Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 4:10-23

EpistlesTo be content is a wonderful thing. Paul says is 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” So evidently contentment is something that can be learned. John MacArthur does a good job of outlining some things that we need to learn to experience contentment…

First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul had learned to give thanks in every circumstance and he exhorted all believers to do the same. Thankfulness is first of all a matter of obedience (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18), but it is also a characteristic of a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 5:18-20).

Second, learn to rest in God’s providence. If we truly know God, we know that He is unfolding His agenda and purpose in our lives. He has sovereignly determined each part of His plan for us so that we’ll be benefited and He’ll be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:28). We should not be surprised or ungrateful when we experience trials because we know that God sees perfectly the end result (cf.1 Pet. 4:12-13).

Third, learn to be satisfied with little. Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. In 1 Timothy 6:6Paul exhorted a young pastor with these words: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive.

Fourth, learn to live above life’s circumstances. That’s how Paul lived. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10 he wrote, “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul didn’t take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested through him in times of infirmity, reproach, persecution, and distress. We also should learn to take pleasure in the power of Christ in times of distress.

Fifth, learn to rely on God’s power and provision. The apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”; and Jesus said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise. He faithfully infuses every believer with His own strength and sustains them in their time of need until they receive provision from His hand (Eph. 3:16).

Finally, become preoccupied with the well-being of others. Paul summarized this mindset inPhilippians 2:3-4, where he wrote: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

A self-centered man is a discontented man. But the soul of the generous man, the man who lives for the interests and benefit of others, will find blessing upon blessing in his life (see Prov. 11:24-5;19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).

May the Lord teach us contentment as we intentionally put these things into practice.

Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 4:8-9

EpistlesFinally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

There are 4 other times that this phrase is used in the New Testament.

The God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:33

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:20

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21

The previous passage in Philippians talked about how to experience the peace of God. This passage talks about how to experience the God of Peace. I don’t know if Paul, who was very fluent in Old Testament, had the story of Gideon in mind when he talked about the God of Peace but it would not surprise me if he did.

At a time in Gideon’s life when he was anything but a leader or a strong man of valor, at a time when he was anxious and afraid, God sought him out and revealed Himself to Gideon as Jehovah Shalom, the God of peace… (This is the only time in the Older Testament where God is referred to this way. It’s a great story to read if you are not familiar with it)

So the Lord said to Gideon, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.” And then Gideon built an alter in that place and called it THE-LORD-IS-PEACE: Jehovah-Shalom. (Judges 6:23-24)

Gideon needed the peace of God in his life. But even more so he needed the God of peace. As do we! Ponder what Paul says here in Philippians 4 – there are some “secrets” revealed that will help you experience both the peace of God and the God of peace.

Jehovah Shalom, I am grateful for the peace you give even when life is crazy. And I have no doubt that I know the peace of God because I know You, the God of peace. 

Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 4:2-7

Epistles“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

There are 4 words in this passage that are the linchpin of these  verses – “The Lord is near!” Here is why I say this…

Because THE LORD IS NEAR we can rejoice always – One of the great promises that is reiterated again and again in Scripture is the promise that God is with us. You can’t get much nearer than that. When we know the abiding presence of God then no matter what the circumstances are that we face in this life we can still rejoice – knowing that God is in control and that His joy will be our strength through whatever comes our way.

Because THE LORD IS NEAR we don’t have to be anxious about anything – Statistics tell us that over 40 million US citizens suffer from anxiety disorders and more than $22 billion  is spent trying to treat them. If this is true then there is a LOT of worrying go on out there. And I suspect that a lot of that worrying is being done by believers. But what if we really understood that at ALL times and in ALL circumstances and ALWAYS the Lord is near. Shouldn’t that help to curb our fears and our anxieties? If you deal with worry, start repeating these 4 words throughout the day, again and again… THE LORD IS NEAR! Remind yourself that He is indeed near. I can’t help but think that it will help.

Because THE LORD IS NEAR we can pray with confidence  knowing that God will hear us. If I were to whisper  something to someone that is 100 yards away from me, I would have little confidence that I would be heard. But if I were to whisper something to my dad in who’s lap I was sitting I feel certain I would be heard. This is what prayer for the believer is like. THE LORD IS NEAR. Our Father has invited us to come and sit in his lap as He sits on His throne of grace. We can talk to Him about anything – and even if we speak in whispers He will hear us.

May the Lord remind us of His nearness today as we deal with everything that today will bring our way.

Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 3:15-4:1

EpistlesNote 4:1 at the tail end of this passage – “… That is how you should stand firm in the Lord.” Here are a few thoughts about what Paul says about standing firm in the faith.

1) Paul is not hesitant to tell the Philippians to follow his example. (v.17) He says, “Look at my life, watch what I do, listen to what I say, and imitate me.” He says this without reservation because he knows that he is wholeheartedly following Christ. Not so sure that I could say it as boldly as he does. But one key to standing firm in the faith is to follow Paul’s example. Watch him throughout the pages of Scripture and imitate his life.

2) He also tells the Philippians to look around and follow after those who are following after Paul (who is following after Jesus). (v.17) In other words, there are men and women in the Philippi church who are worthy of imitation. As you look around your church, who are the men and women who are setting the pace in following Christ? Don’t be shy about getting to know them because in getting to know them you will be getting to know Jesus. This is another key to standing firm – model your life after the right people that are around you.

3) He warns the Philippians about people that are not worthy of imitation. (v.19) We in America have not done a good job of choosing those that we want to model our lives after. Even believers are quick to emulate those who are good looking or successful or rich or famous even though they have serious character flaws. Be careful about who you choose to pattern your life after. Key #3 to standing firm – don’t model your life after the wrong people. They will drag you down with them as they walk away from God.

4) Finally, Paul says that he is eagerly awaiting his Savior who has the power to transform us not only in this life but in the life to come. (v.20). I can remember 34+ years ago how eager I was to make Linda my bride. I thought about her, wrote poems to her, talked with her about our future life together, and pictured that day in my mind when she would walk down the aisle and say “I do.” Key #4 to standing firm in the faith is to do these kinds of things with regard to Christ as we eagerly await His return.

“May the Lord gives us power from on high to stand firm against the evil in this world and against the evil one who is the enemy of our souls.”

Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 3:12-16

Epistles“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

This verse is smack full of intentionality! The great apostle has just finished talking about his desire to know Christ better and to be like Him. He recognizes, though, that he falls far short of this goal (v. 12). But this does not keep him from taking intentional steps to get there.

He intentionally forgets – Paul could easily have beat himself up over his past.After all he was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a hater of all things Christian. He did a lot of things that could easily haunt his memories. But he chooses not to remember these things. He does not dwell on things that are in his past because he does not want to be weighed down by anything that he can’t do something about. The past is behind him. Paul chooses to look ahead.

He intentionally strains forward – Like a sprinter who is giving every ounce of his energy to reach the finish line, Paul strains toward his goal. He is not content to cross the finish line nonchalantly. He is not content to finish his race with ease. He is giving it his all. this verse begs the question, “What am I doing to know Christ better? Am I putting forth any kind of effort at all to become more Christlike?”

He intentionally keeps his eyes on the prize – Is is very very easy to get distracted in today’s world from the goal of knowing Christ. It was not any easier in Paul’s world 2000 years ago. I’m not exactly sure what Paul did to keep his focus the way that he did but here are a few things that have helped me over the years:

  • Stay in the Word regularly and ponder what Scripture is saying
  • Have intentional conversations with people about God and the gospel
  • Journal as a way to make me think intentionally
  • Hang around with people who are passionate about knowing Christ better
  • Ask God to fuel me with a desire to know Him and to fill me with a Spirit induced hunger for His Word

May the Lord create in us hearts that are not content until we find our satisfaction fully in Him.


Pondering Paul’s Epistles: Philippians 3: 1-11

Epistles(I pondered this passage in my blog about 4 1/2 years ago. As I re-read what I wrote I realized i couldn’t say it much better. So this is a re-print of that post. It’s worth reading – or re-reading – if I do say so myself).

Often times when I look at a passage there are questions that immediately spring to mind. Other times I am struck by phrases that stand out. As I pondered this passage there were particular words that grabbed my attention.

Whatever” (v.7) – in other words Paul is saying that no matter how much success he has had from the world’s perspective none of it matters a hill of beans. Christ has captured his heart and Christ is his everything. Question I ask myself: Has my heart been unequivocally captured by Christ?

Surpassing” (v.8)– It’s almost as if Paul cannot think of a superlative that would do justice to how he feels about knowing Christ. He was not content to just say the “greatness of knowing Christ”  – he had to add surpassing greatness. Question for me: Does knowing Christ mean anywhere near as much to me as it did to Paul?

Lord” (v.8) – Paul could have stopped with”knowing Christ Jesus” and we would have gotten his point, but he went on to add “my Lord”. Why? What was he trying to communicate to his readers? In 2:11 of this book Paul declares that “Jesus Christ IS Lord”. Here, however, he declares that Jesus is “my Lord.” There is a big difference in knowing on the one hand that Jesus Christ IS Lord and on the other hand knowing Him as my Lord. For Christ to be Lord means that I have pledged allegiance to Him alone and completely surrendered everything about my life to Him – relinquishing control once and for all and allowing Him to dictate how I will live this life. Question for me: Have I done this?

Rubbish” (v.8) – This is  one of my favorite words in the Greek New Testament. It is the word “skubala”. Here it is translated rubbish. Other translations have it as dung or refuse. What the word really means is “crap”. A few things I thought about with regard to crap: 1) Nobody is saving it up – you never hear anyone say, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of really great crap I’ve been collecting, come on over to the house and I’ll show it to you” 2) It’s not something you would ever spend money on – there is no such thing as a Crap Store and I never see coupons like “20% off all our crap”  (- on second thought maybe you do.) 3) It actually started out as something good – but over time it devolved into something that is only good to flush away. 4) The best thing about crap is getting rid of it. It feels really good to get rid of all your crap. Conversely, there is this thing called impaction that is not only unhealthy but does not feel good at all – in other words, trying to hoard crap can actually be painful. 5) You never really hear people talking about their crap (unless you were in my middle school Sunday School class) – When is the last time you heard someone say. “Man I’ve gotta tell you about this great crap I had this morning.”

Now, put all this in the context of what Paul is saying in this passage. EVERYTHING to him was just a bunch of skubala compared to knowing Christ. Question for me: On a scale of 1-10, how much of a crap-lover am I? Am I willing to get rid of all my crap if it means I can know Christ better?

Found” (v.9) – We all know the Amazing Grace verse “I once was lost but now am found…” I think for the most part we get the fact that we were completely lost. But I kind of think we equate our lostness to a game of hide and seek – where when the game is over if we still have not been found we come out of our hiding place and allow ourselves to be found. This is not the gospel AT ALL. We were so lost  that even if we tried to be found we never would be. The ONLY way we were ever found is that The Shepherd of our Souls went looking for us and did not give up until He FOUND us – wandering hopelessly and helplessly  and desperately in the desert of our eternal lostness. We try really hard to get found by doing all the right things, being “religious” enough, giving away enough, helping others enough. Paul is saying here that not only is all our crap worthless but so is our attempt to make ourselves holy by acting righteous. The ONLY way to be found, he says, is by…

Faith” (v.9) – At first glance it would seem that God has made it much easier for us to be found. Quit trying to do do do (he’s already said that that is like do-do in His sight), instead just believe – have faith. Sounds easy right? It is easy… until you understand what saving faith really is. Let me try to define it as I am coming to understand it – then you tell me which is easier. Faith in Christ involves total surrender on my part. It is no longer about what I want or what I need or what I dream about. It is about Christ and what He wants. Faith says each day “I die to myself and live for Him.” Faith acknowledges that apart from Him I am nothing. Faith submits willingly and joyfully to His “whatevers” and completely discounts my whatevers. Faith acts intentionally and courageously to pursue a gospel centered, gospel saturated life. Faith boasts in the cross and the work of Christ – not in my efforts no matter how good they may be. Faith waits patiently for God’s timing instead of plowing forward with all my great ideas. Faith prays.

Just the act of writing all that out helps me recognize how puny my faith is compared to Paul. Not sure I’m really liking this passage now that I’m having to deal with and personalize it. Just a bit too convicting for me. I do however like the idea of the last word I will comment on:

Power” (v.10) – The idea of power is intoxicating. And then I’m reminded that the kind of power Paul is talking about comes in a completely different looking package than what most of us want. Check out what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: “But (the Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. See, here is where Paul and I are 2 different cats. I, myself, delight in strength, in compliments, in encouraging affirmation, in easy times, in good health, in wealth, in fun. So far to go! So much to learn!

May God fuel us with a desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.

Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 2:19-30

EpistlesIn this passage Paul talks about 2 guys who have become close ministry associates, 2 guys that he speaks very highly about. One of them, Timothy, is more well known than the other. Epaphroditus is introduced to us here in this passage and is only mentioned in this letter to the Philippians. But I think he is a man I would have enjoyed knowing.

His life had been radically changed – He was no doubt born into a pagan family as his name indicates, possibly named after the greek goddess Aphrodite. But somewhere along the line, perhaps when Paul made his missionary journey to Philippi (Acts 16), God took hold of his life and revolutionized him. He was not content to just let Jesus be a part of his life. Jesus was his life and it shows by the way that Paul talks about him.

He genuinely cared about people – When the Philippians decided that they wanted to send Paul a care package to help meet his needs while he was in prison Epaphroditus was the man who volunteered to deliver it. He did this because he cared about Paul and wanted to demonstrate it tangibly. Verse 26 also indicates how much he cares about and longs for his friends in Philippi. He was a people person found joy in serving and caring for others.

He was a a gospel ambassador  – Paul describes him as a “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier.” All you have to do is read Paul’s letters to know that he tells it like it is when it comes to people who have hurt him or helped him. Epaphroditus had been an incredible blessing to Paul in a time of need and receives a strong commendation from the apostle. No doubt his stock soared even higher in the eyes of the Philippians.

He was a risk taker – verse 30 says, “… risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” E was not a complacent Christian. He did not always take the easy road. He was willing to take risks in order to serve God. Philippi was about 800 miles from Rome. The trek would take 1-2 months. This was a dangerous task. But E was undaunted – and it almost cost him his life. But as far as he was concerned it was worth it.

Indeed, I think I would enjoy knowing Epaphroditus and hearing his story.


Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 2:12-18

EpistlesI’m back. I’ve been on vacation or on mission most of the last 4 weeks so I took a bit of a blogging sabbatical. Being away was a great reminder to me that blogging (aka journaling) really helps me to intentionally think about Scripture. Unless I commit to writing out my thoughts about a passage I run the risk of being too nonchalant about my devotional time. So I’ll pick up where I left off…

What does it mean to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling“? This was written by the same guy who wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith… not as a result of works.” (Eph. 2:8-9) So we know that it does not mean that we are to work as hard as we can in order to gain salvation. The key is found at the beginning of the verse, “as you have always obeyed…” Obedience is the working out of a faith that already exists. It is the exercising of our faith (a faith work-out so to speak).

We do this because God is working in us “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In other words we intentionally put our faith into practice because we want to please our God who brought about the great work of salvation in our lives.

But what about  the part that says “with fear and trembling”? John MacArthur puts it like this:

This is not a fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. It is rather a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. Such fear protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living…. To have such godly fear and trembling involves more than merely acknowledging one’s sinfulness and spiritual weakness. It is the solemn, reverential fear that springs from deep adoration and love. It acknowledges that every sin is an offense against holy God and produces a sincere desire not to offend and grieve Him, but to obey, honor, please, and glorify Him in all things.

May the Lord fill us with a longing for obedience to His soul nourishing Word because we know that He is indeed working in us to satisfy our hungry hearts and to glorify His great name.



Pondering Paul’s Epistles – Philippians 2:5-11

EpistlesThe point of this passage is that our attitudes should resemble the attitude of Jesus. Paul goes on to point out some things about Jesus that are worth noting as we examine our current attitudes.

He is God (v.6) – but he didn’t go around boasting about it. If anything, He downplayed it so that people would identify with Him as a man. Human nature does just the opposite. We try to make ourselves out to be more important and more impressive than we really are. There is a lot about attitude we could learn from just this one thing. But wait… there’s more.

He became a servant (v.7) – how many truly servant-minded people do you know. Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mt 20:28

He demonstrated humility (v.8) – This is how C.J. Mahaney defines humility in his book by the same name: “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” He quotes John Owen who augments this by saying:  “There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men. … A due consideration of God, and then of ourselves. Of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition” (92).

He acted obediently (v.8) – And He did this even when it was not something He wanted to do. Obedience is easy when the reward is to our liking. But what about when the reward is death. An attitude that reflects joyful obedience, for the sake of obedience, is a rare thing – and a remarkable thing.

He was exalted (v.9) – The difference between Jesus and us is that we are often looking to be exalted. Sometimes even our serving can be self-serving – hoping that others will notice and make much of us. Jesus did not have any ulterior motives in doing what he did. but because He did what He did God exalted Him to the highest place.

He is Lord (v.11) – Those who seek to have the same attitude as Jesus have no problem at all in bowing before Him and acknowledging Him as Lord. It is when we seek to be lord of our own lives, when we try to be in control, that our attitudes get all out of whack and we need to be reminded all over again that “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

Pondering Philippians 2:1-4

EpistlesSome of the littlest words carry some of the biggest weight. The word IF is one of them. Paul seems to be saying in this passage “IF you identify yourself as a Christian then start acting like one. Quit acting so self absorbed. Stop putting your own wants above the wants and needs of others. Consider Christ! Always consider Christ!”

Evidently the Philippians needed an attitude adjustment. I often do as well. I need to be reminded that it is not about me. I like to get my way as much as anybody else. But when I stop and consider Christ and what He did on the cross – how He put my needs before His own, then I am much more apt to act accordingly.

Here are a few other examples in the New Testament of the weight that this little word IF carries…

“…IF you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

“Therefore, IF anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, IF you love one another.” John 13:35

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

“By this gospel you are saved, IF you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:2

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