philippians

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:9 ESV)

The peace of God does not come to those who do not practice Christian manners. I love the way Leo Tolstoy put it in one of his novels, “If you love me as you say you do… make it so that I am at peace.” Love needs to be communicated so that the other human being is at peace. The purpose of love is to establish your fellow brother or sister in peace.

Have you ever left a conversation feeling utterly drained and discouraged as a human being? Love ought to lead to peace and fullness, not emptiness. Love confronts at times and leads us to peace because now we know where our sins are. Love encourages and leaves us at peace because now we know that we are not alone.  This is the lesson for the Church. For Paul, peace was not so much a feeling, but the tangible manifestation of the grace of God toward us or of a human being towards one another.

Love shows concern for one another. Love, as David Powlison once put it, “Speaks many languages fluently.”

In life, a man or a woman will have at best two or three friends. He may have many acquaintances, but two or three friends (at most) that stick closer than a brother. There is a distinction between vulnerability and openness. You can be vulnerable with few people, but you can be open with many. Few are friends with whom secrets can be shared and deep confession can be made.

As we seek to build our community, we need to understand that some will gladly express inquire about your well-being, but others will go a step further and stay on the phone with you day after day; be with you day after day in time of need. Church community is not a community where everyone acts the same way in every circumstance. It is complex and multi-layered. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but some brothers are closer than a brother to you than others.

So, since not everyone will know everyone in precisely the same way and be a friend in every way, what is there to be expected of every Christian in general? As we become aware of new births, the death of loved ones, physical and spiritual trials that emerge in our lives and the lives of the saints, and many other circumstances, these are important applications to keep in mind:

First, we must all have a mutual desire to practice what we have learned together. You may listen to what your minister says week after week, you may discuss, even disagree, but in the end you must desire to practice the Christian faith together.

Second, you must show concern for one another. In your community, you ought to ask at least one person each week, honestly and directly, if they have any specific needs. Seek to know them and let them know that their needs are heard.

Finally, and much more could be said, know one another as much as it is possible. How do you know someone? You can know someone generally, or you can desire to know them more intentionally and intimately. Ask questions. Ask good questions. Learn to pay attention to experience and emotions. Learn to be a good detective of human beings. Be able to detect sadness, confusion, frustration, and anger. We do a fairly good job with our children. At some level, this should be translated to those with whom we engage and commune. Know just enough to be able to see such a person and inquire of such a person concerning their well-being if you notice something is not well.

Paul says that he celebrated when he found out about his congregation’s status. It made him rejoice in Christ that he know their needs and they know his.

This is common Christian courtesy that we so often forget to exercise. The reason we should act this way is because our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, acts this way toward us. He cares and is deeply concerned about our needs, passions, and what makes us who we are. Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

“Anxiety was a way of life in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.”[1] But Paul makes clear that the God revealed in Jesus Christ will hear you when you call. Anxiety becomes sinful when it is not delivered into the hands of the God who answers us.  The way you stop worrying sinfully is by handing over your concerns to God. When worry is not followed by petition, it becomes chaotic and generally sinful. Paul is bringing these two similar mental activities to mind: worry and prayer. Worry uses the same faculties that prayer uses. In both our thoughts and words are present, as well as our emotions and imaginations. Ungodly worry is imagination used in futility. a Prayer turns our cares and concerns into fruitful reasons to trust in God. Worry without God’s intervention becomes a pagan habit. We become so consumed with anxiety that we lose our appetite or we make our appetite a god; or we become manically depressed; we make ourselves vulnerable to whatever items or false solutions take away our pain. We hide ourselves, whereas Paul says “reveal all your anxieties to God for he will hear you.”

Since worry and anxiety are such daily exercises of the human mind, Christians are then to react to worry as God would have us.

How Shall We Then Live?

We live by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the Holy Scriptures.

It’s all right to be concerned about a loved one’s health, a difficult financial situation, a conflict with your closest friend in the Church, but Paul’s answer to Euodia and Syntyche’s in Philippians 4 is to find a common mind by asking the Lord for one.

A few simple, perhaps obvious, but hopefully helpful applications to deal with our daily worries biblically:

First, we need to address our anxieties to God. Instead of a vague nervousness, name the worry and concern. “Our Father in heaven, I am worried about my son, daughter, and my relationship with this or that person. Name your worry in prayer. Leave the vague generalizations to those who worship false gods. Our God is deeply interested in hearing specifically about your concern.

Second, turn your worry into a specific request. Once you have identified your worry, then make it known to God. “My God, I am concerned for my son’s relationships. His friends are not leading him to godliness. Help me to communicate that gracefully to him, so that he would seek godly friends instead.”

Specific petitions refine us and cause us to think deeply about the things we pray for as we pray daily.

Third, Paul says pray with gratitude, with thankfulness that our God hears us and that unlike the pagan gods of the ancient world, He is not out to get us; rather He is near us to help us.

Celebrate the kingship of Jesus over our affairs in the body.  Let the world know that the way we go about solving conflict in the Church is with grace and gentleness, not with anger and bitterness, and then turn those concerns about relational or other problems into opportunities to ask for intervention from God himself.

Here is the bad news: You may be faithful in all these things, and still the one with who you are in conflict may continue to dislike you and act as if you do not exist. After all the pastoral intervention, that relationship may never be the same again. That’s the bad news! The good news is that by faithfully dealing with conflict as Paul instructs, God will be pleased with you. You will have learned to live through difficult circumstances by honoring God.

Is worry consuming you to the point where you can no longer see the end of the story? If so, refine your prayers, people of God, and make it known to God even now for He hears us.

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone. Prison Letters.

  1. Some of these thoughts come from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermon notes on Philippians  (back)

I Give Thanks

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with thanksgiving. Calvin writes that when Paul refers to things that are joyful he breaks forth in thanksgiving, which, Calvin observes, “is a practice we ought also to be familiar.”

Thanksgiving is the antidote to bitterness and gossip. How often do we falsely accuse others only to boost our own selfish interests? Thanksgiving is the reaction of someone overwhelmed by the goodness of God. It is the by-product of a life-story that echoes praise. Be certain that when bitterness and selfishness arise it is out of an ungrateful heart.

This is another reason worship is so central to the life of the church. Worship is a thanksgiving gathering. The very word we use for the Lord’s Supper, namely Eucharist, means thanksgiving. Worship is practice in giving thanks.

Not something to be exploited…

The well known hymn of Philippians two has been the source of great consternation to the Pauline scholars. What precisely is Paul saying when he says –as our ESV renders– “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” N.T. Wright notes in the Climax of the Covenant that Jesus did not abandon his divinity in order to become human, rather that verse six should be translated as “who, being in the form of God, did not regard this divine equality as something to be used for his own advantage, but rather emptied himself… (83)”

Authorship Thoughts

Over the years both in undergraduate and graduate studies I have been exposed to a host of New Testament authorship issues. I have been bombarded with alternative authorship theories on every New Testament book. From Mark to Paul, everything has been questioned. Yet the more I ponder this issue the more confidence I have in the historical designation of these books. It may perhaps be my naive trust in the labors of our forefathers, but when I consider the 18th and 19th century motives of scholars on books like Philippians, it seems clear that their motives are not shaped by divine authorship as much as the latest critical consensus.

My thoughts on Hebrews are pretty clear, and I am willing to concede some healthy debate on the matter, but to begin to deny the authorship of Paul on what has long been considered Pauline authorship books is rather futile.

Beyond that, we believe that the Spirit of God inspired these men to write. Though their humanity is not absent in their writings, though their personalities show forth, yet they are being led by the Third Person of the Trinity. The Spirit of God can re-direct certain authors to alter their style of writing to fit particular circumstances and to minister to particular groups of people.

It also appears that in order to maintain so called objectivity and scholarship, some thinkers direct their attention away from the obvious author in order to scrutinize the book through the lens of critical scholarship. This tactic seems unhelpful and only adds confusion to the authorship question. Questions like: “Would Paul really write like this,” only accentuate the problem. The real question should be: “Our forefathers have largely accepted Pauline authorship, and if this is the case, though this language may not appear to be as consistent with other Pauline writings, could the Spirit direct this genius named Paul to write in such a way?” When such questions are asked, I believe the answer will be clearer. I am not asserting that there has always consensus in the past (Hebrews as an example), but that the majority position was generally clear (with minor exceptions).

The principle seems clear: when in doubt stick with the most obvious answer and that which has been historically prevalent.