Traffic roundabouts terrify me. They are confusing if you aren’t familiar with them. I have mapped out long routes to avoid them. One fine summer day, I was cruising down my favorite, roundabout free, State Road 37, and then traffic dropped to a crawl. To my horror, there in the distance, shimmered a brand new roundabout. Traffic roundabouts have become unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that I like them, or have any desire to get more intimately acquainted. I admit it, I am biased against traffic roundabouts.
Romans 15:1-13 addresses points of conflict and bias within the newly formed church; Traditionally, the Jews and Gentiles had maintained clear cut separation from each other. Jesus’s sacrificial death began to erase some of those lines of separation, blending Christ followers together on their spiritual journey. Traffic roundabouts terrify me because I am unfamiliar with them. They represent a significant weakness in my driving skills arsenal, separating me from other skilled drivers. Paul addresses our separation in Romans 13:1-2, “we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak…each of us should please our neighbor for their good, to build them up.” Often, I remain separated from my “neighbor” because I am unfamiliar with them and their practices. Does the fit athlete, in their mind, judge the person in their pew who is taking up a little extra space? Do we make a widening gap between those in our church who don’t practice proper church etiquette or have words like immutable and omnipotent in their vocabulary? Is our “christianeese” separating us from our “neighbors”? Are our biases and fears separating us from our “neighbor” who needs our encouragement, just because we are unfamiliar with them?
Paul reminds us in Romans 15:7, “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” How often have I ignored the opportunity to praise God because I am avoiding someone? How often have I walked by the lonely, the disenfranchised, treating them as though they were invisible? I have eagerly sought out my friends and those who look and think like me. Ephesians 4:2-4 calls me to oneness. Do I separate myself from others out of fear and discomfort with the unknown? God’s grace should overshadow me. It should inspire me to sacrificial worship on my life’s journey. My worship should be to serve God by serving others.
What we love is often reflected in how we spend our money, our time and energy. For instance, I have burned up a lot of gas money avoiding roundabouts because it was worth the expense to me. Will my love for others be reflected in how I sacrificially spend my money, my time, my energy? Paul calls me to set aside my differences. He asks me to become a servant like “Christ became a servant of the Jews on the behalf of God’s truth…and moreover that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy…” Romans 15:8-9 We should not be consumed by our differences. It is God who should consume us. As we travel with our “neighbors” through life, our own hearts should be burning with who God is and what He is doing and His praise will drive our passions and erase our differences and that will be reflected in how I spend my money, time and energy.
How can I become more intimately acquainted with traffic roundabouts? How can I close the gap that separates me from becoming a more skilled driver? I can tell you from personal experience that avoidance is not creating less roundabout bias . Obviously, the only way to close the skill gap is to face my bias and start circling. How can I begin a journey with my church and community that is filled with encouraging acceptance? I have to be willing to lay aside my biases, my assumptions and judgements about others. I need to start circling and become more intimately acquainted with them. How can I put other’s needs and weaknesses ahead of my desires and rights? Picture those roundabouts that run smoothly as drivers’ yield appropriately to other drivers. What are we willing to choose to sacrificially yield today so we can build up our “neighbors?” Let’s start circling on that journey and live lives characterized by overflowing fountains of hope that splash onto our “neighbors.”
Have you wondered why our studies in Philippians are called uncommon joy? What makes joy uncommon? The word’s synonyms may give us a clue: rare, unusual, infrequent, or scarce. Unfortunately, for many today, joy is a rare thing. Furthermore, joy isn’t something you can acquire; it’s the result of the way you live. So what can you and I do to have some of this very scarce commodity?
Paul has two lists as guidelines: one is things to do, the other, things to avoid. And – interestingly enough – he says, “If you do these things, you will bring me much joy!” That’s the same kind of thing a parent might say, “You’ll make me very happy if you do what I tell you.” Spoiler Alert! You’ll be more joyful, too.
So here are Paul’s lists: On the positive side, he says:
The negatives include:
Living this way requires a humble heart and mind. You could write “Be humble” after each of Paul’s admonitions. Genuine humility means having a right attitude about yourself – both your strengths and your weaknesses. The question is: “How can I be realistic about myself, live with humility, and have joy?” Recognizing what God has provided for you and with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can live unselfishly.
Paul prefaced his lists with some reminders of God’s provisions to make it possible to fulfill his request to give him uncommon joy. “Be encouraged,” he wrote, by the fact that you are “united with Christ,” comforted by “his love,” and “sharing in the Spirit” (v. 1). Not only does he encourage them with those promises, but he proceeds to give them the only perfect example of complete humility in all of human history. Read verses 5-8.
That is not the subject of today’s discussion, but in those verses Paul gives us a picture of the experience of Jesus in his incarnation. The Gospels tell us how the angels, the shepherds, the Wise Men, and Mary and Joseph viewed Messiah’s coming, but here we learn of the humbling of the Son of God, taking on human flesh to fulfill God’s divine purpose.
For the glory of God and our own peace and uncommon joy, humbly fulfill your role as God’s chosen child.
Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. . . . Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. (Proverbs 11:2; 29:23) JBD 9/17/18
If we purchased a car . . . but it turns out to be golf cart, or bought a computer . . . but it turns out to be a toaster, or came home with a new dog . . . but it turns out to be a Tasmanian Devil, we will feel betrayed. And we’ll definitely want our money back.
There are many examples of false advertising: car manufacturers have been known to brand their cars with more horsepower than they produce; cereal makers have branded their products as improving children’s immunity to disease; sneaker manufacturers even brand their running shoes as burning calories faster. These falsehoods have been duly exposed. Beware: you can’t put a label on something and claim whatever you want it to be.
There are also examples of advertising gaffes. “Celebrate your birthday here. Bring in this card and receive one free child.” “$50 off any purchase of $30 or more.” “After taking the medicine, do not eat or lie down for 30 days.”
So what does false advertising have to do with today’s passage? Paul was encouraging the Philippians to make sure their product matched the advertising, that their lives manifested the transforming gospel of Christ, that they lived up to the label of being “God’s holy people” (vs.1).
Shockingly, under the guise of Christianity more and more examples of false advertising are in the news. Over 300 priests in Pennsylvania are accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 parishioners. Bill Hybels, well-known evangelical pastor and author of Becoming a Contagious Christian and other widely read books, was recently accused by nine women of inappropriate conduct, in particular by his executive assistant who claims he coerced her into a sexual act. (Hybels and the entire board at Willow Creek Church have resigned.) Ted Haggart, also a well-known pastor and even president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was accused in 2006 by a homosexual man of sex acts over a three-year period, all while Haggart was preaching against homosexuality. Haggart initially and repeatedly denied the accusations, but faced with clear evidence, he has since admitted his actions, including other sexual encounters. He was terminated as pastor.
But is this kind of sinful conduct really shocking anymore? Are we reeling from the open wounds of depravity, or do we look the other way? Unfortunately, the more commonplace sin becomes, the less shocking to our senses. We shrug our shoulders. What’s the problem?
In Paul’s day, the world was a threat to those who claimed to be Christians. Paul had suffered repeated forms of persecution, and the Christians in Philippi were facing similar struggles (vs. 30). In that context, the boundary between saint and sinner tended to be high. But today, especially in the west, we find it easy to be friends with the world. We’re not persecuted, and our resistance to sin is at an all-time low.
APPLICATION: What can we do? Paul encouraged the Philippians to “strive together as one for the faith of the gospel” (vs. 27). That should be our strategy too: to stand together with all true followers of Jesus against impurity, to be involved in each other’s lives and hold one another accountable, to make sure our advertising and product are the same, to separate ourselves from phonies and hypocrites. The world needs to see a new brand of Christianity—actually, the original brand. Can you and I help lead the way?
In Philippians 1:18b-26 we see a beautiful example by Paul that the life we have been given is not ours. It does not belong to us. Paul starts off in verses 18b-19 by saying that he rejoices because he knows this situation will end with his deliverance. Paul trusts that the Lord has everything under control in his life, even when it may feel far from it. Regardless of what our life looks like, when we embark on our journey of following Christ, things are always under His control.
In verse 20 Paul states that Christ will be honored either in his life or in his death. Paul was honest with himself and those receiving his letter, making them aware that while this will end in his deliverance it may also end with his life. When we choose to follow Christ with all of our hearts and give our lives to Him we give up the right to do what we wish with our lives and instead commit to follow His every lead. That does not mean our lives will be easy or that every path we take will feel safe. However, we could not be in any safer place than the center of God’s will. Paul had hope, not because he had an unrealistic view of his life but because He knew the One who was in control of his life.
Paul goes on to say in the rest of our passage that he desires to go home to be with his Savior but also desires to finish whatever work He may have for him here on this earth. While Paul’s desire for one may be stronger than the other and he may struggle between the two, he can rest in God’s timing. Knowing that God is in control of his life and that His timing is perfect Paul can have peace in knowing his Guide and trusting in Him. When we realize our life does not belong to us we can become a willing vessel used to fight the Kingdom fight. Whether in our life or in our death we will be a vessel that points directly back to Him.
Paul says (v21) “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When we follow passionately after Christ as a willing vessel our lives can be used to point continually to Christ. And if in our passionate pursuit of Jesus we give our earthly lives we have nothing but gain, death is not a loss in His book.
Chairman Mao Zedong led a campaign for the Communist Party of China in the mid- 20th c. called the “Great Leap Forward.” In all ways but one it was a dismal failure as it led to famine and the death of millions. In this scourge all religious institutions were supposed to be banished. Did this bring equality for all? No, it was suffering for all.
But God preserved a remnant of believers who were able to travel into rural areas of China to share the gospel on a system of new roads. Mao had ordered roads to be constructed for communism’s “fair” grain distribution. We don’t have record of how many lives were changed upon receiving the Bread of Life.
The Apostle Paul explained that he was put in chains because he preached the gospel. But God’s purposes of advancing the salvation message occurred because of his arrest. After all, how could the guard chained to Paul’s ankle not witness Paul’s sturdy joy? Others were impacted as well and angels rejoiced as new members joined God’s family. Hmm, I wonder if those preachers with selfish ambition were ever arrested?
Last week I mentioned that a non-Christian friend and I had to face a difficult situation. But God has helped me trust Him in spite of ongoing misunderstandings and unfair judgments and I’ve had opportunities to tell unbelievers about God’s grace to me.
This morning I heard a message by John Piper who said, “We must FIGHT FOR JOY!” Everything in the world wants us NOT to desire God. Apostle Paul knew this when he exclaimed he had an unceasing anguish in his heart yet he could rejoice always. We cannot do this in our own ability. But God can do this miracle for us.
In 1974 my Lady and I moved here to Winona Lake; my desire was to learn how to serve our Lord better. Had I known I would spend the next 40 years in a foundry, I might have pulled a Jonah and skedaddled as far as I could in the opposite direction. How could I serve Christ in this place? This was certainly not what I had in mind. Then one day I was approached by woman who said, “I know you’re a Christian, would please pray for my son, he’s not doing well.” After that encounter I began to see more ways to share Christ with others. Moving into a position that gave me an office, I spent time with other people, alone so we could talk and pray. With the leading of the Lord and the help of other Brothers and Sisters, we organized a group we called “What in God’s name am I doing at Dalton’s!” We met as group reading through the New Testament and praying for the needs of people at Dalton’s. I came to realize God had a purpose for me to be there. Awesome!
In Acts 28: 11-31 Paul is being called to duty in a manner I doubt he hoped for when he began his ministry. He was arrested, placed in chains, shipwrecked on the island of Malta before eventually arriving in Rome. But God had a plan for Paul and the message he would bring to the Romans. Each step along the way could have been an early end to the apostle, but the Lord gave him safety on his journey as well as comfort brought by other believers who met up with Paul. In Rome he could have been placed in a dark and cold dungeon, but was allowed to live in his own rented home. While there he met with many other Jews to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Finding resistance to his message by some of the Jews, just as scripture predicted, he realized God’s plan for him was to the bring the gospel to the Gentiles who were eager to hear. For the next two years Paul dedicated every moment possible to delivering the message of Christ to who all he came in contact with, even writing Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, letters that are part of our New Testament today.
Paul didn’t accept his fate begrudgingly, but with a fiery passion to tell of Jesus and the salvation that comes from believing in Him. We see this in the last two verses of chapter 28 where we read, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Isn’t that awesome?!! Paul’s love for Jesus was so powerful, yet so joyous nothing was going to dampen it, even being under arrest and chained to a guard. He would have loved it if they had put a legion of soldiers to guard him; the more to hear the message the better! That’s passion and with that passion Paul influenced many. While on the prison boat, his passion for God worked in the lives of all the other men when they shipwrecked. On Malta, his passion left the mark of Christ on the natives including the governor. And in Rome, his passion to share Jesus profoundly touched the hearts of many who otherwise would have never heard. He possessed no thoughts that he was on the wrong path to serve the Lord. He had a passion to follow in the direction God had made prepared for him.
Paul’s passion changed the world and opened the door to salvation to all who believe. Today, may we pursue the same passion and desire to bring forth God’s Word to an unsaved world no matter what path lays ahead of us.
Thanks for reading.
In our 21st century world, the threat of death seems to be increasing, whether it’s in inner city Chicago or in Mid-Eastern countries where religious fanatics are prone to kill anyone who is not part of their sect. In an ideal world, we would think of religious leaders as men and women of peace, guiding their followers into productive lives of worship and service. In today’s story, however, we find the religious leaders of Israel plotting to kill Paul, who had been one of their greatest and most successful zealots prior to his conversion.
When Paul was brought to Caesarea for a hearing before Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, the chief priests and Jewish leaders requested a change of venue. They wanted the “trial” to be held in Jerusalem. You might think their reasoning was sound; after all, Jerusalem was the center of their greatest strength and public support. It hosted the religious “headquarters” of Judaism. But, their nefarious intentions are clearly stated in the text: “they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way” (v. 3).
Perhaps this was Plan B, because Plan A failed. They had hoped that Festus would find Paul guilty and jail (or even worse) execute him. We learn later in the hearing at Jerusalem why Plan A failed: “They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them” (v. 7). It’s interesting to note that Paul’s opponents had plotted a similar attempt on his life earlier. (See his escape from Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:22-25).
Perhaps it was because of Paul’s confidence in his innocence that he could say, “If … I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die” (v. 11). In his letter to the Philippians Paul speaks clearly about his attitude toward death. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 2:21). What a testimony to the values a fully devoted follower of Christ should demonstrate in the face of danger. But, as Paul fully realized, life or death ultimately is neither the choice of the individual or his enemies. Our lives are always in God’s hands.
While writing his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul was under house arrest in Rome, as he awaited his final appeal before Caesar. He hadn’t yet been called upon to give his life, but even in the hardships of being a prisoner of the State, he saw it all as an opportunity to serve Christ. He writes, “As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ (Phil. 1:13). And that brought about an even wider witness, as he continues, “And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear” (v. 14).
So, the challenge today is, “Can we, who claim to be disciples of Jesus, say as Paul did, ‘I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death’” (v. 20)?
It’s a beautiful picture: I have a postcard picturing a huge barn under construction. But there’s no crane lifting heavy beams in place, or forklift placing shingles high on the roof. Who needs a crane or a forklift when you have 50 Amish men stationed at every possible location around and on the barn? They will get the job done the old-fashioned way—blending their skills together, assisting one another—focusing on building a barn for someone in their community.
It’s another beautiful picture: a beehive inside a nature center with a piece of glass on one side of the hive so visitors can watch the bees in action. With their wings buzzing faster than the eye can see, bees work tirelessly and collectively, flying off to distant fields to gather food (pollen and nectar), which initially is stored in the bees’ stomachs. Back in the nest, the nectar is passed from one worker to another until the water content diminishes. That process turns the nectar into honey, which workers then store in the cells of the honeycomb. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius observed (100 years after the time of Paul), “That which is not in the interest of the hive is not in the interest of the bee.”
It’s a third beautiful picture: members of the body of Christ building not a barn but a corner of God’s kingdom—just as efficiently and sacrificially as the Amish build barns, and partnering together to become something as sweet as honey.
Paul’s opening thoughts in his letter to the believers in Philippi focused on two things: partnership and purpose. The Philippians had proven themselves to be great partners in the gospel. Paul was very generous with his accolades, which was typical of the way letters began in the ancient world. Actually, we would like to know more of the details about what he meant when he said, “I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God’s grace together with me” (vs. 7). But we don’t need to know the specifics to appreciate the beauty of a community of believers blending their gifts together and assisting one another.
The purpose that Paul had in mind was spiritual maturity. Three phrases stand out as he prayed: “that your love may abound more and more . . . be sincere and blameless . . . be filled with the fruit of righteousness” (vss. 9-11). Those qualities result in a “sweet smell . . . well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18 KJV).
APPLICATION: When our church family comes together for WeCareWarsaw, it is indeed a beehive of tireless and collective activity. Well done, WL Grace! And as Paul prayed for the Philippians, so we pray that we may abound in love even more, continually putting our own interests aside and focusing on what’s in the interest of the whole.
My obedience to the Lord is of far greater importance than any rights I may possess. These can be hard words for us to swallow but there are few that ring truer. Whatever rights we may have we surrender to Him when we choose to follow Him. Surrendering our life to Him includes surrendering our rights to Him.
In Acts 16:35-40 we see the closing of a story, that of an earthquake that broke the chains from Paul and Silas, and a Philippian Jailer who accepted Christ. The first verse of our passage opens up with the magistrates sending the police to the jailers home where Paul and Silas were celebrating the jailer and his family coming to know Christ. They celebrated a victory for the Kingdom even in their imprisonment. They were sent to release Paul and Silas, however Paul at this point shares their citizenship as Romans and requests that the magistrates come down personally to set them free. Had they known Paul and Silas were Roman citizens they would not have been treated the way that they were. So why didn’t they speak up earlier? Scripture doesn’t make that clear to us, it could be that they were not given the opportunity, or it could be that the Holy Spirit urged them to hold off in doing so. Regardless here’s what happened as a result, a jailer came to know the Lord as His Savior and so did His family.
Maybe the earthquake wasn’t sent to free Paul and Silas of their earthly chains but to free the Philippian Jailer of his eternal chains. Sometimes the earthquake is not about us, but about those who are watching us. If Paul and Silas had made their citizenship known sooner they may never have experienced what they did but neither would the Jailer or his family. Our rights are not nearly as important as our obedience to the Lord because we never see the full ramifications of our obedience or lack thereof. The chapter ends with Paul and Silas visiting Lydia and encouraging their brothers and sisters in Christ before leaving the city as was requested of them. Even after all they had gone through they went and they encouraged other believers. They would not go until their work there was finished. Within these few verses we read today we see two different believers left behind in Philippian church, Lydia and the Jailer. They came to know the Lord in very different ways and were in different points at life when they met Him. But the Lord used the same vessel, Paul, to impact both of their eternal states. The Lord can use our obedience in ways we can’t imagine when we are willing to lay down our rights.
Just last week a teammate and I suddenly found ourselves in quite a difficult situation. My friend over-reacted in a way that wasn’t surprising for a person who doesn’t have an abiding joy from knowing Christ is sovereign and good.
Paul and his teammate Silas hadn’t committed any crimes either and yet they ended up in stocks for removing the key component of an ungodly business venture. The putrid prison environment was hardly conducive for a hymnsing and yet Paul and Silas expressed their deep-seated joy of knowing Jesus as Savior. Their joy wasn’t dependent on their circumstances.
Near the end of the narrative of the imprisonment in Acts 16 we know the jailor and his household witnessed a miraculous event God used to bring them to faith in Jesus. They were then filled with joy! Joy of sins forgiven; joy of having new purpose for life; and joy of having an indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Yesterday I emailed my Global Teammate Becky Schwan (in England) and asked if anyone came to mind who had become a Christian and was obviously filled with joy. I’ll condense her lengthy and happy reply. About 16 years ago a young family man wanted to learn guitar so he joined Dave Schwan’s guitar club. It wasn’t long before Archie discovered Dave has a relationship with God, so he and his wife invited the Schwans to meet in their home for evangelistic Bible studies because Archie and Sam wanted their daughters to hear the gospel as well. As a family the Grays made a commitment to the Lord and were baptized!
Becky went on to say that the baptism occurred a week after her diagnosis of breast cancer. She said, “The joy we felt on that day of the baptism went far beyond our personal circumstances.” Dave and Becky actually visited Archie and Sam in the city of Cornwall this past weekend where the Grays are doing a great job leading a small church. “The Lord has blessed them with skill sets and gifting that have equipped them to shepherd and grow the church.”
Someone once told me her joy comes from eating candy. Ugh! From whence cometh your joy? Do you have teammates who share your joy in the Lord?