Changing the Rules

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ…Phil. 3:7
From Guest Blogger Amy Cox:

Imagine your team is up by four touchdowns with minutes to go, but the referees, wanting to give the other team a chance, start blowing calls and throwing unwarranted flags on your guys. You’d probably be frustrated. Changing the rules wouldn’t seem fair.

Christ’s death and resurrection also changed the rules of the game in ways not everyone fully appreciated. God had given his chosen people, Israel, the Law and instructed them to follow it. Knowing they couldn’t perfectly follow the Law He also established a system of atoning blood sacrifices, but Jesus’ death and resurrection marked a radical change to this system.

Jesus spoke of this rules change while offering the wine of communion at the last supper, saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26: 28). Jesus foreshadowed how His death and the shedding of His blood would finally satisfy the old covenant and usher in a new one. Israel’s sacrifices could never fully atone for their sin since, as fallen people we can never make ourselves holy. But the sacrifice of a sinless person, Jesus, could redeem us and do just that (1 Peter 1:19-20). How’s that for a game changer?

In today’s passage Paul reminds us that what the world values really isn’t worth much after all. Instead, he calls Christians to find our greatest treasure in Christ and His resurrection. Only through faith in Christ can we be righteous and know “the power of his resurrection.” But really knowing Christ also drives us to “share his sufferings,” so we can become “like him in his death, that by any means possible I (we) may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10b-11).

These verses present an uneasy, almost contradictory tension to those who aren’t fully invested in Christ. They call us to joyfully share in Christ’s wounds by willingly suffering for the cross, even though no further sacrifice is required of us other than to have faith in Christ. Paul modeled this Christian life when he rejoiced no matter what dangers surrounded him and throughout his captivity because he knew God was at work in it all. It is an uncommon life, but the only life that leads to true happiness and our eternal home.

Prayer: Lord, help me take these words, from 1 Peter 2:24, to heart so that I might live an uncommon life: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.’” Amen.

A Proud Heritage

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more... Philippians 3:4

From Guest Blogger Amy Cox:

I can proudly say I am royalty, or at least that’s what a Norwegian cousin tells me. According to his genealogical research our ancestor is the first Christian King of Norway. Now that king had several wives and even more children, so our claim to royalty probably isn’t all that unique, but still, it’s something isn’t it?

In the grand scheme of things my Norwegian royal heritage isn’t much to brag about, but Paul had real reasons to be proud. Born of the tribe of Benjamin, he followed the law blamelessly (Philippians 3:4-6) and like his ancestors became an exceedingly zealous Pharisee (Acts 23:3-6). Paul was a model Jew, but by birth he was also a Roman citizen.

Paul’s Jewish heritage and Roman citizenship, along with his conversion to Christianity, helped propel him to Rome. Saved from a murderous crowd by Jerusalem’s Roman guard Paul was initially accused of being an Egyptian false prophet who led a bloody, but unsuccessful, anti-Roman revolt. Paul’s revelation that he was a Jew from Tarsus (Acts 21:39) bought temporary safety. Then, as the Romans prepared to interrogate him by flogging, Paul revealed he was a Roman citizen subject to Roman law and entitled to its more humane protections. (Acts 22:24-28) Eventually his citizenship carried him all the way to Rome, the political and cultural heart of the Empire, where he preached the Gospel boldly (Acts 28:31).

God leveraged Paul’s uncommon heritage in ways unparalleled in the history of the early church. He took a man whose birth and training perfectly positioned him to persecute Christians, as in fact Paul had done, and turned him into a champion for Christ. And to make matters worse, at least from the perspective of Jewish authorities, God sent Paul to the “undeserving” Gentiles, including the Romans (Acts 23:11). Ultimately it wasn’t Paul’s Jewish heritage or his Roman citizenship that really mattered, it was his relationship with Christ that empowered him to follow God into dangerous and uncharted territory. Paul’s story shows that it’s not who we are that really matters — what matters most is whose we are.

In what unique position has God placed you? What connections and experiences give you an opportunity to share Christ? How might you display your uncommon faith in your context?

Prayer: Father, help me to see how you’ve specially positioned me to share the Gospel with those around me. Let me be a willing servant and ambassador, empowered by Your love and grace. Amen.

Watch Lists and Warnings

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh. Philippians 3:3

From Guest Blogger Amy Cox:

In the years since 9-11 we’ve become all too familiar with the concept of “terrorist watch lists” — collections of names of people suspected of harboring evil intentions toward our nation or our allies. People on a watch list are scrutinized in an attempt to assure they bring no harm to others. They are placed on a watch list for our safety and that of countless others. Paul provides an unflattering watch list of his own in Philippians 3:2, and like the watch lists of today his is intended to assure the safety of the Philippian believers and the rest of Christendom. Paul admonishes believers to “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” But who is he talking about?

Scholars believe Paul wrote Philippians around AD 60, a few years after the Jerusalem (or Apostolic) Council. The assembled council debated the assertion, raised by a group from Judea, that Gentiles needed to be circumcised according to Mosaic law, before they could be saved (Acts 15:1). Their decision was clear, affirming that Christians are saved solely by grace through Christ’s death and resurrection. Still, the Judean Christians, or Judaizers, continued to teach their erroneous and destructive principle. They are the “dogs,” “evildoers,” and “mutilators” Paul warns against. The Judaizers’ teaching ran contrary to Gospel truth and destructively emphasized human works, circumcision, and even the decision to be circumcised, as the gateway to salvation. Paul didn’t want anyone to be led astray so his warning had to be especially pointed, yet through it he demonstrated his love for Christ and his fellow believers.

Paul’s plea to guard against false teachings extends to us today. Our “Judaizers” today look and sound different than they did in Paul’s day. Those who point to their own achievements as if they win the favor of God … those who strut with pride that they have avoided sin, while castigating others as if their sins are worse than their own … these are just examples of “Judaizing,” works-based righteousness we can find in our own context. Paul says:  watch out for those “dogs,” and turn to Christ. He alone makes us right with God in a way that does not depend on our work, but on His grace!

Prayer: Lord, please help me always to remember that you are the real source of my salvation — “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Amen.


An Uncommon Joy

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!  Philippians 3:1

From Guest Blogger Amy Cox:

The day of my young son’s surgery had come. I was a bundle of nerves, but my toddler’s face was filled with a special peace and joy I later realized was rooted in a simple faith. Finding peace during the difficult moments of our lives can be tough, but with God we can have it abundantly and in uncommon ways.

It’s easy to forget what was going on in Paul’s life as he wrote Philippians. It is thought to be one of his “prison epistles,” written during his captivity in Rome. Yet despite facing an unknown future and the possibility of lengthy imprisonment or even death, we see uncommon peace in Paul. More than that, from his confines he tells us multiple times that he rejoices. Paul rejoices at the spread of the Gospel and over the Spirit’s work in his current circumstances (Philippians 1:18). He rejoices because he and the believers in Philippi are able to sacrifice for the good of others (Philippians 2:17-18). And his rejoicing continues through the end of the epistle, as we’ll read next week. It is safe to say Paul has an uncommon trust and attitude toward rejoicing.

Paul’s uncommon way of thinking, made possible by his relationship with Christ, clearly surfaces again in Philippians 3:1 where he tells his readers “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” Paul’s words can be read as a calling to adopt and maintain the same attitude and behaviors Paul demonstrates (Philippians 3:17), which are ultimately modeled after Christ. The Philippians had contributed sacrificially to Paul’s ministry, aiding greatly in the growth of the church throughout the region. Their sacrifices were different than Paul’s, but they served the same purpose — the spreading of the Gospel — and Paul’s hope was that they too would experience the incredible peace and joy God gives his people.

Yet, quick on the heels of his rejoicing Paul addresses those who fail to trust in the Lord (Philippians 4:18-19). Too often an uncommon attitude is hard to come by. The voices of the world contradict God’s truth, question His care for us and even His existence, and breed doubt and fear. These voices lead people, as Paul writes, to the place where “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” May we heed Paul’s warning, embrace God’s peace and joy, and live the uncommon life!

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for giving us reason to rejoice no matter what our current circumstances. Help us to listen for your voice, trust your Word, and live in your peace. Amen.

Don't Worry About Me

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. Phil 2:25

As Philippians 2 ends, we meet Epaphroditus. Here’s a man very different than Timothy. Epaphroditus is the one who brought the gift from Philippi, and the one who bore this wonderful letter back to the Philippian church. His popularity is evident from the fact that he was chosen by the church for this difficult task. He was probably one of those whose natural disposition makes him popular and prominent in any group.

Paul says the quality he most appreciates in Epaphroditus is helpfulness. Notice he says, “I’m sending back to you…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my need.” All these wonderful titles add up to one who is a marvelous helper who demonstrates a selfless concern that’s the distinctive mark of a believer in Christ.

Verse 26 says, “For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.” Word had gotten back to Philippi that this man had been terribly sick, and Epaphroditus is concerned that they be over-anxious about him.

I couldn't help contrasting that with so many today who become distressed because we haven’t heard they were ill! I meet people like that occasionally. Now and then I’ll greet someone and notice there’s a bit of coolness. Finally it comes out and they’ll say, “Didn't you hear that I was sick?” I say, “No, I didn't hear that.” Then, “Well, I expected I’d have a visit, but no one came.” I wonder just how people expect to have a visit on that basis. It's interesting that when people are sick, they’ll call a doctor; but they expect the pastor or their Christian friends to get the news by osmosis, and then get upset because word hadn't arrived.

Well, there was no such self pity in Epaphroditus. His concern isn’t one of self pity because he was so desperately sick, but of anxiety lest they be over-wrought in their worry for him. Even in the midst of his own personal distress, he continues to exhibit selfless concern for others. What a beautiful picture! You can see the character of Christ in him.

Prayer: Lord, give me a spirit of helpfulness. I know it doesn't come naturally, but rather by a quiet dependence on you and a readiness to be used by you and for the work of your kingdom. Amen.