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.

Posted in Devotional Thoughts

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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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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Working For the Lord: Philippians 2:12-30

After that great hymn, Paul talked a lot about the work that all believers should do in the Lord and he mentioned two of the workers who had the right attitude about that work: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was like a son to Paul and had the right attitude about God’s work. Epaphroditus was from the Philippian church and put himself in danger  to serve Paul on their behalf. If we do it right, there’s no more dangerous job than working for the Lord in His way. Whether it be estrangement from friends and family, dealing with strange illnesses in strange (to us) lands, or facing death or imprisonment in areas where Christians are persecuted, there is no such thing as safe work for the Lord.

  1. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

If you know the word “wherefore” then you’ve probably read Shakespeare, or at least heard someone repeat Juliet asking, “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” It surprised me to learn that this word meant “why” and not “where.” The NIV uses the word “therefore” and I think both words, if we were to break them down into simpler English, mean “that’s why.” “That” of course being everything mentioned in the hymn and before about God’s love, Jesus’s humility, sacrifice, and victory over death. “That’s why” the believers in Philippi, his beloved friends, needed to obey God not only when Paul was there, but also when he was absent – especially when he was in prison. It would be easy for the Philippians to get discouraged and give up because Paul was in prison. Paul exhorted them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

I have problems with that phrase, because it implies that our salvation depends on our own actions and we can’t really be sure if we’re in a relationship with God. “We hope God will give us salvation, if we do enough good things.” A.T. Robertson deals with this issue in a great way: “Paul has no sympathy with a cold and dead orthodoxy or formalism that knows nothing of struggle and growth. He exhorts as if he were an Arminian in addressing men. He prays as if he were a Calvinist in addressing God and feels no inconsistency in the two attitudes. Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both.” In truth, as we read verse 13, we realize that Paul still understood that God was in charge.

  1. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

If we combine the truth of verse 13 with the concerns of verse 12 we realize that Paul was teaching about the changed lives that come about because of a relationship with God through Jesus. “Work out your salvation…[knowing that] God alone causes you to want and to do what He wants.” God is the energizing force behind our desires to do the right thing. God gives us the energy, the strength to actually do the right thing. As Martin Luther wrote in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress,” “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” We want to do the right thing, because God works in us to will, to want to do the right thing. We’re able to do the right thing because God gives us the strength to do what He desires.

  1. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16. Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

I don’t think Paul was referencing the story in this passage, but I can’t help but wonder if, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about the Hebrew people leaving Egypt and heading to the Promised Land here. If not, they’re a good example of why we should do what God has called us to do without murmuring and without arguing about it. When people grumble and whisper their complaints to their friends; when the audience for those complaints grows and influences more people, dissension becomes the rule of the day. That’s exactly what happened during the exodus. That’s a pretty good description of our world today.

Christians, meanwhile, are called to avoid the attitude that produces murmuring and disputing so that our witness to the world is unblemished. If we want to be honest, we, as Christians, can find a lot to grumble about as the world, our nation, even our own family members drift away from the Lord. After many years of trying the murmuring and complaining side of the solution, and realizing that my complaints didn’t make a difference, I decided that I needed to take a different approach. I need to focus on the love for people that God has. I need to focus on the truth about why Jesus came to die – God’s love for all people, instead of worrying about the truth of why Jesus had to die – to pay the penalty for sin. It may seem like a fine distinction, but it’s an important one. We need to love the people God loved (e.g. John 3:16) the way God loves them. We should be so blameless in this crooked world that the worst thing people could say about us is that we love people too much. In a dark world of sin, we should be the light of God’s love. One way we show that is by telling others about what He did on the cross for them.

The message of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a message of life for our world. It’s light in the midst of darkness. It’s grace and forgiveness in a world that seeks to get even. Paul urged the Philippians to stay true to this message and he made it personal: he could rejoice in their faithfulness at the end of times knowing that all his work hadn’t been in vain. I think that Paul understood the Philippians and that they’d do anything for his approval. (Knowing that “anything” would never include disgracing the name of Christ.) His personal appeal here reminds me of the heart of a teacher who sees their former students succeeding in life. They smile and think, “All that trouble was worth it.” At the same time, hearing about a former student who runs into trouble causes teachers pain. Paul wanted the Philippians to bring him joy by their lives, knowing that the only way they could do that would be if they were faithful in their service to God.

  1. Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 18. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.

When Paul talks about being offered here, he uses the wording of the pouring of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar. In modern terms, we might say, I poured out my heart and my soul into the work for you, just as you did for me. And it was worth it for both of us as we experienced such great joy in working together. Paul’s work was an example to the Philippians, who took up his challenge and followed and obeyed Christ together with him. There’s so much more joy when God’s people work together than when anyone tries to work alone. This probably isn’t Paul’s meaning, but I think we can understand that we, as Christians, are called to live and work in community. When we do, we encourage each other to do far more than we thought we could, and we experience joy in the fellowship we share as we work together.

  1. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.

One of the characteristics of those who follow Christ is that they’re concerned about the welfare of others, especially their brothers and sisters in the Lord. As Paul sat in prison, no one would have blamed him if he had talked about his own problems. Paul never sang the blues, though, and this verse is a great example showing his concern for the Philippian Church. He sent Timothy to encourage and check on them. Paul might have been in prison, but if he got a good report from Timothy, which he expected, it would bring far more comfort than hearing the gossip about the church – even if everything said about it was good. Paul had no worries for his own fate, but he was anxious to hear everything he could about the Philippians.

  1. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. 22. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.

As we read these verses, it seems like Paul is winding this letter down. If that’s what you think is happening, let me give you a spoiler alert: Chapter 3. Meanwhile, Paul commended Timothy because no one else shared the same thoughts and attitudes about the gospel and the Philippian Church. He knew that Timothy was genuinely concerned about their welfare without ulterior motives. On the other hand, others around Paul seem to have had their own interests at heart. (Think about those preaching the gospel out of bad motives because Paul was in prison.) Timothy was more than a close friend; he was like a son. You will often see that the word “son” is used to describe someone who is so like their father in nature that they are the same as the father. (e.g. Jesus is God the Son.) Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians as an extension of sending himself, and they understood that there was almost no difference.

  1. Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. 24. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.

It seems that Paul sent the letter ahead of Timothy, so that the Philippians could understand some of what he was going through and his concern for them, and that Timothy would follow when he got information about the final outcome: release, more imprisonment, or execution. (Of course, it gave them a chance to clean up the house, so to speak, before Timothy got there.) Paul had faith that he would be released from his imprisonment as can be seen when he noted that he expected to be able to show up soon. His faith wasn’t in the Roman system of law, though he knew he was innocent of any crime, his faith was in the Lord and that faith was the center of his life.

  1. Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. 26. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. 27. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. 29. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: 30. Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.

In addition to Timothy, Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippian church. It appears that they had sent him as a messenger from the church who had the job of caring for Paul while he was in prison. Paul praised him as a brother, a fellow worker in the gospel and a soldier in the work. I can’t help but wonder that there were some in Philippi who might have wondered why Paul was sending Epaphroditus back before his work was finished. My understanding, of course, being that he was sent to minister to Paul while he was in prison, and Paul was sending Epaphroditus back before he was released. Paul noted that Epaphroditus was worried because some in the church had heard that he was sick and wanted to reassure them himself that he was ok. Paul noted that he was so sick that he was close to death, but that God had mercy on both of them: Epaphroditus because he recovered, Paul because no sorrow was added to his prison stay.

Paul urged the church to welcome Epaphroditus back with rejoicing as they saw proof that he was well again. For those that might be reticent, perhaps even talking about Epaphroditus failing in his mission, Paul reminded them to receive him with gladness in the Lord, and see him not as “a quitter” but as a servant who risked his life for the Lord. He put himself in harm’s way to represent the church and provide for his needs when they couldn’t. While they all provided financial support of one kind or another, Epaphroditus risked his health and life to be there as their representative.

These will be my daily readings next week:

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Sing It Loud! – Philippians 2:1-11

I had a discussion with someone today who noted that it takes a lot longer to read these Bible Studies than it took to read the devotionals. It should. The devotionals, which I know were long by devotional standards anyway, were designed to help you read the Bible through in a year, and meditate on and apply God’s word to your life. These studies are designed to draw you deeper into God’s word in a large enough block of time that God will break through your daily busy-ness and speak to you. My plan is that you would read what I write and question everything. Look up correlating verses. Check your sources that might give you a different view. Wrestle with God’s word. I try not to put application in here, although that’s an important part of Bible study, because I want you to find applications that apply to you. I will be posting daily bites of the studies on my Facebook page, for those who want shorter reads, but I encourage you to study God’s word intensely and in large blocks.

This week’s study looks at one of the first hymns of the Christian faith. This hymn reflects on the natures of Jesus as fully God and fully man. Hymn singing is such an important part of worship and early Christians practiced singing praise to God when they met. This is but one of the hymns they used, but it’s a beautiful example of a hymn. The main message of the hymn is humility.

  1. If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Paul could have begun this section by asking, “What does having a relationship with Jesus mean to you?” Instead he asked that main question using four conditional questions to drive home the fact that knowing Jesus should make a difference. Each of these conditional questions is of the format, “If this is true, and we know it is, then do this.” So, he asks them if they have any consolation or comfort according to other translations in Christ, with the implied addition of “and I know you do.” A relationship with Christ bring comfort and consolation in difficult times. Paul reminded them that when troubles came, Jesus was there comforting them. His next question could be rephrased as “if His love has ever brought you comfort,” with the same implication as the first question. Our relationship with Him comes from His love for us, and to me it appears to be repetitive. That’s not bad though, it was a re-emphasis that made the original proposition stronger. Paul upped the intensity of the comfort that comes from a relationship with Him.

He moved from their relationship with Christ to their relationship with each other in Christ when he asked if there was any fellowship of the Spirit. There is a fellowship, a community when God’s people get together that was best expressed by a non-Christian in ancient Rome when he said, with disgust, “Those Christians! They love each other before they even know each other.” If you read much of what I write, you’ve probably read that before, but it’s such a beautiful picture of how Christians should be seen. That’s fellowship of the Spirit. The last conditional is hard for us to look at from a modern perspective, but in the past, people used bowels the way we would use the phrase “depths of my heart.” So Paul here was asking if there was any mercy, any compassion coming from the depth of your heart toward others – and again, there should be. After all four of these questions were asked, he let them know what he was expecting: if all these are true, and we know they are, then make Paul’s joy complete be being on the same page in your Christians walk.

When you break down the words, “fulfill,” according to A.T. Robertson, could better be translated as Fill full. In other words. Paul’s cup of joy would be filled up if the Philippian church continued in unity. That unity comes from having the same mind-set because they were supposed to be focused on Christ. They were to have the same love, the love that Christ had for all people. They were to be united in word, thoughts, and deeds.

  1. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

As Paul warned the church not to do things through strife, selfish ambition, or pride, I can’t help but wonder if he had in mind the preachers mentioned earlier in this letter. Whether he did or he didn’t, we’re reminded that it’s possible to do all kinds of things, even good things, with the wrong motivation. We may be at odds with someone and we want to show ourselves the better person. We may accept a challenge when someone says that we can’t do something and commit to accomplishing that challenge to show that other person they were wrong. Our goal is to accomplish great things to rub it in the face of those who told us we couldn’t. Motivation is an important part of our work for Christ, and Paul would remind us that our goals in life should never include putting people in their place or denigrating them. Instead, we should accomplish great things for God by putting others ahead of ourselves. We should see people with the same value that God sees them and seek to uplift them.

We live in a world that treasures the idea of “looking out for number one.” We devour self-help books, we’re into do it yourself projects, and we work hard to take care of our physical bodies. Paul would remind us, as Gale Sayers said in his autobiography, that “I am third.” We should be third because Jesus is first, others are second, and I am third. We’re called to look out for the welfare of other people while we’re caring for ourselves. My personal opinion is that we are personally responsible to help people in need. That may sound like an innocuous statement, but many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that the best way to meet the needs of others is through government intervention. We could argue that point, and probably never agree, but I will say that I have more respect for those who think we need the government to help others and work toward achieving that goal than people who claim to be Christians, talk about the need to be independent and self-reliant, and never do anything to help others. Caring for others should cost us personally, but it’s a cost we should joyfully pay since our ability to help others comes from God’s provision for us. When we care for others, we don’t use our own resources – we use the resources of Almighty God who’s entrusted us to be stewards of these resources. Let’s use what we have to help others as we share the love of Christ with others.

  1. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

There is only one way for Christians to live in unity, and that’s if we have the same mindset as Jesus. As the following hymn, for most scholars believe that verses 5-11 are an early hymn of the church, indicates, that mindset is humility. We need to have the humility of Jesus who gave up everything to bring salvation to us – not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.

  1. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Paul makes it clear that he believes that Jesus is God. Jesus was in the same form as God. The NIV translates that as the same nature as God. When Paul described Jesus being equal with God, and Jesus thinking it wasn’t robbery, I believe that he meant that Jesus wasn’t robbing the Father of any glory by being equal with God. A.T. Robertson said that was how He appeared to those who saw Him in heaven. How often do we think about what Jesus gave up when He came down to earth? While it says that He was of no reputation, the circumstances of His birth caused many to think less of Him, since most hadn’t heard the story of the Incarnation at that point in time. When He came to earth, He didn’t come as a member of the ruling class, He came like a servant, a slave if you will, in a human body. His human body was real, just as His eternal divinity was real. He was fully God and fully man at the same time and Paul recognized that.

  1. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Although He was equal to God, He came to earth in the form, the nature of a man. Just as verses six and seven deal with the deity of Jesus, verse 8 speaks of the full humanity of Jesus. He didn’t exalt Himself and take a seat in a royal palace, instead, He humbled Himself; he obeyed the authorities even to the point of suffering one of the cruelest deaths at that time. The cross wasn’t the height of heaven, it was the bottom rung in the depths of man’s cruelty to man.

  1. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If we just left the story at the cross, Jesus would have been one of thousands of Roman subjects (not citizens, because they couldn’t be crucified except in extreme circumstances) who had died on the cross. Instead we have the resurrection. Instead, God highly exalted Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the heavenly places. How powerful is the name of Jesus? When the end comes, just the mention of His name will cause all beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth to bend their knees and bow down to Him. Those who are in heaven, usually describes angels, in the earth are those who are living, and under the earth refers to those who have died. All will recognize Jesus as Lord. It may not be literal bowing, but it will include universal homage and a declaration of the lordship of Jesus. That declaration will bring honor and glory to God the Father. There will be joy and celebration when this work is finished!

Bible readings for the week

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A New Twist! Philippians 1:19-30

I have a YouTube introduction, but for some reason, WordPress isn’t letting me post it the normal way. So, ya gotta see it by clicking the link above.

I discovered that my pastor occasionally reads what I write, which I consider an honor knowing how busy he is. I discovered that because he made a comment about last week’s writing that made me think. He noted that many scholars are moving toward the belief that Philippians and other prison letters were written from prison in Ephesus. I did a double take because there’s no Ephesian imprisonment mentioned in the Bible. So, I did a little research. I’m going to link you to an article that makes the case for Paul writing Philippians from prison in Ephesus. After reading this article, I’m not fully convinced. I’ll have to do more research, but the idea seems plausible that a) Paul was in prison in Ephesus; and b) at least some of the prison epistles were written from that prison.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

Wherever Paul may have been in prison, without access to Twitter, Facebook, or any kind of internet support, he still got the news. He knew what was happening in the world around him. He knew, as noted in the first section of this chapter, that people were taking advantage of his imprisonment to build their own reputations, and that some of those preaching Christ were made bolder in their proclamation of the gospel in a positive way. He also knew that people were concerned for him. How would these false preachers affect him? What would happen to him in his trial? How would Paul react if he were sentenced to death? Throughout this letter we see Paul’s response to these, and other questions, coming from the faith he had in Jesus Christ.

  1. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

As people told Paul all the bad things that others were doing because of his imprisonment, not only did Paul rejoice, he realized that the long run, the endgame, was the important measure of circumstances. All these things, he noted, would result in his salvation based on their prayer and the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That word “salvation” has a bit of a double meaning. Does Paul mean his salvation in the eternal sense or is he talking about salvation from Roman (or Ephesian) imprisonment. Or, is he deliberately alluding to both meanings of the word? I tend to think there’s a hint of both meanings of the word in Paul’s mind, although I doubt he would say that his salvation came because people preached the gospel out of envy. While this tradition is disputed, I believe that Paul was released (saved) from his first imprisonment in Rome. He would no doubt attribute that to those who were praying for him and the power of the Spirit of God. He also recognized that no matter what might happen to him, release or execution, he would never need be ashamed of his actions. He believed that he would always magnify the Lord whether through life or death. One things that Romans said about the Christians is that they died well – meaning that when they died for whatever reason, they didn’t go out in fear, but they left this mortal world in complete confidence.

  1. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This short little verse has such complicated ideas. What does Paul mean when he says, “to live is Christ?” I believe he’s talking about a quality of life on this earth that oozes the love of God wherever he goes. People may not agree with him. People may debate him. People may ultimately put him to death. In all those circumstances, they’ll realize that no matter how they treated Paul, he still showed them God’s love. I think it deals with the self-sacrifice that Jesus showed when He left His place in heaven and came down to earth so that people could enter into a relationship with Christ. Paul had a great world and a great life ahead of him as a Pharisee, but he gave all that up to suffer and serve Christ in His great plan to draw all people to Himself. Paul was willing to do these things, even though it was even better to die and go to be with God in person forever. Some of the concerns expressed to Paul might have been, “But Paul, you might die!” to which Paul would have asked, “And what’s the downside to that?” Paul understood that living forever in the presence of God wasn’t a bad thing. He didn’t fear death.

  1. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

Some would ask, why a person doesn’t go straight to heaven when they come to Christ. Why do we have to live in this sinful world? Paul made the point that life in this body meant that we could be fruitful labor in this world. The King James has a strange word in the next phrase, as part of an intriguing concept. “Wot” is a form of “wit” and the meaning here is that Paul doesn’t know (wit) what he would choose between life and death. Perhaps he’s wondering if he should just throw in the towel at his trial, plead guilty and accept the death sentence. For those people afraid of death, note that Paul welcomed death because departing this world meant that he would be with Christ – a far better alternative than living in this sinful world. As we face mortality, and many of us do, we encounter sickness, cancer, car accidents, and many other possible ways to die often. Still, we fight for life. Perhaps we do that because life on this earth is what we know. Paul fought to live because of a sense of responsibility. He recognized that it was better for him to stay alive as an encouragement and a helper for the Philippians and an evangelist for the rest of the world.

  1. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26. That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

As Paul dealt with the uncertainty over his fate, he came to the conclusion that God’s plan for him was to live in this world and that in so doing he would share the joy of Christ with the Philippians. While I have no doubt that he didn’t think that the Philippian church would have an exclusive hold on him, he would be able to help them continue to grow and they would share the joy of seeing God work in and through the church. The church, seeing that Paul was delivered would rejoice in what God had done to free him. The NIV notes that their boasting in Jesus would abound because Paul had been freed and come back to them. Their catch phrase might be, “Look at what God has done!”

  1. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28. And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

When the King James Version uses the word “conversation,” it refers to a person’s life. Everything about that life. Paul reminded the Philippians that everything about their life was supposed to be appropriate for someone who claims to follow the gospel of Christ. He wanted their reputation in Christ to be so overwhelming that whether he came to them or not, when he heard about them, he would hear that they were continually working together for the sake of the gospel. He would also hear that they were doing so boldly in spite of the threat that might come from their adversaries. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on the boldness of those who were willing to preach the gospel fearlessly because he was imprisoned. Whatever the case may be, their fearlessness in the face of opposition would be a sign that those who opposed them would recognize: those who opposed them would face destruction while those who followed Christ would be saved by God.

  1. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

There are some things in the Bible that I don’t really like. This passage is one of them. It tells me that suffering for Christ is a gift. Like most of us, I don’t really want to suffer. So, perhaps the best commentary on suffering for Christ comes from a Chinese pastor, Wang Yi, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for being a Christian in late 2019.

Wang responded to his sentence in a message Early Rain church posted on Facebook, religious liberty advocate Open Doors USA reported Dec. 30.

“I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority,” the church quoted Wang, “and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

“Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever,” Wang said on Facebook. “I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.”

Wang Yi is suffering joyfully because he knows that his suffering will result in the proclamation of the gospel to people who might not otherwise hear about Jesus. He seems to have the same attitude that Paul had, and that Paul urged the Philippians to show. While the Philippians were beginning to see some persecution, Paul implied that it would get worse for them. Meanwhile, Christianity continues to be the most persecuted religion in the world. While we may not be facing it now, it’s likely that persecution will come some time in our lifetime. We may face uncomfortable situations because of our faith. Smile and accept it as a gift from God to be able show the love of Christ to others. We may be in a situation where we’re persecuted for our faith by individuals with a little power. Accept it as a gift of God and respond like Paul, like Pastor Wang, like Jesus.

Here are the passages I’ll be reading for my personal reflection next week. On a personal note, I’d appreciate your prayers as I finish preparation for a sermon I’ll be preaching on the 19th.

By the way, if you’re missing my daily devotionals, this is a link to  free copy of my January-February Devotional eBook edition. Please feel free to a) download it, and b) share that link with anyone else who might be interested

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Philippians: The Epistle of Joy – Looking at 1:1-18

Here’s the video introduction to this week’s Bible Study

Philippians 1

Philippians is also known as the epistle of joy. Paul wrote this while he was in prison. I believe it was while he was in prison in Rome during his first imprisonment. Two other possibilities are the imprisonment in Caesarea or even the second imprisonment before Paul was executed. There is some discussion as to whether or not this is one letter or three different letters combined. I’ll look at that more in-depth in future weeks. This week, though, we’ll begin looking at the first half of Philippians 1. I’ll be using the King James Version mainly due to copyright issues, but will allude to other translations at times. So, get your Bible, your notebook, your computer, and your thinking cap. Don’t take my word for anything. Check this out with other sources. I reserve the right to be wrong and/or hold a different opinion on that which can’t be proven.

  1. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

The letter begins with a simple introduction. We’re used to letters ending with the signature at the end. Ancient Greek letters began with the name of the sender. It would be much like a phone call today when the caller says, “Hi, this is Bob James. I’m trying to find so and so.” Paul notes that he and Timothy are servants of Jesus Christ. The word for servant here (doulos) is the word used for a slave in ancient Rome. He noted that the believers in Philippi were saints – those set apart for God. These were the ordinary Christians, not people who had achieved some great spiritual victories. Still, maintaining faith in the face of Roman persecution could be considered a great victory. Paul then included the bishops and deacons: the leaders of the church. Everyone was part of the church and included in the message.

  1. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul loved the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles in the Church. This greeting contains the greetings of the Greeks (charis) with the mention of grace and the Jews (shalom) with the call of peace. Both grace and peace are found through God.

  1. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4. Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5. For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

This passage is why I call this the epistle of joy. As Paul prayed for the Philippians, he had nothing but thanks for how God had used them in his life. He made requests for the church not out of a grudging sense of obligation, but with joy since they had kept strong in their faith in the gospel since the day they heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

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

This is one of my favorite verses. Whenever we have an ordination service, those who are ordained pass by and whisper a prayer or words of encouragement. Before I pray, I always utter these words. What has begun in us, is a good work, God began it, and He will continue working in us until the end of our time, whether that be natural death or the Second Coming. This verse reminds me that I’m not perfect yet, nor is anyone else. Because of that, I need to be patient with myself and with others. I’m confident in the God who does the work in me.

  1. Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Every parent says, “I don’t have a favorite child. I love all my children equally.” If Paul were to say that about the churches he founded, he would add, “…but ya gotta admit, that Philippian church has been with me through thick and thin.” We’ll see that Epaphroditas was the one carrying this letter back to the Philippians. The church sent him, along with a financial offering, to support Paul in his imprisonment. They were one of the few churches that continued to support Paul throughout his ministry. But it wasn’t the financial consideration that made Paul love them, it was their defense and confirmation of the gospel in the face of persecution. The lived with the grace of God guiding them in all they did. While we would use the idea of “heart” rather than “bowels” today, Paul made it clear that he thought of the Phihlippian church with great favor.

  1. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

As Paul prayed for them, he prayed for growth in their love, knowledge, and judgment. Would that as we live each day we would continue to grow closer to Christ. Part of that growth comes from love, God’s love (agape). As we grow closer to God and increase in His love, it will cause us to gain more knowledge. We’ll see things through God’s eyes of love. It will allow us to judge as God would judge – recognizing right and wrong and extending grace to those who’ve done wrong. As we experience His righteousness in Christ, it compels us to acts that show our relationship with him. (see Matthew 25) If we aren’t involved in such acts, if we aren’t ministering to others with the love and grace of God, and witnessing to His glory and grace through those actions, we’re revealing that our relationship with God is lacking.

  1. But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Paul saw the big picture in regards to his imprisonment. He might have been in jail, but he recognized that because of his time in jail, people were entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The gospel was being advanced. It gives pause to think here, but what would you be willing to undergo if it meant that more people would enter into a relationship with God through Jesus. Paul was no ordinary prisoner because people around the palace talked about him. People knew who he was and why he was in prison. I have no doubt that those living in the palace got into discussions about whether or not Paul should be executed. People in the palace saw a man who wasn’t broken by the prison experience, but one who used his position in chains to advocate that others adopt the relationship with God that put him into chains.

At the same time, many other followers of Christ looked at Paul and realized that although he was a prisoner because of his faith, he didn’t falter. He grew stronger even. When they realized that, they realized that they could preach the good news about Jesus without fear of the consequences. After all, what was the worst anyone could do to them? If Paul could preach with such confidence knowing that death awaited him for his faith, they realized that death itself could not deter them. They preached more boldly when they realized that.

  1. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16. The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17. But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.

Some looked at Paul’s stay in prison as an opportunity to build their own reputation and enrich themselves. Perhaps their envy and strife came from their desire to be seen as the most important man in the early days of the church. They thought as they became more well-known, it would cause Paul agony as he saw them rise to prominence in the church. Others preached sincerely out of love. Perhaps they thought that as the authorities realized that more people were coming to Christ, they’d be afraid to buck the newfound popular opinion and release Paul. They preached hoping it would aid Paul in his defense of the gospel before Nero.

  1. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

Paul didn’t care why people preached the gospel, he rejoiced that people were hearing the gospel and turning to Christ. He recognized that main thing: the people who heard the good news of Jesus and turned to Him would experience the joy of eternal life. Paul didn’t have an ego problem. He didn’t care who got credit when people came to Christ. The main thing for him was that people came into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and grew in that relationship to become stronger in their faith.

I’m stopping here for this week. I’ve included the readings from January 1 – 11 if you want to read through the Bible this year. (Next article on Sat Jan. 11) It’s important to remember as you read that you are reading to hear from God, not just put a check on the to do list. As you spend that time with Him, your relationship will develop a little bit more each day.

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Daily Enduring Truth – A New Vision Going Forward

I have been writing devotionals of one sort or another for over ten years, beginning in the year 2009 or 2010 on Facebook. I felt it was important to share, as a form of accountability, what God was teaching me with others. This year, in one of the Bible studies I paticipated in at church, a renowned scholar noted that people need to read and meditate on the Bible daily (Got that one covered) and do in-depth Bible study weekly. (gulp) I began thinking about how to do that, as well as recognize that what I am doing here is more of a discipleship ministry than anything. So, I began pondering how I could transform Daily Enduring Truth into a more in-depth discipleship ministry.

Here are some of the things that I am looking at doing…after months of prayer. Some will happen quickly. Others may take years. All of them, of course, are subject to God’s direction.

  1. I will no longer be publishing original devotionals on a daily basis. I will post the Bible reading I do for the day. I may include a link to a previous year’s devotional. I will make my devotional eBooks available for free or for $0.99. I will lower the price of the paperback copies. The January-February book is available here.
  2. I will develop a mailing list to pass on information. (you can sign up here if you like.)
  3. I will be posting an in-depth Bible study once a week
  4. I will be writing or working with other writers to get books on growing as a disciple available.
  5. I will be looking at publishing Clean/Christian Fiction – especially anthologies – to provide more wholesome entertainent.
  6. I will develop this ministry as a non-profit ministry so that I can provide materials to people who could not otherwise afford it to help them grow.

Here’s the thing: my goal is to see people grow in their relationship with the Lord. I’m open to other suggestions. I’d love to see you take this journey with me as we help God’s people all over the world, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. As you see changes happening, thank God for them and ask Him to use them for His glory.

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December 31 – Seeing Strange Things in the New Year

Luke 5:1-26; Ezekiel 48; Isaiah 66

“And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today!’” (Luke 5:26 NKJV)

One day Jesus was teaching. Then, the crowds started coming for healing. Luke even notes that Pharisees and teachers of the law were there and that the power of God was present to heal them. One group of friends brought one of their posse to Jesus, but they had a problem. He was paralyzied and they couldn’t make it through the crowds to get him to Jesus, so they climbed up on the roof and let him down in front of Jesus through the hole they made in the roof. Jesus started off by forgiving his sins, which made those religious leaders mad, then He said, “and to prove that I can forgive sins, I’m gonna heal this guy now.” (He used different words, of course.) So, the guy was healed and walked out of there. It was at this point that we see the people amazed, glorifying God, and being filled with fear. This is also when they said, “We have seen strange things today!” 

How’s your year been? Many people think back over the past year in the days leading up to the new year and think about all that’s happened. Did you see any “strange things?” Did you see God working in your life, or in the lives of others? Think about how God worked in your life this past year and celebrate all those strange things. My prayer for you this year is that it be filled with “strange things” that you can only explain as the power of God working in you. As you see God working, be amazed and glorify God for the “strange things” He’s done for you. Make sure you share His love and grace so that others can see “strange things” also. 

Lord, thank You for all the strange things I’ve seen this past year as You’ve worked in the lives of friends and strangers. I pray for strange things to keep happening, for You to work in this world in ways that those who deny Your existence today will recognize Your power and praise You. Draw people to Yourself through Your goodness, love, and miracles.

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December 30 – Serving With Authority

Luke 4:31-44; Ezekiel 46-47; Isaiah 65

“And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.” (Luke 4:32 NKJV)

The Luke passage today seems to be a summary of a number of weeks. We see that Jesus taught in their synagogues, that He healed a demon-possessed man – in the synagogue, that He was willing to heal numerous people, and that He spoke and taught with authority. This passage reveals a couple of other things as well: He could have had a healing ministry that would have drawn people to Him from all over the place, and that He rejected that temptation to bring a more important healing to people by introducing them to a relationship with God in the Kingdom of God.

The main lesson here, though, is that Jesus taught with authority. He healed with authority. He decided to proclaim the Kingdom of God with authority. His decision to preach the Kingdom of God instead of developing a healing ministry came after a period of prayer – that was interrupted by people who sought Him. Jesus’s authority came because He was God the Son and maintained contact with God through prayer. As followers of Christ, we walk in His authority and can share His love and grace with authority. The key to that is keeping our relationship with God strong through prayer. Seek God’s leadership as we head into the New Year. Follow His guidance so that You can serve Him with authority.

Lord, lead me. Let me know Your will, and then commit to doing that in service to You and to this world that You love.

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