Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Power of Perspective: Philippians

Years ago, I was teaching a Sunday School class and we stopped for a moment to ask questions and discuss the topic. I don't remember the topic, but I think it was a series I was doing on the Book of Revelation.

I love discussion and interaction during class and this class was always so good at it. 

But every now and then, you get a comment or quote that brings that inner crunch of discomfort and awkward wrestling where you have to decide whether to challenge it or just let it be.

One lady raised her hand and began to speak. In the course of her point, she said, "That is why I stopped reading Philippians. Every time I read Paul talking about being joyful, it just made me want to throw up. Who really lives like that?"

As I winced, I suddenly felt outnumbered..... there were quite a few who laughed (maybe out of nervousness), but as I scanned the body language it kind of shocked me... there seemed to be many who were nodding in agreement.

And I just let it go and we moved on.......

I kind of regret that now.

I know why I didn't... I was being polite...it was off topic.... the hour was late... I didn't really know the lady enough to know her circumstances..... and my response would be the ultimate, prideful, vote of approval for myself.....

"I expect followers of Jesus to live like that"

Even as I write this now, I am constantly aware that my very open...toot my own horn.... Twitter and Facebook promotion of me and my world can create as much or more angst than inspiration.

But I HAVE to be honest.... when I read Philippians.. I don't want to throw up.... I often cry with tears of joy and thanksgiving... even 35 plus years after reading it for the first time.


To start with, it has become very apparent to me over the course of my life that some people are more naturally optimists or pessimists - some are more positive and some are more negative. My wife would say, as a counter, "some are more idealists and some are more realists".

In 27 years of marriage- the balance between the two of us has been quite miraculous. She needs my "we are down 4 touchdowns but can still win the game" and I need her "quit hoping that the ground is going to sprout tomatoes and start digging." She has helped me to be more realistic and I have helped her to be more positive when things are going south. But our basic personalities do not change.

And in FULL disclosure, as I have gotten older, my 'Pollyanna disposition' goes on vacation a lot. Because I have been such an optimist most of my life, I was suspicious of, critical of,  and cold toward anyone who 'got down and stayed down'. Heck, just give them a little pep talk!

But in God's goodness, He has allowed me to struggle with bouts of depression that I had never really known before. Some of it is hormonal, I believe. Some of it is just the weariness of life and wear and tear of personal sin and regret.

As a 50 year old.. as I watch my children growing up and moving on... as loved ones have passed away... as life brings its challenges and heartaches...I have become MUCH more understanding of those who have to really fight for hope and encouragement.

And I have to mention, there IS a genetic piece here that is fascinating as well.

In writing this, I am not trying to minimize that anxiety and depression is an easy fix. And please understand that I am not confusing joy with 'happiness'.

But I HAVE to say that there is a power in Paul's letter to the Philippians that is REAL and has an ability to transform us all...whether we have some natural disposition or not.

And, if I may... what we are losing a lot in our culture today in ways that can be remedied in this Holy letter. Our biggest problem today is not declining morality among the unbelievers.....

Our biggest problem today is a growing negativity among God's people because we have lost a Biblical perspective of Godly contentment and a gospel approach to circumstances in culture.

And all you have to do is read Paul's heart as he pours it out to the Church at Philippi.

In the summer of 1981, I received Christ through a prayer of faith that resulted in a spiritual conversion. God had His hand on me for years, and though I had many experiences with God including a baptism, it is my belief that this was the point in my life where I was regenerated, justified and adopted, given the indwelling presence of God's Spirit, and put on a course of sanctification that will one day result in my glorification- all by God's grace and for His glory.

Because it was the summer, I spent two days after that moment reading a Good News for Modern Man translation of the New Testament. I read every page of that Bible, and the Holy Spirit seemed to be burning the words on my soul. I have never had that experience reading the Bible since- but it was a powerful gift and blessing.

The reason I am writing this is because... when I got to the Book of Philippians, and I had no previous memory of ever reading it before, the words literally exploded in me. I was reading it with a voice inside my head almost like it was the Apostle Paul speaking to me.

And that is why the Book of Philippians is so special to me. I always have to list Romans as the most important book I have ever read and Philippians has made the biggest difference in my life. The whole Bible is important and purposeful, and where would we be without the gospels. So I am not discounting anything Genesis to Revelation.... but there is a power in Philippians... especially when you understand that Paul was writing this from prison!

Philippians has some of the most memorized verses in history....

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, (Philippians 1:18 ESV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others..... (and the great passage that follows about the example of Jesus) (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8 ESV)

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 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. (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4 ESV)

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

In these 4 short chapters... there is an AMAZING amount of life changing truth!

But, I am going to focus on 1 verse that rises TO ME above all of them.. it is one I can spend an entire day upon..just meditation on it.....

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

The relationship of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone has always stirred the question...what of our works?

And our default human religion has always been justification by our good deeds.

I listened to a radio sermon by R.C. Sproul recently where he mentioned that a lot of Americans live under a theology of 'justification by death' which is an assumption that we all go to heaven when we die and are immediately accepted into heaven by 'the good Lord' cause we are all basically 'good people'.

When I meditate on Philippians 2:12 I think of two particular and important details:

1) I hearken back to the 'balancing' verse in Ephesians. You know... the one we don't quote after the beautiful gospel exclamation in 2:8 and 9.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.


For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

I have written this many time before and it is not my original wording.

Christianity is NOT faith in Jesus with an addition of our own good works to justify us in the presence of a Holy God.

Christianity is salvation by the atoning death of Christ ALONE.... it is not faith + works... it is a faith THAT works. Works are the fruit that is evidence of our faith. And it is fruit that take time and maturity to be displayed. And it is not as much outward deeds as it is an internal fruit of God's Spirit that spills out, so to speak, into a life that shines the love and service of Jesus.

2) There is a very interesting part of Philippians 2- "work out your own salvation"... ever though about what that may mean?

I was reminded about it recently when reading B.B. Warfield:

“Paul does not say simply "work your salvation," but "work out your salvation"— employing a compound verb which throws its emphasis on the end, "bring your salvation to its completion.
“These Philippian readers already stood with the Apostle in the fellowship of the gospel: his earnest desire for them was a complete realization in life of all that the gospel meant. They had entered upon the race; let them run it through to the goal. They had in principle received salvation in believing; let them work this salvation now completely out in life."
Excerpt From: B. B. Warfield. “Faith and Life.” iBooks. 

The way I read it in context is this- we have already been given all we need...now- let's get it on... get going on the adventure that Christ has called you to do.

But as key as those 2 distinctions are... that is not the point of the book.

There is a 'secret sauce'- so to speak when moving forward in this life with Jesus.

And if you don't get it in Philippians, you won't find it anywhere else. It is more plain in these 4 chapters than in any other place in the Bible.

Joy and Rejoicing is used 16 times in 4 chapters. Rejoice means to reclaim the joy.

So how can you do that? How can you ask people to do it without them thinking "makes me want to puke"?

Paul's point was always through a perspective.

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. (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV)
Paul had great confidence in his God.
Paul's God was bigger than any life circumstance.
Paul had a powerful perspective in his understanding of eternity.
Paul's present life was a mere vapor compared to the eternal glory that was coming.
Paul had a profound understanding of God's forgiveness.
Paul was able to love others with passion because of the depth of God's grace.

This was no 'pie in the sky Pollyanna optimism'.... Paul saw the risen Lord, he trusted in Jesus for his justification, and now nothing could kill his joy.

Don't hold Philippians away because you are suspicious of it... cling to it... the gospel is THAT GOOD!

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