God’s goals – Philippians 3:12-21

The famous English sculptor Henry Moore was asked a fascinating question by literary critic Donald Hall. “Now that you are eighty, you must know the secret of life. What is it?” Moore paused ever so slightly, with just enough time to smile before answering. “The secret of life,” he mused, “is to have a task, something you do your entire life, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.”

I like this! Moore recognized that the secret of life is pursuing a task that you can’t possibly pull off. Unfortunately, as Christians, we can find ourselves lulled into complacency because we don’t stretch ourselves to achieve God-sized goals. Stop for just a moment and ask yourself: “Am I currently doing anything that requires divine intervention?” If the truth be known, most of us would do just fine without God’s enablement. All the tasks that we do on a daily basis don’t seem to require His assistance. Of course, I would suggest that this is precisely the problem! We may not have God-sized goals. It is even possible that we may not have God’s goals at all.
In Philippians 3:12–21, Paul imparts the secret of life. He is going to call you and me to an impossible task that can only be pulled off by God. This great task is pursuing intimacy with Jesus Christ, which leads to significance, purpose, and joy in this life and in the life to come. Thus, Paul urges you to set your earthly goals on heavenly gains. He provides two training tips which will help in this endeavor.

1. Pursue God’s prize (3:12–16). In this section, Paul likens the Christian life to a race in the isthmian games. The goal of such a race is to win the prize (usually a wreath). The metaphor of a race does not represent salvation, rather it depicts sanctification. In other words, those who enter this race are believers who are called to spiritual maturity—knowing Christ intimately and passionately. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to become so preoccupied with the tyranny of the urgent that we miss what is most important. It’s so easy to become victims of the loudest or latest commands. Everyone has a plan for your life. But you have to decide what matters most. Paul, whose focused life made him a literal world-changer, shares his personal experience in 3:12–14. He writes, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that [lit. “if I may even”] I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is quick to assert that he has not yet reached the goal described in 3:10 and 11—the prize of knowing Christ and being rewarded by Him. Twice he acknowledges this: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect” (3:12) and “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet” (3:13). It is a relief to realize that even Paul did not reach perfection in this life. He did not feel like he had arrived. If this is true of Paul, how much more is this true of me? Paul has a humble dissatisfaction, a holy discontentment. He doesn’t compare himself with other believes; he compares himself with Jesus Christ and recognizes that he has a long ways to go! Thus, Paul says twice, “I press on” (3:12, 14). This present tense verb (dioko) is often translated “pursue or persecute.” It is a strong verb that is used figuratively here of one who daily runs swiftly in a race to obtain the prize. The prize (3:14) is referred to as “it” in 3:12 and 13. The prize refers to the goal of knowing Christ that also results in eternal reward. Paul strives to “lay hold” (katalambano) of this great pursuit because Christ “laid hold” (katalambano) of him.

God’s goal is not just to “get you in the door.” He is not merely looking to “save” you and provide you with “fire insurance.” Instead, He is working to transform you by moving you toward Christ-likeness. God saved you, not just for heaven; He saved you so that you would be of earthly good. God has called you TO something. He DOES have a plan for your life. His plan will lead you to joy, fulfillment, contentment, and eternal blessing. God’s great goal is for you to pursue the prize of intimacy with Christ and eternal reward. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Thank you, Wayne, for theses spiritual platitudes, but tell me how to adopt the mentality.” In 3:13, Paul shares two specific ways you can pursue God’s prize: First, choose to forget what lies behind. Past successes are just that—PAST. Yet, it is easy to live in yesterday and revert to what Bruce Springsteen calls “the glory days.” You know, those days in high school or college when you were really something (or at least thought you were). It’s easy to fixate on past successes in your marriage, family, professional life, or spiritual life. But in our world, it’s all about, “What have you done for me lately?” This is true at work. You can’t be satisfied with a great year in 2014; your boss expects even greater things in 2015. As a teacher, I can’t rest because I taught one decent lesson. You most likely expect me to come back Sunday after Sunday and do the same thing again and again and again. As believers, we can’t rest on our laurels.
We also can’t get bogged down in our past failures. Perhaps you gave away your virginity at a young age, divorced your spouse, neglected your children, or rebelled against God’s Word. It is easy to beat yourself up over issues from your past and assume that God can’t possibly use you. This is a lie from Satan that only results in discouragement. You need to know that all of your past is forgiven, forgotten, forever. Consequently, it’s never too late to press on in Christ and be who He wants you to be. God can make a great finish out of a slow start. Ultimately, there is no past defeat so devastating as to exclude us from going forward in the present; there is no past success so great as to exempt us from going forward to more victory. Thus, we must consciously refuse to dwell on the things which lie behind us. Past failures will keep you discouraged; past successes will keep you apathetic or complacent. Both are not from God.

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than four minutes. Within two months, John Landy eclipsed the record by 1.4 seconds. On August 7, 1954, the two met together for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?” As he turned to look, Bannister took the lead. Landy later told a Time magazine reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!” What a great reminder to you and me. Don’t look back unless you’re planning on going there. May we press on in Christ and not look back.

The second way you can pursue God’s prize is choose to reach forward to what lies ahead. The word for “reaching forward” (epekteino) speaks of stretching out or straining forth, as a competitor in a race. This word pictures the body of a runner bent forward, his hand outstretched toward the goal, and his eye fastened upon it. Paul is using this athletic metaphor of the ancient isthmian games where a runner would intently strain and win his race. Upon crossing the finish line he would be called up by the president of the games to receive his prize, possibly a laurel wreath, which was the symbol of victory. In this passage Paul is reaching forward and pressing on “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a heavenward call of Paul to Christ Jesus Himself and the promise of eternal rewards. Paul longs to hear Jesus say “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21).

In 3:15–16, Paul transitions from his own personal experience to apply an exhortation to the church. He writes, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [mature], have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” The “therefore” (oun) ties back into 3:10–14 and emphasizes the theme of spiritual maturity. Paul’s exhortation is: Keep living to the same standard to which you have attained. Apply what you know. Persevere in your faith. Don’t worry about what you don’t know. Take a baby step this week. Just be obedient one day at a time. We are all at a different place in our spiritual growth. However, as individuals and as a community, we are called to press on and pursue Christ.
As I reflected on these verses this past week, I was deeply challenged and convicted. I have a thimble’s worth of love and care for others compared to the Lord’s endless oceans of love and care. That is why I find so much comfort and encouragement in 3:15. When believers’ minds are set on other pursuit and goals, God will reveal it to them. He will make it clear. I just need to learn to leave it in His hands. What a comfort to know that when believers get off track God will point it out to them so that they can once again press on. Of course, certain believers may choose to ignore God and rebel against His authority, but He is capable of dealing with them. His love is eternal and constant.

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was asked by a reporter to rank his priorities. He responded, “I believe in God, my family, and McDonald’s.” Then he added, “When I get to the office, I reverse the order.” I sure appreciate Kroc’s refreshing honesty. What a rarity! If you are honest, perhaps you would have to acknowledge that work, family, marriage, or a hobby is your top priority. Regardless, as we conclude this section, Paul wants you to remember to pursue God’s prize—intimacy with Jesus. When you focus on Jesus, He tends to grant you His grace in every area of your life. It’s all about putting first things first. Set your earthly goals on heavenly gains.

[You must pursue God’s prize because this is what you were created for. Moreover, Jesus, and Jesus alone is the only pursuit that will completely satisfy you. Paul’s second training tip is…]

2. Imitate godly leaders (3:17–21). Scholars often wrestle with how this section connects with the previous. However, a careful examination of these verses makes it clear that one strategic way we can pursue God’s prize and grow to Christian maturity is through the influence of other believers. We desperately need each other. In 3:17, Paul writes, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Paul commands the Philippians to follow his example. He issues similar exhortations at least eight other times throughout the New Testament. While this may sound arrogant to you, Paul understood the importance of providing a real life, flesh and blood example for other believers. One of the great dangers in Christian circles is that no one wants to be a role model. We fancy ourselves with the mentality of many contemporary athletes: “Just let me do my thing, but don’t expect me to be someone for others to look up to.” If you are a Christian, you don’t have that luxury. You are either a good example or a bad example. You can’t opt out of being an example. I like what Paul does here. First, he says, “Follow my example.” But he doesn’t stop there. He is not seeking to produce Paul clones. He’s trying to produce Jesus-look likes. So, he again commands the church to “observe” (skopeo) others who live out Christ-like lives. (The “us” includes Timothy and Epaphroditus.) Paul is smart. He doesn’t want all the imitation focused upon him; he wants to make sure that the church recognizes that there are many godly examples that they can learn from. Are you also able to share the wealth and say, “There are a lot of other godly men and women in our church?”

I have two important questions to ask you: (1) who are you following? (NOT JUST ON TWITTER) If there isn’t another brother or sister that you’re presently following, I can assure you that you’re not growing spiritually to the degree that you should be. There needs to be another believer in your life further along than you are who you imitate. This is how you will mature in Christ. (2) Who is following you? Are you able to say to your spouse, your children, and your fellow Christians, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ?” I hope so. This is critical. However, the safe answer is to limit your example to: “my spouse, children, and grandchildren.” But this may be myopic. The average American has a sphere of influence of 250 people…some less, some more. This means that God likely desires you and me to impact and influence far more people than we currently are. How will you fulfill the influence that God has given you?

In 3:18–21, Paul gives two reasons (“for,” 3:18, 20) why it’s important to imitate godly examples. First, in 3:18–19, he draws upon ungodly examples and contrasts them with the godly examples in 3:17. Paul writes, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” Before we look at these ungodly examples, it is important to humbly acknowledge that we cannot be certain of the identity of these people. Many commentators think that this group was the Judaizers, whom Paul has already warned against in 3:3. The problem with this view is: The people in 3:18–19 seem more inclined to loose, licentious living than to the legalistic, ascetic practices of the Judaizers. It seems clear that Paul is warning about people who turned the grace of God into licentiousness, taking their freedom from the Jewish law off the deep end into supposed freedom from God’s moral law. Hence, it appears that Paul is writing of yet another group the Philippians must be wary of. It seems to me that Paul is speaking of professing believers who have walked away from the church. Paul is deeply concerned about these people and about the influence they could exert on the church at Philippi. He weeps over these unbelievers and shares five descriptive characteristics that contrast with true believers.
1. False professors are “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul is not talking about doctrine here; he is referring to the walk/lifestyle of these people. It is also worth pointing out that Paul says these individuals are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” not “enemies of Christ.” This suggests these individuals may seek to identify themselves with Christ, but diminish or distort what the cross represents.
2. False professors are those “whose end is destruction.” These individuals never believed in Christ alone as their Savior and consequently are headed to eternal judgment.
3. False professors are those “whose god is their appetite.” This sinful characteristic is not just a reference to gluttonous behavior. It can refer to the unbridled pursuit of any physical gratification (an appetite for sex, money, power, etc.). Their God does not reside in the heavens but in their body. This is a graphic way of saying that they live only for the temporal pleasures of this life and their lives are enslaved to gratifying their lusts.
4. False professors are those “whose glory is in their shame.” This is a description of those who are proud of their excesses (e.g., drunkenness and promiscuity). It is glorying in their sin and their independence from God. It is a lifestyle that says, “I don’t need you, God. I call the shots. I have my freedom.”
5. False professors are those “who set their minds on earthly things.” This is the summary statement. These individuals put their heart and hope in the things of the world. Instead of setting their earthly goals on heavenly gains, they set their earthly goals on earthly gains.
The point of 3:17–19 is that people matter. In fact, your relationships can make the difference in whether or not you are rewarded by Christ. What will keep you from gaining a heavenly prize? If you are not following godly examples, do so today. Don’t let anyone take your prize.

The second reason that it is important to imitate godly examples is: Heaven is your home (3:20–21). Paul states: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” We are aliens and strangers just passing through this life. Our “citizenship” (politeuma) is not on earth, it is in heaven. Thus, we ought to live lives that portray our position in Christ. A year and ½ ago, Karen and I went to England. In order to get in, I had to have a passport – from the United States. I was reminded many times while I was there that I was a guest – not a citizen. Similarly, it should be clear to you and me that we are citizens of another country—a heavenly one! This should compel us to live for Christ and to set our earthly goals on heavenly gains.
In the meantime, as heavenly citizens we should be eager for Jesus’ return. The phrase “eagerly wait” (apekdechomai) speaks of zealous anticipation. In classical Greek, this word has the idea of a child standing on tiptoe waiting for his daddy to come home from work at the end of the day. What a picture! I don’t have kids that do that anymore – but sometimes, my dogs come to greet me! As believers in Jesus, we should have this same type of childish fervor. Like Paul, we should have a radical fixation on Christ’s return. If we love Christ’s appearing, He will one day reward us with the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8).
Additionally, we have the promise and expectation of the glorious transformation of our earthly bodies.
We are on our way to our eternal homeland where we will receive our eternal bodies. In that day there will no longer be any trials, tests, temptations, or sins. Furthermore, our body will not experience weakness, sickness, or decay. On the contrary, we will be given glorified bodies just like Jesus! Right now we are caterpillars creeping slowly across the sidewalk, unaware that one day we will be butterflies flying into the heavenly realm. Since this is our glorious future, it should have profound implications for our present.
At the foot of one of the Swiss Alps is a marker honoring a man who fell to his death while attempting to climb to the top. The marker gives his name and then this brief epitaph “He died climbing.” This should be the epitaph of every Christian. We should be able to say with confidence as we slip from this world into the next that “we died climbing” as we pressed onward toward the prize of grabbing hold of Christ Jesus and living like Him.

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Choose your relationship – lose your religion

Brad Pitt. Just the mention of his name causes women all over the world to melt. If somehow you’re not familiar with Brad Pitt, he is a movie star featured in many films including Legends of the Fall, Fight Club, Troy, Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He was married to Jennifer Anniston from the TV show “Friends,” and is currently married to popular Angelina Jolie.. In an interview with a German Web site, Pitt was asked if he believed in God. He smiled and replied, “No, no, no!” Pitt insists he is not a spiritual person: “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, and then there’s no point thinking about it.” In the meantime, Pitt claims he’s found happiness in life. He says, “I am on the path I want to be on.” And right now, that path is a 2½ hour drive from Berlin to Prague on one of his many motorcycles. When asked by the reporter how many motorcycles he owns Pitt responds “Sorry, but I’ve got a problem with that. To be honest, I don’t know how many I have.” Pitt admits his family and a couple of his motorbikes are his most important possessions in life. In this list he also included Jolie’s backside, along with a prized Michael Jackson t-shirt.

Apparently, this good old Midwest boy lost whatever religion he may have had. Yet, despite what our world may say, the Bible teaches that no amount of fame and fortune means anything apart from knowing Jesus Christ personally. Unfortunately, there are many people like Brad Pitt who are losing their religion. But there can be great wisdom in “losing your religion” because religion is humankind’s attempt to reach God. On the other hand, Christianity is God reaching down to humanity through the person and work of Christ. The religious and irreligious alike need to understand that nothing and no one is saved apart from Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:1–11, Paul challenges you to lose your religion; choose your relationship. He provides two directives that lead to a right relationship with Christ.

1. Shred your religious résumé (3:1–6). Since religion doesn’t save, Paul urges you to renounce your religious background and tendencies. He begins 3:1 with the infamous phrase: “Finally my brethren.” The word “finally” (loipos) makes it sound like Paul is wrapping up his letter. However, he is only at the halfway mark. He has written sixty verses (1:1–2:30) and still has forty–four more to go (3:1–4:23!) As you can imagine, the phrase “finally my brethren” has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers. A little boy was sitting with his dad in church and whispered, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son!” This story is humorous because there is so much truth in it. We all know that when a preacher says “finally,” he’s not really done. In most cases, he is merely warming up! Admittedly, many preachers (undoubtedly myself included) inadvertently tease the congregation by giving the impression that they are landing the sermon, only to descend, fill up, and lift off again. Of course, we preachers could argue that the translation “finally” in 3:1 provides us apostolic precedence!4 Regardless, here the Greek adjective loipos doesn’t mean “finally”; instead, it is a transitional marker that should be translated “so then.”

Paul now issues a command: “rejoice in the Lord.” Literally: “You all keep rejoicing in the Lord.” Throughout Philippians, Paul emphasizes the theme of joy. The words “joy” (chara), “rejoice” (chairo), and “rejoice with” (sunchairo) appear a combined total of sixteen times. Here for the first time, however, Paul follows his admonition to rejoice with the qualifier “in the Lord.” This phrase (or “in Christ”) is the key phrase of Philippians and occurs nearly twenty times. It echoes the language of the Psalms that admonishes the righteous to “rejoice in the Lord and be glad” (Ps 32:11) and to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (33:1). In both of these instances, the psalmist urges the worshiping community to praise the Lord for what He has done for them. In other words, regardless of your circumstances, you can always rejoice in God’s attributes and His provisions. While happiness depends upon happenings; joy depends upon Jesus. It is a decision of your will. You can choose to celebrate Christ in the midst of the most difficult circumstances in your life. This happens when you reject discontentment and instead choose to praise.

In Africa there is a fruit called the “taste berry.” It changes a person’s taste so that everything, including sour fruit, becomes sweet and pleasant for several hours after eating the berry. (Since I hate vegetables, I’m on a quest for some taste berries.) Praise could be considered the “taste berry” of the Christian life. When you spend your day in praise and gratitude even the sour circumstances in your life can taste sweet. While this may seem trite to you, it is nonetheless true. If you praise God for who He is and what He has done for you, gratitude will well up within you. As a result, rather than asking God to remove pain, suffering, and trials from your life, you may find yourself praying that He accomplishes His will in the midst of them. I challenge you today to take a notecard and write down the characteristics and attributes of God that are meaningful to you. You may also want to write down the many good gifts that God has given you. Spend time reading through this card daily (perhaps several times a day) and watch God transform your perspective on your adverse circumstances.
Paul concludes 3:1 by saying: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” What are “the same things” of which Paul writes? They are Paul’s frequent exhortations to rejoice during affliction (cf. 2:28, 29; 3:1; 4:4). Paul writes, “It’s no problem for me to wax eloquent on the need to rejoice in the midst of suffering. The Lord knows I’ve had plenty of experience in this endeavor.” More importantly, Paul declares that his repetition is a “safeguard” (asphales) for the church. This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.” Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure. The reason is simple: Words sink in over time. Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. So today “rejoice in the Lord…and again I say REJOICE!”

In 3:2–6, Paul discusses the danger of religion and religious people. He begins with a warning in 3:2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”This is very strong language—definitely not very PC! Three times he calls these religious zealots derogatory names. Three times he uses the word “beware!” Paul’s word to the church is: Look over your shoulder and look ahead. Pray, but don’t close your eyes. Although it may appear that Paul is referring to three different groups of people; he is describing three distinguishing characteristics of a single religious group called Judaizers. These Jewish extremists believed that circumcision and other works were necessary for salvation. So after Paul shared the message of faith alone in Christ alone in Philippi, they came onto the scene and told the church his message was inadequate. They had the audacity to insist that the uncircumcised Greek and Roman Philippians were not saved after all. Now you can see why Paul is so righteously indignant and downright ticked off!

First, Paul calls the Judaizers “dogs.” In any day and age, it’s not a compliment to be called a dog; however, in Paul’s day it was a real slap. Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on road kill, filth, and garbage—they were vivid images of the unclean. Rabbis called Gentiles “dogs” because they did not believe in the one true God—Yahweh. The great irony of this rebuke is Paul turns the table on his fellow Jews and declares: “YOU are the ones who have rejected God! You are the ones who are leading people astray through your false teaching. YOUare the dirty dogs!
Second, Paul calls the Judaizers “evil workers.” The term “worker” (ergates) is typically used in a positive sense of a laborer or missionary. But here Paul adds the adjective “evil” (kakos) to denote a worker who perverts God’s purposes. This is true spirit of treachery.
Third, Paul calls the Judaizers “the false circumcision.” The term translated “false circumcision” (katatome) literally means “mutilation.” Instead of using the typical biblical term for circumcision (peritome, cf. 3:3), Paul refuses to dignify this false teaching by giving it a biblical name. Circumcision, the Judaizers’ greatest source of pride, is interpreted by Paul as mutilation. He is saying, “YOU have mutilated the flesh of these young brethren!”
In 3:3, Paul contrasts false religion with a relationship with Christ. Specifically, he certifies that the church is the true people of God: “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul declares that Christians are not mutilators of the flesh. Instead believers are the true circumcision, spiritually speaking. Paul gives three evidences that Christians indeed are the people of God rather than the unbelieving Jews.

First, Christians “worship in the spirit of God.” In this context this phrase could mean that our worship is internal, not merely external. However, this word for “worship” (latreuo) connotes servanthood or service or coming under the authority of someone. So Paul is likely suggesting that believers are called to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), yet are also called to external expressions of that worship.

Second, Christians “glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s word for “glory” (kauchaomai) can mean “to boast,” and, together with two other closely related words (kauchema and kauchesis), is often used in his letters to indicate one’s confidence. We are the true people of God, says Paul, because we boast that the Messiah has come in Jesus.

Third, Christians “put no confidence in the flesh.” “Flesh” (sarx) here refers to “earthly things or physical advantages.” When you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you dare say, “We made it didn’t we? Jesus, you did your part by dying on the cross, but I also did mine through my works of righteousness. We partnered together in my salvation.” I can’t think of a declaration more repugnant to the Lord. Instead, we must fall on our faces and acknowledge that we don’t deserve God’s goodness and grace.

In 3:4–6, Paul seems to respond to those religious objectors who might be brazen enough to say, “Well, Paul, perhaps you prefer grace because you don’t have the works or the religious pedigree that we do.” Paul squashes this notion like a bug when he declares: “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul was the crème de la crème. He was a religious connoisseur. In this passage, Paul presents a succinct list of seven reasons why he could boast in the flesh. The first four relate to his birth:
(1) “circumcised the eighth day”: he was a legitimate Jew from the beginning, not a proselyte; (2) “of the nation of Israel”: he had a pure lineage that traced directly back to Jacob (i.e., Israel); (3) “of the tribe of Benjamin”: the tribe of Benjamin provided Israel with its first king and remained loyal to the house of David; and (4) “a Hebrew of Hebrews”: he was not raised as a Hellenistic Jew, but in a family that retained the Hebrew language and customs. The last credentials relate to Paul’s achievements: (5) “as to the Law, a Pharisee”: he was a member of the strictest, most orthodox and patriotic sect of Judaism; (6) “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”: he was a zealous defender of the integrity of Judaism, and before his encounter with Christ, he aggressively sought to overthrow the early Christian communities; and (7) “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”: from the outward perspective of conduct and observance of the Mosaic law, he lived by the book. By rattling off his credentials, Paul successfully demonstrates that he can beat the Judaizers at their own religious game!
What do you boast in? Where does your confidence lie? Perhaps you have claimed one or more of the following. I was…born into a Christian country, raised by Christian parents or grandparents, baptized or confirmed in a church, or educated in a Christian school. Maybe even now you claim…I am a church member, I read my Bible and pray, or I am a good person. While these are blessings and privileges, they do not make you a Christian, or put you in good standing with God. Works have their place, but not when it comes to salvation.
I don’t want anyone to be impressed with my education. It’s all from God! So lose your religion; choose your relationship.
[Paul is clear. In order to have a right relationship with God, you must shred your religious résumé. His second directive is equally straightforward.]
2. Know your ultimate purpose (3:7–11). Instead of trusting in your religious résumé, it is crucial to trust the person and work of Christ. This section forces you to ask: What’s really important in my life? Paul writes in 3:7: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The word “but” marks a sharp contrast with the previous section. The “things” that were gain to Paul is a reference to his religious résumé (3:4–6). The term “count” (hegeomai) is used three times in verses 3:7–8. It is a mathematical term that means “to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard.” The word “loss” (zemia) is only found in two other places in the New Testament. This is a business term for “forfeit.” Paul is saying that at a point in the past when he was converted to Christ, he made a decision of his will to count everything that he had accomplished as loss—making no contribution whatsoever to his salvation. He transferred his trust from his own supposed works of righteousness to the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness. Today, if you have never believed in Christ, transfer your trust in your own works to Christ’s perfect work.
Verses 8–11 constitute one long sentence. The main part of the sentence is: “I count all things to be loss.” The rest of the sentence is made up of three subordinate clauses that present three reasons to lose your religion and choose your relationship. In 3:8, Paul moves from a past act to a present lifestyle. Not only did Paul count all things loss in the past; he continues to do so in the present as a believer. He puts it like this: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” In his present Christian life, Paul counts all of his achievements as “loss.” This refers to works such as writing Scripture, preaching Christ, evangelizing unbelievers, planting churches, and mentoring missionaries and pastors. Granted, all of these works of service are wonderful; however, they do not measure up with “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” Ultimately, Paul concludes that these works and many more are “rubbish.” Now this translation is fine if you live across the pond in the UK; however, most Americans don’t use this term.

Let me explain. They try to be prim and proper. But the Greek term that is translated “rubbish” (skubala) means “dung, excrement, poop.” This term is so strong that some Greek scholars even use expletives to define this word. However, if I used the appropriate expletive, it would be the only thing you would potentially remember about my lesson. But I will unashamedly and unapologetically use the word “poop.” Paul says, “Human accomplishments are ‘poop’ compared to the pursuit of knowing Christ.” Even Isaiah 64:6 declares that our righteousness is like “filthy garments” (see the NET’s literal rendering: “a menstrual rag”)

Our “good works” apart from Christ are putrid in God’s nostrils. They cannot earn salvation or even maintain salvation. Even impressive religious works that aren’t carried out by abiding in Christ cannot win God’s favor or bring eventual reward. They will result in “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). I want to come to the place in my life and ministry where I truly believe this. I want to be a man who clings to Christ because I recognize that I can’t do anything apart from Him (John 15:5). May I lose my religion and choose my relationship. I pray this for you as well.
In 3:9, Paul indicates that he longs to “be found in Him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul insists that salvation is the work of God. The phrase translated “through faith in Christ” is better rendered “through the faithfulness of Christ” (see NET). This means Jesus Christ initiates and sustains salvation. Someone came to an Orthodox priest one day and asked, “Father, are we saved by faith or by works?” The answer was filled with wisdom. “Neither. We are saved by God’s mercy.” What a great insight! Salvation comes from God. It was His idea and He ought to receive all the glory. Your only response should be to appropriate His offer. This is what the Bible calls “faith” (pistis). It is simply taking God at His Word by receiving His promise that Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him. This is what it means to be “found in Him.”

Would you humor me and take a piece of paper (with your name on it) and your Bible? Let your Bible represent Christ and the piece of paper your life. Now take the paper, place it in the Bible, and then close the Bible so that the paper is completely covered. Now the paper (your life) is “in” the Bible (Jesus Christ). It’s not enough be “near” Christ or “next to” Christ. True salvation means to be “in” Christ so that when God looks at you, He doesn’t see you, He sees Jesus instead. Your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven, forgotten, forever! That’s what Paul means in 3:9 when he speaks of “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
However, Paul doesn’t stop with faith in Christ. He doesn’t want you to sit, soak, and sour because he’s not satisfied with mere “fire insurance.” Instead he longs for you and me to press on to maturity in Christ. In 3:10, Paul shares his mission and ultimate purpose in life: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

To “know” (ginosko) Christ does not mean to have head knowledge about Him, but to “know Him” intimately and passionately. Ginosko and its Hebrew counterpart yada can even be used of sexual intercourse. Here, in this context, however, to know Christ is to experience intimate fellowship with Him and live out His life. Paul wants to know Christ’s resurrection, but not just in an intellectual sense. Paul wants to be resurrected in a spiritual sense on a daily basis. He also wants to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Most Christians would prefer to skip this aspect of knowing Christ. Yet, suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. Over the course of my life, I have battled back pain. Similarly, if you are a member of God’s family, it is guaranteed that you will share in the suffering of Christ. It is hereditary. Yet, suffering will grow you up in Christ like nothing else. Lastly, Paul yearned to be conformed to Christ’s death, which means a daily dying to self and living for Christ. The story is told that when James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship that had carried him there sought to turn him back by saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert’s reply demonstrates the meaning of Philippians 3:10. He said, “We died before we came here.” This is what it means to be conformed to Christ’s death. For Paul and for you and me, knowing Christ can get better and better. Karen and I have been married 28 years and I can testify to you that a Christ-honoring marriage can get better and better with every passing year. Similarly, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I love and appreciate Him. Is anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus Christ? If so, ask the Lord to give you a greater passion for Him.

Finally, and I really do mean, finally, Paul concludes this section with an unusual and surprising statement expressing a desire to “…attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). The NASB begins this verse with “in order that”; however, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Greek text. Instead, it is the adverbial phrase ei pos which means “if somehow” (see NASB margin). This leads to several observations.
First, whatever Paul means by “the resurrection from the dead,” he is unsure that he will attain it. It is unlikely, then, that he is referring to his bodily resurrection.
Second, the term translated “resurrection” (exanastasis) literally means “out-from resurrection.” It appears that Paul’s hope is not simply to be physically resurrected, but to gain what he calls the “out-resurrection.” The compound form points to a fuller participation in the resurrection.
Third, attaining to the resurrection from the dead is dependent upon being conformed to Jesus Christ’s sufferings and death. Paul knows that he has to do something in addition to place his faith in Christ. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection is required, sharing His sufferings is required, and conforming oneself to His death by laying down one’s life for others is required in order to participate in the “out-resurrection.”
Fourth, this out-resurrection is a reward, not a gift of grace. Verse 14 likens it to a “prize.” Paul is concerned with achieving a distinctive resurrection life—a new life that stands out from the rest. This calls to mind Hebrews 11:35, which speaks of a “better resurrection” for those who suffer. Jesus speaks of believers being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” for humility, servitude, and obedience (Luke 14:14). Paul is not merely hoping that he will attain physical resurrection. That’s a done deal! He is confident in his salvation. Rather he is seeking to be distinctively resurrected; resurrected to stand before Christ who will approve his life and give him important new responsibilities in the age to come. Thus, in this single passage, Paul hits justification, sanctification, and glorification. Yet, his goal is that the Lord Jesus Christ receives all glory, honor, and praise.

You are likely familiar with the story of the Titanic. But you may not have heard of a rich lady who was in her cabin when the order to abandon the ship was given. There was no time for packing possessions. She noticed two things on her dressing table: her jewel box and a bowl of oranges. She made a rapid assessment of what was most valuable to her given the urgency of the situation. Wisely she abandoned her jewels and grabbed the oranges instead. She recognized that they might give nourishment on the open sea whereas her jewels would be worthless to her. Likewise, you are called to invest your life in a pursuit that doesn’t seem very significant to the world, the pursuit of knowing Christ. In this life knowing Jesus will provide you purpose and significance. More importantly, if you live your life for Christ, in the life to come you will be eternally grateful. Lose your religion; choose your relationship. Make sure today that you choose Jesus Christ. The Bible declares, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Don’t delay; choose Christ today! Seek to know Him intimately. Live for Him all the days of your life. You will never, ever regret it.

Manly men make the ministry

Two of a Kind (Philippians 2:19-30) 00:00

I may be accused of being a sexist who is insensitive to the needs of women. It is entirely possible that I use too many sports or movie illustrations and have a hankering for referring to “manly men.” I always strive to be sensitive to women and to balance my teaching with plenty of feminine illustrations and applications. However, if you are looking for me to change, I can assure you that I will not. The reason is simple: I believe that manly men are essential for building healthy churches.” Show “Why Men Hate Church” book.
Now the phrase “manly men” may raise some questions (and some eyebrows) so I need to briefly explain myself. When I speak of manly men, I am not referring to men who like to hunt, fish, barbeque, work on cars, sport chest hair, and watch football. Seriously, I define manly men as men who have a passion for Christ and His church. Such spiritual studs can come in any size, shape, and style; however, they all love the Lord and are serious about building God’s kingdom.
Today you’ll learn about two men who epitomize manliness. Their names are Timothy and Epaphroditus. I’m sure they won’t mind if we call them Tim and Pappy for short. The apostle Paul honors the lives of these two men in Philippians 2:19–30. I must tell you, this is unusual. Paul customarily refers to people by name at the end of his letters. He does so here because these two men serve as models of his argument. Tim and Pappy are living examples of men who have exhibited humility and unity, and who work out their salvation (2:12) based on service to the Lord and to others (2:1–4). Throughout this passage, there is an echo that serves as a resounding gong: Manly men make the ministry. This truth will be apparent as we examine the lives of Tim and Pappy. Two defining principles emanate from their lives.

1. Manly men are selfless servants (2:19–24). A truly manly man is a man whose submissive mind is seen in his servant’s attitude. In 2:19 Paul writes, “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.” Paul’s use of “hope” (elpizo) here is more than a wish—it is a “confident expectation.” The use of the phrase “in the Lord Jesus” is not akin to our contemporary glib comment, “Lord willing.” Instead, it shows that Paul doesn’t make decisions based simply on common sense or on what he thinks is best, but he submits everything to the Lord and His will.5 This ought to be true for every manly man as well. Masculine ministry is achieved as manly men submit themselves to the manliest man who has ever lived—the God-man—the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is confident that Jesus will permit him to send Timothy to the Philippian church. He even says that he expects to be encouraged by their condition. The verb “encouraged” (eupsucheo) is used only here in the NT. In Paul’s day, this word appeared on ancient Greek gravestones and in letters of condolence. The word carries the idea of “may it be well with your soul.” Paul believes the best about this church. What an example he is. Do you expect to find encouragement and comfort from what God is doing in and through your church? Or do you find it easy to be cynical, critical, and pessimistic? As a manly man, you have a responsibility to lead your family in optimism. If you are single, you also have a responsibility in the church to set an example of confident hope and expectation for your church family. Today, what are you believing God for in your church? What do you expect Him to do? How are you trusting God and stepping out in faith? Manly men make the ministry.

In 2:20–21, Paul provides two reasons (“for”) that he is sending Tim to the Philippians: “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” Paul indicates that Tim is a one of a kind. Apart from Paul there is no one else who cares for the Philippians like Tim. There is some question as to whom the “all” refers to. Most likely Paul is contrasting Tim’s selfless servanthood with all people in general. Regardless, Tim was deeply loved by the church and he also was genuinely concerned about the church.

The adverb “genuinely” (gneios) occurs only here in the New Testament. However, a related adjective gnesios occurs four times. It can refer to children born in wedlock (i.e., they are legitimate and “genuine” children). Interestingly, Paul uses this term elsewhere to refer to Timothy and Titus as “true” sons in the faith. Though the stress in Phil 2:20 is on the idea of sincerity, the root idea of “legitimate children” should not be overlooked. Thus, Timothy is genuinely interested in the Philippians because he is a genuine son of Paul. The word “concerned” (merimnao) is often used of negative worry and anxiety, yet here, it is used of genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. Can you say that you are genuinely concerned about your church? How does this concern manifest itself? It’s been observed that believers live either in Phil 1:21 or in Phil 2:21. Those who embrace the truth of 1:21 (“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”) share Paul’s desire to find true profit in seeking the profit of others (see 1 Cor 10:33). Manly men make the ministry.

Paul, again, continues to rave about his boy, Tim. In 2:22 he states, “But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.” Timothy has demonstrated his worthiness as a servant of Christ and of Paul for more than ten years. He had served as the apostle’s fellow worker and as his protégé. The phrase “proven worth” (dokime) refers to a testing of one’s character. This word group is used of assaying ore to see if it is of mixed alloy or pure metal. This is like “gold refined in the fire,” tested, purified, proved. This description of Timothy is fitting since his name in Greek means “he honors God.” Tim is living up to his name. He does not cave under pressure. Instead, he proves himself over time. It has been said that people are like teabags…you never know how strong they are until you drop them in hot water. Timothy’s consistency is evidenced over time as he has worked with Paul like a son with his father, serving together to see the good news of Christ go out and touch lives.

The word “served” deserves special notice. There are several Greek words that refer to serving. But the word “served” in 2:22 is remarkable. It is the Greek verb douleuo, which refers to living out your life as a slave. When we use the phrase, “slaving away,” we use it in a negative sense of menial and undesirable labor. But Paul means it as a humble privilege. To serve the Lord Jesus Christ as His willing slave is a high honor. Is it an honor for you or a chore? A lot has to do with the quality of your love for Christ. If you are just doing church work, that can get old. But if you are slaving away in all that you do for the Lord, there is blessing in this life and the life to come.
Before we leave 2:22 it is important to recognize that “proven worth” doesn’t happen overnight. Too many people want instant spirituality and overnight maturity. God doesn’t work that way. Producing Christian character takes time and effort. Here’s a simple equation: T + D = G. T = Time, D = Discipline and G = Growth. This formula works in every area of life, whether it is weight lifting, piano playing, Scripture memory, or learning to speak Spanish. Nothing worthwhile can be conquered in one evening. You can’t blitz your way to spiritual leadership. You’ve got to do what Timothy did—put yourself under a good leader and then pay the price over time. Are you a flash in the pan? Are you a one-hit wonder? If so, recalibrate your spiritual life and commit for long haul service.

Paul closes this first section in 2:23–24 by saying, “Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.” Paul longs to send Timothy and even make the trip to Philippi himself. He misses his brothers and sisters. It’s been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some people must really love the church.” However, Paul couldn’t be at church; he was in prison. Men, what is your excuse? One of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse and children is to take them to church. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you want to be a manly man, you must–I repeat, MUST–show spiritual leadership in your home by packing your Bible and your family and take them to church. Remember, you are the spiritual thermostat in the home. Most wives and children will never rise above the man in their lives. Your spiritual involvement in the lives of your family members is critical.

Now, I know full well that this is the biblical ideal, and as we know: There’s the ideal, and then there’s the real deal. So if your dad is an unbeliever or a spiritual sloth don’t lose heart. Timothy’s father was a Greek, who evidently was an unbeliever, and his mother Eunice was a Jewish convert to Christianity. Timothy was raised in the Lord by his mom and his godly grandmother Lois (2 Tim 1:3–5) and he turned out to be a phenomenal pastor and a manly man. I have often seen God in His grace do this in the lives of men. He doesn’t even need a godly mom and grandma to work on His behalf. He sovereignly calls men to Himself and makes sure that they grow spiritually. A perfect example of this is Epaphroditus who was not fortunate enough to be raised in a godly home environment. The name Epaphroditus means “belonging to Aphrodite,” the pagan goddess of love. No Christian parent would name a child that. But somewhere along the way Epaphroditus met Jesus Christ, and even though his name remained the same, his allegiance was forever changed, and so was his character. Men, God certainly doesn’t need you, but He wants to use you. What a difference you can make in the lives of your spouse and children. Even if you’re not married or don’t have children, you can invest well in up and coming Timothy’s. If you’re not a manly man, will you decide today to strive after biblical manhood?
[Manly men are selfless servants who put others first. The second defining principle is…]
2. Manly men are willing servants (2:25–30). While Timothy is a marvelous example of service, Epaphroditus is a superb model of suffering. Pappy is a man whose name appears only twice in the New Testament (2:25; 4:18). Timothy, on the other hand, is named twenty–four times in the New Testament. Moreover, Tim is a pastor while Pappy fits more into the mold of a deacon. Yet, note that Paul gives Pappy prominence in this passage and actually devotes more words to his commendation than to Timothy’s. In 2:25, Paul lays out Pappy’s riveting résumé: “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.” Let’s take a closer look at Pappy’s five titles.

o Brother (adelphos). The term “brother” connotes warm personal intimacy and friendship. Paul and Pappy are tight because they are united as brothers in the same spiritual family. I’ve always felt that using the term “brother” is a bit cheesy. I have some Southern Baptist friends who call me “brother” all the time. It makes me want to say, “Oh, brother!” But this term is biblical and honoring of those who are brothers in Christ.

o Fellow worker (sunergos). Pappy is a kingdom workhorse who does whatever is asked of him. Paul is in prison. There are no cities to take for Christ, no glorious mission to the heathen. Just the everyday chores of going grocery shopping, helping with cooking, finding people that Paul needs to talk to and bringing them to his house, and possibly helping him by transcribing letters. But Paul doesn’t trivialize his time in prison. He doesn’t see it as wasted. Instead, he recognizes that Pappy has made a valuable contribution to the mission. He is a fellow worker in the great work of the gospel. Even though he was a behind-the-scenes type of servant, the two were equal coworkers—one in work and dignity. Godly men are bound to one another by kingdom work.

o Fellow soldier (sustratiotes). It is never enough to be just a worker in the ministry; one must also learn to be a warrior. Paul has no illusions about his situation. He is not comfortable in some church that seems to fit like an old shoe. He is a soldier in Christ’s army. He is at war and doesn’t hesitate to remind the troops of their status too. He and Pappy fought shoulder-to-shoulder in Rome. Perhaps Paul has in mind the trademark imperial soldiers’ battle ethic of standing side-by-side, dug in with shields locked solid, swords drawn. Young Pappy is a battle-tested warrior; he is no weekend warrior. Every manly man must recognize the spiritual battle that he is in. Satan will make a quick meal out of a brother and a fellow worker, but he is less capable of devouring a fellow soldier. Fight the fight 24–7 and God will grant you perseverance.

o Messenger (apostolos). Pappy is a messenger of the church of Philippi sent on a mission to help Paul. In Paul’s day prisoners were not cared for by the state, but their “necessities” for life (especially food) had to be supplied by friends or relatives. This is no small thing that they had done. Pappy and the church have helped sustain Paul in prison. It is worth noting that the Greek word for “messenger” is apostolos, however, this doesn’t mean that Epaphroditus is an official apostle (cf. 2 Cor 8:23). The word was commonly used of messengers without extraordinary status. Paul is merely esteeming Pappy and paying him some serious homage.

o Minister (leitourgos). Paul calls Pappy a “minister.” We derive our English word “liturgy” from this Greek term. It is used primarily in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) to refer to the various duties of the Levites, including the actual service at the altar. Pappy’s whole life is worship. Here’s the picture: Pappy is a layman, whom we would never have heard of, were it not for Paul’s brief reference here. He never served in a public capacity. He did not shepherd a flock. He did not take the gospel to an unreached area. He did not receive special revelation. He didn’t even write anything. All he did was deliver a bag of money to Paul and then look after him. Yet he is called “brother…fellow worker…fellow soldier…messenger…and minister.” We must understand that to serve in some unnoticed, unrecognized place in the body of Christ is as much the work of Christ as is public ministry.

These descriptions about Pappy raise an important question: Have you told the Lord, “I’m willing to do whatever you might call me to do, and I’m willing to go anywhere You want me to go”? I remember as a teenager being hesitant to do that, because I was afraid He might say, “Go to Africa as a missionary,” and I didn’t want to do that! But now I pray that I am willing to go wherever the Lord may call me to go, whether that is to Africa or to a church in Arkansas. Can you say the same thing? Are you deeply concerned about the spiritual well-being of other believers? Will you count the cost and serve the body of Christ whenever and wherever God calls. Manly men make the ministry.

Paul includes an amazing fact about Pappy in 2:26–27. He sends Pappy to the Philippians “because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” Apparently, after traveling 800 miles (six plus weeks) from Philippi to Rome, Pappy fell ill with a serious disease and nearly died. In those days something called “Roman Fever” took many lives. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, especially to a third-world country, you know that you have to take extreme medical precautions. Remember, Pappy faced all the dangers of travel without the benefits of modern medicine. As a result, the disease he contracted nearly took his life. When the Philippians heard about it, they were worried and sent a message to Rome. The remarkable thing about Pappy is that he is more concerned that the Philippians are worried about him than he is about his own condition. He is “longing” for these believers and is even distressed over their concern. The word “distressed” (ademoneo) is the same term used to describe Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). Epaphroditus was distressed because they thought he was sick. This is truly amazing! Pappy was more concerned about their emotional welfare than his own physical condition. Today, often believers aren’t even touched by the illnesses of others, much less being distressed in the same as Epaphroditus. We see a tremendous heart for people here!
Paul closes this section in 2:28–30 by informing the Philippians that Pappy is heading home and they need to honor him for his service. Paul writes: “Therefore I have sent him [Pappy] all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Paul commands the Philippians to receive Pappy in the Lord with all joy and to hold men like him in high regard (2:29). Again, Epaphroditus is not a pastor; he is the equivalent to what we call a layman (even though I dislike the term). He is most likely a lot like you. Paul wants the church to honor the men who are working hard in the trenches who don’t receive a lot of glory and praise like some pastors.
But Paul’s high commendation of Epaphroditus does not come simply because of what he did, great as this may have been. It comes also because of why he did it. His was a self-renouncing motivation. He chose against himself for someone else: “He was sick to the point of death.” Paul wants Pappy to receive honor because he “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life.” The phrase “risking his life” (paraboleuomai, 2:30) is a verb that means “to expose oneself to danger, to risk.” Thus, from this word alone it is clear that Pappy is no coward but a courageous manly man willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need. In effect, Epaphroditus is like Christ. Paul makes this very clear in the Greek because the phrase that tells us that Epaphroditus “nearly died” (2:30) is exactly the same as the phrase in 2:8, which describes Christ’s coming “to the point of death.” Epaphroditus’ near death for Paul echoes Christ’s real death for us. This young man had the mind of Christ. Manly men make the ministry.

The story is told of two inseparable friends who enlisted together, trained together, shipped out together, and fought in the trenches together during World War I. During an attack, one of the duo was critically wounded in a field filled with barbed wire obstacles and, because of that, was unable to crawl back to his foxhole. The entire area was under enemy fire and it was suicidal to try to reach him. Nevertheless, undaunted, his friend decided to give it a go. Before he could get out of his own trench, his sergeant yanked him back and told him, “You’re mad! It’s far too late. You can’t do him any good and you’ll only end up getting yourself killed.” A few minutes later the officer turned his back, and instantly his mate went after his friend. Shortly afterwards, he staggered back, mortally wounded, with his friend now dead in his arms. The sergeant was both angry and deeply moved. “What a waste,” he blurted out. “He’s dead, and you’re dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” With almost his last breath, the dying soldier retorted: “Oh yes it was, for when I got to him, the only thing he said was, “I knew you would come, Jim.” The lesson is that Jim was there for his friend whatever the cost.

Like Jim, will you be there for at least one other man? Undoubtedly, you can make a difference in at least one man’s life. But I am confident that you can be used by God to transform the culture of your church and touch people all over the world. All that is required is depending upon the Lord Jesus to use you to be His change agent. Will you step up today and become a manly man? If you are already a manly man, will you ask God to take you to the next level of masculine ministry? Your church needs you. They are counting on you. Be a manly man!

God’s Gym – Philippians 2:12-18

David Smith of Phoenix, Arizona is a remarkable man. In 2003, at the age of twenty–six Smith weighed 650 pounds. He couldn’t walk 500 feet and couldn’t fit in a car. Worst yet, he was suicidal. How did he get to this point? Smith says his problems began after his family moved to the Phoenix area when he was seven and he was sexually molested by his best friend. Unable to deal with the experience, he cut himself off from everyone and found comfort in eating. A large child to begin with, he quickly became not just one of the tallest kids in his class, but also the heaviest. He became the victim of bullies and gangs who would physically and emotionally beat him up. In his biographical sketch, Smith wrote, “I have been spit on; I have had dirt clots, rocks, bolts, basketballs, books, even feces among other things thrown at me. I started to hate people. Nobody wanted to be my friend. I didn’t even want friends anymore; I just wanted to be left alone.” The physical abuse ended in high school, but the emotional abuse continued. It got so bad, that Smith dropped out of school at the age of seventeen. He didn’t want to take it anymore. And then he got hit with another emotional trauma. His mother, the only person he allowed himself to show any emotion to, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She fought the disease for five years, but in the end it took her life. This drove Smith to eat even more.
Eventually, Smith realized that he wanted to change the course of his life. So he contacted a local Phoenix television station that had a feature hosted by fitness and nutrition guru Chris Powell. After some initial hesitation, Powell took Smith on as a client. Powell started Smith with baby steps that quickly became giant strides. The weight melted off—a phenomenal average of more than fifteen pounds a month. By 2007, just twenty–six months after he decided to transform himself and his life, Smith had lost 410 pounds from a starting weight of 650. Today, Smith is a cut and confident thirty–two year old stud who has women oohing and aahing over him. Even more impressive is the fact that he is now a certified personal trainer who is helping others transform their physical, mental, and emotional health.
David Smith transformed his physical body because he was tired of watching his life waste away. One of the primary motivations for Smith to lose all of his weight was to have a relationship with a woman. Thus, TLC (The Learning Channel) entitled Smith’s story, “The 650-pound Virgin.”
Now, if a young man is that motivated to work out to change his life, how much more so should Christians possess a drive to work out to become spiritually healthy and shapely? Today, God issues the challenge: “Work out or waste away.” In Philippians 2:12–18, Paul provides three tips on how to avoid wasting away.

1. Work out the unity (2:12–13). In our fitness-crazed culture, people often refer to working out the chest, arms, or legs. Some work out with weights, others prefer cardio. But in these first two verses, Paul speaks of working out the unity in the body of Christ. He writes in 2:12:“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” This passage begins with the conjunction “so then” (hoste), which indicates that Paul is referring back to what he has previously written (1:27–2:11). Specifically, the term “obeyed” points back to Christ’s obedience in laying down His life (2:8). However, before Paul speaks of obedience or issues a command, he addresses the Philippians as “my beloved.” Paul wants the Philippians to know how much he loves them. Likewise, if you and I want to impact people they need to know how much we love them. Paul follows up his expression of love by encouraging the Philippians to “keep up their good work” (cf. 1:27). He indicates that they have a history of obedience in his presence and in his absence. The measure of our effectiveness in ministry is greatly determined by how people live in our absence. We have accomplished very little if our disciples and fellow believers only live for God when we’re around and then go back to disobedience or complacency when we leave. Those that we invest in must learn to feel responsible to God, not to us. This entails urging our disciples and mentorees not to cling to us, but to cling to Christ. In other words, they should obey the Lord whether other people are watching or not. Now that Paul has affirmed his readers he is ready to exhort them to further action.

The command that Paul gives is to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12c). It is frequently pointed out that Paul does not say “work for your salvation,” or “work toward your salvation,” or even “work at your salvation.” Rather he says “work out your salvation.” However, this observation misses the point. Paul is not talking about one’s individual salvation from hell. Instead, he is commanding the church to corporately “work out” their “salvation” (soteria) or present deliverance by applying the truths Paul elaborated upon in 2:6–11. This is evident from the grammar and the context. Grammatically, all of the verbs in 2:12–13 are plural in reference to the church. The pronoun “your” (heauton) is a reflexive plural, which means “work it out among yourselves.” Thus, Paul is not commanding personal introspection, but that we should look out for each other. Contextually, “salvation” has two nuances: Positively, salvation refers to achieving a unity based on imitation of the mind of Christ (2:1–11). Negatively, salvation is further defined below as doing “all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14; cf. 2:3). The Philippians, then, are to produce the fruit of their salvation, that is, peace, love, and harmony in the Spirit. Rather than fighting with each other, Paul commands the Philippians, and us, to work out our salvation by encouraging each other to grow in humility and unity. This is also expressed in the phrase “fear and trembling,” which can best be summed up by the word “humility.” Humility is the basis for sacrificial service and unity. Humility is the attitude Paul has called for (2:3–4) and is illustrated by the example of Jesus (2:5–11). So work out or waste away.
In 2:13, Paul explains the reason (“for”) that we can work out our salvation: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” I love this verse! Paul places theos (“God”) first in the sentence for emphasis. He doesn’t just say, “God works in you”; he says, “It is God who is at work in you.” In other words, God doesn’t work and has not worked because man has worked.

He is at work regardless! Paul uses two little phrases “to will” and “to work” to describe God’s activity. Both the desire and the deed belong to God; both the prompting and the performing are attributed to Him. Nevertheless, it is only as we cooperate with Him that we see the true potential of our lives realized. Both sides of the coin are needed: dependence (God’s sovereignty) and discipline (human responsibility). We are responsible to live and work in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we must always recognize that it is only because God works and has worked that man is capable of any eternally significant work. This verse is one of the most comforting in the New Testament. Sometimes we want to do right but seem to lack the energy or ability. At other times, it can seem that we don’t even want to do right. This verse assures us that God provides the desire to do His will when we do not have it. If we find that we do not want to do right, we can ask God to work in us to create a desire to do His will. This verse gives us confidence that God desires both to motivate and to enable us.
When my kids were younger, whenever we went grocery shopping as a family, they always wanted to push the cart. Now they could barely push a grocery cart because their hands barely reached the bar. Furthermore, their vision was blocked by the wire mesh and the accumulation of boxes and bags. Nevertheless, I would let them push the cart while I stood behind them with my hands resting on the bar, guiding their every move. As the cart wove in and out of the aisles it was obvious to everyone who was making our cart move. But what was obvious to me and every onlooker was not always known to my children. They were proud of their efforts in controlling the cart. Nevertheless, my children were able to move what they could never move because of their father’s strength. Similarly, in the Christian life, it is God who works. You can move things for the Lord that are way beyond you because of your Heavenly Father’s strength. So keep pushing the cart, keep walking, but remember that your cart will stay on course and move a heavy load because of the powerful hands above you. Today, you may be suffering and encountering hardship. You may feel weak and miserable. If so, call on God. He will hear your cry and respond to you. In our time of need we must recognize that God alone can give us the necessary desire and energy to do what He has called us to do. Work out or waste away.
[When we work out what God has worked in, we can work the unity. A second tip is…]
2. Light up the night (2:14–16). Paul challenges the church to brightly shine Christ’s love to a world that desperately needs to see a visible expression of Him. In 2:14 he writes, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” At first glance, this verse appears to mark a shift in Paul’s train of thought. But a closer look reveals three reasons why this verse is bound up with the passage that precedes it. First, Paul has been exhorting his readers to develop a spirit of likemindedness and unity and the key offenses against this unity within the community of believers are grumbling and disputing. Second, to “do all things without grumbling or disputing” as individuals and as a community requires nothing less than the grace of God, and this is the point of 2:12–13. This command is so contrary to natural human inclinations that it is unattainable without the work of the Holy Spirit. Third, grumbling is precisely the opposite of the Christ-like attitude in 2:5–11 that the Philippians were encouraged to model. The central point of that passage is the Lord’s willingness to renounce His rights and become a servant of others.

Grumblers, on the other hand, proudly cling to their “rights” and expect others to serve.
Paul begins 2:14 with “all things” (panta). This adjective is placed first in the Greek sentence for emphasis. Paul’s point is that absolutely positively nothing is to be done in a spirit of grumbling or disputing. Therefore, we must encourage those who have the gift of grumbling and disputing to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). Interestingly, an often overlooked observation is that the opposite of “fear and trembling” is “grumbling or disputing.” What exactly is grumbling? It isn’t loud, boisterous, grousing, but rather low-toned, discontented muttering. It is negative, muted comments, complaining, and whining. You can identify a grumbler from yards away by their body language. Grumblers often wear frowns, appear visibly weary, and incessantly shake their head. They also like to sigh deeply. This typically causes caring persons to ask, “What’s wrong?” The grumbler then responds with a list of grievances. Logically speaking, grumbling leads to disputing. “Disputing” is vocal, ill-natured argumentation, verbal expressions of disagreement that stir up suspicions and distrust, doubt, and other disturbing feelings in others. Obviously, there is nothing good to say about either grumbling or disputing. Whimpering, whining, and complaining Christians are sinning, because they are being disobedient to God’s clear command in 2:14.
Grumbling and disputing is rampant in the church. Let’s face it, in the flesh we are all attracted to the “poison of pessimism.” We enjoy negativity, conflict, and a good fight. So we will verbally drive a brother or sister under the bus or at least listen to the travesty happening at the mouth of another. Either way you are guilty of sin: either as an instigator or as an accomplice.

Please realize that Jesus hears every word that you utter, and He will require you to give an account for it in the Day of Judgment (Matt 12:36). Now that’s scary! However, I want you to know that I, too, struggle with grumbling and disputing. Like you, I am guilty of gossip, slander, and a multitude of sins of the tongue. My greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. Knowing this about myself, my goal is to keep short accounts and confess my verbal sins when they occur. As much as I want to be perfect in my speech, I know that I am not, and while I am in this body, I never will be (James 3:2). I don’t expect more from you than I do myself. I hold myself to the highest standard, and as a teacher, whether I like it or not, God holds me to this standard as well (James 3:1). So we are in this battle together. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we must seek to overcome sin together as a church family. We must do everything we can to promote health and holiness among ourselves. We must keep short accounts and seek to go to every length possible to avoid grumbling and disputing. Work out or waste away.

In 2:15–16, Paul provides the purpose behind not grumbling or disputing: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless [external purity] and innocent [internal purity], children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” Whenever he preached this passage, the late, great Ray Stedman used to say, “Ours is a world of crooks and perverts.” How aptly put! In these verses, Paul draws upon two primary Old Testament passages. First, when Paul refers to “a crooked and perverse generation,” he is alluding to the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5. In the bittersweet song Moses gave to the assembly of Israel just prior to his exodus from this earth, he sharply contrasted the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of His people. In a sense, the Israelites were working out their salvation in the wilderness. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of grumbling and complaining. Consequently, Israel disappoints the Lord and disgraces His name in the eyes of others. Moses’ words refer to Israel, but in Phil 2:15 Paul universalizes this phrase to refer to the unbelieving world. His point is simple: We too live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” that is filled with the sins of grumbling and disputing. We must not make Israel’s mistake and sin with our tongue. Second, Paul uses an analogy from Daniel 12:3, where Daniel likens the “wise” to stars that shine in the universe. Paul’s point is that we are shining stars. He isn’t commanding us to shine; he is saying that we do shine! We are “lights in the world! There’s no need to shout, scream, or make a scene. Just shine! Live a life free of grumbling and disputing. Look for other stars, for Christians shine best not as individual stars but in clusters.
In 2:15–16, Paul also shares three consequences that stem from grumbling and disputing.
o First, when we grumble and dispute we waste the opportunity to share Christ (2:15). If we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, we shine as lights in the world, allowing people to see the goodness of God through us. On the other hand, if we grumble and dispute, we waste the opportunity to show off God by blending right into the darkness of the world. No one likes “bad advertising.” Life is discouraging enough as it is! This is why Paul writes that we are to be characterized by “holding fast (epechontes) the word of life,” by enduring persecution in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. This relates to the subject of walking worthily of the gospel (1:27). To prevent disunity from extinguishing the testimony of a church, we must “hold fast the word of life.” That is, we must obediently achieve Jesus’ unity. A true gospel witness demands a true gospel lifestyle.
o Second, when we grumble and dispute we waste an opportunity to be rewarded at Christ’s return (2:16a). The phrase “the day of Christ” refers to the judgment seat of Christ when believers will be rewarded by Christ. Paul lived his life bearing in mind a day of future accountability. He lived today in light of tomorrow. Today he was with them; tomorrow he may be with Him, and he did not want to be ashamed. He longed for his life’s work to abound to God’s glory. Like Paul, you and I must keep the day of Christ on the forefront of our minds. For on that day, we will all give an account for how we have worked for unity in the local churches that we have served.
o Third, when we grumble and dispute we waste the investment of godly leaders (2:16b). Paul acknowledges that it is possible for leaders to “run in vain” and “toil in vain” when their followers fail to walk in a manner worthy of Christ. Think about the leaders and servants that have invested in your life. How devastating would it be to hear such faithful brothers and sisters feel that their investment in you was wasted? Paul commands you and me to “count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3b ESV). When we undermine the unity of the body, we fail those who should matter most to us in the spiritual realm.

Two small children were not happy about being on a plane. Their cries of complaint filled the cabin. Just before takeoff, a flight attendant stopped next to them and said with a big smile, “What is all this squawking up here?” After charming the fussy three-year-old and his younger sister for a few minutes, the flight attendant bent down and whispered very seriously, “I must remind you this is a non-squawking flight.” The little ones became unbelievably quiet, which made everyone feel better. Let’s face it; it’s a long journey when you have to sit in the squawking section. Likewise, the church’s journey to glory can be painful and laborious when there’s squawking. That is why I would like to call us to become a non-squawking church! This doesn’t mean I’m trying to use brute biblical force to shut people up. Far from it! I just want to make sure that we aren’t unnecessarily whining. If you do have a concern, share it with a pastor and then sign up for being a part of the solution to your concern. Work out or waste away.
[Light up the night by refusing to grumble or dispute. Paul’s third tip is…]
3. Rejoice in the ministry (2:17–18). Paul insists that we should have joy in the ministry. In 2:17–18, Paul writes, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Paul sees himself as a drink offering—one that has been poured out for Jesus and others. In the sacrificial system under the Old Covenant, the priests would take the animal sacrifices and spread them on the altar to be consumed by fire. Then they would take a drink offering and pour it on top of that searing hot flame. Inevitably, the liquid would turn into steam and it would go up in a wisp of smoke. Paul is saying: I love people, and I am here to serve people and to sacrifice for people so much that, if necessary, I am willing for my life to just go up in steam to the Lord that I may be a blessing to other people. But please note: Paul’s focus is upon the sacrifice of the Philippians. His sacrifice is a modest drink offering. In other words, the ministry of others is more important to Paul than his own ministry. He yearns for the success of others. Consequently, in 2:17b–18, Paul uses a form of the word “rejoice” four times! If your ministry is currently a burden or an obligation, you may be in the wrong ministry. God wants you to rejoice in your ministry and the ministries of others. He wants you to offer yourself to Him and to others as a pleasing sacrifice. As you do so, you will find the fulfillment that God intends for you to have in ministry.

A while back, I read a story about Madonna. You know Madonna, right? Well, I am referring another Madonna—78 year old SISTER Madonna Buder. Buder began competing in triathlons after she turned fifty. Since that time she has completed more than 320 triathlons. Even more impressive, Buder has even completed 40 Ironman class events which consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26 mile run. This is astonishing! When asked about her exploits, Buder responds: “Well, you know, as long as God is giving you your health, there’s no reason to stop.” How does this relate to her work as a nun? Buder answers, “There is no limit, no boundaries to when and where you can commune with God. It doesn’t have to be in church all the time.” WOW!
Today, God wants you to live a life characterized by perseverance. While you may not choose to complete triathlons and Ironman events, you are called to work out and grow in Christ. May you look for any and every opportunity to promote health and unity in the church. Work out or waste away. Those are your only choices.