wasn’t. Everything he did, though, was an expression of his faith in Christ.

 

 

 

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