Monday, July 25, 2011
After a brief break last week, we have drawn almost to the end of this great letter. The amazing passage that we are in for the next few days contains three of the most well-known and beloved phrases or sentences in the whole letter, which focus in on one theme: the theme of contentment, which will be our subject for the rest of the week or so.
First in this section, Paul is expressing gratitude for the gift that the Philippian congregation sent him. Paul knows that this congregation is exceedingly poor and exceedingly generous at the same time, and it’s almost embarrassing to receive a gift from them.
At a short, first glance, the Apostle Paul may seem be saying to them that he doesn’t need their gift, but that’s not it at all; he’s trying to show how God has made him content in all things. When the Apostle Paul thanks them he really means it, because he knows this congregation: they are less able than any other congregation in Macedonia to give him support, and yet he’s going to say later on in this passage they have been the only congregation to stick by him throughout his ministry. Even when he was in Thessalonica with people that could have supported him more easily than the Philippians, it was the Philippians that were supporting his ministry in Thessalonica.
The second thing is that he wants to make sure that the Philippians don’t misunderstand is he’s not asking them to send some more. Have you ever gotten a thank-you letter from somebody that was really just a request for another gift? Paul wants to make it clear that he is not doing that.
Along with this, Paul wants to do a third thing here: He wants to teach the Philippians something vitally important about the Christian life, about contentment.
Are you content? Right where you are now, right in your life situation? Or are you one of those honest people who, in the quietness of your heart and in the solitariness of your room, you look in the mirror in the bathroom and you look at yourself and you say, “No, I’m not content. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I’ve not arrived at contentment. I’m not living in contentment. I’m struggling in ‘the summer of my discontent’ right now”? Well, I’ve got good news for you: precisely because you are where you are, Paul has a word especially for you. In this passage he teaches us five things about gospel contentment. He teaches us about the need for contentment, about the nature of contentment, about the secret of contentment, about the song of contentment, and about the gratefulness of contentment. We will look today at God’s desire for His people’s contentment and in the coming weeks, we’ll examine those other aspects of Paul’s message.
I. God wants His people to be content.
God desires His people to live in a state of contentment, and so Paul is first, in verse 11, going to speak of the need for and the importance of gospel contentment. Paul says (verse 11): “Not that I am speaking of need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am …” [what?] “…to be content.” He is commending to the Philippians his state of contentment, and he is saying to them that he wants them to be content; that God wants them to live in a state of contentment. Paul is saying here Christians are to be content – and Paul talks about this all the time.
Think of II Corinthians 12:10, where he says, “For the sake of Christ then, I am content...” and these are the circumstances in which he says this: ‘I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.’ Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘Paul, you need to see a psychiatrist if you’re content with that!’ But for Paul it’s very important, and he follows up by saying, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” And in I Timothy 6:6-8, he says,
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world, but if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Contentment is a big deal for Paul. He taught his student, the author of Hebrews this truth, and in Hebrews 13:5, the author says,
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
Paul…the Bible…God is concerned for Christians to be content. It is a significant, important need for the Christian life.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:20 PM
Thursday, July 14, 2011
The Apostle Paul is back to his theme of helping Christians fight worldliness. Paul equips us to fight worldliness by dwelling on the Word of God, by thinking on excellent things, and by following godly examples. When we do those things, says Paul, we are attended by the God of peace.
I. The important of meditation in the Christian life.
Notice his words: “…think about these things” (end of verse 8). This is a call to Christian meditation. He’s saying you will not grow in the Christian life unless you are deliberately locked on to a pattern of mediating on and reflecting about and thinking deeply on the truths of God’s word, and things which are true and commendable.
The kind of meditation that Paul is calling you and me to is entirely different than the kind of meditation that you most frequently encounter. Almost all practitioners of meditation will tell you that it is vital to empty your mind. You will never find that instruction in Scripture!
Paul’s mediation is not about emptying the mind: it is about filling the mind up with God’s word and that which is true and commendable, and then working that around. The point of meditation, you understand, is so that we hear God’s word. Forms of mediation and even a prayer that tell us that we need to empty our minds, to wait, to listen for God to speak to us, are assuming that God has not already spoken to us.
The problem is not that God’s not spoken; the problem is that we’re not listening!
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind and thinking over and dwelling on and applying to yourself the various things that you know about the works and the ways and the purposes and promises of God, from God’s word. Meditation humbles, encourages, and reassures us. Meditation especially, connects the mind and the will – the head and the heart – so that the truth we know is worked deep down into our soul so that it begins to affect what we desire.
We are bombarded with stimuli 24/7 of various media, so if you do not deliberately plan to think on what is true and commendable, it’s not going to come knocking to your door. And without thinking on such things, you’re not going to grow.
II. The importance of cultivating godly affections and desires
He says: Think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
When you are bombarded by a powerful desire that is enticing you to focus on and enjoy something that is either wrong or trivial, you can’t fight something with nothing. The answer to fighting that powerful enticement to desiring something that is wrong or trivial is not to say “Stop it!” Chances are, if you are a Christian, you already know you ought to stop it. There has to be a desire that is opposite and greater than the desire that is enticing you to do wrong if you’re going to fight that desire. Meditating is so that you will begin to desire something better than that which is being offered to you.
The Puritans made it a practice of meditating on six great things from God’s word: the majesty of God; the severity of sin; the beauty of Christ; the certainty of death; the finality of judgment; and, the misery of hell. And those six things they thought were absolutely essential for cultivating heavenly-mindedness.
Paul is saying the same thing here, although he’s directing us to consider what is true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable everywhere—not only in God’s word, but everywhere!
As Paul is giving these exhortations, we must remember he’s not giving us the gospel. He’s telling Christians who already have received the gospel how to live the Christian life. If you’re not a Christian, these exhortations are not how you become a Christian. They’re how you live, having already become a Christian.
III. The pattern of Christian discipleship
Paul gives us a four-part pattern for Christian discipleship: Meditation; Instruction; Direction; and, Application.
First, “think on these things.” Meditating on the word of God, deliberately reflecting upon, the content of God’s word and on what is true and honorable and just, and so on. So it begins with reflection. This is part of really, really listening.
Second, instruction. Notice that Paul does not think that our desires, that our affections, are innately right. They’re not innately set on the right things. Therefore we need our desires to be instructed. Our desires need to be directed in the right direction, and so he says, ‘What you learned and received from me, practice that.’
Third, direction. Paul emphasizes that truth cannot simply be conveyed by a television, or a radio, or a CD. You have to hear and see the truth lived out. They heard and saw the truth from Paul, they got direction from him.
And then there’s application: Put all this into practice.
IV. A promise.
This promise is even better than the promise that Paul gave in verse 7, “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” But the promise in verse 9 is even better. Follow these exhortations, and what does Paul say? “And the God of peace will be with you.”
In verse 7, he says follow these exhortations and the peace of God will be with you. In verse 9, he says follow these exhortations and the God of peace will be with you. The God of peace himself, the God who gives peace, the God who gives the peace of God will be with you. Practice these things and the God of peace will draw near to you, and you will know His presence and you will know His peace because He has drawn near to you as you obey His word.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:58 PM
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
We said a little while ago that Paul was teaching us how to fight worldliness, and one way to fight worldliness was by carefully following the godly examples of believers around us.
Paul is back to that theme again today. You see it especially in verse 9, where he urges us to follow the practice that they have seen and heard from him as well as what he taught.
And you’ll also notice, as you look at verses 2-7 of Philippians 4, that a pattern emerges in which Paul gives exhortations and then follows that list of exhortations with a promise. In Philippians 4:2-7, he gives four exhortations that are meant to be part of our growth in grace in the Christian life, and he concludes them with a promise that the peace of God will surround and flood their understanding and desires.
Today, once again, Paul has a series of exhortations, and he’ll follow it with a promise – a promise very closely related to the promise that he has stated in verse 7. That promise comes at the end of verse 9. So the pattern again is exhortation followed by promise.
Before we delve into the text I want to ask you a question. How often do you think? I mean really think. How deeply do you reflect on the most important things of life? Are you so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day that you find yourself, like I do, at the end of a long day filled up with all sorts of stuff, at about 10:30 at night wondering if you’ve thought about anything of eternal significance?
I had a professor in college in the history department, and I always enjoyed sitting outside his office waiting for my appointment because he had interesting cartoons and sayings on his door. One of the sayings that I still remember went something like this: “Some people would rather die than think. Many do.” I liked that saying; it made me think every once in a while!
But the pace and preoccupations of our lives, especially in our contemporary world, conspire together against deep thinking. They do that together by preoccupying us with the trivial so that we never get around to the profound and the permanent.
Well, in this passage the Apostle Paul makes it absolutely clear how important it is for our living of the Christian life to think deeply—to meditate, to reflect upon the truth of God’s word. In fact, he says it is absolutely of strategic importance to the Christian life that we do so.
If you remember what Paul said at 3:17, “Do as I do,” and you might have had the same thought that I did, “Paul, how in the world can I do what you do? How can I follow the one who saw Christ face to face? How can I emulate your example?” But, Paul in this passage lays out a pattern for us to emulate him. He’s going to teach us four huge truths about living the Christian life. Let me just outline them for you and point you to the parts in the passage where they come from.
First of all, he’s going to tell you the importance of meditation in the Christian life. You see that in the very last words of verse 8: “Think on these things.” What’s Paul talking about? He’s talking about Christian meditation.
Secondly, he’s going to tell you about the importance of cultivating godly affections and desires; that is, desires that are set on the right thing, desires that want the right thing, desires that admire the right thing, desires that are fixed on the right thing. You see that even in the list that he gives in verse 8: things that are true and honorable, and just and pure, and lovely and commendable, and excellent, and worthy of praise. What’s he doing there? He’s reminding you of how important it is for you to lock in on things that you ought to desire, because the world isn’t going to come knocking at your door offering you a list of things that you ought to desire. It’s going to come knocking at your door with a list of things to desire, but they won’t necessarily be the list of the things that you ought to desire.
Third, he’s going to show you the pattern of Christian discipleship in two verses. In two verses he’s going to tell you how it is that you grow in grace. And then, finally, he’s going to close with a promise.
So, he’s going to point to the importance of Christians meditating on God’s word and on things which are true and commendable; he’s going to talk about the importance of cultivating godly affections or desires; he’s going to show you the pattern of the Christian life; and, he’s going to point you to a promise.
On Thursday, we’ll look at those four items more in depth, but for now you have at least a taste of what Paul has said in this passage.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:53 PM
Monday, July 11, 2011
Last week on Thursday we looked at the Apostle Paul's exhortation to two Christian women who have been disagreeing and he gives the Philippians - and us - exhortations for how to live in light of the gospel. We said last week that the two godly ladies who are disagreeing with one another should be reconciled in Christ. They are two leading Christian women in the church there, and yet somehow they have fallen out with one another and Paul calls on them to be reconciled.
Today we’ll look at the Apostle's three exhortations and the promise of peace of God that results when we live lives permeated by the gospel.
II. Rejoice always.
The second thing he says by way of exhortation you see in verse 4: "Rejoice always." We've said over and over there is nothing about the Philippian situation that would make them rejoice, but they rejoice in God and what He has done for them. It is no accident that Paul, right after talking about a church division, would turn around and say, Rejoice always.
III. Be reasonable.
Then he says in verse 5, “Be reasonable.” Paul gives a reason to be reasonable, because the Lord is at hand. In our dealings with one another we're to be kind and gentle and generous, and respectful and reasonable, because The Lord Jesus is coming back at any moment.
Have you ever been having a fight with your wife and a dear friend walks in? Ahem...things straighten up real quick, don't they?
So Paul's saying, 'If Jesus walked in the door, suddenly things would straighten up real, real quick!' Paul's saying the Lord could come back at any time, so conduct yourselves towards one another like it was Jesus who was getting ready to poke His head in the door, because He is!
IV. Don't worry. Pray instead.
And then he says don't worry, pray instead because God knows your needs. He's calling on us to show trust and confidence in God in all situations.
Now Paul is not saying that the Philippians don't have anything to worry about. There are lots of reasons why they could worry, but because they've got a God who's in charge who loves them and to whom they can pray, so they needn't worry.
Paul is giving this encouragement only to Christians, however. If you're not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you do have something to worry about. Because you’ve turned your back on the only One who can do anything about your situation. You haven't trusted Him, you really do have something to worry about.
But here's the good news. Instead of turning your back on Him, if you'll look Him in the face and you'll trust in Him, you'll rest in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, you too can know what it is like to live worry-free in a care-filled world, because you have a heavenly Father who has forgiven your sins, and you have a heavenly Father who has promised you in His Son Jesus Christ that He will provide for all your needs.
V. The promise.
Then comes the promise in verse 7. Paul says when you have been cultivating joy in your heart, joy in the Lord, joy that's not derived from your circumstances, but joy which is derived from the gospel grace that God has shown to you in Jesus Christ, when you have been seeking to live in gentleness and reasonableness with your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you have, instead of worrying 24/7, you have been entrusting yourself to God to provide for your needs, and then in your time of need, in your hour of plight and trial, God is going to give you a peace beyond your comprehension, so that when your circumstances are screaming to you, "Despair! Hopelessness!" you will have a hope in you didn't come from you and didn't come from your situation, it came from the Holy Spirit testifying to your spirit this: God's promise is true, despite everything in your circumstances.
The exhortations in verses 2-6 allow us to receive that promise. The promise is there for believers, every believer. But do you know what happens? If we won't pray, we won't experience the promise like God wants us to. If we don't cultivate reasonableness and gentleness with one another, we won't be ready to experience the promise the way the Lord wants us to. If we're not cultivating joy in the Lord in our hearts, we won't be ready to receive and experience the promise the way the Lord wants us to receive it.
We see here again that God never tells you to do something that isn't ultimately for your good! Each of the exhortations in this passage, including the exhortation to be reconciled, is so that in your hour of need, you're readied by your heeding of these exhortations to experience the peace that passes understanding.
We need that peace. But receiving that peace begins with our cultivating peace with one another, with our cultivating joy in our hearts, with our cultivating reasonableness and gentleness with one another, and with our praying and not worrying, because we have a God that we know loves and cares for us. And when we do that, the amazing thing is the Holy Spirit comes and gives a direct testimony to our souls that God's promise is true and will hold you up when there is nothing else in this world to hold you up.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 11:18 AM
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Have you ever wished that your name was in a Bible book? Well, if you did, you probably wanted your name mentioned in commendation, but you probably wouldn’t want your names mentioned in the way these two godly women’s names are mentioned here in Philippians 4:2 – that is, to rebuke you because you’re having a fight with one another! There is nothing unusual about the situation they’re going through, it happens in churches all over the world.
It just shows you, as beautiful as this passage is, this is a very practical passage. We’ll look at the passage in five parts.
In verses 2-3, the first part is where that personal exhortation is made to Euodia and Syntyche, and that personal exhortation is very simple: “Be reconciled.” Then if you look at verse 4, you’ll see the second part of the passage. It’s a second exhortation, a general exhortation to everyone, “Rejoice always.” Then, the third part comes in verse 5, a general exhortation to everyone: “Be reasonable.” Be gentle and reasonable in the way you deal with one another. The fourth part of the passage comes in verse 6, a fourth exhortation in the passage: “Don’t worry, pray instead.”
And then finally comes, not an exhortation, but a promise, and the promise we see in verse 7: God’s peace will surround and flood your understanding and desires. This whole passage is actually telling you how it is that you are enabled to experience that extraordinary supernatural peace of God which is beyond our comprehension.
We’ll consider Paul’s exhortation to reconciliation this week and then look at the other four parts next week.
I. Be reconciled.
In verses 2-3, Paul addresses these two godly women, Euodia and Syntyche, and he urges them in the strongest terms, he begs them to agree in the Lord, to be reconciled to one another. Whatever division has come in between them that has separated them in their friendship and in their co-working in the gospel, he wants that to be overcome.
Can you imagine, if your pastor had called you out by name on Sunday to be reconciled to another friend or family member with whom you were disagreeing? He might not live past the next hour if he did that! For Paul to do this though, shows his love and respect for these women, and theirs for him.
These women were part of the core group in Philippi. Paul indicates that Euodia and Syntyche, these godly women, had been part of working with him shoulder to shoulder to advance the gospel in this church from the very beginning, and yet somehow these godly women (and he does not question their godliness or their Christian credentials in the least, rather he says of all of the people mentioned in verses 2 and 3 their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. He’s not talking about people who turned their back on the gospel. He’s talking about real godly women who had worked shoulder to shoulder with one another and with him) have gotten crosswise with one another. And Paul is deeply concerned about that.
This exhortation is perennially relevant. Paul expects this kind of struggle and situation to exist in the church, but he refuses to take it lying down. He is deeply concerned to see reconciliation between those that are estranged in the context of the congregation.
And here’s the encouraging thing: gospel forgiveness and reconciliation cannot be manifested until there has been a break in a relationship which requires gospel forgiveness and reconciliation. So every estrangement that exists in a church is not simply something that burdens God’s heart that He longs to see corrected, but it is an opportunity for gospel forgiveness to be shown. You can’t show the gospel grace of forbearing a wrong against you and forgiving a brother or sister who has wounded you until they’ve wounded you, until they’ve wronged you. And so I simply want to say however deep your estrangement may be from a friend or from a family member, it is only then that the power of God’s grace in gospel forgiveness and reconciliation can be shown. And the Apostle Paul is saying at the very outset, “Be reconciled. Make it a priority to work for these kinds of reconciliations.
And do you notice how he calls on the rest of the congregation? He doesn’t just say, ‘Euodia and Syntyche, work it out. Come on, ladies. Just work it out. Bury the hatchet.’ He’s not; obviously this thing has gotten so deep that they’re beyond working it out between one another. They need help. And so he tells Epaphroditus, who’s delivering this book, and he tells Clement, who’s already there ministering in the congregation, and he tells other fellow workers, ‘Look, I need all of you to work together to bring these dear sisters in Christ back into fellowship with one another.’
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that every member of the congregation has a part and a vested interest in the congregation’s forgiving and reconciling; and, therefore, every member of the congregation is to be praying towards and helping as you are able cultivate a culture of reconciliation in the church where forgiveness is offered and where relationships are restored. It’s that serious to the Apostle Paul, and it’s going to be connected, we’re going to see (in verse 7) to the experience of peace that passes understanding.
Next week, we’ll look at three more exhortations from the Apostle Paul and study the promise of God’s peace.
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 4:52 PM
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Last week, we said that the Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage them how to live the Christian life. We also said that Paul writes this because they have already been saved and now he tells them how they are to live in light of that.
He’s cautioning them against those who, calling themselves Christians, are concerned about the things of this world instead of the things of God and Christ. He gives them four ways to fight against the things of this world.
On Thursday we said that the first was to imitate Paul. In verse 17, Paul invites us to follow his example—and, interestingly, the example of those who follow his example. Paul holds himself up as an example of one who is not yet perfect, but struggling through this life to keep worldliness from getting a grip on his soul. And so, Paul calls us to – by the grace of God – struggle against worldliness.
II. Worldliness kills.
Look at verses 18-19:
“For many of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
He’s not talking about pagans, he is in tears because these are people who claim to love God, and yet they are so worldly that he can characterize them as enemies of the cross! Paul is saying they’re all wrapped up in this life. They want their praise here. They want their affirmation here. This is where they belong. This is where their reward is, and so their “end is destruction, their god is their belly, their glory is their shame, and their minds are set on earthly things.” They claim to be believers, but what they want most in life is here.
Now maybe you're thinking, this message here is all for somebody else, somebody really “worldly.” But, think for a moment about what your greatest cares are in this life, your greatest aspirations for this life are. And how might those differ from an unbeliever’s? And if you don’t have a real good answer for that right now, my guess is you may be struggling with worldliness. Because we ought to be different from people whose citizenship is here.
III. Homesickness helps.
Paul says to us all: ‘Christian, there ought to be in you a deep yearning and longing for home, and this ain’t home. You ought to be homesick for heaven. You ought to want to be in your Father’s arms. You’re to the point where you don’t care what this world says about you, you just want to hear your Father say, ‘Child, welcome home. Enter into the kingdom that I’ve been preparing for you from the foundation of the world.’
If you’re not heavenly-minded, if you’re not homesick for your home, if you’re not longing for something that this world can’t give you, you’re utterly vulnerable to worldliness. Because until that point you are vulnerable to believing that this world can actually give you something that can last.
IV. Therefore, stand fast.
Paul is saying the Christian’s resisting of worldliness does not just happen. It takes resolve. It takes a dogged refusal to abandon one’s citizenship, one’s calling, one’s standards, one’s identity, one’s belief. You don’t just resist worldliness by wishing to resist worldliness; it requires resolve.
And here’s Paul saying to you, ‘Friend, all that you have to do for worldliness to happen is nothing. You don’t have to go out and court worldliness, it’s looking for you. It knows where you live. It knows your street address. It knows your email, knows your cell phone, knows your heart. And unless you are resolved not to buy into the lie that’s all around you, you’ll be sucked in.
So how do you resist it?
You find a believer who’s acting like Paul, and you follow them. You remember that worldliness kills. It will put you in a box and cover you up with dirt, from which you will never recover. You cultivate that homesickness that this world is not my home, and so you live like this world is not your home. And then you stand fast. You strap yourself to the mast by God’s grace, and you say, “Lord, shut my ears; shut my eyes; shut my heart to all the things that the world wants to tell me will give me satisfaction, that will only make me value those things more than You.”
You know, it’s just like the garden, isn’t it? The serpent comes to the woman and says, ‘This piece of fruit…it’ll make you happy. It’ll do the trick. God won’t do the trick. This piece of fruit, it will do the trick.’ And worldliness does the same thing: ‘God won’t make you happy, but this? Oh, it’ll make you happy!’ And what happens? Does it make you happy? It brings you nothing but misery. And it causes your heart to grow dead to the only joy that has ever existed, and the only joy that will last.
And so Paul’s saying, ‘Dear, dear, Christian friend, don’t buy that bill of goods. Stand firm. Act like me, because this world is not your home.’
Posted by Ligon Duncan at 3:14 PM