Suffering: the spiritual gift we would rather not receive

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:27-30

Billy Graham Library – Charlotte, NC

Some commentators describe this letter of Paul to the Philippians as a missionary support letter reporting to his supporters what God has been doing on his mission field and keeping the flow of funds coming so the missionary can stay on the mission field. I get it. But, I think it under-rates Paul. I don’t get from this that Paul is writing a fundraising letter for himself. (more…)

Would you rather have a pot of gold or a gold mine?

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
    and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
    and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
    those who hold her fast are called blessed. – Proverbs 3:13-18

Would you rather have a pot of gold or a gold mine? Would you rather have a pot of silver or a silver mine? Gold and silver that is already refined are easier to use, but when it is used up or spent, you are done. A gold or silver mine requires lots of work to extract the metal and then refine it but, assuming it is a rich mine; it won’t run out and be done after the first pot of gold or silver. It will continue to produce wealth for mine owner who is willing to work the mine. This is like the proverb, give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he can feed himself forever. Is it better for someone to give you a fish or to teach you to fish?

So it is with wisdom and understanding, the one who has them has a gain that is better than silver and gold or jewels or anything you can desire. Why? (more…)

Here or there, which is better?

Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. – Philippians 1:18-26

The Apostle Paul shares with us a wonderfully transparent look at his heart. I guess that most of us would find it difficult to write these words, assuming that we could. Some of it sounds sort of arrogant, but it is really just honest and transparent. “I don’t expect to be ashamed by my conduct.” “Now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.” “If I live, it is good for you.” If I wrote those phrases on this blog, I can’t help but think they would seem to be braggadocious and probably false. How could I be so “holy” as to expect that I will not have any shame at the appearing of the Lord Jesus? Or, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, I never fail. These are amazing words. I am sure some would accuse me of thinking I am some kind of super-Christian. The truth is, I don’t think I could write these words in all honesty about myself. I am sure there are reasons in my life that I would feel shame at the appearing of the Lord…except that I know my only plea is the finished work of Christ and not my own works. (more…)

The joyful product of a well lived life

Grace around your neck and on your heart

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

11 My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:1-12

Reading Proverbs as anything other than proverbs can lead to disillusionment.

Remember, Proverbs is a book of practical wisdom for how to live life. It isn’t made up of laws and commands or covenant promises. Some passages look like promises, but we have to remember the kind of literature we are reading. (more…)

Are you a competitive disciple-maker?

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. – Philippians 1:15-18

Everyone wants to succeed. Some want to be great. A few want to be the greatest. The common thread is a competitive spirit and some kind of measure of success. Are these desires or goals wrong? Not in and of themselves. It depends on the motivation. (more…)

The guaranteed keys to a good life and stable prosperity

My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
    and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
    and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
    and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
    and who are devious in their ways.

16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
    and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
    and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
    nor do they regain the paths of life.

20 So you will walk in the way of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

One of the key words to watch for in Proverbs is the word, “for.” In its context, you will see that you could probably translate it “because” without doing it any harm. A proposition that is preceded by the word “for” is often telling us the ground or foundation of what has just gone before. We have an instance of this ground in verses 6-8. Before these verses we have a series of “ifs” and a “then” followed by the “for” or the reason the if/then propositions will work. (more…)

The paradox of pain and joy

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. – Philippians 1:12-14

Mamertine Prison, the traditional site of the imprisonment of Paul in Rome

So much of the Christian life is a paradox. As awful as it seems, did you know it is good when fellow disciple-makers are imprisoned and persecuted for their disciple-making activities? Do I want to be imprisoned or beaten or stoned for daring to work to make disciples of Christ? Absolutely not. I am not interested in having my freedom abridged by imprisonment or my body afflicted with pain from stonings or beatings. I don’t believe that Paul wanted it either. But he got it. (more…)

Can you raise a crop and not eat its fruit?

Be careful what you plant if you want a pleasant harvest

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:20-33

The wisdom spoken of in Proverbs is not for philosophers and theologians to sit about and contemplate or discuss for their pleasure. Nor is it religion that is to be locked up in a sanctuary on Sunday morning.

The wisdom of Proverbs is practical. It is intended for everyday life. Wisdom’s cry is in the marketplace and in the seat of government (v.20-21). So, Proverbs’ wisdom is for when you go to work, when you enter into a business deal, when you go to the voting booth or interact with your government officials (the elders in the gates), when you interact with your spouse or act to raise your kids. It couldn’t get more practical. (more…)

Do you know the love that arises from being a disciple-maker?

How I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Philippians 1:1-11

It is ten or eleven years now since Paul first shared the gospel with a group of women on the riverbank outside Philippi, a Roman colony. Lydia, an apparently wealthy woman, a seller of purple cloth, was his first disciple in Philippi to become a follower of Jesus. Planting this church in Philippi was different from earlier church plants because there was no synagogue in Philippi. It was a pagan Roman city but did have some God-fearers, people who, while not Jews, did believe in the God of the Jews and did pray to him. Such was Lydia. (more…)

Who sets an ambush for his own life?

Would you sabotage your life?

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
15 my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
16 for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
17 For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
19 Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:8-19

While this exhortation in Proverbs 1 is aimed at young people who are establishing their values and worldview, the concluding proposition applies to us all.

That which is particularly applicable to young people is the recognition that listening to your parent’s wisdom isn’t just some old-fashioned idea; God says it is something that will bring you honor. The imagery is that of a graceful garland on your head (a crown) and pendants for your neck. These are emblems of honor, and they are earned by youth who accept parental-wisdom and do not rebel against their parent’s godly wisdom.  Picture the Olympic champion with the garland on his head and the gold medal around his neck. If you are a young person who has submitted to the Lordship of Christ, understand that this is a matter of being a disciple of Christ.  In Ephesians, Paul states it this way: (more…)