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.

Timothy: "Send Me!"

I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. Phil 2:20

We meet two friends of the Apostle Paul in this last half of chapter two. These were men who quite unconsciously displayed the character of Jesus Christ — excellent examples of all Paul has been writing about.

First we meet Timothy. As Paul writes about him, we see that the underlying quality that marks this man is Jesus Christ. We see that Timothy is an exceptional man. Paul says, “I have no one like him.” Wouldn't you like to have that written about you? There were many things at which Timothy did not excel. With his frail body, he wasn’t much of an athlete. He could very easily have been beaten at sports, or possibly surpassed in learning. But there was one area where no one even comes close to this man, and that’s in his selfless care — his demonstration of genuine concern for the welfare of others. Here he’s demonstrating that peculiarly Christian virtue, that distinctive mark of the presence of Christ within: selflessness! That’s what the Lord Jesus said of himself, “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matt 11:29)

Most of us think of meekness in terms of weakness. We picture some spineless, Casper Milquetoast who lets people walk all over him. But of course that description would never apply to Jesus. What did he mean when he said, “I am meek”? It means he was willing to receive injury without resentment and praise without pride. That’s what set Timothy apart — his deep and genuine concern for the needs of others, no matter the cost to him.

The only one to whom Christ's business was his business was Timothy. You can imagine what an encouragement he must have been to the apostle's heart as he is longing to send someone to the Philippians to help them with their problems, and everyone turns him down simply because of their own selfish concerns. But Timothy says, “All right, Paul, I'm ready to go — any time, any place, anywhere!” No wonder he was always a channel of God’s power wherever he went — he saw himself as an instrument of God's grace. As such, Timothy was an excellent example of the attitude Paul has been urging the Philippians themselves to adopt.

Prayer: Father, teach me to me a person who genuinely cares for the welfare of others, and is willing to demonstrate that care in selfless acts of service. Amen.

Shine Like Stars

Do everything without grumbling or arguing… Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky. Phil. 2:14,15b

What happens when a Christian behaves badly like an unbeliever? As Paul points out, the world around can’t see Christ in them, so there’s no light for their darkness. In other words, if the life our neighbors see in us is explainable only in terms of our human personality and background, what do we have to say to our neighbors that will awaken them to their need of Christ? If the situations we face cause us to react with the same murmuring and discontent and bitterness they have, what's the difference between our quality of life and theirs? They will simply say, “My life is explained in terms of my personality: I like certain sports and entertainment, and certain kinds of music and you like religion — that's all.” Unless there’s a quality to our life that can only be explained in terms of the difference God’s presence in us has made, there’s really nothing in us to challenge the world around us. The world is waiting to see God, and they will when they see Christians stop their mumbling, complaining and arguing … when they stop seeing us live, in other words, just like everyone else.

There must be a quality to our lives that can only be explained in terms of what God is doing in us and through us; and then, as Paul says, as we live in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation,” the light of the gospel will shine into the darkness of where we live. This is what Jesus means when he says, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are to be the beacon of hope that others need — the sign of God’s beauty in a world that has all but defaced it.

In fact, when Paul speaks of the Philippians shining like lights, he’s quoting a passage from Daniel 12:3, which speaks of “the wise” who were beacons of hope to their generation because of their faith in God’s promise to raise the dead to life again. In a sense, then, what Paul is saying is not just that the Philippians are to be a sign of light and beauty in a world of darkness and ugliness. They are to be a sign of God’s new life in a world that only knows the way to death. That’s our calling as well! We are to let the light of Christ shine through us “like stars in the sky” !

Prayer: Forgive me for my grumbling, Lord. Help me to trust you in every situation and, in doing so, shine brightly in a dark world. Amen.

Work Out Your Salvation

...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Phil. 2:12b-13

From Guest Blogger Jim Wiebel:

Work out your own salvation doesn’t mean “by your own effort,” as some have interpreted it. Paul’s saying, “Now that I am no longer present with you, you don't need to rely on my insights and counsel. Begin to walk without my assistance, for you have God’s Spirit at work in you, and that’s all you need!” In other words, stop leaning on me. Start applying these things yourselves. This is a necessary stage in Christian growth.

I recall teaching my youngest son how to drive. He had a learner's permit that required that I be with him in the front seat of the car. As we were driving, he’d sometimes give me a questioning look as a driver pulled out in the road or something developed ahead of us. Then I'd say to do this or that. He was relying on me. But the time would come when I moved out of the front seat and in faith committed him to what he had learned. From then on, he had to “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling,” even with me right there with him in the back seat!

Now “salvation” here doesn’t mean settling our eternal destiny, as we frequently find it used in the scriptures. A better translation would be the word “solution.” Work out your own solution, because what Paul has in mind here is working through the problems and trials and difficulties presented in ordinary daily life. He’s saying, use your mind and your will in solving your problems, in the confident expectation that in doing so, God is also at work in you to conform it all to both his will and his good pleasure. That’s a marvelous statement of the Christian's experience of being led by God.

But we’re not robots, simply responding to the pushing of buttons by the Spirit within. It's true we have another life within: God's life — Christ living within us! But our lives, hearts and wills are involved in this too. It’s true that we’ll never be saved apart from him. But it’s also true that he’ll never save us apart from ourselves. We do the living and the choosing and the acting, but we know a secret — that all along it’s he who’s living, acting and choosing through us!

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for allowing me to be used by you to show others how you are working in me by the power of your Spirit to lead a life which pleases you. Amen.